Kazakhstan before the 15th Century
People settled in Kazakhstan’s territory about one million years ago in the Upper Palaeolithic Age, and this has been proven by the excavation of cavemen encampments: Borykazgan and Tanirkazgan in the Karatau Mountains; Kudaikol, Zhaman-Aibat, Obalysai, Ogiz-Tau, Ulken Ak Maya in central Kazakhstan; Arystandy and Karaungur in south Kazakhstan; Onezhek in Mangistau Oblast; Kanai, Svinchatka, Peshchera and Novo-Nikolskoye in eastern Kazakhstan; Shatpakol, Shoshdaul, Kyz-Yemshek, Kainar, Zhylan-Kaban, Koi-Kara, Saryka-mys, Shayandy in Atyrau Oblast and other camps.
During this period economic activity was about consuming readily available natural products — cavemen collected wild crops, fruit and berries and hunted wild animals. Hunting influenced the humans’ outlook on the world — a cult of hunting magic emerged and it was based on a belief in establishing power over animals by obtaining their image or symbol — so-called totemism. The main primitive arts were the painting of animals, carving and primitive sculptural arts.
Preserved and examined monuments of the Palaeolithic Age make it possible to conclude that proto-Kazakh territory (i.e. the territory of present-day Kazakhstan) was part of a zone of formation and development of humans since the early Palaeolithic Age. The Palaeolithic Age was replaced with the Mesolithic Age and later with the Neolithic Age. At that time crop farming and animal husbandry developed and people made the first bows and arrows to make hunting easier. Socially, the Neolithic Age was a period of tribal communities and the supremacy of collective labour and common ownership of production tools. In addition, this was the time of greater forms of societal organisation: formations of tribes or tribal unions, which, in turn, consisted of several tribal communities united by blood relationship and the homogenous nature of economic activity.
There are currently over 500 known Neolithic monuments in Kazakhstan; the brightest and most interesting of these are the Kul Sary camp in western Kazakhstan and Kyzyl-Su in the country’s east. Neolithic tribes of Kazakhstan, preserving their specifics and distinctive cultural traditions, developed in close interaction with tribes of neighbouring regions. The period that followed was the Eneolithic Age — copper-stone age, which started the switch from the use of stone to the use of metal. The adoption of copper tools of labour gave an impetus to the development of crop farming and animal husbandry, which, as a result, gradually replaced hunting and collection. Thus, the consuming economic formation was replaced with a producing one. The basics of mining, sowing and ceramic production were then founded. The sophistication of activity led to further evolution of the social formation — tribes started uniting into tribal unions.
Among the Eneolithic monuments discovered in Kazakhstan, researchers single out the monuments from the Botai culture, which received its name from the Botai railway station in Akmola Oblast and are dated back to the third to second millennia BC. Excavations unearthed traces of 158 units of housing. Examination showed that these were buildings from the last period of the settlement’s existence. Archaeologists discovered tools made of different types of rocks, clay and bones. Functional definitions showed the sophisticated economic mode of the population. For example, bone elements of bridles and hopple clasps pointed to the beginning of domestication of horses; stone clubs, knives, daggers, arrow-heads, darts and spears were linked to hunting; harpoons pointed to fishing. The existence of tools to process and polish skins, needles, pricks and pierces described the sophisticated nature of the economic life of representatives of the Botai culture.
Bronze was invented on the Eurasian steppes at the turn of the second to first millennia BC. Ancient people managed — through adding tin to copper — to make metal articles much stronger. Tribes that inhabited Kazakhstan’s territory in the Bronze Age left archaeological monuments (settlements, burial grounds, mines and petroglyphs) which belong to the Andronian culture (the name was derived from the place of the first excavations of a burial ground outside the village of Andronovo near the town of Achinsk in southern Siberia). Archaeologist Mikhail Gryaznov discovered similar burial grounds in western Kazakhstan. Later Andronian monuments were also found in southern and southeastern Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia.
Representatives of the Andronian culture are related by origin, economic activity, language and culture tribes and tribal unions. Studies of Andronian artefacts led to the conclusion that most of their settlements had been built along river banks. Grain grinders, rectangular and round pestles for crushing and milling grain, sickles and stone hoes were found in all settlements.
Animal husbandry played a considerable part in the lives of Andronians. Animals produced food, wool, leather, bones for items and dung fuel. The main products were meat and milk and the main animals were sheep, cows and horses. Andronians often roamed when pastures around their settlements became exhausted. Later, in the 15th century BC, they developed the drive-to-range form of animal husbandry, i.e. shepherds drove animals to remote pastures and drove them back only in autumn. The chief ethnographic features of the culture that distinguished the Andronian population from others are burial grounds in form of stone fences of different shapes: rectangular, round or oval.
Another distinctive trait of the Andronians was the production of metal jewellery — earrings, pendants and pieces for head-dresses. Andronian monuments have been found and studied almost in all regions of Kazakhstan. In western Kazakhstan the Kirgeldy burial ground and the settlement of Tasty-Butak were studied; in central Kazakhstan the Bylkyldyk, Karasai, Temir-Astau, Karabiye, Yelshi-bek, Balasar, Aksu-Ayuly, Tegibai-Bulak, Buguly, Bota, Akshatau and Aishrak burial mounds and settlements; in eastern Kazakhstan the Kanai, Sarykol and Koitas mounds; in northern Kazakhstan — Borovoye, Alekseyevskoye and Yefimovskoye; in southern and southeastern Kazakhstan the Tamgaly, and Karakuduk burial grounds and settlements and the Tegisken mausoleums.
Today a very well-known tourism site is the Tamgaly petroglyphs. The Tamgaly forge is located 170 km north of Almaty. Archaeologists believe the gorge was home to a sanctuary for one of the Andronian tribes. The preserved artefacts are images of sun-headed gods, decorated warriors, grooms and brides, women delivering and multi-figure compositions depicting human beings and animals, scenes of hunting animals and sacrificing bulls that had been chiselled on smooth rock surfaces. Compositions depicting chariots are very rare, while solar signs are widespread. Most petroglyphs were painted in the Bronze Age. Pictures painted in the Sak «animal» style, are mainly separate from much earlier petroglyphs, but in some cases they complement and even overlap them. Apart from petroglyphs, a great number of burial grounds were discovered at Tamgaly: stone burial boxes of the Middle and Late Bronze Age, earth mounds and stones dated between the Early Iron Age and the present age.
Thus, in the Bronze Age of the development of humankind tremendous changes took place in the territory of Kazakhstan. Archaic forms of economic activity and everyday life of the Neolithic Age were replaced with crop farming and animal husbandry, temporary camps with settlements, stone and silicon instruments with high-quality items of alloys of different metals. Bronze Age tribes developed distinctive cultures which became the basis of the culture of early nomads of the Iron Age.
At the beginning of the Bronze Age, in the first millennium BC, the population of present-day Kazakhstan switched to a nomadic lifestyle. Tribal unions emerged at that time, and the primitive communal society started decaying. Information about tribes and tribal unions that inhabited Kazakhstan dates back to the middle of the first millennium BC.
According to ancient Persian sources, they bore the name of Saks and occupied Zhetysu (or Semirechiye in southeastern Kazakhstan, northern Kyrgyzstan and western China) and the basin of the Syr Darya River; Sauromats inhabited northwestern Kazakhstan, while Caspians lived on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. These tribes were involved in animal husbandry and crop farming. It was approximately at that time that states such as Sogd and Bactria existed in the southwest of the region with a significant level of culture for the time. In the late fourth-early third centuries BC new tribes of Uisuns formed in the territory of present-day Kazakhstan between Lake Balkhash and the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, Kangyui in the foothills of the Karatau Mountains and Alans, descendants of Sauromats, settled in the western steppes of modern Kazakhstan.
In the first half of the first millennium BC the primitive formation decayed in these areas and, in the sixth century, it was replaced with the feudal formation that existed for over 1,500 years. The Great Silk Road, which cut through modern-day Kazakhstan and linked China with Byzantium, played a crucial role in the development of the region. The chief commodity was silk fabrics. As a result, many towns emerged along the northern path of the route in the basin of the Syr Darya River. Perhaps the best known ancient town is Otrar, which was located at the confluence of two rivers — the Arys and the Syr Darya. This place is called the Otrar Oasis, the ancient names of which are Turband, Turarband and Turar. The oasis is now located in South Kazakhstan Oblast’s Otrar District. To the west it is constrained by the Kyzylkum desert, which covers an area between the two rivers — the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. The Syr Darya’s right bank, which is part of the oasis, is a plain yet slightly hilly steppe covered with monotonous flora. It ends at the foothills of the Karatau range.
The Otrar Oasis has always occupied a convenient strategic position in southern Kazakhstan. The Great Silk Road ran through Otrar, which is why almost all mediaeval Arab and Persian authors mention it. Otrar was located at the junction of various geographical landscapes and was a trade and transport hub at the time because southbound routes along the Syr Darya (to Shash, Sogd and further to Merv, Nishapur and Rey) and north- and west-bound routes — through Khorezm (to the Aral Sea region, the Volga region, the Black Sea region and the Caucasus) intersected there. Kazakh scientists have been conducting archaeological research and excavations in the Otrar Oasis since 1969. The ancient towns of Otrar, Kuiruktobe, Kok-Mardan, Altyntobe and Mardan-Kuik have been excavated. The town quarters of the 16th-18th, 14th-15th and 11th and 12th centuries; a potters’ quarter from the 13th-14th centuries; baths from the 13th-15th centuries; a brick workshop from the 13th-14th centuries and a mosque and palace from the late 14th-15th centuries were unearthed in Otrar. The juma mosque of the late 14th-early 15th centuries was an interesting building in Otrar. Its construction was linked to Tamerlane, who ordered the construction of the mausoleum to Hajji Ahmed Yas-saui in Turkestan and the mausoleum to Arystan Baba in the Otrar Oasis in Kazakhstan. No less famous was the town of Sygnak. It was first mentioned in sources in the 10th century. In the 12th century Sygnak became the capital of the state of Kypchaks. The 13th century historian Juvayni described the destruction of the town by the Mongols in 1219 for showing resistance. He wrote that Jochi, moving downstream along the Syr Darya, conquered one town after another. Jochi was accompanied by two local traders — Hasan Hajji and Ali Hajji. Hasan Hajji was sent to Sygnak to persuade its residents to surrender. However, the residents killed the trader and offered resistance to the invaders. Only after seven days of attack was Sygnak captured and its disobedient population massacred completely. Life in Syr Darya towns, many of which remained in ruins, was suspended for a long time.
In the middle of the 13th century, Sygnak, which was listed as Sgnakh, was visited by Armenian King Hethum I and the town was mentioned once. In the second half of the 14th century the town became the capital of the White Horde. Sygnak was ruled by khans — Erzen, his son Mubarek Hajji, Urus Khan and Tokhtamysh. It had a mint and a construction boom. After the failed fight of Tokhtamysh against Tamerlane the town was captured by Tamerlane’s grandson — Ulugbek, who tried to gain a foothold on the Syr Darya, but in 1423 he encountered a defeat and was pushed back to the south by troops of Barak Khan, a grandson of Urus Khan. Sygnak, located on the border with the always boiling and restless steppe, occupied a strategic place. One could only rule the steppe when one controlled Sygnak and the fertile plains cultivated by the farmers, around it. In the 14th-18th centuries Sygnak belonged to Kazakhs and was the largest town in the lower streams of the Syr Darya. Trade was active in noisy eastern markets and the environs were cultivated and watered by canals that took water from the Syr Darya — Ordakent, Kyzyltal, Buzgul-Uzyak, Tyumen-Aryk and others. The best bows and arrows supplied by nomads were very popular, which meant that they could buy grain, fabrics and luxury items. Around the ruins of the town there is now a dry steppe, covered with saxaul and thorny bushes. Low-rise hillocks with the ruins of brick buildings and tiles point to the remnants of the architectural constructions which must have been in abundance around Sygnak.
The town of Taraz, which occupied an important place on the Great Silk Road, exists and prospers to this day. The history of the emergence of Taraz is a very ancient one and is intertwined with the histories of the major tribal unions of Saks, Uisuns, Kanlys and Alans who inhabited in large tracts of Kazakhstan. The first references to the town were made in the sixth-seventh centuries: in 568 Byzantine envoy Zemarch, on his way to Turkic Kagan Dizabul, mentioned Taraz, and Buddhist pilgrim Suan Jian, who crossed Zhetysu in 630, described some towns in this region, including Taraz. It is conventionally believed that Taraz was founded in 568 when it was first mentioned in Greek written sources. The emergence of the town was helped by favourable conditions — a relatively mild climate, fertile soil, rich pastures of its environs, which attracted many peaceful animal herders and tillers. Archaeologists believe that the ancient Taraz consisted of the traditional parts of Central Asian towns: a citadel and a shahristan (the centre of town).
The ruler of the town lived in the citadel with the walls stretching 145 and 113 metres — he possessed the entire oasis. The citadel housed treasures, weapons and stockpiles of goods owned by the ruler, nobility and traders. The citadel also minted copper coins from the eighth century and, later, bronze coins. In the eastern part of the shahristan archaeologists discovered a «lock» of gates overlooking the Talas River. Arab geographer Makdisi observed that the chief gate of the shahristan had been the eastern gate. The shahristan represented a rectangular site oriented to all cardinal points. The eastern side stretched for 390 metres, the northern for 360 metres; total area was about 14 ha. Excavations discovered a pipeline, pre-gate buildings, fort walls and many other facilities. The most amazing fact is that excavations unearthed five cultural layers of the town and each of them produced many finds (samples of ceramic items of different shapes), proving the high level of production. It is worth noting that the third layer produced many Tyurgesh and Muslim coins.
The most ancient lawyer of Taraz is the fifth — the poorest in terms of finds. However, wells and holes were discovered in several places and many finds were unearthed in them — the handle of a burial sarcophagus in a form of monkey head, a statue of a horse with a saddle and the entire harness, items with handles in forms of bird heads and tile pipes with a length of 45 to 70 cm and a diameter of 21 to 23 cm, with a total length of 12 metres, were found in these.
Studies of the water pipeline showed that the town was supplied water in three ways: firstly, water was supplied directly from the Talas River (it used to flow nearby town walls); secondly, from irrigation ditches and wells (excavations showed that these were numerous); thirdly, from a water pipeline.
One of the major discoveries was the location of an ancient temple. Historical sources tell us that it used to be a church which Ismail ibn Ahmed later turned into a mosque. One of the most interesting facilities of the town is a mediaeval bath, located at the northeastern corner of the citadel. A rectangular shape, it consisted of five rooms and was decorated with frescoes. In some rooms paintings covered the whole wall. The element of the paintings is a geometrical ornament: octagon stars linked via crosses, octagons and trefoils of red, black and yellow colours.
Within the walls there were heat-transmitting pipes laid under the floor and walls which evenly heated the entire premises. Water buckets and a bath were found in the rooms. This sort of heating was popular and was used in the time at Uzbeks baths in Bukhara, Samarkand and other Central Asian towns. People entered the bath from the north. A floor was preserved from it as it was made of square tiles of burnt clay.
Archaeological excavations discovered the artisans’ quarter in ancient Taraz. A building with an original ceramic stove was preserved inside a clay-wall building. It had a cupola-shape form and walls (5-6 cm wide) of burnt bricks made of crosshatched walls. The stove was about one metre in diameter and 40 cm tall. The stove was similar to tandoori used now to bake flat bread. Judging by the tandoori and its relatively small size and its complicated configuration (double walls and air-pumping pipe), the stove was used to bake spherical and conical containers. This demanded high temperatures. Not far from the stove, within the building, several of these containers (not decorated) were discovered. During excavations a great number of irrigation and household ceramic items were found, which were usually of good quality and had good burning. Most watering vessels, such as plates, bowls and pialas had, along with geometrical ornaments, Arabic writings — excerpts from the Koran or prayers to God.
A vessel of Sogdian type with a glossy surface decorated with big ornaments reminiscent of narcissus flowers looking down was also found. The numerous finds show that at the time Taraz was a major trade and cultural centre of the Talas valley with busy, noisy bazaars, shady gardens and magnificent mosques. Little craft workshops produced household items, unique and original. These items were popular in regions far away from Taraz.
Taraz, like other towns, decayed at the beginning of the 12th century as a result of the Genghis Khan invasion. The town is linked to a tragic event known as the Otrar catastrophe when Genghis Khan sent a trade caravan of several hundreds of camels loaded with leather, jewellery, furs, silver and gold accompanied by 450 people in summer 1218 to Otrar. «Otrar ruler Kypchak Kayir-Khan Inalchik suspected traders of spying and ordered their killing, and robbed their caravan. Genghis Khan through his envoys demanded the extradition of Kaiyr Khan, but in response his envoys were killed» [1, p 55]. Genghis Khan could not forgive such an impudent move and took his troops to wage a war against Central Asia.
It seems that Genghis Khan paid particular attention to his assaults against Muslim countries. He seemed to collect information from Muslim traders and defectors about the internal situation and military power of the state of Khorezmshah. In September 1219 Genghis Khan started his campaign. His army was made up of 150,000 troops, including 111,000 Mongols and others were soldiers of Genghis Khan’s vassals — Uighurs and Karluks. The route of the Mongol army’s advancement to Maverannahr lied through the Irtysh River and densely-populated and economically most developed parts of Kazakhstan — through Zhetysu to towns along the Syr Darya.
The population of present-day southern Kazakhstan was first to face the Mongol invaders and they offered resolute resistance. The Mongols staged en-masse terror and violence and destroyed whole regions and many towns. Arabic and Persian sources listed about 30 towns in different regions where the population was fully massacred by the Mongols [2, p 6]. Genghis Khan’s invasion played an important role in Kazakhstan’s history because its territory became part of the three Mongol Uluses: the largest (steppe) part was ruled by the Jochi Ulus, southern and southeastern Kazakhstan by the Chagatai Ulus and the northeastern part of Zhetysu by the Ugudei Ulus. The Jochi Ulus occupied vast lands to the west of the Irtysh River encompassing the northern part of Zhetysu and the whole of Desht-e Kypchak to the lower Volga region. The Chagatai Ulus, in addition to previously mentioned areas, occupied East Turkestan and Mav-erannahr (an area between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya). Ugudei possessed western Mongolia, the upper streams of the Irtysh River and the Tarbagatai range.
Genghis’s descendants tried to turn their realms into independent possessions. After the death of Genghis Khan this trend increased and the empire fell apart into several independent countries.
The successor to Jochi, who died in the same 1227, was his son Batu. He conquered western Desht-e Kypchak, the lands of Volga Bulgars and further western areas. He destroyed major Russian princedoms and devastated Poland, Hungary, the Czechs and others.
As a result of a seven-year campaign (1236-1242) Batu took hold of lands west to the Volga River to the lower streams of the Danube, including the Crimea and the North Caucasus and West Kypchak steppes. Batu founded a new Mongol state — the Golden Horde which included the territories of Jochi Ulus — Eastern Desht-e Kypchak, part of Khorezmshah and western Siberia as well as newly conquered lands in the west. Russian principalities destroyed by Batu became vassals of the Golden Horde. Russian princes received titles from the Golden Horde and paid taxes, but remained relatively independent. According to some eastern sources, Batu’s state was called the Jochi Ulus and it was known as the Golden Horde. Its capital was Sarai-Batu (near Russia’s Astrakhan) and it was later known as Sarai-Berke.
Initially, the Golden Horde was subordinated to greater Mongol khans, but by 1260 the Mongol Empire disintegrated into independent uluses. Then under Berke Khan (1256-1266), a brother of Batu, the Golden Horde became an independent state. Its successor Mengu Khan (1266-1280) started minting his own coins. The Golden Horde turned out to be an unstable country because it was weakened by internal discord, which resulted in the formation of the Ak Orda (White Horde) Khanate in the territory of present-day Kazakhstan between the Syr Darya River and the Aral Sea and the Ishim River in the northeast.
By the beginning of the 15th century, Ak Orda had been broken up into several pieces: the Nogai Horde which occupied the area between the Urals Mountains and the Volga and the Uzbek Khanate which stretched from downstream Syr Darya to the Urals and the Tobol River. In the second half of the 15th century Kazakh khanates started to form and this process completed the formation of the Kazakh eth-nos in the early 16th century. The ethnic composition was made up of ancient tribes of Uisuns, Kanlys, Kypchaks, Konyrats, Dulats, Argyns and Mongol tribes who arrived here in the 13th century; tribes that came from the Volga-Urals region, and tribes from the disintegrated Siberian Khanate of Kuchum.
As often happens in history, it is hard to judge the events of that time. Obviously, the Mongol conquest was accompanied by the destruction of towns and large-scale massacres, the destruction of production and the blossom of slave trade. However, the Mongol rule encouraged trade, international relations and established postal services. Moreover, the Mongols, following their idea of centralised power, united previously chaotic tribes. The norms of nomadic lifestyle were regulated by Genghis Khan’s Yasa — a collection of common law adopted for the new conditions.