Kampyrtepa Fortress

A unique monument of ancient Bactria — the Kampyrtepa Fortress — is situated on the bank of the Amu Darya (known as the River Oxus in antiquity) 30 km north-west of the town of Termez in the far South of the Surkhandarya Region of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

This fortress appeared at the time of Alexander the Great’s campaigns or shortly afterwards. It was erected at the edge of the high north bank of the river criss-crossed by ravines and with gently flowing estuaries and natural cirques, which made extremely convenient places for fording rivers. The history of the fortress located on a major route linking the capitals of two neighbouring states — Bactria and Sogdiana — was closely bound up with the creation and function of such a ford.
During almost the whole forty years which have elapsed since the monument was first discovered by Academician Eduard Rtveladze of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 70% of the territory of this fortress of the Kushan period has been investigated. After its reconstruction, Kampyrtepa became an “open-air museum” and was granted the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In recent years work carried out by the Institute of Archaeology has made it possible to establish that initially life in the settlement had been concentrated on the terraced slopes of the ravine, where habitation levels from the Hellenistic period up to 10 m thick have been cleared. The building methods and techniques used here, as well as the pottery assemblage and the finds made during the excavations — coins, household utensils, cultic objects, military equipment, fragments of Greek writing and so on — testify, if not to the actual presence of Greek settlers at Kampyrtepa, then at least to the far-reaching penetration of Greek innovations into various spheres of the Bactrians’ life in the Hellenistic period.

The Institute’s expedition has investigated approximately 15 structures from the Kushan period and two large residential complexes from the Early Hellenistic period. The latter have yielded up unique examples of architecture and building techniques, which are characterized by the use of the natural relief, in particular terraces. Buildings of mud brick are found in combination with rooms carved out of the virgin soil, artificial platforms and drainage systems. A rich assemblage of pottery and other finds bears witness to well-developed trade links, including those with the Greek cities of Southern Bactria, in particular Ai-Khanum, and also with the cities of India.

In the Seleucid and Graeco-Bactrian periods the settlement which served the ford is likely to have been without defences. It was only later, when Graeco-Bactria had fallen under the onslaughts of nomadic tribes, that the core of the Kampyrtepa Fortress assumed a more prominent role and was surrounded with a thick defensive wall. In the 1st century AD when the Kushan state took shape and flourished, a fortress with massive fortifications was built in accordance with a single overall plan and its territory was enlarged to incorporate 3.5 ha. Rich materials, including thousands of coins recovered from the quarters with dwellings that were built in the period extending from the rule of Soter Megas to that of Kanishka I (mid-1st to early-2nd century AD), have become a standard point of reference for the early period of the Kushan Empire.

N.D. Dvurechenskaya

Digital publication