Badamu document: mediators between Chinese and Turkish tribes

This fragment of a document, found in what seems a Sogdian graveyard near Turfan in 2004, gives us an idea of the role Sogdians played politically along the Silk Road. The fragment appears to be part of a diplomatic message sent between the Chinese and the Turks. The writing on the document, however, is all in Sogdian. This gives us some insight into the role of Sogdians outside of their homeland. While the Sogdian merchant is a stereotype well attested to, Sogdians played the roles of diplomates and intermediaries as well.

The fact that this is a Chinese document written in Sogdian does a lot to show us how instrumental the Sogdians were in the region. Given their geographic positioning in central Asia, and given how widespread they traveled, they filled the role of diplomates quite nicely. It would make sense as well that Sogdian would form as a sort of lingua franca between all of these societies. Many Turks wrote in Sogdian, regardless of having developed their own language (Hansen 2012, 212). We even have evidence of Sogdian inscriptions on Turkish sculptures (Stark 2015, 481). And while the Chinese did not interact with the Turks regularly, they did with the Sogdians. And the Turks probably hardly saw the Chinese, but the Sogdians remained ever present.

The document itself is written on paper, likely originating in China. Its discovery in a cemetery outside of Turfan, while initially seeming strange, actually makes a great deal of sense given all of the circumstances. Turfan held an important geographic position along the Silk Road, a central part of its northern stretch (Expedition Silk Road 2014, 146). The Sogdians living in Turfan were separated form their homeland, and thus their tradition burial customs. The majority of Sogdiana was Zoroastrian, and did not believe in burying their dead (Hansen 2012, 92). The Sogdians abroad, especially those in Turfan and further east, eventually lost that taboo. And so the Sogdian cemetery in Badamu, while it would be an anomaly in Samarkand, is instead the norm. Paper itself was quite valuable, as well as an integral part of the burial process. So when the deceased was wrapped in paper, it was usually paper that had a previous purpose. Finally, Turfan’s arid climate helped further to preserve the paper used in these burials (Hansen 2012, 92). And so this diplomatic message, presumably no longer of importance, was used to bury a Sogdian living in the area.

In this one fragment of a document we can get a glimpse of the nature of Sogdian life abroad. We see the Sogdians engaging in the political landscape of the greater world they found themselves situated within. And we see an example of how Sogdian culture and custom changed living in the influence of the Chinese, away from their Zoroastrian countrymen.

- Matthew Dischner


Expedition Silk Road: Journey to the West. 2014. Amsterdam: Hermitage. (MD)


Hansen, Valerie. 2012. The Silk Road: A New History. New York: Oxford University Press. (MD)


Stark, Sören. 2014. “Luxurious Necessities: Some observations on foreign commodities and nomadic polities in 6th to 9th century Central Asia,” in Complexity of Interaction along the Eurasian Steppe Zone in the First Millennium AD, Edited by J. Bemmann and M. Schmauder, 463-502. Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. (MD)




Additional Research Metadata


In 2004 a Sogdian manuscript was discovered from an archaeological site of Badamu in Turfan. In view of the other discoveries, the area used to be a graveyard of Sogdians and other foreigners resident in Xizhou __, Tang time designation of the province of what is now Turfan. The text bears a signature 2004TBM107: 3-2 and measures 24.9 cm x 10.8 cm. It is most unique in that it bears three vermilion seal impressions in Chinese. The seal reads Jinman Dudu fu zhi yen ÒSeal of the GovernorÕs office of JinmanÓ. Jinman was located near present day Jimsa.



“Badamu document: mediators between Chinese and Turkish tribes,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed April 1, 2020,