Goddess with adorants from Temple II, North Chapel, Panjikent

This fresco from the north chapel within the precincts of Temple II at Penjikent illustrates a goddess with her adorants or attendants. The chapel contained at least five frescoes or five scenes within the same fresco: a goddess on a throne with attendants, donors, a goddess on a lion throne (?), donors, and a goddess on a dragon (Azarpay 1980, 41, fig. 11). The goddess can possibly be identified as Daena. These murals belonged to a rectangular niche in a passageway in the western wall of the northern chapel, following the reconstruction of the chapel in the fifth century. They are stylistically linked to murals from the main portico of Temple I which were covered over by masonry in the seventh century, indicating that the paintings can date no later than the first half of the seventh century (Azarpay 1980, 43). Like the anachronistic Turkic clothing on the Jericho dish, here the costumes and ornaments remain similar to those found in the earliest Sogdian paintings, including Sasanian-type buckles, three-ply bracelets, and necklaces of twisted cords (Azarpay 1980, 43-44). The adorants or donors carry a decorated platter and cup, illustrating a contemporary use of objects such as this dish and this cup. As Michael Shenkar has noted, the seated goddess with one or more male adorants is the most popular divine image in Scythian art. In the Scythian context, the goddess is usually identified with Argimpasa-Aphrodite. The most commonly reproduced deity, then, is not the head of the local pantheon, just as this seated goddess is not a representation of Ahura Mazda, the central deity of Zoroastrianism (Shenkar 2014, 87). This different prioritization of deities (and iconographies) in varied contexts presents one of the largest challenges in Sogdian material: working with a small portion of extant material pulled from what must have been a highly varied pool of contemporary source material. The chapel, focused as its murals are on a female deity and her attendants and donors, likely was used to worship a goddess (at least in its sixth century iteration). The Sogdians (or the several groups coexisting in Sogdiana) worshipped several other deities alongside the Zoroastrian gods, including the goddess Nana, who was originally worshipped in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE (Lerner 2002, see Marshak, Ch. 8, 232). The dragon motif illustrates Chinese influence on Sogdian imagery, just as the lion (and, in related objects like the wooden dome at Penjikent, the winged lion) indicate Near Eastern and Greco-Roman influence. A similar dragon, though in a much different narrative context, appears in the Rustam cycle from elsewhere in Penjikent, where the hero is depicted fighting a sinuous, serpent-like dragon.


Azarpay, Guitty. 1980. Sogdian Painting: The Pictorial Epic in Oriental Art. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lerner, Judith, and Juliano, A.L., eds., 2002. Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northern China. New York: Abrams.

Shenkar, Michael. Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World. Magical and religious literature of late antiquity 4. Boston: Brill, 2014. Accessed 14 March 2016, https://books.google.com/books?id=WZ6XCgAAQBAJ&dq=ishtikhan+ossuary&source=gbs_navlinks_s.



6th century

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Temple II, Northern Chapel, Penjikent


“Goddess with adorants from Temple II, North Chapel, Panjikent,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed September 26, 2020, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/318.