Sweet Sogdian Sogdia, Bonjour!

I’ve been drooling over Eran ud Turan‘s sumptuous Sogdian reenactment for a few years now and decided now was as good a time as any to jump on the bandwagon. This is my first attempt at Sogdian women’s clothing so it’s not the best recreation, but it’s a place to start.

My goal with this project was to create a reasonable approximation of the clothing of an 8th century Sogdian woman. NB: This is not my most accurate recreation, among the inaccuracies are the fabric choices, colors, and use of stamped decorations.


I’m working from two particular garments, both from the Sogdian sphere of influence. The large tunic from Munchaktepe and the child’s caftan from Sanjar-shah. These two items are separated by approximately 200 years and about 230 miles, but they’re both in good enough condition to allow for a reasonable reconstruction.

For ornamentation, I am working from the murals in Panjakent, roughly 7.5 miles west of Sanjar-shah.

The map below shows the rough locations of the three sites I’m working with.


The Sogdian civilization, made up of a network of city-states, was a major player in central Asia between the 6th century BCE and the 11th century CE. They were speakers of an Eastern Iranian language, Sogdian, which has evolved today into the Yaghnobi language of the Yaghnob, Qul and Varzob river valleys in Tajikistan’s Sughd province.

In the 8th century CE, the Sogdians were playing a major role as middle-men in the Silk Road trade from China to the West. Their reputation as traders was so great that in some languages along the Road, the exonym for Sogdian was cognate with merchant.


Munchaktepe (also Munchaktepa, Munchak Tepe, Munchak Tepa, or Мунчактепа) is a 4th – 7th century fortification located in the Ferghana Valley, Namangan province. Two phases of construction were unearthed at the associated burial field, Munchaktepe I (pit graves and single graves) and Munchaktepe II (vault graves). The early phase of burials date to the 5th – 6th centuries and remains from this phase were found in vaults 1 and 5. Vault 5 is of particular interest here as finds included cotton and silk textiles.

I relied on fragments L-2-1a through L-2-3c to inform the cutting of my tunic. These fragments are made of silk fabric, estimated to be between 51-52 cm wide. The fragments suggest a simple, long tunic made using rectangular construction. The image below is from Fang Wan’s article “Costumes Unearthed from Vault 5 of Munchaktepa in the North of Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan” (Asian Social Science, Vol. 5, No. 11, November 2009).

From Asian Social Science, Vol. 5 (11), page 105.


Sanjar-Shah is a 7th – 8th century site at the edge of the village of Sudzhina, Tajikistan. Unlike Munjaktepe, Sanjar-shah is properly within Sogdia, making this garment one of the few that survive from Sogdia itself.

The child’s caftan was found on the floor of Room 9 of the citadel. It is constructed of karbas, a cotton canvas tabby weave fabric with a density of roughly 18/14 threads per square centimeter. The garment is constructed with a pieced bodice and simple skirt. All seams are double lapped and sewn with a running stitch.

The images below are from Sh. Kurbanov and A. Teplyakova’s article “Textile Objects from the citadel of Sanjar-shah” found in the Bulletin of Miho Museum, Volume 15 (2014).

Bulletin of Miho Museum, Volume 15 (2014) , page 169.

A clearer photo of the caftan is available from the Sogdian digital exhibit from the Freer|Sackler Gallery (https://sogdians.si.edu/).


Panjakent (also, Панҷакент, Panjikent, Panjekent, Panjikant, or Penjikent) is a city in the Sughd province of Tajikistan on the Zeravshan River. Sogdian Panjakent was inhabited between the 5th and 8th centuries CE and is particularly famous for the well-preserved wall paintings depicting various scenes from daily life. Of these images, two in particular inspired the design of my garments.

Detail of Shiva with Trisula. A woman wearing a kaftan draped over her shoulders sits before the Indian god Shiva. Sogdian, 7th–8th century CE. Room in a Panjakent house, VII/24. Painted wood panel; H. 154 x W. 147 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, V-2704. From https://sogdians.si.edu/sidebars/sogdian-fashion/
Yatsenko re-drawing.

The other image I am working from is the daughter, from the Story of the Old Man, his Daughter, and the Spirit of the Ocean. Room in a Panjakent house, 41/VI. This image can be found on Eran ud Turan’s patron feed at: https://www.patreon.com/posts/womens-fashion-22533455. Sergey Yatsenko’s re-drawing of this image is shown to left. Note, Yatsenko interprets this image as having applied trim extending over the shoulders and along the sleeves. I don’t see this in the image available on EuT’s patreon.


Ultimately, this project is not my most accurate undertaking. Instead, it is intended of an exploration of styles and methods to encourage me to make something better in the future (with better fabric).

Materials (all from the stash)

  • 3 yards dark blue linen*
  • 3 yards olive green wool
  • 3 yards salmon red linen*
  • 4 yards “Oseberg” brocade from Sartor (not actually from Oseberg, that’s just what they called it).**

* First inaccuracy, to the best of my knowledge, linen was not a particularly common material used in Sogdian clothing. Cotton, silk and wool (though maybe not the tabby weave I’m using), yes. Hemp, maybe. Flax, not so much. I used it because it’s what I had in my stash and I didn’t want to buy anything new for this first attempt. Note, at least one Sogdian letter does mention the trade in linen. Which is fun.

** Second inaccuracy, this is a 100% not silk brocade of questionable derivation. Again, it’s what I had and it’s close enough to the right aesthetic.

General Design

General cutting pattern for tunic (left) and caftan (right).


The tunic is cut according to the diagram provided under Cutting Method II in Fang Wan’s article. This method is very careful of fabric use and left me with a very small amount of waste out of 3 yards of fabric. Particularly interesting to me was the use of trapezoidal shapes to widen the body of the tunic. This is very similar in cut to the women’s tunics that were found in the 8th – 9th century burials at Moshchevaya Balka.


The tunic is cut from a dark denim blue linen and trimmed with yellow linen. Alas that all the fun brocades I currently have stashed are 11th century or later, a brocade would have been more fun to use.


THIS INACCURACY NUMBER THREE (3). I have no evidence that Sogdian garments were decorated with block printing. Additionally, my review of Sogdian art suggests that tunics were not quite as loud as my tunic came out (inaccuracy #4). Caftans, sure, but tunics seem to be a bit more sedate.

To create the decoration on my caftan, I used the design on the woman’s caftan in the detail of Shiva with Tristula (above), created a stamp of the design, and then applied the stamp using opaque white screen printing ink (inaccuracy #5 should be pretty obvious here. Or is it #3.5?). Note, the pattern came out way bulkier than the original in the mural. My bad?

On the tunics pictured at Panjakent, trim can be seen in a column at the neck and around the end of the sleeves. For my trim, I used a bright gold linen. Yum!


The majority of the construction on the tunic is machine-work. Mostly because hand-work makes me cry. All visible stitching is by hand using whip stitch and hem stitch.


The cut of my caftan was much simpler than I’m used to. The Sanjar-Shah Child’s Caftan was probably cut like it was because it’s smaller than an adult’s garment, but after trying to do a lot of math to make things work with the 3 yards of fabric I had, I just got tired and copied the cutting method. Sometimes easier is better.


The body of the caftan is olive green wool lined in salmon red linen. Wool has a fairly reliable history in Central Asia, both felt and woven wool. My plain, tabby-woven wool isn’t too controversial in this regard, just waaaay too plain.


The trim on my caftan is the “Oseberg” brocade from Sartor.cz. Despite its name, it’s not actually represented at Oseberg, so that’s fun. The pattern is based on a 6th – 7th century Japanese-made brocade copying a Sasanian Persian original, housed in the 8th century Shōsōin (正倉院) Imperial Repository in Nara, Japan.

The brocade is has a polyester warp and rayon weft and is 100% not the fabric that I would prefer to use. I’m looking forward to getting better materials in the future!


The majority of the seams on this garment were laid flat with running stitches. This was in part to imitate the stitching on the Sanjar-Shah Child’s Caftan and in part because I feel like it gets too bulky around the seams if you don’t flat-fell the wool. Some of the sleeve seams are stitched down with herringbone stitches because I did the work before doing the research.

The weight-bearing seams are machine sewn.


Accessories are they key to making an outfit look good. The tl;dr of this section is that I need more of them.


I didn’t have time to make boots, but I believe that is what would be most correct. A good pair of boots is becoming a thing I need in my life. In the interim, I’m wearing my Slavic bag shoes (Mecklenburg shoes) from Barefoot Cordwainer.


I haven’t done a lot of research on women’s belts in Sogdia. There is a strong record of men’s plaque belts, and the image of the Daughter from Panjekent seems to show some sort of plaque belt on the left-hand woman.

None of the belts I have seen on women seem to have pendants or any particular length. The Orlat belt, a man’s belt found roughly 50 kilometers north of Samarkand and dating to somewhere between the 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE, is postulated to have fastened in the front with a short, narrow piece of leather.

Reconstruction of the Orlat belt set, from Ilyasov and Rusanov, “A study on the bone plates from Orlat.”

This type of connection might provide a clue on how the women’s plaque belts were closed.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good plaque belt right now. Instead, my options are: woven belt with Saxon fittings, leather belt with Merovingian fittings, and woven belt with no fittings. I think I’m going to go with the plain woven belt because there’s no weird fittings to mess things up.


Yeah, I have none and I’m going to need some. A lot. With pearls?

Gold seems to be the predominant metal on the Panjakent murals, decorated with various pearls and precious stones. Bronze pins have been found at Sanjar-Shah and Panjakent, meaning that, despite what the murals would have you believe, gold wasn’t the only material being used to create personal adornment (my pocketbook says “thank the maker!”).


As can be seen in the image of the Daughter (above), Sogdian women (at least some of them) wore their hair in multiple braids. I will not be doing that many braids as it is a LOT and my head will look funny. My current plan is two braids in the front (temple area) and one large braid down the back.

I have also seen references to kerchiefs or other headcoverings, but I’m not sure I understand what I’ve read and don’t want to present something wrong. (Or more wrong than I’ve done already.)


This was a fun outfit to work on and I’m looking forward to doing more in the future! After this weekend, I’ll make a follow-up post with pictures of the complete outfit.

A note about the title of this post. My favorite line from a Golliard song translates to “Sweet Swabian Swabia, adieu.” I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little lifting.


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