Heavenly horses of Ferghana

Unfortunately, the history of ancient Ferghana has been studied rather poorly, which is due primarily to the lack of written sources.

Among the lucky exceptions are the Chinese chronicles of the end of the 1st millennium BC, covering in sufficient detail the relationship between the Celestial Empire and the state of Dayuan which occupied all or most of the modern Ferghana Valley and subsequently became part of the Great Silk Road.

It is generally accepted that the Silk Road was discovered by Chinese diplomat Jian Lin in the 2nd century BC.

Ferghana horses

Jian Lin's diplomatic mission dragged on for 13 years. In particular, he had a chance to visit Dayuan (Ferghana), about which he made a detailed description.

The main news that aroused the interest of the monarch concerned breeding in Dayuan a special breed of horses - beautiful, hardy and sweating in blood, which allegedly testified to their heavenly origin. The Chinese called these horses "heavenly" - "shanma".

It should be noted that at the described time the problem of providing horses was extremely sensitive for China. The empire waged continuous wars with its northern neighbors, annoying it with regular raids. It was possible to strike retaliation against the steppe only with a large cavalry, which was excluded due to the lack of developed horse breeding among the Chinese: their horse breeds did not differ in physical qualities.

That is why the emperor Wu-di came in joyful excitement in 104 BC. He hastily sent the embassy to Dayuan, headed by the nobleman Che Lin, who was entrusted with persuading the people of Dayuan to accept Chinese citizenship and immediately sell the “heavenly” horses for the Chinese army.

As it turned out, the Ferghana people of that time had specific ideas about hospitality. However, perhaps, they were upset by the arrogant tone of the ambassador, who demanded immediate submission. In any case, the proposal was rejected, and the Chinese ambassador, returning home, was robbed and killed at the direction of the Dayuan prince Mugua.
Upon learning of Che Lin’s sad fate, the emperor was extremely angry and immediately sent a punitive expedition to Dayuan.

However, the strength of the corps of Li Guang Li was clearly not enough to join Dayuan. More than half of the warriors died on the way to Dayuan from cold and illness. After several skirmishes and a bloody siege, it became clear to the Chinese that the capital of the country - the city of Ershi - could not be taken. With the surviving warriors, Li Guang Li was forced to go to China for help. About 15% of the troops returned to their homeland.

The emperor was again beside himself with rage and ordered to prepare a new campaign to Dayuan.

Thus, in 102 BC at the next attempt of the Chinese to defeat Dayuan, the Ferghana peopledeclared that in the event of the fall of the city all valuable horses would be killed by them, which would deprive the Chinese of the main trophy. In the event of a ceasefire, the Dayuan people was ready to give horses and generally submit to the will of the emperor.

Li Guang Li and his generals reasoned that it would be wiser to accept the Ferghana proposal.

After the siege was lifted, 300 “heavenly” horses were handed over to the Chinese,. As compensation to the winners, 3,000 heads of ordinary horses were also handed over; In addition, Ferghana was obliged to send 2 “heavenly” horses to the Celestial Empire annually.

Starting from this period, China regularly received valuable horses from Ferghana, which allowed to gradually improve local horse breeding. In subsequent centuries, the Chinese troops won many victories thanks to fast and hardy horses. The exterior of the bronze winged horses found in the burial place of a Chinese general near Uwei in Gansu province (2nd century AD) undoubtedly indicates the Ferghana origin of their breed.

It is curious that the location of the city of Ershi has not yet been determined. In 1948, the famous Soviet archaeologist, Academician A.N. Bernshtam - put forward a hypothesis according to which Ershi was on the site of the Markhamat settlement in the south of Andijan region. One of his arguments in favor of this particular area was associated with cave paintings on Aravan rock.

Aravan rock rises above the village of Aravan, 20 km from Osh. Here in 1891 a cave was discovered on the walls of which an unknown author from about the 1st century AD - 1st century BC left an image of a hunting scene. Silhouettes of depicted goats with thrown back horns indicate the Scythian style of writing. The figure also shows a horse and a mare with a foal, the perfect forms of which suggest a connection with the thoroughbred horses of the Chinese chronicles. The Markhamat settlement is located 18 km from Aravan along the course of the Aravan Say rivulet.

One way or another, the episode with “heavenly horses” is a vivid episode in the little-studied history of ancient Ferghana. Come to Uzbekistan for other interesting legends and stories.

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