Hellenistic Fortress of Bactria

The Uzundara Fortress was built at a small site surrounded by steep granite cliffs of the Kara-Kamar mountain area and the Uzun-dara gorge atop of waterless Suzistag Mountain. It became one of major elements in the borderline system of fortifications built on the borders between Sogdia and Bactria not later than the early 3rd century BC. From the top of the towers the military garrison could get an unobstructed view of a huge countryside around the fortress and overlook the roads and mountain passes within the range of dozens of kilometers.

The fortress is lozenge-shaped in plan, with a number of wall sections protruding outward from the fortress to the north-west and a citadel subtriangular in plan abutting to it from the south-east. The fortress walls are more than 900 m in length and 3.5 m in thickness. The walls are made from stone with the use of a technology that combined stonework (with clay-based mortar), which was up to one meter thick from the outer and inner faces, with compactly placed stone and pebble filling and clay between them. The closest analogy to this stonework is the Darband borderline wall located 7 km north of Uzundara, which crosses the valley between Suzistag Mountain and Sarymas Mountain.

In addition to the citadel and the line of walls outside the fortress, the fortress has 10 rectangular or subsquare towers of different size located 25–170 m from each other. The 11th tower is located outside the fortress wall some 125 m north of the south-western corner of the fortress. This tower was used as an observation post to overlook the bottom of the Uzun-dara gorge within the range of several kilometers to the south-east towards the Khodjibulgan pass, but mostly it controlled access to the fortress from the Uzun-dara gorge where the relief is flat.

The Uzundara Fortress was discovered in 1991 by E.V. Rtveladze who suggested that it was, probably, one of the so called Sogdian Rocks or Rocks of Ariamazes, which Alexander the Great tried to capture and which are mentioned by classical written sources. The fortress (refuge) built on the rock, most likely, belonged to a Bactrian baron named Oxyartes, whose daughter Roxana renowned for her beauty became the wife of Alexander the Great.

In spring of 2013 the expedition of the Institute launched archaeological excavations at the Uzundara Fortress. Three excavation trenches were dug, i.e. at the citadel, on the west fortress wall and near the likely place of the fortress gate.

The excavations of the rock ensemble at the citadel revealed a unique feature measuring 10 by 10 m, up to 4 m deep, which was cut out in the rock formation. The bottom of the structure has a gradient of 0.5 m. A square cavity, i.e. a water collection chamber with four postholes, is located in its lower southern part. The entire bottom and the walls of the structure have a special system of ducts cut out at varied depth in the rock. Remains of wooden constructions were discovered in situ in the ducts, they were overlaid by lead plates on a bituminous layer also placed in situ, which were attached to the wood by bronze nails. A great number of lead plates with bronze nails suggest that the entire structure was clad with such plates. A large volume of the structure with a good hydroinsulation and a special system of water condensate collection implies that, probably, it was used as strategic storage of food reserves.

The archaeological data, the instrumental topographic plan and the cycle of geo-radar surveys were used to prepare a 3D-model of the site preliminary reconstruction.

The suggestion that the fortress belonged to Oxyartes is validated by its geography and description of the rock in the writings of Greek and Roman sources of classical antiquity; chance finds of arrowheads of the Achaemenid type, pottery of the Yaz III type, including finds in the occupation layer. The site may be generally characterized as an archaeological ensemble with the occupation layer and fortification of the Early Hellenistic period.

N.D. Dvurechenskaya

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