Banqueting, Dress, and the Idealized Sogdian Merchant

The wall painting, which is the focus of this article, on display in the ancient Central Asian galleries at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia (author’s own photograph)

a detail of the Sogdian wall painting with banqueters (author’s own photograph)


This essay, based on a wall painting of life-sized banqueters from the Sogdian city of Panjikent in Tajikistan, investigates the social function of the kaftan when worn for the occasion of a formal banquet. Past scholarship has called attention to the luxuriousness of the patterned fabrics worn by the banqueters and convincingly suggested that the painted personalities belong to the elite mercantile class of Sogdian society. Building on this, I address the potential social significance of the subtle dress distinctions between banqueters. I argue that fine details of these representations, including the turning out of the kaftan lapels, participate in a sartorial system. By carefully placing images of banqueters who display these subtle dress distinctions in rooms for gatherings, a dynamic spectrum of decorum dictating behavior and appearance for banquets held in the room was articulated. I suggest that the wall painting of banqueters was not merely an imitation of a noble practice for social mobility, but a potent image of both conviviality and competition tailored for emulation by guests in the elite Sogdian mercantile class.


“Banqueting, Dress and the Idealized Sogdian Merchant” in Fashioned Selves, edited by Megan Cifarelli, 185-199. Oxbow Books: Oxford, 2019.

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Presentation Venues

ASOR Annual Meeting, Boston, 15 – 18 November 2017

Аспекты Согдийской Культуры (Aspects of the Sogdian Culture), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 29 September – 1 October 2016

Международный Круглый Стол по Актуальным Вопросам Согдологии (International Round Table on Current Questions in Sogdiology), Panjikent (Tajikistan), 4 August 2016