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Banqueting, Dress, & the Idealized Sogdian Merchant


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 & 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 & 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 & competition tailored for emulation by guests in the elite Sogdian mercantile class.


Betty Hensellek, “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