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Vol. 9 (2003)  Issue 1d (May 5)

() ISSN 1084-7561

Guest editor :   Jan E.M.  Houben, Leiden University



Note: The Soma-Haoma issue of the EJVS, of which this is the first part,
presents the direct and indirect outcome of a workshop on the Soma-Haoma
problem organized by the Research school CNWS, Leiden University, 3-4 July


(1a)	1. The Soma-Haoma problem: Introductory overview and
observations on the discussion (J.E.M. Houben)

(1b)	2. Report of the Workshop (J.E.M. Houben)

(1c)	3. Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in
the "white room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis,
Turkmenistan (C.C. Bakels)

*	4. Margiana and Soma-Haoma (Victor I. Sarianidi)

*   Figure 01
*   Figure 02
*   Figure 03
*   Figure 04
*   Figure 05
*   Figure 06A
*   Figure 06B
*   Figure 07
*   Figure 08A
*   Figure 08B
*   Figure 09
*   Figure 10


Fig.1. Temple of Togolok-21. Plan (No.1) and Reconstruction (No.2).
Fig.2. Ceramics of the nomadic Andronov type. Temple of Togolok-1
(No.1) and the Gonur Temenos (No.2).
Fig.3. Summary Table.
Fig.4. "Small baths" with the inner gypsum layer from the rooms of the
Gonur Temenos.
Fig.5. "Small baths" and fragments of the gypsum layer with the offprints
of canabis.
Fig.6. A+B. Cult vessels with the sculptured friezes from the temple of
Togolok-1 (Nos. 1,2,3)
Fig.7. Bactria. Sculptured friezes from the cult vessels.
Fig.8. A+B. Togolok-1. Frieze on the cult vessel (1--Nos.1,2,3). Summary
table of the small anthropomorphic  statuettes from the Bactrian cult
vessels (2--No.1-8).
Fig.9. Margiana. "White rooms" and "courtyards surrounded by corridors"
from the temples of Togolok-21 (No.1), Togolok-1 (No.2) and Gonur Temenos
Fig.10. Small bone tubes with facial images from the temples of Margiana.

(1e)	5. Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda (George Thompson)

(1f)	6. Contributors to this issue, Part I


Victor Sarianidi

It is a well-known fact that at all times everywhere in the world when
people wanted to forget the hardships of their everyday life they used
intoxicating drinks made of different local plants. For most of them this
habit became a routine part of their life style; but in Zoroastrianism it
acquired a special place in the religion. The intoxicating drink was used
as a cult drink and had an important ritual meaning. In the Avesta they
called this drink "haoma" and in the Rigveda - "soma"; to this drink  they
dedicated the most poetic hymns, a fact that speaks for its special place
in Zoroastrianism and Vedism.
	Zoroastrianism is known to have originated in an Iranian
environment and, more precisely, in a society of "Iranian paganism". It is
logical then to assume that the soma-haoma cult appeared in this society
and that later Zoroaster included it in his new religion.
	For a long time searches for "Iranian paganism" were fruitless and
only in the last decades the signs of it were found in the territory of
Outer Iran, more precisely in Bactria (northern Afghanistan) and especially
in Margiana (east Turkmenistan). Archaeological discoveries in Margiana,
the country mentioned in the Beihustan script under the name of Margush,
have yielded material that pointed to the ritual cult of the intoxicating
drink of haoma which took a central place in the religious ideas of local
	Most representative are the monumental temples (Togolok-1,
Togolok-21, temenos Gonur), their sizes  and elaborate principles of the
layout easily comparable to the famous temples of Mesopotamia. The
Togolok-21 temple  (Fig.1) can be looked upon as a kind of "cathedral" that
served the needs of the whole ancient country of Margush (Sarianidi 1998a:
	In each of these three temples the main place is occupied by the
so-called "white rooms" with a common layout principle. Along the walls of
these rooms there are located low brick platforms with dug-in vessels that
are fixed in the platforms and that contain thick layers of gypsum. The
vessels contain the remains of ephedra, canabis and poppy, in other words,
substances which are known to be used for making narcotics. There is no
doubt that in ancient days these plants were also used for an analogical
purpose (Meyer-Melikyan, in Sarianidi 1998a: 176-179).
	It should be mentioned  that some scientists doubt the contents of
these vessels (Hiebert 1994: 123-129; Parpola 1998: 127). This doubt is
based on the negative results of the analyses of some samples from the
Gonur temenos that were received in the laboratory of the Helsinki
University. This negative result may be easily explained by the fact that
the samples for this analysis were taken from the vessels that for five
long years were exposed to the direct influence of the sunlight, rain and
snow and this must have had a major influence on the remains of the
vessels. In summer of 1999 on the request of the Leiden University new
samples from the Gonur temenos were sent for another independent analysis.
	So, for the first time in the world archaeological practice,
monumental temples were found  in which intoxicating beverages of the
soma-haoma type were prepared for cult ceremonies. Two of them, the
Togolok-21 and Gonur temenos, had fire altars as well, that were always
located in secret places inside the temples and were hidden behind high
blind walls. Their location speaks for their secondary status compared to
the soma-haoma.
	In the Gonur temenos there was found a separate "tower complex"
also related to the preparation of the cult beverage (Sarianidi 1995:
296-299, fig.5). In one room on the floor there was a large basket lined
inside with a thick layer of gypsum. Next to it was the half of a so-called
miniature stone column and a hand-made vessel typical for the nomads of the
Andronov culture (Fig.2, No 2). It is significant that fragments of the
same type were also found in the temples of Togolok-1 and 21 testifying to
the existence of contacts between the agricultural and nomadic tribes of
Margiana, at least in the field of the preparation of cult beverages. But
this statement needs additional research.
	Each of the Margiana temples has a specific set of finds related to
the process of producing a drink of the soma-haoma type. Such sets may be
looked upon as an illustration to what was written in the Avesta and
Rigveda. It is quite significant how these written sources are supported by
the archaeological data from the excavations of the Margiana temples
	As already mentioned, the excavations documentally proved that
poppy, cannabis and ephedra were used for making the soma-haoma drinks, and
thickets of these plants were found in excess in the vicinity of the
excavated temples of Margiana.
	Since these alkaloid plants had an unpleasant smell they were first
wetted in water. The  archaeological excavations of the Margiana temples
have yielded huge vats, "small baths" (and sometimes weaved baskets) that
are plastered inside with gypsum layers and were used for this purpose. On
the bottom of these containers there were preserved remains of alkaloid
plants, cannabis, first of all. In this respect the excavations of the
Gonur temenos are very significant. There, around a small temple there were
scattered a lot of private houses the inhabitants of which were engaged in
the everyday service of the temple. Over twenty five rooms found in these
private houses have yielded either large vats or "small baths" made in the
special brick platforms (Fig.4). In these vessels also there were found
remains with the offprints of seeds, ephedra stems and cannabis, mostly
	The hymns of the Avesta and Rigveda described how these alkaloid
plants were processed. First they soaked these plants in liquid, then they
ground them on stone plates, using stone pestles and grinders. The
archaeological finds support these written data. Numerous stone articles
connected with grinding of the alkaloid plants were found in all
Margianian temples (Fig.3, No.8). One can only guess what a complicated
ritual has accompanied this process! In the Avesta, for example, they speak
about the "first priests of mortar", while in the Rigveda many hymns
describe the process of soma making.
	According to the hymns, the moment of squeezing out the juice was
hardly the most important in the whole process of the preparation of this
intoxicating drink. To obtain this the alkaloid plants that were previously
roughly ground by pestles and grinders were squeezed out with the help of
special pressing stones (the word "haoma" in the Avesta is translated as
"the thing that is squeezed").
	All three temples of Margiana and especially the Gonur temenos
yielded the archaeological material that documentally illustrate the
process frequently mentioned in the Avesta and Rigveda. In one of the rooms
of the Gonur temenos, next to the vat that was obviously connected with the
process of soaking the alkaloid plants, a round and flat pressing stone was
found with a half-spheric projection in the centre (Fig.3 No.4). It is easy
to imagine that this stone coupled with another similar one that had a
corresponding deepening in the centre could be ideally used for squeezing
the juice out of the plants previously soaked.
	It is important to mention that besides Margiana the excavations of
the settlement of Ulug Tepe near Dushak in south Turkmenistan in the Late
Bronze layers (Fig.3, No.11) have yielded one complete "pressure set", that
consisted of a huge stone mortar and a pestle, a pressing stone with a
half-spheric projection in its centre and next to it a similar one with a
half-spheric deepening. This find shows that the preparation of a
soma-haoma juice was spread not only in Margiana but in south Turkmenistan
as well, where related tribes of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological
Complex were living.
	According to the Avesta and Rigveda on the final stage the soaked
plants were mixed with barley, milk (sour milk as well), then water was
added and the whole mixture  was kept for several days in special vessels
for fermentation.
	The archeological finds show that this final stage of the
preparation of the cult beverage took place in the above-mentioned "white
rooms" of the Margiana temples (Fig.3, No.1) since all of them along their
walls had brick platforms with dug-in vessels that contained remains of
alkaloid plants.
	After the fermentation process was finished they had to separate
the intoxicating drink from stems and seeds and special strainers were used
for this purpose. On the bottom of each strainer there was a hole covered
with a piece of wool, a fact that is mentioned in detail in the Rigveda.
	The excavations have yielded the so-called ceramic stands found in
all three temples of Margiana,as well as special strainers with centrally
located holes (Fig.3, No.6). Of outstanding interest was a large room in
the Gonur temenos that was located next to the white room. There on the
floor and benches along the walls were found five intact round ceramic
stands (Fig.3,No.9) and fragments of three more (Sarianidi 1995: 293), as
well as large fragments of conic strainers with centrally located holes.
	It seems quite natural to suppose that such strainers with holes
covered with pieces of sheep wool were placed on the above-mentioned
"ceramic stands". Then the juice together with stems and seeds that was
prepared in the neighbouring "white rooms" was strained through the piece
of wool and it dripped down into  the cup placed under the strainer (Fig.3,
	According to the Zorostrian texts the ready-made juice was poured
into cult vessels, and this process  was accompanied by the music of
eulogistic hyms. Later this juice was used during ritual ceremonies, cult
libations first of all.
	These textual data were supported by archaeological finds. In all
three Margianian temples vessels were found with long spouts as well as
vessels with frail sculptural friezes along the rim. Especially the latter
finds have an important meaning since their decorated rims deny their
everyday usage and most likely indicate their cult purpose. The vessels
with four spouts and sculptured images of goats standing by the "tree of
life" were most probably connected with the cult of libation as well
(Fig.3, No.2).
	The central place among such sculptured friezes was undoubtedly
occupied by coupled figures of people (men and women) clearly in fighting
position. The men are usually standing in the "fighter's" pose with widely
spread arms and women in a clearly humble position have their arms behind
(Fig.6, No.1-2). In Bactria was found a cult vessel with sculptured image
of a man and a woman (judging by their different hair-does), who are
purposely shown in what is obviously a fighting position (Fig.7, No.1).
	From the Togolok-1 temple comes an intact cult vessel with a
sculptured frieze in which the central place is occupied by two standing
human figures. One of them, supposedely, is a man  with a baby on his chest
and the other is a woman in a clearly humble position with her arms behind
her back and her head  turned down (Fig.6, No.2). Though these personages
have no sexual signs it is worth to mention that on the Togolok-21 there
were found two similar figurines, one of them is clearly female also with
arms behind her back and the other one is obviously male with arms on the
chest (Sarianidi 1998a: 102-103, fig.50).
	These sculptured friezes constantly repeated on the cult vessels in
the territory from Bactria to Margiana most likely reflect some definite
myths that were spread in these two related historic areas. Keeping in mind
that these vessels were used for cult drinks of the soma-haoma type, one
may assume that the sculptured friezes reflected the myths and stories
related to this drink and widely spread in Bactria and Margiana (Fig.8).
	In this connection especially significant is one myth from the
Rigveda about Soma who was a son of Parjanya and of Mother Earth. Parjanya
is the god of Rain in the Rigveda, but in an Indo-european perspective his
name suggests he is a god of Thunder. The Soma God is most likely
representing the soma plant (Elizarenkova 1972: 300-301; and from the brief
references in the Rigveda it can be inferred that Parajanya took their
common child from the Mother Earth (presumably against her will), and
brought him to the heaven to join him to the family of Gods.
	It should be added that one cult vessel from Bactria had a male
figure with arms spread in a "fighting" pose and an axe at the belt (Fig.7,
No.3), pointing to Parjanya as Thunder-God. The subject frieze on the cult
vessel from Togolok-1 (as well as some others from Bactria) may be looked
upon as one that reflects the definite myth of soma (Fig.9) [Fig.7? J.H.].
	It is not at all accidental that every "white room" is accompanied
by a corresponding vast "courtyard surrounded by corridors" that are
connected by common passages. This shows that functionally these premises
were interlinked (Fig.9). The courtyards are believed to be used for
conducting ceremonies connected with cult libations. This assumption is
supported by the finds of some small bone tubes that contained remains of
poppy pollen (according to N.R.Meyer-Melikyan). One such tube  was found at
the entrance to the big altar of the Togolok-21 temple and exactly
resembled the one that was found in the "white room" of the temple. Similar
bone tubes were found in other temples of Margiana, their surfaces
polished like mirrors due to their frequent and long usage (Fig.10). The
poppy pollen found in them makes one assume that the tubes were used for
drinking cult drinks. Significantly, these tubes are decorated with images
of eyes with exaggeratedly big pupils. According to Prof.
N.R.Meyer-Melikyan such pupils may belong to those who constantly use
narcotics (Meyer-Melikyan and Avetov in Sarianidi 1998a: 177).
	The seals and amulets with numerous images of poppy, ephedra and
presumably of cannabis testify to the fact that the alkaloid plants took a
special place in Bactria and Margiana (Sarianidi 1998, A.,fig.  ).[Number
not given, not clear whether 1998a or b is intended, J.H.]
	It has been argued that the country of Margush has appeared as a
result of the arrival of tribes from north Mesopotamia that got mixed with
a few  local south Turkmenian tribes (Sarianidi 1998 [a or b, J.H.]). It is
likely that long ago these newly arrived tribes practiced the cult
libations of intoxicating drinks of the soma-haoma type in their previous
motherland, and that they brought these traditions to the new land. And it
was this cult drink or, more precisely, the corresponding deity, to whom
they dedicated such monumental temples as the Margianian temples of
Togolok-1 and 21, as well as the Gonur temenos.
	The remains of the fossil poppy found in the area of eastern
Mediterranian and Anatolia (Merlin, 1984) may indirectly prove that from
there with the migration of the Indo-European tribes it began to spread all
over the Old World. Some specialists (Tseiner, Kritikos, Papadakis)
consider Greece and Asia Minor the motherland of the poppy cultivation.
	It should also be mentioned that besides Margiana, the cult vessels
with sculptured friezes on the rims in the whole system of the Near East
were widely spread only in Anatolia (Kul Tepe) and in the Aegean world,
mostly in Cyprus (Sarianidi 1998, A.,fig.1). Perhaps it is not accidental
that in the same region, mainly in Cyprus, there were found small bone
tubes with images of faces (Morris,1985, fig.263-268; Pl.190) that resemble
very closely the Margianian ones.
	Very representative in this connection are the ritual dishes from
Cyprus in the form of altars or temples. One of them shows a man with a
vessel, this scene probably depicting the process of libation (V.
Karageorghis, 1982). Speaking of such Cyprian dishes it should be mentioned
that similar ones were found in Elam and Shahdad (Iran). Although they were
found in illegal excavations, one can assume that they were locally made
though strongly influenced by the Cyprian cult dishes. Some of them
represented exact copies of those of Cyprus (Sarianidi, 1998a: 36  Fig.10,
	The intermediate point that marks the area where these vessels were
spread is Allalah that yielded a vessel with an animal figure "seated" on
the rim and some others with snakes crawling out of vessels (Woolley, 1955,
Pl.LVII). Also representative are the finds from Tell Brak that represent
vessels with modelled snakes similar to those from Bactria and Margiana
(Sarianidi, 1998b, fig.1). They are shown crawling out and trying to reach
the rims of vessels (Mallowan 1947, Pl.LXX).
	In the Zoroastrian religion haoma had a triple image, that is haoma
as the ritual narcotic drink,  haoma as the plant used for making the
intoxicating drink, and haoma as the diety or legendary priest: the
personification of the plant and drink. As shown above so far only in
Margiana and Bactria there were found material proofs of the usage of the
alkaloid plants (ephedra, cannabis and poppy) for the preparation of the
intoxicating drink of the soma-haoma type. And finally, it should be
mentioned that only in Margiana the local tribes built monumental temples
in honour of the intoxicating drink soma-haoma (more precisely, in honour
of the Soma-haoma god), which do not leave any doubts about its divine
	Another proof of the divine character of Soma-haoma is the fact
that three out of four Margianian monumental temples were dedicated to the
cult of this drink. It is clear that the above-mentioned direct
archaeological proofs make one believe that the soma-haoma cult in the
Zoroastrian religion found its origin among the related cults that were
spread in "Iranian paganism", precisely in Margiana and in Bactria in
particular. At the same time one should not concentrate only on these two
historical regions. The area where this cult drink was spread includes the
whole of "Outer Iran" from eastern Iran and up to the Indus valley. This
statement is supported by the accidental finds from Godari-Shah and Quetta
	Thus, it was in Margiana (and partially in Bactria) that for the
first time in the world archeological practice, a certain factual material
has been found that illustrates the written sources of the Avesta and
Rigveda. Besides, as already  noticed, "...among the Iranian deities there
were hardly found any other ones with the characteristics that in the
Iranian and Indian tradition would correspond so much to the descriptions
of  haoma from the Avesta and Soma from the Veda" (Dresden, 1977: 351). And
it seems very likely that on the Indian subcontinent future studies will
also bring to light similar finds.
	It is very significant that neither the Rigveda nor the Avesta
mention the presence of temples. This is an indirect indication that the
libation cult was brought to Central Asia by the tribes that came  from the
faraway west and that later in their new motherland they reformed it and
included it in the Zoroastrian religion. Based on the fact that the
"cathedral temple" of Togolok-21 dates back to the last centuries of the
second millennium B.C., one may  assume that this reform took place some
time later, in the period between the first centuries of the first
millennium B.C. and the seventh century B.C. This also corresponds to the
linguistic data.


Dresden.M.1977. Mythology of Ancient Iran. Moscow.
Hiebert F., 1994, Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central
Asia, Cambridge.
Elizarenkova T. 1972. The "Rigveda". Moscow.
Karageorghis, 1982, Cyprus, London.
Meyer-Melikyan N., 1998, Analysis of Floral Remains from Togolok-21// in
V.Sarianidi, Margiana and Protozoroastrianism, Athens, 1998.
Meyer-Melikyan and Avetov, 1998, Analysis of Floral Remains in the Ceramic
Vessel from the Gonur Temenos // in V.Sarianidi, Margiana and
Protozoroastrianism, Athens, 1998.
Merlin V. 1984, On the Trail of the Ancient Opium Poppy, London.
Morris D. The Art of Ancient Cyprus. Oxford.
Parpola A. 1998, Aryan Languages, Archaeological Cultures and Sinkiang:
Where Did Proto-Iranian Come into Being, and Did it Spread?//The Bronze Age
and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia. Journal of
Indo-European Studies Monograph, v.26, n.1, Washington.
Sarianidi V. 1994. Temples of Bronze Age Margiana: Traditions of Ritual
Architecture // Antiquity, v.68, n.259.
Sarianidi V. 1995, New Discoveries at Ancient Gonur// Ancient Civilization,
2,3, Leiden.
Sarianidi V. 1998, a, Margiana and Protozoroastrianism. Athens.
Sarianidi V. 1998, b. Myths of Ancient Bactria and Margiana on its Seals
and Amulets. Moscow.
Woolley, 1955 - Woolley L. Alallakh, Oxford.

Illustrations    << see extra files>>

Fig.1. Temple of Togolok-21. Plan (No.1) and Reconstruction (No.2).
Fig.2. Ceramics of the nomadic Andronov type. Temple of Togolok-1 (No.1)
and the Gonur Temenos (No.2).
Fig.3. Summary Table.
Fig.4. "Small baths" with the inner gypsum layer from the rooms of the
Gonur Temenos.
Fig.5. "Small baths" and fragments of the gypsum layer with the offprints
of canabis.
Fig.6. Cult vessels with the sculptured friezes from the temple of
Togolok-1 (Nos. 1,2,3) and Togolok-21 (No.4).
Fig.7. Bactria. Sculptured friezes from the cult vessels.
Fig.8. Togolok-1. Frieze on the cult vessel (1--Nos.1,2,3). Summary table
of the small anthropomorphic  statuettes from the Bactrian cult vessels
Fig.9. Margiana. "White rooms" and "courtyards surrounded by corridors"
from the temples of Togolok-21 (No.1), Togolok-1 (No.2) and Gonur Temenos
Fig.10. Small bone tubes with facial images from the temples of Margiana.

Note of the editor:
When preparing Prof. Sarianidi's paper for publication I encountered
several points where I wished to consult the author but communication
between Leiden and Moscow was hardly possible and most of my editorial
questions have remained unanswered. I was especially puzzled by the word
"alcohoid" occurring nine times in the submitted paper and not known to
English dictionaries. Although Prof. Sarianidi speaks of fermentation of
the plants and a link with "alcoholic" could be intended, I finally decided
that the word must stand for "alkaloid" and changed the occurrences
accordingly. Otherwise I have only corrected a few apparent typing errors
and made some minor improvements in English style. A few editorial remarks
have been inserted on cross-references that were unclear (which does not
mean that each reference where I did not place a remark was clear to me). I
of course had to leave unchanged statements which I find problematic, such
as that the Avesta and Rigveda refer to a period of several days for the
fermentation of the soaked plants "mixed with barley, milk (sour milk as
well)" -- which must be based on some misunderstanding as the rituals
hinted at in these texts seem not to leave room for such a fermentation.
Regarding my question on the identity of the publication Dresden 1977 I
received (summer 2000) an additional reference to Mythologies of the
Ancient World, ed. by S.N. Kramer. New York 1961, Preface: I.M. Diakonov. I
want to conclude this editorial note with the expression of my sincere
gratefulness to Prof. Sarianidi for taking the effort to explain his
findings to a group of partly enthusiastic and partly sceptic scholars in
Leiden, and now to the readers of the EJVS. Even if it was so far not
possible to confirm his identifications and conclusions in all details,
Prof. Sarianidi's excavations in Margiana are of the greatest interest for
the cultural and religious history and prehistory of Central Asia, Iran and
India. J.H.