The subject of this research are two Christian enclaves in Central Asia, described by Arab travellers and geographers who visited them in the tenth century. One is a monastery in the mountains near Samarkand, the other—a village on the bank of the Syr Darya in the Tashkent oasis.
Ironically, both places had been well-known to the academic community long before the author started his investigations. They have figured in all studies dealing with the history of Christianity in Central Asia since the publication of the mediaeval chronicles late in the nineteenth century; however, their exact location was never established.
My study has revealed that the place names identifying the location of each site were corrupted as scribe after scribe copied the Arabic and Persian manuscripts. As soon as credible forms were distilled from the list of variant readings, it became possible to narrow the search area to limited and surveyable territory and to proceed to fieldwork.
Additional traces of the monastery’s existence were retrieved, scattered among several museums and libraries in different countries and in the foothills of the Northern Pamirs. After several reconnaissance surveys revealed traces of human occupation and building remains, full archaeological investigations brought to light a major Christian stronghold between Merv and Turfan.
While the mediaeval authors described the monastery in much detail, they supplied no information about the village except its name; no additional material has survived, either. Consequently, the result of the second enquiry is less definite; still I hope it would save the future researcher from starting afresh.
My work had been envisaged as a solution to one specific problem of Eastern Christian Studies. On closer scrutiny, that problem appeared to be a tangle of discrete questions which had to be addressed alongside the main matter. Gradually, the area under investigation grew from one valley in Urgut to the southern part of the Samarkand province and from the few kilometres between Chinaz and the Syr Darya to the Tashkent oasis and adjacent part of Kazakhstan. Those spaces had to be studied with the same operational resources allocated to the expedition at the outset. As a result, several questions that arose in the research process have remained unanswered, despite my best efforts. That leaves me to reiterate this note to the reader by the founder of Bibliotheca geographorum Arabicorum, whom I will invoke many more times in the following pages: lectorem rogatum velim ut nusquam negligat conferre addenda et emendanda.1
BGA, Praefatio to vol. IV, VIII.