Sideways-Oriented Images of Manichaean and Armenian Liturgical Books


Zsuzsanna Gulácsi
Northern Arizona University

East Central Asian Manichaean sources discovered at Kocho from the Uygur era of Manichaean history (755-1024 CE) constitute prominent examples of Silk Road art and text. Despite the closeness of Chinese culture and the dominant presence of Buddhism in the region during this era, Manichaean books maintain a distinctly “West Asiatic” character. In order to further explore the latter, this study assesses the codicological similarities between Manichaean manuscripts from East Central Asia (that were written in Parthia, Middle Persian, Sogdian, and Uygur languages) and the earliest Eastern Christian and Islamic manuscripts from Syro-Mesopotamia (that were written in Syrian, Armenian, Arabic, and Persian languages between the 5th and 11th centuries). The two groups compare favorably based on a variety of codicological criteria. These similarities point beyond the mid 3rd-century Syro-Mesopotamian roots of Uygur-era Manichaean book culture and indicate that there was a continued contact between the Manichaean communities in East Central Asia and their Mesopotamian homeland well into the medieval period.

Zsuzsanna Gulácsi is professor of art history, Asian studies, and comparative religious studies at Northern Arizona University. She is a historian of religious art, specializing in the contextualized art historical study of pan-Asiatic religions that adapted their arts to a variety of cultures as they spread throughout the continent. Her research has been supported by the National Humanities Center, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Scholarship, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and most recently the Getty Foundation. Her many publications include Manichaean Art in Berlin Collections (Brepols, 2001), Medieval Manichaean Book Art: A Codicological Study of Iranian and Turkic Illuminated Book Fragments (Brill, 2005), Mani’s Pictures: The Didactic Images of the Manichaeans from Sasanian Mesopotamia to Uygar Central Asia and Tang-Ming China (Brill, 2016), and the edited volume Language, Society, and Religion in the World of the Turks: Festschrift for Larry Clark at Seventy-Five (Brepols, 2018).

Ms. 4813, folia 5 verso & 6 recto (Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts (Matenadaran), Yerevan, Armenia), 1338 CE.
Blog at