On March 18, 2009, at the meeting of the Academic Council Dr V.A.Livshits gave a report entitled Sogdian “Ancient Letters” (2, 4, 5).
Dr V.Livshits outlined the history of the discovery and study of Ancient Letters and recited his own translation of Letters 2, 4, 5.
Abstract of the report:
Iranian scholars use the term Ancient Letters for a set of Sogdian letters written on Chinese paper, found by Sir Aurel Stein in 1907 in a ruined watch tower, located west of Dunhuang, near to the Jade Gate. Five letters were almost intact, though with some lacunae, and there were also found fragments of three other letters. Each letter was folded several times, and on the outside was inscribed the names of the sender and addressee. It was suggested that letter 2, wrapped in silk, was to be sent to Samarkand (Sogdian Smārkan0(ā)), located 2800 km west from Dunhuang.
Ancient Letters are the oldest Sogdian manuscripts ever found. Their contents allow us to conclude that at least two of them were written in Dunhuang, and one in Guzang. The letters were probably in a bag, which had been lost or thrown away by a courier. Letters 1 and 3 were dictated by a woman, the wife of a Sogdian merchant in Dunhuang. Letters 2, 4, 5 and 6 contain some business information sent to Sogdian merchants from their counterparts making deals in China. Like other Sogdian texts found or purchased by Stein, the Ancient Letters are kept now at the British Library in London.
The Ancient Letters are dated from 312-3, as ascertained by W.B.Henning, who scrutinized the contents of letter 2, which deal with the situation in China, including the war with the Huns, fire at the western capital Loyang and the city of Ye, and the flight of the emperor who escaped from the Huns and devastation of China.