The Towers of Victory, the function of the minaret, and a new script

commemorative rather than religious

One post is not enough to talk about the Towers of Victory, that Byron visited on the 15th of June 1934, while in Ghazni.

The Towers of Victory are two free-standing minarets, and possibly, their function cannot be ascribed to religion, as Byron writes in his travelogue:

“The famous ‘Towers of Victory’ stand 700 yards apart on the way to the village of Rozah: a pair of octagonal star-shaped stumps, each seventy feet high and now roofed with a tin hat to prevent further decay. […] They were built as minarets, commemorative rather than religious, for the ground gives no evidence that there was ever a mosque in the neighbourhood.

But I don’t want to rush. Instead, let’s first talk about the two minarets, their structure, history, and inscriptions. Only after that, we can consider thinking about a possible function.

IMG10847
General view from east showing Minaret of Mas’ud III Minaret with Bahram Shah Minaret and Palace of Mas’ud III in the background. Photo by Bernard O’Kane (archnet).
THE HISTORY OF TWO MINARETS

The two minarets have two different patrons. They were both built between the end of the 11th and the earliest 12th century by father and son: Mas’ud III, the Ghaznavid Sultan, built the first one, and Bahram Shah, son and successor of Mas’ud III, built the second one, roughly 600 meters away from the one of his father.

IMG08867 (1).jpg
The minaret of Mas’ud III before 1902. Photo attributed to the British Legation (archnet).

The older minaret, the one built by Mas’ud III, used to be higher. The shaft visible today, with an eight-sided star plan, used to be only the lower portion of the minaret. A photo that Byron attributed to the British Legation, taken in 1870, shows the minaret of Mas’ud III intact, with a tall circular shaft on top of the star-shaped lower part. That cylindrical part collapsed in 1902 after an earthquake. The minaret of Bahram Shah used to have an additional section, too, but in this case, I could not find any photographic evidence.

There is no evidence that the minarets were originally adjoined a mosque. Byron apparently rejects this hypothesis but in fact, the lack of extensive archaeological survey cannot confirm or discard this theory. It can be that the two minarets were connected to a mud-brick mosque that eventually collapsed.

In any case, the minarets are made of baked brick. The minaret of Mas’ud III is particularly lavishly decorated, with inscriptions and moldings. All the decorations appear to have been realized in situ, thus, after the tower was erected.

And apart from the decorations, the minaret of Mas’ud III displays a lot of inscriptions, in the various parts of the shafts.

THE INSCRIPTIONS AND THE BIRTH OF A NEW SCRIPT

The shaft of the minaret of Mas’ud III can be divided into 8 decorative bands.

IMG10808.jpg
General view. Photo by Josephine Powell (archnet).

The first three bands, from the top, contain a knotted Kufic inscription running around the shaft, bordered with interlacing stars. It contains the titles of Mas’ud III. The text reads, according to Pinder-Wilson’s transcription:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

السلطان الاعظم

ملك الاسلام على الدولة

ابو سعد المسعود

بن ظاهر الدولة

ابي مظفر ابرهيم

ناصر خليفة الله امير

المؤمنين خلد الله ملكه

Translated as: “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate / the greatest Sultan / king of Islam ‘ala al-Dawla / Abu Sa’d Mas’ud / Ibn Zahir al-Dawla / Abi Muzaffar Ibrahim / Nasir Khalifat Allah Commander / of the Faithful God gae [him] his reign”.

IMG10812.jpg
Detail of the upper knotted kufic freeze. Photo by Oleg Grabar (archnet).

The lower decorative parts (from bottom to top, numbers 1 to 5) are horizontally organized in square or rectangular panels, each spanning the facing flanges of the eight-sided star. Vertically, the arrangement is designed in order to highlight the central band (number 3). This is the most important part of the decoration, apparently, since the other parts are paired in a way as to create a frame around the number 3.

In the part number 3, we can find eight square-ish panels with a highly decorative inscription where some of the titles already present in the upper inscription are repeated. These are the very first examples of a Square Kufic inscriptions on a monument.

IMG10803.jpg
Detail of the Square Kufic inscription. Photo by Bernard O’Kane (archnet).

What is written in these panels is not ‘original’: they contain some of the titles already written in the first, upper inscription:

السلطان الاعظم” (the greatest Sultan) – on the first, fourth, and seventh panels

على الدولة” (‘Ala al-Dawla) – on the second, and fifth panels

مسعود ابي سعد” (Mas’ud abi Sa’d) – on the third, sixth, and eighth panels

It is worth noticing how the Square Kufic inscriptions do not add anything new to the message that was already conveyed with the upper inscription, where the titles of the patron and ruler were listed. We can already understand how the script was then developed with a primarily decorative function.

There is yet another inscription, in a coursive script, that frames the lower decorative panels. This inscription contains Qur’anic text: the Victory Sura (surat al-fath), Q 48.

Sources

Archnet.org is always a good resource for photos and general historical information.

I also suggest having a look at the PhD thesis written by Tehnyat Majeed, and available online on academia.edu.

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