A Fourth Century Abandoned Wife

Life was not always easy for a foreigner in an alien culture, as a small collection of Sogdian letters show. Two of the letters tell the story of Miwnay, a Sogdian wife who has been abandoned and left destitute in Dunhuang by her husband Nanaidhat. Written at a time of famine and war after the collapse of Chinese central government, the once well-to-do Miwnay has become a servant of the Chinese and her daughter Shayn - who has added a postscript to the letter shown - guards flocks of domestic animals. Miwnay complains that her husband never answers her letters or sends money. She writes: 'I obeyed your command and came to Dunhuang and did not observe my mother's bidding nor that of my brothers. Surely the gods were angry with me on the day when I did your bidding! I would rather be a dog's or a pig's wife than yours!'. In another letter to her mother Chatis, Miwnay describes how she has unsuccessfully petitioned various members of the Sogdian community to help her return home. She shows her frustration at being pushed from pillar to post, with no one willing to help:

'I am very anxious to see you, but I have no luck. I petitioned the councillor Sagharak, but the councillor says: Here there is no other relative closer to Nanaidhat than Artivan. And I petitioned Artivan, but he says Farnkhund ... And Farkhund says: If your husband's relative does not consent that you should go back to your mother, how should I take you? Wait until ... comes; perhaps Nanaidhat will come. I live wretchedly, without clothing, without money. I ask for a loan, but no-one consents to give me one.'

These letters show that communication in the first millennium was not so very different from our own, and the people of that time can be easy to relate to. We still experience the same troubles and frustrations today. Fortunately for us, we at least now have more reliable forms of communication. Poor Miwnay's letters never even reached her husband or mother: they were finally found in a mislaid post bag outside Dunhuang in 1907.

SRE Cat. no. 191, c. 313-4, Found in Dunhuang, Ink on paper, Or.8212/98 (T.XII.a.ii.3)