The Info List - Bactria

or Bactriana was the name of a historical region in Central Asia. Bactria
proper was north of the Hindu Kush
Hindu Kush
mountain range and south of the Amu Darya
Amu Darya
river,[1] covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. More broadly Bactria
was the area north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Tian Shan with the Amu Darya
Amu Darya
flowing west through the center.


1 Name 2 Geography 3 History

3.1 Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
(BMAC) 3.2 Cyrus the Great 3.3 Alexander 3.4 Seleucid Empire 3.5 Greco-Bactrian Kingdom 3.6 Indo-Greek Kingdom 3.7 Daxia, Tukhara & Tokharistan 3.8 Introduction of Islam

4 Bactrian people 5 See also 6 Sources 7 Notes 8 External links

Name[edit] The English name Bactria
is derived from the Ancient Greek: Βακτριανή, a Hellenized version of the Bactrian endonym Bakhlo (βαχλο). Analogous names include Avestan: Bakhdi, Old Persian: Bakhtrish,[2] New Persian: باختر‎, translit. Bākhtar, Tajik: Бохтар, Pashto: بلخ‎, translit. Balkh, Uzbek: Балх, Chinese: 大夏; pinyin: Dàxià, and Sanskrit: बाह्लीक, translit. Bāhlīka. Geography[edit]

Painted clay and alabaster head of a Zoroastrian priest wearing a distinctive Bactrian-style headdress, Takhti-Sangin, Tajikistan, Greco-Bactrian kingdom, 3rd–2nd century BC

According to Pierre Leriche:[3]

Bactria, the territory of which Bactra
[Balkh] was the capital, originally consisted of the area south of the Āmū Daryā with its string of agricultural oases dependent on water taken from the rivers of Balḵ (Bactra) [Balkh], Tashkurgan, Kondūz [Kunduz], Sar-e Pol, and Šīrīn Tagāō [Shirin Tagab]. This region played a major role in Central Asian history. At certain times the political limits of Bactria
stretched far beyond the geographic frame of the Bactrian plain.

History[edit] Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex

Goddesses, Bactria, Afghanistan, 2000–1800 BC.

The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex
(BMAC, also known as the "Oxus civilization") is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age
Bronze Age
culture of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2200–1700 BC, located in present-day eastern Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan
and western Tajikistan, centred on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River), an area covering ancient Bactria. Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976). Bactria
was the Greek name for Old Persian Bāxtriš (from native *Bāxçiš)[4] (named for its capital Bactra, modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana
was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, in today's Turkmenistan. The early Greek historian Ctesias, c. 400 BC (followed by Diodorus Siculus), alleged that the legendary Assyrian king Ninus
had defeated a Bactrian king named Oxyartes
in ca. 2140 BC, or some 1000 years before the Trojan War. Since the decipherment of cuneiform in the 19th century, however, which enabled actual Assyrian records to be read, historians have ascribed little value to the Greek account. According to some writers[who?], Bactria
was the homeland of Indo-Iranian tribes who moved south-west into Iran and into north-western India
around 2500–2000 BC. Later, it became the north province of the Persian Empire in Central Asia.[5] It was in these regions, where the fertile soil of the mountainous country is surrounded by the Turanian desert, that the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra) was said to have been born and gained his first adherents. Avestan, the language of the oldest portions of the Zoroastrian Avesta, was one of the old Iranian languages, and is the oldest attested member of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Iranian language family.

Kafirnigan from Tajikistan
(traditional Bactrian male clothing).

Kafirnigan from Tajikistan
(traditional Bactrian female clothing).

Kafirnigan from Tajikistan
(traditional Bactrian female clothing).

Kafirnigan from Tajikistan
(traditional Bactrian male clothing).

Cyrus the Great[edit] Main article: Bactria
(satrapy) Ernst Herzfeld
Ernst Herzfeld
suggested that before its annexation to the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great
in 6th century BC, Bactria
belonged to the Median empire[6] and together with Margiana
formed the twelfth satrapy of Persia.[3] After Darius III
Darius III
had been defeated by Alexander the Great, the satrap of Bactria, Bessus
attempted to organise a national resistance but was captured by other warlords and delivered to Alexander. He was then tortured and killed.[7] Alexander[edit]

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Alexander conquered Sogdiana. However, in the south, beyond the Oxus, he met strong resistance. After two years of war and a strong insurgency campaign, Alexander managed to establish little control over Bactria. After Alexander's death, Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
tells us that Philip received dominion over Bactria, but Justin names Amyntas to that role. At the Treaty of Triparadisus, both Diodorus Siculus
Diodorus Siculus
and Arrian
agree that the satrap Stasanor
gained control over Bactria. Eventually, Alexander's empire was divided up among the generals in Alexander's army. Bactria
became a part of the Seleucid Empire, named after its founder, Seleucus I. Seleucid Empire[edit] The Macedonians, especially Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I, established the Seleucid Empire
Seleucid Empire
and founded a great many Greek towns. The Greek language
Greek language
became dominant for some time there. The paradox that Greek presence was more prominent in Bactria
than in areas far closer to Greece can possibly be explained[original research?] by past deportations of Greeks
to Bactria. For instance, during the reign of Darius I, the inhabitants of the Greek city of Barca, in Cyrenaica, were deported to Bactria
for refusing to surrender assassins.[8] In addition, Xerxes also settled the "Branchidae" in Bactria; they were the descendants of Greek priests who had once lived near Didyma
(western Asia Minor) and betrayed the temple to him.[9] Herodotus also records a Persian commander threatening to enslave daughters of the revolting Ionians and send them to Bactria.[10] However, these few examples are not indicative of massive deportations of Greeks
to central Asia. Greco-Bactrian Kingdom[edit] Main article: Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of Antiquity.

Map of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
at its maximum extent, circa 180 BC.

Considerable difficulties faced by the Seleucid kings and the attacks of Ptolemy II of Egypt
Ptolemy II of Egypt
gave Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, the opportunity to declare independence (about 245 BC) and conquer Sogdiana. He was the founder of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Diodotus and his successors were able to maintain themselves against the attacks of the Seleucids—particularly from Antiochus III the Great, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans (190 BC). The Greco-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India:

As for Bactria, a part of it lies alongside Aria towards the north, though most of it lies above Aria and to the east of it. And much of it produces everything except oil. The Greeks
who caused Bactria
to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Bactria
and beyond, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander...."[11]

The Greco-Bactrians used the Greek language
Greek language
for administrative purposes, and the local Bactrian language
Bactrian language
was also Hellenized, as suggested by its adoption of the Greek alphabet and Greek loanwords. In turn, some of these words were also borrowed by modern Pashto.[12] Indo-Greek Kingdom[edit] Main article: Indo-Greek Kingdom

The founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom
Indo-Greek Kingdom
Demetrius I (205–171 BC), wearing the scalp of an elephant, symbol of his conquest of the Indus valley.

The Bactrian king Euthydemus I
Euthydemus I
and his son Demetrius I crossed the Hindu Kush
Hindu Kush
mountains and began the conquest of the Indus valley. For a short time, they wielded great power: a great Greek empire seemed to have arisen far in the East. But this empire was torn by internal dissensions and continual usurpations. When Demetrius advanced far into east of river Indus, one of his generals, Eucratides, made himself king of Bactria, and soon in every province there arose new usurpers, who proclaimed themselves kings and fought against each other. Most of them we know only by their coins, a great many of which are found in Afghanistan. By these wars, the dominant position of the Greeks
was undermined even more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. After Demetrius and Eucratides, the kings abandoned the Attic standard of coinage and introduced a native standard, no doubt to gain support from outside the Greek minority. In the Indus valley, this went even further. The Indo-Greek king Menander I
Menander I
(known as Milinda in India), recognized as a great conqueror, converted to Buddhism. His successors managed to cling to power until the last known Indo-Greek ruler, a king named Strato II, who ruled in the Punjab region
Punjab region
until around 55 BC.[13] Other sources, however, place the end of Strato II's reign as late as 10 AD. Daxia, Tukhara & Tokharistan[edit] Daxia, Ta-Hsia, or Ta-Hia (Chinese: 大夏; pinyin: Dàxià) was the name given in antiquity by the Han Chinese
Han Chinese
to Tukhara or Tokhara: the central part of Bactria. The name "Daxia" appears in Chinese from the 3rd century BC to designate a little-known kingdom located somewhere west of China. This was possibly a consequence of the first contacts between China
and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. During the 2nd century BC, the Greco-Bactrians were conquered by nomadic Indo-European tribes from the north, beginning with the Sakas (160 BC). The Sakas
were overthrown in turn by the Da Yuezhi
Da Yuezhi
("Greater Yuezhi") during subsequent decades. The Yuezhi
had conquered Bactria by the time of the visit of the Chinese envoy Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian
(circa 127 BC), who had been sent by the Han emperor to investigate lands to the west of China.[14][15] The first mention of these events in European literature appeared in the 1st century BC, when Strabo
described how "the Asii, Pasiani, Tokhari, and Sakarauli" had taken part in the "destruction of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom". Ptolemy
subsequently mentioned the central role of the Tokhari among other tribes in Bactria. As Tukhara or Tokhara it included areas that were later part of Surxondaryo Province
Surxondaryo Province
in Uzbekistan, southern Tajikistan
and northern Afghanistan. The Tokhari spoke a language known later as Bactrian – an Iranian language. (The Tokhari and their language should not be confused with the Tocharian people who lived in the Tarim Basin
Tarim Basin
between the 3rd and 9th centuries AD, or the Tocharian languages that form another branch of Indo-European languages.)

The treasure of the royal burial Tillia tepe
Tillia tepe
is attributed to 1st century BC Sakas
in Bactria.

Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian
taking leave from emperor Han Wudi, for his expedition to Central Asia
Central Asia
from 138 to 126 BC, Mogao Caves
Mogao Caves
mural, 618–712 AD.

The name Daxia
was used in the Shiji
("Records of the Grand Historian") by Sima Qian. Based on the reports of Zhang Qian, the Shiji
describe Daxia
as an important urban civilization of about one million people, living in walled cities under small city kings or magistrates. Daxia
was an affluent country with rich markets, trading in an incredible variety of objects, coming from as far as Southern China. By the time Zhang Qian
Zhang Qian
visited, there was no longer a major king, and the Bactrians were under the suzerainty of the Yuezhi. Zhang Qian depicted a rather sophisticated but demoralised people who were afraid of war. Following these reports, the Chinese emperor Wu Di was informed of the level of sophistication of the urban civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria
and Parthia, and became interested in developing commercial relationship with them:

The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Dayuan
and the possessions of Daxia
and Anxi Parthia
are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the people of Han, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China.[16]

These contacts immediately led to the dispatch of multiple embassies from the Chinese, which helped to develop trade along the Silk Roads.

worshipper with Zeus/Serapis/Ohrmazd, Bactria, 3rd century CE.[17]

worshipper with Pharro, Bactria, 3rd century AD.[17]

Kujula Kadphises, the xihou (prince) of the Yuezhi, united the region in the early 1st century and laid the foundations for the powerful, but short-lived, Kushan
Empire. In the 3rd century AD, Tukhara was under the rule of the Kushanshas (Indo-Sasanians). The form Tokharistan – the suffix -stan means "place of" in Sanskrit – appeared for the first time in the 4th century, in Buddhist
texts, such as the Vibhasa-sastra. During the 5th century, Bactria
was controlled by the Xionites
and the Hephthalites, but was subsequently reconquered by the Sassanid Empire. Introduction of Islam[edit] Main article: Islamic conquest of Afghanistan By the mid-7th century, Islam
under the Rashidun Caliphate, had come to rule much of the Middle East and western areas of Central Asia.[18] In 663, the Umayyad Caliphate
Umayyad Caliphate
attacked the Buddhist
Shahi dynasty ruling in Tokharistan. The Umayyad forces captured the area around Balkh, including the Buddhist
monastery at Nava Vihara, causing the Shahis to retreat to the Kabul Valley.[18] In the 8th century, a Persian from Balkh
known as Saman Khuda left Zoroastrianism
for Islam
while living under the Umayyads. His children founded the Samanid Empire
Samanid Empire
(875–999). Farsi became the official language and had a higher status than Bactrian, because it was the language of Muslim rulers. It eventually replaced the latter as the common language due to the preferential treatment as well as colonization.[19] Bactrian people[edit] Bactrians were the inhabitants of Bactria. Several important trade routes from India
and China
(including the Silk Road) passed through Bactria
and, as early as the Bronze Age, this had allowed the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth by the mostly nomadic population. The first proto-urban civilization in the area arose during the 2nd millennium BC. Control of these lucrative trade routes, however, attracted foreign interest, and in the 6th century BC the Bactrians were conquered by the Persians, and in the 4th century BC by Alexander the Great. These conquests marked the end of Bactrian independence. From around 304 BC the area formed part of the Seleucid Empire, and from around 250 BC it was the centre of a Greco-Bactrian kingdom, ruled by the descendants of Greeks
who had settled there following the conquest of Alexander the Great. The Greco-Bactrians, also known in Sanskrit
as Yavanas, worked in cooperation with the native Bactrian aristocracy. By the early 2nd century BC the Greco-Bactrians had created an impressive empire that stretched southwards to include northwest India. By about 135 BC, however, this kingdom had been overrun by invading Yuezhi
tribes, an invasion that later brought about the rise of the powerful Kushan Empire. Bactrians were recorded in Strabo's Geography' "Now in early times the Sogdians and Bactrians did not differ much from the nomads in their modes of life and customs, although the Bactrians were a little more civilised; however, of these, as of the others, Onesicritus does not report their best traits, saying, for instance, that those who have become helpless because of old age or sickness are thrown out alive as prey to dogs kept expressly for this purpose, which in their native tongue are called "undertakers," and that while the land outside the walls of the metropolis of the Bactrians looks clean, yet most of the land inside the walls is full of human bones; but that Alexander broke up the custom."[20] The Bactrians spoke Bactrian, a north-eastern Iranian language, descended from Avestan. Bactrian became extinct, replaced by north-eastern[21] Iranian languages such as Pashto, Yidgha, Munji, and Ishkashmi. The Encyclopaedia Iranica states:

Bactrian thus occupies an intermediary position between Pashto and Yidgha-Munji on the one hand, Sogdian, Choresmian, and Parthian on the other: it is thus in its natural and rightful place in Bactria.[22]

The principal religions of the area before Islam
were Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.[23] According to Richard Nelson Frye, a leading historian of Iranian and Central Asian history, the Persian migration to Central Asia
Central Asia
may be considered the beginning of the modern Tajik nation, and ethnic Persians, along with some elements of East-Iranian Bactrians and Sogdians, as the main ancestors of modern Tajiks.[24] The Encyclopædia Britannica
Encyclopædia Britannica

The Tajiks
are the direct descendants of the Iranian peoples whose continuous presence in Central Asia
Central Asia
and northern Afghanistan
is attested from the middle of the 1st millennium bc. The ancestors of the Tajiks
constituted the core of the ancient population of Khwārezm (Khorezm) and Bactria, which formed part of Transoxania (Sogdiana). They were included in the empires of Persia and Alexander the Great, and they intermingled with such later invaders as the Kushāns and Hepthalites in the 1st–6th centuries ad. Over the course of time, the eastern Iranian dialect that was used by the ancient Tajiks eventually gave way to Farsi, a western dialect spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.[25]

See also[edit]

Bactria– Margiana
Archaeological Complex Tillya Tepe Bactrian camel Bahlika people Greater Khorasan Dalverzin Tepe Balkh


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Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang. Two volumes. London. 1884. Reprint: Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation, 1969. Beal, Samuel (trans.). The Life of Hiuen-Tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li, with an Introduction containing an account of the Works of I-Tsing. London, 1911. Reprint: New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1973. Cotterell, Arthur. From Aristotle to Zoroaster, 1998; pages 57–59. ISBN 0-684-85596-8. Hill, John E. 2003. "Annotated Translation
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XI Chapter 11". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2017-09-07.  ^ "The Modern Eastern Iranian languages are even more numerous and varied. Most of them are classified as North-Eastern: Ossetic; Yaghnobi (which derives from a dialect closely related to Sogdian); the Shughni group (Shughni, Roshani, Khufi, Bartangi, Roshorvi, Sarikoli), with which Yaz-1ghulami (Sokolova 1967) and the now extinct Wanji (J. Payne in Schmitt, p. 420) are closely linked; Ishkashmi, Sanglichi, and Zebaki; Wakhi; Munji and Yidgha; and Pashto. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/eastern-iranian-languages ^ N. Sims-Williams. "Bactrian language". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Originally Published: December 15, 1988. ^ John Haywood and Simon Hall (2005). Peoples, nations and cultures. London.  ^ Richard Nelson Frye, "Persien: bis zum Einbruch des Islam" (original English title: "The Heritage Of Persia"), German version, tr. by Paul Baudisch, Kindler Verlag AG, Zürich 1964, pp. 485–498 ^ Tajikistan: History Britannica Online Encyclopedia

External links[edit]

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bactria.

Bactrian Coins Bactrian Gold Livius.org: Bactria Batriane du nord—about the Termez region, an archeological site Art of the Bronze Age: Southeastern Iran, Western Central Asia, and the Indus Valley, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Bactria

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 239863610 NDL: 00576994

Coordinates: 36°45′29″N 66°53′56″E / 36.7581°N 66.8989°E / 36.7