Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bactria: Land of a Thousand Cities


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"The famed Bactrian Empire of a thousand cities, wallowing in wealth (opulentissimum illud mille urbium Bactrianum imperium)"

"The 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 the Ancient Macedonians."...

The Greco-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India.... The Greco-Bactrians used Greek language for administrative purposes, and the local 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, the language of Afghanistan.

One of the greatest of the "thousand cities of Bactria", known to us today as Ai Khanoum ("Lady Moon" in Uzbeki), was built at a notch where the Oxus (present-day Amu Darya) and Kokcha Rivers meet in northern Afghanistan. Initially the site of a fortress known as Alexandria on the Oxus built in 329-328 BC by the troops of Alexander the Great, the site later became a Greek colony where soldiers and a part of Alexander's vast entrourage remained behind to settle and carve out a Greek kingdom in the wilds of Central Asia while Alexander continued his military campaign. Over the next 150 years, the fortress expanded to include a series of terrace structures along the south bank of the Oxus. The ground plan included a royal palace, a treasury, pools and fountains, a Propylaea (monumental gateway or processional with 118 columns with Corinthian capitals), a royal library, a gymnasium dedicated to Herakles (Hercules), storerooms to accommodate gold and gemstones mined from the nearby mountains and luxury goods acquired through trade or conquest, as well as a necropolis or mausoleum for attending to the dead.

"Bactria, the birthplace of Roxana, the bride of Alexander the Great....Archaeological evidence points to a rich ancient civilization existing in the area for a few thousand years prior to the Achaemenid rule, as evident by massive irrigation systems, that traded with other civilizations as far as Babylonia. Ancient sources called Bactria, "Land of a Thousand Cities", after numerous cities in the area. It is believed that Bactrians were among the Aryan tribes who migrated south from the northern steppes of Central Asia.

"Classical sources had no knowledge of Bactria prior to the invasion of the area by Alexander and his Macedonian forces, and considered Bactria the end of the world.

"Persian sources, one of them the inscription of King Darius at Behistun, points to the position of Bactria within the empire, as the loyal subjects. Bactria, not Babylon or Egypt, was considered the most important satrapy of the Persian Empire after the heartland of Persepolis (Pârsâ). This exalted ranking among all the Persian satrapies was no doubt due to patronage of ancient Bactrian kings for the holy prophet Zoroaster (Zarathuštra). In Gathas: Yasna 48:1, when the holy prophet asks the Wise Lord where he should go, he ends up in Bactria....Ancient Bactrian language is considered to be close to the Avestan language of the Gathas of the holy prophet, an eastern-Iranian language, different from Âryâ, the cuneiform language of the Achaemenids. As else where in the empire, Bactrians were left in peace to follow their own traditional customs, language and religion.

"Bactria was famous for the bravery of its warriors and the richness of its gold and lapis lazuli, which lavishly decorated the splendid imperial palaces of the Achaemenids. According to Hellene writers, 30,000 Bactrian cavalry were present in the pitched Battle of Gaugamela against the Macedonian forces, under the command of Bessus, Satrap of Bactria, who was the cousin of the Great King. It was later in Bactria where the forces of Macedonians were checked by guerilla warfare in the Bactrian mountains and deserts for nearly three years.

"Alexander's marriage to Roxana of Balkh put a temporary halt to the bloody hostilites and gave enough time to Alexander to leave for edges of 'India', modern Pakistan. He left a reported 13,500 of his Macedonians behind in Bactria...., 10,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry, along with numerous Hellene mercenaries, the largest force he had to leave behind anywhere to subdue the native population. Most were killed later by Macedonians themselves when civil war broke among the Macedonians after the death of Alexander.

"During the rule of the Mauryan Empire in India, close diplomatic relationship existed between Bactria and India. Buddhism moved into Bactria during this period of relative peace.

"The Saka rulers left India and returned to Balkh"..( 19)..

"Bactria, also called Bactriana or Zariaspa, ancient country lying between the mountains of the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (ancient Oxus River) in what is now part of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Bactria was especially important between about 600 bc and about ad 600, serving for much of that time as a meeting place not only for overland trade between East and West but also for the crosscurrents of religious and artistic ideas. Bactria’s capital was Bactra, also called Bactra-Zariaspa (modern Balkh, Afghanistan). Bactria was a fertile country, and a profusion of mounds and abandoned water channels

Balkh Today...a vast ruin field – a huge citadel, with great towered outer walls of sun-dried brick; ruined Buddhist stupas, Zoroastrian fire temples, and Nestorian Christian churches – all religions made their homes here. A medieval Muslim poet describes the city in a lovely image, surrounded by its gardens: ‘as delightful as a Mani painting’… Right in the centre of the old city, in a circle of palm trees, are the great shrines of the Timurid Age. Still especially popular with the people of the region is the grave of Rabia Balkhi. Even today she is the female protectress of the city, just as the ancient patroness of Balkh, Anahita goddess of the Oxus, was in Alexander’s day.

"Anthropological facts about camel in Suleiman mountainous region of Balochistan....Camel came a bit late in the register of animal domestication. It is strongly believed that dromedary camel domesticated in the region, now known with the country Yemen (some 3200 years back) Bactrian camel was believed to domesticate in the historic town of Bakhdi in the Zoroaster's time, some 2200 years back. It is believed that before the introduction of dromedary camel in historic country of Bakhtaria, only Bactrian or Bakhdi camel was found , many tribes of the old Aryan tribes were nomads at that time & the Pakhit "today's Pashtoon" were used to travel with their animals from Pamir region to Suleiman mountainous region which was their winter settlement the excavation of the ruins of Persepolis (Iran) Gandhar civilization (Sawat & Adjacent) only the statues & paintings of Bactrian camels were found. SMR being the 10 inter settlement of Pashtoon believed to have Bakhdi camel. The introduction of dromedary camel is linked with the Arab Muslims preachers. The Bactrian camel was crossed by dromedary to produce vigorous camel for heavy duty & the produced camel is still known as Maya in Pashto & is always one hump."

The Bahlikas (Hindi: बाह्लिक) were the inhabitants of Balikha, mentioned in Atharvaveda, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas, Vartikka of Katyayana, Brhatsamhita, Amarkosha etc. and in the ancient Inscriptions. The other variations of Bahlika are Bahli, Balhika, Vahlika, Valhika, Bahlava, Bahlam/Bahlim, Bahlayana and Bahluva

"Bactria (Bactriana, Bākhtar in Persian, also Bhalika in Arabic and Indian languages, and Ta-Hsia in Chinese) was the ancient Greek name of the country between the range of the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus); its capital, Bactra or Balhika or Bokhdi (now Balkh), was located in what is now Afghanistan. It is a mountainous region with a moderate climate. Water is abundant and the land is very fertile. Bactria was the home of one of the Iranian tribes. Modern authors have often used the name in a wider sense, as the designation of all the countries of Central Asia......Bactria was incorporated in the Achaemenid empire as a special satrapythat was sometimes ruled by the crown prince or intended heir (mathišta). The country north of the Oxus, Sogdia, was at times part of this satrapy. The capital of Bactria was Bactra (Balkh, near modern Mazâr-e Sharîf), an important city in the history of Zoroastrianism. It is known to have had a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of water and fertility Anahita, and is called "the town with the high-lifted banners" in the Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians......The Hindu Kush, which marks the fault line of the Iranian and Eurasian tectonic plates, runs more or less from the east to the west, and many small rivers run down from its slopes to the north, deposeting sediments on the foothills and the plain that runs parallel to the mountain range. Consequently, this is a very fertile area, where farmers produced wheat and barley in very ancient times. Their culture, known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), can be dated to c.2200-1700 and is sometimes associated with the arrival of the Indo-Iranians.....The Greeks knew no nation beyond Bactria. When the Athenian playwright Euripides wanted to write that the god Dionysus was born in the far east, he called it Bactria, and the philosopher Aristotle of Stagira argued that from the Hindu Kush, one could see the eastern Ocean......

"Haraiva (Aria)......The Aryans first settled on the Oxus (AMU DARYA in BACTRIA) around 4000 B.C. They called this river the Sarasvati and here Vedic culture developed. Around this time agriculture begins, allowing the population to move from the foothills into oases along the rivers that flow into the Central Asian desert. The new settlements include large fortified buildings. .....The Aryans called their country Arya-varta or shortly varta. Later on varta was corrupted to varat, barat which in modern times is mistaken for Bharat a character from the Mahabharata. .....

Daxia, Ta-Hsia, or Ta-Hia (Chinese: 大夏; Pinyin: Dàxià) is the name given in antiquity by the Han Chinese to the territory of Bactria.....The name Daxia appears in Chinese from the 3rd century BCE to designate a mythical kingdom to the West, possibly a consequence of the first contacts with the expansion of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and then is used by the explorer Zhang Qian in 126 BCE to designate Bactria......The reports of Zhang Qian were put in writing in Shiji ("Records of the Great Historian") by Sima Qian in the 1st century BCE......They describe 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 as far as Southern China. By the time Zhang Qian visited Daxia, there were no longer a major king, and the Bactrian were suzerains to the nomadic Yuezhi, who were settled to the north of their territory beyond the Oxus. Overall, Zhang Qian depicted a rather sophisticated but demoralized people who were afraid of war.".....The Records of the Grand Historian. Han Dynasty II (Revised Edition), p. 236, by Sima Qian. Translated by Burton Watson. Columbia University Book. 1993. ISBN 0-231-08167-7

" A description of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom was made by Zhang Qian (an imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the 2nd century BCE) after the conquest by Yuezhi:: 'After the Great Yuezhi moved west and attacked the lands, the entire country came under their sway. The population of the country is large, numbering some 1,000,000 or more persons. The capital is called the city of Lanshi (Bactra) (modern Balkh) and has a market where all sorts of goods are bought and sold."....


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November, 2012


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