Historical Regions of Central Asia
CKM 2018-19 / Aziz Yardımlı


Historical Regions of Central Asia

  Historical Regions of Central Asia  


The World according to Eratosthenes

The World according to Eratosthenes (LINK)

Description: A facsimile of the world map by Eratosthenes (around 220 BC). Eratosthenes is the ancient Greek mathematician and geographer attributed with devising the first system of Latitude and Longitude. He was also the first know person to calculate the circumference of the earth. This is a facsimile of the map he produced based on his calculations. The map shows the routes of exploration by Nearchus from the mouth of the Indus River (325 BC, after the expedition to India by Alexander the Great), and Pytheas (300 BC) to Britannia. Place names include Hellas (Greece), Pontus Euxinus (Black Sea), Mare Caspium (Caspian Sea), Gades (Cadiz), Columnæ Herculis (Gibraltar), Taprobane (Sri Lanka), Iberes (Iberian peninsula), Ierne (Ireland), and Brettania (Britain), the rivers Ister (Danube), Oxus (Amu Darya), Ganges, and Nilus (Nile), and mountain systems. The map shows his birthplace in Libya (Cyrene), the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Syene (Aswan) where Eratosthenes made his calculations of the earth's circumference, and the latitudes and longitudes of several locations based on his measurements in stadia.
Place Names: A Complete Map of Globes and Multi-continent, Europa, Libya, Asia, India, Scythia, Arabi
ISO Topic Categories: society

Keywords: The World according to Eratosthenes, physical, historical, kEarlyMapsFacsimile, physical features, topographical, society, Unknown, 220 BC

Source: Ernest Rhys, Ed., A Literary and Historical Atlas of Asia (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & CO., 1912) 2
Map Credit: Courtesy the private collection of Roy Winkelman



Ariana (W)

Ariana per Eratosthenes' definition (19th-century reconstruction of world map by Eratosthenes, c.194 BC).

Ariana, the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek Ἀρ(ε)ιανή Ar(e)ianē (inhabitants: Ariani; Ἀρ(ε)ιανοί Ar(e)ianoi), was a general geographical term used by some Greek and Roman authors of the ancient period for a district of wide extent between Central Asia and the Indus River, comprising the eastern provinces of the Achaemenid Empire that covered the whole of modern-day Afghanistan, as well as the easternmost part of Iran and up to the Indus River in Pakistan (former Northern India).

At various times, various parts of the region were governed by the Persians (the Achaemenids from 550 to 330 BC, the Sasanians from 275 to 650 AD and the Indo-Sasanians from 345 to 450 AD), the Macedonians (the Seleucids from 330 to 250 BC, the Greco-Bactrians from 250 to 110 BC and the Indo-Greeks from 155 to 90 BC), Iranian peoples from Persia and Central Asia (the Parthians from 160 BC to 225 AD, the Indo-Scythians from 90 BC to 20 AD, the Indo-Parthians from 20 to 225 AD and the Kushans from 110 BC to 225 AD), the Xionites (the Kidarites from 360 to 465 AD and the Hephthalites from 450 to 565 AD) and Indian empires (the Mauryans from 275 to 185 BC).


The Greek term Arianē (Latin: Ariana), a term found in Iranian Avestan Airiiana- (especially in Airyanem Vaejah, the name of the Iranian peoples' mother country). The modern name Iran represents a different form of the ancient name Ariana which derived from Airyanem Vaejah and implies that Iran is “the” Ariana itself – a word found in Old Persian – a view supported by the traditions of the country preserved in the Muslim writers of the ninth and tenth centuries. The Greeks also referred to Haroyum/Haraiva (Herat) as 'Aria', which is one of the many provinces found in Ariana.

The names Ariana and Aria, and many other ancient titles of which Aria is a component element, are connected with the Avestan term Airya-, and the Old Persian term Ariya-, a self designation of the peoples of Ancient India and Ancient Iran, meaning "noble", "excellent" and "honourable".

Extent of Ariana

The exact limits of Ariana are laid down with little accuracy in classical sources. It seems to have been often confused (as in Pliny, Naturalis Historia, book vi, chapter 23) with the small province of Aria.

As a geographical term, Ariana was introduced by the Greek geographer, Eratosthenes (c. 276 BC – c. 195 BC), and was fully described by the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24).

Per Eratosthenes' definition, the borders of Ariana were defined by the Indus River in the east, the sea in the south, a line from Carmania to the Caspian Gates in the west, and the so-called Taurus Mountains in the north. This large region included almost all of the countries east of Media and ancient Persia, including south of the great mountain ranges up to the deserts of Gedrosia and Carmania, i.e. the provinces of Carmania, Gedrosia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Aria, the Paropamisadae; also Bactria was reckoned to Ariana and was called "the ornament of Ariana as a whole" by Apollodorus of Artemita.

After having described the boundaries of Ariana, Strabo writes that the name Αρειανή could also be extended to part of the Persians and the Medes and also to the northwards Bactrians and the Sogdians. A detailed description of that region is to be found in Strabo's Geographica, Book XV – "Persia, Ariana, the Indian subcontinent", chapter 2, sections 1–9.

By Herodotus Ariana is not mentioned, nor is it included in the geographical description of Stephanus of Byzantium and Ptolemy, or in the narrative of Arrian.

Inhabitants of Ariana

The peoples by whom Ariana was inhabited, as enumerated by Strabo were:


Pliny (vi. 25) specifies the following ethnicities:

  • Angutturi;
  • Arii;
  • the inhabitants of Daritis;
  • Dorisci;
  • Drangae;
  • Evergetae;
  • Gedrussi;








Bactria (W)

The ancient region of Bactria — ‘Land of a Thousand Cities.’ .

Having the bountiful Oxus River (now the Amu Darya) flowing right through its centre, Bactria’s irrigated lands were amongst the most fertile in Asia – even rivalling those on the banks of the Nile. Its cities too became famous for both their riches and their strength in repelling adversaries. Having such splendour, Bactria became the heart of a formidable Greek Empire in the East.

; or Bactriana was a historical region in Central Asia. Bactria proper was north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya river, covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and parts of Northern Pakistan. 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 flowing west through the center.







Nomadic tribes – in particular the Massaegetae and the Sakae – were an ever-present danger on the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom’s northern borders. Artwork by © Johnny Shumate.




Transoxiana (W)

(also spelled Transoxania), known in Arabic sources as Mā warāʼ an-Nahr – 'what [is] beyond the [Oxus] river') and in Persian as Farārūd (Persian: 'beyond the [Amudarya] river'), is the ancient name used for the portion of Central Asia corresponding approximately with modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and southwest Kazakhstan. Geographically, it is the region between the Amu Darya (Ancient Greek: Ώξος ỐOxos) and Syr Darya rivers. The area had been known to the Romans as Transoxania (Land beyond the Oxus), to the Arabs as Mā warāʼ an-Nahr (Land Beyond the River), and to the Iranians as Turan, a term used in the Persian national epic Shahnameh.

The region was one of the satrapies of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia under the name Sogdiana. Early Arab geographers named it “Bilād al-Turk” or “Turkestan,” both of which mean ‘the lands of the Turks.’


Transoxiana / History

Transoxiana / History

The name Transoxiana stuck in Western consciousness because of the exploits of Alexander the Great, who extended Greek culture into the region with his invasion in the 4th century BC; Transoxiana was the most north-eastern point of the Hellenistic culture until the Arab invasion. During the Sassanid Empire, it was often called Sogdiana, a provincial name taken from the Achaemenid Empire, and used to distinguish it from nearby Bactria.

Hazara girl.

The Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited the neighbouring countries of Bactria and Parthia along with Transoxiana in 126 BC, made the first known Chinese report on this region. Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilisation that farmed grain and grapes, made silver coins and leather goods. It was ruled successively by Seleucids, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, the Parthian Empire and the Kushan Empire before Sassanid rule.

In Sassanid times, the region became a major cultural center due to the wealth derived from the Northern Silk Road. Sassanid rule was interrupted by the Hephthalite invasion at the end of the 5th century and didn't return to the Sassanids until 565. Many Persian nobles and landlords escaped to this region after the Muslim invasion. Before the Muslim invasion it was also ruled by Göktürks. After that it was ruled by Tang China until the Arab conquest between 705 and 715, the area became known as Mā warāʼ al-Nahr (Arabic, 'what is beyond the river'), sometimes rendered as "Mavarannahr".

Transoxiana’s major cities and cultural centers are Samarkand and Bukhara, Both are in the southern portion of Transoxiana (though still to the north of the Amu Darya itself, on the river Zeravshan), and the majority of the region was dry but fertile plains. Both cities remained centres of Persian culture and civilisation after the Islamic conquest of Iran, and played a crucial role in the revival of Persian culture with establishment of the Samanid dynasty.





Sogdiana (W)

  • Sogdiana was first conquered by Cyrus the Great.

Sogdiana, c. 300 BC, then under the Seleucid Empire, a diadochi successor state to the empire created by Alexander the Great. 6th century BC to 11th century AD. Capitals: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khujand, Kesh.

Sogdia or Sogdiana was an ancient Iranian civilization that at different times included territory located in present-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan such as: Samarkand, Bukhara, Khujand, Panjikent and Shahrisabz. Sogdiana was also a province of the Achaemenid Empire, eighteenth in the list on the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great (i. 16). In the Avesta, Sogdiana is listed as the second best land that the supreme deity Ahura Mazda had created. It comes second, after Airyanem Vaejah, "homeland of the Aryans", in the Zoroastrian book of Vendidad, indicating the importance of this region from ancient times.

Sogdiana was first conquered by Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. The region would then be annexed by the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great in 328 BC. The region would continue to change hands under the Seleucid Empire, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Kushan Empire, Hephthalite Empire, and Sasanian Empire.

The Sogdian states, although never politically united, were centred on the main city of Samarkand. Sogdiana lay north of Bactria, east of Khwarezm, and southeast of Kangju between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and the Jaxartes (Syr Darya), embracing the fertile valley of the Zeravshan (ancient Polytimetus). Sogdian territory corresponds to the modern provinces of Samarkand and Bokhara in modern Uzbekistan as well as the Sughd province of modern Tajikistan. During the High Middle Ages, Sogdian cities included sites stretching towards Issyk Kul such as that at the archeological site of Suyab. Sogdian, an Eastern Iranian language, is no longer a spoken language, but its direct descendant, Yaghnobi, is still spoken by the Yaghnobis of Tajikistan. It was widely spoken in Central Asia as a lingua franca and even served as one of the Turkic Khaganate's court languages for writing documents.

Sogdians also lived in Imperial China and rose to special prominence in the military and government of the Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907 AD). Sogdian merchants and diplomats traveled as far west as the Byzantine Empire. They played an important part as middlemen in the trade route of the Silk Road. While originally following the faiths of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism from Persia, Buddhism from India, and Nestorian Christianity from West Asia, the gradual conversion to Islam among the Sogdians and their descendants began with the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana in the 8th century. The Sogdian conversion to Islam was virtually complete by the end of the Samanid Empire in 999, coinciding with the decline of the Sogdian language, as it was largely supplanted by Persian as well as Turkic languages.


Sogdiana II (Encyclopædia Iranica)

Sogdiana (Encyclopædia Iranica)

  • Before the arrival of Iranian peoples in Central Asia, Sogdiana had already experienced at least two urban phases.


Sogdiana, an Iranian-speaking region in Central Asia, stretches from the rivers Āmu Daryā in the south to the Syr Daryā in the north, with its heart in the valleys of the Zarafšān and the Kaška Daryā.  But this description, appropriate for the early period, varied over time.  Sogdiana ceded to Bactriana (see BACTRIA), the right bank of the upper course of the Āmu Daryā as far as Termez, while Sogdian colonial expansion in the north during the Early Middle Ages led a Chinese pilgrim in the  mid-seventh century to define Sogdiana as the entire region stretching from Lake Issyk Kul in eastern Kyrgyzstan to the Āmu Daryā (Xuanzang, tr. p. 26).  After the ninth century, the name Soḡd/al-Ṣoḡd was restricted to the rural area between Samarkand and Bukhara (Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 492; on Sogdian geography, see Barthold).

Pre-Achaemenid period.  Before the arrival of Iranian peoples in Central Asia, Sogdiana had already experienced at least two urban  phases.  The first was at Sarazm (4th-3rd m. BCE), a town of some 100 hectares has been excavated, where both irrigation agriculture and metallurgy were practiced (Isakov).  It has been possible to demonstrate the magnitude of links with the civilization of the Oxus as well as with more distant regions, such as BaluchistanThe second phase began in at least the 15th century BCE at Kök Tepe, on the Bulungur canal north of the Zarafšān River, where the earliest archeological material appears to go back to the Bronze Age, and which persisted throughout the Iron Age, until the arrival from the north of the Iranian-speaking populations that were to become the Sogdian group.  It declined with the rise of Samarkand (Rapin, 2007).  Pre-Achaemenid Sogdiana is recalled in the Younger Avesta (chap. 1 of the Vidēvdād, q.v.) under the name Gava and said to be inhabited by the Sogdians.

Achaemenid periodCyrus the Great (see CYRUS iii) conquered Sogdiana in about 540 BCE.  He advanced as far as the Syr Darya, where he established the town of Kyrèschata (Cyropolis), the farthest extent of the Persian empire to the northeast, identified with the site of Kurkath.  Samarkand probably received its first major fortifications under the Achaemenids (Bernard, pp. 334-37).  Sogdiana was thenceforth integrated into the Achaemenid empire as a distant frontier province (Briant, pp. 764-74, tr. pp. 743-54) and remained as such until its conquest by Alexander the Great, beginning in 329 BCE.  No satrap for Sogdiana is known, and the recently discovered Aramaic documents from Bactriana confirm what was already known from the satrapy lists, namely that Sogdiana was governed from Bactra (Shaked).  The region provided contingents of soldiers to the Achaemenid kings, along with laborers and semiprecious stones (lapis lazuli and carnelian or garnet) for the palace workshops (Vallat; La Vaissière, 2005, pp. 18-19).  It participated in the integration of the populations and customs of the empire, and deported populations were settled there (as the Branchids; see Briant, p. 447).  More than a millennium after the fall of the empire, in the seventh century CE, the administrative formulary inherited from Babylonia "Babylone" continued to be used in Sogdiana (Sims-Williams, 1991).  Around the beginning of the era, the Sogdian script developed out of the Aramaic alphabet (Gharib, 1995, p. xxviii). The script of Bukhara remained very similar to that of Parthia (Livshits, Kaufman, and D’yakonov).


Sogdian is one of the Eastern Middle Iranian languages once spoken in Sogdiana (northern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) before the Islamization of the area in the 10th century. Sogdians were traders along the Silk Roads and founded many diasporas along the routes, with the result that the bulk of its materials was discovered in Turfan and Dunhuang in western China. The Sogdian language was written in three scripts: Sogdian, Manichean, and Syriac. While only religious texts were written in Manichean and Syriac scripts, any kind of texts, both religious and secular, are recorded in Sogdian script, which was a kind of a national script, although it ultimately originated from Aramaic script.

The history of Sogdiana is largely obscure. It constituted a satrapy of the Achaemenian Empire, which was conquered by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE. Later it was governed by or under the influence of neighboring empires, such as the Kushan (1st to 3rd centuries CE), Sasanian (3rd to 4th centuries), Kidarite (5th century), Hephthalite (6th century), Western Turk (6th to 7th centuries), and Tang China (7th to 8th centuries). However, until Sogdiana was conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century it enjoyed a degree of independence, during which the Sogdians played an active role as international traders along the Silk Roads between China and the West. So much so that Sogdian became a kind of lingua franca of the region and the nomadic peoples like Turks and Uighurs adopted it as their administrative language (see SOGDIAN TRADE).


Sasani Empire

Sasani Empire (W)

  • last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the rise of Islam

The Sasanian Empire at its greatest extent c. 620 CE, under Khosrow II

The Sasanian Empire, also known as the Sassanian,Sasanid, Sassanid or Neo-Persian Empire  (known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr, or Iran, in Middle Persian),  was the last kingdom of the Persian Empire before the rise of Islam, and was named after the House of Sasan; it ruled from 224 to 651 AD. The Sasanian Empire succeeded the Parthian Empire and was recognised as one of the leading world powers alongside its neighbouring arch-rival the Roman-Byzantine Empire for a period of more than 400 years.

The Sasanian Empire was founded by Ardashir I, after the fall of the Parthian Empire and the defeat of the last Arsacidking, Artabanus V.

The Sasanian Empire during Late Antiquity is considered to have been one of Iran’s most important and influential historical periods and constituted the last great Iranian empire before the Muslim conquest and the adoption of Islam. In many ways, the Sasanian period witnessed the peak of ancient Iranian civilisation. The Sasanians' cultural influence extended far beyond the empire's territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China and India.  It played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asian medieval art.  Much of what later became known as Islamic culture in art, architecture, music and other subject matter was transferred from the Sasanians throughout the Muslim world.


Safavid dynasty

Safavid dynasty (W)

  • established the Twelver school of Shia Islam as the official religion of the empire

The Safavid Empire under Shah Abbas the Great.

The Safavid dynasty was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran, often considered the beginning of modern Iranian history. The Safavid shahs ruled over one of the Gunpowder Empires. They ruled one of the greatest Iranian empires after the 7th-century Muslim conquest of Iran, and established the Twelver school of Shia Islam as the official religion of the empire, marking one of the most important turning points in Muslim history.

The Safavid dynasty had its origin in the Safaviyya Sufi order, which was established in the city of Ardabil in the Azerbaijan region. It was of mixed ancestry (Kurdish and Azerbaijani, which included intermarriages with Georgian, Circassian, and Pontic Greek dignitaries). From their base in Ardabil, the Safavids established control over parts of Greater Iran and reasserted the Iranian identity of the region, thus becoming the first native dynasty since the Sasanian Empire to establish a unified Iranian state.

The Safavids ruled from 1501 to 1722 (experiencing a brief restoration from 1729 to 1736) and, at their height, they controlled all of modern Iran, Azerbaijan Republic, Bahrain, Armenia, eastern Georgia, parts of the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Despite their demise in 1736, the legacy that they left behind was the revival of Persia as an economic stronghold between East and West, the establishment of an efficient state and bureaucracy based upon "checks and balances", their architectural innovations and their patronage for fine arts. The Safavids have also left their mark down to the present era by spreading Shi'a Islam in Iran, as well as major parts of the Caucasus, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia.


Buyid dynasty

Buyid dynasty (W)

  • Abbasi — Selçuk arasında Intermezzo

The Buyid dynasty in 970.

The Buyid dynasty or the Buyids, also known as Buwaihids, Bowayhids, Buyahids, or Buyyids, was an Iranian Shia dynasty of Daylamite origin. Coupled with the rise of other Iranian dynasties in the region, the approximate century of Buyid rule represents the period in Iranian history sometimes called the ‘Iranian Intermezzo’ since, after the Muslim conquest of Persia, it was an interlude between the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate and the Seljuk Empire.

The Buyid dynasty was founded by 'Ali ibn Buya, who in 934 conquered Fars and made Shiraz his capital, while his younger brother Hasan ibn Buya conquered parts of Jibal in the late 930s, and by 943 managed to capture Ray, which he made his capital. In 945, the youngest brother, Ahmad ibn Buya, conquered Iraq and made Baghdad his capital, receiving the honorific title of "Mu'izz al-Dawla" ("Fortifier of the State"), while 'Ali was given the title of "'Imad al-Dawla" ("Support of the State"), and Hasan was given the title of "Rukn al-Dawla" ("Pillar of the State").

As Daylamite Iranians the Buyids consciously revived symbols and practices of Iran's Sasanian Empire. In fact, beginning with 'Adud al-Dawla they used the ancient Sasanian title Shahanshah (شاهنشاه), literally "king of kings".

At its greatest extent, the Buyid dynasty encompassed most of today's Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria, along with parts of Oman, the UAE, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. During the 10th and 11th centuries, just prior to the invasion of the Seljuq Turks, the Buyids were the most influential dynasty in the Middle East, and under king 'Adud al-Dawla, became briefly the most powerful dynasty in the Middle East.


Cultural influence On Turkic identity

Cultural influence On Turkic identity (W)

Despite some popular belief, the Turanians of Shahnameh (whose sources are based on Avesta and Pahlavi texts) have no relationship with the ethno-linguistic group Turk today. The Turanians of Shahnameh are an Iranian people representing Iranian nomads of the Eurasian Steppes and have no relationship to the culture of the Turks. Turan, which is the Persian name for the areas of Central Asia beyond the Oxus up to the 7th century (where the story of the Shahnameh ends), was generally an Iranian-speaking land.

According to Richard Frye, "The extent of influence of the Iranian epic is shown by the Turks who accepted it as their own ancient history as well as that of Iran... The Turks were so much influenced by this cycle of stories that in the eleventh century AD we find the Qarakhanid dynasty in Central Asia calling itself the 'family of Afrasiyab' and so it is known in the Islamic history."

Turks, as an ethno-linguistic group, have been influenced by the Shahnameh since advent of Saljuqs. Toghrul III of Seljuqs is said to have recited the Shahnameh while swinging his mace in battle. According to Ibn Bibi, in 618/1221 the Saljuq of Rum Ala' al-Din Kay-kubad decorated the walls of Konya and Sivas with verses from the Shahnameh. The Turks themselves connected their origin not with Turkish tribal history but with the Turan of Shahnameh. Specifically in India, through the Shahnameh, they felt themselves to be the last outpost tied to the civilized world by the thread of Iranianism.



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