Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Detail of the Airtam frieze (Hermatige Museum) - Kushan Musician with lyre(1st century AD)

Archaeological evidence that the area of present-day Uzbekistan was populated by humans as early as the Palaeolithic Age (500,000-1,000,000 years ago). During the Neolithic era (6000-4000 BC) three extensive archaeological cultures emerged within Central Asia; the Jeitun, the Gissar and the Keltiminar.

Settled crop growing cultures progressed during the Neolithic (circa 4000 BC) and especially Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC), when bronze tools and weapons came into use.

In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC the first city-states appeared in the most advanced regions of Central Asia. Their structure resembled that of ancient Egyptian city-states which included large settlement (administrative centre) surrounded by oases and several smaller settlements situated along a canal or river.

In the 7th-6th centuries BC the historic provinces of Bactria, Margiana, Khoresm and Sogdiana first emerged, as did the ancient cities of Maracanda, Kok-Tepa, Uzun-Kyr and Er-Kurgan, which had areas of hundreds of hectares and were surrounded by fortified walls.

In 529 BC Central Asia came under the control of the Achaemenid king Cyrus of Persia. The king himself was killed in a battle with the Sakas under Queen Tomiris.

During the next two centuries the southern part of Central Asia was annexed by the Persian Empire and divided into satrapies which paid tribute in silver to the Kings. Three of the satrapies – Bactria, Sogd and Khoresm – lay within the territory of present-day Uzbekistan. Cities such as Afrasiab and Chach became important outposts of the Empire.

The rule of the Achaemenids was ended by the advance of Alexander the Great who, having crushed the main body of Persian armies, invaded Central Asia in 329 BC in pursuit of Bess, satrap of Bactria and the last heir to the Achaemenid throne.

Alexander spent three years (329-327 BC) subduing the Central Asian peoples and faced fierce resistance especially from the Sogdians led by Spitamen.

The same period saw the rise of the first great state in the region the Kingdom of Khwarezmia (Khoresm). When the king of Khwarezm Pharasmanes offered friendship to Alexander the Great in 328 BC, Alexander's Greek and Roman biographers imagined the nomad king of a desert waste, but 20th century Russian archeologists revealed the region as a stable and centralized kingdom, a land of agriculture to the east of the Aral Sea, surrounded by the nomads of Central Asia, protected by its army of mailed horsemen, in the most powerful kingdom northwest of the Amu Darya (the Oxus River of antiquity). The King's emissary offered to lead Alexander's armies against his own enemies, west over the Caspian towards the Black Sea (e.g. Kingdom of Iberia and Colchis). Alexander politely refused.

After the death of Alexander and subsequent turmoil, in 306 BC the southern portion of Central Asia became part of the Seleucid Empire. Later, in the mid-3rd century BC, the rebellious Bactrian satrap Diodotus established an independent kingdom which became known as Greco-Bactria. In the second half of the 2nd century BC, Greco-Bactria fell to the invading Sakas and Sarmatians, and a like state, Kangyui, emerged in the 2nd century BC in Transoxiana which, according to Chinese sources, consisted of five domains, each coining its own money.

Later in the 2nd century BC Han China familiarised itself with "the Western Land" (i.e. Central Asia), and the Great Silk Road emerged as the first major transcontinental route connecting the West and the East.

Throughout the period of local antiquity (1st century BC – early 3rd century AD) Northern Bactria was a province of the powerful Kushan Empire, which was founded in the 1st century AD by the Yue-chi chieftain Kadphises. Sogd (present-day Kashkadarya and Samarkand oblasts of Uzbekistan) at that time was an independent kingdom under the Girkoda dynasty, who are also believed to be of Yue-chi origin. In Khoresm, the Afrigid kings rose to power; judging from their dynastic symbol – a horseman – their rule continued for 700-800 years. Bukhara, Davan (Fergana) and, possibly, Chach enjoyed virtual independence, although these Transoxianian kingdoms might have been nominal dependencies of Kangyui.

The 3rd and 4th centuries AD saw the fall of the great Parthian and Kushan empires, the rise of a host of petty kingdoms in Central Asia, intrusions by nomadic tribes, the destruction of the ancient social formation, and a decline in economy, arts and culture.

Radical changes to the antique social structure took place over the early Middle Ages (5th-8th centuries), when large landowners, dikhans, formed into an influential class. The political situation in this period was determined by the struggle for control of Transoxiana between the neighbouring powers: Sassanidian Iran and the Ephthalite kingdom (5th-6th centuries), Iran and the Turkic khanate (6th-7th centuries) and, finally, the Turkic khanate, Tang China and Arab caliphs which ended with the region’s inclusion in the Abbasid caliphate in the 8th century.

In the 7th-8th centuries Transoxiana was divided into a number of ethnically non-uniform city-states; the most prominent of them were Gurganj (present-day Kunya-Urgench), Bukhara, Samarkand, Chaganian (near present-day Denau) and Chach.

Religious beliefs were as diverse. Zoroastrianism dominated the region; Manichaeism and Christianity also spread widely, and Buddhism was practiced in the south.


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