Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times

The article below by the late Harvard Professor Emeritus Professor Richard N. Nelson Frye (1920-2014) on Bukhara in Pre-Islamic Times was originally posted in the Encyclopedia Iranica.

Kindly note that a number of pictures displayed in the article below are from Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006 and Farrokh’s textbook  Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-).

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The site or town of Bukhara was one of many settlements in the large oasis formed by the mouths of the Zarafshan (Zarafšān) river in ancient Sogdiana. Since there is no evidence that the river reached the Oxus in historic times, it is a reasonable assumption that in the first millennium B.C. irrigation, using the water of the river, enabled an ever-growing population to expand the arable land of the oasis. At the time of Alexander the Great no city is reported to have existed in this area, and the history of Bukhara cannot be traced before the 4th or 5th century of our era, which is the probable date of the first coins with indigenous Bu­kharan Sogdian writing on them. The alphabet used is one derived from Aramaic.

Ancient Bukhara Ark[Click to Enlarge] The ancient Ark of Bukhara dated to a settlement dated to 500 BCE or (approx.) 2500 years ago. The bulk of the present brickwork is believed to be dated to 850 CE and its repairs and re-building ever since, however elements of the original thousands year-old foundation remains visible. Note the Zindon (Persian; Zendan = prison) pit is seen constructed behind the walls (Picture Source: Megalithic UK).

The name Bukhara may be derived either from a Sogdian word *βuxārak, whence Old Turkish Buqaraq, meaning “fortunate place” (cf. Christian So. fwxʾr) or, less likely, from a local form of vihāra, a Buddhist monastery (see buddhism ii). Naršaḵī seems to favor the former, citing an Arabic word fāḵera with the same meaning, whereas Jovaynī (I, p. 76; tr. p. 98) supports the derivation from vihāra. The name is spelled pwxʾr in a Sogdian manuscript in Sogdian script of uncertain date (Henning, 1940, pp. 8-9).

On the obverse of the coins from Bukhara appears the bust of a ruler facing right and wearing a crown copied from the crown of the Sasanian Bahrām V (r. 420-­38). This gives the earliest date for the coinage, but it is unknown how much later than the time of Bahrām that the coinage actually began (see Frye, 1949, p. 26). The earliest coins have the legend βwγʾr γwβ ʾšδʾδʾ “King Ašδāδ of Bukhara”? (Smirnova, 1970, p. 56). Later kings have a legend reading βwγʾr γwβ kʾwʾ (or kʾnʾ) “king of Bukhara, the hero” (or: “Kā¦nā¦,” a personal name). On still later coins the third word of the legend is shortened to kʾw (So. “giant”) or kʾy, which Henning (apud Frye, 1949, p. 28) suggested was a Sogdian calque on the Middle Persian Kay (written kdy), a title first found on legends of the coins of Pērōz (r. 459-84). After the Arab conquest Arabic words were added to the coins, and gradually the Bukharan legend, no longer understood, degenerated to illegibility. Finally only Arabic legends appear, which for the most part are only pious formulae. The data of the coins with Arabic legends is from early ʿAbbasid times, for standard Islamic coins with only Arabic legends ousted the Bukharan coins by the time of the Samanids, although local issues of the Bukharan coins continued for several centuries. The long series of coins, however, reveals the conservatism of the people of the Bukharan oasis, and perhaps a longer usage of a local written form of Sogdian than hitherto assumed.

Simurgh-Bird MotifPost-Sassanian style decoration motifs common in Iranian architecture adorn this mosque archway in Bukhara; note large bird or Simurgh (Persian Phoenix – Turkic: Ertugrul), a dog reminiscent of Sassanian arts and the floral-arboreal patterns (Picture source: Natasha von Geldern in World Wandering Kiwi).

Although the coins reveal the existence of a pre-­Islamic government in the oasis, undoubtedly the area was settled before the beginning of the coinage. Naršaḵī’s assertion (pp. 7-8; tr. p. 6) that the site of Bukhara had been a swamp in ancient times but that the river brought silt that filled the lowlands and enabled people to live there probably is correct. There may even have been an Oxian lake there in very early times according to Ptolemy (4.12.3).

The Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā mentions several pre-Islamic rulers, but their names are uncertain, and we know nothing about them. The first ruler of Bukhara men­tioned by Naršaḵī (p. 8; tr. p. 7) is Abrūʾī or Abarzī. He became tyrannical and was overthrown by a Turkish ruler called Qarā Jūrjīn. Unfortunately neither person can be identified from other sources. Another ruler mentioned by Naršaḵī (p. 49; tr. p. 35) is Kānā, who is credited with introducing coinage into Bukhara of the time of Abū Bakr, the first caliph. This is hardly acceptable, but whether this is a misreading of the word kʾwʾ on the coins (see above) is uncertain. Another ruler is called Māḵ (p. 29; tr. p. 19), who is said to have built the bāzār in Bukhara called after his name, and still another king of Bukhara called Dīzoʾī is mentioned on a silver vessel (see Frye, 1950, p. 110). Again nothing is known about these rulers.

Suzani Robe-Bukhara-Central AsiaA Suzani Robe from Ancient Bukhara, a mutli-colored style of silk embroidery from Central Asia’s Ferghana valley (Picture Source: Suzanis Blog).

It would seem that there were several local lords in the oasis of Bukhara, especially in the towns of Paykand, Vardana, and Varaḵša. Both Paykand and Varaḵša are mentioned as residences of the rulers by Naršaḵī, but it is unknown whether they were local rulers or rulers of the entire oasis. Some kind of unity in the oasis is implied by the coinage, by the extensive irrigation system, and by the long walls around the settled and cultivated areas. The wall, called kampīrak or kampīr dovāl “old lady’s wall,” probably existed in pre-Islamic times although it may not have been completed (or extended) until the early ʿAbbasid period. In spite of an apparent unity of the oasis the success of the Arab conquest suggests there was little more unity in the oasis than between oases.

With a ruler of Bukhara called Bīdūn (or Bandūn) we reach the time just before the Arab conquest, for he is mentioned by a number of Arabic sources, although with several variant readings of his name. It is uncertain whether he was killed in battle with Salm b. Zīād, the first Arab commander to cross the Oxus in 681, or whether he was already dead and his widow, called Ḵātūn in the sources, was regent for their son Ṭoḡšāda. Under Ṭoḡšāda the Arab conquest of Bukhara was accomplished. It should be noted that in the Arabic sources the rulers of Bukhara were called Boḵār-ḵodāt, where the last word is Sogdian γwtʾw, used for the nobility or aristocracy of the Sogdian oases.

Figure-2-Bukhara Jew[Click to Enlarge] Image of a Bukhara Jew in Central Asia at the turn of the 19th century. The Jews of Bukhara are located in not just in the city of Bukhara but also in other cities of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Bukhara Jews speak a Jewish vernacular of the Samarkand-Bukhara dialect of the Perso-Tajik language (Photo Source: The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center).

The boundaries of the oasis of Bukhara on the whole have remained constant during the last millennium, but from pre-Islamic times mounds or remains of buildings are found in the desert to the west, outside the present-­day oasis, attesting a larger area of settlement in more ancient times (see Shishkin, p. 22). There were many canals in the oasis that utilized the water of the Zarafshan river, and three of the major canals men­tioned in Arabic or Persian sources can be identified today: Šāpūrkām (today Shafrikan/Šāfrekān), Ḵarḡ/qānrūd (Kalkan), and Ḵetfar or ʿĀv/Ḡāw-Ḵetfar (Babkent Darya/Bābkand Daryā), which divided into the Andāna and the Rāmīṯan-Sāmjan canals (Naršaḵī, pp. 44-45, tr. Frye, p. 32; Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 310-11; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 486-87, tr. Kramers, II, pp. 466-67; Barthold, Turkestan, pp. 113-16).

The only extensive historical pre-Islamic excavations in the oasis were those of a palace complex in Varaḵša in 1938-39 and 1949-54, revealing traces of wall paintings as well as clay statuettes. In the city of Bukhara the site of the mosque of Magoki Attar was investigated by V. A. Shishkin in the 1950s, and pottery and other small objects from the earliest layer suggested a date as early as the beginning of our era. Other sites, such as that of Paykand, have only been surveyed (Shishkin, p. 16).

Bibliography

R. N. Frye, Notes on the Early Coinage of Transoxania, New York, 1949.

Idem, “Additional Notes on the Coinage of Transoxiana,” American Numismatic Society. Museum Notes (New York) 4, 1950, pp. 105-14.

W. B. Henning, Sogdica, James O. Forlong Fund 21, London, 1940.

Jovaynī, Tārīḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. Qazvīnī; tr. Boyle. Naršaḵī, Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā, ed. Rażawī; tr. Frye. O. I. Smirnova, Ocherki iz istorii Sogda, Moscow, 1970.

V. A. Shish­kin, Varakhsha, Moscow, 1963.

O. A. Sukhareva, K istorii gorodov Bukharskogo khanstva, Tashkent, 1958.

Tehran in the 1950s

Below are a number of photographs of Tehran’s districts, avenues, radio stations, traditional venues, recreation areas and airport as they appeared in the 1950s. Readers may find these previous postings of interest as well:

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North Tehran

Darband and Elahiye district in 1957.

Parks & Recreation

Amjadiyeh pool and sports complex in 1958.

Bagh e Shah

Saadi-Theatre-1The Saadi Theatre – note patrons checking showtimes at panel. The smaller sign situated just at the right of theatre sign is “Bank e Melli Iran” (National Bank of Iran) (Photo from Getty Images – Published in Avaxnews.com).

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Major Avenues in the 1950s

Saadi Avenue in 1951.

Naderi Avenue in the winter of 1951.

Tehran-Naderi Avenue -1953Naderi avenue in the fall of 1953.

Pahlavi Avenue in 1955.

Sepah Salar Avenue 1957.

Tehran Banks

The Bank Melli (National Bank) of Tehran. Note how the architecture blends elements of ancient pre-Islamic Iranian motifs  (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images).

Tehran Schools

A Tehran schoolgirl in the early 1950s at a vocational training school for seamstresses (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images). She is studying a physics book.

Snapshots of some of Tehran’s Traditional Venues and Shopping Districts

Tehran Bazaar in 1954.

Enjoying an outdoor shave in Tehran in 1958. 

Shahr e Farang in Tehran in 1958.

Tehran’s International Mehrabad Airport

Mehrabad Airport in 1958.

Mehrabad Airport check in terminals in 1958.

Tehran Radio

Radio Tehran in 1951.

Photos of Old Tehran: 1920s-1940s (Part II)

The posting below is a continuation of a previous posting entitled “Photos of Old Tehran: 1920s-1940s (Part I)” …

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Dapper Tehran motorist 1940sA dapper Tehran motorist circa mid-late 1930s or early 1940s.

Nasser Khosrow

Nasser Khosrow in the 1920s

Further down on Nasser Khosrow street in the 1920s.

Nasser khosrow avenue, Tehran, 1946.

Istanbul Avenue

Istanbul avenue, Tehran, 1949.

Post and Telegraph Office

 Post and Telegraph Office, Tehran, 1946.

 Post and Telegraph Office, Tehran, circa 1930s.

Mokhber-o-Dowleh

Mokhber-o-Dowleh, Tehran, 1946.

Sepah Square

Sepah Square early 1920s.

Sepah Square circa late 1930s.

Tehran Banks

Firdowsi street and Melli (National) Bank circa 1940s.

The Melli (National) Bank, Tehran, 1946.

 

Bank-e Bazargani (Bank of Commerce) in 1941.

A Tribute to the Popular Folklore Music of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Afghanistan

Below is a tribute to the musical artists of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Afghanistan from the 1960s-1980s. Musical artists from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus share a powerful musical tradition that may be characterized as Turco-Iranian or Persianate. Artists from Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey in particular often adopt each others’ songs and adapt these to their own country’s unique style and tradition.

Traditional Georgian musical troupe Opera performs a traditional northern Iranian song “Dar Sahel-e Zibay-e Darya” [On the beautiful Coast of the Sea]

-وحید صابری – یک روز بلند آفتابی-Vahid Saberi: Yek Rooz-e Boland-e Aftabi [On a long and Shiny/Sunny Day]

 

Child musical prodigy, Mehemed Mustafali from the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran and the Khanates until 1918) composes an excellent guitar lead and riff for the traditional song “Ince Bellim”. Note the boy-prodigy’s exemplary and strong command of guitar composition.  

 

Tajik dancer Malika Kalantarova performs a traditional dance to a traditional Tajik song in the city of Dushanbe in Tajikestan. Malika Kalantarova remains one of the most legendary  performers of the former USSR. She not only performed across the former Soviet Union and (esp) Central Asia but even made a number of appearances in India’s Bollywood scene in the 1970s!

Traditional Armenian folk song “Karmir Nur” performed by contemporary Armenian performer Armen Hovhannisyan.

 

Googoosh, one of Iran’s most legendary singers from the 1970s, sings a popular Azari song “Ayraliq” [separation] on Iranian TV (Rangarang). Googoosh remains not only popular among her native Iran but also throughout Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. 

Safavid Military Items housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum

The Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul in Turkey is one of the world’s most important sites for the study of world history and civilization, on par with Museums such as the Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia), The British Museum (London, England), The Louvre (Paris, France), Iran Bastan Museum موزه ایران باستان (Tehran, Iran), Altes Museum (Berlin, Germany), Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome, Italy) and the Egyptian Museum المتحف المصري (Cairo, Egypt).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Enderûn Library at the Topkapi palace Museum (Source: Public Domain). The Topkapi is one of the most important museums of Persianate or Turco-Iranian civilization.

Kavehfarrokh.com’s previous posting on “Giosofat Barbaro’s Reference to the Identity of Shah Ismail and the Safavids” resulted in communication highlighting the housing of significant Safavid items in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum. The source of this information is an article penned in the BBC on December 6, 2014 by Pejman Akbarzadeh entitled “ردپای فرهنگ ایران در موزه‌های استانبول” [The Footprint of Iranian Culture in Istanbul’s Museums]. Below are two Safavid military items (a helmet and a military standard) housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum.

Safavid helmet-Topkapi-BBC-PersianSafavid helmet with mail (کلاهخود از دوران صفویه – موزه کاخ توپکاپی در استانبول), most likely captured during the wars between the Safavid and Ottoman empires; Topkapi Museum (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).

Safavid Standard-TopkapiSafavid Battle Standard captured in the Battle of Chaldiran (August, 23, 1514) (درفش ارتش ایران در جنگ چالدران – موزه کاخ توپکاپی) (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).