Coordinates: 36°45′29″N 66°53′56″E / 36.7581°N 66.8989°E / 36.7581; 66.8989
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Province of the Achaemenid Empire, Seleucid Empire, and Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
2500/2000 BC–900/1000 AD
Bactria is located in West and Central Asia
Approximate location of the region of Bactria

Historical eraAntiquity
• Established
2500/2000 BC
• Disestablished
900/1000 AD
Today part ofAfghanistan

Bactria (/ˈbæktriə/; Bactrian: βαχλο, Bakhlo), or Bactriana, was an ancient Iranian[1] civilization in Central Asia centered on Northern Afghanistan or areas that comprises most of modern-day Afghanistan, and including parts of southwestern Tajikistan and southeastern Uzbekistan.[2][3]

Called "beautiful Bactria, crowned with flags" by the

Seleucus I


of Bactria began.

Bactra was centre of an Iranian Renaissance in the 8th and 9th centuries,[4] and New Persian as an independent literary language first emerged in this region. The Samanid Empire was formed in Eastern Iran by the descendants of Saman Khuda, a Persian from Bactria, beginning the spread of the Persian language in the region and the decline of the Bactrian language. Bactrian (natively known as ariao, "Iranian"),[5] an Eastern Iranian language
, was the common language of Bactria and surroundings areas in ancient and early medieval times.


Bactria between the Hindu Kush (south), Pamirs (east), south branch of Tianshan (north).
Ferghana Valley to the north; western Tarim Basin to the east.

The modern English name of the region is Bactria. Historically, the region was first mentioned in

endonym. Other cognates include βαχλο (Romanized: Bakhlo). بلخ (Romanized: Balx’'), Chinese 大夏 (pinyin: Dàxià), Latin Bactriana. The region was mentioned in ancient Sanskrit
texts as बाह्लीक or Bāhlīka.

Bactria is the geographic location Bactrian camels are named after.


Bactria was located in

Oxus river. The land was noted for its fertility and its ability to produce most ancient Greek agricultural products, with the notable exception of olives.[7]

According to Pierre Leriche:

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.[8]


Bronze Age

Left: Seated Goddess, an example of a "Bactrian princess", Bronze Age Bactria, Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex, c. 2000 BC. chlorite and limestone. Central Asian art, Miho Museum.[9][10]
Right: Ancient bowl with animals, Bactria, 3rd–2nd millennium BC.


Margu, the capital of which was Merv
, in today's Turkmenistan.

The early Greek historian

cuneiform script
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,[

subcontinent around 2500–2000 BC. Later, it became the northern province of the Achaemenid Empire in Central Asia.[12] It was in these regions, where the fertile soil of the mountainous country is surrounded by the Turan Depression, that the prophet Zoroaster 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 languages

Achaemenid Empire

Xerxes I tomb, Bactrian soldier c. 470 BC.

sixth century BC, after which it and Margiana formed the twelfth satrapy of Persia.[14] After Darius III had been defeated by Alexander the Great, the satrap of Bactria, Bessus, attempted to organize a national resistance but was captured by other warlords and delivered to Alexander. He was then tortured and killed.[15][16]

Under Persian rule, many Greeks were deported to Bactria, so that their communities and language became common in the area. 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.[17] 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.[18] Herodotus also records a Persian commander threatening to enslave daughters of the revolting Ionians and send them to Bactria.[19] Persia subsequently conscripted Greek men from these settlements in Bactria into their military, as did Alexander later.[20]

Alexander The Great

Pre-Seleucid Athenian owl imitation from Bactria, possibly from the time of Sophytes.

Alexander conquered Sogdiana. In the south, beyond the Oxus, he met strong resistance, but ultimately conquered the region through both military force and diplomacy, marrying Roxana, daughter of the defeated Satrap of Bactria, Oxyartes. He founded two Greek cities in Bactria, including his easternmost, Alexandria Eschate (Alexandria the Furthest).

After Alexander's death,

Triparadisus, both 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

The Macedonians, especially Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I, established the Seleucid Empire and founded a number of Greek towns. The 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 by past deportations of Greeks to Bactria.[21] When Alexanders troops entered Bactria they discovered communities of Greeks who appeared to have been deported to the region by the Persians in previous centuries.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

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

Considerable difficulties faced by the Seleucid kings and the attacks of Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus gave the satrap of Bactria, Diodotus I, the opportunity to declare independence about 245 BC and conquer Sogdia. 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 South Asia:

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...."[22]

The Greco-Bactrians used the 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.[23]

Indo-Greek Kingdom

The founder of the 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

, 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

Attic standard
of coinage and introduced a native standard, no doubt to gain support from outside the Greek minority.

In the

Punjab region until around 55 BC.[24]
Other sources, however, place the end of Strato II's reign as late as 10 AD.

Daxia, Tukhara and Tokharistan

Daxia, Ta-Hsia, or Ta-Hia (Chinese: 大夏; pinyin: Dàxià) was the name given in antiquity by the Han Chinese to Tukhara or Tokhara:[citation needed] 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

Iranian language. (The Tokhari and their language should not be confused with the Tocharian people who lived in the Tarim Basin between the 3rd and 9th centuries AD, or the Tocharian languages that form another branch of Indo-European languages

Tillia tepe
is attributed to 1st century BC Sakas in Bactria.
Han Wudi, for his expedition to Central Asia from 138 to 126 BC, Mogao Caves
mural, 618–712 AD.

The name Daxia was used in the


Ohrmazd, Bactria, 3rd century AD.[28]
Kushan worshipper with Pharro, Bactria, 3rd century AD.[28]



The form

, but was subsequently reconquered by the Sassanid Empire.

Introduction of Islam

By the mid-7th century AD, Islam under the Rashidun Caliphate had come to rule much of the Middle East and western areas of Central Asia.[29]

In 663 AD, the

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.[29]

In the 8th century AD, a Persian from Balkh known as Saman Khuda left Zoroastrianism for Islam while living under the Umayyads. His children founded the Samanid Empire (875–999 AD). Persian 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.[30]

Bactrian people

Greco-Bactrian kingdom, 3rd-2nd century BC.[31]

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

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

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 north-west 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."[32]

The Bactrians spoke

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.[34]

The principal religions of the area before the Islamic invasion were Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.[35] Contemporary Tajiks are the descendants of ancient Eastern Iranian inhabitants of Central Asia, in particular, the Sogdians and the Bactrians, and possibly other groups, with an admixture of Western Iranian Persians and non-Iranian peoples.[36][37][38] The Encyclopædia Britannica states:

The Tajiks are the direct descendants of the Iranian peoples whose continuous presence in 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 Persian, a western dialect spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.[39]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^
    S2CID 165176167
  2. .
  3. – via
  4. ^ Asiatic Papers. Bactra Retrieved 11 March 2023
  5. ^ Foundation, Encyclopaedia Iranica. "Welcome to Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2023-07-31.
  6. ^ Eduljee, Ed. "Aryan Homeland, Airyana Vaeja, in the Avesta. Aryan lands and Zoroastrianism". Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  7. OCLC 50519010.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link
  8. ^ P. Leriche, "Bactria, Pre-Islamic period", Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 3, 1998.
  9. ^ Inagaki, Hajime. Galleries and Works of the MIHO MUSEUM. Miho Museum. p. 45.
  10. .
  11. ^ David Testen, "Old Persian and Avestan Phonology", Phonologies of Asia and Africa, vol. II (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 583.
  12. ^ Cotterell (1998), p. 59
  13. ^ Herzfeld, Ernst (1968). The Persian Empire: Studies in geography and ethnography of the ancient Near East. F. Steiner. p. 344.
  14. ^ "BACTRIA – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 2019-08-07. After annexation to the Persian empire by Cyrus in the sixth century, Bactria together with Margiana formed the Twelfth Satrapy.
  15. ^ Holt (2005), pp. 41–43.
  16. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  17. ^ Herodotus, 4.200–204
  18. ^ Strabo, 11.11.4
  19. ^ Herodotus 6.9
  20. ^ "Graeco-Bactrian Kingdom". Archived from the original on 2020-12-23. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  21. ^ Walbank, 30
  22. ^ Strabo "Geography, Book 11, chapter 11, section 1".
  23. ^ UCLA Language Materials Project: Language Profile: Pashto Archived 2009-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Bernard (1994), p. 126.
  25. ^ Silk Road, North China C. Michael Hogan, the Megalithic Portal, 19 November 2007, ed. Andy Burnham
  26. .
  27. Hanshu
    , Former Han History
  28. ^ a b Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition
  29. ^ a b History of Buddhism in Afghanistan by Dr. Alexander Berzin, Study Buddhism
  30. ^ "Origin of the Samanids – Kamoliddin – Transoxiana 10". Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  31. JSTOR 24048765
  32. ^ "LacusCurtius • Strabo's Geography — Book XI Chapter 11". Retrieved 2017-09-07.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ N. Sims-Williams. "Bactrian language". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Originally Published: December 15, 1988.
  35. ^ John Haywood and Simon Hall (2005). Peoples, nations and cultures. London.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  36. ^ Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan : country studies Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, page 206
  37. ^ Richard Foltz, A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East, London: Bloomsbury, 2019, pp. 33-61.
  38. Zürich
    1964, pp. 485–498
  39. ^ "Tajikistan: History". 28 August 2023. Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  40. ^ "David Adams Films". Alexander's Lost World


External links

36°45′29″N 66°53′56″E / 36.7581°N 66.8989°E / 36.7581; 66.8989