, Plb. 10.48
; Strab. i. p.73
, xi. pp. 507, 509, 510, 513, 514, 516--518; Ptol. 6.9
. § § 1, 2. 10. § § 1,2.11. § § 1--4, 7. 12. § § 1,4.14. § § 1, 2, 14. 18.1; Agathem. 2.10; Arrian, Anab
. 3.28, 29, 30, 4.15, 8.10, 16; Plut. Alex
. 57; Dionys. A. R. 747
; Pomp. Mela, 3.5.6; Plin. Nat. 6.18
; Q. Curt. 7.4
; Amm. Marc. 33.6.52
), a river of Central Asia, on the course of which there appears a considerable discrepancy between the statements of ancient and modern geographers. Besides affirming that the Oxus flowed through Hyrcania to the Caspian or Hyrcanian sea, Strabo (ix. p.509
) adds, upon the authority of Aristobulus, that it was one of the largest rivers of Asia, that it was navigable, and that by it much valuable merchandise was conveyed to the Hyrcanian sea, and thence to Albania, and by the river Cyrus to the Euxine. Pliny (6.19
) also quotes M. Varro, who says that it was ascertained at the time when Pompeius was carrying on hostilities in the East against Mithridates, that a journey of seven days from the frontier of India brought the traveller to the Icarus, which flowed into the Oxus; the voyage continued along that river into the Caspian, and across it to the Cyrus, from whence a land journey of no more than five days carried Indian merchandise to Phasis in Pontus.
It would appear (Strab. l.c.
) that Patrocles, the admiral of Seleucus and Antiochus, had navigated the Caspian, and that the results of his observations were in perfect accord with these statements.
With such definite accounts mistake is almost impossible; yet the country between the Caspian and the Oxus has been crossed in several directions, and not only has the Oxus been unseen, but its course has been ascertained to take a direction to the NW. instead of to the SW.; and it flows not into the Caspian, but the sea of Aral.
Sir A. Burnes (Travels in Bokhara,
vol. ii. p. 188) doubts whether the Oxus could indeed have had any other than its present course, for physical obstacles oppose its entrance into the Caspian S. of the bay of Balkan,
and N. of that point its natural receptacle is the Aral;
and that this has been the case for nine centuries at least there is the evidence of Ibn Haukil (Istachry). (Oriental Geography,
p. 239, ed. Ousely, London, 1800.) Singularly enough, Pomponius Mela (l.c.
) describes very concisely the course of the Oxus almost as it is known at present. “Jaxartes et Oxos per deserta Scythiae ex Sogdianorum regionibus in Sythicum sinum exeunt, ille suo fonte grandis, hie incursu aliorum grandior; et aliquandit ad occasum ab oriente currens, juxta Dahas primum inflectitur: cursuque ad Septentrionem converse
inter Amardos et Paesicas os aperit.”
The course of the Oxus or Djihoun,
as it is termed in the Turkish and Persian works which treat upon its basin, or Amü Deryá,
as the natives on its banks call it, whether we consider the Badakchan
branch or Kokcha
to be its source, or that which rises in the Alpine lake of Sir-i-kol,
on the snowcovered heights of the Tartaric Caucasus of Pamír.
has a direction from SE. to NW.
The volume of its waters takes the same course from 37° to 40° lat. with great regularity from Khoondooz
About the parallel of 40° the Oxus turns from SSE. to NNW., and its waters, diminished by the numerous channels of irrigation which from the days of Herodotus (3.117
) have been the only means of fertilising the barren plains of Khwarizm,
reach the Aral
at 43° 40′. Manner (vol. iv. p. 452) and others have seen in the text of Pomponius Mela a convincing proof that in his time the Oxus had no longer communication with the Caspian.
But it can hardly be supposed that the commerce of India by the Caspian and the Oxus had ceased in the little interval of time which separates Mela from Strabo and M. Varro. Besides, the statement of the Roman geographer remains singularly isolated. Ptolemy (l.c.
), less than a century after Mela, directs the Caspian again from E. to W. into the Caspian.
The lower course of the river, far from following a direction from S.to N., is represented) in the ancient maps, which are traced after Ptolemy's positions, as flowing from ENE.--WSW.
But a more convincing proof has been brought forward by M. Jaubert (Mém. sur l'Ancien Cours de l'Oxus, Journ. Asiatique,
Dec. 1833, p. 498), who opposes the authority of Hamdallah, a famous geographer of the 14th century, whom he calls the Persian Eratosthenes, who asserted that while one branch of the Oxus had its débouche into the sea Khowarezm
(Aral), there was a branch which pursued a W. course to the Caspian.
It should be observed that Jenkinson (Purchas, vol. iii. p.236; Hakluyt, vol. i. p. 368), who visited the Caspian in 1559, also says that [p. 2.507]
the Oxus formerly fell into the gulf of Balkan.
He is the author of the story that the Turkomans, in the hope of preventing the diminution of its waters in the upper part of its course, dammed up the mouth of the river. Evidence still more positive of the “débouche” into the Caspian of a considerable river which is now dry, is afforded by observations on the sea-coast, particularly in the Bay of Balkan.
The earliest of these is the survey of that bay by Captain Woodrooffe, in 1743, by order of Nadir Shah, who lays down the “embouchure” of a river which he was told was the Oxus. (Hanway, Trav.
vol. i. p. 130.)
The accuracy of his survey has been confirmed by the more elaborate investigations of the Russian surveyors, the results of which are embodied in the Periplus of the Caspian compiled by Eichwald (Alte Geogr. d. Casp. Meeres,
Berlin, 1838), and these leave no doubt that a river, which could have been no other than the Oxus, formerly entered the Caspian at the SE. of the Bay of Balkan
by two branches ; in one of these there are still pools of water; the other is dry. How far they may be traceable inland is yet to be ascertained; but enough has been determined to justify the belief of the ancient world, that the Oxus was a channel of communication between India and W. Asia.
The ancients describe Alexander as approaching the river from Bactra, which was distant from it 400 stadia; their estimate is correct, and there are no fables about the breadth of the river. Arrian, who follows Aristobulus, says that it was 6 stadia.
The very topography of the river's bank may almost be traced in Curtius ; for there are low and peaked hillocks near that passage of the Oxus, while there are none below Kilef.
He adds that the Oxus was a muddy river that bore much slime along with it; and Burnes (vol. ii. p. 7) found that one-fortieth of the stream is clay suspended in water. Polybius' (l.c.
) statement about the impetuous course of the river and of its falls is untrue, as its channel is remarkably free from rocks, rapids, and whirlpools.
He has a strange story about the manner in which the Aspasii enter Hyrcania, either under the vault formed by the fall of the waters (comp. Strab. p. 510), or over its submerged stream.
It is still a popular belief that the waters of the Aral
pass by a subterraneous channel to the Caspian. At Kara Goombuz,
where the caravans halt, between the two seas, it is said by some that the water is heard rushing beneath. (Burnes, vol. ii. p. 188.)
The conclusions to which Von Humboldt (Asie Centrale,
vol. ii. pp. 162--197) arrived as to the physical causes which may have interrupted the connection between the Caspian and the Oxus are given in the article JAXARTES
For all that concerns the modern geography of the basin of the Oxus the travels of our countrymen, to whom we owe most of our real knowledge of these countries, should be consulted--Elphinstone, Burnes, Wood, and Lord. Professor Wilson (Ariana,
pp. 142--145) has treated this long-vexed question with great ability, and shown that there is every reason for believing the statements of the ancients that the Oxus was once the great highway of nations, and gave an easy access to the great Aralo-Caspian basin.