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BACTRIA´NA ( Βακτριανὴ, Strab. xi. p.511, &c.; Steph. B. sub voce Curt. 6.6, 7.4, &c.; Ptol. 6.11.1; Plin. Nat. 6.16, &c.), an extensive province, according to Strabo (xi. p.516) the principal part of Ariana, which was separated from Sogdiana on the N. and NE. by the Oxus, from Aria on the S. by the chain of the Paropamnisus, and on the W. from Margiana by a desert region. It was a country very various in character, as has been well shown by Curtius (6.7), whose description is fully corroborated by Burnes (Bokhára, vol. i. p. 245), who found it much as the Roman historian had remarked. It was for the most part a mountainous district, containing, however, occasional steppes and tracts of sand; it was thickly peopled, and along the many small streams by which it was intersected the land appears to have been well watered, and consequently highly cultivated and very fertile. Its exact limits cannot be settled, but it is, however, generally agreed that, after leaving the Paropamisan mountains, we come to Bactria; though it is not clear how far the mountain land extends. Prof. Wilson (p. 160) thinks its original limits W. may have been at Khsulm, where the higher mountains end; though, politically, the power of Bactria extended, as Strabo has remarked, over the N. portion of the Paropamisan range. Eastward its limits are quite uncertain; but, probably, the modern Kunduz and Badakhshan, adjoining the ancient Scythian tribes, and the part conterminous with the Indians, were under Bactrian rule.

Both the land and its people were known indifferently by the name of Bactria and Bactriana, Bactri and Bactriani. Strabo (xi. p.715) has τῆς Βάκγριας μέρη, and τὴν Βακτριανὴν; Arrian (3.11. 3), Βάκτριοι ἱππεῖς; Herodotus (9.113), νομὸν τὸν Βάκτριον, and (3.13) Βακτριάνοι, who, he states, formed the ninth satrapy of Dareius. In 4.204 he alludes to a village τῆς Βακτριάνοι, and Arrian (3.29) uses the same periphrasis. Pliny (6.16) has Bactri, and, in 6.6, Bactrianam regionem.

The principal mountain range of Bactria was the Paropamrnisus or Hindu Kush. Its plains appear, from the accounts of Curtius and of modern travellers, to be intersected by lofty ridges and spurs, which proceed N. and NE. from the main chain. Its chief river was the Oxus (now Gihon or Amu-Darja), which was also the northern limit of Bactriana Proper. Into this great river several small streams flowed, the exact determinations of which cannot be made out from the classical narratives. Ptolemy (6.11.2) speaks of five rivers which fall into the Oxus,--the Ochus, Dargamanis, Zariaspes, Artamis, Dargoidus: of these the Artamis and Dargamanis unite before they reach the Oxus. The river on which the capital Bactra was situated is called Bactrus by ancient writers. (Strab. xi. p.516; Aristot. Meteor. 1.13; Curt. 7.4, 31; Polyaen. 7.11.) Prof. Wilson (Ariana, p. 162) considers that the Artamis, which is said to unite itself with the Zariaspa, may be that now called the Dakash. Ammianus (23.6) mentions the Artamis, Zariaspes, and Dargamanis, which he calls Orgamenes. There appears to be some confusion in the account which Ptolemy has left us of these rivers, as what he states cannot be reconciled with the present streams in the country. No stream falls into the Oxus or Gihon W. of the river of Balkh.

Prof. Wilson (l.c.) thinks the Dargamanis may be the present river of Ghori or Kunduz, which Ptolemy makes fall into the Ochus instead of into the Oxus. Pliny (6.16. 18) speaks of three other rivers, which he calls Mandrum, Gridinum, and Icarus. Ritter (Erd-kunde, vol. ii. p. 500) conjectures that Icarus is a misreading for Bactrus.

The Greek rulers of Bactriana, according to Strabo (xi. p.517), divided it into satrapies, of which two, Aspionia and Turiva, were subsequently taken from Eucratides, king of Bactria, by the Parthians. Ptolemy (6.11.6) gives a list of the different tribes which inhabited the country. The names, however, like those in Pliny (6.16), are very obscure, and are scarcely mentioned elsewhere: there are, however, some which are clearly of Indian descent, or at least connected with that country. Thus the Khomari represents the Kumáras, a tribe of Rajputs called Raj-ku-mars, still existing in India. The Tokhari are the Thakurs, another warlike tribe; the Varni are for Varna, “a tribe or caste.” The satrapy in Strabo called Turiva, is probably the same as that in Polybius (10.46) called Ταγουρία. (See Strab. xi. p.514, and Plb. 5.44, for a tribe named Tapyri, near Hyrcania; Ptol. 6.2.6, for one in Media, and 6.10.2, for another in Margiana.) It is possible that in Ghaur or Ghorian, one of the dependencies of Herát (Ariana, p. 162), are preserved some indications of the Taguria of Polybius. Ptolemy also (6.11.7) gives a list of towns, most of which are unknown to us. Some, however, are met with in other writers, with the forms of their names slightly modified. The chief town was Bactra or Zariaspa. [BACTRA] Besides this were, Eucratidia [p. 1.365]Strab. xi. p.516; Ptol. 6.11.8; Steph. B. sub voce named after the Bactrian king Eucratides; Menapia (Amm. Marc. 23.6, Menapila); Drepsa (Amm. Marc. 23.6; Adrapsa and Darapsa, Strab. xi. p.516; Drapsaca, Arrian, 3.39), probably the present Anderáb, in the NE. part of the province, towards Sogdiana: it was one of the first cities taken by Alexander after passing the mountain, and its position depends upon where this passage was effected. Alexandreia (according to Steph. B. sub voce the eleventh town of that name), probably in the neighbourhood of Khulm, where Ibn Haukal (p. 226) places an Islkanderiah. The Maracanda of Ptolemy is the modern Samarcand, and is situated beyond the boundaries of Bactriana in Sogdiana. Arrian (3.29) speaks of a town called Aornus, which he designates as one of the principal cities of Bactria.

Strabo (xi. p.516), following Onesicritus, remarks that the manners of the people of Bactriana differed little from those of the Sogdians in their neighbourhood; the old men, while yet alive, being abandoned to the dogs, who were thence called “Buriers of the Dead;” and the city itself being filled with human bones, though the suburbs were free. He adds that Alexander abolished this custom of exposure. Prof. Wilson (p. 163) suggests that, in this story, we have a relic of the practice prevalent among the followers of Zoroaster, of exposing bodies after death to spontaneous decomposition in the air. (See Anquetil Du Perron, Zend-Avesta, vol. i. pt. 2, p. 332.)

The province of Bactriana, with its principal town Bactra, was very early known in ancient history, and connected more or less with fables that had an Indian origin or connection. Thus Euripides (Bacch. 15) makes it one of the places to which Bacchus wandered. Diodorus (2.6), following Ctesias, makes Ninus march with a vast army into Bactriana, and attack its capital Bactra, which, however, being defended by its king Oxyartes, he was unable to take till Semiramis came to his aid. (Justin., 1.2, calls the king Zoroaster.) Again, Diodorus (2.26) speaks of the revolt of the Bactriani from Sardanapalus, and of the march of a large force to assist Arbaces in his destruction of the city of Ninus (Nineveh). Ctesias (ap. Phot. Cod. 72.2) states that Cyrus made war on the Bactrians, and that the first engagement was a drawn battle; but that, when they heard that Astyages had become the father of Cyrus (on Cyrus's marrying Amytis, the daughter of Astyages), they gave themselves up willingly to Cyrus, who subsequently, on his death-bed, made his younger son, Tanyoxarces, satrap of the Bactrians, Choramnians (Chorasmians), Parthians, and Carmanians (72.8). Dareius, too, gave a village of Bactriana to the prisoners taken at Barca in Africa, to which the captives gave the same name. Herodotus adds, that it existed in his own time. (Hdt. 4.204.) During the Persian war we have frequent notices of the power of this province. (Hdt. 3.92, 7.64, 86, &c.; see also Aeschyl. Pers. 306, 718, 732.) It formed, as we have stated, the twelfth satrapy of Dareius, and paid an annual tribute of 360 talents. In the army of Xerxes the warriors from this country are placed beside the Sacae and the Caspii, they wear the same head-dress as the Medes, and carry bows and short spears (7.64). Hystaspes, the son of Dareius and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, was the general of the Bactriani and Sacae. (Cf. also Aeschyl. Pers. 732, for the belief of the Greeks that Bactriana was a province subject to the Persian empire.) Herodotus (9.113) mentions the attempt of Masistes to raise a revolt against Xerxes, but that it did not prove successful, as Xerxes intercepted him before he reached Bactriana. On the murder of Xerxes, and the succession of Artaxerxes I. Longimanus to the throne, the Bactrians and their satrap, Artapanus, revolted again (Ctesias, ap. Phot. Cod. 72.31), and Artaxerxes was unable in the first battle to reduce them to their allegiance; somewhat later, however, the Bactrians were defeated, and compelled to submit, the historian stating that, during the action, the wind blew in their faces, which was the cause of their overthrow.

During the wars of Alexander the Great in Asia we have constant mention of Bactriana, and of its cavalry, for which it was, and is still, celebrated.--At the battle of Gaugamela, the Bactrian horse fought on the side of Dareius (Arrian, 3.2.3, and 3.13.3), forming his escort to the number of 1000, under their chief Nabarzanes, on his subsequent flight from that field towards Transoxiana. (Arrian, 3.21. § § 1, 4.) When, a little later, Alexander gave chase to Bessus, who had proclaimed himself king after the murder of Dareius, he went to Aornus and Bactra (Arr. 3.29.1), which he took (see also Alex. Itin. ap. ed. Didot), and, crossing the Oxus, the NE. boundary of Bactria (Curt. 7.4), proceeded as far as Maracanda. It appears that, after the invasion and subjugation of Sogdiana, he returned to Bactra, where he subsequently passed a winter, as he advanced thence, in the spring, to attack India. (Arrian, 4.22.) Several different satraps are mentioned at this period: Bessus, who murdered Dareius, Artabazus (Arr. 3.29.1), and Amyntas (Arr. 4.17.3), who were both appointed by Alexander himself, and Stasanor of Soli, in Cyprus, who held that rank probably a little later (ap. Arr. Succ. Alex. No. 36, ed. Didot). Diodorus calls Stasanor, Philippus, who, according to Arrian, was governor of Parthia (ap. Phot. xxvii.), and assigns to him the provinces of Aria and Drangiana. Justin (3.1) terms the satrap of the Bactrians, Amyntas. On the return of Seleucus from India, between B.C. 312 and B.C. 302, he appears to have reduced Bactria to a state of dependence on his Persian empire; a conclusion which is confirmed by the multitude of coins of Seleucus and Antiochus which have been found at Balkh and Bokhára. In the reign of the third of the Seleucid princes, Antiochus Theus, Theodotus (or, as his name appears on his coins, Diodotus) threw off the Greek yoke, and proclaimed himself king (Justin, 41.4; Prol. Trog. Pompeii, xli.), probably about B.C. 256. He was succeeded by several kings, whose names and titles appear on their coins, with Greek legends; the fabric and the types of the coins themselves being in imitation of those of the Seleucidae, till we come to Eucratides, whose reign commenced about B.C. 181, and who was contemporary with Mithradates (Just. 41.6); though, from the extent of the conquests of Mithradates in the direction of India, it is probable that the Parthian king survived the Bactrian ruler for several years. The reign of Eucratides must have been long and prosperous, as is evinced by the great abundance of his coins which are found in Bactriana. Strabo (xvi. p.685) states, that he was lord of 1000 cities; and that his sway extended over some part of India (Justin, 41.6) is also confirmed by his coins, the smaller and most abundant specimens of which bear duplicate legends, with the name and title of the king on the obverse in Greek, and on the reverse in Bactrian Pali. Eucratides was followed by several [p. 1.366]kings, whose coins have been preserved, but who are little known in history till we come to Menander about B.C. 126. Strabo (xi. p.515) and Plutarch (de Rep. Ger. p. 821) call him king of Bactriana: it has, however, been doubted whether he was ever actually a king of Bactria. Prof. Wilson (Ariana, p. 281) thinks he ruled over an extensive district between the Paropamisus mountains and the sea, a view which is supported by the statement of the author of the Periplus (p. 27, ed. Huds.), that, in his time (the end of the first century B.C.), the drachms of Menander were still current at Barygaza (Baroach, on the coast of Guzerat), and by the fact that they are at present discovered in great numbers in the neighbourhood of Kábul, in the Hazára, mountains, and even as far E. as the banks of the Jumna. It may be remarked, that the features of the monarch on his coins are strikingly Indian. Menander was succeeded by several princes, of whom we have no certain records except their coins; till at length the empire founded by the Greeks in Bactria was overthrown by Scythian tribes, an event of which we have certain knowledge from Chinese authorities, though the period at which it took place is not so certain. Indeed, the advance of the Scythians was for many years arrested by the Parthians. About B.C. 90 they were probably on the Paropamisus, and towards the end of the first century A.D. they had spread to the mouth of the Indus, where Ptolemy (7.1.62) and the author of the Periplus (l.c.) place them. These Scythian tribes are probably correctly called by the Greeks and Hindus, the Sacas. In Strabo (xi. p.511) they bear the names of Asii, Pasiani, Tochari, and Sacarauli; in Trogus Pompeius, Asiani and Sarancae; they extended their conquests W. and S., and established themselves in a district called, after them, Sacastene (or Sakasthán, “the land of the Sakas” ), probably, as Prof. Wilson observes, the modern Sejestán or Seistán. (Ariana, p. 302.) On their subsequent attempt to invade India, they were repulsed by Vikramadítya, king of Ujayin B.C. 56, from which period the well-known Indian Saca aera is derived. (Colebrooke, Ind. Algebra, p. 43.) The coins of the kings, who followed under the various names of Hermaeus, Mayes, Azes, Palirisus, &c., bear testimony to their barbaric origin: their legends are, for a while, clear and legible, the forms of the Greek letters bearing great resemblance to those of the Parthian princes; till, at length, on the introduction of some Parthian rulers, Vonones, Undopherres, &c., the Greek words are evidently engraven by a people to whom that language was not familiarly known.

Next to the Saca princes, but probably of the sane race with their predecessors, come a people, whom it has been agreed to call Indo-Scythian, whose seat of power must have been the banks of the Kbul river, as their coins are discovered in great numbers between Kábul and Jelálabád. The date of the commencement of their sway has not been determined, but Prof. Wilson and Lassen incline to place the two most important of their kings, Kadphises and Kanerkes, at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century A.D. Greek legends are still preserved on the obverses of the coins, and the principal names of the princes may generally be deciphered; but words of genuine Indian origin, as Rao for Rajah, are found written in Greek characters: on those of Kanerkes the words Nanaia or Nana Rao occur, which it has been conjectured represent the Anaitis or Anakid of the Persians,--the Artemis of the Greeks, and who has been identified with Anaia or Nanaea, the tutelary goddess of Armenia. (Avdall, Journ. As. Soc. Beng. vol. v. p. 266; see also Maccab. 2.100.1, 5.13, where Nanaea appears as the goddess of Elymais, in whose temple Antiochus was slain.) With the Indo-Scythic princes of Kábul, the classical history of Bactriana may be considered to terminate. On the successful establishment of the Sassanian empire in Persia, the rule of its princes appears to have extended over Bactriana to the Indus, along the banks of which their coins are found constantly. They, in their turn, were succeeded by the Muhammedan governors of the eighth and subsequent centuries. (Wilson, Ariana; Bayer, Hist. Reg. Graec. Bactr. Petrop. 1738, 4to.; Lassen, Geschichte d. Gr. u. Indo-Scyth. Kön. in Bactr.; Raoul-Rochette, Médailles des Rois d. l. Bactr., in Journ. d. Sav. 1834; Jacquet, Méd. Bactr., J.Asiat. Feb. 1836; C. O. Müller, Indo-Griekh. Münz., Gött. Gel. Anzg. 1838, Nos. 21--27.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.86
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.113
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.92
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.204
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.64
    • Polybius, Histories, 10.46
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.44
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 6.16
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 23.6
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 6.6
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 6.7
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 7.4
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 2.26
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 2.6
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