Bukhara History - Part 3

The etymology of the place name "Bukhara"

In order to fully appreciate the history of Bukhara, it is important to analyze the different ancient names of the city. Specifically, what is the etymology of the place name "Bukhara"?

Comparatively accurate data on the names of Bukhara and the surrounding region and its rulers can be found from early medieval Chinese sources. About ten names are described in these sources: An, Ansi, Ango, Myumi, Bukho, Bukhe, Bukhaer, Buhola, Fuho, and Puhala. Some of these names are certainly of Chinese origin. The rest of them were derived from various Chinese pronunciations of the name "Bukhara." It is interesting to note that these names refer not only to the central city of the region, but also to the region itself, as well as its rulers. For instance, the An, or Bukho domain was known as Myumi in the Early Middle Ages, as was the capital of the region. The Eastern An was located 100 M (forty-five km) northeast of Myumi and Bi (Paikend) the same distance northeast of Myumi. The rulers' residence was in Alanmi (Ram-itan). The western border of this state was adjacent to the Ukhu River (the Amu Darya). In this region there were forty large cities and over 100 small fortresses; only brave and able-bodied young men were enlisted to serve in the army.

The capital of the Myumi state was situated west of Siwan Tsin (Samarkand), on the southern reaches of the Mami (Zarafshan) River. The city was enclosed by five walls, as well as moats filled with water. Palaces and other buildings were covered with flat roofs.18 Thus, according to the data from Chinese sources, the Zarafshan River was named Mami in the fifth to seventh centuries A.D., while the state located on the lower reaches of the river was called Myumi. Bukhara and Mamijikat were neighboring, but independent cities. The History of Bukhara contains data on Mukhanna's uprising. It is known that in 775 A.D. rebels wearing "white clothes" broke into Mumijikat and seized the city. Some time later, the size of both cities increased, so that the cities merged with one another. Of all the names, only the most commonly adopted one, Bukhara, remained in use.

What did the ancient names used for Bukhara mean? If we would speak of etymology, then, first and foremost, we should notice that the names used by Arabian authors are divided into two categories: the first category is for indigenous names, the second one is for loan names. Thus, "Madaniyat as-sufriya" or "Copper City," "Madinat at-tujar" or "The City of Merchants", and "Fakhira" or "The Honourable City" were names given to Bukhara by the Arabs.

Bukhara was called "Madinat as-sufriya" (meaning "The Copper City," or "The Copper Fortress") because of its strongly fortified walls. Moreover, Bukhara was situated on the Great Silk Road that linked the city to the Middle East, India, and China. The majority of the well-off population were kashkashans (traders) and so it was known as "Madinat at-tujar" or "The Traders' City". According to Mukhammad Narshakhi, the city was named "Fakhira" after shahids (religious warriors), who fell in action for Islam.
Numijkat, Bumiskat and Bukhara are the local names of the city. The first name actually sounds like "Nawmichkat" and is combined from three words: the Tajik-Persian word naw (new) and the Soghdian words mich (fortress) and kat (settlement).Together they mean "Mew fortified settlement." As for the name "Nyu-mi" found in Chinese sources, it is a distorted version of "Nawmich".

As we know from the place names of Bukhara, one of the old fortresses within the city was named "Farqwis". This name has survived until now as "Farowis us-Suflo", which is the name of a small canal that flows into the Shakhrud canal. It is also the name of the patron of weavers in Bukhara, Boboi Paraduz. Actually, the name of this ancient fortress was originally "Farabdiz". In Soghdian, means "quay", and diz means "fortress". So, joined together, these words mean "The Fortress Near the Water", or "The City on the Quay".

Mukhammad Narshakhi writes that "of the different names of the city, Bukhoro was the most well-known". Therefore, both the region and the city had the same name. Academician V.V. Bartold explains the origin of the word "Bukhara" from the Sanskrit word vi-hara or "temple". However, we think that this name is derived from the Soghdian word Bugoro which means "God's fascination". This interpretation, undoubtedly, is congenial to the nature of the ancient Bukhara that Narshakhi describes. The essence of this name is reflected in the remains of material culture discovered during archaeological excavations.

Thus, Bukhara originated from three fortresses, situated on the bank of the Zarirud River on the lower reaches of the Zarafshan River. The most ancient of these fortresses is the Farabdiz Fortress, followed by Bukhara and Nawmichkat respectively. Eventually, these three fortress merged together. As the population grew, the city area too increased. To provide for security, in the ninth century A.D. a wall enclosing all parts of the older settlements was erected around Bukhara. In the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries A.D., the wall was extended to enclose the new suburbs. The city had eleven gates and roads in that period. The roads led to Samarkand, Khorezm, Khorasan and Iran, Karshi and Termez. The rest of the roads linked Bukhara to settlements in the localities of the city.

Along with archaeological research in Bukhara itself, large-scale excavations have also been conducted in the old settlements of Varahsha, Paikend, and Ramitan, mentioned by Mukhammad Narshakhi as "settlements older than Bukhara". Although archaeological finds, unearthed from the lower layers of these settlements are dated from the fifth to the fourth centuries B.C. (for Varahsha), the fourth to the second centuries B.C. (for Ramush and Paikend), and the third to the fourth centuries A.D. (for Ramitan), it has not been proven that these settlements are older than Bukhara.

Thus, different artifacts, unearthed during archaeological excavations in Bukhara and its localities, provide proof from the point of view of scientific analysis that Bukhara is 2,500 years old.