Bukhara History - Part 4

The early Middle Ages

Bukhara, situated on the lower reaches of the Zarafshan River, was one of the most significant cities in Central Asia in ancient and medieval times. It served as a capital for the Bukhar-khudat kingdom (fifth through eighth centuries), the Samanids (ninth and tenth centuries), the Sheybanids (sixteenth century), the Ashtarkhanids (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), and the Mangits (eighteenth through twentieth centuries).

The first reference to Bukhara in a written document seems to be the term Buho (or Poe-ho), mentioned by the Chinese writer Suan-Tsiang around 630 A.D. The name also occurs on drachma coins of the Persian ruler Varahran V (42 1-439 A.D.) minted in the Bukhara region and apparently dating from the late fifth century, as well as on the so-called Kopchikov dish, which dates from the late sixth or early seventh century, according to paleographic evidence.

In the opinion of a number of scholars who have studied the twelfth-century writings of Djuveyni, the name Bukhara is derived from the Sanskrit word vihara, meaning "Buddhist temple." However, another theory is that the name comes from the Soghdian word buxarak, meaning "a happy place." And this theory is most likely to be the truth Numi, Maumi, or Numidjikat, another name for the city found in Chinese and Arabic historical records, comes (in V.A. Livshits's opinion) from the Soghdian word Namich, which means "glorious, famous."

Written sources on the political history of pre-Islamic Bukhara relate primarily to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. An historic outline of earlier periods can be done on the basis of numismatic data. According to Firdaw-si's Shahname, Siyavush (Avestan "Siyavar-shan"), a famous hero and son of the king Key-Kawus (Kawius), was the founder of the Bukhara citadel known as the Ark. Siyavush came to Afrasiab, the king of Turan, to escape prosecution by his father. After arriving, Siyavush married one of Afrasiab's daughters and built the Kangdiz castle and the Siyavush-gird fortress according to Shahname in the Bukhara region, according to Pahlavi sources.

Abu-al-Hasan An-Hishapuri, a medieval author, makes direct mention of both the building of the fortress by Siyavush and the place where Siyavush was buried beyond the eastern gates of the city. In K. A. Trever's opinion, the Bakhar region possibly corresponds to Bukhara.

According to Narshahi's version, the city of Bukhara was founded by Shiri-Kishvar, a Turkic ruler who was sent by Kara-Churin, a Kagan of the Turks, in answer to the request of Bukhara peasants that they be delivered from the tyranny of Abruy, a local ruler. Present-day researchers date this event to the mid-sixth century A.D. However, such a late date is not supported by archaeological data. The earliest cultural layers, unearthed from stratigraphic exploratory trenches in the area of the Bukhara's Ark and Shakhristan, date from the middle of the first millennium B.C., or possibly the fourth or third century B.C. In the opinion of some, Bukhara was mentioned by Arian in connection with events which happened in 328 B.C. According to Arian, while in search of allies, Spitamen arrived at Bagi (or Gaby in another interpretation), an inaccessible place on the border between Soghdian-an land and the Scytho-Massaget country (Arian. IV, I 7, 4). This place is very likely Bukhara, since it was located on the outer rim of the Soghdian lands, beyond which lay only the desert, populated by the nomadic Scythians.

Some researchers, in particular V.V. Bar-told, have thought that a royal city named Basileiya was situated on the lower reaches of the Zarafshan, downstream from Samarkand. This city can probably be identified with Er-Kurgan.

Amongst the nineteenth-century scholars, there was a widespread notion that Tribaktra, believed to be between the Oxus and Jaxartes according to Ptolemy (Ptolemai, IV, 12), was to be identified with Bukhara. The name of Bukhara can be derived from Tribaktra via the Old Persian word bahtairi and the Bactrian word bakhti. W. Tomaschek, a famous Austrian researcher of Central Asian historical geography, disagreed, thinking that Tribaktra was situated on the site of Paikend. However, V.A. Shishkin noticed that the way this hypothesis was framed in a quite unnatural way, and there were not any serious obstacles to identifying Tribaktra with Bukhara. Judging from archaeological data, Bukhara was an important city even at this early time and was most likely known to ancient historians and geographers.

There is no information available on what the oasis of Bukhara was like under the Seleucids, but later on, it was included in the Greco-Bactrian state. This happened, most probably, under Euthydemus (230-200 B.C.). This king's treasury has been found in Bukhara (at Takhmach-tepe), where archaeologists have discovered tetradrachmas with Euthydemus' name on them, along with a number of Bactrian-Bactrian coins, found by accident, all of which serve as evidence that Bukhara was part of Euthydemus' kingdom.

Apparently, sometime during the second half of the second century B.C., the Bukhara oasis became independent. After that time, silver imitations of Euthydemus' tetradrachmas were minted. These imitations consist of a distorted Greek and Soghdian legend and an image of Hercules sitting on an omphalos. During this period, the rulers of Bukhara used an Aramaic title meaning "prince", but the names on the legends of the coins cannot be read clearly, even after W. Hennig's attempt to decipher them.''

The final phase of this coinage (second through fourth centuries A.D.) were coins of an independent type in which the image of Euthydemus was replaced with an image of a Bukhara ruler wearing a tiara, accompanied by a Soghdian legend. Imitations of this type, including a treasure consisting of eighty-six coins, have been found around Bukhara.

The Girkod's (or Urkod's) silver obols, found mostly in the Kum-Savtan Old City, south of Bukhara, comprise a second group of coins which definitely originate from the Bukhara oasis. These coins probably date from the first century B.C. - third or fourth century A.D., and are split into two types.
The first and earliest type depicts the bust of a ruler to the right wearing a band on his body and the legend written in Greek letters on the obverse side. On the reverse side is a standing deity with a flame behind its shoulders and the legend, also written in Greek letters. The latter legend has not been interpreted properly until recently. R. Girshman attempted to decipher Makkafoy as the name of a tribe that conquered Greco-Bactria - the Sakarauks, but this interpretation was not supported by other scholars. Some have deciphered the word Opdioploy as the name of a ruler and have read the first letter as alpha, thus Artardaf, though actually the first letter is omicron in all the legends.

As for the coins of the second type, both the image of a ruler and the legend are the same as on the first type. However, the Greek legend is replaced with a Soghdian one, while the reverse side represents a galloping horse and a Soghdian legend deciphered in W. Hennig's version. This coinage dates from the late first or the early second century A.D., when Greek writing was replaced with local Bactrian and Soghdian writing throughout Transoxiana. The last group of the Urkod coins is an unepigraphic group (without legends).

Thus, between the first century B.C. and the first half of the fourth century A.D., the Bukhara oasis was shared by two separate kingdoms. One of them was probably an auto-chtonal kingdom that minted Euthydemus' tetradrachma imitations and was situated in the area of Bukhara, judging by the large number of such imitations found there. The second was apparently established by outside nomadic tribes that belonged to the Yueh-Chis alliance and minted coins of the Urkod group. This kingdom was located west and southwest of the Bukhara kingdom.

It is possible that these kingdoms were part of the confederate state of Kangyui. According to Tsiang Hanshu, five kingdoms were subject to Kangyui. One of them, the Gi kingdom, is identified with Bukhara. According to the same source, to the east of Ansi (Parthia) lay the Minor Ansi kingdom, with its main city Mulu (Bukhara?). The same kingdom under the abridged name An still existed in the early seventh century A.D. The adduced data from Chinese written sources attest to the conclusion drawn on a basis of numismatic data. The conclusion is that in the Bukhara oasis there were Gi and minor Ansi - the two large domains - in the first century thorough the beginning of the commoner. Minor Ansi was probably vassalage of Major Ans: (Parthia), Possibly, Gi was a kingdom of the Urkod dynasty, while Minor Ansi was the Bukhara kingdom itself, numismatic data supports this concept; one can see a certain Parthian influence in the iconographic manner of imitating the Euthydemus coinage regarding, for instance, the image of a tiara.

In the second half of the fourth century A.D., the political situation in the Bukhara oasis had changed noticeably. First and foremost, the Samanid influence resulted in a change in the official symbols depicted on coins; the image of Hercules sitting on an omphalos and other Hellenistic symbols vanished from coins and were replaced with the image of a fire altar, a typical symbol of the Samanid period. From the early fourth century, in the Bukhara oasis, new types of coins were minted. They were silver coins, drachmas and obols, bearing the image of a ruler's head to the right on the obverse and a fire altar on the reverse. One can also read the ruler's name and title written clearly in Soghdian: prince Movach. Copper coins from that period were probably minted in the same kingdom. These coins bear the image of a ruler's head to the right wearing a tiara on the obverse and the image of a fire altar accompanied by an inscription of Aram ais origin, meaning "prince Akbar," on the reverse. According to V.A. Livshits, the name of the ruler is of Iranian origin and means "rider"(compare Old Persian asabara, Persian asbar and Bactrian asbarobido. The title is of Iranian origin as well. It derives from the Avesta word hvara (he whose deeds are good) or from the Old Persian word hwa-bawa (self-made one).

According to the History of the northern Courts (Beishi), and the History of the Sui Dynasty (Suishu), both written in the seventh century, which are probably the most reliable historical sources available, the largest kingdom within the Bukhara oasis was named An. The rulers of this kingdom and the rulers of Soghd had a common origin from the Chzaovu House; they were Yueh-Chih who had first lived beyond the northern side of the Tsiliashang Mountains, in the city of Chzaovu situated in present-day Gansu province of China. But having migrated to Soghd, all the Yueh-Chis dynasties that established themselves here (including those in Samarkand and Bukhara) "retained their Chzaovu name."

Alinga, a ruler of Bukhara, stated in his letter to the Tang Emperor, Thatsung (627) that "his dynasty counts twenty-two generations of predecessors prior to the present one."22 If we consider that the average reign took 20 or 30 years that means that Alinga's dynasty of Yueh-Chis origin ruled Bukhara for 400-600 years. Regarding this, it is relevant to say that at the beginning of the present era the Urkod dynasty reigned over the Bukhara oasis. According to numismatic data this took place 400-600 years prior to Alinga's reign. The mentioned dynasty was of Yueh-Chis origin, judging by the icono-graphic data. Thus, the succession of dynasties was as follows: the Urkod Dynasty, then the "Asbar", and "Movach", then Alinga.

There is one more problem of no less importance. It concerns the date and origin of the so-called Bukhar-khudat silver coins minted according to the samples of the Sassanid drachmas of Varahran V (421-439). There are two opinions. The first opinion says that Bukhara started to mint coins like these in the second quarter of the fifth century, and then, after a two hundred year interruption, renewed minting them in the second quarter of the seventh century. According to the second opinion, and in agreement with Narshahi's data, the first coinage of the Bukhar-khudat drachmas dates back to the reign of the caliph Abu-Bakr (623-634). The legend, written in the Bukhara variant of the Soghdian writing, is to be read, meaning "prince, Bukhara's king". The legend makes no mention of this king's name. Some of the coins bear countermarks shaped like that, according to the opinion of a number of scholars, are a dynasty mark of the Bukhara rulers. However, it seems likely that it was not the mark of the Bukhara rulers themselves, but a mark of the rulers who reigned in some kingdom in the Bukhara oasis. It seems highly improbable that the rulers of Bukhara would put any countermarks on coins they minted themselves. Provided that this countermark was a Bukhara rulers' dynasty mark, it would be included in the original stamp.

It is reported in Suishu that there were two kingdoms in Bukhara: The Bi kingdom was located at a 100-li distance (about forty km) west of An (Bukhara). In those times, Bi had no ruler and came under the An state. One can, perhaps, correlate this kingdom to Paikend. Regardless of the brevity of this information, it hints at some conflicts that occurred in the relationship of these kingdoms. The conflict resulted in the defeat of one of the kingdoms by the other one.