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Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan

From Academic Kids

History of Afghanistan series.
Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan
Islamic conquest of Afghanistan
Durrani Empire
European influence in Afghanistan
Reforms of Amanullah Khan and civil war
Reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah
Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
History of Afghanistan since 1992
Contents

Prehistory

Archaeological exploration began in Afghanistan in earnest after World War II and proceeded until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan disrupted it in December of 1979. Artifacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages were found. It is not yet clear, however, to what extent these periods were contemporaneous with similar stages of development in other geographic regions. The area that is now Afghanistan seems in prehistory - as well as ancient and modern times - to have been closely connected by culture and trade with the neighboring regions to the east, west, and north. Urban civilization in the Iranian plateau, which includes most of Iran and Afghanistan, may have begun as early as 3000 to 2000 BC (see also Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex). About the middle of the 2nd millennium BC people speaking an Indo-European language may have entered the eastern part of the Iranian Plateau, but little is known about the area until the middle of the 1st millennium BC, when its history began to be recorded during the Achaemenid Empire.

Achaemenid Rule, ca. 550 BC - 331 BC

The area that is present-day Afghanistan comprised several satrapies (provinces) of the Achaemenid Empire when it was at its most extensive, under Darius the Great (ca. 500 BC). Bactriana, with its capital at Bactria (which later became Balkh), was reputedly the home of Zoroaster, who founded the Zoroastrian religion.

By the fourth century B.C., Iranian control of outlying areas and the internal cohesion of the empire had become tenuous. Although outlying areas like Bactriana had always been restless under Achaemenid rule, Bactrian troops nevertheless fought on the Iranian side in the decisive Battle of Gaugamela (330 BC). They were defeated by Alexander the Great.

Alexander and Greek Rule, 330 BC - ca. 150 BC

It took Alexander only six months to conquer Iran, but it took nearly three years (from about 330 BC - 327 BC) to subdue the area that is now Afghanistan and the adjacent regions of the former Soviet Union. Moving eastward from the area of Herat, the Macedonian leader encountered fierce resistance from local rulers of what had been Iranian satraps. In a letter to his mother, Alexander described the situation thus: "I am involved in the land of a 'Leonine' (lion-like) and brave people, where every Foot of the ground is like a well of steel, confronting my soldier. This is the land of the Afghans [in] which children are fighting valiantly against my steel forces. You have brought only one son into the world, but Everyone in this land can be called an Alexander.” Although his expedition through Afghanistan was brief, Alexander left behind a Hellenic cultural influence that lasted several centuries.

Upon Alexander's death in 323 BC, his empire, which had never been politically consolidated, broke apart. His cavalry commander, Seleucus, took nominal control of the eastern lands and founded the Seleucid dynasty. Under the Seleucids, as under Alexander, Greek colonists and soldiers entered the region of the Hindu Kush, and many are believed to have remained. At the same time, the Mauryan Empire was developing in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. It took control, thirty years after Alexander's death, of the southeasternmost areas of the Seleucid domains, including parts of present-day Afghanistan. The Mauryans introduced Indian culture, including Buddhism, to the area. With the Seleucids on one side and the Mauryans on the other, the people of the Hindu Kush were in what would become a familiar quandary in ancient as well as modern history - that is, caught between two empires.

In the middle of the 3rd century BC, an independent, Greek-ruled state was declared in Bactria. Graeco-Bactrian rule spread until it included most of the territory from the Iranian deserts to the Ganges River and from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea by about 170 B.C. Graeco-Bactrian rule was eventually defeated by a combination of the internecine disputes that plagued Greek rulers to the west, the ambitious attempts to extend control into northern India, and the pressure of two groups of nomadic invaders from Central Asia - the Parthians and Sakas (perhaps the Scythians).

Central Asian and Sassanian Rule, ca. 150 BC - 700

In the third and second centuries BC, the Parthians, a nomadic people speaking Indo-European languages, arrived on the Iranian Plateau. The Parthians established control in most of what is Iran as early as the middle of the 3rd century BC; about 100 years later another Indo-European group from the north - the Kushans (a subgroup of the tribe called the Yuezhi by the Chinese) - entered the region that is now Afghanistan and established an empire lasting almost four centuries.

The Kushan Empire spread from the Kabul River valley to defeat other Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians. By the middle of the 1st century BC, the Kushans' control stretched from the Indus River valley to the Gobi Desert and as far west as the central Iranian Plateau. Early in the 2nd century under Kanishka, the most powerful of the Kushan rulers, the empire reached its greatest geographic and cultural breadth to become a center of literature and art. Kanishka extended Kushan control to the mouth of the Indus River on the Arabian Sea, into Kashmir, and into what is today the Chinese-controlled area north of Tibet. Kanishka was a patron of religion and the arts. It was during his reign that Mahayana Buddhism, imported to northern India earlier by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (ca. 260 BC - 232 BC), reached its zenith in Central Asia.

In the 3rd century, Kushan control fragmented into semi-independent kingdoms that became easy targets for conquest by the rising Iranian dynasty, the Sassanians (ca. 224 - 561). These small kingdoms were pressed by both the Sassanians from the west and by the growing strength of the Guptas, an Indian dynasty established at the beginning of the 4th century.

The disunited Kushan and Sassanian kingdoms were in a poor position to meet the threat of a new wave of nomadic, Indo-European invaders from the north. The Hepthalites (or White Huns) swept out of Central Asia around the fourth century into Bactria and to the south, overwhelming the last of the Kushan and Sassanian kingdoms. Historians believe that their control continued for a century and was marked by constant warfare with the Sassanians to the west.

By the middle of the sixth century the Hepthalites were defeated in the territories north of the Amu Darya (the Oxus River of antiquity) by another group of Central Asian nomads, the Gokturks, and by the resurgent Sassanians in the lands south of the Amu Darya. It was the ruler of western Gokturks, Sijin (aka Sinjibu, Silzibul and Yandu Muchu Khan) who led the forces against the Hepthalites who were defeated at the Battle of Chach (Tashkent) and at the Battle of Bukhara. The name Afghanistan derives from the name of the defeated Hepthalite king, Faganish. Up until the advent of Islam, the lands of the Hindu Kush were dominated up to the Amu Darya by small kingdoms under Sassanian control but with local rulers who were Kushans or Hepthalites.

Of this great Buddhist culture and earlier Zoroastrian influence there remain few, if any, traces in the life of Afghanistan's people today. Along ancient trade routes, however, stone monuments of Buddhist culture existed as reminders of the past. The two great sandstone Buddhas of Bamiyan, thirty-five and fifty-three meters high overlooked the ancient route through Bamiyan to Balkh and dated from the third and fifth centuries. They survived until 2001, when they were destroyed by the Taliban. In this and other key places in Afghanistan, archaeologists have located frescoes, stucco decorations, statuary, and rare objects from China, Phoenicia, and Rome crafted as early as the 2nd century that bear witness to the influence of these ancient civilizations on the arts in Afghanistan.

References

  • Harmatta, JŠnos, ed., 1994. History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume II. The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250. Paris, UNESCO Publishing.
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu. Draft annotated English translation.[1] (http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/hhshu/hou_han_shu.html)
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation. [2] (http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/weilue/weilue.html)
  • Litvinsky, B. A., ed., 1996. History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume III. The crossroads of civilizations: A.D. 250 to 750. Paris, UNESCO Publishing.
  • Sarianidi, Victor. 1985. The Golden Hoard of Bactria: From the Tillya-tepe Excavations in Northern Afghanistan. Harry N. Abrams, New York.no:Tiden fÝr Islam (Afghanistan)
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