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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia



The ancient province of Sogdiana (or Suguda to the Persians) lay largely within the easternmost quarter of modern Uzbekistan, along with western Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya), traditionally formed the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia. In fact, Sogdiana and its western neighbour, Chorasmia, formed the northern edge of civilisation in the ancient world. Beyond them was the sweeping steppeland and marauding tribes of barbarians.

This ancient region had also formed the northern border in Transoxiana for one of the oldest series of states in Central Asia, the indigenous Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation, and Indo-European tribes had soon integrated into it around the start of the second millennium BC. Forming an Indo-Iranian group of tribes in later centuries, it is these very same people who, within half a millennium, were to be found entering India. Those who remained behind appear to enter the historical record around the sixth century BC, when they came up against their western cousins of the rapidly-expanding Persian empire.

The earliest-known rulers for the region are placed in the 600s BC, with clear links being shown between them and the earliest rulers of Persia (possibly before the latter had fully settled in Persia). In fact, the resemblance between Old Persian and Sogdian languages is one of the supporting pillars for the theory of Persian migration into Iran from Central Asia. The Persians themselves were of Indo-Iranian stock, and it is probably the case that the Sogdian tribes shared that same origin. The large and warlike tribe or confederation of the Massagetae were recorded as bordering the area to the north in 530 BC, less closely-related cousins of the Sogdians and their ilk.

Sogdiana was conquered by the Persians in the mid-sixth century BC during a sweeping wave of conquest by Cyrus the Great. A satrapy or governorship was created to command it from a capital at Marakanda (modern Samarkand). The Persian and Greek satrapy of Suguda and Sogdiana respectively was situated with the sweeping steppeland of Central Asia to its north which, in the Persian period, was peopled by various tribes and groups such as the aforementioned Massagetae, plus the Scythians, with Ferghana to the east, Bactria to the south, Margiana to the south-west, and Chorasmia to the west.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Zoroastrian Heritage, K E Eduljee, and Talessman's Atlas (World History Maps).)

7th century BC

Later myth ascribes a dynasty of Indo-Iranian rulers to this period, as described in the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a poetic opus which is written down about AD 1000 but which accesses older works and perhaps elements of an oral tradition.

Map of Central Asia & India c.700 BC
Following the climate-change-induced collapse of indigenous civilisations and cultures in Iran and Central Asia between about 2200-1700 BC, Indo-Iranian groups gradually migrated southwards to form two regions - Tūr (yellow) and Ariana (white), with westward migrants forming the early Parsua kingdom (lime green), and Indo-Aryans entering India (green) (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The earliest of these mythical Indo-Iranian rulers is Fereydun, king of a 'world empire'. His subjects are the Indo-Iranian tribes of the region while his kingdom of Turan is apparently in the land of Tūr (or Turaj). This can be equated to territory in the heartland of Indo-Iranian southern Central Asia and South Asia, focused mainly on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana. His main opponents are the Kayanian dynasty of kings of the early Parsua.

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea).

Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse. The inference is very clear - whatever control of Turan the Persians may have enjoyed following the death of Afrasiab, it did not last and the lands now have to be conquered properly.

Iran's Makran Coast
Modern Iran's Makran Coast formed the southern edge of the ancient province of Gedrosia, on what is now the border with south-western Pakistan

The heartland of Sogdiana is also drawn into the empire as the province of Suguda, while it is also named Huvarazmish in some Persian inscriptions. The neighbouring region of Ferghana, which gains a defensive fort or city of its own is administered from the Sogdian capital, Marakand. These areas form the north-eastern corner of the Achaemenid empire, with nothing beyond but uncharted wastes full of tribal barbarians.

Persian Satraps of Suguda (Sogdiana / Huvarazmish)
Incorporating the Satraps of the Dyrbaeans

Conquered in the mid-sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great, the region of Sogdiana (sometimes referred to as Huvarazmish) was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was populated largely by Indo-Iranian tribal groups, the most numerous of which in this particular area were the Sogdians themselves. Under the Persians, the region was formed into an official satrapy or province which, according to the Behistun inscription of Darius the Great, was called Suguda or Sugda (Sogdiana is a Greek mangling of the name).

These eastern regions of the new-found empire were ancestral homelands for the Persians. They formed the Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated west in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been no language barriers for Cyrus' forces and few cultural differences. Although details of his conquests are relatively poor, he seemingly experienced few problems in uniting the various tribes under his governance. He was the first to exert any form of imperial control here, although his campaign may have been driven partially by a desire to recreate the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan in the land of Tūr, but now under Persian control. Curiously the Persians had little knowledge of what lay to the north of their eastern empire, with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast had been.

Suguda's capital was Maracanda, although little else about Persian-era Suguda is known for certain. The central minor satrapy of Suguda had its southern border along the River Oxus (Amu Darya). The River Polytimetus (the modern River Zeravshan, which feeds into the Oxus from the north of Samarkand) presumably supplied the western border, across which were the nomadic Massagetae. The rest of the western border is uncertain. To the north-east, Suguda was bordered by the territory of the Amyrgians (a Saka grouping), and part of the frontier was marked by the River Jaxartes (Syr Darya).

In the east of Suguda, a subordinate minor satrapy seems to have been that of the Dyrbaeans (Ptolemy's Drybactae). Cyrus the Great placed Spitaces, son of Spitamenes, in charge of the Dyrbaeans, although when writing about them Ctesias mistook them for the Derbicans to the east of the Caspian Sea who were not part of the Achaemenid empire under Cyrus. Stephanus Byzantinus recorded that the Drybaean territory (or Dyrbaioi, to use his phrase) bordered Bakhtrish and Hindush - a pretty broad and vague definition. The only suitable location for these 'eastern Derbicans', the Dyrbaeans, is the modern Afghan province of Badaḵšān in the far north-eastern corner of the country. Here, in the Monjan Valley, was the only source of lapis lazuli to be exploited at that date. In that case, the minor satrapy of the Dyrbaeans bordered Suguda to the north, Bakhtrish to the west, and Gadara to the south. It lay largely within the arc of the River Panj (or Pyandzh), which feeds into the headwaters of the Oxus to the east of Dushanbe (and today provides part of Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan).

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Campaigns of Alexander, Arrian of Nicomedia (Aubrey De Sélincourt, Ed, Penguin, 1971), from From Democrats to Kings: The Brutal Dawn of a New World from the Downfall of Athens to the Rise of Alexander the Great, Michael Scott, from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Anabasis Alexandri, Arrian of Nicomedia, from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), and from External Links: The Geography of Strabo (Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1932), and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

c.546 - 540 BC

During his campaigns in the east, Cyrus the Great initially takes the northern route from Persis towards Bakhtrish and Suguda to reassure or subdue the provinces. This route probably involves the 'militaris via' by Rhagai to Parthawa. At some point Cyrus builds a line of seven forts to defend his frontier in Suguda and the neighbouring region of Ferghana against the tribal Massagetae to the north, the strongest of these being Kyra or Kyreskhata (Cyropolis - the Greek form of its name).

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

Then he takes the more difficult southern route, destroying Capisa along the way (possibly Kapisa on the Koh Daman plain to the north of Kabul - which is possibly also the Kapishakanish named at Behistun as a fortress in Harahuwatish).

When Cyrus realises he is close to death around 530 BC (according to the somewhat unreliable Ctesias), he appoints Cambyses as his successor. He also makes two appointments to satrapies, placing Spitaces in command over the Dyrbaeans and his brother Megabernes over the Barcanians. Events concerning the Barcanians means that a more realistic dating for this event would be about 515 BC, so Cyrus cannot possibly be the instigator.

fl c.530 BC


Son of Spitamenes. Satrap of the Dyrbaeans.

516 - 515 BC

Achaemenid ruler Darius embarks on a military campaign into the lands east of the empire. He marches through Haraiva and Bakhtrish, and then to Gadara and Taxila. By 515 BC he is conquering lands around the Indus Valley to incorporate into the new satrapy of Hindush before returning via Harahuwatish and Zranka. Along the way the Sakas are largely defeated and conquered, but probably only along the borders.

One of the three Saka 'nations' is that of the Saka Paradraya. This name breaks down into 'para' and 'draya', the first part meaning 'across' and the latter almost certainly being 'darya' or 'river'. When Persian ruler Darius the Great boasts of the limits of his empire he gives as the north-eastern corner the 'Sakaibish tyaiy para Sugdam' - the Sakas across/beyond Sugdam (Sogdiana), on the other side of the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Suguda and Scythia).

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

fl 500 BC


Brother of Darius I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

fl 480 BC


Brother of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

? - 464 BC


Son of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?). Killed?

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian kills Xerxes in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the empire, ostensibly as a regent for Xerxes' three sons. Artabanus has the murder pinned on the eldest of these, Darius, and has him killed by the youngest son, Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes accedes to the throne before Artabanus attempts to murder him too. In the end, it is Artabanus who dies, but Artaxerxes is forced to defeat the second of Xerxes' sons, Hystaspes, satrap of Bakhtrish (and presumably Suguda too) and his own brother. This brief civil war is ended when Artaxerxes defeats the forces of Hystaspes in battle during a sandstorm.

360s/350s BC

Artaxerxes II is occupied fighting the 'revolt of the satraps' in the western part of the empire. Nothing is known of events in the eastern half of the Persian empire at this time, but no word of unrest is mentioned by Greek writers, however briefly. Given the newsworthiness for Greeks of any rebellion against the Persian king, this should be enough to show that the east remains solidly behind the king. It seems that all of the empire's troubles hinge on the Greeks during this period.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history and was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times - but during this period it flowed right through the heart of the region which was known as Bactria while also providing a sizeable part of Suguda's southern border

? - 329 BC

Bessus / Artaxerxes V

Satrap of Bakhtrish & Suguda. Murdered Achaemenid Darius III.

330 - 328 BC

In 330-329 BC Suguda becomes part of the Greek empire despite the efforts of Bessus, self-styled 'king of Asia', to retain at least some of the Persian territories. His claim is legal, since Bakhtrish is traditionally commanded by the next-in-line to the throne, but Persia has already been lost and his loose collection of eastern allies provides nothing more than a sideshow to the main event - the fall of Achaemenid Persia. Still, it takes Alexander the Great two more years to fully conquer the region. One of Bessus' allies is Oxyartes, father to the Roxana whom Alexander marries in 327 BC.

During his conquest of Suguda, following the fall of Bakhtrish, Alexander focuses on the largest and best-defended of seven towns in the region, this being Cyropolis in the Ferghana region (the Kyreskhata of Cyrus the Great). While he takes the other towns, he sends Craterus to pin down the defenders of Cyropolis. Following the quick fall of the other towns, the storming of Cyropolis is led in person by Alexander. Both he and Craterus are wounded but the town and its central fortress are taken. Suguda and Ferghana now belong to the Greeks.

Argead Dynasty in Sogdiana

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-328 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and during the course of several wars, Sogdiana was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 305 BC.

Little seems to be known about Persian-era Suguda (Sogdiana), other than the fact that its capital was Maracanda. Located at the north-eastern edge of the empire, and subject to raids across its border by the nomadic Sakas beyond, its borders are known in general terms. Its southern border followed the line of the River Oxus (Amu Darya). The River Polytimetus (the modern River Zeravshan, which feeds into the Oxus from the north of Samarkand) presumably supplied the western border, across which were the nomadic Massagetae. The rest of the western border is uncertain. To the north-east, Sogdiana was bordered by the territory of the Amyrgians (a Saka grouping), and part of the frontier was marked by the River Jaxartes (Syr Darya). Once conquered by Alexander the Great (perhaps only loosely) it was merged in administrative terms with Bactria, while Alexander would soon marry Roxana, the daughter of one of the region's most powerful warlords.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Ancient Samarkand: Capital of Soghd, G V Shichkina (Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 1994, 8: 83), and from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (London, 1873), from Alexander the Great, Krzysztof Nawotka (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from The Cambridge Ancient History, John Boardman, N G L Hammond, D M Lewis, & M Ostwald (Eds), from Sogdiana, its Christians and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 2001), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

328 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

328? BC


Satrap of Sogdiana at the 'gift of Alexander'.

328 BC

Following the resignation of Artabazus, satrap of Bactria, Clitus is given the post along with command of 16,000 Greeks who had formerly fought under the Persians as mercenaries. He sees this posting as a reduction of his influence and position with Alexander and, at a banquet in the satrap's palace at Maracanda (the capital of the satrapy of Sogdiana, modern Samarkand), the two get into a drunken quarrel. Enduring gross insults from Clitus, in his rage Alexander runs him through with a spear. Almost immediately he deeply regrets the death of his former friend (the scene is well depicted in the feature film, Alexander (2004), although the location is transferred to India).

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

328 - 323? BC

Amyntas Nikolaos

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

328 - 323? BC


Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

327 BC

Against the vehemently strong opinions held by his generals, Alexander proceeds to marry Roxana (Roshanak in her native tongue). She is the daughter of Oxyartes, a Sogdian warlord who had supported Bessus in his attempt to resist Alexander in the east in 329 BC. Oxyartes himself had been one of the defeated defenders of the fortress known as the 'Sogdian Rock' in 328 BC, close to the Sogdian capital at Marakanda. Oxyartes himself is made satrap of Gandhara.

323 - 321 BC

Following the death of Alexander the Great, some changes come to Chorasmia, Sogdiana, and Bactria. The end of the term of office for Amyntas Nikolaos and his subordinate, Scythaeus, is often given as 325 BC, and sometimes as 321 BC. However, Philip is certainly in place by 323 BC, so this date is used here.

323 - 321 BC

Philip / Philippus

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana, then Parthia.

321 BC

With Philip being reassigned to Parthia, his replacement in the east is Stasanor the Solian, former satrap of Aria and Drangiana. This new satrap is the brother to Stasander, his replacement in Aria and Drangiana. Perhaps he also has more of a focus towards the Northern Indus territories than the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, as later suggested by events. His territory initially extends as far north as Ferghana, which contains the city of Alexandria Eschate ('the Furthest'), while Stasander also has ambitions.

Eumenes of Cardia
Eumenes of Cardia, Macedonian general and one of Alexander the Great's 'successors' between whom a series of wars were fought

321 - 312 BC

Stasanor the Solian

Greek satrap of Chorasmia to Sogdiana, & Nth Punjab (316 BC).

320s BC

Like the Persians before them, the Greeks under Alexander place the Amyrgian Sakas beyond Sogdiana, across the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Iaxartes, Jaxartes, or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia). This is thanks to their having encountered them after crossing Sogdiana and the Syr Darya in the approximate region of Alexandria Eschate in the Ferghana region ('Eschate' meaning 'the Furthest', possibly modern Khojend, but see the Ferghana introduction). It is generally accepted that they control all of Ferghana (immediately to the east of Sogdiana) and the Alai Valley. Indeed, they may have been relocated onto the plain following their conquest by the Persians.

316 - 312 BC

The Wars of the Diadochi decide how Alexander the Great's empire is carved up between his generals, but the period is very confused, especially in the east. These provinces appear to be invaded and controlled by the Antigonids for a period, with General Antigonus being responsible for the death of Eudamus. However, at some point in 316 BC, Stasanor the Solian, satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana (with Ferghana) seizes the Northern Indus while his brother seizes Parthia. Clearly the two are either working in unison with Seleucus of Babylonia from the beginning or are attempting to stamp their own independent authority on much of the east. Unfortunately, Stasander is removed from office in 315 BC.

312 - 301 BC


Unknown Greek satrap of Sogdiana.

312 - 306 BC

Bactria is taken by the Seleucids around 312 BC. During the break-up of the empire, it appears that parts of the area become independent, but much of it remains under the control of the Greek satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana. Sophytes is satrap of Bactria, so could he possibly also govern Sogdiana too? Furthermore, given the tradition of Sogdiana's satrap also governing Chorasmia, that too could remain under the control of a single satrap.

Battle of Ipsus
The Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC ended the drawn-out and destructive Wars of the Diadochi which decided how Alexander's empire would be divided

305 - 301 BC

During the Fourth War of the Diadochi, the diadochi generals proclaim themselves king of their respective domains following a similar proclamation by Antigonus the year before (306 BC). Following the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, his territories are carved up by the other diadochi. All of the eastern territories, including Sogdiana, go into forming the empire of the Seleucids.

Macedonian Sogdiana

During the last of the Wars of the Diadochi, Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus (Sindh). Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Aria, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Carmania, Cilicia (eventually), Drangiana, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Media, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persis, Sogdiana, and Tapouria (a small satrapy beyond Hyrcania), plus eastern areas of Phrygia.

Once safely under Seleucid control after the conclusion of the Greek wars, Sogdiana was supposedly governed by Macedonian satraps from Bactria (see below). The capital was at Marakanda (later Samarkand). The descendants of many of these satraps became independent kings, after Bactria had been cut off from the Seleucids by Parthian incursion into central Persia. The Bactrian kingdom consisted of the core provinces of Bactria and Sogdiana. Located in one of the richest and most urbanised of regions, it quickly blossomed into a large eastern Greek empire, but continual internal discord and usurpations saw it progressively fragmented and vulnerable to outside conquest. The eastern section was almost permanently separated from Bactria and came to be known as the Indo-Greek kingdom.

The chronology of the Indo-Bactrian rulers is based largely on numismatic evidence (coinage). There are few written accounts, and other records are relatively sparse, while frequent internecine conflicts makes the facts even harder to pin down, so dates are rarely reliable. Some possible kings are known only from a few coins, and the interpretation of these can sometimes be very uncertain. The word 'supposedly' is used above in connection with Sogdiana being governed from Bactria simply because there is very little evidence to prove it. Sogdiana is indeed included in the list of eastern provinces which were secured by the Seleucids in the campaign of 305 BC. It may well have remained an administrative division during the early years of post-Alexandrine governance of the east, but a campaign in 283-281 BC and a lack of mentions afterwards paint a distinct picture of a lost region, and perhaps one which was not particularly secure beforehand.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by David Kelleher, from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), from Sogdiana, its Christians and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 2001), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Marcus Junianus Justinus (Rev John Selby Watson, Trans, 1895), via Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org. Where information conflicts regarding the Indo-Greek territories, Osmund Bopearachchi's Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonné (1991) has been followed.)

c.294 - 293 BC


Seleucid satrap (governor-general) of Bactria & Sogdiana.

c.294 - 293 BC

A former general under Seleucid rulers Seleucus I Nicator and Antiochus I Soter, Demodamas serves twice as satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana. During this time he undertakes military expeditions across the Syr Darya to explore the lands of the Sakas, repopulating Alexandria Eschate ('the furthest', possibly modern Khojend) in Ferghana in the process following its earlier destruction by barbarians.

His journeys of exploration take him farther than any other Greek, barring perhaps Alexander himself, and his records of what he finds provide an important platform for later Roman writers.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes which would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.293 - c.281 BC


One or more unknown Seleucid satraps.

283 - 281 BC

During his time campaigning and exploring the lesser-known lands to the north of Bactria, Demodamas directs his attentions towards nomads who are inhabiting the lands to the north of Sogdiana. These would be Sakas (quite possibly related to the Massagetae of Cyrus the Great's time), often unruly and hard to govern effectively while they occupy the sweeping steppe to the north of the Syr Darya.

Whether Demodamas has to direct any efforts towards securing Sogdiana itself remains unclear. It seems to fall off the historical record after this point, at least as far as the Greeks are concerned, suggesting that it is largely lost or abandoned while the Greeks focus on far more lucrative and promising expansion to the south. However, some events later in the century seem to point towards Sogdiana still being connected to Greek events in Bactria, however loosely.

c.281 - 280 BC


Seleucid satrap for the second time.

c.280 - 256 BC


Unknown Seleucid satraps.

256 - 248 BC

Diodotus I Soter

Seleucid satrap. Declared the Bactrian kingdom.

256 BC

Diodotus declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as the satrap of Parthia. It may even be the actions of Andragoras of Parthia which force the hand of Diodotus I Soter, since there is little immediate chance of Seleucid retaliation. However, although the written evidence is confused and somewhat contradictory, it is more likely to happen the other way around. Bactria declares independence and Parthia follows. Diodotus now rules the former provinces of Bactria (to the south), Sogdiana, Ferghana (modern eastern Uzbekistan), and Arachosia (modern Kandahar). It is Strabo who confirms that Sogdiana at this time remains a Greco-Bactrian possession.

Antakya Mosaic Museum
Although the mosaics exhibited today in the Antakya Mosaic Museum in Turkey generally date to the first to fifth centuries AD, Seleucid Antioch of the third to first centuries BC would have been just as grand a city

248 - 235 BC

Diodotus II

Son. King in Bactria.

c.235/230 BC

Diodotus II of Bactria is overthrown by Euthydemus, possibly the satrap of Sogdiana. The date is uncertain and Strabo puts forward 223/221 BC as an alternative, placing it within a period of internal Seleucid discord.

235 - 200/195 BC

Euthydemus I Theos

Satrap of Sogdiana? Overthrew Diodotus.

c.220 BC

The realm of Euthydemus of Bactria is a large one, perhaps still including Sogdiana and Ferghana to the north (although this is highly questionable), and Margiana and Aria to the west. There are indications that from Alexandria Eschate in Ferghana the Greco-Bactrians may lead expeditions as far as Kashgar (a little under three hundred and twenty kilometres due east of Ferghana), and Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan. There they would be able to establish the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BC.

Even more remarkably, recent examinations of the terracotta army have established a startling new concept - the terracotta army may be the product of western art forms and technology. An entire terracotta army plus imperial court are manufactured using five workshops and a form of human representation in sculpture which has never before been seen in China. Archaeologists today continue the process of discovering new pits and even a fan of roads leading out from the emperor's burial mound, one of which, heading west, may be a sort of proto-Silk Road along which Greek craftsmen may be travelling (Marakanda being a key location along the Silk Road from the moment of its establishment).

Marco Polo on the Silk Road
Marco Polo's journey into China along the Silk Road made use of a network of east-west trade routes which had been developed since the time of Greek control of Bactria

208 - 206 BC

Euthydemus repulses an effort at the re-conquest of Bactria by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III. Following defeat at the Battle of the Arius, Euthydemus successfully resists a two year siege in the fortified city of Bactra before Antiochus finally decides to recognise his rule in 206 BC. He offers one of his daughters in marriage to Euthydemus' son, Demetrius, but it may also be at this time that Euthydemus refers to great hordes of nomads accumulating on the northern borders, possibly meaning that Sogdiana has been removed from his control, and posing a threat to both their domains - Bactria and the Seleucid empire.

fl c.160s BC?


Known from a few coins only. King in Sogdiana?

167 BC

Under Mithradates the Parthians rise from obscurity to become a major regional power, although a precise chronology is not possible. Their first expansion takes the former province of Aria (now northern Afghanistan) from the Greco- Bactrian kingdom. It seems possible that Aria (and possibly a rebellious Drangiana too) had already been conquered once by the Arsacid Parthians, with the Greco-Bactrians recapturing it, probably during the reign of Euthydemus I Theos. During the reign of Eucratides I the Greco-Bactrians are also engaged in warfare against the people of Sogdiana, showing that they have lost control of that northern region too (and by inference Ferghana).

The last statement raises the question of who in Sogdiana is standing against Eucratides. There exist a few coins which are minted under the command of one Hyrcodes, an otherwise unknown individual (although the name may not even be that of a ruler). There is much speculation about whether 'he' is based in Bactria or in Sogdiana (possibly at Marakanda, modern Samarkand), and whether he commands in the second or first century BC.

A silver tetradrachm of Eucratides I of Bactria
The successor to Antimachus I of Bactria was Eucratides I, with this silver tetradrachm being minted in his image at some point during the twenty-six years or so of his reign

Equally unknown is whether he is an Indo-Greek himself, or possibly a Saka with Greek influences, although Sogdiana's drift towards following nomadic culture in this period would suggest the former - an Indo-Greek who is opposing his peers in Bactrian from a position of relative isolation and safety in the north. Despite another claim that he may even be a Greater Yuezhi leader or vassal of the later decades of the second century BC, the Indo-Greek theory makes the most sense. The result is that Hyrcodes is unlikely to survive the imminent Saka and Greater Yuezhi invasions of Sogdiana.

Post-Greek Sogdiana

Following the final termination of Greek rule in Bactria around 130 BC - and seemingly for at least some decades before it too - Sogdiana's history becomes very hazy. Scholars have not particularly been able to reach a consensus about what was happening in the region even during the Greek kingdom period, let alone afterwards. Very often the only evidence at all is primarily numismatic, with some regional coins being produced bearing the name or likeness of minor tyrants, usually in the Greek style which remained the one to follow for some centuries.

In numismatic terms, very few Greco-Bactrian coins have been found in Sogdiana. The quality of these and regional imitations gradually reduced between the first century BC and the fourth century AD, with the silver content worsening. Architecturally, there seems to be very little monumental Greek architecture, despite neighbouring Bactria enjoying a boom in construction. In fact, despite there remaining an element of Greek influence, previously established Indo-Iranian tradition seems to have enjoyed a revival. Sogdian script was used in place of Greek, developed out of Achaemenid courtly Aramaic. Sogdian fortifications which were erected during this period also followed established Indo-Iranian styles, and Sogdian clothing was traditional Central Asian in style rather than Greek. In fact, while Bactria experienced a mix of these traditions along with Indo-Greek influences, Sogdian style seemed to have been influenced only by nomadic styles.

Two main views remain possible: that the Greco-Bactrian kingdom included Sogdiana at least during the third century BC before barbarian incursions removed it from their sphere of control; or that Sogdiana was lost to the Greeks very soon after the death of Alexander, with the Greeks in Bactria focussing on that satrapy and with close integration with the Indo-Greek territories both during the period of Mauryan ascendancy (from 305 BC) and during its decline (seemingly from 256 BC when the Greco-Bactrians declared independence from the Seleucid empire). The latter view sees Sogdiana largely abandoned by Greek control but still heavily influenced by its culture, and politically splintered amongst several minor principalities such as those of Bukhara and Vardana.

There is simply not enough evidence available to decide either way, but a vague picture can be discerned. Holt suggests quite reasonably that Alexander never really consolidated his conquest of Sogdiana, instead relying on local concessions and the taking of a Sogdian bride (Roxana) to settle the situation there so that he could move on with his campaigns. After his death, the unstable situation there simply dissuaded the Bactrian satraps from taking much of an interest - even if their abilities were (sometimes) equal to the task. The reign of Eucratides I in Bactria can certainly be taken as a final cut-off point thanks to confirmation that the kingdom is engaged in warfare against the people of Sogdiana, showing that they have lost control of that northern region too (and by inference Ferghana).

The developing Silk Road

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Sogdiana, its Christians and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 2001), from Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia, Frank L Holt (1989), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E Yarshater (Ed), from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner, and from External Links: Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Marcus Junianus Justinus (Rev John Selby Watson, Trans, 1895), via Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum, and Kidarites (Encyclopaedia Iranica), and Turkic History, and Iron Gates of Sogdiana (Uzbekistan Travel).)

c.165 BC

Defeated by the Xiongnu, the Greater Yuezhi are forced to evacuate their lands on the borders of the Chinese kingdom. They begin a migration westwards which triggers a slow domino effect of barbarian movement.

Map of the Yuezhi lands and exodus route
The Greater Yuezhi were defeated and forced out of the Gansu region by the Xiongnu, and their migratory route into Central Asia is pretty easy to deduct from the fact that they chose to try and settle in the Ili river valley below Lake Balkhash (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.155 BC

The Sakas (in the form of the Amyrgian branch) are displaced from Ferghana by the Greater Yuezhi. They are undoubtedly pushed towards neighbouring Sogdiana, where they are dominant enough to take control of the region, displacing whichever regional tyrants may have arisen or becoming their overlords. This is an event which is connected with the migration of the Greater Yuezhi across Da Yuan (the Chinese term for Ferghana), following another defeat, this time by an alliance of the Wusun and the Xiongnu. The Greater Yuezhi are forced to move again, causing other tribes also to be bumped out of position.

These mass migrations of the second century BC are confused and somewhat lacking in Greek and Chinese sources because the territory concerned is beyond any detailed understanding of theirs. Whatever the reason, the Saka king transfers his headquarters to the south, across the Hanging Passage which leads to Jibin. This is part of a southwards trend for the Sakas, and by approximately the mid-first century BC, Saka kings appear in India.

140 - 130 BC

Sakas have long been pressing against Bactria's borders. Now, following a long migration from the borders of the Chinese kingdoms, the Greater Yuezhi start to invade Bactria from Sogdiana to the north. Initially, Saka elements who are already in Bactria become vassals to the Greater Yuezhi.

Suvars (or Subars), a horse husbandry tribe known from the environs of Sumerian Mesopotamia (if in fact they are the same group - doubtful given the time span involved), now gain renewed prominence when they join the 'Tokhars' (Tokharoi) and Ases (Asioi) in the nomadic conquest of Sogdiana and Bactria about this time. The Ases have been equated with the Ases of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the sixth century. They may be the same group, although this is debatable. A case can be made, however, by this nomadic group returning northwards to be swept up in early Turkic migrations towards the Caspian Sea - the Suvars seem to follow the very same course.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes which would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi (click or tap on map to view full sized)

At around the time of the death of the Indo-Greek King Menander in 130 BC, the Greater Yuezhi overrun Bactria and end Greek rule. Heliocles may possibly invade the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom, as there are strong suggestions that the Eucratids continue to rule there, especially in Heliocles' presumed son, Lysias.

Following the Greater Yuezhi invasion and conquest of Sogdiana and Bactria, the city of Ai Khanum (its modern name) on the Amu Darya in Bactria goes into unrecoverable decline. Founded (if the identification is correct) as the city of Alexandria on the Oxus, its modern Uzbek name means literally 'Lady Moon'. On the northern bank of the river the fortress religious centre of Takht-i Sangin (now in southern Tajikistan) survives and flourishes until the late Kushan period.

126 BC

The Chinese envoy, Chang-kien or Zhang Qian, visits the newly-established Greater Yuezhi capital of Kian-she in Ta-Hsia (otherwise shown as Daxia to the Chinese, and Bactria-Tokharistan to western writers) and the rich and fertile country of the Bukhara region of Sogdiana (to the country of Kangju).

His mission is to obtain help for the Chinese emperor against the Xiongnu, but the Greater Yuezhi leader - the son of their leader who had been killed about 166 BC - refuses the request. Kian-she can reasonably be equated with Lan-shih or Lanshi, but the question of whether this is the Bactrian capital of Bactra (modern Balkh) seems to be much more controversial. It does seem to be likely though, despite scholarly objections.

Map of Central Asia & India c.50 BC
By the period between 100-50 BC the Greek kingdom of Bactria had fallen and the remaining Indo-Greek territories (shown in white) had been squeezed towards Eastern Punjab. India was partially fragmented, and the once tribal Sakas were coming to the end of a period of domination of a large swathe of territory in modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India. The dates within their lands (shown in yellow) show their defeats of the Greeks which had gained them those lands, but they were very soon to be overthrown in the north by the Kushans while still battling for survival against the Satvahanas of India (click or tap on map to view full sized)

115 - 100 BC

With Parthian territory having been harried for years by the Sakas, King Mithridates II is finally able to take control of the situation. First he defeats the Greater Yuezhi in Sogdiana in 115 BC, and then he defeats the Sakas in Parthia and around Seistan (in Drangiana) around 100 BC.

After their defeat, the Greater Yuezhi tribes concentrate on consolidation in Bactria-Tokharistan while the Sakas are diverted into Indo-Greek Gandhara. The western territories of Aria, Drangiana, and Margiana would appear to remain Parthian dependencies. Kangju's people ally with those of Bokhan around 103/101 BC to defeat a Chinese siege of Ahsikent, capital of the chief Bokhan kingdom.

c.50 BC

Having settled in Sogdiana and Bactria, the Greater Yuezhi have effectively rechristened these provinces as Tokharistan. Now, a century-or-so-later they have united under a single leadership, that of the Kushan tribe. Around this time they capture the territory of the Sakas in what will one day become Afghanistan, and have probably already caused the downfall of Indo-Greek King Hermaeus, conquering Paropamisadae in the process.

fl 1st cent AD


Known only on coins. Local ruler in Sogdiana. Greater Yuezhi?

1st century AD

A few coins have been found which are minted (probably) in the first century AD by one Phseigaharis. The coins all come from the prosperous Kashka Darya valley of the western Pamir mountain range immediately south of Marakanda (Samarkand, with the valley now being in the region of Qashqadaryo in eastern Uzbekistan). Most of the coins do not permit any especially accurate dating, or even an accurate location, as they are generalised Greek types.

One more recent find carries an Aramaic legend behind the ruler's head on the obverse as well as a Greek legend. This pinpoints the mint to that at Marakanda, while the ruler's hair style and 'ethnic' characteristics strongly suggest a first century AD date. Otherwise unknown except for these coin finds, Phseigaharis can be classed as a local ruler in Sogdiana, possibly a member of the Greater Yuezhi or one of their regional vassals, possibly of the Kangju.

Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Mountains in the east of modern Tajikistan became a border region for the post-Greek regions of Sogdiana, and have produced some interesting archaeological finds over the years

c.30 - 50

The unity in coinage designs across the Greater Yuezhi territories has been relatively short-lived. The rise of the Kushan tribe and its formation of an empire based in Bactria-Tokharistan seemingly replaces this with its own new monetary style.

As a result coinage in Sogdiana declines steeply while that of Bactria remains prosperous. Apparently lying outside the empire, for the next two centuries the coinage of the Zaravshan Valley around Marakanda (Samarkand) imitates the Alexander style used in the Ashtam group (second century AD) and by Hyrcodes (of Macedonian Sogdiana, perhaps circa 160 BC?).

Ceramic production and sophistication also declines, apparently quite abruptly, leaving Sogdiana an under-developed backwater supported only by 'pre-Silk Road' trade with the Han kingdom. Cities decay in the Zaravshan Valley, close to Marakanda, including Afrasaib-Samarkand, Kuldor tepe, Durmen tepe, Kurgan tepe, and Varaksha. Large sections of their territory which had previously been inhabited are now abandoned, dwellings left empty. Only the Kashka Darya basin to the south of Marakanda escapes the decline, probably acting as a cultural refuge for Sogdiana as a whole.

At the founding of the Kushan empire, a long corridor of territory is seized by the Kushans between Bactria-Tokharistan and the middle course of the Amu Darya. This serves to create a Kushan barrier along the entire southern and western Sogdian border.

The inference which can be drawn from the lack of Kushan empire coinage in Sogdiana (extremely rare), and the lack of any other apparent benefits of empire, is that Sogdiana (and Kangju) is isolated deliberately or otherwise by this barrier, cut off from the Parthian empire and the west. A Kushan fortification wall which shuts the Iron Gates would suggest that the barrier is deliberate.

The Iron Gates of the Baba-tag Mountains in Sogdiana
The Iron Gates (shown here), are part of a narrow but popular linking route between Sogdiana and Bactria in the Baba-tag Mountains (close to modern Derbent) (click or tap on image to view full sized)

fl 2nd cent AD


Unnamed ruler in Marakanda known only from coins.

2nd century

The coins of the Ashtam group are minted in Marakanda (Samarkand) during this century. They continue the tradition of imitating Alexander styles, with a representation of an archer on the reverse. Unfortunately the identity of the local ruler shown on them cannot be ascertained. Sogdiana's decline continues throughout this century, reaching its lowest point in the third century.


The vassal kingdom of Margiana is formally annexed to the Sassanid crown by Shapur I. The name of the vassal king here is unknown (unless Ardashir is still alive). Now Shapur places his own son, Narseh, as governor of the province of Hind, Sagistan, and Turgistan. Margiana is part of this broad territory, falling within the Sagistan section which itself is named for the Saka groups which formerly dominated here.

This could also be the point at which Shapur seizes Sogdiana and makes it part of the empire. Much of it is occupied for a time (Marakanda, for instance - modern Samarkand), while part is occupied for a longer period (Bukhara especially). It seems that the new masters of Iran have, at the same time as Kushan power is on the wane, broken through a Kushan barrier which has until now isolated Sogdiana.

fl 200s/300s?


Unnamed 'ruler' in south-western Sogdiana.


In Sughd (Sogdiana) some time between the second and fourth centuries AD, a local ruler in the south-western region mints his own coins. They derive from imitations of early Seleucid drachms of the Alexander type, with the derivation coming via the reverse and its highly stylised depiction of Zeus bearing an eagle. The lettering includes the title 'ruler', but only a handful of these coins have been discovered and the ruler's name is not known.

A silver tetradrachm of Eucratides I of Bactria
The successor to Antimachus I of Bactria was Eucratides I, with this silver tetradrachm being minted in his image at some point during the twenty-six years or so of his reign - such coins would remain in circulation for several more centuries, often being overstamped with the initials of new, more local rulers

312 - 313

The 'Ancient Sogdian Letters' form the first documentary evidence to show that things are changing in Sogdiana (and therefore Kangju). The recent rise of the Sassanids in Iran and the subsequent eclipsing of the Kushans may have something to do with this. These letters show the existence of a large network of merchants from the cities of Sogd (Sogdiana) now in the Tarim Basin (home of the Tocharians) and beyond. With the removal of the Kushans, Sogdians have been able to force their way into the trade routes which have already been established between India and China via the Tarim Basin.


Having been subjugated by the Gupta kings, the rump eastern Kushan state is soon conquered by the invading Kidarites. They, in turn, claim to be the rightful successors of the Kushans and Kushanshahs (to the south of Bactria). Any possible survivors in the west are probably displaced by the Hephthalites.

It is probably not coincidental that the style of regional coins in Sogdiana suddenly changes in the second half of the fourth century, or towards the end of it. Coins which have imitated Greek types for over four centuries - especially the tetradrachms of Euthydemus I, former Greek satrap of Sogdiana - are no longer issued, being replaced with coins of quite a different appearance.

These are small silver coins with a head-and-shoulders representation in the Transoxianan style of a ruler in a diadem on the obverse, and on the reverse an altar with a blazing fire and a circular legend in Sogdian in which only the title MR'Y can be read. Similar coins are issued in copper. Both are ancestors of a new generation of coins which are linked to Bukhara right up to the seventh century (possibly due to the rise there of a ruling elite which survives until the Islamic invasion).

fl c.350s?


Initials on a coin of a ruler in Sogdiana.

With the opening of the trade routes to India and China (the latter undoubtedly including the Tarim Basin Tocharians), the once shrunken and backward Sogdiana is booming again. A sudden and rapid improvement in development take place, with the surviving cities growing rapidly, and new defensive lines being put up which demonstrate the gaining of significant new territories.

Tarim Basin mummies
This example of the Tarim Basin mummies had the usual distinctive European features, along with a full head of red hair which had been braided into pony tails, and items of woven material which match similar Celtic items

441 - 457

A Kidarite conquest of at least part of Sogdiana, and perhaps the 'state of Kang' which is recorded by the Chinese, seems to be safely attested by coins from Samarkand, bearing on the obverse the schematised portrait of a ruler with the Sogdian legend kyδr. On typological and metrological grounds these coins can be assigned to the fifth century. Similar coins also begin to be issued from nearby Bukhara.

fl c.441?


Unnamed and unrecorded Kidarite (?) ruler in Sogdiana.

fl c.450?


Unnamed and unrecorded Kidarite (?) ruler in Sogdiana.

fl c.457?


Unnamed Kidarite (?) ruler in Sogdiana.

fl c.470s?


Unnamed Kidarite (?) ruler in Sogdiana. The last (by 509)?

457 - 509

MapHypothetically this conquest can be connected with the interruption of Sogdian embassies to China between 441 and 457, and with a piece of information in the Weishu (formerly dated to 437, but actually referring to 457) mentioning an earlier capture of Samarkand by the Xiongnu. The ruler of this captured part of Sogdiana in 457 is the third of the new dynasty. This (possibly) Kidarite dynasty maintains its hold over Samarkand until 509, after which date embassies from Samarkand are incorporated into Hephthalite ones.

Post-Greek Principalities (Sogdiana)
Incorporating Kish, Nasaf, & Vardana

The view of Post-Greek Sogdiana and neighbouring post-Greek Ferghana remains confused. It seems likely Sogdiana was largely abandoned by the Greeks very soon after the death of Alexander the Great, with the Greeks in Bactria focussing on that satrapy, more interested in closer integration with the Indo-Greek territories both during the period of Mauryan ascendancy (from 305 BC) and during its decline (seemingly from 256 BC when the Greco-Bactrians declared independence from the Seleucid empire). Even so, Sogdiana remained heavily influenced by Greek culture, while being politically splintered amongst several minor principalities such as those of Bukhara, Varakhsha, plus several others, all of which barely enter the historical record.

The Sassanid ruler, Shapur I, seems to have conquered Sogdiana around AD 260 while subjugating a good many eastern regions as the Kushans in Bactria waned. If not then, it certainly happened not much later. Much of Sogdiana was occupied for a time (Marakanda, the capital, for instance), while part was occupied for a longer period (Bukhara especially). How long this situation endured is unknown (around 375 and the Kidarite invasions seems likely), but Sogdiana was not in Sassanid hands by the time the Sassanids were conquered by Islam in the seventh century.

The principality of Vardana (or Wardana) lay in the northern part of the Bukharan oasis, which Chinese sources sometimes referred to as Lesser Bukhara. Vardana was independent of Bukhara in the second quarter of the seventh century AD (part of the reason for assuming that Sassanid power no longer held sway here). It minted its own coins, which carried the sign of a cross on the reverse. The cross corresponds to the Nestorian Christian cross of Central Asia, making this principality a Christian one. The general style was a regional one which had first appeared in the late fourth century AD, albeit without the cross, replacing the previous Greek types.

Other independent towns included at least two separate principalities to the east of Samarkand, those of Penjikent and Ustrushana, both of which also became wealthy through trade with China. Then there were Paikand and Maimurgh, while Kish (Kash, Kesh, or Keš) and Nasaf were relatively politically minor, if prosperous, cities on the central Sogdian plan between the Hissar Mountains to the south of Ustrushana and the Oxus. Nasaf was the largest town in Sogdiana at the start of the fifth century, but was soon surpassed. Both cities were notable for being allied to Bukhara in the coalition of 676, which was quickly defeated by the Arabs. Penjikent and Varakhsha are relatively unusual in having been subjected to detailed archaeological examination. Many other sites have only been surveyed, not excavated.

At the end of that period, around the middle of the seventh century, the Bukharan mint switched to the Chinese cash model and started casting coins. This was very close in time to China's short-lived partial occupation of Transoxiana which ended in 665. The initial coins were simple imitations of the Kaiyvan Tongbao coins which were minted between 621-907, but then a Bukharan tamgha was added to the reverse and later two types were issued carrying Sogdian inscriptions - the Bukharan tamgha and the sign of a cross. The latter is highly suggestive of the badge of a realm, that of Vardana. The 'coin language' being used here suggests that the previously independent principality was now united with Bukhara under the sway of one ruler. Written sources plainly state that Vardan Khuda had seized power in Bukhara by pushing aside the legitimate heir, usurping the throne and occupying it for twenty years until Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, expelled him in 708/9, ending regional independence.

The developing Silk Road

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from ONS No 206 (Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, Winter 2011), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E Yarshater (Ed), from History of Humanity: from the seventh century BC to the seventh century AD, Joachim Herrmann, Erik Zürcher, & Ahmad Hasan Dani (International commission for a history of the scientific and cultural development of mankind, History of Mankind, Unesco, 1994), from Tārīk-e Boḵārā, Abū Bakr Jaʿfar Naršaḵī (M-T Modarres Rażawī (Ed), Tehran, 1972), from History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Volume 3), Ahmad Hasan Dani (Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), and from External Links: Bukhara History Part 5: Bukhara under the Arabian Conquest (Advantour), and The Silk Road, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)


The Western Göktürks expand their dominion towards Chorasmia and Sogdiana, right up against the borders of Persia's eastern territories (Ferghana is also taken). The Hephthalites are defeated in Kushanshah territory in what one day will become Afghanistan by an alliance of Göktürks and Sassanids, and a level of Indo-Sassanid authority is re-established in the region for the next century. The western khagans set up rival states in Bamiyan, Kabul, and Kapisa under the authority of the viceroy in Tokharistan, strengthening their hold on the Silk Road.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states which had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

581 - 590

The Western Göktürks are now following their own westwards expansionist policy. As part of that policy, they are able to cross the Amu Darya, where they come into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids. Much of Tokharistan (former Bactria, including Balkh) remains a Göktürk dependency until the end of the century. By inference, Sogdiana to the north of Bactria is also theirs.

The western Göktürk period is of particular importance in Sogdiana and for the Sogdians. The Göktürks destroy local dynasties such as the dynasty of Paikand, but the integration of the Sogdians into the Göktürk state allows for an expansion of Sogdian culture and commercial activities. The Sogdians start to colonise regions further to the east, including Semirech'e, thereby setting up their expansion into China's western periphery while also enriching the Göktürk empire.

The western extension of the same trading networks allows silk to be exchanged with the Sassanids from China where it has been received as tribute from the Tang due to Göktürk military successes. This also allows for the opening of the Khurasan Road, creating an integration of the Sogdian network into a Sassanid one.

600s - 682

While Sogdians have become the high administrators of the Western Göktürk state, the Sogdian language has also become the lingua franca of the Göktürk empire. It expands far into the east towards China, even lending its script to Old Turkic and many subsequent Turkic and Mongolian languages. In turn, the Göktürk nobility has become part of Sogdian society, with marriages between the families of the kings of Samarkand and that of the Göktürk khagan. Penjikent has a Turkic ruler at the beginning of the seventh century.

Map of Central Asia AD 600-700
By the beginning of the seventh century AD, Göktürk power in southern Central Asia was waning while the Sassanids had established a degree of control over the southernmost parts of this region, and various city states had emerged in Sogdiana (click or tap on map to view full sized)

It appears that, by now at least, there are several local lords in the Bukhara oasis, especially in the towns of Samarkand, Paikand, Vardana, and Varakhsha. Both Paikand and Varakhsha are mentioned in the Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā by Abū Bakr Jaʿfar Naršaḵī as residences of the rulers, but whether they are local rulers only or rulers of the entire oasis is still unknown. Some form of unity in the oasis is implied by the coinage, the extensive irrigation system, and the long protective walls around the settled and cultivated areas.

Samarkand (Sogdiana)

Samarkand was occupied (possibly) as early as the eighth century BC, probably as a consequence of a change in the course of the River Oxus and the abandonment of former settlements. The same circumstances, during a period of climate change, had ended the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex along the River Oxus between 2000-1700 BC and resulted in large-scale migrations. Following this, the region was occupied largely by Indo-Iranian tribes which remained independent until their sixth century BC conquest by fellow Indo-Iranians, the Achaemenid Persians. They formed the satrapy of Sogdiana, which was inherited by the Greeks.

The city of Samarkand gained its name from the Sogdian phrase, 'rock town', which refers directly to a stone fort. This was probably one of the earliest solid structures to be erected on the site, possibly by the Persians. The original form of the name was adopted or adapted by the Greeks of Macedonian Sogdiana as Marakanda. Subsequently, during the gradual infringement of Turkic tribes into the region, Marakanda became Samarkand, with the town of Maimurgh on its immediate south-eastern flank. In Uzbek the name is shown as Samarqand, with Samarcand as another variation. Today the city sits in a large oasis in the valley of the River Zerafshan, within the borders of Uzbekistan.

The historical section of modern Samarkand consists of three main parts. To the north-east there is the site of the ancient city which was destroyed by the Mongol armies of Chingiz Khan in the thirteenth century AD. This is preserved as an archaeological reserve with excavations which have revealed the ancient citadel and fortifications, the ruler's palace, and residential and craft quarters. There are also remains of a large mosque built between the eighth to twelfth centuries. To the south are architectural ensembles and the medieval city of the Timurid era, at which time Samarkand was at the height of its achievement.

In addition to the many waves of nomad incursion into this region, there was also a sizeable Jewish Diaspora community. The Second Sassanid-Hephthalite War of AD 481 on the part of Sassanid Shah Peroz may have been linked to his pogrom against the Persian Jews. Once defeated he was required to pay a heavy fine which involved a poll tax. To meet the rest of the demanded sum he left important hostages, and may have raised funds through communication with the empire's Jewish population. Peroz was known to conduct a pogrom against them during his reign which drove some of them eastwards, into Samarkand. There they coalesced in the later emirate of Bukhara to become known as Bukharan Jews. In turn it seems either to be Persian Jews or Bukharan Jews which provide the basis of the Kaifeng Jews.

(Information by Peter Kessler, from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), the Guidebook to the History of Samarkand, from Sogdiana, its Christians and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 2001), from ONS No 206 (Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, Winter 2011), from Place Names of the World: Origins and Meanings of the Names for 6,600 Countries, Cities, Territories, Natural Features and Historic Sites, Adrian Room (Second Ed, London, 2006), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E Yarshater (Ed), from History of Humanity: from the seventh century BC to the seventh century AD, Joachim Herrmann, Erik Zürcher, & Ahmad Hasan Dani (International commission for a history of the scientific and cultural development of mankind, History of Mankind, Unesco, 1994), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bukhara History Part 5: Bukhara under the Arabian Conquest (Advantour), and Unesco World Heritage Convention, and The Silk Road, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Jewish Encyclopaedia.)

? - c.640


Ikhsid of Samarkand.


Samarkand is certainly the largest Sogdian town at this time, and its princes now start claiming the title of 'king' (malek, eḵšid). It remains surrounded by many independent principalities which send their own ambassadors to the Chinese court, such as Bukhara, Eštiḵan, Kabuḏān, Kish, and Panjikent.

c.640 - 670

Varkhuman / Vargoman

Ikhsid of Samarkand.

659 - 665

A seemingly partial occupation of Transoxiana by Tang dynasty Chinese is effected in 659, but is ended in 665. This is part of a Tang effort to defend its western approaches after centuries of barbarian incursions and also to provide buffer districts between it and the strife which is engulfing Central Asia. The protectorate of Anxi remains in command of the Tarim Basin and probably also the approaches into China to the basin's immediate north.


Following the Islamic conquest of Sassanid Persia in 651, initial raiding parties have been sent out into the eastern territories on a regular basis. The idea is to sow disruption, force weaker states or cities to reveal themselves as being ripe for conquest, and to exact tribute and plunder freely. In this year one such raid strikes the city of Maimurgh. The attack, and probably others of the same year, prove to be the final straw for the natives. They rise together against the invaders and virtually drive them back into Persia proper. It may be the seemingly unnamed king of Kabul who is amongst the leaders of the retaliation against Islam.


The brief Umayyad governorship of Greater Khorasan by Sa'id ibn Uthman is largely marked by one of the few major expeditions of the post-Abdallah ibn Rabi period. He strikes into Sogdiana to defeat a coalition of city states there, which includes Bukhara (still under the regency leadership of the khatun), Kish, and Nasaf, plus an alliance of nomadic Turks. The Arab general goes on to occupy Samarkand and take fifty noble sons hostage, only later to have them executed in Medina.


The Western Göktürk empire has disintegrated rather quickly after gaining its initial quick successes, losing power in the middle of the seventh century and, by 682, ceasing to exist. Even before that, the Tang of China have started to establish a protectorate in Central Asia, known as the protectorate of Anxi which expands westwards out of its initial focus in the Tarim Basin from 640.

Despite a restoration of Turkic power at the beginning of the eighth century, the Tang hold nominal power in the region until 751. However, the region is coming under ever-increasing attacks by the Umayyad governorate of Greater Khorasan, especially in the 670s onwards. Bukhara is subdued in 674, although subsequent governors fail to follow up with their own conquests.


Bukhara would appear to be seized at this time by the ruler of its chief rival in the region, the city state of Varakhsha. Any unity between the principalities in Sogdiana also vanishes around this time, perhaps due to this act or prompting it. Alliances form and are abandoned, and inter-dynastic marriages are obtained. The picture is one of small states vying openly for superiority.


Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, expels Vardan Khuda from Bukhara. The same governor is also claimed as the conqueror of Chach, Ferghana, and Khojend, presumably during this same period.

? - 709/710

Ṭarḵūn / Tarkhun

Ruler of Samarkand. Overthrown for being pro-Islam.

c.710 - 722

Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, confirms in his position the new Sogdo-Turkic ruler of Samarkand, Ghurak. This individual has usurped the throne after killing Tarkhun, creating family feuds which drive Tarkhun's sons to the court of Dewashtich (or Divasti), son of Yodkhsetak and sur or ruler of Penjikent. Dewashtich, like other Sogdian princes, has claimed to be ruler of Samarkand, and this makes his claim a stronger one.

Along with Karzanj, ruler of Paikand, Dewashtich is mentioned as the leader of an anti-Islam rebellion in Sogdiana in 720. Together the pair liberate Samarkand, holding it in the face of relatively weak attempts to regain it. Dewashtich has a famous last stand in 722 from his mountain fortress of Mugh, whose details are known from the very vivid accounts given in the Documents of Mugh Mountain.

The defeat of Dewashtich marks the beginning of the formal accession of Transoxiana into the Islamic empire, and soon results in the increasing Islamic control of the eastern regions as well. Among other things, this causes the break-up of the Sogdian commercial network, and ultimately an integration of Sogdiana into the Islamic empire.

709/710 - c.712

Ḡūrak / Ghurak / Ughrak

Ruler of Samarkand. Approved by Islam. Driven out.


Probably frustrated by the endless bickering regarding superiority between the Sogdian principalities, Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, launches a pacification campaign into Sogdiana which delivers him and Islam a wave of submissive acknowledgements. Samarkand is occupied by Arab troops and Ghurak is temporarily driven out.


Dewashtich of Penjikent, along with Karzanj, ruler of Paikand, are mentioned as leaders of an anti-Islam rebellion in Sogdiana. Together they liberate Samarkand, holding it in the face of relatively weak attempts to regain it. Said Abd al-Aziz ibn al-Hakam, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, is removed from office for his failure to regain the city.


Dewashtich of Penjikent has a famous last stand against Islam from his mountain fortress of Mugh. That marks the beginning of the formal accession of Transoxiana into the Islamic empire, and soon results in the increasing Islamic control of the eastern regions as well. Among other things, this causes the break-up of the Sogdian commercial network, and ultimately an integration of Sogdiana into the empire.

729 - 731

The ikhshid of northern Ferghana aids his Türgish overlords at the siege of Kamarja. Two years later the Türgish are aided again from Ferghana during the Battle of the Defile (which allows Ḡūrak to recover control over Samarkand). The Türgish leader, Sulu of the Western Göktürks, enjoys over a decade of success in his battles against the Umayyads until he is murdered in 737/738, ending any remaining vestige of western Göktürk power.

731 - 737/8

Ḡūrak / Ghurak / Ughrak

Restored on a semi-independent basis. Died.

737/8 - ?

Turgar / Tu-ho

Ruler of Samarkand. 'King of Sogdia',

747 - 749

The Abbasids under Abu Muslim begin an open revolt in Greater Khorasan against Umayyad rule. They are supported by the vassal states of Sogdiana, and notably by Qutayba of Bukhara. Khorasan quickly falls under their command and an army is sent westwards. Kufa falls in 749 and in November the same year Abu al-Abbas is recognised as caliph.

Sogdian records seem to fade away from around this time. Even the names of the rulers of Bukhara - one of the biggest cities - are unknown from the fourth quarter of the century onwards.

775 - 785

The Abbasids under Muhammad al Mahdi record several minor rulers across Transoxiana who pay nominal submission to the caliph. In effect they remain independent but largely careful not to annoy their distant overlords. The unnamed afshin of Ustrushana is mentioned as one of these rulers.

c.800 - 821

The region is gradually absorbed into the Islamic empire as it takes Persia. Governors, or emirs, are appointed to control the Islamic emirate of Khorasan in the name of the caliph. A seemingly partial occupation of Transoxiana by Tang dynasty China is effected in 659, but is ended in 665. Previously independent Ferghana gains a Samanid governor in 819, ending its independent existence.

Samanid Emirate (Samarkand)
AD 820 - 1000

The Samanids (or, more correctly, Sâmânids) took the Transoxiana region from the Tahirid governors of Khorasan in 820. From there they controlled the trade between Central Asia and the central Islamic caliphate, and these included the trade in Turkic slaves. The state grew to cover most of eastern Persia while the Buwayid amirs gained control of western Persia.

Their capital was the once-independent, post-Greek Sogdian city of Bukhara. The Persian tongue spoken by the Samanids gradually replaced the native Sogdian of the locals even while the region's strong traditions of mercantile independence were being supported. It was this Persian dialect which became today's Tajik language although some Sogdian dialects do survive, notably amongst the Yaghnobi Sogdians who fled Islamic control of the region to live in an isolated valley. Sogdian religions gradually vanished too, despite centuries of use of even the latest of them - Nestorian Christianity - while Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Manichaeism were also fading across all of the now-Islamic lands to the east of Iran.

It was the Samanid lands of eastern Khorasan that were by far the chief supplier of dirhams (Islamic silver coins) to the lands of northern and Eastern Europe during the Viking period in the ninth and tenth centuries. Starting around AD 900 and continuing into the late tenth century, millions of these coins were carried north-westwards through the Pontic-Caspian steppe by Muslim merchant caravans from Samanid cities and mints. Initially this was via the dominant Khazars of the Pontic steppe and then Rus merchants. After about 965, it was via the Rus themselves (Swedish Vikings and native Slavs who combined to form the grand principality of Kyiv and several other small Slav states around this time). The Rus were were forced out of the lower Volga by the Volga Bulgars around 980, with them taking over ownership of regional trade. From Volga Bulgaria, most of these coins were subsequently exchanged in commercial transactions and were re-exported further west or north-west by Rus merchants, and then even further west into the Baltic basin and beyond.

(Additional information from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev, and from Global Security Watch: Central Asia, Reuel R Hanks (Santa Barbara, Denver, Oxford, 2010).)

819 - 851

Saman Khoda


Previously independent Ferghana gains a Samanid governor in the form of Ahmad ibn Asad, ending its independent existence. The appointment is made by the Abbasid governor of Greater Khorasan.


The eastern province which includes Persia and Khorasan has lost Transoxiana to the Samanids, so Caliph al-Mamun appoints Tahir ibn al-Hussein, the successful commander of the campaign which had defeated the caliph's main rival (al Amin), as the new governor, beginning the Tahirid period of rule in the east. Tahir effectively declares independence in 822 in his new domains by failing to mention the caliph during a sermon at Friday prayers.

828 - 839

While in office as the Tahrid governor of Khorasan, Abdullah ibn Tahir ibn al-Hussein takes steps between 828-830 to improve the strength of the Samanids, his vassals in Transoxiana. In his role as governor of the east, Abdullah also claims Tabaristan as a dependency and insists that the tribute owed by Ispahbad Mazyar ibn Qarin, a recent convert to Islam, to the caliph should pass through him. Mazyar disagrees, planning to expand his domains, but in 839 he is captured and executed, securing Tahirid control over Tabaristan. This effectively ends the career of Afshin Ḥaydar ibn Kāwūs of Ustrushana as a supporter of Mazyar.

851 - 864

Ahmad ibn Asad

Former governor of Ferghana.

864 - 892

Nasr I

865 - 873

Having already secured his capital of Zaranj at the heart of his small kingdom, the Saffarid leader, Yaghub, expands eastwards to capture al-Rukhkhadj and Zamindawar followed by Zunbil and Kabul by 865. Some of his conquests even further east, towards Balk, encompass non- Islamic tribal chiefdoms. Harev (Herat) is taken in 870. Then he expands his borders greatly in 873 by ousting Emir Muhammad of the Tahirids. Khorasan is captured, giving the Saffarids a great swathe of new territory which may also include cities such as Ustrushana to the north of Samarkand.

892 - 907

Ismail I


The Saffarid emirs in formerly Tahirid-controlled Khorasan are defeated by the Samanids and reduced in territory to Seistan in Persia, where they remain Samanid vassals. The Samanids install their own governors in the Khorasan region, as well as in recently-captured Bukhara and Ustrushana (both taken in the 890s).

Samarkand coin
Shown here are two sides of a typical Abbasid-era coin, with this one being nineteen millimetres in diameter, issued in Samarkand, which was soon taken by the Samanids

907 - 914

Ahmad II

914 - 943

as-Sa'id Nasr II

943 - 954

Hamid Nuh I

954 - 961

Abdül-Malik I

961 - 976

Mansur I


Zabulistan is seized by a rebellious Samanid governor and a semi-independent Afghan kingdom is formed with its capital at Ghazni. Although the rebel, Alptigin, establishes his independent rule of Ghazni, coins from the era show that he nominally acknowledges Samanid overlordship, always a useful ruse for avoiding an attack by former masters.

976 - 997

Nuh II


The Afghan city of Ghazni comes under the rule of the Yamanid dynasty, which becomes fully independent of Samanid control as it forms its own Ghaznavid sultanate, although it still pays lip service to its former masters.


Nuh II faces internal uprisings, as the emirate becomes more unstable, and the Ghaznavid ruler comes to his assistance. The rebels are defeated at Balkh and then Nishapur.


Usually under the influence of Persia, if not its direct control, the emirate of Khwarazm is initially centred on Samarkand and Bukhara. At its height, it extended to encompass almost all of modern Iran (except the western border area), eastern Azerbaijan, modern western Afghanistan, all of Turkmenistan, most of Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the southern areas of Kazakhstan.

997 - 999

Mansur II



Mahmud of Khwarazm campaigns against the Qara-Khitaï in Central Asia, but is ultimately defeated. His failure is a harbinger of problems to come where the Qara-Khitaï are concerned.


The Turkic Karakhanids depose Mansur II, allied with the Buwayids who are supreme in south-western Persia and Mesopotamia. The Karakhanids take possession of areas of Southern Khorasan.

999 - 1000

Abdül Malik II


Samanid power swiftly declines in the face of Buwayid supremacy, while the revolt of the Ghaznavids brings the emirate to an end.

1000 - 1005

Ismail II al-Muntasir



Ismail II, the last Samanid ruler, is assassinated after a five year struggle against the Qarakhanids (Karakhanids) from the north. They, in turn, are immediately ousted by the Ghaznavids but hold on in Bukhara.

The termination of the Samanids is almost immediately expressed in archaeological terms by the end of Samanid coin circulation to Eastern Europe via the Volga Bulgars. In more everyday concerns, the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad soon recognises the Ghaznavids as the temporal successors to the Samanids.

fl 1025


Qarakhanid prince of Bukhara.

c.1016 - 1025

The military leaders of the Turkic Oğuz tribes, Alp Arslan, Chaghrï-Beg, and Toghrïl-Beg, leave the Jand region around the Syr Darya to enter Transoxiana shortly before 1016. In 1025 they enter the service of the Turkish Qarakhanid prince of Bukhara. Defeated by Maḥmūd of Ghazna in the same year, all of them take refuge in Khwarazm.

1125 - 1218

In the 1120s China's Liao dynasty is ousted by the Manchurian Jurchen, which themselves become the ruling Jin dynasty of Tartars in the country. The Liaos, or Khitans as they are also known, are driven west into Central Asia where, after defeating the Seljuq Turks under Sultan Sanjar in 1141, they found the Qara-Khitaï empire with Samarkand as its capital.

The start of the thirteenth century spells the end of the empire. Khwarazm rapidly expands its rule, taking Samarkand in 1210 and making the city its capital. In 1218, Mongol Great Khan Chingiz sends his general, Chepe, westwards to overthrow the Qara-Khitaï and annexe their remaining territory. This defeat also opens the way towards Mongol interaction with Khwarazm and Persia.

1220 - 1221

After the shah of Khwarazm decapitates the Mongol ambassador from Chingiz Khan, the emirate is attacked twice by the Golden Horde, along with Ghurid Southern Khorasan. Khwarazm is reduced to its western section covering northern Mesopotamia and western Persia. Bukhara and then Samarkand are captured by the Mongols and chaos results, with thousands being massacred or sold into slavery. Ala ad Deen flees west and dies a fugitive.

The subsequent rise of Jalal al-Din Mingburnu in Khwarazm poses a challenge for the Mongols. The two sides come together at the Battle of the Indus and Jalal ad-Din is defeated. Khwarazm is occupied between Samarkand and the Indus, and Persia also falls. Jalal al-Din Mingburnu is an exile for a time, but returns to reclaim a reduced Khwarazm which is based around northern Mesopotamia, western Persia, and the lower Caucasus, and is centred on modern Azerbaijan - the 'safe' side of the Caspian Sea. From this point onwards, the bulk of Khwarazm is ruled by the Il-Khans.


Abu Said Ala ad Dunya wa dDin is the last of the Il-Khans to be descended from Hulegu, the first Il-Khan ruler in 1256. His death in 1335 (or 1336) weakens the khanate, but the same date is sometimes used to mark the birth of a Turkic-Mongol by the name of Tîmûr-i Lang (Tamerlane). This Chaghatayid prince will one day attempt to reform the Mongol empire as a Timurid possession, although his birth most likely takes place in the late 1320s.


'Abdullah of Il-Khan Khwarazm retains Samarkand as his capital, but the local Barlas and Suldus tribes are vehemently opposed to this Qara'unas presence. The leaders of these tribes, Hajji Beg and Buyan Suldus, revolt and drive out 'Abdullah. He dies in his own tribal lands soon afterwards. Buyan Suldus is installed as the amir of the ulus, giving him effective control over the Chaghatayids.

1363 - 1370

Tughlugh Temur's attempts to quell the tribes of Transoxiana are eventually unsuccessful, despite two invasions of the region. His death ends Chaghatayid hopes of restoring control of western Mughulistan. Instead, two tribal leaders, Amir Husayn and Tîmûr-i Lang contest for control of Transoxiana. The latter is ultimately successful, taking Transoxiana and Khwarazm in the name of the Chaghatayids, but effectively forming his own Timurid khanate. Samarkand falls in 1366, Balikh (Balkh) in 1369, and Timur is recognised as the region's ruler in 1370. He places a figurehead Mongol on the throne to legitimise his rule while he governs from behind the throne as amir.

Timurid Transoxiana (in Samarkand & Greater Khorasan)
AD 1363 - 1505

The great eastern imperial lands of Persia were the location for a long period of unrest between about 1336-1387. This was while the surviving Il-Khans were being used as puppets by the Chobanids and the Jalayirids for the right to claim control of all of Persia. Chaghatayid khans attempted to quell the tribes of Transoxiana but were eventually unsuccessful, despite two invasions of the region in the 1360s. The death of the khan ended Chaghatayid hopes of restoring control of western Mughulistan which included Transoxiana. Instead, two tribal leaders, Amir Husayn and Tîmûr-i Lang, contested for control of Transoxiana. The latter was ultimately successful.

From 1363, Timur began to conquer large areas of Transoxiana and Khorasan, supposedly in the name of the Chaghatayid khans of Mughulistan. Samarkand fell in 1366, and Herat (in the west of modern Afghanistan) by 1381. Timur was recognised as the region's ruler in 1370, by which time Khabul Shah had already been put in place by Amir Husayn, and Timur had executed him and defeated Amir Husayn. Notably, this puppet had been a member of the Ögedeids (descendants of the former great khan, Ogedei), not the Chaghatayids themselves. His two successors between 1370-1402 were of the same branch, and both were entirely puppets of Timur's making.

From 1380, Timur extended his new-found empire by taking southern and western Persia. He entered Persia proper in 1382, and an ambitious attack on the Chobanids and the disputed Caucasus region by the Golden Horde allowed Timur to fill the subsequent power vacuum and found the Timurid dynasty. In 1405, the Timurid empire split in two (or even three), with the western, Persian, half being ruled from Herat, while the eastern portion was governed from Samarkand (technically also in what was known as Greater Khorasan, but the regional name of Transoxiana is usually used to distinguish the two Timurid divisions). The 'rightful' ruler, Pir Mohammad, was opposed by all of the others.

(Additional information by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, from Timurids, The Columbia Encyclopaedia (Sixth Ed, Columbia University), from The Encyclopaedia of War: Timur ('the Lame') (1336-1405), Timothy May, from The Art of War: Great Commanders of the Ancient and Medieval World: Tamerlane, Justin Marozzi (Andrew Roberts, Ed, Quercus Military History, 2008), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Britannica: Timur.)

1364 - 1370

Khabul Shah

Chaghatayid puppet for the western khanate. Executed.

1370 - 1384

Soyurghatmïsh Khan / Suurgatmish

Son of Danishmendji of the Chaghatayids. Puppet khan.

1382 - 1383

Having secured his conquests around Transoxiana, Timur has begun the expansion of his territory into Southern Khorasan and Persia. He forces the Kartid dynasty of Herat into submission and demands a hostage from Seistan to symbolise the subservience of the Mihrabanids. Malik Qutbuddin sends a relative named Tajuddin.

However, in 1383, despite agreeing a hostage, Timur still turns up at Seistan with his army. The two sides fail to come to agreement so Timur defeats the Mihrabanids in open battle. Qutbuddin is soon captured, imprisoned, and deported to Samarkand. He is executed three years later. Timur appoints Shah-i Shahan as governor of Seistan and proceeds to ravage the province.

1384 - 1402

Sultan Mahmud

Son. Chaghatayid puppet khan.


Khwarazm and its vast irrigation system are destroyed by Timur. It seems to be hard to find any detail of this destruction but Timur's ongoing battle for supremacy against Toqtamish Khan of the Golden Horde is probably the reason.

Map of the Timurid empire AD 1400
Timur effectively recreated the ancient Persian empire through his various conquests over the course of almost forty years, subduing many competing clans and khanates which would begin competing again after his death (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The death of Sultan Mahmud in Transoxiana marks the end of the puppet (western) Chaghatayid khans here. In Mughulistan, (eastern) khans continue to be appointed, perhaps dominated by the Timurids. Many of them are entirely unknown, although one of them, Satuk Khan, attempts to establish the independence of Mughulistan, without success. The Chaghatayids survive as a minor state until they are annexed by the Chinese Qin dynasty in the eighteenth century.

1402 - 1405

Tîmûr-i Lang / Tamerlane

Mongol conqueror of Persia from Mughulistan.


After Timur's death, none of the Timurid royalty accepts his successor, Pir Muhammad, splitting the empire in two (or even three). Timur's viceroy in Ferghana asserts his own independence and rules from Samarkand as if he is the new ruler of the empire. Technically, this half of the empire is also known as Greater Khorasan, but the regional name of Transoxiana is usually used to distinguish the two Timurid divisions. The western portion is ruled by Shah Rukh from Herat (now in Afghanistan).

1405 - 1409

Khalil Sultan

Grandson. Former viceroy of Ferghana. Died 1411.


Unpopular with the people and only supported by his father and brother in Azerbaijan (on the opposite shore of the Caspian Sea), Khalil Sultan's reign ends when Shah Rukh enters the city on 13 May. Shah Rukh gives Transoxiana and Khorasan to his son as viceroy while he rules the reunited Timurid empire from Herat. Khalil Sultan is given governorship of Ray, where he dies in 1411.

1409 - 1449

Ulugh Beg

Son of Shah Rukh. Viceroy, and Timurid ruler (1447-1449).


Ulugh Beg's death at the hands of his rebel son, Abd al Latîf, leaves a power vacuum. This is filled in central Persia by Sultan Muhammad, while Abd al Latîf rules in Samarkand, now one of three Timurid claimants to overall control (the third being in Herat in Southern Khorasan).

1449 - 1450

Abd al Latîf

Son. In Transoxiana. Murdered by the princes after 6 months.

1450 - 1451

Abdallah / Abdullah

Son of Ibrahim of Herat. In Transoxiana. Executed.

1450 - 1451

Abu Sa'id, nephew of Ulugh Beg, is one of the claimants for the Timurid crown, along with Abdallah, who seizes Samarkand in 1450. After failures in Samarkand and Bukhara, Abu Sa'id conquers much of Turkestan in 1450, and in June 1451 takes Samarkand with the aid of the Shaibanid Uzbeks. Abdallah is removed from power and is executed.

1451 - 1469

Sultan Abu Sa'id Gurgan

In Transoxiana & Herat (and later in Persia too). Executed.


Babur Ibn-Baysunkur invades Transoxiana from Herat in retaliation for Abu Sa'id's seizure of Balkh (now in northern Afghanistan). The two Timurid rulers agree a border on the River Oxus, with that agreement remaining in force for the remainder of Babur's lifetime.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - had long been used as a demarcation border, and now was used again to mark the border between two opposing Timurid rulers, Babur Ibn-Baysunkur and Abu Sa'id

1457 - 1459

In 1457, Abu Sa'id has Queen Goharshad, the power behind the Timurid throne, executed on 19 July. By now she is well past the age of eighty, but had exercised control over her son, Ulugh Beg, and his successor until Timurid control of Persia had been swept away in 1451.

In the same year, while Khorasan is locked in a power struggle, Abu Sa'id invades. Balkh is occupied but he is unable to take Herat until a Black Sheep invasion defeats the ruler, Ibrahim, and then withdraws. Khorasan is taken by Abu Sa'ad, reuniting the remaining Timurid provinces. An attempt by Ibrahim to unite with another Timurid prince, Sultan Sanjar, is defeated at the Battle of Sarakhs in March 1459. Sanjar is executed. Ibrahim dies in 1460, and 'Ala' al-Daula dies in 1461, ending all opposition to a sole Timurid ruler in Transoxiana.


Abu Sa'id completes his conquest of much of Khorasan and eastern Iran from his centre of operations in Herat, agreeing with the Black Sheep emir, Jahan Shah, to divide Iran between the two of them.

1467 - 1469

Following the death of the Black Sheep emir at the hands of the White Sheep emir, the son of the former emir is supported by Abu Sa'id. Despite this, in 1468, the Black Sheep emirate is conquered, and the following year Abu Sa'id is captured in the Azerbaijan mountains whilst on campaign against the White Sheep emirate. He is subsequently executed. Timurid rule of Transoxiana and Khorasan again fractures.

A weakened Transoxiana is now watched over with interest by the Shaibanid Uzbeks who are migrating into the northern regions, especially as Transoxiana is now sub-divided into Samarkand, Badakshan, and Ferghana by Abu Sa'id's sons. Sultan Ahmad Mirza, strong in Transoxiana, briefly holds Herat but does not (or cannot) remain there).

1469 - 1494

Sultan Ahmad Mirza

Son. In Transoxiana (Samarkand & Bukhara). Lost Herat.


Sultan Ahmad is returning from an expedition to Ferghana where he has been attempting to defeat the twelve year-old Babur, son of Sultan Ali Murza. Ahmad dies on the journey and leaves no heir, so his brother takes command.

1494 - 1495

Sultan Mahmud Mirza

Brother. In Transoxiana. Died due to illness.


Far to the east of Khorasan, the Bengal sultan, Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah, is assassinated by his wazzir, Alauddin Husain Shah, the son of the Afghan Sharif of Makka in Khorasan. Husain is subsequently elected shah by the leading nobles.

1495 - 1500

Sultan Baysonqur / Baysunqr

Son. In Transoxiana.

1495 - 1500


In Transoxiana.

1495 - 1500

Sultan Ali Murza / Mirza

In Ferghana.

1495 - 1504


Son. In Ferghana. Expelled by Shaibanid conquest.

1500 - 1507

The Timurids are overthrown by the Shaibanids, who conquer Transoxiana and now threaten Southern Khorasan at Herat. The remnants of Khwarazm become an independent Muslim Uzbek state, known as the khanate of Khiva. The Timurid prince, Babur of Ferghana makes many attempts to recapture Samarkand from Khorasan, without success. The Shaibanids now hold much of former Khwarazm, effectively ending Timurid rule of Transoxiana.

Map of the Tartar Khanates AD 1500
The Mongol empire created by Chingiz Khan gradually broke up over the course of three hundred years until, by around AD 1500, it had fragmented into several more-or-less stable khanates which each vied with the others for power and influence, while having to fend off the growing power of the Ottoman empire to the south and Moscow Sate (Muscovy) to the north - in the end it was an unwinnable fight (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Following the death of the Shaibanid ruler, Mohammed Shaibani, Babur is able to recapture Samarkand with Safavid Persian help from his base in Kabul. However, he is unable to retain it and the Persian governing class there is largely unpopular with the city's inhabitants. Urged on by the local population, the Shaibanids re-conquer the city just eight months later but political control of the region as a whole is fracturing. Towards the west, a new khanate is formed which eventually bears the name Khiva, while Persia holds onto part of its recent conquests from which is formed the province of Khorasan.

? - 1534

Abu'l-Ghazi Ubaidullah / Ubaydullah

Son of Shaibanid Shah Budagh. First 'Khan of Bukhara'.


Ubayd Allah Sultan Khan of Bukhara (known as Ubaidullah) is at war against Shah Tahmasp of Iran, and the Uzbeks of Khwarazm support Bukharan attacks by advancing to Pil Kupruki. The border cities of Khodjend (in Khorasan) and Asferain (near Astarabad) are also stormed. As Tahmasp also has to face the Ottomans, he negotiates with the Khwarizmi Uzbeks and effectively hands them Khwarazm.


The Shaibanid empire has already been divided into fiefdoms around 1510-1511, although the senior khan has retained at least nominal command over them. Muzzaffaruddin Abu-Sa'id is the last of them to have his capital elsewhere other than Bukhara or not to have a permanent capital at all. His successor, Abu'l-Ghazi Ubaidullah, very much favours Bukhara, and it can be said that during his reign the khanate of Bukhara truly is born.

Khanate of Bukhara (Bukhoro)
AD 1534 - 1785

The Turkic Shaibanids were Özbegs (Uzbeks or Uzbegs) who had formerly been subsumed within the vast Mongol empire under the control of the Golden Horde. By the fifteenth century this particular branch of the disintegrating empire had only recently migrated from western Siberia and the khanate of Sibir (which they had temporarily controlled) to what would become the region of Turkestan (covering eastern Scythia, Transoxiana, and Greater Khorasan). Today the heartland of this region is formed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Shaibanid (or Shaybanid) Uzbeks quickly formed a much smaller but still powerful empire in the lands which they settled, especially when they captured Samarkand and the Timurid crown in 1501. Another branch of the clan captured Khwarazm in 1511, but their great leader, Mohammed Shaibani, was now dead, and the empire began to fracture into fiefdoms which could not always be controlled by one khan. In fact, the khanate was more of a federation which contained a number of minor khanates. The supreme khans listed below had theoretical power over the entire region but in fact they were largely limited to their own immediate domain and depended upon the solidarity of other clan members to support them, which usually only became manifest in cases of extreme emergency. That factionalism also led to the occasional civil war.

There is no set date for the end of the Shaibanid empire and the beginning of the khanate of Bukhara (once the independent medieval principality of Bukhara). It was a gradual transition, with the empire fading and fragmenting following the death of Mohammed Shaibani, and his grandson, Abu'l-Ghazi Ubaidullah, shifting the capital of the empire's core holdings to Bukhara (Bukhoro or Bokhara), his favoured city. There it stayed, with the city blossoming under his rule and surviving as a stronghold under the reigns of his successors. The city was ancient, having formed part of the heartland of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation, of Bactria and Margiana about 2200-1700 BC into which the more sedentary Indo-Iranian tribes had become integrated. Since then its fortunes had waxed and waned, one of its higher points being the capital of a city state called Bukhara in the Post-Greek world of early medieval Sogdiana. It later formed a key town in the old emirate of Khwarazm from the eleventh century, before being conquered by the Shaibanids.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century, Henry H Howarth (1880), from A History of Inner Asia, Svat Soucek (2000), from The Russian Conquest of the Bukharan Emirate: Military and Diplomatic Aspects, A Malikov (Central Asian Survey, Volume 33, Issue 2, 2014), from A Turkic Medical Treatise from Islamic Central Asia, László Karoly, from The 'Ancient Supremacy': Bukhara, Afghanistan, and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901, Jonathan L Lee, and from External Links: History of Khiva, and The Ashtarkhanid Rulers of Bukhara, Iraj Bashiri.)

1534 - 1539

Abu'l-Ghazi Ubaidullah / Ubaydullah

Shaibanid governor of Bukhara. Gained khanate leadership.

1539 - 1540

Abdullah I

Son of Shaibanid ruler, Kochkunju Muhammad.

1540 - 1552



1552 - 1556

Nawruz Ahmad

Grandson of Shaibanid ruler, Abu'l-Khayr Khan.

1552 - 1556

Pir Mohammed of the Jani-Begids has already attempted to clain Bukhara for himself and his clan in 1551. This has led to the formation of an anti-Jani-Begid confederacy amongst the other Shaibanid khans which forces the Jani-Begids to abandon their appanage rights which had been established by the Shaibanids under Abu'l-Khayr Khan. In 1556, Abdullah, son of Iskander, governor of Mainmana, captures Bukhara for the clan and Pir Mohammed is appointed as khan. Abdullah eventually rules the city himself from 1583.

Shah Abbas I in Mashhad
The reign of Shah Abbas was one which involved a restoration of Iranian regional greatness, although he did have to wait eleven years to be able to retake the city of Mashhad where he is pictured in this illustration (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1556 - 1561

Pir Mohammed I

Son of Janibeg Sultan, former Shaibanid regent.

1561 - 1583



1564 - 1566

Uzbek princes who had been part of the Timurid forces which had invaded India with Babur and who are descended from Mohammed Shaibani himself, support a rival claimant to the Moghul throne and as a result are defeated and killed.

1583 - 1598

Abdullah II

Son. Former governor of Mainmana.

1588 - 1598

In the name of Abdullah, his son, Abdul-Mu'min, leads his Uzbek forces in an attack on the important Persian city of Mashhad (Maixhad). After four months of being besieged, the city surrenders and the systematic looting which follows does not spare the sacred tombs. These Uzbek Shaibanids retain the city for almost a full decade, but Shah Abbas I regains it for the Safavids upon Abdullah's death in Samarkand.

1593 - 1596

Abdullah launches an attack on Khwarazm and captures the khanate in two swift campaigns. The second takes place in 1595 when Abdullah has a much greater force at his disposal. However, the region is in a near-constant state of to-and-fro battles and victories, and Haji Muhammad recovers his domains by 1596.


Abdul-Mu'min / Abd al-Mumin

Son. Murdered.


Pir Mohammed II

Usurper? Not always included in a list of rulers.


The Shaibanid empire of Samarkand has effectively come to an end, but the khanate created by them at Bukhara continues under the Janid dynasty with the support of the nobility. Otherwise known as the Astrakhanids or Hashtarkhanids, much of this nobility are refugees from Astrakhan who had fled when the city had fallen to the Russians. Their titular head, Janibeg Sultan (Janibek) had quickly married into Bukhara's ruling family, thereby cementing the claim of his offspring to rule. The are now the last Genghisid family to govern Bukhara.

Bukhara remains the most complete example in Central Asia of a medieval city with an urban fabric which has remained largely intact, and monuments of particular interest which include the famous tenth century tomb of Ismail Samani of the former Samanid emirate

1599 - 1605

Baqi Muhammad Khan

Son of Janibeg Sultan, former Shaibanid regent.

1605 - 1611

Vali Muhammad Khan

Brother. Former governor of Balkh. Killed.

1606 - 1611

Vali Muhammad Khan is opposed by the merchants and the landlords who support their own candidate for the throne, Imam Quli Khan. Learning that the nobles have been plotting to assassinate him, Vali Muhammad and his two sons flee to Iran to seek the support of Shah Abbas. Recognising the gravity of the situation, Shah Abbas equips Vali Muhammad with an army and sends him back to Bukhara. Vali Muhammad is killed in Bukhara during the course of the conflicts which follow.

1611 - 1642

Imam Quli Khan / Imomqulikhan

Son of Din Muhammad Khan. Abdicated due to blindness.


Imam Quli Khan captures Tashkent by defeating the restive Kazakh tribes. He appoints his own son, Iskandar, as governor for the region. Iskandar, however, is not accepted by his new subjects. Unable to carry the burden of his heavy taxation, they rebel and kill him. Angered by the murder of his son, Imam Quli Khan gathers a large army composed primarily of Badakhshanis and Balkhis (Balkh is currently ruled by his brother, Nadir Muhammad (Nodirmuhammad)). Tashkent is devastated by this army, while the Oirat and Karakalpak tribes are routed after having encroached on Transoxiana for quite some time.

1642 - 1645

Nadir Muhammad Khan

Brother. Former governor of Balkh. Deposed.

1645 - 1680

Abdul Aziz Khan

Son. Proclaimed khan in father's absence. Forced abdication.

1646 - 1648

The unpopular Nadir Muhammad Khan is effectively replaced by his son following a dramatic few years on the throne. Refusing to give up without a fight, Nadir Muhammad seeks help from the Moghul emperor, Shah Jahan. The emperor instead defeats Nadir Muhammad and annexes Balkh for two years having already gained Ghazni in 1638. Abdul Aziz eventually dislodges him from Balkh in the same year in which he is ejected from Ghazni.

The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was built for Shah Jahan's beloved wife, Mumtaj Mahal, but he was later laid there himself, in 1666

1650 - 1680

Very little is recorded by contemporary sources regarding Bukhara during this period. The reign of Abdul Aziz Khan is one of relative stagnation, with him failing to subdue the rival Khivans. His successor brings a very different air to the court, one of intrigue. His first major alert sees one of his troublesome sons marching against him. He is forced to invade Balkh, put down the rebellion, and kill the errant son. His subsequent attempts to reduce the status of the secondary court at Balkh to a mere governorship results in a final break by the time the new khan dies in 1702.

1680 - 1702

Subhan Quli Khan

Son. Former governor of Balkh.

1702 - 1711

Ubaidullah Khan

Relationship unknown. Killed by Uzbeks?

1711 - 1747

Abu'l-Faiz Khan / Abulfayz Khan

Last Janid. Murdered by Ataliq Muhammad Rahim Bi.


The Kazakhs can be divided into three clans, or hordes, and each of these has its own territory. Now the Kazakh Lesser Horde begins acting independently of the others within its main base of operations in western Kazakhstan. Its leaders are descendants of Sultan Uziak, brother to Yadik Khan, and they are mentioned for the first time in 1717 when, together with Kaip Khan, they asked for help against the Russian Kalmuks. Having consolidated the Lesser Horde, Tiavka Khan is now dead. Abu l-Khayr (son of Adia, who is probably to be identified with Atiak, a contemporary of Tiavka Khan) fights for supremacy with Kaip Khan and wins. Abu l-Khayr becomes the first independent khan of the Lesser Horde.

1740 - 1747

Khiva is occupied by Afsharid ruler Nadir Shah and Bukhara is forced to submit. For Khiva, Bukharan dominance is replaced by even greater Iranian dominance. Nadir Shah appoints his own ruler there but he is almost immediately sidelined by the Kazakh Lesser Horde which gains the support of Uzbeks and Aralians who are within the khanate. For Bukhara the submission soon ends in the murder of the khan and the end of Genghisid rule.

Nadir Shah
Nadir Shah rose spectacularly from his early life as the son of a maker of sheepskin coats to the leading general and then ruler of the Persian empire, although he showed little compassion towards the poor people who formed part of his origins

Increasing paranoia blights Nadir Shah's later years. His blinding of courtiers who had witnessed his hasty and regretted decision to blind Reza Qoli Mirza for his supposed part in the attempted assassination of 1741 seems to have set him on a downward spiral. Now Nadir Shah is assassinated in 1747. In Bukhara, the non-Genghisid Manghit (or Manġit) descendant of Uzbek Emir Khudayar Bi - in the form of Muhammad Rahim Bi - murders the Janid khan and his son and begins to rule directly through the post of ataliq (effectively a prime minister or governor).

1747 - 1753

Muhammad Rahim Bi

Former ataliq who usurped power from the Janid throne.

1747 - 1753

Muhammad Ubaidullah II

Puppet khan under Muhammad Rahim Bi's control.

1753 - 1758

Muhammad Rahim Bi

Former ataliq, now emir. Khan from 1756.

1758 - 1785

Daniyal Bey

Ataliq, and true power in Bukhara.

1758 - ?

Shir Ghazi

Puppet khan under Daniyal Bey's control.

? - 1785

Abu'l-Ghazi Khan

Puppet khan under Daniyal Bey's control. Died.


The new Manghit ataliq, Shah Murad, son of Daniyal Bey, assumes complete control of Bukhara and adopts the title of emir as he is not directly descended from Chingiz Khan (and is therefore not a Genghisid, a vital qualification for the higher position of khan). The former khanate now becomes the emirate of Bukhara.

Emirate of Bukhara (Bukhoro)
AD 1785 - 1920

Located in central Sogdiana, between the rivers Syr Darya and Amu Darya, Bukhara had started out as an Achaemenid city. From around the sixth century AD it was the heart of the independent medieval principality of Bukhara. It had been a possession of the Mongol empire, and then of its splinter group, the Golden Horde. By the fifteenth century this had further splintered, with the Shaibanids now controlling the Bukhara region as part of their own newfound empire. As ever, even this empire fractured and became divided, so that by the mid-sixteenth century its rulers were little more than khans of Bukhara itself, plus some (usually) allied outlying groups. The Shaibanid empire can be said to have ended in 1598, by which the khanate of Bukhara was already established.

In 1740, neighbouring Khiva (to the west) was occupied by Afsharid ruler Nadir Shah, and Bukhara was also forced to submit. However, Iranian rule of the region was never very strong. The competing Uzbek interests included the regionally-powerful Kazak Lesser Horde, and it was these interested parties who were able to influence events on Khiva and Bukhara. Following the assassination of Nadir Shah, the Manghit (or Manġit) descendants of Uzbek Emir Khudayar Bi ruled Bukhara through the post of ataliq (effectively a prime minister or governor). In 1785 they were confirmed in their position, but under the lesser title of emir as they were not descendants of Chingiz Khan. The emirate of Bukhara survived for less than a century and-a-half before greater external powers took over and Bukhara suffered occupation and annexation. The Soviet civil war immediately following the First World War saw Bukhara's territory divided between modern Uzbekistan (for the most part), plus Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from History of the Civilisations of Central Asia - Towards the Contemporary Period: From the Mid-Nineteenth to the End of the Twentieth Century, Chahryar Adle (Ed), Chapter 9 Uzbekistan, D A Alimova & A A Golovanov, Unesco, from The Russian Conquest of the Bukharan Emirate: Military and Diplomatic Aspects, A Malikov (Central Asian Survey, Volume 33, Issue 2, 2014), from History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century (Part 2), Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth (1880), and from External Link: BBC Country Profiles.)

1785 - 1800

Shah Murad bin Daniyal Bey

Assumed direct control of khanate of Bukhara as emir.


Almost as soon as Shah Murad has become emir of Bukhara, an attempt is made on his life by one of his brothers, Toktamish. He is left with a scar which reaches from mouth to ear and the would-be assassin is executed, while Toktamish is exiled.

Bukhara's Kagan Palace 1895
Despite the best intentions of the emirs of Bukhara to retain their independence in the face of Russian expansionism they succumbed to Russian money, notably in 1888 when the Trans-Caspian railway was built through Bukharan territory, with the emir receiving a vast cash sum and allowing a new station to be built at Kagan, 'only' sixteen kilometres from the capital - the new palace at Kagan (shown here) was built using the cash

In the same year, Shah Murad determines to capture Merv, a centre of the hated Shias (and the former capital of the satrapy of Margiana). Ruled by Bairim Ali Khan, a relative of the Astrakhanids, Merv's forces are markedly inferior to those of Bukhara. However, Bairim Ali Khan is able to harry Shah Murad's forces like 'a wolf among a flock of sheep'. Bukhara is only able to win the day and kill the intransigent Bairim Ali Khan by a ruse which lures him into an unequal battle against four thousand Bukharan horsemen. The region around Merv is laid waste as a warning to the rest of its people.

1800 - 1826

Haydar Tora bin Shah Murad


1824 - 1825

William Moorecroft, of the East India Company, arrives in Peshawar, Afghanistan, while en route to Bukhara, east of Khiva (and now in Uzbekistan), to trade for horses. He is killed in Balkh in 1825 while returning to India. The British in India turn an eye towards Afghan affairs and the lack of central authority there.

1826 - 1827

Hussain bin Haydar Tora

Son. Died after two months on the throne.


Umar bin Haydar Tora


1827 - 1860

Nasr-Allah bin Haydar Tora / Nasrulla

Brother. Died.

1839 - 1840

Russia under Czar Nicholas I pursues a renewed policy of pressuring the Ottoman empire and Britain for control of southern Central Asia. He sends an expedition to Khiva, purportedly to free slaves who had been captured from areas of the Russian frontier and sold by Turkmen raiders. Britain is already involved in the First Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan but, despite sending over five thousand infantry, the Russian force stumbles into one of harshest winters in living memory. It is driven back by the weather and by its losses in early 1840.

William Moorecroft of the East India Company
William Moorecroft of the British East India Company is seen here on the road to Lake Mansarowar in Tibet, dressed in native style, prior to his death in Balkh in 1825

Britain decides that Russian (and also Persian) intrigues pose a threat to its control of India. To counter that perceived threat, it is decided that Afghanistan will be used as a buffer state and the slave situation in Khiva will be solved without military intervention. The khan is convinced to free all Russian subjects under his control and to outlaw any further slavery of Russians.

At the same time, in 1839, Nasr-Allah serves to weaken the defensive situation in the region by declaring war on Kokend. The excuse is the building of the Pishgar fort near the Bukharan border, and Kokend is swiftly conquered, albeit briefly. It has to be conquered again in 1842, with Bukhara securing overlordship of Kokend and executing its khan, but Nasr-Allah's forces are expelled during a revolt in the same year.

1842 - 1843

Nasr-Allah achieves an unwanted level of notoriety in early Victorian England after he has imprisoned and now executes the British envoys, Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly. He also imprisons Joseph Wolff, who enters Bukhara in 1843 in search of the missing envoys. Amused by Wolff openly wearing his full ecclesiastical garb, the emir performs a rare act of leniency by allowing Wolff to leave safely.


Undeterred by previous setbacks, Russia builds Fort Aralsk at the mouth of the Syr Darya. From here the empire begins a steady process of encroachment upon the lands of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokend. Russia meets stiff resistance all the way but its resources far exceed those of its opponents.

First Afghan War (1839-1842)
The First Afghan War (1839-1842) pitted British forces in India against the multiple clans and factions of Afghanistan to the south of Bukhara, but close enough to be of vital interest - elements of the British forces are shown here at Urghundee

1860 - 1886

Muzaffar al-Din bin Nasr-Allah

Son. Russian vassal from 1868.

1865 - 1868

Russia takes Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand in 1865 (all of which go into forming Uzbekistan in 1924). Tashkent is made the capital of a new state of the same name, incorporating vast areas of Central Asia into its territory.

Following a further defeat in 1868, the emirate at Bukhara is permitted to continue as a vassal, governing only its immediate territory. Outside its remaining territory, synagogues of the Bukharan Jews are forcibly closed down or outright destroyed.


Weakened by attacks from Kokend and Bukhara and losing control of the right bank of the Syr Darya, Khiva is finally conquered by Russia on the third attempt. Russian General von Kaufman leads 13,000 infantry and cavalry, taking the capital, Khiva, on 28 May 1873. The city's fall is recorded by artist Vasily Vereshchagin. A treaty of August of the same year establishes Khiva as a Russian protectorate which retains its own rulers but only with nominal independence. Bukhara's remnants, too, become a Russian protectorate.

1886 - 1910

Abdul-Ahad bin Muzaffar al-Din


1910 - 1920

Muhammad Alim Khan bin Abdul-Ahad

Son. Deposed. Emirate replaced by Soviet republic. Died 1944.

1918 - 1921

A reorganisation of Central Asian Soviet-controlled states along ethnic lines means the end of the khanate of Khiva, the Turkestan Krai, and the emirate of Bukhara (the latter being ousted by the Tashkent Soviet in 1920). All of these formerly independent territories are merged into the newly-formed 'Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic', which is formed as a self-governing entity of the early Soviet Union. However, in the same year, the Islamic Council and the Council of Intelligentsia declare the rival 'Turkestan Autonomous Republic', and set about fighting against the Bolshevik forces who start closing down mosques and persecuting Muslim clergy as part of their secularisation campaign.

Emir Muhammad Alim Khan bin Abdul-Ahad
Although initially a reformer in his own right, Emir Muhammad Alim Khan bin Abdul-Ahad eventually realised that this path would lead to the termination of his own position, so he became increasingly reactionary, not that it helped him remain emir in 1920

1921 - 1924

The Turkestan Autonomous Republic has gradually lost ground to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks themselves have been divided into two groups over the region's future, but the idea of a pan-Turkic state is jettisoned in place of several smaller states. In 1924 the Turkestan ASSR is divided into the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (Kyrgyzstan), and the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (modern Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan). Initially, the Tajik ASSR is also adjoined to the Uzbek state.

Modern Uzbekistan
AD 1924 - Present Day

Positioned on the ancient Silk Road between Europe and Asia, majestic cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand, famed for their architectural opulence, once flourished here as trade and cultural centres. The former emirs of Khwarazm had their capital at Urgench (pronounced oorgyench), and Uzbekistan inherited this city, now known as Kunya-Urgench, as the capital of its Khorezm region. The modern republic of Uzbekistan is the most populous Central Asian state with the largest armed forces. Kazakhstan lies to the north, Turkmenistan is to the south, and Tajikistan and Afghanistan lie to the east and south-east.

Southern Uzbekistan has a long and chequered history. It once formed part of the Persian satrapy of Bactria, with Sogdiana to its north (now also largely within Uzbekistan's borders). These satrapies were invaded by Alexander the Great's Greek empire, and became independent in 256 BC. Following that, the region was occupied by Sakas and Greater Yuezhi, and was controlled by the Kushans and then the Persian Sassanids. With the collapse of the Samanids in the ninth century AD the region became a battleground for vying factions of Turkic tribes. From the end of the tenth century it was part of the emirate of Khwarazm, before being divided between the Mongol Il-Khanate and Mughulistan. Timurid Transoxiana claimed it next, and then it formed part of the region of Turkestan which was ruled by the Shaibanid empire in the sixteenth century.

Uzbekistan in the modern sense was formed in 1924, when its Soviet masters divided the former khanate of Khiva and its short-lived successor, the Tashkent ASSR, and joined the Uzbek part to the former emirate of Bukhara. The Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic survived in that form until the collapse of the Soviet empire. In 1991 Uzbekistan became fully independent, with its capital at Tashkent. Rather than follow its western peers down the road towards democracy, it instead maintained a highly authoritarian one-party state in which opposition was (and is) not at all welcome. Since independence, the country has faced sporadic bombings and shootings, which the authorities have been quick to blame on Islamic extremists.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from History of the Civilisations of Central Asia - Towards the Contemporary Period: From the Mid-Nineteenth to the End of the Twentieth Century, Chahryar Adle (Ed), Chapter 9 Uzbekistan, D A Alimova & A A Golovanov, Unesco, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Ex-president's daughter sent to prison (The Guardian).)

1929 - 1930

In 1929 the Tajik ASSR, attached to the Uzbek SSR since 1924, is now removed to form a separate Tajik SSR. In the following year the Soviet-controlled Uzbek SSR suffers from Stalin's purge of independent-minded Uzbek leaders. They are replaced by Moscow loyalists and the capital is moved from Samarkand to Tashkent.

Tashkent 1960s
This tinted photo may date from the 1960s, but it looks in part a good thirty years older and shows mid-twentieth century Tashkent with its Soviet-imposed monumental building style

1937 - 1938

Undaunted by his failures to date, Stalin directs a massive purge of the Bolshevik party, the armed forces (decimating the officer class), government and intelligentsia. Millions of people, labelled enemies of the state, are killed or imprisoned, with the notoriously harsh gulags in Siberia being used to deposit many thousands of  his victims. In the Uzbek SSR, many alleged nationalists are arrested, including the state's first prime minister, Faizullah Khojaev.

1940 - 1945

As part of the Second World War, the Soviets invade Poland from the east on 17 September 1940. About 1,433,230 Uzbek citizens are incorporated into the Red Army in the subsequent battles against Nazi Germany. A certain number also fight for the Germans against the Soviets. In 1944, around 160,000 Meskhetian Turks are deported from Georgia to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Other ethnic groups are also imported into the Uzbek SSR, especially Russians and Ukrainians as the empire's industrial war efforts are moved farther east to remove them from the threat of German attacks.


From this decade until the 1980s, Uzbek cotton production is greatly boosted thanks to Soviet irrigation projects which draw water from the Amu Darya and, ultimately, from the Aral Sea. Within three decades the sea is almost completely sucked dry, creating a semi-desert.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear


A devastating earthquake virtually destroys much of Tashkent. The subsequent Soviet rebuilding works pays little attention to the city's cultural heritage or its important position on the ancient Silk Road. Instead brutalist concrete structures fill the city.


Regulations on immigration are loosened in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This allows massive numbers of Bukharan Jews to leave, with Israel or the USA generally their selected destination. By the 1990s the region has almost exhausted its centuries-old Jewish Diaspora communities.

1989 - 1991

Islam Karimov becomes the head of the Uzbek Communist Party. In the following year, 1990, the Party declares economic and political sovereignty and Karimov becomes president, a position he maintains for several decades. In 1991, Karimov initially supports the attempted anti-Gorbachev coup by conservatives in Moscow. The Uzbek SSR declares independence from the Soviet Union as the republic of Uzbekistan and, following the USSR's subsequent collapse, joins the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). During this period, violent attacks take place against the Meskhetian Turks and other minorities in the Fergana Valley. As a result a nationalist political movement called Birlik is founded (and is banned in 1992).

1989 - 2016

Islam Karimov

'President', but without observing any election rules. Died 02.16.


Terrorist attacks take place in the USA on 11 September when four passenger planes are hijacked. In Afghanistan, the Taliban refuse to hand over terrorist leader and overall organiser of the attack, Osama bin Laden, who is taking refuge there. An invasion is launched, with some US forces being allowed the use of a base in Uzbekistan. By November 2001 the Taliban have been pushed out of Kabul and into the eastern fringes of the country by US and British air strikes and a resurgent native northern alliance.


In May 2005, troops in the eastern city of Andijan open fire on protesters who are demonstrating against the imprisonment of people charged with Islamic extremism. Witnesses report a bloodbath with several hundred civilian deaths. The Uzbek authorities state that fewer than 190 people have died. Opponents of President Karimov blame the authorities' brutal determination to crush all dissent while the president blames fundamentalists seeking to overthrow the government and establish a Muslim caliphate in Central Asia.

Uzbek army
With people protesting against President Karimov's policy of imprisoning people on charges of Islamic extremism, the army was called out, and with brutal effect

The government's reaction to the Andijan unrest prompts strong criticism from the West, and relations cool. In response, Uzbekistan expels US forces from their base and move closer to Russia, with Karimov at one point describing it as Tashkent's 'most reliable partner and ally'.

2008 - 2009

Ties with the West begin to improve again, spurred on by the search by European countries for alternative energy sources in Central Asia, and Uzbekistan's strategic importance for the anti-Taliban operation in Afghanistan. The EU eases sanctions which had been imposed after the Andijan killings, the World Bank reverses a decision to suspend loans to Uzbekistan, and the US is allowed limited use of the Temez air base. In 2009 the EU lifts its arms embargo. At the same time, relations with Moscow cool off, with Uzbekistan in 2009 criticising plans for a Russian base in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.


Karimov's death after more than two decades in control sees his successor selected by the supreme assembly and rubber stamped by an election with sees him 'pitted' against three very minor candidates. His win of 88.6% of the vote is largely seem as resulting from a sham election, but the Uzbek claim is that strong, authoritarian leadership may be the only option apart from Islamic radicalism, with some justification.

2016 - Present

Shavkat Mirziyoyev

'President' following a potentially arranged election.

2017 - 2019

Gulnara Karimova, socialite eldest daughter of the late president - described in 2010 by a US embassy cable as a 'robber baron' who had considered herself above the law - is reported to fall foul of the new regime. With no external confirmation, it is claimed that she is now convicted of embezzlement and money-laundering charges. It is unclear where she serves her sentence, but in 2019 she is reported to be taken forcibly from her home after violating the terms of her house arrest and is escorted to prison.

Gulnara Karimova
Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the late President Karimov, apparently broke her house arrest rules by accessing the internet

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