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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Bukhara (Sogdiana)

Following the final termination of Greek rule in Bactria around 130 BC - and seemingly for at least some decades before it too - post-Greek 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.

There are few written accounts which cover the region in its late Classical and early medieval periods, and other records are relatively sparse. Even the idea of Sogdiana remaining under the governance of Greek Bactria is one which cannot be confirmed, simply because there is very little evidence to prove it. Sogdiana is indeed included in the list of eastern provinces to be secured by the Seleucids in the campaign of 305 BC. It may well have remained theirs for a while, but an Indo-Greek campaign into the region from Bactria in 283-281 BC and a lack of mentions afterwards paints a distinct picture of a lost region, and perhaps one that was not particularly secure beforehand.

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. New Sogdian fortifications also followed established Indo-Iranian styles, and Sogdian clothing was traditional Central Asian in style rather than Greek. The influx of barbarians into Bactria from the second century BC onwards further influenced Sogdian styles, adding many cultural elements and later mixing those with early Turkic influences.

By the seventh century AD Nestorian Christian crosses were appearing on coins, revealing the arrival of Orthodox Christianity. The general coinage style was a regional one which had first appeared in the late fourth century AD, albeit without the cross, replacing the previous Greek types. The multitude of regional mints strongly suggests a series of independent city states or principalities in the region. Of those, Samarkand and Bukhara dominated the rest, in terms of regional might if not directly ruling over them.

The latter, sitting in the Bukhara oasis to the west of Samarkand, may have been one of a number of small city states which were most likely founded by the early Achaemenid rulers of Suguda. A lack of archaeological finds, though, suggest a slightly later founding date for this particular city. Some shrinkage has also occurred, evidenced by mounds or the remains of buildings which are now covered by desert. Many irrigation canals existed to use the waters of the River Zarafshan (or Zeravshan, the ancient Polytimetus), and some of these are also under desert sands today.

By the middle of the seventh century AD, the thriving Bukharan mint switched to the temporarily-dominant Chinese cash model and started casting coins. 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 of Varakhsha 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, largely ending regional independence.

The developing Silk Road

(Information by Peter Kessler, 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), 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), 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 The Silk Road, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Global Times.)

AD 3rd-6th cent

The Sassanid ruler, Shapur I, seems to conquer Sogdiana around AD 260 while subjugating a good many eastern regions as the Kushans in Bactria wane. If not then, it certainly happens not much later. Much of Sogdiana is occupied for a time (Marakanda, the capital, for instance), while part is occupied for a longer period (Bukhara especially).

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)

In the fourth century AD, things are changing in Sogdiana. A large network exists of merchants from the cities who are trading with the Tarim Basin (home of the Tocharians) and beyond. However, the last quarter of the century sees the start of invasions of the region by the Kidarites. The style of regional coins in Sogdiana suddenly changes, with imitations of Greek types being replaced with coins of quite a different appearance.

Such coins can be linked to Bukhara right up to the seventh century, with the city producing its first coins around the middle of the fifth century. These are a series which include hard-to-decipher legends which include, possibly, 'King Ašδāδ of Bukhara', to be followed later by either 'king of Bukhara, the hero', or perhaps Kānā, a personal name (possibly the same individual as the Kānā shown below). These rulers may be the same individuals who rule from Samarkand in post-Greek Sogdiana (see the latter link for the list of those rulers).

fl 450s - 490s


Uncertain rulers of Bukhara. Probably Kidarite.

The once shrunken and backward Sogdiana is booming again. A sudden and rapid improvement in development take place, with cities which survived the first century AD decline now growing rapidly, and new defensive lines being put up which demonstrate the gaining of significant new territories. The Kidarite influx of 441-457 (mentioned above) appears to interrupt trade and communications with China, but an early sixth century take-over by the Hephthalites appears to return things to normal.

In 552 the Western Göktürks expand their dominions towards Chorasmia and the early principalities of Sogdiana, right up against the borders of Persia's eastern territories. They set up a viceroy in Tokharistan to manage the region. In 565 the Hephthalites are defeated by an alliance of Göktürks and Sassanids at a great battle near Bukhara. A level of Indo-Sassanid authority is re-established in the region for the next century.

Map of Central Asia and India AD 500
By the late 400s the eastern sections of the Sassanid empire had been overrun and to an extent occupied by the Hephthalites (Xionites) after they had killed Shah Peroz (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The Western Göktürks come into conflict with their former allies, the Sassanids, between 581-590. Much of Tokharistan remains a Göktürk dependency until the end of the century. By inference, Sogdiana to the north of Tokharistan (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)

The Tārīḵ-e Boḵārā by Abū Bakr Jaʿfar Naršaḵī mentions several pre-Islamic rulers, but their names are uncertain and nothing concrete is known about them. There may even be other rulers who remain unknown and who could be placed anywhere in the list below. Note that in Arabic sources the rulers of Bukhara are referred to as Boḵār-ḵodāt (Bukhar khudah or khudat), where the last word is the Sogdian γwt'w which is used for the nobility or aristocracy of the Sogdian oases. The phrase means 'lord of Bukhara'.

The first ruler of Bukhara mentioned here is Abrūʾī or Abarzī. He becomes a tyrannical ruler and is overthrown by a Turkic ruler named Qarā Jūrjīn. Unfortunately neither person can be identified from other sources so no dating is available other than placing them in a general period between about AD 500-650.

Abrūʾī / Abarzī

Boḵār-ḵodāt. Tyrannical. Overthrown.

Qarā Jūrjīn

Turkic Boḵār-ḵodāt.


Another ruler mentioned by Naršaḵī is Kānā, who is credited with introducing coinage into Bukhara around the time of Abū Bakr, the first Islamic caliph (632-634). While such dates would seem reasonable within the context of Bukhara's development, they have also been deemed 'hardly acceptable'.

fl c.630s?

Kānā / Kana

Boḵār-ḵodāt. Introduced coinage.

Māḵ / Makh

Boḵār-ḵodāt. Built the 'Māḵ' bazaar.


Boḵār-ḵodāt. Named on a silver vessel.

It appears that, by now at least, there are several local lords in the Bukhara oasis, especially in the towns of Paikand, Vardana, and Varakhsha. Both Paikand and Varakhsha are mentioned by 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.

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


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.

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.

fl 660s

Bīdūn / Bidun / Bandūn

Boḵār-ḵodāt. Died, leaving infant son.

fl 673 - c.688

Ṭoḡšāda / Tughshada

Son Infant at accession. Ejected by Varakhsha.

fl 673 - 680s


'Khatun' ('lady') of Bukhara. Mother and regent.

673 - 674

Having been appointed the Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan in 673, Abdallah ibn Rabi follows his late father's policy of forcibly pacifying the lands to the east of Persia. In spring 674 he invades Bukhara's territory which is governed by the khatun (Ḵātūn in Arabic, the 'lady', a title for the queen or queen mother). She is providing a regency for her young son, but now has to deal with a siege of Bukhara.

Gokturk treasures
Göktürk treasures in a tomb discovered in 2012 included large murals, leopard pictures, full-scale images of individuals, panoramic statues, grave guardian statues, mythological statues, gold coins, rings, and much more

Local Turkic tribes (primarily, it seems, the Türgish of the former Western Göktürks) - still largely nomadic - are contacted for help but the city still falls. Recruits are taken for Islam, and no doubt tribute is extracted along with a promise of faithfulness to Islam. The khatun and her infant son remain in power, supposedly until the city falls to the Arabs, although this would mean that it is Ṭoḡšāda who is ejected from the city by 'Vardan Khuda' of Varakhsha.


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. Despite a restoration of Turkic power at the beginning of the eighth century, the Tang hold nominal power in the region, primarily from their expanded protectorate of Anxi.

Tonggusi Baxi in the Xinhe Aksu region of China
The city of Tonggusi Baxi in the Xinhe Aksu region in what is now north-western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region provided the capital of the 'Anxi Grand Protectorate' under the Tang dynasty


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.

c.688 - 708

'Vardan Khuda'

Ruler of Varakhsha (and Vardana?). United the realms.

708/709 - 710

Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, expels Vardan Khuda from Bukhara in 708 and restores Ṭoḡšāda. Something like a year or so after the expulsion, in 710, he also confirms in his position the Sogdo-Turkic ruler of Samarkand, Ghurak, showing the increasing dominance of Islam over Sogdian politics. The same governor is also claimed as the conqueror of Chach (Tashkent), Ferghana, and Khojend, presumably during this same period.

708/9 - 739


Restored as an Umayyad vassal. Assassinated.


Abd al-Rahman ibn Nu'aym al-Ghamidi, the latest Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, catches up with the western Sogdian forces of Dewashtich of Penjikent near the city of Zarafshan (in today's Tajikistan). Dewashtich is ultimately defeated and executed.

The conquest of Penjikent 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. Despite briefly being liberated in 728 during one of a series of resistance efforts, Bukhara is soon returned to the Islamic fold.

Post-Sassanid-style Iranian Simurgh
Post-Sassanid-style decoration motifs are common in Iranian architecture, with this large bird or Simurgh (a Persian phoenix) adorning a mosque archway in Bukhara, plus a dog which is reminiscent of Sassanid arts and the floral-arboreal patterns

739 - 750


Son. Umayyad vassal. Assassinated.


With Ṭoḡšāda having been assassinated by a pair of angry dehqân land-owning nobles, his son succeeds him. It is notable that Qutayba bears the name of the late Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, being given in honour of the general. Ṭoḡšāda may be the last of the lords to bear a wholly Sogdian name now that Turkic and Islamic influences are gradually submerging native customs and speech.

747 - 750

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 who helps to suppress a rebellion of some Sogdian cities under a Sharik ibn Shaikh. 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. In return for his support of the Abbasids, Qutayba is assassinated in 750.

750 - c.757


Brother. Abbasid vassal. Assassinated.

c.757 - 783

Sakan's relatively brief reign is ended when he is murdered by Abbasid agents. He is succeeded by another brother, named Bunyat. He makes the mistake of supporting an anti-Islamic revolt under the leadership of Hashim, known more widely as al-Muqanna.

c.757 - 783


Brother. Abbasid vassal. Assassinated.


Information about a successor - or in fact any successors - is lost to history. Bukhara, possibly along with the other cities of the Bukharan oasis, seems to fall silent. A period of decline is the usual reason for such silence, possibly as a result of the drawn-out and bloody period of Islamic conquest of the region which has taken a century to complete.

Bukharan building work
Elements of Bukharan building work which date largely to a grand rebuilding of about AD 850 but which reveal sections of work which are much older

? - 890s

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim

Abbasid vassal. Last 'lord' of Bukhara. Died 913.


In the last decade of the ninth century Bukhara re-emerges as the capital of the Samanid emirate when control is taken from the last of the now-fully Islamicised Bukharan lords, Abu Ishaq Ibrahim. In the sixteenth century Bukhara is a centre of power when the fading Shaibanid empire fractures into several lesser states. The gradual process of the khanate of Bukhara forming as a separate entity can be set at 1534, when Abu'l-Ghazi Ubaidullah shifts the capital of the empire's core holdings to that city.

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