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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia

 

Medieval Sogdian Principalities IndexUstrushana / Osrūshana (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 that 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 that 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 principality of Ustrushana (otherwise recorded as Usrushana, Osrushana, Osrūshana, and Osrušana) became wealthy through trade with China. Unusually perhaps, the principality's name was not that of its main city. That was Bunjikat (Bunjikath or Navinjkat, an archaeological site that is sometimes referred to as Shahriston), although it was sometimes referred to as 'the city of [the principality of] Ustrushana'. It is located at the entrance to the Ferghana Valley in what is now western Tajikistan. The original Indo-Iranian form of the principality's name is uncertain, but *Sorušna has been extrapolated from the available data (the accented š being pronounced with an 'sh' sound).

Its beginnings in what was a little-urbanised area seem to have been humble. Unlike the cities of the Bukharan oasis, it did not enter the historical record until the coming of Islam and a century or more of Turko-Indo-Iranian resistance, hinting perhaps at a role as a fall-back location for elements of that resistance. The far eastern Sogdian town of Pārḡar was part of Ustrushana's territory during the ninth century, although in the early eighth it was part of Penjikent.

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), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Encyclopĉdia Britannica, and Bukhara History Part 5: Bukhara under the Arabian Conquest (Advantour), and The Silk Road, and Poykent (UNESCO), and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

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. These can be linked to Bukhara right up to the seventh century.

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 that demonstrate the gaining of significant new territories. A Kidarite influx of 441-457 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.

654

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.

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. 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. They rise together against the invaders and virtually drive them back into Persia proper.

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)

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 that 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.

c.712

Probably frustrated by the endless bickering regarding superiority between the Sogdian principalities, Qutaiba ibn Muslim, Umayyad governor of Greater Khorasan, launches a pacification campaign which delivers him and Islam a wave of submissive acknowledgements. Ferghana is also subjugated by 715.

By this time Ustrushana is a relatively important military and trading centre along the eastern borders of Sogdiana. It lies on the southern side of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) and on the main route into Ferghana. However, it appears late in the historical record, well after the cities of the Bukharan oasis. When it does it is governed by the Indo-Iranian afshins of the Kavus dynasty. However, the title afshin or al-afshin is a later, Arabic form of the Middle Persian pišīn (pishin) and Avestan pisinah. All but the later of the rulers would therefore be the pishin.

722

The defeat of Dewashtich 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. This may also be the point at which the far eastern Sogdian town of Pārḡar passes into the hands of Ustrushana.

Ustrushana coin
Two sides of a coin issued by Ustrushana between 601-725, showing a bust partially facing left and wearing a decorative hat, while the reverse contains an Ustrushanan tamgha with a double hook, surrounded by a Sogdian legend

fl c.737 - 739

?

Afshin of Ustrushana. Fought against Islam.

737 - 739

The son and successor of Burha Tegin of Kabul is from Kesar who, according to scholars, must ascend the throne of Kabul shortly before 738, although he is possibly a powerful viceroy who is based in the eastern capital of Wayhind in Uddiyana. Coins carrying his name and titles reveal his successes in fights against the Islamic empire. One of many city state allies at this time is Ustrushana, which has to be subdued in 739 by a force from Greater Khorasan under the command of the governor, Naṣr ibn Sayyār.

fl 752

?

Afshin of Ustrushana. Fought against Islam.

752

According to Tang dynastic annals, the (unnamed) ruler of Ustrushana tries in vain to get Chinese help against the Arabs of Greater Khorasan. This is very soon after the Abbasids under Abu Muslim have begun and won an open revolt in Khorasan against Umayyad rule of the caliphate. The Abbasids seem less content to allow independent rulers to remain in place in Sogdiana.

fl c.770s - 780s

?

Afshin of Ustrushana. Vassal of Islam.

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. He is a senior general at the caliph's court, so any notion of there still being any independent Indo-Iranian Sogdian princes can be dismissed.

Abbasid silver dirham
The silver dirham shown here was issued during the reign of Caliph Muhammad al Mahdi (775-785), only the third of the Abbasid caliphs at their capital in Baghdad

fl c.794

Ḵarāḵana / Karākana

Afshin of Ustrushana. Vassal of Islam.

794 - 795

Al-Fadl ibn Yahya, governor of Greater Khorasan, leads an expedition on behalf of the Abbasid court into Transoxiana. He receives the submission of Afshin Karākana of Ustrushana, which would suggest that there has been some trouble in the region to necessitate an expedition in the first place. This particular afshin has never before humbled himself before a superior opponent.

fl c.800s - 820s

Kāwūs ibn Kharakhuruh

Son. Afshin of Ustrushana. Died 820s.

813

First recorded around 802, Kāwūs ibn Kharakhuruh declares independence when the contentious Abdullah al Ma'mun becomes caliph. It had been al Ma'mun who had led campaigns against Kāwūs around 802 to ensure the latter's loyalty.

c.818

A civil war strikes breaks out in Sogdiana. Kāwūs appears to be victorious, although the forces that are arrayed against him seem to be unclear - the war is possibly between members of the Ustrushana royal house alone, although it could encompass other cities anyway. His son, Khaydhar, flees to the Abbasid court. The exact reason uncertain but it is likely that he opposes his father's claim of independence.

822

The Abbasids have mustered an army under the command of Ahmad ibn Abi Khalid al-Ahwal to take care of the Ustrushana problem as it remains independent. Kāwūs is captured and sent to Baghdad where he submits to the caliph and converts to Islam. He is allowed to return home and to continue to rule, now as a faithful servant of the caliphate. His son and rival, Fażl, temporarily flees north to the steppe.

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 that was known as Tokharistan while also providing a sizeable part of Sogdiana's southern border

fl 820s - 841

Ḵeyḏār / Khaydhar / Ḥaydar ibn Kāwūs

Son. Afshin of Ustrushana. Arrested and executed.

831 - 832

The Turkic general, 'Afshin', is more accurately Ḵeyḏār, sometimes shown as Khaydhar, and Arabicised as Haydar ibn Kāwūs, afshin (ruler) of the city of Ustrushana. He puts down a joint Arabic-Coptic rebellion in Egypt, and the Arabic families lose power for good. Suddenly Egypt and its governors are able to experience a semblance of stability. Ḥaydar subsequently gains minor regional governorships in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Sind.

839 - 841

Ḥaydar ibn Kāwūs is still serving at the Abbasid court as a senior general. The claim by important sources regarding 831 of him being Turkic also show that the formerly Indo-Iranian governing class has been fully integrated into that of the more recent Turkic one.

While in office as the Tahrid governor of Khorasan, Abdullah ibn Tahir ibn has claimed Tabaristan as a dependency and has insisted 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 Ḥaydar ibn Kāwūs himself as a supporter of Mazyar. He is arrested and interrogated, charged with spurious claims of infidelity to Islam, and locked up in 841 until he dies of starvation around a month later. His city is fully Islamicised, although his line appears to continue, if only in virtual obscurity apart from coin mints.

Old Urgench
Old Urgench provided Khorasan with a long-serving and highly important city, but it had to be abandoned in the sixteenth century as the shifting waters of the Amu Darya - today its remnants lie within Uzbekistan's borders

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.

?

Abdallāh

Afshin of Ustrushana?

? - 893

Sayr ibn Abdallāh

Son. Final afshin of Ustrushana. Killed. Now under Samanids.

892 - 893

Sayr ibn Abdallāh is known from coinage issued in his name in 892. He is the final afshin of Ustrushana, with any remaining nominal independence ended now that the Samanids kill him and take full control of the city.