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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Margiana / Mergu

A Bronze Age culture emerged in Central Asia around 2200-1700 BC, at the same time as city states were beginning to flourish in Anatolia. This was known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation, and Indo-European tribes soon integrated into it from the north. These northern tribal bodies of the Indo-Iranian grouping were largely held back by this civilisation until it began to fade from around 2000 BC. Within a few centuries the same people could be found well to the south of it and beginning the process of migrating into India. Those who remained behind appear to enter the historical record around the sixth century BC, when they came up against their cousins of the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

The ancient province of Margiana lay largely within what is now central and western Turkmenistan. The Kopet Dag Mountains which today form a frontier with Iran were probably to be found within its borders. In the Avesta, Margiana is mentioned as one of Ahuramazda's special creations and is referred to as being 'the strong, holy Môuru' (Vendidad, Fargard 1.6). In Hindu, Parsi, and Arab traditions, Margiana is identified with the ancient 'Paradise'. Prior to its late sixth century BC domination by the Achaemenid Persians, Margiana lay immediately outside a much larger and more poorly-defined region known as Ariana, of which the later province of Aria was the heartland. Barely recorded by written history, its precise boundaries are impossible to pin down. It may have encompassed much or all of Transoxiana - the region around the River Oxus (the Amu Darya) - and could have reached as far south as the coastline of the Arabian Sea.

The Persian province of Mergu and its population of Tapuri was only a region within Chorasmia which lay to the north. Subsequent Greek domination saw 'Mergu' became 'Margiana' and it also became a separate province. To the east it was bordered by Bactria, to the south-east by Aria, and to the south-west by Hyrcania. By the first millennium BC it may have been populated largely by Indo-Iranian tribes which had migrated south across the River Oxus and then expanded to the east and west. Those tribes which remained in the regions immediately to the south of the river appear to enter the historical record around the sixth century BC, when they came up against their cousins from the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from Central Asia: A Historical Overview, Edward A Allworth (Duke University Press, 1994), from The Paths of History, I M Diakonoff (Cambridge University Press, 1999), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Livius, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Iranians & Turanians in the Avesta.)

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), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), 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.

Persian Satraps of Mergu (Margiana)

Conquered in the mid-sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great, the region of Margiana was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was populated largely by Indo-Iranian tribal groups. Under the Persians it was formed into an official satrapy or province which was called Mergu (or sometimes Mergush - Margiana is a Greek mangling of the name, while the Indo-Iranian version has survived as the present day Merv).

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.

The great satrapy of Bakhtrish (Bāxtriš) with its capital at Bactra usually had satraps appointed who were Achaemenid princes or members of the highest social elite. Information about the satrapy's administration comes predominantly from the time of Alexander's campaign. The minor satrapy of Mergu was also under the oversight of the satrap of Bakhtrish, as apparently was much of the Central Asian region, as proven by the Behistun inscription. Mergu's core was the oasis at the Marguš or Murḡāb, the present-day Marv or Mary in Uzbekistan. Of its borders, only that along the Oxus (Amu Darya) to the north and east can be determined with any accuracy. Those with the neighbouring provinces of Haraiva, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna are much less precise.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and The Geography of Strabo (Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1932), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Livius.org.)

c.546 - 540 BC

During his campaigns in the east, Cyrus the Great initially takes the northern route from Persis towards Bakhtrish to reassure or subdue the provinces. This route probably involves the 'militaris via' by Rhagai to Parthawa. At some point 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).

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

522/521 BC

The usurper Gaumata (Smerdis) takes control in Persis in 522 BC. All three of the oldest sources (Darius the Great, Herodotus, and Ctesias), agree that he and the magi are overthrown within a year or so by Darius and others (normally seven of them) in a coup.

Immediately afterwards, while Darius is still consolidating his new position, Fravartiš the Cyaxarid tries to restore Median independence. He is defeated by Persian generals and is executed. The same happens in Armina, Parthawa, and Verkâna whose inhabitants, as Darius reports, had also joined Fravartiš. The quashing of the insurrections from Armina to Parthawa is chronologically coordinated in Persian records and occurs between May and June 521 BC.

522/521 BC


Rebel made 'king' by his supporters. Defeated.

Another major rebellion takes place in Mergu (referred to as Margush in this instance) towards the end of 522 or 521 BC (scholars disagree over the year, although it is agreed that the rebellion is put down in December). Darius sends against him Dadarshish, satrap of Bakhtrish, and the rebellion is duly crushed. The casualty figures given for the final battle are extremely high - too high for a scratch army of rebels from Mergu. Speculation has suggested that Saka allies of the rebels are involved in the battle, or that the region's capital at Merv witnesses the slaughter of its inhabitants as punishment for joining a province-wide rebellion.

Darius the Great of Persia
The central relief of the North Stairs of the Apadana in Persepolis, now in the Archaeological Museum in Tehran, shows Darius I (the Great) on his royal throne (External Link: Creative Commons Licence 4.0 International)

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the Persian empire during his reign, neither of which are very descriptive or clear in their location. The first is Daha, from 'daai' or 'daae', meaning 'men', perhaps in the sense of brigands. Daha or Dahae would appear to be the region on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Saka Tigraxauda to the north, and the satrapies of Mergu, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna to the north-east, south-east, and south respectively. It contains a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii.

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.

334 - 331 BC

In 334 BC Alexander of Macedon launches his campaign into the Persian empire by crossing the Dardanelles. The first battle is fought on the River Graneikos (Granicus), eighty kilometres to the east. The Persians are defeated, forcing Satrap Arsites of Daskyleion to commit suicide. Sparda surrenders but Karkâ's satrap holds out in the fortress of Halicarnassus with the Persian General Memnon. The fortress is blockaded and Alexander moves on to fight the Lykian mountain folk during the winter when they cannot take refuge in those mountains.

Alexander the Great crosses the River Graneikos
Alexander the Great crossed the River Graneikos (or Granicus) in 334 BC to spark a direct face-off with the Persians which had been brewing for generations, and his victory in battle near the river sent shockwaves through the Persian empire

The campaigning season of 333 BC sees Darius III and Alexander miss each other on the plain of Cilicia and instead fight the Battle of Issos on the coast. Darius flees when the battle's outcome hangs in the balance, gifting the Greeks Khilakku and Katpatuka, although pockets of Persian resistance remain in parts of Anatolia. Armina is bypassed during the next move by Alexander, suggesting that it has already capitulated.

Alexander proceeds into Syria during 333-332 BC to receive the submission of Ebir-nāri, which also gains him Harran, Judah, and Phoenicia (principally Byblos and Sidon, with Tyre holding out until it can be taken by force). Athura, Gaza, and Egypt also capitulate (not without a struggle in Gaza's case). By 331 BC he is ready for the expected confrontation with Darius III in the heartland of Persian territory, which he also wins. Greek forces sweep eastwards across the empire.

330 - 328 BC

Mergu becomes part of the Greek empire in 330 BC with the fall of Persis. Bessus, self-styled 'king of Asia', withdraws eastwards to make a stand there. His claim as the successor to Darius III is legal, since his satrapy of Bakhtrish is traditionally commanded by the next-in-line to the throne and he has already murdered Darius, but Persia has already been lost and his loose collection of eastern allies - which includes the other two most senior officials, Barsaentes of Harahuwatish and Satibarzanes of Haraiva - 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.

Argead Dynasty in Margiana
Incorporating the Satraps of Tapouria

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, Margiana was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 312 BC.

Margiana was one of the less important satrapies, a minor position that was generally under the oversight of the satrap of Bactria. Apparently much of the Central Asian region was also subservient to Bactria, as proven by the Behistun inscription. Margiana's Achaemenid borders seem to have been maintained under Alexander's control. Its core was the oasis at the Marguš or Murḡāb, the present-day Marv or Mary in Uzbekistan. Only the border along the Oxus (Amu Darya) to the north and east can be determined with any accuracy. Those which were shared with the neighbouring provinces of Aria, Chorasmia, and Hyrcania are much less precise. It is even questionable that Margiana was a separate entity during this period. No satraps are listed, so it could just as easily have been controlled directly from Bactria.

Tapouria was a minor satrapy which, if attempts to locate its people - the Tapuri - are correct, was positioned on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea around the modern city of Sari. They would have been wedged between the westernmost parts of Margiana and the northern-western borders of Hyrcania, so one or the other would have seen to their administration. Only one satrap is known, a Greek by the name of Autophradates who was appointed to the position once Alexander had secured the heartland of Persia. After that the region drifted into obscurity.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996),  from Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel (Ed), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

330 - 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.

330 - 321? BC


Unknown satrap(s) of Margiana.

330 - ? BC


Greek-appointed native satrap of Tapouria (Tapuri).

320s BC

At this time the Sakas appear to reside midway between modern Iran and India, or at least the Amyrgian subset or tribe does. Achaemenid records identify two main divisions of 'Sakas' (an altered form of 'Scythians', these being the Saka Haumavarga and Saka Tigraxauda, with the latter inhabiting territory between Hyrcania and Chorasmia in modern Turkmenistan.

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Sakas (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Indo-Scythians) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time, while above is the route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns across the ancient world (click or tap on map to view full sized)

321 - 311 BC

With Philip being reassigned from Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana 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 and west as Chorasmia and Ferghana, which contains the city of Alexandria Eschate ('the Furthest', possibly modern Khojend but see the Ferghana introduction for more details), while Stasander also has ambitions. If he holds Chorasmia then he probably also holds (or takes) neighbouring Margiana.

321 - 312 BC

Stasanor the Solian?

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

316 - 315 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, satrap of the Northern Indus. 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.

River Indus
The satrapy of the Northern Indus (Punjab) was centred over the mighty River Indus, possibly part of a grab for power by the Solian brothers

312 - 305? BC


Unknown satrap of Margiana.

305 BC

Following the failure of Seleucus Nicator to reconquer Mauryan India, the regions of Paropamisadae (immediately east of Bactria proper, modern Kabul), Arachosia (modern southern Afghanistan and northern and central Pakistan, and perhaps extending as far as the Indus), Northern Indus, and Southern Indus are handed to the Mauryan empire in India by the Seleucids as part of an alliance agreement. Seleucus is now king of all remaining Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards, turning Alexander the Great's eastern empire into the Seleucid empire, which includes Hyrcania and Margiana.

Macedonian, Parthian, & Sassanid Margiana

Ancient Margiana could be linked to a semi-mythical kingdom of Turan via the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a poetic opus which was written about AD 1000 but which accessed older works (such as the semi-official seventh century AD book called the Ḵwadāy-nāmag), and perhaps elements of an oral tradition. The kings of Turan can also be linked to the Avesta, which forms the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. The stories regarding Turan show it to be in competition with the Persians for mastery of the eastern lands, with many battles being fought. Ultimately it is the Persians who emerge victorious. By the late sixth century Margiana was the Persian satrapy of Mergu.

Alexander the Great's victories over the Persians and his pursuit of Darius III led him deep into the lands of eastern Iran, much of which today form parts of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Margiana was focussed around the River Murghab (Margos to the Greeks). The river has its sources in the mountains of Afghanistan and flows to the north, into the Karakum desert, where it divides into several branches that disappear into the desert sands. The fertile delta created by the river had been prime farming land since at least the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex of about 2200-1700 BC. It was the Greeks who reorganised Mergu into Margiana (same name as used by a different language), a separate province in its own right. Unfortunately, following the death of Alexander almost none of the names of its satraps seem to be known.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Osservazione sulla monetazione Indo-Partica. Sanabares I e Sanabares II incertezze ed ipotesie, F Chiesa (1982), from History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Janos Harmatta, B N Puri, & G F Etemadi (Eds, Delhi 1999), from The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires: Adaptation and Expansion, Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Michael Alram, Touraj Daryaee, & Elizabeth Pendleton (Eds), and from External Links: The History of Ancient Iran, Richard Nelson Frye (1983), and The Cambridge History of Iran Vol 4, Richard Nelson Frye (Ed, 1975), and The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7: The Sassanian or New Persian Empire, George Rawlinson (1875, now available via Project Gutenberg), and The Sasanian Empire (AD 224-651), Blair Fowlkes-Childs (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Livius.org.)

c.220 BC

The realm of Euthydemus of Bactria is a large one, including Sogdiana and Ferghana to the north, 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 (two hundred miles) 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 that 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.

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

212 - 209 BC

Having defeated his rebellious cousin in Anatolia, Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire concentrates on the northern and eastern provinces of the empire. Xerxes of Armenia is persuaded to acknowledge his supremacy in 212 BC, while in 209 BC Antiochus invades Parthia. Its capital, Hecatompylos, is occupied and Antiochus forces his way into Hyrcania, with the result that the Parthian king, Arsaces II, is forced to sue for peace.

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 from the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. It seems possible that Aria (and possibly a rebellious Drangiana too) had already been conquered once by the Arsacids, 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 other eastern provinces, all of which still appear to be in Seleucid hands, must also fall to the Parthians very quickly after this - including Carmania, Gedrosia, and Margiana - although firm evidence to show a specific date appears to be lacking. Another date which may be valid for these losses is 185 BC, when Seleucus IV loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion, but the fact that the Parthians fail to expand out of their initial conquests until Mithradates accedes makes this period a more likely one.

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. Carmania would also now seem to be Parthian hands.

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)

c.AD 50 - 65

Sanabares of Parthia

Satrap of Margiana. Rebelled as rival for Parthian throne.

c.AD 50 - 65

Sanabares starts out as the Parthian satrap of Margiana and, being an eastern Parthian, is sometimes included as one of the rebellious Indo-Parthian rulers. At some point he rebels against the weak Parthian king during a period in which the throne is witnessing a constant succession of incumbents and anyone who is a member of the Arsacid family may mount their own claim if they have enough backing.

At his satrapal capital of Merv, Sanabares starts minting his own coins around AD 50, with these coins being the only clear indication of his rebellion in terms of historical sources (he titles himself 'Great King of Kings'). It takes until AD 65 before the latest Parthian king in the west, Vologeses I, can restore central authority in Margiana, at least to an extent.

c.213 - 216

After perhaps five-or-so years of relative peace Parthian king Vologeses VI has to fight his younger brother, Artabanus in yet another royal rebellion. In AD 216, Rome's Emperor Caracalla asks Artabanus for the hand of his daughter in marriage, in itself clear evidence of the fact that the latter is then regarded as being the ruling monarch, even though the coinage of Vologeses continues to appear in Seleucia until at least 221/2. It would seem that Vologeses is ousted from the heartland of Parthian territory by his brother, but is still strong enough to secure a rival kingdom at Seleucia.

Iranian Plateau
The Parni (Parthians) emerged from the Iranian Plateau which forms a vast stretch of territory from the Zagros Mountains to the west and extending as far as Pakistan to the east - this section is at Jaghori, now in northern central Afghanistan

The fractured Parthian empire is breaking down now. With the claim to rule it already dividing the empire in two on official lines, other minor kingdoms have already started emerging or will soon do so. For the moment they probably acknowledge Parthian overlordship in name, but essentially they are probably all but independent states in their own right. At least three are known - Carmania (ruled by a certain Balash), Margiana (ruled by one Ardashir), and Persis (ruled by one Papak of the Sassanids).

fl 224

Ardašīr / Ardashir

King of Margiana. Submitted to the Sassanids.


Having been all but independent for some time, Margiana is currently ruled by one Ardašīr who is to be differentiated from Ardašīr I of the Sassanids. Following the Sassanid victory over the Parthians at the Battle of Hormozdgān, the Sassanids have become the great power in Persian lands. Ardašīr of Margiana now submits to Ardašīr I. Margiana is permitted to continue minting its own coinage for now, while the Sassanids are still consolidating their power.

c.230 - 250

The end of Kushan King Vasudeva's reign in AD 207 apparently coincides with the beginning of the Sassanid invasion of north-western India, although the dating for the main invasion fits with Vashiska and his successor around 230-250. Perhaps there is a first, preliminary invasion followed by a much greater second.

The Kushans are toppled in former Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria (more recently better known as Tokharistan) and are forced to accept Sassanid suzerainty, being replaced by Sassanid vassals known as the Kushanshahs or Indo-Sassanids. There is a split in Kushan rule, so that a separate, eastern section rules independent of the Sassanids, while some of the nobility remain in the west as Sassanid vassals. Even so, Kushan power still gradually wanes in India.

Gonur Tepe in Margiana
Ancient Merv, the capital of Persian and Greek Merv/Margiana, was eventually abandoned just like its even more ancient forebear shown here, Gonur Tepe (Gonordepe), which was a major city of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex until the River Murghab changed its course to leave it high and dry (click or tap on image to view full sized)

? - c.260


Last king of Margiana. Submerged by Sassanids.


Margiana is formally annexed to the Sassanid crown by Shapur I. The name of the vassal king here is unknown (unless Ardašīr 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.

c.260 - ?


First Sassanid governor of Hind, Sagistan, and Turgistan.

c.421 - 427

While Bahram V has been occupied by the fighting against Rome, the Kidarites and Hephthalites invade and occupy Sassanid territory in eastern Iran, with the Hephthalites at least occupying Merv (precise details are typically lacking). Having agree peace terms with Rome in 422, Bahram quickly assembles a fresh army to take east. Merv, the capital of Margiana, is captured and the Hephthalite ruler is killed. The Sassanid eastern frontier is fully secure by 427 and a pillar of thanks is erected on the banks of the Amu Darya - the northern limits of Sassanid control.

484 - 560

Shah Peroz again chases the Hephthalites out of Bactra in 484 and towards Arion in Aria (Alexandria Ariana, modern Herat). Along the way he destroys the tower built by Bahram V which marks the border between Sassanid and Hephthalite. On the other side of the border, Hephthalite King Khushnavaz sets a trap into which Peroz falls (literally), along with around thirty of his sons and about 100,000 troops. Their bodies are never recovered by the Sassanids. The eastern empire is overrun and is largely occupied by the Hephthalites until their final fall - this includes regions such as Margiana and its rich capital at Merv, with the Hephthalites setting up puppet governors.

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)

631 - 651

Mesopotamia is lost to the Arabs in 637. The Sassanids are defeated at the Battle of Nahāvand by Caliph Umar in 642. Persia is overrun by Islam by 651. Retreating into Margiana, Sassanid King Yazdagird finds few allies and is forced to retreat again. Organising a hurried alliance with the Hephthalites, he advances towards Margiana, only to be defeated at the Battle of the Oxus. Yazdagird takes refuge in a mill, where the owner kills him while his family flee to Turkestan. The Sassanid empire has fallen.

Much of what formerly formed the eastern regions of the Persian empire now falls to Islam. The old province of Chorasmia is now recreated as an expanded 'Greater Khorasan'. Many of the eastern regions are ruled from there, including Margiana which effectively disappears from history as far as its previous identity is concerned.

Russian Central Asia (Turkmenistan)
AD 1783 - 1924

Interest by imperial Russia in Central Asia was only really kindled after 1783 when, despite having guaranteed its independence in 1774, Catherine the Great now formally annexed the khanate of Crimea. The move was primarily to remove any possibility of the rival Ottoman empire dominating the region, but it also opened the way to further moves into the Caucasus and the Caspian steppe. This move effectively formed a prelude to the 'Great Game' of the nineteenth century's imperial age, in which the major powers would vie for territory and influence.

During the second half of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth, Russia gradually dismantled the Kazakh territories in northern Central Asia. In 1839 they pursued a renewed policy of pressuring the Ottoman empire and Britain for control of southern Central Asia. An abortive mission was sent to Khiva, purportedly to free slaves who had been captured from areas of the Russian frontier and sold by Turkmen raiders. Britain was already involved in the First Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan but, despite sending over five thousand infantry, the Russian force stumbled into one of harshest winters in living memory and was driven back by the weather and by its losses. Undeterred, in 1848 Russia built Fort Aralsk at the mouth of the River Syr Darya. From here the empire began a steady process of encroachment upon the lands of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokand. It met stiff resistance all the way but its resources far exceeded those of its opponents.

In 1865 Russia took Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand (all of which went into forming Uzbekistan in 1924). Tashkent was made the capital of a new state of the same name, incorporating much of southern Central Asia into its territory. In 1873, weakened by attacks from Kokend and Bukhara and losing control of the right bank of the Syr Darya, Khiva was finally conquered by Russia on the third attempt. Russian expansion in Central Asia, and towards South Asia, was only halted in 1887 when Russia and Britain agreed the northern borders of Afghanistan.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Indian Frontier Policy, John Ayde (2010), from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from History of the World: Volume 7, Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, & Arthur D Innes (1907), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from Inner Asia: History, Civilization, Languages; A Syllabus, Denis Sinor (1969), from History of the Mongols: From the 9th to the 19th Century, Henry H Howarth (1880), from Kazakhstan, Pang Guek Cheng, 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: Encyclopaedia.com, and History of Khiva.)


Russia's February Revolution begins with riots in Petrograd over food rations and the conduct of the First World War against the German empire, and it ends with the creation of a Bolshevik Russian republic following the October Revolution. Nicholas II abdicates, first in favour of his son, Alexei, and then in favour of his brother, Michael. The act effectively ends a thousand years of royal rule. Mismanaging their own administration of the country and badly handling the war effort, the Bolsheviks start to lose control of some of Russia's imperial dominions, and the empire slides into civil war.

Russian revolution
The Bolshevik revolution plunged the former Russian empire into a civil war which involved several fronts and armies, sometimes almost amounting to several separate wars happening at the same time across the empire's vast territory

1918 - 1921

Liberalist and monarchist White Guard Russian forces (including supporters of the 'February' revolution) resist the imposition of a Bolshevik state, and fight a civil war against the Red Guard communist forces. In the newly-formed Tashkent SSR, anti-Bolshevik forces unite to liberate the former khanate of Khiva, the emirate of Bukhara, and Turkestan Krai.

A reorganisation of Central Asian Soviet-controlled states along ethnic lines means the end Khiva, the Turkestan Krai, and Bukhara (the latter being ousted by the Tashkent Soviet in 1920). They 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.

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 Turkmenistan
AD 1924 - Present Day

Modern Turkmenistan is made up mainly of desert, and has the smallest population of the five Central Asian ex- Soviet republics. Its western border lies on the Caspian Sea. To the north it almost reaches the Aral Sea and is mainly bordered by Uzbekistan, with a divide formed by the River Amu Darya, while what are now Iran and Afghanistan fill its southern and south-eastern borders.

The Black Desert region, or Karakum, was for a while home to Indo-European tribes from further north in Central Asia in the third millennium BC. Living here in vast mud-brick fortress citadels, herding cattle, and worshiping fire in rituals controlled by an early form of Brahmin, they also domesticated and worshipped the horse. Eventually they were forced southwards by climate change between about 2000-1500 BC. The bulk of them seemingly re-emerged in India as the Aryans who created the first documented states there, while some may have formed the proto- Persians and doubtless many others remained where they were to form part of the populations of later states in the region - albeit subsumed within the later-arriving Turkic population.

South-western Turkmenistan lies largely within the former Persian satrapy of Verkâna (Greek Hyrcania) while the eastern section lay partly within Bactria and much more so within Mergu. This area was invaded by Alexander the Great's Greek empire, and Bactria 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 Sassanids. With the collapse of the Samanids in the ninth century AD the region became a battleground for vying factions of Turkic tribes, and it was the Turkic-speaking Oghuz who settled Turkmenistan and who today form much of its population. From the end of the tenth century AD the region was largely 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. This in turn was displaced by the khanate of Khiva and then the Russian empire.

Turkmenistan in the modern sense was formed in 1924, when its Soviet masters divided Khiva and its short-lived successor, the Tashkent ASSR. This included a portion of the territory of the former emirate of Bukhara. The Turkmen SSR survived in that form until the collapse of the Soviet empire. In 1991 Turkmenistan became fully independent, with its capital at Ashgabat. Like the Soviet Union in the years before Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan now live under regimes that resolutely and brutally resist change. The capital, Ashgabat, soon lost its Soviet appearance, and began to resemble more and more a rather bizarre Las Vegas, with a giant star on top of a Palace of Happiness, and a wedding palace that changes colour. Rich in natural resources, with the world's fourth-largest gas reserves, Turkmenistan can afford this and much more extravagance.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Modern Times, H Kahler, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Lonely Planet, and The New York Times, and from the NOAA.)

1934 - 1939

Undaunted by his failures to date, Soviet leader Joseph 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.

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

By the end of this decade another casualty of Soviet rule is the former pastoral nomadic existence of the Turkmen, now that a sedentary life is the only way to survive. Ethnic Russians are moved into the region, along with other groups from around the Soviet Union, serving to alter Turkmen social and cultural strands. Religious beliefs are attacked and mosques are closed down, but the country is generally peaceful, with many Turkmen continuing to live isolated agrarian lives that are less affected by Soviet oppression.


A magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes Ashgabat in south-western Turkmenistan - formerly an important location for the Blue Horde and White Horde. It makes an orphan of one Saparmyrat Niyazov, future president of Turkmenistan. Reporting of the disaster is strictly limited by the Soviet authorities, perhaps reluctant to admit to any kind of failing. Admiral Ellis Zacharias, former US deputy chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence, claims more than once that the earthquake is the result of the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb test.

1950 - 1953

An over-ambitious canal-building programme is launched with the aim of connecting the Aral Sea to the Karakum Desert in order to irrigate it and make its soil productive. With Stalin's death in 1953 it is abandoned in an unfinished state, but work on the equally ambitious Qaraqum Canal begins the following year. In time this effectively drains the Amu Darya and severely diminishes the Aral Sea.

Turkmen canal
Soviet canal work was generally over-ambitious in scale and highly damaging to the surrounding ecology, especially in this case to the Aral Sea and the River Amu Darya


The turnover in general secretaries of a more senior level of experience in the Soviet Union now leaves an opening for younger, more reform-minded individual to make a mark on the Soviet Union. One of Mikhail Gorbachev's first actions is to remove from office Muhammetnazar Gapurow, first secretary of the Communist party in the Turkmen SSR. Unfortunately this leaves an opening for Saparmyrat Niyazov, who becomes a life-long 'dictator of Turkmenistan'.

1985 - 2006

Saparmyrat Niyazov

Dictator. 'Turkmenbashi' ('leader of the Turkmen'). Died.


Turkmen SSR achieves independence as the Soviet empire collapses. As with neighbouring Uzbekistan's own Communist leader, Turkmenistan's Saparmyrat (or Saparmurat) Niyazov is ready. He hails from Kipchak (or Gypjak), just outside Ashgabat. He makes a smooth transition from Communist Party first secretary to president, keeping a tight lid on his country of 5.1 million while cultivating a bizarre cult of personality.


Saparmyrat Niyazov has covered his desert republic with golden statues of himself, and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his 'golden age'. He has also ordered the construction of his own mausoleum, next to a giant mosque, before his death in 2006. Today it is guarded by strictly regimented soldiers similar to those who keep watch over Lenin's tomb on Red Square in Moscow.

Acting President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdymukhamedov (or Berdimuhamedow) formally succeeds in office after 'winning' the election in 2007 with a largely unopposed majority. This is despite the constitution stipulating that an acting president cannot stand for election. That inconvenient rule is swiftly cancelled by the People's Council in time for the elections.

Turkmenistan's Saparmyrat Niyazov
Turkmenistan's Saparmyrat Niyazov was one of several former Communist Party apparatchiks in the region who managed to secure dictatorial levels of power during the collapse of the Soviet Union

2006 - Present

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Dictator. 'Arkadag' ('protector').


The Turkmen fascination with specially dedicated grandiose monuments has not ended with the death of Saparmyrat Niyazov. In May 2015 a gold-leaf statue of a mounted President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov perched on top of a vast 'cliff' of rock is unveiled in the capital. However, the new president has cut back the cult of personality, and restored many of Niyazov's more arbitrary cuts. The regime is more open than previously, even though it is still strictly authoritarian.

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