Afghanistan before Afghanistan

By | December 16, 2021

In the first historical times the present territory of Afghanistan, conquered by Cyrus, fell under Persian control: the inscription of Darius in Bisutun recalls, among the oriental satrapies of the Achaemenid empire, Bactria and Gandhara. In 329 BC Alexander, in the footsteps of Darius, reconquered the Afghan provinces which had, in the meantime, recovered independence. Upon his death, and with the division of his empire, these territories re-entered the domain of the Seleucids. Around 175 BC an independent state was formed, soon divided into two kingdoms, the Greek-Bactrian and the Greek-Indian. But Greek sovereignty over the region did not last long. The first of the two kingdoms succumbed to the attack of groups of nomads wandering in tribes between the Aral Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Pamir mountains;

In 90 AD all of Afghanistan was conquered by the Kusana, a population from Chinese Turkestan. Known in Chinese sources as Yue-che, the Kusanas had been pushed by migratory movements towards the west: they had settled in Bactria and later penetrated the Kabul valley and Gandhara. Their rule, interrupted in the mid-5th century by the invasion of the Hephalite Huns, or White Huns, was to last until the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century. The most famous of the Kusan rulers was Kaniska, whose accession to the throne is to be placed between the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. His empire, made prosperous by political stability and the intensity of trade with the Roman Mediterranean and China, encompassed a very large area extending from Central Asia to Northern India. Converted to Buddhism, Kaniska was the main medium for affirmation in the area of ​​religion, of which he was an ardent neophyte. It was especially during his reign that the meeting between Buddhist religion and Hellenism took place in the North-West regions of India and in the contiguous provinces of Afghanistan, from which a new iconography and a new style had to be born. The Kusana king is generally credited with building the first Buddhist foundations at the beginning of our era. from which a new iconography and a new style had to be born. The Kusana king is generally credited with building the first Buddhist foundations at the beginning of our era. from which a new iconography and a new style had to be born. The Kusana king is generally credited with building the first Buddhist foundations at the beginning of our era. For Afghanistan political system, please check

Buddhism flourished in Afghanistan until the arrival of the Muslims and the first Buddhist religious to penetrate China were probably Kusana. The most important place of worship was in the Bamiyan valley, at an altitude of 2500 m at the foot of the Hindu-Kush, where shrines and monasteries were carved into the rock around two large statues of the standing Buddha, reproduced in countless statuettes that the they brought pilgrims with them to their countries of origin, influencing Buddhist art in Central Asia and China.

The condition in which the provinces crossed by the old road of India were in those days is known to us thanks to the travel report of the famous Chinese pilgrim Hsiuan-chang, who visited the sacred places of Buddhism in the 7th century. He enumerates the monasteries of which the region was once rich and speaks of several thousand religious still residing in Bamiyan, but, unlike travelers who in previous centuries had described the buildings promoted by Kaniska as flourishing, he cannot help but to detect the state of ruin and depopulation of the territory and the decay of most of the Buddhist foundations.

The long decline of the Kusana reign occurs between the 7th and 10th centuries and was the joint result of attacks by Muslims and rebellions by Indian subjects. In control of Afghanistan there were Muslim dynasties and independent local leaders, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and pagans. At the end of the 10th century a Turkish slave, Subuktaghin, ruler of Ghazni, a town southwest of Kabul, gave rise to the most illustrious of the Muslim dynasties that reigned in the region, that of the Ghaznavids, who from here radiated their penetration into India and had, under the sultan Mahmud, a period of great power and cultural prosperity. Mahmud’s court has remained famous for hosting poets, including the Persian Firdusi, and scientists, including the Arab al-Biruni. On the death of the powerful ruler (1030) the the Ghaznavid empire included Khorasan, part of Iraq, Tabaristan, Turkestan south of the Oxus, all of Panjab and, in the center, Afghanistan; it was during the conquest campaigns undertaken by Mahmud’s multiethnic armies that the Afghans first appeared. Under Mahmud’s successors, the Ghaznavid empire lost ever larger parts of its territories, until, weakened by the continuous struggles with the Seljuks, it was definitively overthrown by its vassals.

At the beginning of the 13th century Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Mongols, who made it the basis for their conquest of India. Among the main centers of the region, Herat became the capital of Tamerlane’s successors, Kabul was for a long time a semi-independent city under various rulers of the Tamerlane family, while the Mongol dynasty of the Arghun reigned in Kandahar. Three centuries later Kabul was conquered by Baber, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, and elevated to the rank of capital, only to end up being part of the Delhi empire after the Mughal conquest of India; Herat came under the dominion of Persia and Kandahar, disputed between the two states, changed owners several times.

In 1273, the road that connects Afghan Turkestan with Kashgar and then with China was traveled for the first time by a European, Marco Polo. In the Million he left a vivid representation of the Afghan province of Badakhshan, the mountainous region between the upper reaches of the Amu Darya and the Hindu Kush range, famous for centuries not only for the breeding of horses, but also for the its mines of lapis lazuli and of a particular variety of rubies, of a pinkish-purple color, called balakhsh: ” Balasciam is a province that people adore Malcometo, and have a language for them. He is great realm and the king descends to reditate; and descended from the wood of Allesandro and the daughter of Darius, the great lord of Persia. And all those kings are called Zulcarnei, in Saracen the bicornuate [from the effigy of Alexander, depicted on the Alexandrian coins with two horns symbolizing the two parts of the world, the East and the West] , that is to say Alexander, for love of great Allexandro. And there the precious priests are born which are called balasci, which are very dear, and they quarry in the mountains like the other veins. And it is painful for the head to take those stones out of the realm, so that there are so many that would become cowardly. And there, in another mountain, where theand it is the best and the finest in the world; and the stones from which azure is made, is a vein of earth. And there are mountains where silver is mined. And the province is very cold. And there many cavalry and good couriers are born, and they do not carry any needles, always going to the mountains. And you were born very flying falcons and wool falcons: hunting and birding is the best in the world. Oil is not a year, but a nutshell. The place is very strong from war; and ‘they are good archers and dressed in the skin of beasts, therefore ch’ànno dear [scarcity] of clothes. And the great women and the gentiles wear breeches, which there are as many as 100 arms of cotton wool, and such 40 and such 80; and this they think they have big buttocks, because their men delight in big women “(Marco Polo, Il Milione, Edizioni Studio Tesi, Pordenone 1991, cap. 46, pp. 53-54).

With the 16th century, the expansion of the Afghans began, who began to descend from their mountainous locations to occupy the plains. Remained relatively immune from invasions, they took the place of the indigenous dynasties that had borne the brunt of the Mongols and were able to stand up to the governors of Kabul. In the following century the Afghan tribe of the abdali took possession of the province of Herat, maintaining its dominion until the time of Nadir Shah, the new ruler of Persia who in the first decades of the eighteenth century reconquered Kandahar and took Kabul from the Mughals. Upon the death of Nadir Shah (1747), the head of the abdali, Ahmed Khan, proclaimed himself king in Kandahar and took possession of the entire eastern part of the region up to the Indus, to which he then added Herat and part of Khorasan. Ahmed Shah assumed the (“pearl of pearls”), and the abdali tribe changed its name to durrani.

Ahmed Shah was the founder of the Afghan national state. The regime was feudal: the great tribes remained independent under their leaders, who received from the sovereign appannas corresponding to the militias provided. The offices were reserved for the durrani, and were generally hereditary; a council of nine tribal chiefs assisted the sovereign in government. Ahmed Shah conquered Kashmir and most of Panjab and invaded India several times. On his death in 1773 he was succeeded by his son Timur Shah, who brought the capital from Kandahar to Kabul and wisely administered the state, without however consolidating or extending his father’s conquests.

Afghanistan before Afghanistan