Afghanistan Early History Part I

By | December 16, 2021

The migrations of peoples, armies, trade, which by land and both from O. and from N. moved towards India, have taken the obligatory path of Afghānistān for two millennia.

Compared to India, Afghānistān was defined as a vast entrenched camp, and the owners of that peninsula have always felt the need to possess it. The history of Afghānistān is thus largely a chapter of that of India (and vice versa); Afghānistān was the starting point of all the invaders who overthrew on Pangiāb, it was also the bulwark and the door of the accomplished conquest, which for almost a century has taken away the sleep of the English, the only masters of India who came from the sea instead of from N.

A second road crosses the road to India in Afghan territory, the one which, through Pāmir, connects Chinese Turkestān with the West; it is the very important trade route of the Middle Ages, followed by Marco Polo (see B adakhshān). In this way the contacts between the Far Eastern and Persian civilizations took place. Buddhism, on the other hand, by going back the way of the invaders, penetrated Afghānistan from India and met there with the art and thought of Greece. For Afghanistan history, please check

The current Afghan national state was formed in the century. XVIII; before this period, and to a lesser extent even after, the history of Afghānistān is so closely involved with that of the neighboring countries, that it is unclear to those who are not aware of the overall movement, first of all from Central Asia, then from India and of Persia, finally of Russia in Asia and Europe and of the British Empire. The brief outline of Afghan history which follows must therefore be completed with data that can hardly be touched here, and which are developed in the articles relating to the various countries.

Ancient history. – In the first historical times the current Afghan territory was inhabited by īrānic populations; it corresponds to six of the twenty-three provinces of the Achaemenid Empire:

The four provinces marked with * are mentioned in the West. Conquered by Alexander the Great, this territory touched, after his death, to Seleuco; it was then part of the Indian state of Maurya until the death of Aṣoka (about 231 BC). In 196 it was reconquered by Demetrius king of Bactriana.

In 140 a. C. the barbarians occupied the kingdom of Bactriana, but the southern region of the Hindū Kush remained divided into several Greek states; Menander, king of Kābul, invader of India (about 155 BC), is probably the Milinda of the Buddhist tradition.

From 140 to. C. to 60 d. C. about, next to the Greek kings of Afghānistān reigned the leaders of the barbarians called Sāka, probably īrānic populations, driven from their seats in N. dell’Oxus by the Yue-chi, who occupied Aracosia and Drangiana. The latter owes to them the name of Sakastene, hence Sigistān, today’s Sīstān.

In 90 d. C. all Afghānistān was conquered by the Kūshān, a branch of the Yue-chi, coming from Chinese Turkestān. They founded a vast empire, which extended from the Parthian border to the Ganges, and to N. touched the Sogdiana. While in India they declined rapidly, in Afghānistān the Kūshān remained until the invasion of the White Huns (Ephthalites), who conquered Kābul and Gandāra around 500.

The Huns were ousted by a new Iranian invasion by the N., but Kūshān chiefs, with the title of Shāh, reigned in Kābul until the Muslims appeared there.

The first Buddhist religious who entered China in the century. I a. C. were probably Kūshan. Buddhism flourished in Afghānistān up to the Muslims. The Afghānistān of the Buddhist period is vividly described by Chinese pilgrims.

The Muslims. – Already under ‛Othmān (644-656), or more probably during the Caliphate of Mo‛āwiyah I (661-680), the Muslims had invaded the Sīstān, which they occupied permanently, and had pushed several times as far as Kābul, without nevertheless to occupy it definitively until 871 (257 dell’ègira).

From the century VII to X the Kūshān decayed, following the Muslim attacks and the rebellions of their Indian subjects, and Muslim dynasties and independent Muslim, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and pagan local leaders succeeded one another in Afghānistān. At the end of the century X the Turkish slave Subuktaghīn (976-997), ruler of Ghaznī (Ghaznah) in SW. of Kābul and founder of the famous dynasty that had this city as its capital, he added the Zamīndāwar (region NE of Qandahār) and Ghōr (region between Herāt and the Helmand valley) to his state, and had the government of Khorāsān from the Sāmānids. Son of Subuktaghīn was Sultan Maḥmūd of Ghaznī, the great conqueror of India. He took Badakhshān and Turkestān from the Samanids, conquered Persia, and invaded India fifteen times, from 1001 to 1026. On the death of Maḥmūd (1030) the Ghaznavid empire included the Khorāsān, part of the Irāq, the Ṭabaristān, the Turkestān to S. dell’Oxus, all the Pangiāb and, in the center, the current Afghānistān. The court of Maḥmūd, famous for its magnificence, had hosted many Persian poets, including Firdūsī, and the Arab scientist al-Bīrūnī. In the countryside of Maḥmūd the Afghāni appeared for the first time, in their armies made up of various elements, Turks, Indians, etc.

Afghanistan Early History Part I