The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project 
  • 1

BALKH (intra-mural)

Ball Catalogue Number: 99

Ball Map: 81

Province: Balkh

Date: Graeco-Bactrian, 3rd-mid 1st C BC; Kushan, 1st BC-3rd C AD; Sasanian, 3rd-7th C; Turk, early Islamic, 7th-12th C; Timurid, 15th.c (ceramic, numismatic, documentary, stylistic).

Ball Catalogue Description: A very large urban site enclosing an area of 11 km. It is surrounded by high defensive walls wIth a secondary fortified area the Bala Hisar, to the north. Remains enclosed within the walls include Tepe Zargaran, an artificial mound with levels dating from at least the 2nd century AD, the tiled Timurid Shrine of Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa dated 1460-61, and the 17th century Madrasa of Sayyid Subhan Quli Khan, of which only one lwan remains with some tile decoration. Extra-mural remains to the south include Takht-i Rustam, the mud remains of the Buddhist monastery of Nau Bahar, and Tepe Rustam, its associated stupa.

Collections: 1. BIAS - sherds. 2. BIPS - sherds. 3. DAFA - sherds. 4. Kabul Museum - sherds. 5. Mazar Museum - coins, stucco heads.

Fieldwork: 1. 1886 Yate, ABC - survey. 2. 1924-25 Foucher, DAFA - sondages and survey. 3. 1935 Byron - survey of the Shrine. 4. 1946 Wheeler, ASI - reconnaissance. 5. 1947-48 Schlumberger, DAFA - total of 59 sondages. 6. 1953 Young, Univ. Mus., Univ. Penn. - excavation against south wail. 7. 1955-56 Le Berre, DAFA -investigations of city walls. 8. 1960 Hayashi & Sahara, Kyoto University -survey. 9. 1974-75 Sengupta, Af/lnd Mission - restoration of the Shrine.

Sources: 1. Burnes 1834, 1(1.64): 237-242 - description of the history and remains of the city, and of some of the coins collected. 2. Jacquet 1836b (4.11): 249-250 - description of a gold medallion of Mokadphises found by Honigberger. 3. Moorcroft & Trebeck 1841 (1.64): 492-494 - brief description of the remains. 4. Vambery 1864 (1.64): 232-233 - brief description of the remains. 5. Rawlinson 1872 (2.1): 510-512 - background to - Buddhism at Balkh. 6. Holdich 1886 (2.1): 9-10 - brief description. 7. Peacocke 1887 (1.621): 323 - brief description of the shrine and madrasa, 8. Maitland 1888b (1.621): 177-179 - ".nothing of any particular interest in the place, and certainly nothing of any great antiquity", 9. Yate 1888 (1.64): 255-260 - description of the remains, including Tepe and Takht-i Rustam. 10. Le Strange 1905 (2.1): 420-422 - summary of the historical references. 11. Niedemeyer & Diez 1924 (1.44): 45-49 & pis 198- 213 - summary and plan of the remains with photos of some buildings no longer extant. 12. Foucher 1928 (4.112): 25-27' brief summary of the excavations. 13. Foucher 1931 (1.42): 131-13~ - some background with a- note on the work of Foucher. 14. Byron 1935a (4.19) - brief note and photos of the shrine. 15. Byron 1937 (1.65): 285-286 & 296-297 - description of the shrine. 16. Byron 1938 (4.19): 1136-1137 - description and sketch plan of the shrine. 17. Foucher 194247 (4.11): Vol.l: 55-121- reflections on the site, with description of the Islamic remains and the excavations. Vo1.2: 373-377 - brief summary and catalogue of the finds. 18. Schlumberger 1946 (4.11) - very brief report on the work of Foucher. 19. Caspani 1947a (4.16) - background and tentative theories associated with Tepe and Takht-i Rustam. 20. Shakur 1947 (4.111): 59-68 - detailed description of the site and of two Hellenistic column bases found.21. Wheeler 1947 (4.11'1): 62-63 - brief description and assessment. 22. Schlumberger 1948 (4.11) - summary of the results of the 1947 excavations. 23. Schlumberger 1949c (4.11) - very brief summary of the 1947 excavations and diappointment at the results. 24. Schlumberger 1949d (4.11) - summary of the 1947 excavations with details of the stratigraphy. 25. Deydier 1950 (4.16): 203-204 - summary and bibliography of the French work. 26. Kohzad 1953b (4.112): 9-10 - summary of the French work. 27. Bivar 1954b (4.16) - description and photos of two stone pedestals accidentally found and discussion on their possible use as fire altars. 28. Mandelshtam 1954 (4.112) - summary in Russian of the French work. 29. Young 1954 (4.11): 52 - mentions own sondage. 30. Young 1955 (4.11) - discusses at length the defences, topography and urban development of Balkh, with a brief report on his own excavations. 31. Allchin 1957 (4.112) - refers to the site in a wider discussion of Bactrian chronology. 32. Gardin 1957a (4.11) - typology in detail and conclusions on the ceramics. 33. Matson 1957 (4.11): 12 - very brief summary of the American excavations. 34. Schlumberger 1957b (4.11) - introduction to the problems of archaeology at Balkh. 35. Buhler 1958b (4.14) - brief general article on Hellenism at Balkh. 36. Hallade 1962a (4.15) - discussion of Tepe Rustam and the development of Bactrian art. 37. Hayashi & Sahara 1962 (4.111): 55-57 - summary of the results of a survey of Tepe Zargaran and the Bala Hisar. 38. Mizuno 1962 (4.16) - introduction to the Japanese survey. 39. Pugachenkova 1963 (4.112): 166-168'- description of the shrine. 40. Hansen 1964 (4.113): 21-22 - diseusses the shrine and the need for its preservation. 41. Le Berre & Sehlumberger 1964 (4.11) - description of the fortifications and the successive growth of the city, with a summary of the excavations and detailed analysis of the construction. 42. N. Dupree 1967a (1.62): 63-96 - extensive historical background with descriptions of all remains. 43. Agrawala 1970 (4:15): 6 - discusses human figurines on some pottery handles excavated at Tepe Zargaran. 44. Anand 1970 (4.18): 24-25 - brief summary and photos of the Islamic remains. 45. Pugachenkova 1970 (4.111): 33-37 - full description and discussion of the shrine. 46. Kabul Times 1975 (4.113) - brief report on the restoration of the shrine. 47. Bulliet 1976 (4.16) - discusses the Nau Bahar monastery and its possible connections in Iran. 48. Cattenat & Gardin 1976 (4.13) -discuss the pottery and its links with Achaemenid pqttery. 49. Fischer 1976 (4.16): 131- discusses Tepe Rustam. 50. Francfort 1976 (4.112): 96-100 -discussion and description of the fortifications. 51. Pugaehenkova 1976a (4.19): 30 & 61- discusses the shrine. 52. Pugachenkova 1976b (4.111) - architectural analysis of the city walls. 53. Staviski 1977 (4.15) - discusses Balkh and the Kushans of Bactria. 54. Francfort 1979a (4.112): 17-19 & 23-26 - lists the site and discusses the general characteristics of Achaemenid and Hellenistic fortifications. 55. Pugachenkova 1979a (4.15): 18-31 - discusses in detail the principles of town planning and fortifications. 56. Mukhtarov 1980 (4.19) - comprehensive study of the Timurid and later periods of Balkh.

See the separate pages on coins and ceramics research being undertaken by the BACH Project Team for details of items found at this site.

made with love from
  • Brief Timeline
  • Project Milestones
  • The BACH Project
  • Recent Articles

دری ]

Bactra—the Greek name under which pre-Islamic Balkh was known—encapsulated Bronze Age settlements around 2,000 BC when its ancient water systems were built.

It was a province of the Achaemenid Empire (sixth century BC), the capital of the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria and a part of the Kushan Empire that flourished in the first to the third centuries AD.

The first surviving textual mention of ancient Bactria is in the Vendidad section of the Avesta, the Zoroastrian Holy Book. Bactria (Baxtri) is mentioned in the trilingual inscription of the Emperor Darius I (r. 522-486 BC) at Bisutun and Persepolis as one of the Achaemenid satrapies (provinces). According to varying traditions, Balkh was founded by the mythical Iranian kings Gusthasp, his father Luhrasp, or the first man, Gayumarth. The Zoroastrian Prophet Zoroaster is rumoured to have died in Balkh.

Read More

September 2011 - Launch of the BACH project

5-6 January 2012 - First BACH workshop in Oxford. Participants on the first day were limited to team members and special advisors to discuss the parameters of the BACH project, its training agenda, and practicalities, logistics and context. Day 2 included a wider audience of key experts on Afghan art, archaeology, documentary and narrative history of Balkh and comparable cities. Participants included Philippe Marquis, Roland Besenval, Edmund Bosworth, Nicholas Sims-Wiliams, Geoffrey Khan, Deborah Klimburg-Salter, James Howard-Johnston, Étienne de la Vaissière, Frantz Grenet, and Chahriyar Adle (by video link). Presentations were made on the basic topography of Balkh, the Nuh Gunbad (Hajji Piyada) site, and Zadiyan in the northern confines of the Balkh oasis, on coins, and Chinese and Arabic sources on historical Balkh. Comparanda from cities like Samarqand and Dehistan (Turkmenistan) were also considered.

April 2012 - First visit by BACH Oxford to Kabul conducted by Michael Jackson Bonner, aimed principally at working out the key elements and modalities for BACH cooperation on the ground, together with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA).

Read More

The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project (BACH) is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is housed at the Oriental Insititute, University of Oxford.

This project focuses on the site of Balkh in the north of Afghanistan, south of the Oxus (Amu Darya) River. It analyses a selection of archaeological artefacts and unexplored texts against which hypotheses concerning the development of early Islamic cities can be tested. Balkh was in existence (as 'Bactra') since at least the fifth century BC, becoming a major economic centre and flourishing from the third century BC before being significantly reduced (but not abandoned) in the thirteenth century through the Mongol invasions.

The BACH project is not just about research. An essential element concerns training. Each of BACH's scholarly experts acts as a mentor and trainer to an Afghan trainee to analyse the material culture from, or textual finds on, Balkh. Trainees obtain daily on-the-job training during focussed visits to Kabul by BACH team members. The training follows a pre-determined curriculum, and includes reading lists of books and articles to be discussed during training. Trainees obtain stipends, and have the opportunity to engage with an international network through their mentors.

Read More

Journal articles

Shaked, Shaul, "Early Persian Documents from Khorasan" Journal of Persianate Studies 6 (2013): pp 153-162

Azad, Arezou, "The Faḍāʾil-i Balkh and its place in Islamic historiography" IRANJournal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 50 (2012): pp 79-102

Azad, Arezou, "Female Mystics in Mediaeval Islam: the quiet legacy", Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 56 (2013): pp 53-88

Siméon P., 2012."Hulbuk: Architecture and Material Culture of the Capital of the Banijurids in Central Asia (ninth–eleventh centuries)", Muqarnas, An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World, vol. 29, pp. 385-421.

Read More

Banner Image: Tepe Rustam of Balkh, thought to be the old Buddhist temple site of Naw Bahar. Photo by Arezou Azad