The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project 
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Late Antique Balkh

The History of Balkh in Late Antiquity (Prepared by Michael Jackson Bonner)

In order to understand the development of early Islamic Balkh, we must form an idea of what the city was like in earlier times. What follows is a bibliography of sources which mention Balkh during the period AD 220 to 651 -- roughly the duration of the Sasanian dynasty in Iran. Balkh's position in the Sasanian, Kushan, Hephthalite, and Turkish polities is far from clear in the relevant textual sources, and Balkh usualy gets no more than a cursory mention. But this is no reason not to study the relevant sources. Chief texts will be those of the so-called Khwadaynamag tradition, including (but not limited to) the histories of Dinawari, Tabari, Mas'udi, Bal'ami, Sebeos, the Shahnameh, as well as the Sirat Anushirvan. Chinese dynastic annals, and Late Roman and Armenian histories alre included also. Secondary authorities which help to explain or clarify these sources are listed at the end of this page.

Primary Sources

Armenian Texts:

Ananias of Shirak / R. H. Hewsen, The Geography of Ananias of Širak: Ašxarhac'oyc', the Long and the Short Recension (Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Borderen Orients, Nr. 77), Reichert, Wiesbaden, 1992.

Ełiše, The History of Vardan and the Armenian War: a Facsimile Reproduction of the 1957 Yerevan Edition with an Introduction by R. W. Thomson, Caravan Books, New York, 1993.

M. Kałankatwac'i / V. D. Ałak'elani, Patmut'iun Ałuanic' Ašxarhi, Yerevan, 1983 [available in English as The History of the Caucasian Albanians by Movsēs Dasxuranc'i (trans. C. J. F. Dowsett), Oxford University Press, London, 1961].

Łazar P'arpets'i / D. Kouymjian. History of the Armenians and The letter to Vahan Mamikonean : a photographic reproduction of the 1904 Tiflis edition, Delmar, N.Y. : Caravan Books, 1987.

Sebeos / G. V. Abgaryan (ed.), Patmut'iun Sebeosi, Yerevan, 1979.

Xorenac'i Moses Xorenac'i, Patmut'iwn Hayoc', (History of the Armenians): A facsimile repre oduction of the 1913 Tiflis Edition [(eds. M. Abełean / S. Yarut'iwnean)] with an Introduction by Robert W. Thomson, Caravan Books, New York, 1981.

Greek and Latin Texts:

Agathias Scholasticus, Historiarum libri quinque: Recensuit Rudolfus Key- dell. Brill, Leiden, 1967.

Ammianus Marcellinus, Ammianus Marcellianus 2. The Loeb Classical Li brary, 315, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachussetts, 1986.

Malalas J. Malalas / H. Thurn, Ioannis Malalae Chronographia, De Gruyter, New York, 2000.

Menander Protector / R. C. Blockley (ed.), The History of Menander the Guardsman: Introductory Essay, Text, Translation and Historiographical Notes, Cairns, Liverpool, 1985.

Photius / R. Henry (ed.), Bibliothèque de Photius: Codices 1–83, t. 1. Soc. d'Édition "Les Belles Lettres", Paris, 2003.

Procopius, History of the Wars [Bellum Persicum (books I and II) and Bel- lum Gothicum (book VIII)], Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2006.

Theophanes / C. Mango / R. Scott / G. Greatrex, The chronicle of Theophanes Confessor : Byzantine and Near Eastern history AD 284–813, Oxford, 1997.

Theophylact Simocatta, Historiae (ed. C. de Boor), Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graeco rum et Romanorum Teubneriana, Stuttgart, 1972.

Syriac Texts:

Anonymi Auctoris Chronicon ad Annum Christi 1234 pertinens (ed. J.-B. Chabot), J. Gabalda, Paris, 1920.

Guidi (ed.), Scriptores Syri, Tomus 1: Chronica Minora, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, Louvain, 1960, p. 15–39.

The Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite, Composed in Syriac, A.D. 507, with a Translation into English and Notes. Cambridge: University Press, 1882.

Persian and Arabic Texts:

Dīnawarī, Abū Ḥanīfa Aḥmad / W. Guirgass, and I. Kratchkovsky (eds.), Kitāb al-Akhbār al-Tiwāl, Leiden, Brill, 1888.

Masʿūdī, Murj al-Dhahab, (Edition Barbier de Meynard et Pavet de Courteille revue et corrigée par Charles Pellat) Tome Premier, Publica tions de l'Université Libanaise, Beyrouth, 1966.

Masʿūdī, Murj al-Dhahab, (Edition Barbier de Meynard et Pavet de Courteille revue et corrigée par Charles Pellat) Tome Second, Publications de l'Université Libanaise, Beyrouth, 1966.

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 5, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 529–565.

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh Dj. / M. Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 6, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 3–129 [this is the canto dealing with Alexander the Great].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 6, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 193–238 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Arsashir].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 6, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 133–189 [this is the canto dealing with the Arsacid dynasty].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 7, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 31–47 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Balash].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 7, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, p. 465–629 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Hurmazd IV].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 7, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, 1987, p. 87–652 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Khusraw I Anushirvan].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj. / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 7, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, 1987, p. 15–27 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Peroz].

Firdawsī / Khāleghī-Motlagh, Dj, / Omīdsālār, M. / Khatībī, A. (eds.), Šāhnāmah. Volume 7, Bibliotheca Persica, New York, 1987, p. 51–83 [this is the canto dealing with the reign of Qubād].

Ibn Quṭayba / Okacha, S. Kitāb al-Ma'ārif: Edition critique avec introduc tion [également en français] sur l'auteur par Saroite Okacha, Maṭba'at Dār al- kutub, Le Caire, 1960.

M. Grignaschi, "Quelques Spécimens de la littérature sassanide conservé dans les bibliothèques d'Istanbul," in Journal Asiatique, vol. 254, 1966, p. 1–142 [this is an excellent source, supposedly extracted from the autobiography of Khusraw I Anushirvan, and includes a good deal on the state of Central Asia in that king's reign].

Patrologia Orientalis, Tome VII. Fascicule 2: Histoire Nestorienne (Chronique de Séert) Seconde Partie (1) Pupliée [sic] et traduite par Mgr Addaï Sch er, Firmin-Didot, Paris, 1950.

Ṭabarī, and M.J. de Goeje. Annales quos scripsit Abu Djafar Mohammed Ibn Djarir At-Ṭabarī, Brill, Lugduni Batavorum, 1893.

Avestan and Middle Persian Texts:

Bahman Yašt in F. Max Müller (ed.) The Sacred Books of the East v. I, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1900, p. 215–230.

T. Daryaee, Šahrestānīhā-ī Ērānšahr: A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, 2002.

Zand-ākāsīh: Iranian or Greater Bundahishn (ed. Anklesaria), Bombay, 1956.

Zāmāsp Nāmak H.W. Bailey, "To the Zāmāsp Nāmak II" in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, volume 6, Issue 3, 1931, p. 581–600.

Zend-Avesta The Zend-Avesta (trans. J. Darmesteter) in The Sacred Books of the East v. IV, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1900.

Chinese Texts:

"Histoire des Tscheou" in M. E. Specht, "Études sur l'Asie Centrale, d'après les histoires chinoises," Journal Asiatique, 1883, p. 326–350.

L. Mau-Tsai, Die Chinesischen Nachrichten zur Geschichte der Ost-Türken (T'u- küe), Wiesbaden, 1958.

Secondary Authorities

T. J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, Oxford, 1989.

H. Börm, Prokop und die Perser: Untersuchungen zu den römisch-sasanidi- schen Kontakten in der ausgehenden Spätantike. Oriens et occidens, Bd. 16. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart, 2007.

Ṭabarī / C. E. Bosworth, The History of al-Ṭabarī: The Sasanids, The Byzan tines, the Lakhmids, and Yemen, v. 5. State University of New York Press, Al bany, 1999.

A. Cameron, "Agathias on the Sasanians," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 22–23, 1969–1970, p. 67–183.

A. Christensen, L'Iran sous les Sassanides, Ejnar Munksgaard, København, 1944.

K. Czeglédy, "Bahrām Chūbīn and the Persian Apocalyptic Literature" in Acta Orientalia Hungarica 8, p. 21–43.

H. Ecsedy, "Trade-and-War Relations between the Turks and China in the Second Half of the 6th Century," Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Tom. XXI, 1968, p. 131–180.

K. Enoki, "On the Nationality of the Ephthalites," Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, No. 18, 1959, p. 1–59.

D. A. Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300–900, Abingdon, 2002.

G. Greatrex / S. N. C. Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, Part II. A.D. 363–630: A Narrative Sourcebook, London, 2002.

F. Grenet, "Regional Interaction in Central Asia and Northwest India in the Kidarite and Hephthalite Periods," N. Sims-Williams (ed.), Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples (Proceedings of the British Academy, 116), Oxford, 2002, p. 203–224.

M. Grignaschi, "La Chute de l'empire hephthalite dans les sources byzan tines et perses et le problème des Avars," J. Harmatta (ed.), From Hecataeus to Al-Ḫuwārizmī: Bactrian, Pahlavi, Sogdian, Persian, Sanskrit, Syriac, Arabic, Chinese, Greek and Latin sources for the history of pre-Islamic Central Asia, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1985, p. 219–240.

J. Howard-Johnston, The Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos: Part II Historical Commentary, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 1999.

J. Howard-Johnston, "The Sasanians' Strategic Dilemma" H. Börm / J. Wiesehörfer (eds.), Commutatio et Contentio: Studies in the Late Roman and Sasanian, and Early Islamic Near East in Memory of Zeev Rubin, Wellem Verlag, Düsseldorf, 2010, p. 37–70.

S. Juhl, "Chinese Excavations at Turfan," in M. Junten and B. N. Schylter (eds.) Return to the Silk Routes: Current Scandinavian Research on Central Asia, Kegan Paul International, London, 1999, p. 47–58.

D. Monchi-Zadeh, Topographisch-Historische Studien Zum Iranischen Nationalepos, Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, Kommissionsverlag Franz Steiner GmbH, Wiesbaden, 1975.

T. Nöldeke, Die Geschiche der Perser und Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden, Leiden, 1879.

F. D. J. Paruck, Sāsānian Coins, Indological Book Corporation, New Delhi, 1976.

S. Soucek, A History of Inner Asia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000.

E. E. A. Stein, Histoire du bas-empire, t. II. Édition française par Jean-Rémy Palanque, 1959.

E. de la Vaissière, Histoire des marchands sogdiens (Bibliothèque de l'Institut des hautes études chinoises, vol. 32), Collège de France, Institut des hautes études chinoises, Paris, 2004.

G. Widengren, "Xosrav Anôšurvân, les Hephthalites et les peuples turcs (Études préliminaires des sources)" in Orientalia Suecana, I, 1952, p. 66–94.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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