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Sogdiana

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Sogdiana (Sugdiane, O. Pers. Sughuda) was originally a province of the Achaemenian Empire, the eighteenth in the list in the Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great (i. 16).

The Sogdian state was centred around its capital city of Afrasiab, situated where Samarkand now stands. It lay north of Bactria between the Oxus (Amu Darya) and the Jaxartes (Syr Darya), and embraced the fertile valley of the Zarafshan (anc. Polytimetus). Its territory corresponded to the modern districts of Samarkand and Bokhara (in southern Uzbekistan) as well as Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan.

Alexander the Great united Sogdiana with Bactria in to one satrapy. Subsequently it formed part of the Bactrian Greek kingdom, founded by Diodotus, until the Scythians occupied it in the middle of the 3rd century BC.

The Sogdians occupied a key position along the ancient Silk Road, and played a major role in facilitating trade between China and Central Asia. They started to have contacts with China following the embassy of the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian. He wrote a report of his visit to Sogdian lands:

"Kangju (Sogdiana) is situated some 2,000 li (1,000 kilometers) northwest of Dayuan (in Ferghana). Its people are nomads and resemble the Yuezhi in their customs. They have 80,000 or 90,000 skilled archer fighters. The country is small, and borders Dayuan. It acknowledges sovereignty to the Yuezhi people in the South and the Xiongnu in the East." (Shiji, 123, Zhang Qian quote, trans. Burton Watson).

Following Zhang Qian's embassy and report, commercial Chinese relations with Central Asia and Sogdiana flourished, as many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC: "The largest of these embassies to foreign states numbered several hundred persons, while even the smaller parties included over 100 members... In the course of one year anywhere from five to six to over ten parties would be sent out." (Shiji, trans. Burton Watson).

The Sogdians were noted for their tolerance of different religious beliefs, and Buddhism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, and Zoroastrianism all had significant followings. Sogdians were actors in the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism, until the period of Muslim invasion in the 8th century. Much of our knowledge of the Sogdians and their language comes from the numerous religious texts that they have left behind.

The Sogdians spoke an East Iranian language called Sogdian language -- closely related to Bactrian, another major language of the region in ancient times. Sogdian was written in a variety of scripts, all of them derived from the Aramaic alphabet.

The valley of the Zarafshan about Samarkand retained even in the Middle Ages the name of the Soghd O Samarkand. Arabic geographers reckon it as one of the four fairest districts in the world.

The great majority of the Sogdian people gradually mixed with other local Iranian groups such as the Bactrians and came to speak the Tajik dialect of Persian. Numerous Sogdian words can be found in Tajik Persian as a result of this admixture. The Sogdian language continued to be spoken in a small part of the area, and is today known as Yaghnobi.

References

  • Louis Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980

External links

de:Sogdien ja:ソグディアナ

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