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Uzbekistan - Early History

During the Neolith (6000-4000 BC) three extensive archaeological cultures developed in Central Asia: Jeitun, Gissar and Keltiminar. Settled crop growing cultures progressed during the Neolithic (circa 4000 BC) and especially Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC), when bronze tools and weapons came into use.

The first people known to have occupied Central Asia were Iranian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Uzbekistan sometime in the first millennium BC. These nomads, who spoke Iranian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhoro (Bukhara) and Samarqand (Samarkand) began to appear as centers of government and culture. In the 7th-6th centuries BC the historic provinces of Bactria, Margiana, Khoresm and Sogdiana first emerged, as did the ancient cities of Maracanda, Kok-Tepa, Uzun-Kyr and Er-Kurgan, which had an area of hundreds of hectares and were surrounded by fortified walls.

By the fifth century BC, the Bactrian, Soghdian, and Tokharian states dominated the region. In 539 BC (or 529 BC, according to other sources) Central Asia came under the control of the Achaemenid king Cyrus of Persia. The king himself was killed in a battle with the Sakas under Queen Tomiris. During the next two centuries the southern part of Central Asia was annexed by the Persian Empire and divided into satrapies which paid tribute in silver to the kings. Three of the satrapies – Bactria, Sogd and Khoresm – lied within the territory of present-day Uzbekistan.

As China began to develop its silk trade with the West, Iranian cities took advantage of this commerce by becoming centers of trade. Using an extensive network of cities and settlements in the province of Mawarannahr (a name given the region after the Arab conquest) in Uzbekistan and farther east in what is today China's Xinjiang Uygur Auton-omous Region, the Soghdian intermediaries became the wealthiest of these Iranian merchants. Because of this trade on what became known as the Silk Route, Bukhoro and Samarqand eventually became extremely wealthy cities, and at times Mawarannahr was one of the most influential and powerful Persian provinces of antiquity.

The wealth of Mawarannahr was a constant magnet for invasions from the northern steppes and from China. Numerous intraregional wars were fought between Soghdian states and the other states in Mawarannahr, and the Persians and the Chinese were in perpetual conflict over the region. The rule of the Achaemenids was ended by the advance of Alexander the Great who, having crushed the main body of Persian armies, invaded Central Asia in 329 BC in pursuit of Bess, satrap of Bactria and the last heir to the Achaemenid throne. Alexander the Great conquered the region in 328 BC, bringing it briefly under the control of his Macedonian Empire. Alexander spent three years (329-327 BC) subduing Central Asian peoples, faced by fierce resistance from the Sogdians led by Spitamen. Probably, the same period saw the rise of the first Uzbek political entity – the kingdom of Khoresm.

In the same centuries, the region also was an important center of intellectual life and religion. Until the first centuries after Christ, the dominant religion in the region was Zoroastrianism, but Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Christianity also attracted large numbers of followers.

After the death of Alexander and subsequent turmoil, in 306 BC the southern portion of Central Asia became part of the Seleucid Empire. Later, in the mid-3rd century BC, the rebellious Bactrian satrap Diodotus established an independent kingdom which became known as Greco-Bactria. In the second half of the 2nd century BC, Greco-Bactria fell to the invading Sakas and Sarmatians, and then was overrun by the Yue-chi (Kushans) who were driven into the region by the Huns. Eventually, a loose confederation of virtually independent petty states was established in the area.

A like state, Kangyui, emerged in the 2nd century BC in Transoxiana which, according to Chinese sources, consisted of five domains, each coining its own money. Later in the 2nd century BC Han China familiarised itself with "the Western Land" (i.e. Central Asia), and the Great Silk Road emerged as the first major transcontinental route connecting the West and the East.

Throughout the period of local antiquity (1st century BC – early 3rd century AD) Northern Bactria was a province of the powerful Kushan Empire, which was founded in the 1st century AD by the Yue-chi chieftain Kadphises. Sogd (present-day Kashkadarya and Samarkand oblasts of Uzbekistan) at that time was an independent kingdom under the Girkoda dynasty, who are also believed to be of Yue-chi origin. In Khoresm, the Afrigid kings rose to power; judging from their dynastic symbol – a horseman – their rule continued for 700-800 years. Bukhara, Davan (Fergana) and, possibly, Chach enjoyed virtual independence, although these Transoxianian kingdoms might have been nominal dependencies of Kangyui.

The 3rd and 4th centuries AD saw the fall of the great Parthian and Kushan empires, the rise of a host of petty kingdoms in Central Asia, intrusions by nomadic tribes, the destruction of the ancient social formation, and a decline in economy, arts and culture.

Radical changes to the antique social structure took place over the early Middle Ages (5th-8th centuries), when large landowners, dikhans, formed into an influential class. The political situation in this period was determined by the struggle for control of Transoxiana between the neighbouring powers: Sassanidian Iran and the Ephthalite kingdom (5th-6th centuries), Iran and the Turkic khanate (6th-7th centuries) and, finally, the Turkic khanate, Tang China and Arab caliphs which ended with the region’s inclusion in the Abbasid caliphate in the 8th century.

In the 7th-8th centuries Transoxiana was divided into a number of ethnically non-uniform city-states; the most prominent of them were Gurganj (present-day Kunya-Urgench), Bukhara, Samarkand, Chaganian (near present-day Denau) and Chach. Religious beliefs were as diverse. Zoroastrianism dominated the region; Manichaeism and Christianity also spread widely, and Buddhism was practiced in the south.

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Page last modified: 14-03-2013 16:54:31 ZULU