Ethnic groups and
The kingdom of the Kabul Shahis was multiracial,
inhabited by many different peoples. A considerable part of the
population was composed of sedentary speakers of: (i) Middle and Ary languages, Late Bactrian, -
the Afghan language; and (ii) West Iranian languages in the Middle
Iranian and New Iranian phases – Dari or Persian. Sanskrit and
Prakrit were widespread. A large group of the population used
Indo-Iranian Dardic languages as their mother tongues. Of the
aboriginal languages of the east of the region, the linguistically
isolated Burushaski should be mentioned. Of particular importance
are the Türks (see Chapter
14), who brought their language from the depths of
Central Asia. Information is given below about those ethnic groups
and languages not discussed in previous chapters.
The origins of the Tajiks and of their language lie
in remotest antiquity. According to the crament Iranologist
The language known as New Persian, which may
usually be called at this period by the name of dari or
parsi-i dari, can be classified linguistically as a
continuation of Middle Persian, the official, religions and
literary language of Sasanian Iran ...
New Persian belongs to the East Iranian group (Afghanistan). In
its phonetic and even its grammatical structure, New Persian had
changed little from Middle Persian. Its vocabulary had changed,
however, because New Persian drew heavily on the East Iranian
languages, especially Sogdian, and also on the Turkic languages and
Middle Persian was widespread in Khurasan and some parts of Middle
Asia, partly promoted by the Manichaean movement. At the time of the
Arab conquest, New Persian had already appeared in Tokharistan.
According to Huei-ch#039;ao (writing in 726), the language of Khuttal –
one of the most important domains of Tokharistan, located in the
south of modern Tajikistan – was partly Tokharian, partly Turkic and
In connection with the events of the first third of
the eighth century, the Arab historian al-Tabari relates that the
inhabitants of Balkh used to sing in the New Persian (Tajik)
language. It is quite possible, therefore, that a third
(#039;indigenous#039;, according to Huei-ch#039;ao) language was current in
Tokharistan in addition to Tokharian and Turkic. If that is the
case, Parsi-i Dari would appear to have been in use in Tokharistan
as early as the sixth and seventh centuries. After the Arab
conquest, the Dari language also spread to other parts of Middle
Asia and Afghanistan. Much later it divided into separate Persian
and Tajik branches, and a third branch is sometimes identified too –
the Dari that is the contemporary New Persian language of
Afghanistan. Some 30 million people speak these languages today.
Like its close relatives Persian and Dari, Tajik has a rich history
documented by literary sources. The wealth of literary and
scientific writings created in the Middle Ages in Parsi, the
literary language that is common to both the Tajiks and the
Persians, is a cultural asset of the peoples of Iran, Afghanistan
The Tajiks emerged as a people in the ninth and
tenth (or perhaps the tenth and eleventh) centuries, but it was not
until the first third of the eleventh century that the term #039;Tajik#039;
began to be applied to them. That too was when Tajik (Persian)
literature was founded, and its first great representatives lived
and worked in Middle Asia.
Although the origins of the Afghans lie in very
the first mentions of the Afghan people appear only in the sixth and
seventh centuries. The Brhat-samhita (XVI, 38 and XI, 61)
speaks of the pahlava (Pahlavis), the svetahuna (White
Huns or Hephthalites), the avagana (Afghans) and other
peoples. On his return journey from India, the Chinese pilgrim
Hsüan-tsang travelled from Varnu (possibly modern Wana) to Jaguda in
Ghazni, crossing the land of A-p#039;o-k#039;ien,5
a word derived from Avakan or Avagan, meaning Afghans.
In Islamic sources, the first reliable mention of the Afghans is
found in the Hudud al-calam, which says of a
settlement on the borders of India and the Ghazni district that
‘there are Afghans there too#039;. Mention is also made of a local ruler
some of whose wives were Afghan women.6
The Afghan language, or Pashto, is one of the East Iranian groups.
Among its characteristics, it contains a stratum of Indian words and
its phonetic system has been influenced by Indian phonetic systems,
which is not the case of other Iranian languages. There are
approximately 23 million Pashto-speakers in Afghanistan and
The mountains in the east of modern Afghanistan and
the north of modern Pakistan were settled by Dards. They were known
to the ancient Greek authors, who used several distorted names for
them: Derbioi, Durbaioi, Daidala, Dadikai and Derdaios.8
In their descriptions of India, the Puranas speak of the
Darada in the same breath as the inhabitants of Kashmir and
Gandhara. They are repeatedly mentioned in the Ramayana and
the Saddhar-masmrtyupasthana, together with the Odra (the
Uddiyana). In Tibetan sources, the Darada are known as the Darta.9
There are two groups of languages that are now
generally known as Dardic. The first are the languages of Nuristan
(a region of Afghanistan): they form an #039;individual branch of the
Indo-Iranian family belonging neither to the Indo-Aryan, nor to the
Iranian group#039;. The second group of languages (particularly the
Dardic) are #039;part of the Indo-Aryan [group], though far departed in
their development from the latter#039;. The two groups, however, have
much in common in their #039;structural and material features
[phonetical, grammatical and lexical]#039;.10
The Nuristani languages include Kati, Waigali, Ashkun and Prasun (or
Paruni) and are chiefly spoken in Nuristan. The Dardic languages
proper include Dameli, which is the link between the Nuristani
languages and the Central Dardic. According to one classification,
the Central Dardic languages comprise Pashai, Shumashti, Glangali,
Kalarkalai, Gawar, Tirahi, Kalasha and Khowar. The Eastern Dardic
group is divided into three sub-groups containing the Bashkarik,
Torwali, Maiyan, Shina, Phalura and Kashmiri languages. In the early
1980s Dardic languages were spoken by 3.5 million people in
Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, of whom 2.8 million spoke Kashmiri,
some 165,000 spoke Khowar and some 120,000 spoke Pashai. The
Nuristani languages were spoken by around 120,000 people.11
Burushaski is a completely distinct language: it
stands at the confluence of three great families – the
Indo-European, the Sino-Tibetan and the Altaic – but belongs to none
of them. Its speakers live in northern Pakistan, in the region of
the Hunza and Vershikum rivers, and number around 40,000. The
language#039;s morphological structure is very rich and the verb has a
particularly extensive system of accidence. Burushaski is one of the
oldest tongues, but its place in the system of ancient and modern
languages remains obscure. Although a literary tradition may well
have existed in the early Middle Ages, when Buddhism was widespread,
no literary records have been found, which hampers attempts to
reconstruct the language#039;s past. There have been repeated attempts
to trace its affiliations, and links with the Caucasian, Dravidian,
Munda, Basque and other languages have been suggested, but from the
standpoint of contemporary linguistics the case is not conclusive.
Burushaski was unquestionably more current in ancient times and
occupied a number of regions where Dardic languages are now spoken
and where Burushaski acted as a substratal or adstratal foundation.
Grierson has even postulated that speakers of Burushaski or related
languages once inhabited all or almost all the lands now held by
Writing systems and
We have considerable information about the
literature and writing systems Of the period. Hsüan-tsang
reports of the writing system of Tokharistan:
In the composition of its language [Tokharistan]
differs somewhat from the remaining realms. The number of letters
in its script is 25, they combine to form various combinations and
with their help all may be reproduced. The script is read
horizontally, from left to right. Literary works are composed in
great quantity and exceed the Sogdian in volume.13
This refers to the Late Bactrian writing system
(for its development and writing, see Chapter 6), which persisted in
some parts of Tokharistan as late as the twelfth century. With time,
changes obviously occurred in the Bactrian language and its various
written records may reflect different dialects.14
The script became increasingly cursive, some characters were
identical in shape and some had several meanings (this is
particularly true of the ligatures), making the script difficult to
Among the more famous written records of Late
Bactrian (sometimes called Hephthalite) writing, mention should be
made of two cursive inscriptions carved on rocks in Uruzgan
(north-west of Kandahar in Afghanistan). According to Bivar, who
published them, one speaks of a king of Zabul called Mihira(kula)
and dates from around 500,15
although other scholars (Henning and Livshits) suggest a far later
date in the eighth or ninth century. The Bactrian inscriptions in
the Tochi valley of north-western Pakistan are very badly preserved.
The Tochi valley also has Arabic and Sanskrit inscriptions from the
first half of the ninth century. The text of the Bactrian
inscription, which is very cursive, cannot be read with confidence:
Humbach#039;s proposed reading is completely rejected by other
Inscriptions have also been found on sherds and
walls in Middle Asia (at Afrasiab, Zang-tepe and Kafyr-kala among
others). Hsüan-tsang#039;s account suggests that many more manuscripts
existed than have yet been discovered. Nevertheless some have been
preserved in East Turkestan, in the Turfan oasis.
Brahmi manuscripts are known from Sir Aurel Stein#039;s
discovery of the Gilgit birch-bark manuscripts, which were immured
in a stupa some time between the fifth and the seventh century. They
include a Pratimoksa-sutra, a Prajñaparamita and
others. A mathematical manuscript found near Peshawar, the Bakhshali
manuscript (see below), may date from the end of this period.17
Other birch-bark manuscripts have been found in Zang-tepe, 30 km
north of Termez, where fragments of at least 12 manuscripts have
been found. One of them bears a Buddhist text from the
Vinaya-vibhanga. A fragment of birch-bark manuscript bearing
a text of apparently Buddhist content has been found at Kafyr-kala
in the Vakhsh valley. Mention should also be made of the Buddhist
birch-bark manuscripts found at Merv and nearby at Bairam-Ali. The
latter find consists of 150 sheets, both sides of which bear a
synopsis of various Buddhist works, written in Indian ink. It was
compiled for his own use by a priest of the Sarvastivada school.18
Sanskrit manuscripts of varied content, including medical materials,
and dating from different periods have been found in the Bamiyan
valley (see also Chapter 18).19
It was during the late eighth and early ninth
centuries that the Sarada script was developed on the basis of
Brahmi. In Afghanistan, two marble sculptures have been found with
inscriptions which ‘represent transition scripts from Brahmi to
and which date from the eighth century. The origin and chronology of
the #039;proto-Sarada script [are] far from being certain and [are]
still open to speculation#039;.21
In this regard, some materials from Bamiyan are of interest.
The Bakhshali manuscript is written in Sarada
script and was copied by five scribes, the chief of whom was
Ganakaraja. It appears to have been a commentary on an earlier
mathematical work and contains rules and techniques for solving
problems, chiefly in arithmetic but also in geometry and algebra.
The standard of knowledge in this field is indicated by the fact
that the work treats square roots, geometric and arithmetic
progressions and so on. Grammars are also known. #039;The oldest work of
this school of grammar known to us is by Durga Simha who flourished
in about 800 A.D. and has written a commentary entitled
Durgavritti and a Tika of it.22
Cities, architecture and
The capital of the state of Kapisa-Gandhara
(possibly, its winter capital) was Udabhandapura, now the settlement
of Hund, situated on the right bank of the Kabul river. Most of the
city was surrounded by a defensive rampart. Later, in the Islamic
period, it formed a square and its total length measured 1.3 km.
Each side had a central gate fortified with bastions. Traces of
older fortifications have been discovered and there is also a
well-preserved section of the old wall some 20 m long. Around the
fortified portion, the remains of buildings have been found,
indicating the great extent of the town.41
Although Balkh remained the capital of Tokharistan,
there were many other large towns that acted as provincial centres.
One of them, the Vakhsh valley centre now known as Kafyr-kala, has
already been described (see Chapter 6). In this period, the city was
characterized by a radical restructuring of the palace and
Individual structures, including palaces
(Kafyr-kala), castles (Balalyk-tepe, Zang-tepe, etc.), houses
(Kala-i Kafirnigan) and, of course, Buddhist buildings, have been
studied in considerable detail. Here we shall concentrate in
Ajina-tepe (Fig, 2). This fully excavated Buddhist monastery
consists of o halves that made up a single complex of religious and
residential buildings, each half occupying an area of 50 x 100 m.
The south-eastern half, which formed the monastery proper, consists
of a quadrangle of buidings around a square courtyard. In the centre
of each side is an aiwan (hall) and behind it a cella. The
cella on the south-eastern side contained sculptures, including a
4-m-high statue of the Buddha, placed on figured pedestals. The
other cellas were large halls, which served both as assembly rooms
for the sangha (monastic community) and as refectories. The
aiwans were linked by winding, vaulted corridors from which
passages led off into tiny cells. Some or all of the complex was
The second part could be called the temple. Its
overall layout was identical, but there were no cells for the monks.
In the central shrine there was a vast quantity of Buddhist
sculptures on pedestals, or on the floor between. In each wall of
the long, winding corridors there were three or four deep-set niches (Fig.
3), in which large statues of the Buddha sat in varied
posed. At the end of the final corridor was a gigantic pedestal
taking up almost an entire section, on which was a 12-m-high statue
of a recumbent Buddha in Nirvana (Fig.
4). The vaulted ceilings of the corridors, and their
walls, were covered in paintings and there were also paintings in
the shrines (Fig.
The entire centre of the courtyard was occupied by
the main stupa, which was star-shaped in plan and and accessed by
four staircases, one in the centre of each side. In the corners of
the yard were miniature stupas of the same type, some ornamented
with reliefs depicting small human figures (Figs.
Buddhist temples have also been found in Kala-i Kafirnigan (where
some excellent paintings and sculptures have been preserved) and in
the palace complex at Kafyr-kala. Overall, there are grounds for
speaking of a Tokharistan school of art, related to, but not
identical with, the art of central Afghanistan.43
Bamiyan has already been described in Chapter 6.
Here we shall say a few words about the Fundukistan complex, which
has been ascribed to the seventh century.44
The part that has been excavated includes a shrine and, linked to it
by a vaulted passageway, another area consisting of several monastic
cells, an assembly hall and other communal rooms. The shrine is in
the form. of a square hall with three deep vaulted niches along each
side: it appears that there were originally just two on the entrance
side. Between the niches are pilasters with Corinthian-style
capitals. In the centre of the shrine there was a slender stupa with
an arcade on each side of its pedestal. The building material
consisted of large-sized blocks of pakhsa. Clay statues stood
in the niches, whose surface was lined with murals. The art of
Fundukistan is characterized by vivid colours, bold foreshortening
and elegance: although it betrays a powerful Indian influence, there
is also a certain similarity with the art of Ajina-tepe and Kala-i
Kafirnigan (Figs. 11 and 12).
Buildings of the late period at Tepe Sardar, near
Ghazni, are of similar date. In this large Buddhist monastery
complex, the main stupa is surrounded by many miniature stupas and
shrines, ornamented with clay bas-reliefs. There were several
colossal statues of the Buddha, including one seated and one of the
Buddha in Nirvana. In one shrine, which is in the Hindu style, a
clay sculpture of Mahishasuramardini (a form of the Hindu goddess
Durga) was found. Thus a Hindu element was inserted within the
Buddhist context. It is thought that this shrine is linked with the
upper classes of society.45
The remains of a Hindu shrine have also been found in Chigha Saray
(or Chaghan Sarai) in the Kunar valley, dating from the eighth or
Hindu art is also represented by finds of marble
sculpture such as a Shiva and Parvati (Umamaheshvara) from Tepe
Skandar 30: #039;It is carved from one block of white marble and
represents the four-armed, three-eyed Shiva seated on Nandi, flanked
by his consort Parvati and Skanda standing at the left side of his
The group stands on a pedestal with two steps. On the upper step
there is a three-line inscription in a transitional. script between
Brahmi and Sarada. It cites Shiva as Maheshvara.48
Another fine example of Hindu art is a marble statue of Surya from
The piece can be divided into upper, middle and
lower parts. In the centre of the upper part is Surya, flanked by
Danda and Pingala. In the middle part is the driver Aruna holding
the reins of two horses whose backs are shown as they veer upwards
to the right and left. The lower part is the pedestal.49
A whole series of other marble Hindu sculptures
dating from this period has been discovered.50
Taken together, they indicate a powerful Indian influence and the
spread of non-Buddhist Indian religions.51
The coinage not only differed considerably from
region to region, but was different in each of the provinces of
Tokharistan. In what is now southern Tajikistan three variations of
cast copper coins with central holes circulated: (i) coins of
Tokharistan with legends in late cursive Bactrian (Hephthalite)
script; (ii) coins with Sogdian legends; and (iii) coins without
legends. Particularly noteworthy are the local imitations of Peroz
drachms, some countermarked with Sogdian legends, which remained
current as late as the mid-eighth century.37
In the part of northern Tokharistan that is now the
Surkhan Darya region of Uzbekistan, different varieties of coins
circulated. In Chaganiyan, silver coins of the Sasanian
shabanshah Khusrau I (531–579) were common because Khusrau#039;s
conquests had extended to this region. Subsequently, imitations
began to be struck. Interestingly, both genuine coins and imitations
were countermarked, some with a cursive Bactrian legend of the
ruler#039;s name, others a miniature portrait and others again with a
symbol (tamgha). Sometimes the same coin was countermarked
several times, with one impression on top of ther. Later, copper
coins of the local Chaghan khudat dynasty began to be issued.
On the obverse was a portrait copying Khusrau I, in the margin three
portraits of the Chaghan khudat and on the reverse a fire
altar. On some coins the obverse bore a Bactrian legend; sometimes
it merely carried the title khidev (ruler) or #039;Khnar (or
Enar) the khidev#039;. There were also copper coins bearing the
likeness of the ruler and his consort. These are the characteristic
coins of the Sogdian and Turkic states. Unlike similar coins from
Chach (modern Tashkent) and Sogdiana, they bore a non-Sogdian
inscription and another symbol.
In Termez, copper coins were struck bearing a
portrait of the ruler on the obverse, and a symbol of a different
shape from that used in Chaganiyan on reverse. This coinage was
probably issued by the local dynasty of Termez-shahs.38
Although the coinage of Afghanistan and Pakistan
has not been studied in such detail, issues of Vrahitigin (or
Vahitigina) should be noted. These were silver coins (probably
struck in the late seventh century) bearing the bust of ruler and
inscriptions in Bactrian and proto-Sarada, the meaning of which was
#039;Caused to be made by Sri Hitivira Kharalava, the Supreme Lord Sri
Vahitigina the God#039;. On the reverse is a divinity crowned with a
flame and a Pahlavi inscription. The ruler#039;s crown comprises a
wolf#039;s head, indicating Turkic affiliations, while the divinity
replicates the images on coinage of Khusrau Il (590–628). Coins of
this kind are found in the Indus valley, in northern Pakistan and in
Afghanistan, including Kabul. Humbach39
has suggested that Vahitigina is the same as Barhatakin, the founder
of the Kabul Türk dynasty, of which al-Biruni reports, #039;The Hindus
had kings residing in Kabul, Türks who were said to be of Tibetan
suggested that this name derived from the Hindu Brhatkina or
Brhatketu (for linguistics, see pages 375–6 above).
The provinces and their rule
According to Hsüan-tsang, in the year 629
Tokharistan (Tou-ho-lo) measured approximately 1,000 li from
south to north and some 3,000 li from east to west. He
For many centuries past the royal race has been
extinct. The several chieftains have by force depended for the
security of their possessions upon the natural divisions of the
country, and each held their own independently, only relying
upon the naturaldivisions of the country. Thus they have
constituted twenty-seven states divided by natural boundaries,
yet as a whole dependent on the T#039;u-chüeh tribes [Türks].23
Later reports paint a somewhat different picture.
From the year 718 we have another Chinese report (see page 371
above). The yabghu#039;s younger brother ruled over Po-lü
(probably Baltistan but possibly Gilgit). The capital of the
#039;dominion of the yabghu of Tou-ho-lo [Tokharistan]#039; was in
the vicinity of modern Qunduz.24
T#039;ang chronicles report that the state of Tokharistan had a #039;select
host of 100,000, all expert in battle#039;.25
In Khuttal alone, there were reportedly 50,000 troops.26
The rulers (muluk, pl. of malik, in Arabic sources) of
some provinces bore specific titles. In the state of Uddiyana
(valley of Swat), #039;by custom people are not killed. Serious crimes
are punished by exile, while trivial offences are pardoned. There
are no tributes or taxes.’27
There were reportedly 5 cities in this state and the ruler lived in
the city of Chu-meng-yeh-li.28
Use was made of trial by ordeal. The ruler took decisions only after
consulting the priests.29
In 745 the ruler of Kapisa was also the ruler of Uddiyana.30
Earlier, in 726, a kinsman of the ruler of Kapisa was the
ruler of Zabulistan.31
Earlier still, in the time of Hsüan-tsang, 10 provinces were under
Thus, in the seventh century, Kapisa was a very powerful state.
In the state of Bamiyan, #039;the literature, customary
rules and money used in commerce are the same as those of the
Tukhara country [Tokharistan]. Their language is a little
The ruler of Bamiyan had a large and powerful army34
and bore the title #039;sher-i Bamiyan#039;, while the ruler of Kabul
province bore that of ratbil shah.35
The capital of the state, or so al-Biruni bluntly asserts, was
Kabul. Against this must be set the account of the Chinese Buddhist
pilgrim Wu-k#039;ung, who visited these parts in the 750s and
reported that #039;Kapisi country had its eastern capital in Gandhara.
[The] king resided in winter here and in surnmer in Kapisi.’36
1971; 1975, pp. 595–7.
1938, p. 452.
1988, p. 298.
1959, p. 188.
al-calam, 1930, p. 16-A.
1985, Vol. 1, pp. 397–8.
1977, pp. 11–12.
1983, pp. 14–15, 35–6.
1944; 1967; 1973; Fussman,
1935, Vol. 1; 1938 , Vol. 2; Klimov
and Edelman, 1970.
1934, p. 50,
1985, p. 113.
1966, pp. 110–17; see Gershevitch,
1985, p. 93; Harmatta,
1969, p. 345.
Buddhist Manuscripts, 1959–60, Parts 1-2; and others.
1983, pp. 63–8.
Archaeology of Afghanistan, 1978, p. 244.
1989, pp. 108–12.
1973, p. 240.
1969, pp. 37–8.
1977, p. 88.
1989, p. 68.
1903, p. 200.
1989, p. 70.
1950, Vol. 2, p. 270; Chavannes,
1903, pp. 128–9.
1977, p. 91.
Fuchs, 1938, p. 448.
1959, p. 55.
1969, p. 50.
1938, p. 448.
35. There is also a view
that #039;ratbil is the the result of the corrup scribe of the word
1973, pp. 73–4). In the edition of the Tarikh-i Sistan,
the editor reports that the manuscript gives the word ZNBYL,
supporting the reading Zunbil. See also Ibn
Khoradadbeh, 1889, p. 39, Kohzad, 1950.
and Chavannes, 1895, pp. 349–57.
and Zeimal, 1980, p. 74.
identification is possible: see Caroe,
1962, pp. 97–8.
and Zeimal, 1971.
and Hackin, 1959
1972; 1973; 1974.
and Carl, 1936; Kuwayama, 1976, pp. 375–6.
50. For the latest analytical review, see Kuwayama,
1976, pp. 375–407.
Archaeology of Afghanistan, 1978, pp. 291–2.