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Definition: Samarkand from Collins English Dictionary


1 a city in E Uzbekistan: under Tamerlane it became the chief economic and cultural centre of central Asia, on trade routes from China and India (the "silk road"). Pop: 289 000 (2005 est) Ancient name: Maracanda

Summary Article: Marakanda/Samarkand
From The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

During antiquity, the city of Samarkand was the capital of Sogdiana (see Sogdia; Bactria)under the name Marakanda (Curtius Rufus, Arrian, Strabo, and Ptolemy). Thanks to its position on one of the main Central Asian crossroads, Samarkand enjoyed an uninterrupted existence from its foundation around the second half of the sixth century BCE until the present time. Before the Mongol invasions (1220 CE), the urban complex occupied a plateau known today as Afrasiab, in the northern part of modern Samarkand. Its archaeological exploration began in the nineteenth century, but the main results stem from excavations in the 1960s. The excavations, carried out on the site of Koktepe, 30 km to the north of Samarkand, continue to add to our knowledge of the region from the thirteenth century BCE to the beginning of our era. Although human occupation was probably older, the first real architectural program identified by the excavations at Samarkand can be dated to the period immediately following the Achaemenid conquest by Cyrus and Darius I (see Achaemenid Dynasty), when the encircling cliff of the Afrasiab plateau was strengthened by a strong wall about 5.5 km long. A canal (the Dargom, known in the Geography of Ptolemy as the Dargomanes) supplied the various quarters and pools with water drawn from the Zerafshan River (the Polytimetus of the ancients), the main river of the plain. Inside the walls, the area to the north contained a fortified quarter ("the citadel"), isolated from the rest of the city by a deep ditch and including official monuments such as the palace of the satraps. This palace is known in the ancient sources as the site of the murder by Alexander III, The Great of his close companion Kleitos (Black Clitus) at the time of the conquest of Sogdiana in 329–327 BCE.

Evidence of urbanism during the Hellenistic period is based on the fortifications, which gradually replaced the Achaemenid walls, and a monumental granary located in the center of the "citadel." After the Macedonian presence and a reinforcement of the Hellenic power under the first Seleucids, control of the city by the Greeks seems to have been interrupted for a rather long period. The presence of nomad cemeteries in the Zerafshan Valley and the construction by the Greco-Bactrians of the Wall of the Iron Gates on the road between Samarkand and Termez (see Alexandria Oxiana) show that the northern part of Sogdiana fell under the control of nomad populations at least from about the middle of the third century BCE. As witnessed by Polybius (11.39), at the end of this century the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemos I (see Euthydemos Of Bactria) convinced the Seleucid Antiochos III Megas to enter into an agreement with him so as to strengthen the Greek sovereignty in Bactria against the nomad threat. Around 160 BCE, northern Sogdiana was reconquered by the Greco-Bactrian king Eukratides I (see Ai Khanum) and the fortifications of Marakanda were rebuilt on a large scale. Around 145 BCE, after the death of the king, the city was assaulted by nomads (probably the Scythian Sacaraucae). The replacement of the Greeks by a nomad power did not interrupt the urban development, nor the Hellenic cultural influence. In the first centuries CE, the city was integrated into the confederation of the Kangju, rivals of the Kushans, before several invasions occured in the early Middle Ages. From the fifth century, under the Kidarites, then the Hephtalites, although it developed over a more restricted area, the city became the main capital of the Sogdians, who controlled the central Asian commercial roads related to the Silk Road (see the discovery in a royal residence of the famous painting of the "Ambassadors" dating to ca. 660), until the Arab conquest of the city in 712 CE.

References And Suggested Readings
  • Bernard, P. (1996) "Maracanda-Afrasiab colonie grecque." In Convegno internazionale sul tema: La Persia e I'Asia centrale da Alessandro al X secolo: 331-65. Rome.
  • Grenet, F. (2002) "Samarqand I: history and archeology." In Encyclopaedia Iranica (www.
  • Grenet, F. (2004) "Maracanda/Samarkand, une métropole pré-mongole. Sources écrites et archéologie." Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales: 1043-67.
  • Rapin, C. (2007) Nomads and the shaping of Central Asia (from the early Iron Age to the Kushan period). In J. Cribb; G. Herrmann, eds., After Alexander: Central Asia before Islam: 29-72. London.
  • Shishkina, G. V. (1996) "Ancient Samarkand: capital of Soghd." Bulletin of the Asia Institute 8: 81-99.
  • Claude Rapin
    Wiley ©2012

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