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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Aryan Homeland in Avesta

Aryan Homeland & Neighbouring Lands

Earliest Mention - Farvardin Yasht

Lands of Zarathushtra's Ministry

King Vishtasp of Bakhdi/Balkh

Nations listed in the Avesta

Persia not Part of the Original Listing of Indo-Iranian

Sixteen Nations of the Vendidad

Pattern in the Listing of Nations

Relationship Between Airyana Vaeja and Other Nations of the Avesta

Migration of the Aryans and Expansion of Aryan Lands

1. Jamshidi Era Expansion. Growth of Airyana Vaeja

2. Jamshidi Era Climate Change

3. Aryan Trade

Aryan Trade Routes - the Silk Roads

4. Feridoon Era. First Aryan Empire. Transformation to Airan

5. Inter Aryan Wars

6. Persian empire

Greater Aryana - Classical References

Strabo's Description of Greater Aryana

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Aryan Homeland & Neighbouring Lands in the Avesta

The homeland of the Aryans, or Aryan lands was called Airyana Vaeja or Airyanam Dakhyunam in the Avesta and Arya Varta in the Vedas.

The books of the Avesta as well as the Middle Persian Pahlavi texts such as the Lesser Bundahishn, tell us that Airyana Vaeja, the Aryan homeland, was where Zarathushtra's father lived (20.32) and where Zarathushtra first expounded his beliefs (32.3).

In addition to mentioning Airyana Vaeja, the Zoroastrian scriptures, the books of the Avesta, also mention neighbouring nations or lands.

These references, along with references to the terrain and weather in Airyana Vaeja, give us clues about the location of the original Aryan homeland, as well as information about the Aryan people, their neighbours, and their relationships.

Earliest Mention of the Lands - Farvardin Yasht

Lands of Zarathushtra's Ministry

A chapter of the Avesta that has the most intimate knowledge of Zarathushtra and his first followers, is the Avesta's Farvardin Yasht - chapter 10 of the book of Yashts.

The Yasht (13.143 & 144) lists the names of individuals who were the first "hearers and teachers" of Zarathushtra's teachings. The Yasht memorializes and reveres the fravashis (spiritual souls) of these first "hearers and teachers" of Zarathushtra's teachings. In addition to specific names, it also memoralizes all the righteous people in the five nations as well as those "all countries". The five nations mentioned are Airyana Vaeja (called Airyanam Dakhyunam in the Yasht) as well as four neighbouring lands. These four lands neighbouring Airyana Vaeja are Tuirya, Sairima, Saini and Dahi. Since -nam is a usual ending for many Avestan nouns, the nations are also named as Airyanam, Tuiryanam, Dahinam, Sairimanam and Saininam.

Since the surviving texts of Zarathushtra's teachings, the hymns of the Gathas, are in one language, we can say it is reasonable to assume that the nations in which Zarathushtra spread his message were neighbours and spoke the same language and dialect as well. For his message (which reference pre-Zoroastrian beliefs) to have relevance, these peoples also likely shared the same, or variations of the same, pre-Zoroastrian religion. We may conclude this assumption by saying the five founding Zoroastrian nations likely shared the same culture and ethnicity. In terms of size, we are left with the impression that they can be compared to districts with a province today. The Gathas of Zarathushtra are placed in the Avestan book of Yasna. While their language is the same, the dialect of the other verses is different from that of the Gathas. They were either written by followers at a different point in time or in a neighbouring region that spoke a different dialect.

Other than Airyana Vaeja, none of the Farvardin Yasht's nations are mentioned in the Vendidad's list of Zoroastrian nations. The Vendidad is a book of the Zoroastrian scriptures. Even though the Vendidad list preceded the formation of Media and Persian making it over two thousand eight hundred years old, the nations are for the most part recognizable today and we may conclude that the Vendidad list is far more modern than the list of five nations of the Farvardin Yasht cited in the paragraph above. Those nations either changed their names or became parts of other nations.

Dahi, for instance find mention only once in King Xerxes' list of countries that were part of the Persian empire. But in other lists and by the accounts of Greek writers such as Strabo, it was a part of the Saka nations, two of which find regular mention as part of the Persian Empire.

Tuirya is identified with Turan which later became known as Sugd. Dahi as a name continued to exist, Dahi being one of the Saka nations. We do not as yet known the present identity of the other lands.

Bakhdhi / Balkh (Bactria), which is noted in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (see Shahnameh page 30) and other later tradition as a land where Zarathushtra spread his message, is not mentioned in the Farvardin Yasht. However, Kava Vishtasp, Kava being a title of the Kayanian kings of Bakhdhi / Balkh, is mentioned in the Farvardin Yasht.

King Vishtasp of Bakhdi / Balkh

Among the Farvardin Yasht's list of Zarathushtra's first "hearers and teachers" is Kavoish Vishtaspahe (Kava Vishtasp) (13.99). In the Yasht, Kava Vishtasp has a special place having a verse devoted to him. The common extrapolation is that Kava Vishtasp is the Kai Gushtasp (Gushtasp is a later form of Vishtasp) mentioned in later texts which also state that King Vishtasp's / Gushtasp's capital was Bakhdhi or Bakhdi, i.e. present day Balkh in Northern Afghanistan.

Bakhdi is listed as a nation in the Vendidad but not in the Farvardin Yasht. These later texts also tell us that Zarathushtra died in Bakhdi/Balkh, killed by a Turanian.

Balkh is directly south of Samarkand over an eastern spur of the Pamir mountains. The predecessors of present day Samarkand and Balkh are among the first nations listed in another (and later) book of the Avesta - the Vendidad.

Nations listed in the Avesta

In addition to the Farvardin Yasht, two other sections of the Avesta provide us with names of nations associated with the Aryans, the Vendidad and the Meher Yasht.

The Avestan book of Vendidad starts with a list of sixteen nations (Chapter 1, 1-16), the first being Airyanem Vaejo or Airyana Vaeja.

Other than the Aryan homeland Airyanem Vaeja (Airyanam Dakhyunam in the Farvardin Yasht), the Vendidad does not mention the four other lands mentioned in the Farvardin Yasht (see above). Nor does the Farvardin Yasht mention any of the fifteen other lands mentioned in the Vendidad. Three of the five Farvardin Yasht nations are not known to us. The nations of the Vendidad can be more readily identified. The only land common to both lists is the Aryan homeland. This, the other information contained, and the language used in the texts indicate to us that the Farvardin Yasht and the Vendidad were written at very different times, the Farvardin Yasht being the older. The Vendidad itself was probably composed well before 800 BCE since it does not list Persia or Media (also see below), making the Farvardin Yasht an ancient composition.

The Meher Yasht also provides names of nations in 10.13-14. The Aryan homeland is called Airyo Shayanem. Three of the nations mentioned in the Meher Yasht, Mourum, Haroyum and Sughdhem i.e. Margush, Aria and Suguda, are also part of the Vendidad list. Sughdhem is associated with the word Gava in the Meher Yasht.

Depending on whether some of the words in the Meher Yasht are names of countries, one or three additional lands are mentioned in the Meher Yasht which are not part of the Vendidad list: Khairizem (associated with Kharazem i.e. Khvarizem). Khairizem has been touted by a few authors as being the original home of Zoroastrianism. This is unlikely and Kharazem likely gained this reputation because at one time before the rise of Persia, Kharazem / Khvarizem / Khairizem was the dominant nation amongst the Aryan nations - and its lands could have expanded to include ancient Airyana Vaeja. The other two possible nations in the Meher Yasht are Aishkatem and Pourutem (some authors believe these are names of nations while others believe they are words that are part of the text).

The list of nations in the Vendidad is the most complete and one that provides us with information we can use in narrowing down the location of Airyana Vaeja.

Persia not Part of the Original Listing of Vendidad Lands

The Vendidad, and indeed the entire Avesta, does not mention Persia or Media. This was because Persia and Media became nations after the Avestan canon was closed. However, The Achaemenian Persian Kings (c. 700 - 330 BCE) repeatedly proclaimed their Aryan heritage.

Sixteen Nations of the Vendidad

The list of sixteen nations in the Vendidad is as follows:

"Good Lands and Countries" of the Vendidad
Vendidad NameAlternative SpellingOld Persian/ PahlaviGreek / WesternPresent NameFeatures: - Good &
- Bad
1. Airyanem VaejoAiryana VaejaAiran Vej (Phl.)  Iran - Good & lawful
- River snakes,
  climate change to severe winters.
2. Sukhdho
(also Tuirya)
Suguda (OP) SogdianaSugd, Northwest Tajikistan,
Samarkand (SE Uzbekistan)
- Good land
- fly Skaitya which kills cattle
3. Mourum Mouru Margu (OP) Margiana Marv / Merv,
South Turkmenistan
- Brave, holy
- Plunder, bloodshed
4. Bakhdhim BakhdhiBakhtrish (OP) Bactria Balkh,
North Afghanistan
- Uplifted banner
- Stinging ants
5. Nisaim Nisaya Parthava (OP)ParthiaN. Khorasan (NE Iran) & Nisa
South Turkmenistan.
Bordering Balkh and Marv
- Good land
- Disbelief (could have refused
  to accept Zoroastrianism)
6. Haroyum Haroyu Haraiva (OP) Aria Hari Rud (Herat),
Northwest Afghanistan
- Plentiful water
- Grief, poverty
7. Vaekeretem Khnenta Vaekerata
/ Vaekereta
Kalpul (Phl.) Sattagydia Kabul,
Eastern Afghanistan
- Good land
- Followers of Keresaspa,
  fairies and witchcraft
8. Urvam Urva Uvarazmiya/UvarazmishKhvarizem/ChorasmiaKhorezm, Uzbekistan - Rich pastures
- Pride, tyranny
9. Khnentem Vehrkano Vehrkana Varkana (OP)Hyrcania Gorgan, Golestan,
North-northeast Iran
- Good land
- Sodomy with children
10. Harahvaitim Harahvaiti Harauvatish (OP) ArachosiaKandahar & Oruzan
South Central Afghanistan
- Beautiful
- Bury the dead
11. Haetumantem Haetumant Zraka (OP)Drangiana Helmand - SE Afghanistan &
Sistan - E. Iran
- Brilliant, glorious
- Wizardry & Sorcery
12. Rakham Ragha Raga (OP) RagaiRai, Tehran & S. Alburz,
North Iran
- Three peoples
- Utter disbelief
13. Chakhrem* Kakhra    Uncertain: Either Ghazni, SE Afghanistan or just west of Rai, N. Iran - Brave, righteous
- Burn corpses
14. Varenem Varena Patashkh-vargar or Dailam (Phl.)Western HyrcaniaW. Mazandaran, Gilan & Northern Alburz (land of Mt. Damavand) North Iran - Home of Thraetaona (Feridoon)
  who slew Azi Dahaka (Zahak)
- Barbarian (foreign) rule
15. Hapta Hendu** Hapta Hindu Hindava (OP) IndusNorthern valley of the seven Indus rivers** (Upper Indus Basin)
Gandhara (Waihind)***, Punjab and Kashmir in N. Pakistan & NW India
- Wide expanses
- Violence, rage and hot weather
16. Ranghaya Rangha later part of Arvastani Rum (Phl.) i.e. Eastern Roman empire  Lake Urmia, Upper Tigris, Kurdistan, Eastern & Central Turkey - Good land
- No chiefs i.e. no protector,
   open to raids, lawless,
   severe winters

*Chakhrem is used in Yasht 13.89 and means wheel (or revolving; cf. Persian charkh meaning wheel) and is used there as chakhrem urvaesayata in the context of Zarathushtra being the first member of every professional guild opposed to the daevas. Avestan Chakhrem urvaesayata is similar to the Sanskrit chakhram vartay and chakhravartin meaning 'chariot over the land' or 'ruler'. The western Mitanni were known for their expertise in chariot-building and this may or may not have relevance.

** The seven Indus Rivers, Hapta Hindu (nation #15 above), are: 1. the Indus (Veda-Sindhu), the 2. Kabul and 3. Kurram rivers joining on the west and north banks of the Indus, and the 4. Jhelum (Veda-Vitasta), 5. Chenab (Veda-Asikni), 6. Ravi (Veda-Airovati), and 7. Sutlej/Beas (Veda-Vipasa) rivers joining the Indus' east and south banks. (There is some discussion that the Saraswati River mentioned in Hindu Vedic texts was also an Indus tributary - though this is not clear.) The Hindu texts are mainly concerned with the eastern & southern tributaries while the Zoroastrian texts are concerned with the upper reaches of the Indus and all its tributaries whose valleys would have provided access to the plains - areas north and west of the Punjab (Panj-ab meaning five waters in Persian) - i.e. present-day North-West Frontier Province in Northern Pakistan, Northern Punjab and Kashmir in India and Pakistan.

*** Gandhara/Waihind. The land of the upper Indus basin was known as Gandhara or Waihind. Today, the region has Peshawar, Mardan, Mingora and Chitral as its main cities. It would have extended into all the habitable valleys of the south-eastern Hindu Kush. The Gandhara/Waihind region includes the Indus, Swat, Chitral and Kabul River valleys. It may have extended south to Takshashila (Taxila) (near present-day Islamabad) and present-day Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in the west, thus bordering Vaekerata (Kabul) to the east.

Nations of the Vendidad, Avesta
Nations of the Vendidad, Avesta

Pattern in the Listing of Nations

There is a pattern in the listing:

1. The first three nations listed after Airyana Vaeja are in the southern Uzbekistan, southern Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan area. The balance of the list of nations fan out, moving west and south in steps. The last two nations are the most southeast and west of the initial group.

2. The nations border one another. The nation listed next to Airyana Vaeja is Sukhdho/Sughdha - modern day Sugd in northern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan.

3. The nations are all along the Aryan Trading routes - what are now called the Silk Roads (also see Tajikistan pages) - an ancient set of trading roads between the Orient, the Occident and the Indian sub-continent.

Relationship Between Airyana Vaeja and the Other Nations of the Avesta

The sixteen nations listed in the Vendidad were selected by the author or authors of the Vendidad from among the nations of the known world. The list is therefore not a list of the world's nations, but a list of nations connected with Airyana Vaeja. The Vendidad nations listed after Airyana Vaeja, are those to which Aryans migrated from Airyana Vaeja, intermingling as they did, with the peoples of those lands. While Zoroastrian-Aryans inhabited these lands, they were not necessarily the majority people in these lands.

All of the Vendidad nations would at some point come together as part of the larger Aryan, Iranian, or Persian empires.

Migration of the Aryans and Expansion of Aryan Lands

Before the era of legendary King Jamshid, see (Aryan Prehistory and Location of Aryan Homeland), the original Aryan homeland in the Avesta, Airyana Vaeja, could not have been very large. However, starting in the Jamshidi era and continuing up to the establishment of the Achaemenian Persian empire under Darius the Great, the Aryan lands did grow considerably in size.

The Zoroastrian Avesta, the Hindu Vedas and other texts tell us that the Aryans migrated out of Airyana Vaeja and that the lands associated with the Aryans increased in size for the following reasons:

1. An increase in population during the Jamshidi era.
2. Climate change to severe winters and short summers.
3. Trading with neighbouring lands and settlement of significant populations in these lands.
4. Establishment of kingdoms through settlement or conquest. A federation of these kingdoms during the Feridoon Era / Pishdadian dynasty.
5. Inter-Aryan wars. The schism between the deva and Mazda worshippers cf. reign of King Vishtasp and life of Zarathushtra
6. Establishment of the Persian empire that included the original federation of kingdoms as well as additional lands.

These points are discussed further below.

As the Aryans migrated to the lands of their neighbours, they did not displace the original inhabitants. When the Persian Aryans eventually settled the southern Iran plateau, the area was populated by the Elamites with whom the Persians integrated. An examination of the present linguistic composition of Iran reveals that other, non Indo-Iranian linguistic groups are interspersed among Persian linguistic groups.

1. Jamshidi Era Expansion. Growth of Airyana Vaeja

The Vendidad tells us that in the first part of his reign, legendary King Jamshid had doubled the extent of his lands to accommodate a population increase. (The ancient Avestan name for King Jamshid was Yima-Srira or Yima-Khshaeta, meaning Yima the radiant. He was similarly called Yama in the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas.) Depending on how one interprets the texts, the expansion could have been much larger - up to four and a half times in extent. The expansion of lands was "southwards, on the way of the sun," which could mean southward from the east to the west of Airyana Vaeja.

The Hindu Vedas state that the land procured by Yama (King Jamshid) became the homeland of the Hindus.

Gateway to the Aryan Hindu Lands

The Hindu Rig and Atharva Vedas state:
1. Worship with oblation Yama the King, son of Vivasvat,
the assembler of people,
who departed from the deep to the heights,
and explored the road for many.

2. Yama was the first who found for us the route.
This home is not to be taken from us.
Those who are now born,
(go) by their own routes
to the place whereunto our ancient forefathers emigrated.
(Atharva Veda xviii.1.49 & Rig Veda x.14.1)

...they cross by fords the mighty streams
which the virtuous offerers of sacrifice pass
(Atharva Veda xviii.4.7)

The Hindu reverence for Yama, King Jamshid, grew at the same time when he lost favour with the Mazdayasni predecessors of the Zoroastrians, who record that King Yima lost his grace, grew too proud and thought himself a god. The Vedic verses appear to state that the lands Yima acquired became part of the permanent home of the Hindus - a land that would grow to include the entire Indian subcontinent, and would become separate from the original Aryan homeland. The comment above regarding a home that "cannot be taken from us," indicates a previous vulnerability of the predecessors of the Hindus in the original Aryan Homeland at the time the Vedas were written - a vulnerability either from foreign or internal foes.

It is unlikely that the expansion during the Jamshidi era included the river plains such as the lands that make up the Punjab today. Expansion into the Indus plains would take place later in history. Hapta-Hindu, the seven Indus lands that would include the plains, is the fifteenth, and last but one, nation in the Vendidad's list of nations. The part of upper Indus occupied during the Jamshidi era would include what are today's Eastern Afghanistan, the north of Pakistan and India - the areas on both sides i.e. just north and south of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountains. The limited size of the expansion is further indication that the original Aryan homeland was not very large.

During the Jamshidi era, the lands just north and south of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram were united. They would later separate politically and the two mountain ranges, especially the Hindu Kush formed the primary border between the two kingdoms.

There is yet another factor that links the upper Indus, the Hapta-Hindu with the area immediately to the north and north-west i.e. the Badakshan-Pamir region: the Rig Veda is commonly thought to have been written in the Upper Indus region, and the language of the Rig Veda and the Old Avesta are so close that they are commonly thought to be dialects such as that spoken in two neighbouring provinces and that further, they emerged from a common language philologists call Proto Indo-Iranian, another name for the language of united ancient Aryans. [Also see our page on Languages.]

2. Jamshidi Era Climate Change

The Vendidad and other texts also inform us that at the outset of the Jamshedi era, the weather in the Aryan homeland, Airyana Vaeja was fair and equitable, with the spring equinox heralding the start of spring and a renewal after the winter. However, a thousand two hundred years after the start of the Jamshedi era, there was a sudden climate chill (Vendidad 2.22-25) and a drastic cooling (also see Location of the Aryan homeland) and our page Aryan Prehistory - a mini Ice Age of sorts.

This sudden cooling could have encouraged further Aryan migration to the warmer portions of the expanded Jamshidi lands

3. Aryan Trade

Trading Roads (later called Silk Roads) c. 2000 BCE
Trading Roads (later called Silk Roads) c. 2000 BCE

The Aryans started trading between themselves in the expanded Jamshedi lands as well as with their neighbours very early in their history - during the Stone Ages. Aryan trade is closely linked to Aryan migration and the sixteen Vendidad nations. A more detailed discussion can be found on our page on Aryan Trade.

Aryan Trade Routes - the Silk Roads

The Aryan trade routes would come to be known as the Silk Roads. Aryan trade extended from China in the east, to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia in the west, to the Iranian plateau and the Indus valley in the south.

Sogdian Aryan trading settlements have been found in China. Indeed, the earliest known manuscript of the Zoroastrian scriptures, the Avesta, written in Sogdian, has been found in China. (Also see our page on Tajikistan.)

The pattern of the Vendidad's list of nations we noted above, moves from the Central Asian core, progressively west and south along the Aryan Trading (Silk) Roads into present-day Turkey and Pakistan.

[After the Zoroastrians migrated to India following the Arab invasion of Iran, they revived their tradition of trading between the east and west, becoming wealthy in the process.]

Trading allowed the Aryans to become familiar with, and later settle in, the lands along the Silk Road. As the Aryans established permanent trading posts in neighbouring lands, they also established settlements that became communities.

4. Feridoon Era Federation of Kingdoms. First Aryan Empire. Transformation to Airan

According to the Poet Ferdowsi's epic, the Shahnameh, during the reign of legendary King Feridoon, the lands he ruled came to include what we know as the sixteen lands mentioned in the Vendidad. Feridoon decided to divide his sprawling empire the amongst his three sons. To his eldest son Tur, he gave the eastern lands with its capital in Turan - a nation that got its name from Tur. To his son Iraj, Feridoon gave Airan (the country that Airyana Vaeja had evolved into) and Hind (Hapta Hindu, the upper Indus lands). To his son Salm, Feridoon gave the western kingdoms. Tur, however, felt that as the eldest son he had been slighted, for the lands of Airan and Hind were the gems of the empire and the seat of its power. No sooner had Feridoon divided his kingdom between his sons, that the jealous and ambitious Tur persuaded Salm to join him in a plot to murder Iraj.

Within this legend is history. If we replace the Airan empire with the Airan people, this myth tells us that the Aryans had spread to present day Turkey in the west, the upper Indus valley in the south, to the borders of China in the east and the deserts of the north. Further, the wars between the different Aryan lands were internecine conflicts that punctuate Aryan history. By the time of Feridoon, the centre of the Aryan nation had move to Bakhdhi (Balkh or Bactria). (Also see our page on Turan.)

(Also see Legendary Kings. Pishdadian Dynasty Part II)

5. Inter Aryan Wars

The internecine wars mentioned above included wars between the Aryan religious groups, the Mazda-Asura worshippers and the deva worshippers. The religious groups, their beliefs and the wars are discussed in our page on Aryan Religions.

6. Persian empire

The Achaemenian king, Cyrus II, the Great (c. 600 to 576 - August 530 BCE), established the Persian empire and the expansion continued under the reign of Darius I, the Great (522- 486 BCE). The sixteen nations of the Vendidad made up the core of the nations that became part of the Persian empire. Indeed, it may be said that the Persians by creating the third Aryan empire, sought to unify all the Aryan lands (see Aryana below) by continuing the tradition of legendary King Feridoon who established the first Aryan empire, and the Medes who established the second Aryan empire.

The nations listed by Darius the Great, King of Persia on an inscription at Naqsh-e-Rustam as part of his Persian empire are: P‚rsa (Persia), M‚da (Media), Řvja (Elam), Parthava (Parthia), Haraiva (Aria), B‚xtrish (Bactria), Suguda (Sogdiana), Uv‚razmish (Chorasmia), Zraka (Drangiana), Harauvatish (Arachosia), Thatagush (Sattagydia), Gad‚ra (Gandara), Hidush (Sind), Sak‚ haumavarg‚ (Amyrgian Scythians), Sak‚ tigraxaud‚ (Scythians with pointed caps), B‚birush (Babylonia), Athur‚ (Assyria), Arab‚ya (Arabia), Mudr‚ya (Egypt), Armina (Armenia), Katpatuka (Cappadocia), Sparda (Sardis), Yauna (Ionia / Greece), Sak‚ tyaiy paradraya (Scythians who are across the sea), Skudra (Skudra), Yaun‚ takabar‚ (petasos-wearing Ionians), Put‚y‚ (Libyans), KŻshiy‚ (Ethiopians), Maciy‚ (people of Maka), Kark‚ (Carians). See map of the Persian Achaemenian Empire.

Cuneiform Inscription  on rock at Behistun, Iran
Darius' listing of Persian Empire nations
Cuneiform Inscription on rock at Behistun, Iran
Column 1 lines 9-17

Greater Aryana - Classical References

Classical Hellenic authors such as Strabo mention the lands of Ariana or Aryana and make a distinction between the collection of kingdoms that formed Aryana and the country or kingdom of Aria.

Strabo (2.1.31) implies that Ariana was a single national group whose members formed the different Aryan kingdoms: "Ariana is not so accurately described (as India being in the shape of a quadrilateral or rhomboid by Eratosthenes), on account of its western side being interwoven with the adjacent lands (of Persia and Media). Still it is pretty well distinguished by its three other sides, which are formed by three nearly straight lines (see following paragraph), and also by its name (Aryana, meaning land of the Aryans), which shows it to be only one nation."

In the estimation of the Hellenic authors, Aryana included the larger group of Aryan kingdoms including Aria, and was bordered by the Indus river in the east (Pomponius Mela 1.12 states that "nearest to India is Ariana, then Aria". Strabo 15.2.1 also states "Next to India is Ariana"), the sea in the south, a line from Carmania (Kerman) to the Caspian Gates in the west, and the Taurus Mountains (the chains for mountains that run west-east from Anatolia and which include the Himalayas) in the north.

The land of Aryana included Media, Persia, the deserts of Gedrosia and Carmania, that is, the provinces of Carmania, Gedrosia, Drangiana, Arachosia (Strabo 11.10.1 ), Aria, the Paropamisadae, Bactria (called the ornament of Ariana), Apollodorus of Artemita (Strabo 11.11.1) and Sogdiana where Zarathushtra is said to have preached Ahura Mazda's laws "among the Arianoi" (cf. Diodorus 1.94.2). These observations reconfirm the sixteen nations of the Vendidad as being part of the Greater Aryan nation and add to that list of nations the later more modern nations of Persia, Media, Carmania (Kerman) and Chorasmia. This Greater Ariana formed the core of the Persian Empire. Aelianus in De natura animalium 16.16, also mentions that there were "Indian Arianians" and there is some suggestion that control of Ariana fluctuated between Indian and Arian Arianians.

Map of Ariana based on Eratosthenes' data in Strabo's Geography
Map of Ariana based on Eratosthenes' data in Strabo's Geography

Strabo's Description of Greater Aryana

Strabo describes the extent of Greater Aryana, a land that stretched about 2,600 km in length from present-day Ray (near Tehran, Iran) in the west to Khotan (presently in Western China), and from the Persian Gulf to the mouth of the Indus River in the south, in his Geography as follows:

(Strabo 15.2.1. Translation by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): Next to India (the Avestan Hapta-Hindu, the upper Indus and its tributaries) is Ariana, the first portion of the country subject to the Persians, lying beyond the Indus, and the first of the higher satrapies without the Taurus (Classical Hellenic writers appear to have believed that a single mountain chain, the Taurus, ran east-west through Asia). On the north it (Ariana) is bounded by the same mountains as India (extensions of the Himalayas and mountains radiating from the Pamir knot, i.e. the Taurus), on the south by the same sea, and by the same river Indus, which separates it from India. It stretches thence towards the west as far as the line drawn from the Caspian Gates (Caspiś Pylś ) to Carmania, whence its figure is quadrilateral. The southern side begins from the mouths of the Indus, and from Patalene, and terminates at Carmania and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, by a promontory projecting a considerable distance to the south. It then makes a bend towards the gulf in the direction of Persia.

(Strabo 15.2.1. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): After India one comes to Ariana, the first portion of the country subject to the Persians after the Indus River and of the upper satrapies situated outside the Taurus. Ariana is bounded on the south and on the north by the same sea and the same mountains as India, as also by the same river, the Indus, which flows between itself and India; and from this river it extends towards the west as far as the line drawn from the Caspian Gates to Carmania, so that its shape is quadrilateral. Now the southern side begins at the outlets of the Indus and at PatalenÍ, and ends at Carmania and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, where it has a promontory that projects considerably towards the south; and then it takes a bend into the gulf in the direction of Persis.

Present-day map of the Indus River basin
Present-day map of the Indus River basin

[Our note: the River Indus in the upper section rises to the north-northeast, then turns to the east and eventually rises to the southeast with its headwaters in present day Tibet.

[Note continued: Primary Boundary Between Aryana and Hapta Hindu. It is either the river itself or the mountains, the Hindu Kush and Karakoram on the Indus' left bank, that formed the primary boundary between ancient northern India and Aryana. The name Hindi-Kush which is the Persian word for Hindu-Killer, is significant as it implies a natural barrier to the invading Hindu during any wars between the two groups. Today these mountains form the border between present day Pakistan & India on the right bank and Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Tibet on the left bank.

[Note continued: Just north of the Karakoram mountains (also called Kara Kunlun with the Baltoro Muztagh and Gujerab as sub-ranges) that like the Hindu Kush, stems from the Pamirs mountains (today mainly in Tajikistan). The region south of the Karakoram, that is between the heights of the range and the Indus River is called Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Kashmir. A narrow region north of the Karakoram and presently a part of China, is called Tash-Korgan/Tashkurgan, an autonomous Tajik populated region. The Pamiri region includes the Kunlun mountain range that forms the eastern Tajikistan border (with China), and cities east of the range and presently in China: Tashkurgan, Khotan/Hotan, and Kashgar/Kashi. The Tajik and Pamiri inhabited areas line the region north of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush and these areas were all part of Greater Aryana.

[Note continued: The Takla Makan (Taklamakan) desert, nearly 1,000 km in width, would have formed the eastern border of Aryana. The Aryan Trade Roads (Silk Roads) shirted the desert to its north and south. The residents of Kashgar were known to have practiced Zoroastrianism and the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple can be found beside the ruins of an ancient fortress. Indeed, it is possible that residents of areas in western China that practice Islam today could have practiced Zoroastrianism in the past and that medieval Islamic control replaced areas of traditional Persian-Zoroastrian control. The original Indo-Iranian inhabitants of this area have to a large extent been displaced by Turkic peoples. The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi placed Chin (China) to the east of Airan and Turan (Sugd) beyond the desert.

Balochistan / Baluchistan Region 1900s. Click to see a larger map
Balochistan / Baluchistan Region 1900s. Click to see a larger map

[Note continued: Strabo's western boundary for Aryana runs north-south from the Caspian Gates (just east of present-day Tehran-Rey) to Carmania (Kerman-Hormuz). Strabo therefore considers the territory of Aryana to included all of present-day Eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Western Pakistan and Tajikistan. This is a Greater Aryana as neither the lesser Aria (present-day Herat Province, Afghanistan) nor a single satrapy of this enormous size continued to exist during Strabo's or Achaemenian times. The territory described by Strabo includes most of the core Aryan Vendidad nations.]

(Strabo 15.2.1. Translation by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): The Arbies, who have the same name as the river Arbis (today's Porali River, Balochistan, Pakistan), are the first inhabitants we meet with in this country (about 100 km. northwest of Karachi and 200 km west of the Indus River). They are separated by the Arbis from the next tribe, the Oritś, and according to Nearchus, occupy a tract of sea-coast of about 1000 (200 km) stadia in length; this country also is a part of India. Next are the Oritś, a people governed by their own laws. The voyage along the coast belonging to this people extends 1800 stadia (360 km), that along the country of the Ichthyophagi (fish-eaters - a generic name but here a Greek rendering of the ancient Persian mahi-khoran, which evolved into the modern word Makran cf. Edward Balfour, Cyclopaedia of India), who follow next, extends 7400 stadia (1500 km); that along the country of the Carmani as far as Persia, 3700 stadia. The whole number of stadia is 13,900.

(Strabo 15.2.1. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): Ariana is inhabited first by the Arbies, whose name is like that of the River Arbis, which forms the boundary between them and the next tribe, the Oreitae; and the Arbies have a seaboard about one thousand stadia in length, as Nearchus says; but this too is a portion of India. Then one comes to the Oreitae, an autonomous tribe. The coasting voyage along the country of this tribe is one thousand eight hundred stadia in length, and the next, along that of the Ichthyophagi, seven thousand four hundred, and that along the country of the Carmanians as far as Persis, three thousand seven hundred, so that the total voyage is twelve thousand nine hundred stadia.

(Strabo 15.2.3. Translation by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): Above the Ichthyophagi is situated Gedrosia (Makran), a country less exposed to the heat of the sun than India, but more so than the rest of Asia.

(Strabo 15.2.3. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): Above the country of the Ichthyophagi is situated Gedrosia, a country less torrid than India, but more torrid than the rest of Asia.

(Strabo 15.2.8. Translation by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): The position of the southern side of Ariana is thus situated, with reference to the sea-coast, the country of the Gedrosii (today's Baluchistan) and the Oritś lying near and below it (eastern Makran coast).

(Strabo 15.2.8. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): Such, then, on the southern side of Ariana, is about the geographical position of the seaboard and of the lands of the Gedrosii and Oreitae, which lands are situated next above the seaboard.

[Our note: While saying that the Arbis and Oreitae were the first people encountered in Ariana while leaving India, Strabo also seems to say that they are part of India and then again the Oreitae were autonomous. What we may derive is that at one point in time, Arbis and Oreitae were part of ancient Aryana. The distances: 200 km from the Indus (the Arbie, 360 km from the Oreitae coast. A further 1500 km takes us to the head of the Persian Gulf. At this point we cannot reconcile the figure of 12,900 or 13,900 stadia (2,600 km), unless the conversion to km is incorrect or the sailing between the several points undertakes various curved circuitous routes. We can think of the Arbis, Oreitae and Ichthyophagi as coastal peoples living in coastal districts pr principalities that were part of the Makran coastal region, in the provincial kingdom of Gedrosia/Balochistan, in the ancient federated kingdom or empire of Aryana.]

(Strabo 15.2.8. Translation by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): Eratosthenes (276 - c. 195 BCE) speaks in the following manner and we cannot give a better description: "Ariana," he says, "is bounded on the east by the Indus, on the south by the Great Sea (i.e. Arabian Sea, then considered part of the Indian Ocean), on the north by the Paropamisus and the succeeding chain of mountains (today's Elburz in north-eastern Iran) as far as the Caspian Gates (approaching today's Tehran i.e. north-central Iran and then a part of Media), on the west by the same limits by which the territory of the Parthians is separated from Media, and Carmania (today's Kerman) from Parśtacene (modern Isfahan?) and Persia.

(Strabo 15.2.8. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): It is a large country, and even large country, and even Gedrosia reaches up into the interior as far as the Drangae, the Arachoti, and the Paropamisadae, concerning whom Eratosthenes has spoken as follows (for I am unable to give any better description). He says that Ariana is bounded on the east by the Indus River, on the south by the great sea, on the north by the Paropamisus mountain and the mountains that follow it as far as the Caspian Gates, and that its parts on the west are marked by the same boundaries by which Parthia is separated from Media and Carmania from ParaetacenÍ and Persis.

(Strabo 15.2.8 continued. Translation by H.C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): The breadth of the country is the length of the Indus, reckoned from the Paropamisus as far as the mouths of that river, and amounts to 12,000, or according to others to 13,000, stadia (2,400-2,600 km. This is a fairly correct estimate of the length of the Indus and indicates the length of greater Aryana). The length, beginning from the Caspian Gates, as it is laid down in Asiatic Stathmi (a listing of the caravan stations), is estimated in two different ways: from the Caspian Gates to Alexandreia (some say Herat, but there are various cities given that name) among the Arii through Parthia is one and the same road. Then a road leads in a straight line through Bactriana, and over the pass of the mountain to Ortospana (some identify as Kabul, others as Kandahar), to the meeting of the three roads from Bactria, which is among the Paropamisadś (today's northern Afghanistan). The other branch (of the trade/caravan roads) turns off a little from Aria towards the south to Prophthasia (today's Farah in east-central Afghanistan?) in Drangiana (Sistan); then the remainder leads as far as the confines of India and of the Indus (the Indus, i.e. Hapta-Hindu in the Avesta, later India, refers to the northern reaches of the seven Indus tributaries and the area accessed via today's Khyber pass and the passes further north through the Hindu Kush and Pamirs); so that the (southern) road through the Drangś (Drangiana - the watershed of the Helmand river, today's west-central Afghanistan and in many old maps a part of south Aria) and the Arachoti (Arachosia, just east of Drangiana, central-eastern Afghanistan today) is longer, the whole amounting to 15,300 stadia (3,000 km). But if we deduct 1300 stadia (260 km), we shall have the remainder as the length of the country in a straight line, namely, 14,000 stadia (2,800 km.*); for the length of the coast is not much less, although some persons increase this sum by adding to the 10,000 stadia Carmania (Kerman), which is reckoned at 6000 stadia (1,200 km. in length). For they seem to reckon it either together with the gulfs, or together with the Carmanian coast within the Persian Gulf. (This appears to mean that Aryana had a long coastline, the length of which was "not much less" than the length of the greater nation, and that some include Carmania (Kerman) as part of greater Aryana.

(Strabo 15.2.8 continued. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): He says that the breadth of the country is the length of the Indus from the Paropamisus mountain to the outlets, a distance of twelve thousand stadia (though some say thirteen thousand); and that its length from the Caspian Gates, as recorded in the work entitled Asiatic Stathmi, is stated in two ways: that is, as far as Alexandreia in the country of the Arii, from the Caspian Gates through the country of the Parthians, there is one and the same road; and then, from there, one road leads in a straight line through Bactriana and over the mountain pass into Ortospana to the meeting of the three roads from Bactra, which city is in the country of the Paropamisadae; whereas the other turns off slightly from Aria towards the south to Prophthasia in Drangiana, and the remainder of it leads back to the boundaries of India and to the p143Indus; so that this road which leads through the country of the Drangae and Arachoti is longer, its entire length being fifteen thousand three hundred stadia. But if one should subtract one thousand three hundred, one would have as the remainder the length of the country in a straight line, fourteen thousand stadia; for the length of the seacoast is not much less,125 although some writers increase the total, putting down, in addition to the ten thousand stadia, Carmania with six thousand more; for they obviously reckon the length either along with the gulfs or along the part of the Carmanian seacoast that is inside the Persian Gulf.

[Our note: *2,800 km. This is a tremendous length. Even if we curve the road, the length exceeds the distance between today's Tehran, Iran and Hotan/Khotan that is part of Eastern China today. Significantly, this includes Tajikistan.]

(Strabo 15.2.8 continued. Translation by H.C. Hamilton & W. Falconer): The name also of Ariana is extended so as to include some part of Persia, Media, and the north of Bactria and Sogdiana; for these nations speak nearly the same language.

(Strabo 15.2.8 continued. Translation by Horace Leonard Jones): The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, with but slight variations.

[Our note: Ancient Ariana included parts of the more modern Persia and Media.]

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» Further reading: Location of the Aryan Homeland, Airyana Vaeja