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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Sugd / Turan



Turan - Avestan Nations

Turan's Connection to Sughdha (Sugd)

Turan's Relationship with Airan (Ancient Iran)


Kala-e Afrasiab, the Fortress of Afrasiab

Sugd-Uzbekistan Region

Sugd - Uzbekistan

Sughdha - Avestan Nation

Sugd - Achaemenian & Macedonia Eras



Nautaca/Kesh, Shakhrisabz & Kitab

Uzunkir & Sangirtepa


Sugd-Tajikistan Region

Second Avestan Nation


Eternal Coal Fires

Yagnob Winters

Earliest Known Avestan Manuscript

Sogdian Zoroastrian Funerary Panels in China


Sogdian Trade. Silk Roads

Zoroastrianism in China

Sogdian Aryan Trade Along the Silk Roads

Sogdians and the Silk Trade

Sogdians & Zoroastrianism in China

Earliest Known Avestan Manuscript

Princess Jun Zhezhe Letter

Sogdian Zoroastrian Funerary Panels in China

Sogdian Dancer in China


Uzbekistan Region

Uzbekistan Region & Zoroastrianism

Uzbekistan - Eastern Frontier of Zoroastrian Lands

Present-Day Uzbekistan


Chaikhana - Tea Houses

Ovens - Tandir


The People of Old Uzbekistan

Turkic Peoples / Turk


(Karakalpakstan Region)

Page 1


Location of Khvarizem

Landscape of Khairizem / Khvarizem / Khorezm

Disappearing Amu Darya and Aral Seas - Ecological Disaster

Geopolitics of Khairizem / Khvarizem

Khvarizem and Zoroastrianism

Khvarizem in Zoroastrian Texts

People of the Region

Saka: Settled and Nomadic

Khvarizem: Settled Agriculturalists

Arrival of the Turkic Peoples


Arrival of the Turkic Uzbeks

Page 2

Shilpiq / Chilpik Dakhma

Mizdakan & Gyaur Kala

Tragic Destruction of Mizdakan

Site, Layout & Location

Gyaur Kala


Other Features

Kyuzeli Gyr

Gyaur Kala

Page 3

Ayaz Kala

Ayaz Kala 1

Ayaz Kala 2

Ayaz Kala 3

Toprak Kala

City-Citadel & High Palace Complex

Palace-Temple Complex & Attached Enclosure

Tamga Signs

Construction Techniques


Excavation & Poor Site Management

Page 4

Kazakl'i-yatkan / Akcha Khan Kala

The Mausoleum / Fire Temple


Wall paintings


Tash-K'irman-Tepe / Fire Temple

Koykrylgan Kala

Sugd / Turan Pages:

» Turan

» Sugd - Tajikistan Region

» Sogdian Trade. Silk Roads. China & Zoroastrianism

» Suggested prior reading: Turan

Sugd / Sogdiana - Uzbekistan Region

Today the lands of ancient Sughdha straddle Southern Uzbekistan and north-western Tajikistan (see Sugd, Tajikistan). In Tajikistan, the land of Sugd now forms the province of Sugd or Sughd.

Map of Turan & Sugd (Tuirya & Sughdha). Click to enlarge
Map of Turan & Sugd (Tuirya & Sughdha). Click to enlarge

Sughdha / Sugd - Second Avestan Nation

Sughdha (also spelt Sughuda), ancient Sugd (also called or spelt Sogd, Sughd, Sute), is the second nation mentioned in the Avestan Vendidad (see map), and the successor state to ancient Turan. This also makes it a land in which Zarathushtra preached his message. The Greeks referred to Sughdha as Sogdiana or Sogdiana (also Sugdiane).

The legends recounted by Ferdowsi in his Shahnameh are very much a part of Sogdian culture. Siyavosh, one of the Shahnameh's legendary characters, is considered by many to be an central figure in Sogdian folklore. Siyavosh, son of Airan king Kai Kaus, tries to make peace between Airan and Turan, is reprimanded by his father, flees to Turan (Sugd), marries Afrasiab's daughter Ferangis (Uzbek: Ferganiza), was given a province by Afrasiab and founded Bokhara - only to be murdered by Afrasiab as a result of a palace intrigue. The Sogdians mourn his death every Nowruz.

While the people of various Avestan lands were the traders who established the Silk Roads and developed the art of international trading - amongst them, the Sogdians established a special reputation, turning the Sogdian cities that preceded modern Tashkent, Samarkand and Bokhara into international trade centres with thriving bazaars that offered exotic wares from around the world. The tea-houses or chaikhanas of these historic trade centres welcomed the weary the Silk Roads travellers and served them tea and delectable foods.

Chai-Khana or Tea-House, Bolo Hauz in Bokhara
Chai-Khana or Tea-House, Bolo Hauz in Bokhara

Sugd During the Achaemenian & Macedonia Eras

In the inscription of Darius I the Great (522- 486 BCE), Achaemenian King of Persia, at Naqsh-e-Rustam, we find Sugd mentioned as Suguda in the Persian empire's list of nations. Darius' 16th Imperial satrapy (imperial province), Suguda, included Khvarizem (Chorasmia or Khorasmia), Parthava (Parthia) and Haraiva (Aria).

The eastern-most outpost of the Achaemenians was the city of Kurkath or Kurus-Katha meaning city of Cyrus (Gk. Cyropolis) built in 544 BCE on the southern stretches and banks of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes) River. Kurus-Katha (modern Istarafshan) is in the vicinity of the modern city of Khujand that is now in Tajikistan (click to see a map of the region).

After the defeat of the Achaemenids by Alexander of Macedonia (336-323 BCE), Suguda was one of the regions that resisted the Macedonian advance. When Alexander finally subjugated Suguda, he married Roxanne, daughter of the local chief Vakhuvadarva (Persian:Vakhard, Greek:Oxyartes) in 328-327 BCE.

Alexander decided to stop his advances at the Syr Darya since it formed the eastern boundary of the Persian empire. There in 329 BCE, not far from Cyropolis and modern Khujand, he hastily put together a city naming it Alexandria Eschate meaning Alexandria the Furthest, with a surrounding six kilometre wall. In the city, he stationed a garrison and settled a group of retired wounded veterans from his army's invasions. Many of the Greek and Macedonia soldiers and veterans married local women and developed their own community, but not before 23,000 of the colonists revolted after Alexander's death, demanding to be sent home.

No sooner had Alexander started building his city, when the Sogdians rose in revolt all across Bakhdhi . The Saka from across the Syr Darya and Bactrians from Bakhdhi joined the revolt - one that lasted two years and saw the most fierce fighting that Alexander had experienced in his anabasis. Alexander responded by storming and sacking seven Sogdian cities including Cyropolis in the immediate area of Alexandria Eschate. He killed all the young men and enslaved the rest of the residents, utterly destroying, in his usual fashion, all the ancient cities and their historical artefacts in an orgy of wanton vindictive devastation. The manner in which Alexander subdued other peoples contrasted with the manner in which the Achaemenid founder of the Persian empire had entered cities and lands. Cyrus' entry into Babylon had been accomplished with little or no killing. Instead of enslaving as Alexander had done, Cyrus liberated; instead of destroying, Cyrus rebuilt; instead of violating and tearing down religious sanctuaries, Cyrus restored local temples and promoted freedom of worship.

When Alexander assigned the administration of Bakhdhi and Bakhdhi to Clitus, the latter complained to Alexander, "You assign to me the province of Sogdiana, so often rebellious, and not only untamed but also incapable of being subdued. I am sent to wild beasts, to which nature has given incorrigible recklessness."

While Alexander succeeded in quelling the initial Sogdian revolt, the Sogdians and their Saka neighbours were determined to rid their lands of foreign yoke. Alexander's death saw the lands he had conquered taken over by a general who established the Seleucid dynasty. By the 2nd century BCE Seleucid control of lands east of the Oxus was nominal at best. The Saka and Sogdians had harassed their way to a measure of autonomy and helped to eventually bring down the remnants of Alexander's ill-gotten empire.


Reconstruction drawing of the fortress at Samarkand / Markand (Markanda)
Reconstruction drawing of the fortress at Samarkand / Markand (Markanda)

Samarkand, a quaint cosmopolitan metropolis grew beneath the western ramparts of the ancient fortress capital city of Turan, Afrasiab and eventually replaced Afrasiab as the capital of Sugd. Alexander the Macedonian invader, knew the city as Markand / Markanda. Today, Samarkand is the second most populous city in modern Uzbekistan.

The beauty and charm of Samarkand is legendary. Medieval author 'Ata-Malik Juvaini wrote that "If it is said that a paradise is to be seen in this world, then the paradise of this world is Samarkand." These perceptions mirror the description of ancient Airyana Vaeja as a paradise.

Tenth-century CE Iranian author Istakhri described Samarkand in the following words:

"I know no place in it or in Samarkand itself where if one ascends some elevated ground one does not see greenery and a pleasant place, and nowhere near it are mountains lacking in trees or a dusty steppe... .Samakandian Sogd...[extends] eight days travel through unbroken greenery and gardens... .The greenery of the trees and sown land extends along both sides of the river [Sogd]...and beyond these fields is pasture for flocks. Every town and settlement has a fortress... .It is the most fruitful of all the countries; in it are the best trees and fruits, in every home are gardens, cisterns and flowing water... ."

Samarkand region irrigation network in the early middle ages
Samarkand region irrigation network in the early middle ages

Samarkand is located in the Zerafshan / Zerafshan River valley on the ancient trade routes built by the Sogdian Aryans. It was built around an oasis surrounded by a stark, rugged landscape. Samarkand's ancient residents made the water provided by the Zerafshan River readily available throughout the oasis with the building of an extensive irrigation network.

By the seventh century BCE Samarkand housed an extensive and innovative center of craft production that provided wares that found their way around the world, carried by caravans on the backs of Bactrian camels.

Samarkand was one of the central hubs from which the trade routes radiated in all directions. Upstream across the border in Tajikistan is the other historic city of Panjikent. Bokhara lies downstream along the Zerafshan as it flows to join the Amu Darya River. The Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang passed through the city in the early 630s and recorded about it the following:

"The country of Sa-mo-kien (Samarkand) is about 1600 or 1700 li (one li=430 m.) in circuit... . The capital of the country is 20 li or so in circuit. It is completely enclosed by rugged land and very populous. The precious merchandise of many foreign countries is stored up here. The soil is rich and productive, and yields abundant harvests. The forest trees afford a thick vegetation, and flowers and fruits are plentiful. The Shen horses are bred here. The inhabitants are skilful in the arts and trades beyond those of other countries. The climate is agreeable and temperate. The people are brave and energetic..."

After the Arabs After the Arabs invaded Central Asia in the early eighth century CE, local Sogdian rulers of the smaller principalities in the Samarkand-Zerafshan Valley fled upstream along the Zerafshan to Panjikent (now in Tajikistan).


Two hundred and seventy kilometres west of Afrasiab / Samarkand, and downstream beside the Zerafshan River, lies the ancient city of Bokhara formed around an oasis in the southern Kyzyl Kum (Qyzylqum) desert. Bokhara would have been close to the meeting point of the Sugd, Mouru, Bakhdi and Khvarizem kingdoms.

Bokhara according to the Uzbek's understanding of Ferdowsi's Shahnameh was founded by Siyavosh (see above) when he built the Bokhara fortress in the province and lands given to him by Turan's King Afrasiab. However, Siyavosh's newfound ally would soon turn against him. As the result of a palace intrigue and a false accusation, Afrasiab killed Siyavosh and buried him outside the eastern gate of fortress, the Darvaza Quriyan. The people of the town mourned the loss of their beloved prince and composed a song to him.

The legend goes on to say that one of Afrasiab's generals and an friend of Siyavosh, secreted Siyavosh's son Kaikhusrau into Airan for safety. When Kaikhusrau grew up and became king of Airan, he and made it his mission to revenge the murder of his father and unite Airan and Turan. Kaikhusrau gathered a large army and marched on Afrasiab who took refugee in a fortress 20 km north of Bokhara, across the Zerafshan river, at Ramitan (or Romitan). Kaikhusrau laid siege to Ramitan for two years building an encampment Ramus opposite Ramitan. Kaikhusrau prevailed and in killing Afrasiab, brought to an end the long and illustrious reign of Turan's legendary monarch. According to the writer Narshakhi, Afrasiab was buried on the Khadji Imom Abu Khafs Kabir hill near the Mabad Gate of Bukhara and that these event took place over three thousand years ago.

Finds in the Bokhara oasis date back to 3,000 BCE and artefacts unearthed in the city itself date back to 500 BCE. As in other cases in Central Asia, the continued discovery and dating of archaeological finds keeps pushing back the antiquity of the city and the area's development to earlier dates than those surmized through inadequate information.

Nautaca / Kesh (Shakhrisabz & Kitab)

Kitab-Shakhrisabz oasis and valley
Kitab-Shakhrisabz oasis and valley

Eighty km south of Samarkand and Afrasiab, situated at the altitude of 622 m on the edge of the Gissar and Zerafshan mountains, lies Shakhrisabz. Shakhrisabz is on UNESCO's list of world heritage memorials.

About ten kilometres north of Shakhrisabz lies the town of Kitab. The area between the two is called the Kitab-Shakhrisabz oasis.

Shakhrisabz and Kitab are both candidates for the site of Medieval Kesh and possibly ancient Nautaca.

Kesh is short for Dilkesh meaning heart-pleasing in Persian. Turko-Mongol ruler Timur was born in the village of Hoja Ilghar, 13 km to the south from Kesh on April 9, 1336 CE. The gardens he had planted around Kesh gave the city its current name Shakh-i-Sabz in Tajik-Persian, or Shahr-i-Sabz in Persian, meaning Green City.

Kesh, in turn, is thought by many to be the site of ancient Nautaca, the city where in 328-329 BCE the satrap of Bactria, Bessus (Artarkserks) treacherously killed Achaemenian King Darius III who was fleeing before Alexander's army and pronounced himself the presumptive king of Persia. The traitor was however arrested and imprisoned by the Persian Spitamenes in 329 BCE and handed over Alexander's general Ptolemy.

Nautaca or Nau-taka (meaning new settlement or power) is said to have been located on the road between the city of Balkh, the capital of Bakhdhi (Bactria) and Afrasiab (Maracanda or Samarkand). It passed via modern Termez at a point near the river Kashka in whose vally Shakhrisabz is situated. If Shakhrisabz itself is not the location of Nautaca, Nautaca could very well be hidden, waiting to be discovered, somewhere in the vicinity of Shakhrisabz.

Uzunkir & Sangirtepa

Uzunkir is the location of the ruins of a large 7th to 6th centuries BCE, 70 hectares urban centre located in the Kitab-Shakhrisabz oasis. The town of Uzunkir was surrounded by a defensive wall. In addition, Uzunkir also had an inner fortress. It was abandoned in the 3rd century BCE when the urban centre moved to Kitab.

Not far from Uzunkir lie the ruins of the older 9th to 8th centuries BCE Sangirtepa fortress that was built with parallel adobe defensive walls, each 10 metres thick. Sangir means stone, a name that might indicate the strength of its defences.

The kingdom of Sugd is called Gava Sughdha in the Avesta and gava is sometimes taken to mean cow. However, numerous settlements in the Kitab-Shakhrisabz area and the surrounding hills use the suffix gava and the significance of the suffix is a mystery.


About 60 km to the west of Shakhrisabz and ten km north of the Qarshi (or Karshi) oasis, lies the site of ancient Yerkurgan. This ancient 6th century BCE fortified town had 8 m high surrounding walls, walls that were built over the town's existing 7th century BCE walls.

A Zoroastrian Dakhma (Tower of Silence) of that period was found in the north-western part of Yerkurgan during excavations at the site.

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