Central Asian and Sassanian Rule, ca. 150 B.C.-700 A.D.
In the third and second centuries B.C., the Parthians, a nomadic
people speaking Indo-European languages, arrived on the Iranian
Plateau. The Parthians established control in most of what is
Iran as early as the middle of the third century B.C.; about 100
years later another Indo-European group from the north--the Kushans
(a subgroup of the tribe called the Yuezhi by the Chinese)--entered
Afghanistan and established an empire lasting almost four centuries.
The Kushan Empire spread from the Kabul River Valley to defeat
other Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered parts
of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians.
By the middle of the first century B.C., the Kushans' control
stretched from the Indus Valley to the Gobi Desert and as far
west as the central Iranian Plateau. Early in the second century
A.D. under Kanishka, the most powerful of the Kushan rulers, the
empire reached its greatest geographic and cultural breadth to
become a center of literature and art. Kanishka extended Kushan
control to the mouth of the Indus River on the Arabian Sea, into
Kashmir, and into what is today the Chinese-controlled area north
of Tibet. Kanishka was a patron of religion and the arts. It was
during his reign that Mahayana Buddhism, imported to northern
India earlier by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (ca. 260-232 B.C.),
reached its zenith in Central Asia.
In the third century A.D., Kushan control fragmented into semi-independent
kingdoms that became easy targets for conquest by the rising Iranian
dynasty, the Sassanians (ca. 224-561 A.D.). These small kingdoms
were pressed by both the Sassanians from the west and by the growing
strength of the Guptas, an Indian dynasty established at the beginning
of the fourth century.
The disunited Kushan and Sassanian kingdoms were in a poor position
to meet the threat of a new wave of nomadic, Indo-European invaders
from the north. The Hepthalites (or White Huns) swept out of Central
Asia around the fourth century into Bactria and to the south,
overwhelming the last of the Kushan and Sassanian kingdoms. Historians
believe that their control continued for a century and was marked
by constant warfare with the Sassanians to the west.
By the middle of the sixth century the Hepthalites were defeated
in the territories north of the Amu Darya (the Oxus River of antiquity)
by another group of Central Asian nomads, the Western Turks, and
by the resurgent Sassanians in the lands south of the Amu Darya.
Up until the advent of Islam, the lands of the Hindu Kush were
dominated up to the Amu Darya by small kingdoms under Sassanian
control but with local rulers who were Kushans or Hepthalites.
Of this great Buddhist culture and earlier Zoroastrian influence
there remain few, if any, traces in the life of Afghan people
today. Along ancient trade routes, however, stone monuments of
Buddhist culture exist as reminders of the past. The two great
sandstone Buddhas, thirty-five and fifty-three meters high overlook
the ancient route through Bamian to Balkh and date from the third
and fifth centuries A.D. In this and other key places in Afghanistan,
archaeologists have located frescoes, stucco decorations, statuary,
and rare objects from China, Phoenicia, and Rome crafted as early
as the second century A.D. that bear witness to the influence
of these ancient civilizations on the arts in Afghanistan.
name Afghanistan conventional long form Islamic State of
Afghanistan conventional short form Afghanistan local long
form Dowlat-e Eslami-ye Afghanestan local short form Afghanestan former Republic of Afghanistan
- total: 647,500 sq km land: 647,500 sq km water: 0 sq km
- mostly rugged mountains; plains in north and southwest
- arid to semiarid; cold winters and hot summers
- landlocked; the Hindu Kush mountains that run northeast to southwest divide
the northern provinces from the rest of the country; the highest peaks are in
the northern Vakhan (Wakhan Corridor)
- 1,200 km note: chiefly Amu Darya, which handles vessels up to 500 DWT (2001)
Natural hazards - damaging earthquakes
occur in Hindu Kush mountains; flooding; droughts
Courtesy: The Library of Congress - Country Studies
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