Balkh Province

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Outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.jpg
Aerial view of a road leading to Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh Province
Balkh in Afghanistan.svg
Map of Afghanistan with Balkh highlighted
Coordinates: 36°45′N67°0′E / 36.750°N 67.000°E / 36.750; 67.000 Coordinates: 36°45′N67°0′E / 36.750°N 67.000°E / 36.750; 67.000
Country Flag of Afghanistan.svg  Afghanistan
Capital Mazar-i-Sharif
   Governor Mohammad Farhad Azimi
  Total16,186.3 km2 (6,249.6 sq mi)
 (2021) [2]
  Density95/km2 (250/sq mi)
Time zone UTC+4:30 (Afghanistan Time)
ISO 3166 code AF-BAL
Main languages Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, Turkmen

Balkh (Pashto/Dari: بلخ, Balx) is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, located in the north of the country. It is divided into 15 districts [4] and has a population of about 1,509,183, [5] which is multi-ethnic and mostly a Persian-speaking society. The city of Mazar-i-Sharif serves as the capital of the province. The Mazar-e Sharif International Airport and Camp Marmal sit on the eastern edge of Mazar-i-Sharif.


The name of the province is derived from the ancient city of Balkh, near the modern town. The city of Mazar-e-Sharif has been an important stop on the trade routes from the Far East to the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe. Home to the famous blue mosque, it was once destroyed by Genghis Khan but later rebuilt by Timur. The city of Balkh and the area of Balkh Province was considered a part of various historical regions in history including Ariana and Greater Khorasan. [6]

The province serves today as Afghanistan's second but main gateway to Central Asia, the other being Sherkhan Bandar in the Kunduz Province. Balkh Province borders Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Samangan and Kunduz provinces, and the Surxondaryo Region of Uzbekistan to the north.


Balkh Province is situated in the northern part of Afghanistan, bordering Turkmenistan in the north-west, bordering Uzbekistan in the north, Tajikistan in the north-east, Kunduz Province in the east, Samangan Province in the south-east, Sar-e Pol Province in the south-west and Jowzjan Province in the west. The province covers an area of 16,840 km2. Nearly half of the province is mountainous or semi-mountainous terrain (48.7%) while half of the area (50.2%) is made up of flat land. [7]


Ancient history

Goddesses, Bactria, Afghanistan, 2000-1800 BCE. GodessesBactriaAfghanistan2000-1800BCE.jpg
Goddesses, Bactria, Afghanistan, 2000–1800 BCE.

The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC, also known as the "Oxus civilization") is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age culture of Central Asia, dated to ca. 2200–1700 BCE, located in present-day Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centered on the upper Amu Darya (Oxus), in area covering ancient Bactria. Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976). Bactria was the Greek name for the area of Bakhlo (modern Balkh), in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, in today's Turkmenistan.

The early Greek historian Ctesias c. 400 BCE (followed by Diodorus Siculus) alleged that the legendary Assyrian king Ninus had defeated a Bactrian king named Oxyartes in ca. 2140 BC, or some 1000 years before the Trojan War. Ever since the discovery of cuneiform enabled actual Assyrian records to be deciphered in the 19th century, however, historians have ascribed little value to the Greek account.

According to some writers, Bactria was the homeland of Indo-European tribes who moved south-west into what is today Iran and into the north-western Indian Subcontinent (modern day Pakistan and India) around 2500–2000 BCE. Later, it became the northern province of the Achaemenid Empire. [8] It was in these regions, where the fertile soil of the mountainous country is surrounded by the Turanian desert, that the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra) was said to have been born and gained his first adherents. Avestan, the language of the oldest portions of the Zoroastrian Avesta , was one of the old Iranian languages, and is the oldest attested member of the Eastern Iranian branch of the Iranian language family.

It is suggested by E. Herzfeld that Bactria once belonged to the Median empire. [9] It was annexed by the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BCE and together with Margiana it formed the twelfth satrapy of the Achaemenids. [10] After Darius III of Persia was defeated by Alexander the Great and killed in the ensuing chaos, his murderer Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, tried to organize a national resistance based on his satrapie but was captured by other warlords and delivered to Alexander. He was then tortured and killed. [11]

Alexander the Great conquered Sogdiana and Persia. However, in the south, beyond the Oxus, he met strong resistance. After two years of war Bactria was occupied by the Macedonians, but Alexander never successfully subdued the people. After Alexander's death, the Macedonian Empire was eventually divided up between several generals in Alexander's army. Bactria became part of Seleucus I, the founder of the Seleucid Empire.

Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of Antiquity. EucratidesStatere.jpg
Gold stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides, the largest gold coin of Antiquity.

"The famed Bactrian Empire of a thousand cities, wallowing in wealth (opulentissimum illud mille urbium Bactrianum imperium)" [12]

The many difficulties against which the Seleucid kings had to fight and the attacks of Ptolemy II of Egypt gave Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, the opportunity to declare independence (about 255 BCE) and conquer Sogdiana. He was the founder of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Diodotus and his successors were able to maintain themselves against the attacks of the Seleucids—particularly from Antiochus III the Great, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans (190 BCE).

The Greco-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India:

"As for Bactria, a part of it lies alongside Aria towards the north, though most of it lies above Aria and to the east of it. And much of it produces everything except oil. The Greeks who caused Bactria to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Bactria and beyond, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander...." [13]

The Greco-Bactrians used Greek language for administrative purposes, and the local Bactrian language was also Hellenized, as suggested by its adoption of the Greek alphabet and Greek loanwords. In turn, some of these words were also borrowed by modern Pashto, the language of Afghanistan. [14]

The treasure of the royal burial Tillia tepe is attributed to 1st century BCE Sakas in Bactria. MenWithDragons.jpg
The treasure of the royal burial Tillia tepe is attributed to 1st century BCE Sakas in Bactria.

The weakness of the Greco-Bactrians was shown by its sudden and complete overthrow, first by the Sakas, and then by the Yuezhi (who later became known as Kushans), who had conquered Bactria by the time of the visit of the Chinese envoy Zhang Qian (circa 127 BCE), who had been sent by the Han emperor to investigate lands to the west of China. [15]

Under the Sassanids the province would become part of the area known as Khorasan. [6]

Kujula Kadphises, the Guishuang xihou (or prince) of the Da Yuezhi, united the region in the early 1st century and laid the foundations for the powerful, but short-lived, Kushan Empire (1st to 3rd century CE), which was then overcome by the Sassanians from Persia. The name Daxia appears in Chinese from the 3rd century BCE to designate a mythical kingdom to the West, possibly a consequence of the first contacts with the expansion of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and then is used by the explorer Zhang Qian in 126 BCE to designate Bactria.

Zhang Qian taking leave from emperor Han Wudi, for his expedition to Central Asia from 138 to 126 BCE, Mogao Caves mural, 618-712 CE. ZhangQianTravels.jpg
Zhang Qian taking leave from emperor Han Wudi, for his expedition to Central Asia from 138 to 126 BCE, Mogao Caves mural, 618–712 CE.

The reports of Zhang Qian were put in writing in the Shiji ("Records of the Grand Historian") by Sima Qian in the 1st century BCE. They describe an important urban civilization of about one million people, living in walled cities under small city kings or magistrates. Daxia was an affluent country with rich markets, trading in an incredible variety of objects, coming as far as Southern China. By the time Zhang Qian visited Daxia, there was no longer a major king, and the Bactrian were suzerains to the nomadic Yuezhi, who were settled to the north of their territory beyond the Oxus (Amu Darya). Overall Zhang Qian depicted a rather sophisticated but demoralized people who were afraid of war.

Following these reports, the Chinese Emperor Wu Di was informed of the level of sophistication of the urban civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia, and became interested in developing commercial relationship with them:

"The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria (Daxia) and Parthia (Anxi) are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China" (Hanshu, Former Han History).

These contacts immediately led to the dispatch of multiple embassies from the Chinese, which helped to develop the Silk Road.

Modern history

presently shia Muslims form the vast majority of province approx 70% while sunnies being the rest

Politics and governance

The Governor's Palace in Mazar-i-Sharif Palace of Balkh Governor in 2010.jpg
The Governor's Palace in Mazar-i-Sharif

The current governor of the province is Mohammad Farhad Azimi. The city of Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital of the province. All law enforcement activities throughout the province are controlled by the Afghan National Police (ANP). Balkh's border with Uzbekistan is monitored by the Afghan Border Police (ABP). The provincial police chief represents the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul. The ANP is backed by other Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), including the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and NATO-led forces.


The percentage of households with clean drinking water increased from 8% in 2005 to 15% in 2011. [16] The percentage of births attended to by a skilled birth attendant increased from 0% in 2005 to 20% in 2011.In 2018 Dr.Khalilullah Hekmati was appointed the Public Health Director which was followed by positive changes in the Health sector. [16]


The overall literacy rate (6+ years of age) increased from 12% in 2005 to 23% in 2011. [16] The overall net enrolment rate (6–13 years of age) increased from 22% in 2005 to 46% in 2011. [16]


As of 2020, the total population of the province is about 1,509,183, [5] which is a multi-ethnic and mostly Persian-speaking (45% Tajik, 25% Hazara) society.

According to the Naval Postgraduate School: [17]

Balkh is ethnically diverse, including substantial Tajik, Hazara, Pashtuns, Arab, Uzbek, Turkomen, and Sunni Hazara (Kawshi) communities.

According to the World Food Program [7]

Around 66% of the population of Balkh lives in rural districts while 34% lives in urban areas. Around 51% of the population is male and 49% is female. The major ethnic groups living in Balkh province are Tajiks and Pashtuns followed by Uzbek, Hazaras, Turkman, Arab and Baluch. Dari is spoken by about 50% of the population and 58% of the villages. The second most frequent language is Pashto, spoken by the majorities in 266 villages representing 27% of the population, followed by Turkmani (11.9%) and Uzbeki (10.7%).


Balkh province is divided into 15 districts. [4]

Districts of Balkh Province
DistrictCapitalPopulation [18] Area [19]
Balkh 138,594
Charbolak 93,138
Charkint 51,098
Chimtal 105,441
Dawlatabad 121,247
Dihdadi 77,593
Kaldar 22,980
Khulm 84,866
Kishindih 55,964
Marmul 13,112
Mazar-e Sharif 500,207
Nahri Shahi 51,639
Sholgara 131,607
Shortepa 45,556
Zari 50,422


Buzkashi sport Buzkashi sport in the Balkh province.jpg
Buzkashi sport

The locals of Balkh take great pride in their sporting history and culture. Every Nowruz (Persian New Year), Balkh is the site of many sporting events. Buzkashi is a traditional horse riding sport of the region and is very popular in this province. Pehlwani is also a popular sport in the province. However, the most popular presently and for the last 50 years has been Soccer, this was evident in the Balkh team Simorgh Alborz F.C. finishing runners up in the inaugural Afghan Premier League [20] and in their contributions to the National Team.


On October 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C., Afghan officials signed a 30-year contract involving a $56 million investment by investment group Centar and its operating company Afghan Gold and Minerals Co. for exploration of an area covering 500 square km for copper, with development of mining due to begin thereafter. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Afghan Turkestan, also known as Southern Turkestan, is a region in northern Afghanistan, on the border with the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In the 19th century, there was a province in Afghanistan named Turkestan with Mazari Sharif as provincial capital. The province incorporated the territories of the present-day provinces of Balkh, Kunduz, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, and Faryab. In 1890, Qataghan-Badakhshan Province was separated from Turkestan Province. It was later abolished by Emir Abdur Rahman.

Ancient history of Afghanistan

Archaeological exploration of the pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan began in Afghanistan in earnest after World War II and proceeded until the late 1970s when the nation was invaded by the Soviet Union. Archaeologists and historians suggest that humans were living in Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities of the region were among the earliest in the world. Urbanized culture has existed in the land from between 3000 and 2000 BC. Artifacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron ages have been found inside Afghanistan.

Mazar-i-Sharif City in Balkh Province, Afghanistan

Mazār-i-Sharīf, also called Mazār-e Sharīf, or just Mazar, is the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan, with a population estimate 500,207 people. It is the capital of Balkh province and is linked by highways with Kunduz in the east, Kabul in the southeast, Herat in the southwest and Termez in Uzbekistan in the north. It is about 55 km (34 mi) from the Uzbek border. The city also serves as one of the many tourist attractions because of its famous shrines as well as the Islamic and Hellenistic archeological sites. The ancient city of Balkh is also nearby.

Bactria Historical region in Central Asia

Bactria, or Bactriana, was an ancient region in Central Asia. Bactria proper was north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Oxus river, covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan. More broadly Bactria was the area north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Tian Shan, covering modern-day Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as well, with the Amu Darya flowing west through the centre.

Kunduz City in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan

Kunduz is a city in northern Afghanistan, which serves as the capital of Kunduz Province. The city has a population of about 374,746, making it about the 6th-largest city of Afghanistan, and the largest city in the northeastern section of the country. Kunduz is located in the historical Tokharistan region of Bactria, near the confluence of the Kunduz River with the Khanabad River. Kunduz is linked by highways with Kabul to the south, Mazar-i-Sharif to the west, and Badakhshan to the east. Kunduz is also linked with Dushanbe in Tajikistan to the north, via the Afghan dry port of Sherkhan Bandar.


The Yuezhi were an ancient people first described in Chinese histories as nomadic pastoralists living in an arid grassland area in the western part of the modern Chinese province of Gansu, during the 1st millennium BC. After a major defeat by the Xiongnu in 176 BC, the Yuezhi split into two groups migrating in different directions: the Greater Yuezhi and Lesser Yuezhi.

Balkh Town in Balkh Province, Afghanistan

Balkh is a town in the Balkh Province of Afghanistan, about 20 km (12 mi) northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, and some 74 km (46 mi) south of the Amu Darya river and the Uzbekistan border. Its population was recently estimated to be 138,594.

Fergana Valley valley in Central Asia spread across eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan

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Zhang Qian Imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the 2nd century BC

Zhang Qian was a Chinese official and diplomat who served as an imperial envoy to the world outside of China in the late 2nd century BC during the Han dynasty. He was one of the first official diplomats to bring back valuable information about Central Asia, including the Greco-Bactrian remains of the Macedonian Empire as well as the Parthian Empire, to the Han dynasty imperial court, then ruled by Emperor Wu of Han.

Baghlan Province Province of Afghanistan

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Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex Archaeological culture

The Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex, also known as the Oxus civilization, recently dated to c. 2250–1700 BC, is the modern archaeological designation for a Bronze Age civilization of Central Asia, previously dated to c. 2400–1900 BC, by Sandro Salvatori, in its urban phase or Integration Era, located in present-day northern Afghanistan, eastern Turkmenistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan, centred on the upper Amu Darya in Bactria, and at Murghab river delta in Margiana. Its sites were discovered and named by the Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (1976). Bactria was the Greek name for the area of Bactra, in what is now northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Marguš, the capital of which was Merv, in modern-day southeastern Turkmenistan.

Indo-Greek Kingdom Hellenistic kingdom, covered parts of northwest Indian subcontinent during the two last centuries BC

The Indo-Greek Kingdom or Graeco-Indian Kingdom, and historically known as Yavanarajya, was a Hellenistic kingdom spanning modern-day Afghanistan and the classical circumscriptions of the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, which existed during the last two centuries BC and was ruled by more than thirty kings, often conflicting with one another.

Ai-Khanoum Ruins of an ancient city in Afghanistan

Ai-Khanoum, possibly the historical Alexandria on the Oxus, possibly later named Eucratidia, Εὐκρατίδεια) was one of the primary cities of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom from circa 280 BCE, and of the Indo-Greek kings when they ruled both in Bactria and northwestern India, from the time of Demetrius I to the time of Eucratides. Previous scholars have argued that Ai Khanoum was founded in the late 4th century BC, following the conquests of Alexander the Great. Recent analysis now strongly suggests that the city was founded c. 280 BC by the Seleucid emperor Antiochus I Soter. The city is located in Takhar Province, northern Afghanistan, at the confluence of the Panj River and the Kokcha River, both tributaries of the Amu Darya, historically known as the Oxus. It is on the lower of two major sets of routes which connect Western Asia to the Khyber Pass which gives road access to South Asia.


Dayuan is the Chinese exonym for a country that existed in Ferghana valley in Central Asia, described in the Chinese historical works of Records of the Grand Historian and the Book of Han. It is mentioned in the accounts of the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian in 130 BCE and the numerous embassies that followed him into Central Asia. The country of Dayuan is generally accepted as relating to the Ferghana Valley, controlled by the Greek polis Alexandria Eschate.

Bactrian language Extinct Eastern Iranian language of Central Asia

Bactrian is an extinct Eastern Iranian language formerly spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria and used as the official language of the Greco-Bactrian, Kushan, and the Hephthalite empires.


Daxia, Ta-Hsia, or Ta-Hia was apparently the name given in antiquity by the Han Chinese to Tukhara or Tokhara: the main part of Bactria, in what is now northern Afghanistan, and parts of southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Sheberghan City in Jowzjan Province, Afghanistan

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Margiana Province within the Iranian and Hellenistic states

Margiana is a historical region centred on the oasis of Merv and was a minor satrapy within the Achaemenid satrapy of Bactria, and a province within its successors, the Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian empires.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom Ancient kingdom

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, also known as the Diodotian Empire, was along with the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the easternmost part of the Hellenistic world, in Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent from 256 to 125 BC. It covered much of present day Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and parts of Iran, Pakistan and India. The capital at Bactra was one of the largest and richest cities in antiquity – Bactria itself known as the ‘empire of a thousand golden cities’. The Indo-Greek Kingdom - a Diodotid successor state was to last until 10 AD.

Transoxiana Ancient Roman name used for an Iranian region in Central Asia which was home to the Turan and Sogdia civilizations

Transoxiana is an ancient name referring to a region and civilization located in lower Central Asia roughly corresponding to modern-day eastern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kazakhstan and southern Kyrgyzstan. Geographically, it is the region between the rivers Amu Darya to its south and the Syr Darya to its north.


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