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Watershed of the Oxus River in the 8th century, showing Transoxiana and its principal localities to the northeast. Transoxiana 8th century.svg
Watershed of the Oxus River in the 8th century, showing Transoxiana and its principal localities to the northeast.
Transoxania and the neighbouring regions of Greater Khorasan and Khwarazm in Central Asia Chorasan-Transoxanien-Choresmien neu.svg
Transoxania and the neighbouring regions of Greater Khorasan and Khwarazm in Central Asia

Transoxiana or Transoxania ("Land beyond the Oxus") is the Latin name for the region and civilization located in lower Central Asia roughly corresponding to modern-day eastern Uzbekistan, western Tajikistan, parts of southern Kazakhstan, parts of Turkmenistan and southern Kyrgyzstan. The name was first coined by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC when Alexander's troops were able to conquer the region. The region may have had a similar Greek name in the days of Alexander the Great, but the earlier Greek name is no longer known. [1] Geographically, it is the region between the rivers Amu Darya to its south and the Syr Darya to its north. [2]


Historically known in Persian as Farā-rūd (Persian : فرارود, [fæɾɒːˈɾuːd̪] – 'beyond the [Amu] river'), Faro-rüd (Tajik : Фарорӯд), and Varaz-rüd (Tajik : Варазрӯд), the area had been known to the ancient Iranians as Turan , a term used in the Persian national epic Shahnameh . [3] The corresponding Chinese term for the region is Hezhong (Chinese :河中地区 - land between rivers (Amu and Syr) ). The Arabic term Mā Warāʾ an-Nahr (Arabic : ما وراء النهر, [ˈmaːwaˈraːʔanˈnahr] , which means "what is beyond the [Jayhūn] river") passed into Persian literary usage and stayed on until post-Mongol times. [4]

The region of Transoxiana was one of the satrapies (provinces) of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia under the name Sogdia. It was defined within the classical world of Persia to distinguish it from Iran proper, especially its northeastern province of Khorasan, [5] a term originating with the Sasanians, [6] although early Arab historians and geographers tended to subsume the region within the loosely defined term "Khorasan" designating a much larger territory. [7] [8] The territories of Khwarazm, Sogdiana, Chaghaniyan, and Khuttal were located in the southern part of Transoxiana; Chach, Osrushana, and Farghana were located in the northern part. [9]


Pre-Islamic period

A Chinese sancai ceramic statuette depicting a Sogdian stableman, dated to the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - tri-coloured figurine of a foreigner.jpg
A Chinese sancai ceramic statuette depicting a Sogdian stableman, dated to the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE)

The name Transoxiana stuck in Western consciousness because of the exploits of Alexander the Great, who extended Greek culture into the region with his invasion in the 4th century BCE. Alexander's successors would go on to found the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, ushering in a distinct Greek cultural presence within Transoxiana that existed for over two hundred years. The city of Ai-Khanoum, situated on the Oxus in northern Afghanistan, remains the only Graeco Bactrian city to have been found and extensively excavated. [10]

During the Sasanian (Sassanid) Empire, it was often called Sogdia, a provincial name taken from the Achaemenid Empire, and used to distinguish it from nearby Bactria.

The Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited the neighbouring countries of Bactria and Parthia along with Transoxiana in 126 BCE, made the first known Chinese report on this region. Zhang Qian clearly identifies Parthia as an advanced urban civilisation that farmed grain and grapes, and made silver coins and leather goods. [11] It was ruled successively by Seleucids, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, the Parthian Empire and the Kushan Empire before Sassanid rule.

In Sasanian times, the region became a major cultural center due to the wealth derived from the Northern Silk Road. Sassanid rule was interrupted by the Hephthalite invasion at the end of the 5th century and didn't return to the Sassanids until 565.

Islamic period

Many Persian nobles and landlords escaped to this region after the Muslim conquest of Persia. It was also ruled by Göktürks until the Arab conquest between 705 and 715, the area became known by the Arabic phrase Mā warāʼ al-Nahr "what is beyond the river", sometimes rendered as "Mavarannahr".

Transoxiana's major cities and cultural centers are Samarkand and Bukhara. Both are in the southern portion of Transoxiana (though still to the north of the Amu Darya itself, on the river Zarafshan) and Uzbekistan, and the majority of the region was dry but fertile plains. Both cities remained centres of Persian culture and civilisation after the Islamic conquest of Iran, and played a crucial role in the revival of Persian culture with establishment of the Samanid Empire.

Part of this region was conquered by Qutayba ibn Muslim between 706 and 715 and loosely held by the Umayyads from 715 to 738. The conquest was consolidated by Nasr ibn Sayyar between 738 and 740, and continued under the control of the Umayyads until 750, when it was replaced by the Abbasid Caliphate. The Tang dynasty of China also controlled the eastern part of the region until the An Lushan Rebellion broke out.

In the early Islamic period, the people of Transoxania spoke Sogdian (an Iranian language) and were divided among several principalities. [12] The Arab conquest resulted in the spread of Arabic elite culture, and, more paradoxically, of Persian "as a spoken and eventually written language" in the region. [12] The Arab conquest also resulted in contacts with Tang China, where fragments of the Sasanian ruling elite, including Peroz III, had taken shelter after Iran's conquest by the Arabs. [12] However, it did not result in Transoxania having major interactions with Chinese culture. [12]

Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, invaded Transoxiana in 1219 during his conquest of Khwarezm. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of Western Central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369, Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler and made Samarkand the capital of his future empire. Transoxiana was known to be flourishing in the mid-14th century. [13]


The historian Mark Dickens notes: [9]

Transoxiana's principal pre-Islamic religion was Zoroastrianism, albeit in local manifestations. However, Buddhism, [Nestorian] Christianity, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism also had many adherents, especially in urban areas. This initial religious diversity was gradually eroded after the Arab conquest.

Muslims had conquered Transoxiana by the 7-8th century. There were multiple figures in the Muslim world who had conquered these lands. Some include the Umayyad and Abbasid Arabs that took over lands that are now Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Transoxania was a great center of Muslim civilization; it was the centre of the Timurid Empire and saw influential Muslim leaders like Oghuz Khan.

An excerpt from a dynastic history commissioned by Eltüzer Khan of Khwarazm: "Oghuz Khan, who could speak at the age of one and whose first word was "Allah." He rebelled against his father, eventually slaying him, before embarking on a series of conquests that brought Islam to all of "Transoxiana and Turkestan." [14] [15]

See also

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  2. "Transoxania (historical region, Asia)". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-11-10.
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  6. "Khorāsān". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  7. C. Edmund Bosworth, (2002), 'CENTRAL ASIA iv. In the Islamic Period up to the Mongols' Encyclopaedia Iranica "In early Islamic times Persians tended to identify all the lands to the northeast of Khorasan and lying beyond the Oxus with the region of Turan, which in the Šāh-nāma of Ferdowsī is regarded as the land allotted to Ferēdūn's son Tūr... At the outset, however, those nearby parts of Central Asia with which the Arabs were familiar were often subsumed into the vast and ill-defined province of Khorasan, embracing all lands to the east of Ray, Jebāl, and Fārs". (online)
  8. C. Edmund Bosworth, (2011), 'MĀ WARĀʾ AL-NAHR' Encyclopaedia Iranica "It was defined by the early Arabic historians and geographers as the lands under Muslim control lying to the north of the middle and upper Oxus or Āmu Daryā, in contrast to Iran proper and its eastern province of Khorasan, sometimes called Mā dun al-nahr (lit. "what lies this side of the river"), although from the perspective of Arab historians writing in distant Iraq, the term "Khorasan" might extend to all lands beyond the Oxus, including Khwarazm and Transoxiana." (online)
  9. 1 2 Dickens 2018, pp. 1531–1532.
  10. Rachel Mairs, The Hellenistic Far East
  11. Silk Road, North China, C. Michael Hogan, The Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham (2007)
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Further reading