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(myĕrf), ancient city, in Turkmenistan, in a large oasis of the Kara Kum desert, on the Murgab River. The city, known in antiquity as Margiana, or Antiochia Margiana, was founded in the 3d cent. B.C. on the site of an earlier settlement. Its periods of greatness were from A.D. 651 to 821, when it was the seat of the Arab rulers of Khorasan and Transoxania and one of the main centers of Islamic learning, and from 1118 to 1157, when it was the capital of the Seljuk Empire under the last sultan, Sandzhar. The Mongols destroyed the city early in the 13th cent., but it was slowly rebuilt, to be destroyed again by the Bukharans in 1790. The Russians conquered the area in 1884. Several mausoleums, mosques, and castles of the 11th and 12th cent. are preserved and are among the best monuments of Muslim art in Central Asia. Present-day Merv, c.20 mi (30 km) from the old city, was renamed MaryMary
or Mari
, city (1991 pop. 94,900), capital of Mary region, SE Turkmenistan. Lying in a large oasis of the Kara Kum desert, on the Murgab River delta, Mary is the center of a rich cotton-growing area.
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 in 1937.



one of the most ancient cities of Middle Asia, once existing on the Murghab (Murgab) River near the modern city of Bairam-Ali in the Turkmen SSR. The historical region along the Murghab River (Old Persian, Murgash; Greco-Roman, Margiana) was also called Merv. The ruins of Merv were first investigated in the 1880’s; intensive investigations were undertaken in 1946 by the archaeological expedition led by the Soviet archaeologist M. E. Masson.

The oldest part of Merv is the site of a fortified settlement known as Erk-Kala (Erk Kalah), which had already existed in the middle of the first millennium B.C. (Erk-Kala, with an area measuring 12 hectares, is surrounded by a mud-brick wall; in the center of the site stands a building on a monolithic platform.) In antiquity, Merv flourished from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D., at which time its area measured approximately 60 sq km. It had the three-part structure typical of northern Parthian cities: the citadel (Erk Kalah); the walled city proper (the present site called Giaur Kala), which had a layout dominated by two main streets with irregularly built-up insulae; and the suburbs, which were also enclosed by a wall.

In the third century B.C., Merv became part of the Sassanid state. In the seventh century, it was conquered by the Arabs. During this period, feudal castles and various religious structures were erected (two Buddhist monasteries and one Christian monastery) both within Giaur-Kala and in the suburbs. The castles were mostly two-storied and had walls with grooving.

Merv was at the zenith of its glory in the 11th century and the first half of the 12th century, when it was the capital of the Seljuks. By this time, the city had shifted westward (the site now called Sultan-Kala) and was enclosed by a new wall. (Sultan-Kala has an irregular rectangular layout and includes the mausoleum of the sultan Sanjar and the citadel of Shahriyar-ark [11th and 12th centuries] with a four-hailed palace, barracks, and a large administrative building.) The mausoleum of Muhammad ibn Zayd (1112–13), the potters’ quarter, and other remains are located in the suburbs.

In the late 12th century and in the early 13th, Merv was an important center of the state of the Khurasan shahs. In 1222 the city was destroyed by the Mongols. Thereafter, it was partially restored but no longer played an important role. (The remains of the restoration now constitute the site called Abdullah KhanKala, south of Sultan-Kala, with a regular layout and with the remains of a palace, mosque, madrasah, and several mausoleums.)

Merv was under Persian rule from 1510 to 1524 and from 1601 to 1747. By the 19th century, it fell into decline, and the region’s administrative center was transferred to the city of Mary, 30 km to the west.


Trudy luzhno-turkmenskoi arkheologicheskoi kompleksnoi ekspeditstii. Moscow, 1958. Vols. 11–14, Ashkhabad, 1962–69.
Zhukovskii, V. A. Drevnosti Zakaspiiskogo kraia; Razvaliny starogo Merva. St. Petersburg, 1894.
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