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(băk`trēə), ancient Greek kingdom in central Asia. Its capital was Bactra, present-day BalkhBalkh
, town, N Afghanistan, on a dried-up tributary of the Amu Darya River. One of the world's oldest cities, it is the legendary birthplace of the prophet Zoroaster. Because it was located on natural travel routes at a source of water, the town was important as early as the 3d
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 in N Afghanistan. Before the Greek conquest, the region was an eastern province of the Persian Empire. It prospered as the area for transmitting Siberian and Indian metals and goods to the Persians. When Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire, the Bactrians, under Bessus, resisted stoutly, but they were subdued in 328. Bactria took on Greek culture, became quasi-independent, and theoretically remained part of the Seleucid empire. In 256 B.C., Diodotus I was made satrap, and a little later he assumed complete independence. His successor, Euthydemus, successfully resisted attempts (208–206 B.C.) to bring Bactria back into the empire. Euthydemus' son Demetrius made Bactria a powerful state. The Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV, sent Eucratidas into Bactria, and Eucratidas in 167 B.C. brought about the death of Demetrius but was himself slain in 159 B.C. Menander, Demetrius' general, continued to exercise power until his death in 145 B.C. Bactria later (c.130 B.C.) became part of the Kushan empire. It was subjugated by the Ephthalites in the 5th cent. and partially by the Turks in the 6th cent.


See H. G. Rawlinson, Bactria: The History of a Forgotten Empire (1912, repr. 1969); W. W. Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India (2d ed. 1951); A. K. Narain, The Indo-Greeks (1957, repr. 1962).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



or Bactriana, ancient region along the middle and upper course of the Amu Darya, comprising the territory of the present-day southern oblasts of the Uzbek SSR and the Tadzhik SSR and the northern region of Afghanistan. To the north, it was bordered by Soghdiana, to the south and southeast, by Arachosia and Gandhara, to the west by Margiana. Bactria was one of the most ancient centers of the development of agriculture and the formation of a state system in Middle Asia. Slaveholding society existed in Bactria as early as the first half of the first millennium B. C. Bactria’s main city was Bactra. Between the sixth and the fourth centuries B. C., Bactria was first part of the Achaemenid Empire and then of the empire of Alexander of Macedonia. After the latter empire disintegrated, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom arose on the territory of Bactria and several neighboring regions (circa 250 B. C.—between 140 and 130 B. C.). Then, Bactria, along with Soghdiana, became the center for the formation of the Kushan kingdom, which was created by the Tochari and other tribes. The name of the region, Tochari-stan, was derived later from the Tochari. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the region to the south of the Amu Darya was called Balkh (after its main city). Bactria was one of the ancient centers for the development of artistic culture in Asia; the Amu Darya treasure (fourth to second centuries B. C.) containing local and imported artistic articles was found here. Later on, the art of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and then of the Kushan kingdom took shape here.


D’iakonov, M. M. “Slozhenie klassovogo obshchestva v Severnoi Baktrii.” In Sovetskaia arkheologiia, vol. 19, Moscow, 1954.
Istoriia Uzbekskoi SSR, vol. 1. Tashkent, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an ancient country of SW Asia, between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Oxus River: forms the present Balkh region in N Afghanistan
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005