Balkh

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Balkh

(bälkh), 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 ZoroasterZoroaster
, c.628 B.C.–c.551 B.C., religious teacher and prophet of ancient Persia, founder of Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster, the name by which he is ordinarily known, is derived from the Greek form of Zarathushtra (or Zarathustra) [camel handler?], his Persian name.
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. Because it was located on natural travel routes at a source of water, the town was important as early as the 3d millennium B.C., when the lapis lazuli trade to Mesopotamia began. Alexander the Great reputedly founded a Greek colony at the site c.328 B.C. The city later attained great wealth and importance as Bactra, capital of the independent kingdom of BactriaBactria
, ancient Greek kingdom in central Asia. Its capital was Bactra, present-day Balkh in N Afghanistan. Before the Greek conquest, the region was an eastern province of the Persian Empire.
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. In the early centuries A.D., Balkh, a prominent center of Buddhism, was renowned for its Buddhist monasteries and stupas. Conquered by the Arabs in the 8th cent., it became important in the world of Islam as the original home of the BarmakidsBarmakids
or Barmecides
, Persian-descended religious family from Khorasan. They served as viziers to the Abbasid caliphs in the 8th cent. Khalid ibn Barmak, d. 782?, supported the revolution that brought about Abbasid rule.
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. Under the Abbasid caliphate its fame as a center of learning earned Balkh the title "mother of cities," and the Persian poet and mystic Jalal ad-Din RumiRumi, Jalal ad-Din
, 1207–73, great Islamic Persian sage and poet mystic, b. in Balkh. His father, a scholar, was invited by the Seljuk sultan of Rum to settle in Iconium (now Konya), Turkey.
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 was born there. The city was sacked in 1221 by Jenghiz KhanJenghiz Khan
or Genghis Khan
, Mongolian Chinggis Khaan, 1167?–1227, Mongol conqueror, originally named Temujin. He succeeded his father, Yekusai, as chieftain of a Mongol tribe and then fought to become ruler of a Mongol confederacy.
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 and lay in ruins until TimurTimur
or Tamerlane
, c.1336–1405, Mongol conqueror, b. Kesh, near Samarkand. He is also called Timur Leng [Timur the lame]. He was the son of a tribal leader, and he claimed (apparently for the first time in 1370) to be a descendant of Jenghiz Khan.
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 rebuilt it (early 16th cent.). It passed to the Uzbeks and then briefly to the MughalMughal
or Mogul
, Muslim empire in India, 1526–1857. The dynasty was founded by Babur, a Turkic chieftain who had his base in Afghanistan. Babur's invasion of India culminated in the battle of Panipat (1526) and the occupation of Delhi and Agra.
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 empire before falling (18th cent.) to Nadir ShahNadir Shah
or Nader Shah
, 1688–1747, shah of Iran (1736–47), sometimes considered the last of the great Asian conquerors. He was a member of the Afshar tribe.
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. In 1850, Balkh became part of the unified kingdom of Afghanistan. The old city is now mostly in ruins; the new city, some distance away, is an agricultural and commercial center, inhabited chiefly by Uzbeks.

Balkh

 

site of a fortified town in northern Afghanistan, near the modern city of Balkh (Wazirabad); also, the ruins of the ancient city of Bactra (capital of Bactria) and the medieval city of Balkh.

The settlement originated in the sixth to fourth centuries B. C. During the third and second centuries B. C., Balkh was the capital of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and then of the Kushan kingdom. In the seventh century A. D. it was destroyed by the Arabs; its restoration was begun in 725. In the tenth century Balkh consisted of the city proper (shahristan) and a suburb (rabad). In the 11th and 12th centuries it was part of the possessions of the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, and the Ghurids. In 1221 it was destroyed by Genghis Khan; it was restored in the 14th century. A number of architectural monuments of the 15th and 16th centuries remain. They include the remnants of the Bala Hissar fortress, city walls, mosques, madrasas, and baths. The mausoleum and mosque of Khwaja Abu Nasr Pars (from the end of the 15th century) is well preserved. It has a glazed turquoise ribbed dome anda portal of twisted columns. No major excavations have been conducted in Balkh.

REFERENCE

Bartol’d, V. V. “Turkestan v epokhu mongol’skogo nashestviia.” Soch., vol. 1. Moscow, 1963.

V. M. MASSON and V. L. VORONINA

Balkh

a region of N Afghanistan, corresponding to ancient Bactria. Chief town: Mazar-i-Sharif
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