Bagram

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Location of Begram in Baktria
Location of Alexandria

Bagram (بگرام Bagrām), Begram, founded as Alexandria on the Caucasus and known in medieval times as Kapisa, is a small town and seat in Bagram District in Parwan Province of Afghanistan.

Alexander Cunningham[1] has identified Begram with the Kiu-lu-sa-pang of the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, the true name of the place must have been Karsana, as written by Ptolemy.

Location

Located about 60 kilometers north of the capital Kabul. It is the site of an ancient city located at the junction of the Ghorband and Panjshir Valley, near today's city of Charikar, Afghanistan.

The location of this historical town made it a key passage from Ancient India along the Silk Road, leading westwards through the mountains towards Bamiyan.

The plain of Begram is bounded by the Panjshir and the Koh-daman rivers on the north and south; by the Mahighir canal on the west ; and on the east by the lands of Julgha, in the fork of the two rivers.[2]

Origin of name

According to Alexander Cunningham, The appellation of Begram means, nothing more than " the city" par excellence, as it is also applied to three other ancient sites in the immediate vicinity of great capitals, namely, Kabul, Jalalabad, and Peshawar. Masson derives the appellation from the Turki be or bi " chief," and the Hindi gram or city, — that is, the capital.[3] But a more simple derivation would be from the Sanskrit vi, implying " certainty," " ascertainment," as in vijaya, victory, which is only an emphatic form of. jay a with the prefix vi. Vigrama would therefore mean emphatically " the city " — that is, the capital ; and Bigram would be the Hindi form of the name, just as Bijay is the spoken form of Vijaya. [4]

History

In the mid 500s BC, Cyrus the Great of the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty destroyed the city as part of his campaign against the Saka nomads in the region. The town, however, was soon rebuilt by his successor Darius I.

In the 320s BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and established a fortified colony named Alexandria of the Caucasus. The new town, laid out in the "hippodamian plan" or iron-grid pattern—a hallmark of Greek city planning, had brick walls reinforced with towers at the angles. The central street was bordered with shops and workshops.

After his death in 323 BC, the city passed to his general Seleucus, who traded it with the Mauryans of India in 305 BC.

After the Mauryans were overthrown by the Sunga Dynasty in 185 BC, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom invaded and conquered northwestern India (present-day Pakistan) with an army led by Demetrius I of Bactria. Alexandria became a capital of the Eucratidian Indo-Greek Kingdom after they were driven out of Bactria by the Yuezhi in 140 BC.

Bagram became the capital of the Kushan Empire in the 1st century, from here they invaded and conquered Peshawar in the south. The "Bagram treasure" as it has been called, is indicative of intense commercial exchanges between all the cultural centers of the classical time, with the Kushan empire at the junction of the land and sea trade between the east and west. However, the works of art found in Bagram are either quite purely Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese or Indian, with only little indications of the cultural syncretism found in Greco-Buddhist art.

Visit by Xuanzang 630 AD

Alexander Cunningham[5] writes about Karsana, Kartana or Tetragonis. The passage of Pliny describing the position of Alexandria is prefaced by a few words regarding the town of Cartana, which, while they assign it a similar position at the foot of the Caucasus, seem also to refer it to the immediate vicinity of Alexander's city. I quote the whole passage, with the correction which I


[p.27]: have already proposed:[6] — " Cartana oppidum sub Caucaso, quod postea Tetragonis dictum. Haec regio est ex adverse Bactriae. Opiorum (regio) deinde cujus oppidum Alexandria a conditore dictum." " At the foot of the Caucasus stands the town of Cartana, which was afterwards called Tetragonis (or the Square). This district is opposite to Bactria. Next (to it) are the Opii, whose city of Alexandria was named after its founder." Solinus makes no mention of Cartana, but Ptolemy has a town named Karsana, or Karnasa, which he places on the right bank of a nameless river that comes from the vicinity of Kapisa and Niphanda (or Opian), and joins the river of Locharna, or Lohgarh, nearly opposite Nagara. This stream I take to be the united Panjshir and Ghorband river, which joins the Lohgarh river about halfway between Kabul and Jalalabad. This identification is rendered nearly certain by the position assigned to the Lambatae, or people of Lampaka or Lamghan, who are placed to the east of the nameless river, which cannot therefore be the Kunar river, as might otherwise have been inferred from its junction with the Lohgarh river opposite Nagara.

This being the case, the Karsana of Ptolemy may at once be identified with the Cartana of Pliny ; and the few facts related by both authors may be combined to aid us in discovering its true position. According to Pliny, it was situated at the foot of the Caucasus, and not far from Alexandria ; whilst, according to Ptolemy, it was on the right bank of the Panjshir river. These data point to Begram, which is situated on the right bank of the united Panjshir and Ghorband rivers, immediately at the foot of the Kohistan


[p.28]: hills, and within 6 miles of Opian, or Alexandria Opiane. As I know of no other place that answers all these requirements, it seems most probable that Begram must be the true locality. Parwan and Kushan are ancient places of some consequence in the neighbourhood of Opian ; but they are both on the left bank of the Ghorband river, while the first is probably the Baborana of Ptolemy, and the other his Kapisa. Begram also answers the description which Pliny gives of Cartana, as Tetragonis, or the " Square;" for Masson, in his account of the ruins, specially notices " some mounds of great magnitude, and accurately describing a square of considerable dimensions."[7] If I am right in identifying Begram with the Kiu-lu-sa-pang of the Chinese pilgrim, the true name of the place must have been Karsana, as written by Ptolemy, and not Cartana, as noted by Pliny. The same form of the name is also found on a rare coin of Eukratides, with the legend Karisiye nagara, or " city of Karisi" which I have identified with the Kalasi of the Buddhist chronicles, as the birthplace of Raja Milindu. In another passage of the same chronicle, [8] Milindu is said to have been born at Alasanda, or Alexandria, the capital of the Yona, or Greek country. Kalasi must therefore have been either Alexandria itself or some place close to it. The latter conclusion agrees exactly with the position of Begram, which is only a few miles to the east of Opian. Originally two distinct places, like Delhi and Shah Jahanabad, or London and Westminster, I suppose Opian and Karsana


[p.29]: to have gradually approached each other as they increased in size, until at last they virtually became one large city. On the coins of the earlier Greek kings of Ariana, — Euthydemus, Demetrius, and Eukratides, — we find the monograms of both cities ; but after the time of Eukratides, that of Opiana disappears altogether, while that of Karsana is common to most of the later princes. The contemporary occurrence of these mint monograms proves that the two cities were existing at the same time ; while the sudden disuse of the name of Opian may serve to show that, during the latter period of Greek occupation, the city of Alexandria had been temporarily supplanted by Karsana.

The appellation of Begram means, I believe, nothing more than " the city" par excellence, as it is also applied to three other ancient sites in the immediate vicinity of great capitals, namely, Kabul, Jalalabad, and Peshawar. Masson derives the appellation from the Turki be or bi " chief," and the Hindi gram or city, — that is, the capital.[9] But a more simple derivation would be from the Sanskrit vi, implying " certainty," " ascertainment," as in vijaya, victory, which is only an emphatic form of. jay a with the prefix vi. Vigrama would therefore mean emphatically " the city " — that is, the capital ; and Bigram would be the Hindi form of the name, just as Bijay is the spoken form of Vijaya.

The plain of Begram is bounded by the Panjshir and the Koh-daman rivers on the north and south; by the Mahighir canal on the west ; and on the east by the lands of Julgha, in the fork of the two rivers.


[p.30]: Its length, from Bayan, on the Mahighir canal, to Julgha, is about 8 miles ; and its breadth, from Kilah Buland to Yuz Bashi, is 4 miles. Over the whole of this space vast numbers of relics have been discovered, consisting of small images, coins, seals, beads, rings, arrow-heads, fragments of pottery, and other remains, which prove that this plain was once the site of a great city. According to the traditions of the people, Begram was a Greek city, which was overwhelmed by some natural catastrophe.[10] Masson doubts the tradition, and infers from the vast number of Kufic coins found there, that the city must have existed for some centuries after the Muhammadan invasion. I am inclined to think that Masson is right, and that the decline of the city was caused by the gradual desertion of the people, consequent on the transfer of the seat of government to Ghazni, after the conquest of the country by the Muhammadans. Coins of the last Hindu Rajas of Kabul and of the first Muhammadan kings of Ghazni are found in great numbers ; but the money of the later Ghaznavi princes is less plentiful, whilst of the succeeding Ghori dynasty only a few specimens of some of the earlier sovereigns have yet been discovered. From these plain facts, I infer that the city began gradually to decay after the Muhammadan conquest of Kabul by Sabuktugin, towards the end of the tenth century, and that it was finally deserted about the beginning of the thirteenth century. As the latter period corresponds with the date of Janghez Khan's invasion of these provinces, it is very possible, as Masson has already supposed, that Begram may have been finally destroyed by that merciless barbarian.

Bagram under the Maurya Empire

While the Diadochi were warring amongst themselves, the Mauryan Empire was developing in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The founder of the empire, Chandragupta Maurya, confronted a Macedonian invasion force led by Seleucus I in 305 BC and following a brief conflict, an agreement was reached as Seleucus ceded Gandhara and Arachosia (centered around ancient Kandahar) and areas south of Bagram (corresponding to the extreme south-east of modern Afghanistan) to the Mauryans.

During the 120 years of the Mauryans in southern Afghanistan, Buddhism was introduced and eventually become a major religion alongside Zoroastrianism and local pagan beliefs. The ancient Grand Trunk Road was built linking what is now Kabul to various cities in the Punjab and the Gangetic Plain. Commerce, art, and architecture (seen especially in the construction of stupas) developed during this period. It reached its high point under Emperor Ashoka whose edicts, roads, and rest stops were found throughout the subcontinent. Although the vast majority of them throughout the subcontinent were written in Prakrit, Afghanistan is notable for the inclusion of 2 Greek and Aramaic ones alongside the court language of the Mauryans.

Kandahar Inscription of Ashoka Edict 13

Inscriptions made by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, a fragment of Edict 13 in Greek, as well as a full Edict, written in both Greek and Aramaic has been discovered in Kandahar. It is said to be written in excellent Classical Greek, using sophisticated philosophical terms. In this Edict, Ashoka uses the word Eusebeia ("Piety") as the Greek translation for the ubiquitous "Dharma" of his other Edicts written in Prakrit:

"Ten years (of reign) having been completed, King Piodasses (Ashoka) made known (the doctrine of) Piety (εὐσέβεια, Eusebeia) to men; and from this moment he has made men more pious, and everything thrives throughout the whole world. And the king abstains from (killing) living beings, and other men and those who (are) huntsmen and fishermen of the king have desisted from hunting. And if some (were) intemperate, they have ceased from their intemperance as was in their power; and obedient to their father and mother and to the elders, in opposition to the past also in the future, by so acting on every occasion, they will live better and more happily." (Trans. by G.P. Carratelli)[11]

The last ruler in the region was probably Subhagasena (Sophagasenus of Polybius), who, in all probability, belonged to the Ashvaka (q.v.) background.

References

  1. Alexander Cunningham: The Ancient Geography of India/Northern India,pp. 28
  2. Alexander Cunningham: The Ancient Geography of India/Northern India,pp. 29
  3. ' Travels,' iii. 165.
  4. Alexander Cunningham: The Ancient Geography of India/Northern India,pp. 29
  5. The Ancient Geography of India/Northern India,pp. 26-30
  6. Hist. Nat., vi. 23.
  7. 'Travels,' iii. 155. For the position of Begram see No. III. Map.
  8. \ Milindu-prasna, quoted by Hardy, in ' Manual of Buddhism,' pp. 440, 516.
  9. ' Travels,' iii. 165.
  10. Masson, ' Travels,' iii. 159.
  11. History of Afghanistan