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Author: Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

Gurgan is the capital of Golestan Province, Iran. It was known as Hyrcania (Greeks). It was homeland of Vrikas. Hyrcania is the Greek form of the old Persian Virkâna, that is Wolf's Land. It is now called Gurgân.[1]

Variants of name


It lies approximately 400 km to the north east of Tehran, some 30 km away from the Caspian Sea.

Origin of name

The city was named Hyrcania, Hyrcani or Hyrcana in ancient Greek records, which comes from Pahlavi Varkâna -- "Land of the Wolves". Although modern Gorgan is only a city and county (sharing the same name), ancient Hyrcania was the name of a greater region on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea (encompassing all of the present day Golestan province, as well as some eastern parts of the Mazandaran province, and some southern parts of the present day Republic of Turkmenistan). In modern times and until 1937 the city used to be known as Astarabad.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[3] mentions 'Nations situated around the Hyrcanian Sea'....Lying to the east of the Caspii is the region known as Apavortene,1 in which there is a place noted for its singular fertility, called Dareium.2

1 By some writers called Apavareticene, in the south-eastern part of Parthia. Ansart says that it is now known as Asterabad and Ghilan.

2 Or Dara. A strongly fortified place, built by Arsaces I., and situate on the mountains of the Zapaorteni.


V. S. Agrawala[4] mentions the names of Ayudhjivi Sanghas in the Panini's Sutras which include Vṛika (V.3.115). ...The Country of Vrikas seems to have being the same as Hyrcania lying to the north of Parthia and on the eastern corner of the Caspian (mod. Persian Gurgan, from Vrika=Gurg, in the valley of River of that name in the fertile district of Astarabad. The Persians distinguished the Varkas and infact all the northern war like equestrian people as Sacas (Persepolis Tomb Inscription, Sakā para-daria).

The name Vrika was known throughout the north-west as shown by its derivatives found in the several languages near Panini’s homeland, e.g. Ishkashmi werk, Yidgha wurk, wurg etc.

The name Hyrcania is the ancient Greek equivalent of the local name in Old Persian, Varkâna. The Sanskrit word for "wolf", Vŗka (वृक) may be a cognate. The capital of Hyrcania was Zadracarta, the largest city and site of the "royal palace" of Hyrcania. According to Arrian[5], this was the largest city of Hyrcania. The term signifies, " the yellow city "; and it was given to it from the great number of oranges, lemons, and other fruit trees which grew in the outskirts of that city.[6] At the time of the Sassanids,Gorgan appeared as the name of a city, province capital, and province.[7]

Hyrcania became part of the Persian empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) - the first emperor of the first Persian imperial dynasty, the Achaemenids - or his successor Cambyses (530-522 BC). It maintained its independence as a Zoroastrian state even after Persia was conquered by Arabs in 8th century and by Mongols in the 13th century.

Jat History

Bhim Singh Dahiya writes about this clan that a part of Khionites/white Hunas, the Chahlas (Chols of European historians) in the fourth century AD, were settled on the east of Caspian sea. This was the period when Jauvlas/Johls were occupying Zabulistan in Ghazni area. In 438-39 AD the Iranian Emperor Yazdegirel II led an expedition against the Chahls to the north of Gurgan. It was at Gurgan in steppes of Dahistan that Yazdegird I had been killed by the Jats in 420 AD, even in his own military headquarters, as Gurgan really was.[8] The Chahls must have come to India in the fifth century AD.[9]

Writing With regard to the Anari Jats, H.W. Bellow says, heading the above list of Taraki sections, I may here note that the name is seldom met with in the Afghan genealogies. I have taken the name to represent the ancient Anariakai of Strabo, who (Geog.xi. 8), quoting Eratosthenes, places them on the shores of the Caspian Sea next to Hyrkania (modern Gurgan) ; for Anariakai is a compound word signifying the Anari and those belonging to them. The Anari of Afghanistan may have been a branch or colony of the Anariakai of Hyrkania, and probably gave their name to the Anardara portion of the Adraskand valley, south of Herat. There still exist in this part of the valley of the Adraskand river, where the stream flows through a narrow rocky defile, about thirty miles to the south of the town of Sabzvar, the ruins of an ancient fortified city, now called Jaya by the Nurzi, Afghan nomads who dwell in its vicinity. These ruins perhaps mark the site of the ancient Artakoan captured by Alexander ; Artakoan and Adraskand being clearly the same name. [10]

External links


  1. The Anabasis of Alexander/5a, Ch.5, f.n.5
  2. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 18,fn.1
  3. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 18
  4. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.443-444
  5. Arrian Anabasis Book/3b, Ch.23
  6. Encyclopaedia Iranica, GORGĀN
  7. Bivar, A.D.H. "Gorgan" Encyclopædia Iranica [ online]
  8. See Erashahr by J. Harquart, p. 56
  9. Bhim Singh Dahiya, Jats the Ancient Rulers, p. 249
  10. An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan By H. W. Bellew, The Oriental University Institute, Woking, 1891, p.25

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