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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)
Caspian Sea Map
Hyrcania on Map showing the route of Alexander the Great
Alexander The Great campaign India 326 BC
Map of Achaemenid empire

Hyrcania was the name of a satrapy. In modern Persian it is called Gurgan/Gorgan. Hyrkani tribe are the modern Gurgani.[1]To the Greeks, the Caspian Sea was the "Hyrcanian Sea". Hyrcania was the country south and south-east of the Caspian Sea.[2] The capital of Hyrcania was Zadracarta, the largest city and site of the "royal palace" of Hyrcania. According to Arrian, this was the largest city of Hyrcania.[3] Hyrcania is the Greek form of the old Persian Virkâna, that is Wolf's Land. It is now called Gurgân.[4]


Gorgan (ancient Hyrcania) is located in the territories of the present day Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan provinces of Iran and part of Turkmenistan, lands south of the Caspian Sea.

Variants of name


Hyrcania (Ὑρκανία) is the Greek name for the region in historiographic accounts. It is a calque of Old Persian Verkâna as recorded in Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription, as well as in other Old Persian cuneiform inscriptions. Verkā means "wolf" in Old Iranian, cf. Avestan vəhrkō, Gilaki and Mazandarani Verk, Modern Persian gorg, and Sanskrit Vŗka (वृक). See also Warg. Consequently, Hyrcania means "Wolf-land". The name was extended to the Caspian Sea and underlies the name of the city Gorgan, capital of the Golestan Province.

Mention by Panini

Varkenya (वार्केण्य), a member of Vrika (वृक) tribe, is mentioned by Panini in Ashtadhyayi. [5]


V. S. Agrawala[6] mentions the names of Ayudhjivi Sanghas in the Panini's Sutras which include Vṛika (V.3.115) - [p.443]: An individual member of this Sangha was called Vārkeṇya, and the whole Sangha Vrika. This name standing alone in the Sutra with a suffix peculiar from the rest is hitherto untraced. It is stated to be Ayudhajivin, but not necessarily associated with Vahika. It should probably be identified with Varkaṇa, the old Persian form in the Behistun inscription of Darius, mentioned along with Pārthava or the Parthians (Behistun inscription Col. II.1.16). There is a striking similarity between the Sanskrit and old Persian forms of the name, e.g. Vārkeṇya equal to Vārkaṇa in the singular number , and Vrikah equal to Varkā in plural as in the expression Sakā Hauma-Varkā.

The Country of Vrikas: [p.444]: 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 title Bakanapati or Barkanapati, the chief of Varkanas, is applied to a Saka Governor of Mathura who was associated with the foundation and repair of Devakula of Wima Kadphises (JRAS,1924, p.402; JBORS, xvi,p.258), whom Jayaswal identified as Hyrcanian Saka. Panini’s acquaintance with a branch of Sakas is not surprising, since he uses Saka word Kantha meaning 'town' in six sutras. The Sakas were very ancient race referred to in the old Persian Inscriptions of Darius and settled both in Sakasthana and on the borders of Parthia which were connected with Bahlika and Gandhara. Katyayana also has the expression Saka-Parthava in a varttika showing that in the 4th century BC he knew of Sakas and the Parthians, probably by way of commerce, previous to their political invasions.

The Virks are also a section of the Jats in the Punjab, who originally seem to have been Scythians.

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[7], 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.[8] At the time of the Sassanids,Gorgan appeared as the name of a city, province capital, and province.[9]

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.

Arrian[10] describes Alexander's Expedition Into Hyrcania....Alexander now took the soldiers whom he had left behind in his pursuit and advanced into Hyrcania, which is the country lying on the left of the road leading to Bactria. On one side it is bounded by lofty mountains densely covered with wood, and on the other it is a plain stretching as far as the Great Sea in this part of the world. He led his army by this route, because he ascertained that the Grecian mercenaries serving under Darius had succeeded in escaping by it into the mountains of Tapuria; at the same time he resolved to subdue the Tapurians themselves....

Jat History

Thus we see that many Jat kingdoms in the north and east were free of the Persian empire which was an offshoot of the earlier Manda Jat empire. The defeat of Cyrus the Great and his death was a signal for the Jats under Persian Empire to take up the throne of Ecbatana. This was done by the Jats under their leader Gaumata. In the meantime Darius came and this second empire lasted for only six months because conspirators in the pay of Darius killed Gaumata in the Sokhyavati palace of Ecbatana. Darius wrote in his inscriptions; “Ahurmazda made myself emperor. Our dynasty had lost the empire but I restored it to its original position. I re-established sacred places destroyed by Magas. These Magas were the Magian priests of the Jat emperors who came to India along with them, as a result of war. They were called in India the Magas. The Taga Brahmans on the Yamuna river are their descendants. They are the Tagazgez of Masoudi. [11], [12]

But the efforts did not cease there. In 519 BC Phravarti, another Manda follower of the Sun god of the Magi priests, fought for the lost empire. The Virks revolted in Hyrcania. But Darius, aptly called great, suppressed them and except lands on the frontiers of the empire. The Kangs remained free in north of Oxus river; and the Scythian Jats on the Danube were free. Infact, Darius, too attacked these invincible people with very large army and huge preparations of every short. At last Darius ordered on immediate withdrawal and returned to Persia. [13]

Ch.8 Description of Darius-III's Army at Arbela against Alexander

Map - Location of Arbīl

They come to the aid of Darius-III (the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia) and were part of alliance in the battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) formed by Darius-III in war against Alexander the Great at Arbela, now known as Arbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Arrian[14] writes....Alexander therefore took the royal squadron of cavalry, and one squadron of the Companions, together with the Paeonian scouts, and marched with all speed; having ordered the rest of his army to follow at leisure. The Persian cavalry, seeing Alexander, advancing quickly, began to flee with all their might. Though he pressed close upon them in pursuit, most of them escaped; but a few, whose horses were fatigued by the flight, were slain, others were taken prisoners, horses and all. From these they ascertained that Darius with a large force was not far off. For the Indians who were conterminous with the Bactrians, as also the Bactrians themselves and the Sogdianians had come to the aid of Darius, all being under the command of Bessus, the viceroy of the land of Bactria. They were accompanied by the Sacians, a Scythian tribe belonging to the Scythians who dwell in Asia.[1] These were not subject to Bessus, but were in alliance with Darius. They were commanded by Mavaces, and were horse-bowmen. Barsaentes, the viceroy of Arachotia, led the Arachotians[2] and the men who were called mountaineer Indians. Satibarzanes, the viceroy of Areia, led the Areians,[3] as did Phrataphernes the Parthians, Hyrcanians, and Tapurians,[4] all of whom were horsemen. Atropates commanded the Medes, with whom were arrayed the Cadusians, Albanians, and Sacesinians.[5] The men who dwelt near the Red Sea[6] were marshalled by Ocondobates, Ariobarzanes, and Otanes. The Uxians and Susianians[7] acknowledged Oxathres son of Aboulites as their leader, and the Babylonians were commanded by Boupares. The Carians who had been deported into central Asia, and the Sitacenians[8] had been placed in the same ranks as the Babylonians. The Armenians were commanded by Orontes and Mithraustes, and the Cappadocians by Ariaoes. The Syrians from the vale between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon (i.e. Coele-Syria) and the men of Syria which lies between the rivers[9] were led by Mazaeus. The whole army of Darius was said to contain 40,000 cavalry, 1,000,000 infantry, and 200 scythe-bearing chariots.[10] There were only a few elephants, about fifteen in number, belonging to the Indians who live this side of the Indus.[11] With these forces Darius had encamped at Gaugamela, near the river Bumodus, about 600 stades distant from the city of Arbela, in a district everywhere level;[12] for whatever ground thereabouts was unlevel and unfit for the evolutions of cavalry, had long before been levelled by the Persians, and made fit for the easy rolling of chariots and for the galloping of horses. For there were some who persuaded Darius that he had forsooth got the worst of it in the battle fought at Issus, from the narrowness of the battle-field; and this he was easily induced to believe.

1. Cf. Aelian (Varia Historia, xii. 38).

2. Arachosia comprised what is now the south-east part of Afghanistan and the north-east part of Beloochistan.

3. Aria comprised the west and north-west part of Afghanistan and the east part of Khorasan.

4. Parthia is the modern Khorasan. Hyrcania was the country south and south-east of the Caspian Sea. The Tapurians dwelt in the north of Media, on the borders of Parthia between the Caspian passes. Cf. Ammianus, xxiii. 6.

5. The Cadusians lived south-west of the Caspian, the Albanians on the west of the same sea, in the south-east part of Georgia, and the Sacesinians in the north-east of Armenia, on the river Kur.

6. "The Red Sea was the name originally given to the whole expanse of sea to the west of India as far as Africa. The name was subsequently given to the Arabian Gulf exclusively. In Hebrew it is called Yam-Suph (Sea of Sedge, or a seaweed resembling wool). The Egyptians called it the Sea of Weeds.

7. The Uxians occupied the north-west of Persis, and Susiana was the country to the north and west of Persis.

8. The Sitacenians lived in the south of Assyria. ἐτετάχατο. is the Ionic form for τεταγμἑνοι ἦσαν.

9. The Greeks called this country Mesopotamia because it lies between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. In the Bible it is called Paddan-Aram (the plain of Aram, which is the Hebrew name of Syria). In Gen. xlviii. 7 it is called merely Paddan, the plain. In Hos. xii. 12, it is called the field of Aram, or, as our Bible has it, the country of Syria. Elsewhere in the Bible it is called Aram-naharaim, Aram of the two rivers, which the Greeks translated Mesopotamia. It is called "the Island," by Arabian geographers.

10. Curtius (iv. 35 and 45) states that Darius had 200,000 infantry, 45,000 cavalry, and 200 scythed chariots; Diodorus (xvii. 53) says, 800,000 infantry, 200,000 cavalry, and 200 scythed chariots; Justin (xi. 12) gives 400,000 foot and 100,000 horse; and Plutarch (Alex., 31) speaks of a million of men. For the chariots cf. Xenophon (Anab., i 8, 10); Livy, xxxvii. 41.

11. This is the first instance on record of the employment of elephants in battle.

12. This river is now called Ghasir, a tributary of the Great Zab. The village Gaugamela was in the district of Assyria called Aturia, about 69 miles from the city of Arbela, now called Erbil.


Ch. 19: Darius pursued into Media and Parthia

Arrian[15]After bringing these matters to a successful issue, he advanced towards Media; for he ascertained that Darius was there. Now Darius had formed the resolution, if Alexander remained at Susa or Babylon, to stay there among the Medes, in order to see if any change of policy were made by Alexander. But if the latter marched against him, he resolved to proceed into the interior towards Parthia and Hyrcania, as far as Bactria, laying waste all the land and making it impossible for Alexander to advance any further. He therefore sent the women and the rest of the property which he still retained, together with the covered carriages, to what were called the Caspian Gates[1]; but he himself stayed at Ecbatana,[2] with the forces which had been collected from those who were at hand. Hearing this, Alexander advanced towards Media, and invading the land of the Paraetacae,[3] he subdued it, and appointed Oxathres, son of Abulites, the former viceroy of Susa, to rule as viceroy. Being informed on the march that Darius had determined to meet him for battle, and to try the fortune of war again (for the Scythians and Cadusians had come to him as allies), he ordered that the beasts of burden, with their guards and the rest of the baggage, should follow; and taking the rest of his army, he led it in order of battle, and on the twelfth day arrived in Media. There he ascertained that the forces of Darius were not fit for battle, and that his allies, the Cadusians and Scythians, had not arrived; but that he had resolved to flee. He therefore marched on with still greater speed; and when he was only three days' journey from Ecbatana, he was met by Bistanes, son of Ochus, who reigned over the Persians before Darius. This man announced that Darius had fled five days before, taking with him 7,000 talents of money[4] from the Medes, and an army of 3,000 cavalry and 6,000 infantry.

When Alexander reached Ecbatana, he sent the Thessalian cavalry and the other Grecian allies back to the sea, paying them the full hire which had been stipulated, and making them an additional donation from himself of 2,000 talents. He issued an order that if any man of his own accord wished still to continue to serve for hire with him, he should enlist; and those who enlisted in his service were not a few. He then ordered Epocillus, son of Polyeides, to conduct the rest down to the sea, taking other cavalry as a guard for them, since the Thessalians sold their horses there. He also sent word to Menes to take upon himself the duty of seeing that they were conveyed in triremes to Euboea, when they arrived at the sea.[5] He instructed Parmenio to deposit the money which was being conveyed from Persis in the citadel at Ecbatana, and to hand it over to the charge of Harpalus;[6] for he had left this man over the money with a guard of 6,000 Macedonians and a few horsemen and light-armed infantry to take care of it. He told Parmenio himself to take the Grecian mercenaries, the Thracians, and all the other horsemen except the Companion cavalry, and march by the land of the Cadusians into Hyrcania. He also sent word to Clitus, the commander of the royal squadron of cavalry, who had been left behind at Susa ill, that when he arrived at Ecbatana from Susa he should take the Macedonians who had been left there in charge of the money, and go in the direction of Parthia, where also he himself intended soon to arrive.

1. This was the principal pass through the Elburz mountains from Media into Hyrcania and Parthia.

2. This was the capital of Media, called in Chaldee Achmetha (Ezra vi. 2). The present city of Hamadan is on the same site. It is situated at the foot of Mount Orontes, and was used by the Persian and Parthian kings as their summer residence. It was surrounded by seven walls, each overtopping the one before it, from the outer to the inner, crowned with battlements of different colours. Its citadel was used as a royal treasury. Below it stood a splendid palace, with silver tiles, and adorned with wainscotings, capitals, and entablatures of gold and silver. These treasures, to the value of 4,000 talents, were coined into money by Antiochus the Great of Syria. See Herodotus, i. 98; Polybius, x. 27.

3. This tribe lived in the mountains between Media and Persis.

4. £1,700,000.

5. Curtius (v. 23) says that 6,000 Grecian mercenaries under Plato the Athenian met Alexander in Media, having marched up from Cilicia.

6. Diodorus (xvii. 80) says that the amount of treasure deposited at Ecbatana was 180,000 talents or £41,400,000.


Ch. 23 Expedition Into Hyrcania

Arrian[16] writes....Alexander now took the soldiers who had been left behind in his pursuit and advanced into Hyrcania,[1] which is the country lying on the left of the road leading to Bactra.[2] On one side it is bounded by lofty mountains densely covered with wood, and on the other it is a plain stretching as far as the Great Sea[3] in this part of the world. He led his army by this route, because he ascertained that the Grecian mercenaries serving under Darius had succeeded in escaping by it into the mountains of Tapuria; at the same time he resolved to subdue the Tapurians themselves. Having divided his army into three parts, he himself led the way by the shortest and most difficult route, at the head of the most numerous and at the same time the lightest division of his forces. He despatched Craterus at the head of his own brigade and that of Amyntas, some of the archers, and a few of the cavalry against the Tapurians; and he ordered Erigyius to take the Grecian mercenaries and the rest of the cavalry, and lead the way by the public thoroughfare, though it was longer, conducting the waggons, the baggage, and the crowd of camp-followers. After crossing the first mountains, and encamping there, he took the shield-bearing guards together with the lightest men in the Macedonian phalanx and some of the archers, and went along a road difficult and hard to travel upon, leaving guards for the roads wherever he thought there was any peril, so that the barbarians who held the mountains might not at those points fall upon the men who were following. Having passed through the defiles with his archers, he encamped in the plain near a small river[4]; and while he was here, Nabarzanes, the commander of Darius's cavalry, Phrataphernes, the viceroy of Hyrcania and Parthia, and the other most distinguished of the Persians in attendance on Darius, arrived and surrendered themselves. After waiting four days in the camp, he took up those who had been left behind on the march, all of them advancing in safety except the Agrianians, who, while guarding the rear, were attacked by the barbarian mountaineers. But these soon drew off when they got the worst of it in the skirmish. Starting from this place, he advanced into Hyrcania as far as Zadracarta, the capital of the Hyrcanians. In this place[5] he was rejoined by Craterus, who had not succeeded in falling in with the Grecian mercenaries of Darius; but he had thoroughly traversed the whole country, gaining over part of it by force and the other part by the voluntary capitulation of the inhabitants. Erigyius also arrived here with the baggage and waggons; and soon after Artabazus[6] came to Alexander with three of his sons, Cophen, Ariobarzanes, and Arsames, accompanied by Autophradates, viceroy of Tapuria, and envoys from the Grecian mercenaries in the service of Darius. To Autophradates he restored his viceregal office; but Artabazus and his sons he kept near himself in a position of honour, both on account of their fidelity to Darius and because they were among the first nobles of Persia. To the envoys from the Greeks, begging him to make a truce with them on behalf of the whole mercenary force, he replied that he would not make any agreement with them; because they were acting with great guilt in serving as soldiers on the side of the barbarians against Greece, in contravention of the resolution of the Greeks. He commanded them to come in a body and surrender, leaving it to him to treat them as he pleased, or to preserve themselves as best they could. The envoys said that they yielded both themselves and their comrades to Alexander, and urged him to send some one with them to act as their leader, so that they might be conducted to him with safety. They said they were 1,500 in number. Accordingly he sent Andronicus, son of Agerrhus, and Artabazus to them.

1. According to Curtius (vi. 6-10) the soldiers were very desirous of returning home; but Alexander made an harangue and induced them to advance into Hyrcania.

2. The modern Balkh.

3. The Caspian.

4. Diodorus (xvii. 75) calls this river Stiboetis; Curtius (vi. 10) calls it Ziobetis.

5. Krüger has ἐνταῦθα instead of ἐν τούτῳ.

6. Curtius (vi. 14) says Artabazus had nine sons, one of whom, Pharnabazus, was the admiral of the Persian fleet. See Arrian (ii. 1; ii. 2; iii. 2 supra).


See also


  1. An Inquiry Into the Ethnography of Afghanistan By H. W. Bellew, The Oriental University Institute, Woking, 1891, p.32
  2. Arrian:The Anabasis of Alexander/3a, Ch.8, f.n.4
  3. Arrian Anabasis Book/3b, Ch.23
  4. The Anabasis of Alexander/5a, Ch.5, f.n.5
  5. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.443
  6. V. S. Agrawala: India as Known to Panini, 1953, p.443-444
  7. Arrian Anabasis Book/3b, Ch.23
  8. Encyclopaedia Iranica, GORGĀN
  9. Bivar, A.D.H. "Gorgan" Encyclopædia Iranica [www.iranicaonline.org online]
  10. Arrian Anabasis Book/3b, Ch. 23
  11. Journal of Bombay Branch of Royal Asiatic Society, 1914, p. 563
  12. Bhim Singh Dahiya, Jats the Ancient Rulers, p. 133
  13. Bhim Singh Dahiya, Jats the Ancient Rulers, p. 134
  14. The Anabasis of Alexander/3a, Ch.8
  15. Arrian: The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, Ch.19
  16. Arrian: The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, Ch.23

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