Merv

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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Names of territories during the Caliphate, Khorasan was part of Persia (in yellow)

Merv was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road. It is today known as Mary in Turkmenistan. It was formerly Achaemenid Satrapy of Margiana, and later Alexandria and Antiochia in Margiana .

Variants of name

Location

It is located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan. Several cities have existed on this site, which is significant for the interchange of culture and politics at a site of major strategic value.

Nishapur, along with Merv, Herat and Balkh were one of the four great cities of Greater Khorasan and one of the greatest cities in the middle ages, a seat of governmental power in eastern of caliphate, a dwelling place for diverse ethnic and religious groups, a trading stop on commercial routes from Transoxiana and China, Iraq and Egypt

History

It is claimed that Merv was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century.[1] The site of ancient Merv has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Merv's origins are prehistoric: archaeological surveys have revealed many traces of village life as far back as the 3rd millennium BC and that the city was culturally part of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.

Under the name of Mouru, Merv is mentioned with Balkh in the geography of the Zend-Avesta (commentaries on the Avesta).

Under the Achaemenid dynasty Merv is mentioned as being a place of some importance: under the name of Margu it occurs as part of one of the satrapies in the Behistun inscriptions (ca. 515 BC) of the Persian monarch Darius Hystaspis. The first city of Merv was founded in the 6th century BC as part of the expansion into the region by the Achaemenid Empire[2] of Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC), but the Achaemenid levels are deeply covered by later strata at the site.

Alexander the Great's visit to Merv is merely legendary, but the city was named Alexandria (Ἀλεξάνδρεια) for a time.

After Alexander's death, Merv became the capital of the Province of Margiana of the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanid states.

Merv was renamed Antiochia Margiana by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Soter, who rebuilt and expanded the city at the site presently known as Gyaur Gala (Turkish Gayur Kala) (Fortress).

It was ruled in succession by Bactria, Parthia, and the Kushans after the fall of the Seleucid dynasty.

It was a major city of Buddhist learning for many centuries until its Islamicization.

After the Sassanid Ardashir I (220–240 AD) took Merv, the study of numismatics picks up the thread: a long unbroken direct Sassanian rule of four centuries is documented from the unbroken series of coins originally minted at Merv. During this period Merv was home to practitioners of various religions beside the official Sassanid Zoroastrianism, including Buddhists, Manichaeans, and Christians of the Church of the East.

Between the 6th (553) and 11th centuries AD, Merv was the seat of an East Syrian metropolitan province. Sassanid rule was briefly interrupted by the Hephthalite occupation from the end of the 5th century to 565 a.d.

In Jat History

Bhim Singh Dahiya's in "Aryan Tribes and the Rig Veda" mentions a tribe Mura: They are mentioned in RV IV/26/7; X/4/4, X/46/5 and VH/61/5. Both forms of the name- Mura/Amura appear. They are identified with Maur clan of the Jats- the famous Mauryas, also the "Amorites of West Asia." Muram, their kingdom mentioned in Mahabharata, may be Merv in Iran, and also their city called Amurum near Ashur, was admittedly named after these people.[3]

Bhim Singh Dahiya [4] writes that Spooner rightly rejects any Greek influence on the Mauryan art and city palaces. According to him, "the evidences point to Persia only", and clearly show "upon the threshold of the historical period, a dynasty of almost purely Persian type." He mentions that the city of Merv was also called Maur. He has quoted K.P. Jayaswal who called attention to the fact that the name Maurya appears in the Avesta.

Geography

The oasis of Merv is situated on the Murghab River that flows down from Afghanistan, on the southern edge of the Karakum Desert, at 37°30’N and 62°E, about 370 km north of Herat, and 450 km south of Khiva. Its area is about 1,900 square miles (4,900 km2). The great chain of mountains which, under the names of Paropamisade and Hindu Kush, extends from the Caspian Sea to the Pamir Mountains is interrupted some 290 km south of Merv. Through or near this gap flow northwards in parallel courses the Tejen and Murgab rivers, until they lose themselves in the Karakum Desert. Thus they make Merv a sort of watch tower over the entrance into Afghanistan on the north-west and at the same time create a stepping-stone or étape between north-east Persia and the states of Bokhara and Samarkand.

Merv is advantageously situated in the inland delta of the Murghab River, which flows from its source in the Hindu Kush northwards through the Garagum desert. The Murghab delta region, known to the Greeks as Margiana, gives Merv two distinct advantages: first, it provides an easy southeast-northwest route from the Afghan highlands towards the lowlands of Karakum, the Amu Darya valley and Khwarezm. Second, the Murgab delta, being a large well-watered zone in the midst of the dry Karakum, serves as a natural stopping-point for the routes from northwest Iran towards Transoxiana – the Silk Roads. The delta, and thus Merv, lies at the junction of these two important routes: the northwest-southeast route to Herat and Balkh (and thus to the Indus and beyond) and the southwest-northeast route from Tus and Nishapur to Bukhara and Samarkand.

This place was an important stop on the Silk Road during the time of the Han dynasty. Here merchants could trade for fresh horses or camels and this was a very important oasis city.

External links

References

  1. Largest Cities Through History
  2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Photography: Exploring the Medieval City of Merv, on the Silk Roads of Central Asia" by Tim Williams in Archaeology International, Issue 15 (2011-2012), pp. 74-88.
  3. CAH Vol. J (2) P.720
  4. Jats the Ancient Rulers (A clan study)/Porus and the Mauryas,p.155