The Ancient Geography of India/Kapisa

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The Ancient Geography of India: I.
The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander, and the Travels of Hwen-Thsang
Sir Alexander Cunningham
Trübner and Company, 1871 - India

1. Kapisene or Opian

According to the Chinese pilgrim Kiapishe, or Kapisene, was 4000 li, or about 666 miles in circuit. If this measurement be even approximately correct, the district must have included the whole of Kafiristan, as well as the two large valleys of Ghorband and Panjshir, as these last are together not more than 300 miles in circuit. Kiapishe is further described as being entirely surrounded by mountains ; to the north

[p.19]: by snowy mountains, named Po-lo-si-na, and by black hills on the other three sides. The name of Polosina corresponds exactly with that of Mount Paresh or Aparasin of the 'Zend Avesta,'[1] and with the Paropamisus of the Greeks, which included the Indian Caucasus, or Hindu Kush. Hwen Thsang further states, that to the north-west of the capital there was a great snowy mountain, with a lake on its summit, distant only 200 li, or about 33 miles. This is the Hindu Kush itself, which is about 35 miles to the north-west of Charikar and Opian ; but I have not been able to trace any mention of the lake in the few imperfect notices that exist of this part of Afghanistan.

The district of Capisene is first mentioned by Pliny, who states that its ancient capital, named Capisa, was destroyed by Cyrus. His copyist, Solinus, mentions the same story, but calls the city Caphusa, which the Delphine editors have altered to Capissa. Somewhat later, Ptolemy places the town of Kapisa amongst the Paropamisadae, 2½ degrees to the north of Kabura or Kabul, which is nearly 2 degrees in excess of the truth. On leaving Bamian, in A.D. 630, the Chinese pilgrim travelled 600 li, or about 100 miles, in an easterly direction over snowy mountains and black hills (or the Koh-i-Baba and Paghman ranges) to the capital of Kiapishe or Kapisene. On his return from India, fourteen years later, he reached Kiapishe through Ghazni and Kabul, and left it in a north-east direction by the Panjshir valley towards Anderab. These statements fix the position of the capital at or near Opian, which is just 100 miles to the east of Bamian

[p.20]: by the route of the Hajiyak Pass and Ghorband Valley, and on the direct route from Ghazni and Kabul to Anderab. The same locality is, perhaps, even more decidedly indicated by the fact, that the Chinese pilgrim, on finally leaving the capital of Kapisene, was accompanied by the king as far as the town of Kiu-lu-sa-pang, a distance of one yojana, or about 7 miles to the north-east, from whence the road turned towards the north. This description agrees exactly with the direction of the route from Opian to the northern edge of the plain of Begram, which lies about 6 or 7 miles to the E.N.E. of Charikar and Opian. Begram itself I would identify with the Kiu-lu-sa-pang or Karsawana of the Chinese pilgrim, the Karsana of Ptolemy, and the Cartana of Pliny. If the capital had then been at Begram itself, the king's journey of seven miles to the north-east would have taken him over the united stream of the Panjshir and Ghorband rivers, and as this stream is difficult to cross, on account of its depth and rapidity, it is not likely that the king would have undertaken such a journey for the mere purpose of leave-taking. But by fixing the capital at Opian, and by identifying Begram with the Kiu-lu-sa-pang of the Chinese pilgrim, all difficulties disappear. The king accompanied his honoured guest to the bank of the Panjshir river, where he took leave of him, and the pilgrim then crossed the stream, and proceeded on his journey to the north, as described in the account of his life.

From all the evidence above noted it would appear certain that the capital of Kiapishe, or Kapisene, in the seventh century, must have been situated either at or near Opian. This place was visited by Masson,('Travels,' iii. 126.)

[p.21]: who describes it as "distinguished by its huge artificial mounds, from which, at various times, copious antique treasures have been extracted." In another place[2] he notes that " it possesses many vestiges of antiquity ; yet, as they are exclusively of a sepulchral or religious character, the site of the city, to which they refer, may rather be looked for at the actual village of Malik Hupian on the plain below, and near Charikar." Masson writes the name Hupian, following the emperor Baber ; but as it is entered in "Walker's large map as Opiyan, after Lieutenant Leach, and is spelt Opian by Lieutenant Sturt, both of whom made regular surveys of the Koh-daman, I adopt the unaspirated reading, as it agrees better with the Greek forms of Opiai and Opiane of Hekataeus and Stephanus, and with the Latin form of Opianum of Pliny. As these names are intimately connected with that of the Paropamisan Alexandria, it will clear the way to further investigation, if we first determine the most probable site of this famous city.

The position of the city founded by Alexander at the foot of the Indian Caucasus has long engaged the attention of scholars ; but the want of a good map of the Kabul valley has been a serious obstacle to their success, which was rendered almost insurmountable by their injudicious alterations of the only ancient texts that preserved the distinctive name of the Caucasian Alexandria. Thus Stephanus[3] describes it as being <greek>, " in Opiane, near India," for which Salmasius proposed to read Aρiavνή. Again, Pliny[4] describes it as Alexandriam Opianes,

[p.22]: which in the Leipsic and other editions is altered to Alexandri oppidum. I believe, also, that the same distinctive name may be restored to a corrupt passage of Pliny, where he is speaking of this very part of the country. His words, as given by the Leipsic editor, and as quoted by Cellarius,[5] are " Cartana oppidum sub Caucaso, quod postea Tetragonis dictum. Hsec regie est ex adverse. Bactrianorum deinde cujus oppidum Alexandria, a conditore dictum." Both of the translators whose works I possess, namely Philemon Holland, A.D. 1601, and W. T. Riley, A.D. 1855, agree in reading ex adverso Bactrianorum. This makes sense of the words as they stand, but it makes nonsense of the passage, as it refers the city of Alexandria to Bactria, a district which Pliny had fully described in a previous chapter. He is speaking of the country at the foot of the Caucasus or Paropamisus ; and as he had already described the Bactrians as being " aversa mentis Paropamisi," he now uses almost the same terms to describe the position of the district in which Cartana was situated ; I would, therefore, propose to read " hsec regio est ex adverso Bactrise;" and as cujus cannot possibly refer to the Bactrians, I would begin the next sentence by changing the latter half of Bactrianorum in the text to Opiiorum ; the passage would then stand thus, " Opiorum (regio) deinde, cujus oppidum Alexandria a conditore dictum," — " Next the Opii, whose city, Alexandria, was named after its founder." But whether this emendation be accepted or not, it is quite clear from the other two passages, above quoted, that the city founded by Alexander at the foot of the Indian Caucasus was also

[p.23]: named Opiane. This fact being established, I will now proceed to show that the position of Alexandria Opiane agrees as nearly as possible with the site of the present Opian, near Charikar.

According to Pliny, the city of Alexandria, in Opiamim, was situated at 50 Roman miles, or 45.96 English miles, from Ortospana, and at 237 Roman miles, or 217.8 English miles, from Peucolaitis, or Pukkalaoti, which was a few miles to the north of Peshawar. As the position of Ortospana will be discussed in my account of the next province, I will here only state that I have identified it with the ancient city of Kabul and its citadel, the Bala Hisar. Now Charikar is 27 miles[6] to the north of Kabul, which differs by 19 miles from the measurement recorded by Pliny. But as immediately after the mention of this distance he adds that " in some copies different numbers are found, "[7] I am inclined to read " triginta millia," or 30 miles, instead of " quinquaginta millia," which is found in the text. This would reduce the distance to 27½ English miles, which exactly accords with the measurement between Kabul and Opian. The distance between these places is not given by the Chinese pilgrim Hwen Thsang ; but that between the capital of Kiapishe and Pu-lu-sha-pu-lo, or Purushapura, the modern Peshawar, is stated at 600 + 100 + 500 = 1200 li, or just 200 miles according to my estimate of 6 li to the English mile. The last distance of 500 li, between Nagarahara and Purushawar, is certainly too short, as the earlier pilgrim. Fa Hian, in the beginning

[p.24]: of the fifth century, makes it 16 yojanas, or not less than 640 li, at 40 li to the yojana. This would increase the total distance to 1340 li, or 223 miles, which differs only by 5 miles from the statement of the Roman author. The actual road distance between Charikar and Jalalabad has not been ascertained, but as it measures in a direct line on Walker's map about 10 miles more than the distance between Kabul and Jalalabad, which is 115 miles, it may be estimated at 125 miles. This sum added to 103 miles, the length of road between Jalalabad and Peshawar, makes the whole distance from Charikar to Peshawar not less than 228 miles, which agrees very closely with the measurements recorded by the Roman and Chinese authors.

Pliny further describes Alexandria as being situated sub ipso Caucaso[8] at the very foot of Caucasus," which agrees exactly with the position of Opian, at the northern end of the plain oi Kohdaman, or "hill-foot." The same position is noted by Curtius, who places Alexandria in radicibus montis,[9] at the very base of the mountain. The place was chosen by Alexander on account of its favourable site at the τριοδον[10] or parting of the " three roads " leading to Bactria. These roads, which still remain unchanged, all separate at Opian, near Begram.

1. The north-east road, by the Panjshir valley, and over the Khawak Pass to Anderab.

2. The west road, by the Kushan valley, and over the Hindu Kush Pass to Ghori.

3. The south-west road, up the Ghorband valley, and over the Hajiyak Pass to Bamian.

[p.25]: The first of these roads was followed by Alexander on his march into Bactriana from the territory of the Paropamisadae. It was also taken by Timur on his invasion of India ; and it was crossed by Lieutenant Wood on his return from the sources of the Oxus. The second road must have been followed by Alexander on his return from Bactriana, as Strabo[11] specially mentions that he took " over the same mountains another and shorter road" than that by which he had advanced. It is certain that his return could not have been by the Bamian route, as that is the longest route of all ; besides which, it turns the Hindu Kush, and does not cross it, as Alexander is stated to have done. This route was attempted by Dr. Lord and Lieutenant Wood late in the year, but they were driven back by the snow. The third road is the easiest and most frequented. It was taken by Janghez Khan after his capture of Bamian ; it was followed by Moorcroft and Burnes on their adventurous journeys to Balkh and Bokhara ; it was traversed by Lord and Wood after their failure at the Kushan Pass ; and it was surveyed by Sturt in A.D. 1840, after it had been successfully crossed by a troop of horse artillery.

Alexandria is not found in Ptolemy's list of the towns of the Paropamisadae ; but as his Niphanda, which is placed close to Kapisa, may with a very little alteration be read as Ophianda, I think that we may perhaps recognize the Greek capital under this slightly altered form. The name of Opian is certainly as old as the fifth century B.C., as Hekataeus places a people called Opiai to the west of the upper course of the Indus. There is, however, no trace of this name in

[p.26]: the inscriptions of Darius, but we have instead a nation called Thatagush, who are the Sattagudai of Herodotus, and perhaps also the people of Si-pi-to-fa-la-sse of the Chinese pilgrim Hwen Thsang.[12] This place was only 40 li, or about 7 miles, distant from the capital of Kiapishe, but unfortunately the direction is not stated. As, however, it is noted that there was a mountain named Aruna at a distance of 5 miles to the south, it is almost certain that this city must have been on the famous site of Begram, from which the north end of the Siah-koh, or Black Mountain, called Chehel Dukhtaran, or the " Forty Daughters," lies almost due south at a distance of 5 or 6 miles. It is possible, also, that the name of Tatarangzar, which Masson gives to the south-west corner of the ruins of Begram, may be an altered form of the ancient Thatagush, or Sattagudai. But whether this be so or not, it is quite certain that the people dwelling on the upper branches of the Kabul river must be the Thata-gush of Darius, and the Sattagudai of Herodotus, as all the other surrounding nations are mentioned in both authorities.


  1. ' Zend Avesta,' iii. 365, Boundehesh. " It is said that Aparasin is a great mountain, distinct from Elburj. It is called Mount Paresh."
  2. Masson,' Travels,' iii. 161.
  3. In voce Alexandria.
  4. Hist. Nat., vi. c. 17. Philemon Holland calls it "the city of Alexandria, in Opianum."
  5. Hist. Nat., vi. 23.
  6. Measured by Lieutenant Sturt with a perambulator. Masson gives the same distance for Begram. See No. III. Map from Sturt's Survey.
  7. Hist. Nat., vi. 21. "In quibusdam exemplaribus diversi numeri reperiuntur."
  8. Hist. Nat., vi. s. 21.
  9. Vit. Alex., vii. 3.
  10. Strabo, xv. 2, 8.
  11. Geogr., XV. 1, 26.
  12. Sipitofalasse is probably the Sanskrit Saptavarsha or Sattavasa, which might easily be changed to Thatagush.

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