Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Peoples of the empire: The Arachosians

Arachosia (O.P. Harauvatiyâ) was located just to the south of Aria and Bactria, around the Arghandab River and straddling modern Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The name is cognate to Sanskrit Sarasvati and refers to bodies of water (rivers or ponds).

History
Arachosia enters history with the Behistun inscription, wherein it is already a Persian satrapy under a Vivâna, who successfully put down the rebellion in that area in 522-521 BC in the midst of the chaos that followed Darius' killing of Gaumâta.  The leader of the rebellion, Vahyazdâta, was (so said Darius) a Persian who claimed to be the deceased Bardiya/Smerdis and sent his army into Arachosia.  Thus there is no reason to suppose that Arachosia itself was a rebellious satrapy.  After being defeated, Vahyazdâta was brought back to Persia and crucified.  Vivâna's successor was Bakabaduš.

Herodotus does not mention Arachosians among the participants in the invasion of Greece.  However, Rüdiger Schmitt suggests that the people of Arachosia were known to Herodotus as the Thamanaei, while the later writer Ptolemy refers to several tribes, the Parsyetae, Sydri, Rhoplutae and Eoritae.

Currently an editor at Wikipedia is saying that the Arachosians were Pactyes (who are probably the same as the Pashtuns), this sounds plausible, especially as Persian sources do not mention Pactyes and they clearly come from around the same area.  But I'm not willing to assume that this is the case, since neither Iranica nor Livius.org give it any mention.  The quote from Isidore of Charax's Parthian Stations, "And the Parthians call this Pakhtara...", is very suspect indeed since the vast majority of translations have him say, "And the Parthians call this White India..."  I can't track down a copy of the original Greek online, but for the record, if the usual translation is correct, the original should read Indike Leuke.  For the time being, I am treating the Arachosians and Pactyes as different peoples.

At Persepolis, the Arachosian delegation appears bearing ornate pottery and leading a Bactrian camel adorned with a bell.

Little or nothing is known of the history of the region from the time of Vivâna and Vahyazdâta until Alexander's invasion, when in March of 329 he visited the satrapy, then ruled by someone named Barsaëntes, who joined Bessus in opposing Alexander.  According to Jona Lendering, Alexander renamed the satrapal capital Kapisakaniš as Alexandria in Arachosia.

(Some historians believe that this city is identical to modern Kandahar, and its name derives from a mutation of "Alexandria"; others believe the name comes from the nearby land of Gandhara, while others think connect it to the Persian and Pashto word for "candy" because the area is known for producing fruit.)

Like many regions, Arachosia was fought over by a series of kingdoms from the Seleucids onward.  The Indo-Scythians settled in Arachosia and Drangiana in the 2nd century BC, giving the region the alternative name of Sakastan ("land of the Saka"), which was later contracted to Sistan.  Like Aria, the rule of Sistan was contested in recent centuries by Iran and Afghanistan.  This time, the dispute was arbitrated by the British (who were heavily involved in the region at the time) and the region divided into modern Sistan and Baluchestan Province in Iran and Nimruz, Kandahar and Zabul provinces in Afghanistan.

I can find virtually nothing about the religion or language of Arachosia in Achaemenid times, though it is plausible that Eastern Iranian languages were dominant.  From the Islamic conquest of Iran until the 11th century, Arab writers said that the Sistanis worshipped a god named Zun, of whom was made a golden statue with ruby eyes.

Clothing and arms
Arachosians and Drangians, who are portrayed identically at Persepolis and Naqš-e Rostam (the tomb of Darius) wear close-fronted tunics like the Medes and Persians, combined with baggy trousers seen more among Eastern Iranians.  Like the Arians, their trousers are tucked into pull-on boots with pointed, upturned toes, similar to heel-less cowboy boots.  The ones at Persepolis come up to just over the ankle, those at Naqš-e Rostam are knee-high.  Some of the Persepolis boots have little cords hanging over the front of the boot tops, possibly a forerunner of blousing bands.

Persepolis also provides some excellent illustrations of Arachosian accessories.  Instead of hats, they wear headbands with square ends, tied in the back, and the hanging ends pulled up and tucked in.  They also wear distinct earrings consisting of a ring from which hang two beads and then a long inverted-teardrop pendant.

Almost nothing is shown of their weapons other than the one at Naqš-e Rostam who wears an akinakes.  Spears and B-style bows carried in gorytoi are plausible but I can neither confirm nor deny at this time.

4 comments:

  1. There was an earlier Saka settlement in Arachosia. Black Sea Parsithi settled there after facing defeat in northern Persia at hands of Medians around 625 BC.The Name Parsithi evolved to Pacti/Pashti of Herodotus -who passed thru Arachosia around 450 BC and caught as well as publicized the name Pacti. Pacti evolved from original Parsythi. and eventually became Pashtheen/Pakhtheen forerunners of Pashtun/ Pakhtun.

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  2. There was an earlier Saka settlement in Arachosia. Black Sea Parsithi settled there after facing defeat in northern Persia at hands of Medians around 625 BC.The Name Parsithi evolved to Pacti/Pashti of Herodotus -who passed thru Arachosia around 450 BC and caught as well as publicized the name Pacti. Pacti evolved from original Parsythi. and eventually became Pashtheen/Pakhtheen forerunners of Pashtun/ Pakhtun.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There was an earlier Saka settlement in Arachosia. Black Sea Parsithi settled there after facing defeat in northern Persia at hands of Medians around 625 BC.The Name Parsithi evolved to Pacti/Pashti of Herodotus -who passed thru Arachosia around 450 BC and caught as well as publicized the name Pacti. Pacti evolved from original Parsythi. and eventually became Pashtheen/Pakhtheen forerunners of Pashtun/ Pakhtun.

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    Replies
    1. Hello. That's interesting. Unfortunately, being a monoglot, I can't find any English-language sources about the Parsithi. Here historians sometimes cite the Pakthas, a faction in the Battle of Ten Kings described in the Rg-veda, as the earliest record of the Pashtuns.

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