This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
Town in Afghan-Turkistan, situated in 36 46' N. 66° 53' E. ; 1,266 feet above the sea. Balkh (Bactra) was the capital of the old Bactrian satrapy and subsequently of the Graeco-Bactrian kings. Its siege by Antiochus the Great (206 B.C.), followed by the temporary submission of king Euthydemus, marks the last effort of Seleucid power in these regions. On the overthrow of the Graeco- Bactrian kingdom, Balkh passed under the Vueh-chi and then under the Parthians ; and it was here that Artaxerxes (Ardeshlr), the first of the Sassanids, was acknowledged as Great King in supersession of the Parthian dynasty. After the overthrow of the Sassanid kingdom by the Arabs, Balkh and the adjoining territories, known as Haiathala or Tukharistan (now Afghan-Turkistan), fell under their sway, and the subsequent connexion of these was generally either with Khorasan or with Trans-Oxiana. On the break-up of the Khalifat, Balkh came successively under the rule of the Saffarids, the Samanids, the Ghaz- nivids, the Seljuks, the Shahs of Khwarizm, the Mongols of Chingiz who destroyed the city, and of Tlmur, from one of whose descendants it passed to the Uzbegs, Shaybanids, and Janids of the line of Chingiz.
It was temporarily occupied, under the reign of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, by his sons, Murad and Aurangzeb, but was evacuated very shortly. It passed into Afghan possession under Ahmad Shah Durrani, but was again lost (1826) in the troublous period that followed the expulsion of his grandson, Mahmud Shah. For a time it was ruled by an Uzbeg chief who owned a nominal suzerainty to Bokhara ; but in 1840, disputes having arisen between the Amir of Bokhara and his vassal, the former crossed the Oxus, captured and destroyed the city of Balkh, and deported the majority of the inhabitants. In 1850 Balkh was again united to Afghanistan.
There is little of antiquarian interest to be seen at the present day in the ruins of this once great city, probably one of the oldest capitals in Asia, but now a small and insignificant Tajik village. The inner walls, which are still standing, enclose an area of about three square miles. The only buildings of any importance that yet retain any form or shape are the ziarat and madrasa of Khwaja Abunasar Parsai, and it is doubtful whether these were built in the thirteenth or the sixteenth century. According to local tradition, Balkh has been destroyed twenty-four times ; it certainly never fully recovered its de- struction by Chingiz Khan, attended by the wholesale massacre of the inhabitants, though it was not until the capture of the city by the Amir of Bokhara (1840) that it was finally abandoned. No trace has been discovered of the ancient splendours of Bactra ; and the still visible remains, which are scattered over a circuit of 20 miles, consist mainly of mosques and tombs of sun-dried bricks, and show nothing of even early Muhammadan date. The old Arab historians record a heathen temple at Balkh, called by them Naobihar, which Sir Henry Rawlinson points out to have been certainly a Buddhist monastery (nawa vihara).
The name Naobihar still attaches to a village on one of the Balkh canals, thus preserving through many centuries the memory of the ancient Indian religion.