Interim : Sasanian - Samanid

By admin, 8 April, 2024

Decadence sapped the power of both China and Rome and gravely disrupted the trade upon which Kushan prosperity de-pended. At the same time, civil wars following Kanishka's death so weakened the Kushans that they fell under the sway of the recently established Sasanian Empire of Persia. Reduced to provincial status by the middle of the 3rd Century A.D. (241 A.D.) they were subsequently swamped by a new wave of nomadic in-vasions from Central Asia. The Hephthalites (White Huns) came into Afghanistan about 400 A.D. and ruled for almost 200 years but little outside their ruthless destruction of Buddhist shrines is known of their Afghan sojourn. Thousands of large and small tumuli lying outside Kunduz on the plateau of Shakh Tapa have been identified as Hephthalite tombs by exploratory excavations conducted by French archaeologists under the direction of Marc Le Berre in 1963, and they may some day reveal a fuller picture of the Hephthalites in Afghanistan. For the moment, however, we know only that local strongmen, some now Hinduized, some still adhering to Buddhism, ruled Afghanistan. Tribal independ-ence was the fiercely protected ideal.

The advent of Hinduism is clouded with mystery but Chinese accounts such as Hsuan-tsang's in the 7th century report Hindu kingdoms in the Kabul, Gardez and Ghazni areas. Accidental finds of marble statuary representing the elephant god Ganesh were found in the Koh Daman and Gardez and some scholars have advanced the theory that the concept of Ganesh actually originated in the Afghan area. The two statues now reside as the principal votive figures in two of Kabul's largest Hindu temples. A head of Shiva and a large fragmentary piece depicting Shiva's consort, Durga, slaying the Buffalo Demon, were accidentally retrieved from Gardez; a head of Durga, a beautifully modelled male torso and a large lingam were discovered, also accidentally, in the Tagao Valley, between Gulbahar and Sarobi. All these pieces are now in the National Museum, Kabul.

A sculptured piece representing the Sun God Surya was excavated by French archaeologists at Khair Khana on the outskirts of Kabul in 1934 (J. Carl, DAFA). Most recently, exciting new scientifically excavated evidence has come from the Italian excava-tions at Tapa Sardar in Ghazni (M. Taddei, IsMEO; section (7), Chapter 9) and the Japanese excavations at Tapa Skandar in the Koh Daman (T. Higuchi, Kyoto). The results of future excava-tions at these sites are eagerly awaited.

Just 24 kin; 15 mi. southwest of Kandahar, not far from Deh Morasi Ghundai, a large cave called Shamshir Ghar, excavated by Dupree in 1950, provides a tantalizing footnote to this con-fused era. Occupied from the 1st century B.C. to the 13th century A.D., a particularly thick occupation level relates to the Kushano-Sasanian period from 300-700 A.D. It seems unreasonable that people would choose to live in a cave at a time when several large cities like Bost and Zaranj, numerous towns, and countless villages provided more comfortable conditions. Nor Could periodic stops by nomads have contributed such a thick level of material. It would seem rather that this was a place of refuge used by the inhabitants of the area while the Hephthalites and Sasanians battled for supremacy and during the early plundering raids by the Arabs which followed. Continuous political upheavals culminating in a Mongol invasion in the middle of the 13th century, the last significant occupation level at Shamshir Ghar, are am ply docu-mented by historical accounts.

Arab armies carrying the banner of Islam came out of the west to defeat the Sasanians in 642 A.D. and then they marched with confidence to the east. On the western periphery of the Afghan area the princes of Herat and Seistan gave way to rule by Arab governors but in the east, in the mountains, cities submitted only to rise in revolt and the hastily converted returned to their old beliefs once the armies passed.

The harshness and avariciousness of Arab rule produced such unrest, however, that once the waning power of the Caliphate became apparent, native rulers once again established themselves independent. Among these the Saffarids of Seistan shone briefly in the Afghan area. The fanatic founder of this dynasty, the cop-persmith's apprentice Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, came forth from his capital at Zaranj in 870 A.D. and marched through Bost, Kanda-har, Ghazni, Kabul, Bamiyan, Balkh and Herat, conquering in the name of Islam. He then marched on Baghdad (873) to chastise the Caliph for failing to adequately confirm his authority but in this he was defeated and he returned to northern Afghanistan where another local Islamic dynasty, the Samanids ruling from Bokhara (872-999), contested his authority. Yaqub succeeded in keeping his rivals north of the Oxus River but immediately after his death in 879 the Samanids moved to take Balkh from his brother. Suc-ceeding in 900 A.D., they moved south of the Hindu Kush and ex-tended their enlightened rule throughout the Afghan area. Unlike the dashing, opportunistic soldier-of-fortune Yaqub, the Samanids stood for law and order, orthodoxy in Islam, and a return to cul-tural traditions. Balkh was a prominent Samanid town, the home of numerous poets including the beautiful but tragic poetess Rabia Balkhi whose tomb was discovered in 1964. The richly decorated remains of the mosque called No Gumbad, Nine Domes, also at Balkh, is an unique and very beautiful example of the highly sophisticated, exuberant Samanid culture.

South of the Hindu Kush, however, allegiance to Samanid authority was vague and constantly contested by revolt, especially in Seistan where a rapid succession of Yaqub's descendants ceaselessly jockeyed for position and power which they miraculous-ly maintained, albeit tenuously, as provincial officials until 1163. Elsewhere the country was apportioned approximately thus: Bost, Ar-Rukhaj (i.e., Arachosia or Kandahar) and Ghazni were ruled by Turkic princes; Kabul by the Hindu Shahi dynasty; Tukharis-tan (from Balkh to Badakhshan) had numerous fortified towns with their own princes; and Khurasan, roughly encompassing Meshed, Merv and Balkh with Herat at its center, was governed for the Samanids by a Turkic slave general.