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Title: Margiana  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Full translation of the Behistun Inscription, Avestan geography, Parthia, Merv, History of Buddhism
Collection: Achaemenid Satrapies, Provinces of the Sasanian Empire
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Province of the Seleucid Empire, Parthian Empire and Sasanian Empire
c. 281-261 BC–651 AD
Location of Margiana
Margiana, ca. 300 BC
Capital Merv
Historical era Antiquity
 •  Established c. 281-261 BC
 •  Annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate 651 AD
Today part of  Afghanistan

Margiana (Greek: Μαργιανή Margiane, Latin: Margiana, Old Persian: Marguš) was a region within the Achaemenid satrapy of Bactria, and a province within its successors, the Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Empires.

It was located in the valley of the Murghab River which has its sources in the mountains of Afghanistan, and passes through Murghab District in modern Afghanistan, and then reaches the oasis of Merv in modern Turkmenistan. Margiana bordered Parthia in the west, Aria in the south, Bactria in the east and Sogdia in the north.


  • History 1
    • Pre-Hellenistic Period 1.1
    • Hellenistic Period 1.2
    • Post-Hellenistic Period 1.3
  • Religion 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Pre-Hellenistic Period

It has been suggested that Margiana was part of the satrapy of Bactria under the Median Empire.[1] Margiana was conquered by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC and remained as part of the satrapy of Bactria; he also later founded the city of Merv.[2]

After Darius the Great's victory over the Magian usurper, Gaumata, in September 522 BC, revolts spread throughout the empire.[3] The revolt in Margiana, led by a certain Phraates,[4] was suppressed almost immediately, in December 521 BC by Dadarsi, the Satrap of Bactria.[5] In the Aramaic version of the Behistun Inscription, it is claimed that 55,423 Margians were killed and 6,972 taken captive in the aftermath of the revolt.[6] Margiana was separated from the satrapy of Bactria and joined to the satrapy of Aria at some point after the rule of Darius the Great.[7]

Following the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius III, Darius III began his retreat to Bactria, however he was overthrown by the Satrap of Bactria, Bessus, who continued the retreat eastward through Aria and Margiana.[8] Bessus, who had expected an attack from Alexander along the Silk Road, was surprised when Alexander had advanced through Gedrosia and Arachosia and crossed the Hindu Kush mountains in 329 BC to invade Bactria. Bessus fled north to Sogdia where he too was betrayed and was handed over to Alexander by his courtiers, Spitamenes and Datames.[9]

Hellenistic Period

In July 329 BC, as Alexander founded the city of Alexandria Eschate on the northern border of Sogdia, Spitamenes led a revolt and besieged the Sogdian capital of Maracanda. A Scythian incursion into Sogdia prevented Alexander from responding personally, however once he had defeated the Scythians in the Battle of Jaxartes, he marched south to relieve Maracanda causing Spitamenes to move south and attack Balkh in the winter of 329 BC. In the spring of 328 BC, Alexander sent his general Craterus to fortify Margiana, where he established a garrison in Merv and re-founded the city as Alexandria in Margiana.[10] Alexander's general Coenus defeated Spitamenes in the Battle of Gabai in December 328 BC, and subsequently in the following year Sogdia was merged with Bactria to form a single satrapy under the rule of Philip.

Upon Alexander's death in 323 BC, the empire was partitioned between his generals at the Partition of Babylon and according to some historians, Philip remained as satrap of Bactria, however it has also been suggested that he was in fact only satrap of Sogdia. Disagreements between the generals led to another meeting and in the Partition of Triparadisus in 321 BC, Philip was replaced as satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana by Stasanor. During the Wars of the Diadochi, Stasanor remained neutral, however after the Babylonian War of 311-309 BC, Margiana came under the control of Seleucus I Nicator. At the end of Seleucus' reign, Merv was devastated by the nomadic Parni tribe, and Seleucus responded by sending his general Demodamas to punish them.[11] Under Seleucus' successor, Antiochus I Soter, the oasis of Alexandria in Margiana was surrounded by a wall over 300 km long and the city was re-built and re-founded as Antiochia in Margiana as the capital of a separate satrapy of Margiana in an effort to secure communications and trade routes from Antiochus' capital in Mesopotamia to the far east.[12]

The sacking of the Seleucid capital of Antioch in Syria allowed the satrap of Bactria, Diodotus I, to declare independence and establish the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in c. 247 BC. By 200 BC, Margiana had been conquered by the Bactrian kingdom.

Post-Hellenistic Period

Margiana was conquered by the Parthians under Mithridates I of Parthia in c. 170 BC. The defeat of the Yuezhi people in 175 BC caused many Yuezhi to flee westwards, displacing the Saka as a result, leading to a mass movement of Saka and Yuezhi towards Sogdia and Bactria. Around 140 BC the Saka invaded Parthian territory through Margiana, venturing as far as Media in central Iran and continued to harass the Parthians until 124 BC, during which they defeated and killed two successive Parthian kings.[13] The Yuezhi, who had settled in Sogdia along the Oxus, controlled Margiana until 115 BC when Mithridates II of Parthia re-established control over the east, forcing the Yuezhi to move south into Bactria.[14] In 53 BC, 10,000 Roman prisoners captured by the Parthians after the Battle of Carrhae in Upper Mesopotamia were settled in Antiochia in Margiana.[15] The Yuezhi went on to conquer the remaining Greek territories in Paropamisadae and establish an empire, and returned to Margiana in the 1st century AD and established a vassal kingdom under the rule of Sanabares who reigned from ca. 50 AD to 65 AD.[16]

After Ardashir I's victory over the last Parthian king, Artabanus V, at the Battle of Hormozdgān in 224 AD, Ardashir set about expanding his empire in the east and installed a certain Ardashir as a vassal king in Margiana.[17] The vassal kingdom was formally annexed under Shapur I and became a province.[18] In the fifth century, during the reign of the Sasanian king Bahram V, Margiana and the northern territories were invaded and plundered by the Hephthalites, also known as the White Huns.[19] Bahram, after initially sending an offer of peace, led a surprise attack on the Hepthalites and massacred them whilst they camped and then pursued them as they attempted to flee back to their own territory. Bahram himself pursued the Hepthalites to the river Oxus in Margiana and sent one of his generals beyond the river who crippled them greatly. Despite this, the Hepthalites returned in around 480 AD and occupied Margiana until 565 AD.

In 642 AD, after the Sasanian disaster at the hands of the Rashidun Caliphate at the Battle of Nihawand, much like Darius III, the last Sasanian king, Yazdegerd III, fled eastward and arrived in Margiana in 651 AD.[19] Yazdegerd was well received by Mahoe Suri, the marzban of Merv, however, upon arrival Yazdegerd appointed his courtier Farrukhzad as marzban and ordered that Mahoe give absolute control of the city over to him. Mahoe refused and Farrukhzad advised the king to retreat to Tabaristan, which he ignored.[20] Farrukhzad then left for Tabaristan, where he would later become king himself.[21] As the Muslim army approached, Mahoe plotted with the Hepthalite ruler Nezak Tarkan to overthrow Yazdegerd who later discovered the plot and retreated to Marwir-Rawdh in southern Margiana. Mahoe agreed to pay tribute to the Rashidun general Ahnaf ibn Qais who began to consolidate Islam in Margiana and awaited reinforcements.[22]

Ahnaf captured Merw i-Rud, forcing Yazdegerd to flee to Balkh with his remaining supporters. Ahnaf was ordered by the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab to remain at Merv and not pursue Yazdegerd. However, upon learning that Yazdegerd had formed an alliance with Hepthalites beyond Margiana and was approaching Merv, Ahnaf rallied his forces and defeated Yazdegerd at the Battle of Oxus River. After his defeat, the Sasanian king attempted to hide in a mill where he was killed by a Margian miller, bringing the Sasanian Empire to an end.[23]


Margiana's position along the Silk Road led to the development of a diverse religious demography in the period prior to the Islamic Conquest. As well as the followers of the state religion of Zoroastrianism, Buddhists, Christians, Manichaeans and Jews lived and thrived together in Margiana. Buddhist monasteries are known to have existed in Margiana,[24] and the city of Merv acted as a major centre of Buddhist learning.[25][26]

A Nestorian diocese, based in the city of Merv, is known to have existed from 424 AD,[27] which later became a metropolitan province in 554. The uncommon name of the first recorded bishop of Merv, Bar Shaba, which means "son of the deportation", would suggest that the Christian community in Margiana may have been deported from Roman territory. A diocese of Merw i-Rud in southern Margiana also existed in 554.[28]

See also


  1. ^
  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. ^
  4. ^ Boardman 1988, p. 53.
  5. ^ Asheri, David, Alan B. Lloyd and Aldo Corcella, A Commentary on Herodotus: Books 1-4, (Oxford University Press, 2007), 533
  6. ^ Margiana
  7. ^
  8. ^ Artaxerxes V Bessus
  9. ^ Spitamenes
  10. ^ Alexandria in Margiana
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Strabo 11-8-1 on the nomadic invasions of Bactria
  15. ^
  16. ^ (Italian) F. Chiesa: Osservazione sulla monetazione Indo-Partica. Sanabares I e Sanabares II incertezze ed ipotesie in Festschrift Herbert A. Cahn zum 70. Geburtstag, München 1982, S. 15-22
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 259-260
  21. ^ Pourshariati 2008, pp. 260-261
  22. ^ Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, By Kaveh Farrokh, Published by Osprey Publishing, 2007 ISBN 1-84603-108-7
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Chabot, 285
  28. ^ Chabot, 366

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