Xenippa – Nahshab – Nasaf – Karshi (evolution of historical names of the city)

Issue #2 • 1542

Man rendered the Kashkadarya Valley inhabited in the Stone Age. It is evidenced by the findings of the Silicic implements of the late epoch of Middle Palaeolith (100 – 40 thousand years ago) discovered in the territory of Quitab, on Takhtakarcha passage and in the valley of Tankhasdarya. Rock paintings of the primitive studied in the Zarafshan range spurs (1) also raise great interest.

It is impossible to consider the history of the Karshi oasis, as well as of the Karshi city, ignoring the past of the Kashkadarya valley that made up the southern part of Sogd.

The earliest data of written sources about Sogd can be found in “Avesta”, ancient Persian inscriptions and works of the Greek and Roman authors. In the 9th-8th centuries B.C. one of Sogdiana areas was famous as Gava Sugda that in the linguist’s opinion meant a “Sogdian settlement”. These data comes from “Yashtakh”, one of the earliest parts of “Avesta”. Interpretation of the term Gava Sugda as a “Sogdian settlement” seems to be controversial as the literary meaning of “gav” in the Avestian and Sogdian languages is “bull” (2, p. 139). Up to the 19th-20th centuries “gav” in the Kashkadarya and Zarafshan valleys was used in the meaning of “might” and “power” with reference to the names of the folk fighters, Hercules (palvans). There is no exclusion that the original meaning of “Gava Sugda” was, “mighty”, “strong” or “powerful” region, i.e. meant the mighty or powerful Sogd (3, p. 18).

In literature attention has already been drawn to the fact that the term “Gava” was widely spread in the Quitab-and-Shakhrisabz and Yakkabag oases, and in the neighboring mountains of Gissar. It is both the name of today’s settlements, archaeological monuments and geographical notions (4, p. 10).

As for the Karshi oasis, the term “Gava” is not met there. Nevertheless, it is possible to assume that 2900 – 2800 years ago the name Gava Sugda was used not only to designate the area in the eastern foothill part of the Kashkadarya Valley but for the entire South Sogd (including the Karshi oasis as well). Already three thousand years ago South Sogd was split into two sub-regions of settled farming population in the low course of the Kashkadarya River, in the Karshi oasis and in the eastern part of Kashkadarya (Quitab, Shakhrisabz and Yakkabaga districts). Ancient names of these regions Xenippa and Nautaka are found in the works of the ancient authors. Since the beginning of the 19th century localization of Nautaka and Xenippa has become the topic of active discussion among the researchers.

Both Nautaka (I.Droisen, M.Masson, R.Suleimanov) and Xenippa (V.Tomashek, E.Rtveladze). As for now the majority of the researchers localize Xenippa in the low course of the Kashkadarya, and Nautaka in the eastern part of the Kashkadarya Valley, in the territory from Zarafshan ridge foothills to Uradarya (Guzardarya) (5; 6, p. 23).

Names of the above-said regions of Sogdian’s settlement are mentioned in the written sources in connection with the description of major events of the campaign Alexander the Great to Sogdiana. According to Arrian, at the first stage (in spring of 329 B.C.) troops of Alexander the Great were marching from the Ox – Amudarya – to the “Sogdian land” Nautaka and city of Marakanda (Samarkand). Thus at the beginning of the Sogdian march the low course region of the Kashkadarya remained unconquered by the Macedonians as they were on the one way route of Ox—Nautaka—Marakanda.

As Quint Curcius Ruf stated, at the second stage of the Macedonian war campaign, Alexander the Great came from the near Syrdarya district to Marakanda, and then moved on to Xenippa. “This region borders on Scythia”, writes Curcius Ruf, “and there are many densely located villages as soil’s fertility does not only attach the natives but also attracts the strangers” (7, Book VIII, 2, 14).

For Greek and Rome historians and geographers Scythia meant settling territories of the nomads. It is worth mentioning that before the eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great the Greeks knowledge of the Asian countries was based on the data from Herodotus, Hecateus, Xenophon and Ktecius, whose works contained different data on the countries and peoples of the East.

Hellenes thought that oykumena – the inhabited world was limited to the South Europe (from the Balkans to Italy and Spain), Northern part of the Black Sea area and the Caucasus, North Africa to Sahara, and Asian countries to the Syrdarya and valley of the Ind.

The ancient authors considered that the Syrdarya is the beginning of the Danube that is why they called these rivers the Tanais. As far as the Scythians lived in the low course of the Danube and the Azov’s steppes, the Greeks called Scythians the nomad sako-massaghet tribes living in the steppe and desert regions of Central Asia (including the low courses of the Kashkadarya and Zarafshan).

Xenippa description refers to the times of the anti-Macedonian rebellion of the Sogdians lead by Spitaman. Xenippa remained unconquered by Alexander the Great, and as a densely populated area could serve the refuse for Spitaman’s detachment.

According to new archaeological data localization of the Xenippa region in the low course of the Kashkadarya seems to carry conviction. Erkurgan served the center of this region. In the historical literature of the 80-s it is compared with the “second capital” of Sogdiana because other points claiming for the role of the “tsar’s city” or the “second capital” of Sogdiana in the basin of the Zarafshan were unknown. Another large center of the Kashkadarya Valley – Uzunkyr – was occupied by the Macedonians before Spitaman’s rebellion as it was situated in Nautak that lay on the way of the first invasion of Alexander the Great from Baktra to Marakanda.

Record of the Kashkadarya low course in the early medieval epoch refers to the Chinese sources of the 4th-7th centuries, which give two forms of the name of this region – Nashebo and Nashebolo, both are the distorted Sogdian name Nahshab. When M.Masson was explaining the meaning of the term, he referred to the supposition that Nahshab means “luminous” or “full moon” (8, p. 19, 21).

E.Rtveladze considers that the ancient name of the Kashkadarya oasis given by the Greek authors that described the march of Alexander the Great to Sogdiana as Xenippa originates from the distorted local Sogdian toponim ’SN or K’SHN that was fixed in the legend on the so called nahshab or Parthian-Sogdian coins depicting scenes of the single combat of a hero against the lion-like monster (their coinage period is set between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D.). The entire legend consists of two words and reads as K’SN MRY (ruler of Kesh). E. Rtveladze paid attention to the coincidence of this name by spelling and sounding with the name Kesh (region of Quitab and Shakhrisabz) assuming that in this case the term should be treated rather in its political than historic-and-geographical meaning, i.e. in the 3rd-6th centuries A.D. Kesh and Nahshaba regions made up a single possession ruled by the Kesh dynasties. The above-said coins have been already found beyond Nahshab in Kesh (Shakhrisabz and its neighborhood). The conclusion about single possession is also confirmed by the data from the Chinese sources stating that at a certain period of time Nashebo (Nahshab) recognized the power of Kesh and that is why was even called “Small Kesh” (Small Shi).

In the 6th century A.D. or after the 7th century A.D. this single possession split into two – Nahshab and Kesh itself; this is proved by the numismatic data.

Since then Nahshab and Kesh started separately minting coins; in Nahshab – with the image of the ruler on the averse and moving horse on the reverse side; in Kesh – aniconographic following the Chinese example on behalf of the ruler Akhurpath (9, p. 3-4).

Beginning with the 5th century Nahshab starts development on the site of Kapai-Zahaki Maron ancient settlement (10, p. 152; 11), construction of which the legend attaches to a mythical tsar Djamshid.

The most ancient mentioning of the Nahshab name in the form of Nikhsapaya (Nikshapa) – from here comes the distorted Greek form Xenippa – is in the Aramaic document of the 4th century B.C. (exact dating seems to be 330 B.C.), originating from Afghanistan and lately published by S.Shaked (12, p. 31).

In 710 the city was conquered by the Arabs. Starting with the 8th century the Arabian historians and geographers use the term Nasaf instead of the name Nahshab. The first mentioning of this term in the Arabic sources (at-Tabari) refers to 701 – 702 (13, p. 85). M.Masson paid attention to the fact that there exists the fantasy that the new term designated locality with the “dead water” applicable to the Kashkadarya. However the word “Nasaf” could be likely derived from the Arabic verbal stem “nasafa” – “bite” (8, p. 30). According to another version, the word “Nasaf” was derived by the Arabs from the local name “Nahshab”. The author of this supposition noted that name “Nasaf” preserved in the memory of the local inhabitants in the form “Naseb” (14, p. 136; 15). It is remarkable that in the ending of the Aramaic term “Nikshapa” possesses the Avestian word “ap” – “water”. The same can be seen in the ending of the name “Nahshab” which can be connected with the Avestian “ap” and Sogdian “ob” meaning “water”, “river”, i.e. the name of the city both in the antiquity and in the middle ages was anyhow connected with the river upon which depended the social and economic life in the Karshi oasis. All this is proved by the historical geography of the region and by the topography of the local urban centers.

Moreover, Nasaf in the 11th-early 13th centuries was situated on the immediate bank of the Kashkadarya (in the place of Shulluktepa, only several kilometers to the north-west from today’s Karshi). A number of medieval sources notes that the Kesha river (Kashkadarya) “crosses the city”, “splits it” and “flows in the city” (8, p. 35), that is also characteristic of contemporary Karshi.

During the reign of the Chagatai khan Kebek (1318 – 1325) the new administrative center of the region – Nasafa – was formed to the south-east off Shulluktepa; it was called Karshi. In the opinion of the researchers term “Karshi” means “castle”, “palace”, and the name of the city reflected construction activity of Kebek-khan who erected his residence – palace – there (8, p. 49). Babur wrote that Karshi is a Mongol name; in the Mongol language it means “gur-khana”, i.e. mausoleum and burial vault. In the 13th century palaces and mausoleums were also called “serai”. Researchers admit that Karshi inherited the name of Kebek-khan’s palace or mausoleum.

Written sources evidence that the low course of the Kashkadarya as the farmland had different names during different periods in history. The name and location of the capital center of this region were correspondingly changing. The earliest of them – Erkurgan (Nikshapa – Xenippa) began its formation in the 8th century B.C. and functioned up to the 5th century A.D. Beginning with the 5th century up to early 9th century the capital center was developing on the site of Kapai Zahaki Maron (Nahshab), since the 9th century till early 13th century – in Shulluktepa (Nasaf). Its further history is connected with the Karshi territory.

Desolation of the early city centers and formation of new city centers was bound to the political and social-economic factors. Thus, decline of Nahshaba was furthered by the Arabian invasion and suppression of Mukanna’s rebellion at the end of the 8th century. Life in Nasafa stopped with the Mongolian conquest, and decay of Erkurgan in the earlier times was caused by overpopulation and necessity of land-reclamation – movement of the irrigated lands and construction of the new irrigational system.

We have traced the evolution of the city’s name in time and displacement of city centers of different centuries in space, but, in fact, all this is the history of one and the same capital city of the region of the low course of the Kashkadarya that developed following the scheme: Erkurgan – Kapai Zahaki Maron –Shulluktepa – Karshi.

Therefore, Nikshapa – Xenippa, Nahshab, Nasaf and Karshi are the historical names of the central city of the region in the low course of the Kashkadarya that has been developing there for the past 2700 years.

Anatoly Sagdullaev

Pin It

Comments are closed.