Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Κυριακή, 22 Σεπτεμβρίου 2019

Bactrian language : The Greek scripture and alphabet used in Central Asia for over a millenium

Bactria or Bactriana, was a historical Iranian region in Central Asia. Bactria proper was north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya river, covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. More broadly Bactria was the area north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Tian Shan with the Amu Darya flowing west through the center. Alexander the Great conquered Sogdiana. In the south, beyond the Oxus, he met strong resistance. After two years of war and a strong insurgency campaign, Alexander managed to establish little control over Bactria. The Macedonians, especially King Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I, established the Seleucid Empire and founded a great many Greek towns. The Greek language became dominant for some time there. Considerable difficulties faced by the Seleucid kings and the attacks of Pharaoh Ptolemy II Philadelphus gave the satrap of Bactria, Diodotus I, the opportunity to declare independence about 245 BC and conquer Sogdia. He was the founder of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. The Greco-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India. The Greco-Bactrians used the Greek language for administrative purposes, and the local Bactrian language was also Hellenized, as suggested by its adoption of the Greek alphabet and Greek loanwords. In turn, some of these words were also borrowed by modern Pashto.

Bactrian (Αριαο, Aryao) was an Iranian language which was spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria (Afghanistan and Tajikistan) and used as the official language of the Kushan and the Hephthalite empires. The Kushan Empire was a syncretic empire, formed by the Yuezhi, in the Bactrian territories in the early 1st century. It spread to encompass much of Afghanistan, and then the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent at least as far as Saketa and Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares), where inscriptions have been found dating to the era of the Kushan Emperor Kanishka the Great. Emperor Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism. He played an important role in the establishment of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent and its spread to Central Asia and China. The Kushan dynasty had diplomatic contacts with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire and the Han dynasty of China. While much philosophy, art, and science was created within its borders, the only textual record of the empire's history today comes from inscriptions and accounts in other languages, particularly Chinese. The Kushan empire fragmented into semi-independent kingdoms in the 3rd century AD, which fell to the Sasanians invading from the west, establishing the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom in the areas of Sogdiana, Bactria and Gandhara. In the 4th century, the Guptas, an Indian dynasty also pressed from the east. The last of the Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian kingdoms were eventually overwhelmed by invaders from the north, known as the Kidarites, and then the Hepthalites. The Kushans adopted elements of the Hellenistic culture of Bactria. They adopted the Greek alphabet to suit their own language (with the additional development of the letter Þ "sh", as in "Kushan") and soon began minting coinage on the Greek model. On their coins they used Greek language legends combined with Pali legends (in the Kharoshthi script), until the first few years of the reign of Kanishka. After the middle of Kanishka's reign, they used Kushan language legends (in an adapted Greek script), combined with legends in Greek (Greek script) and legends in Prakrit (Kharoshthi script). The Kushans "adopted many local beliefs and customs, including Zoroastrianism and the two rising religions in the region, the Greek cults and Buddhism". From the time of Vima Takto, many Kushans started adopting aspects of Buddhist culture, and like the Egyptians, they absorbed the strong remnants of the Greek culture of the Hellenistic Kingdoms, becoming at least partly Hellenised.

The Hephthalites (or Ephthalites), called also White Huns, were a Caucasian people who lived in Central Asia during the 5th to 8th centuries. Militarily important during 450 to 560, they were based in Bactria and expanded east to the Tarim Basin, west to Sogdia and south through Afghanistan to northern India. They were a tribal confederation and included both nomadic and settled urban communities. They were part of the four major states known collectively as Xyon(Xionites) or Huna, being preceded by the Kidarites, and succeeded by the Alkhon and lastly the Nezak. All of these peoples have often been linked to the Huns who invaded Eastern Europe during the same period, and/or have been referred to as "Huns", but there is no consensus among scholars about such a connection. The stronghold of the Hephthalites was Tokharistan on the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush, in what is present-day northeastern Afghanistan. By 479, the Hephthalites had conquered Sogdia and driven the Kidarites westwards, and by 493 they had captured parts of present-day Dzungaria and the Tarim Basin in what is now Northwest China. They expanded into northwestern India as well. The sources for Hephthalite history are poor and historians' opinions differ. There is no king-list and historians are not sure how they arose or what language they spoke. The Sveta Huna who invaded northern India are probably the Hephthalites. They seem to have called themselves Ebodalo (ηβοδαλο, hence Hephthal), often abbreviated Eb (ηβ), a name they wrote in the Bactrian script on some of their coins. The 6th-century Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea(Book I. ch. 3), related them to the Huns in Europe: " The Ephthalitae Huns, who are called White Huns [...] The Ephthalitae are of the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name, however they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia [...] They are not nomads like the other Hunnic peoples, but for a long period have been established in a goodly land... They are the only ones among the Huns who have white bodies and countenances which are not ugly. It is also true that their manner of living is unlike that of their kinsmen, nor do they live a savage life as they do; but they are ruled by one king, and since they possess a lawful constitution, they observe right and justice in their dealings both with one another and with their neighbours, in no degree less than the Romans and the Persians." The Gokturks told the Byzantines that they had walled cities. The Hephthalites had their capital at Badian, modern Kunduz, but the emperor lived in the capital city for just three winter months, and for the rest of the year, the government seat would move from one locality to another like a camp. The Hephthalites continued the pressure on ancient India's northwest frontier and broke east by the end of the 5th century, hastening the disintegration of the Gupta Empire. Circa 555–567, the Turks and the Persians allied against the Hephthalites and defeated them after an eight-day battle near Qarshi, the Battle of Bukhara, perhaps in 557. The allies then fought each other and c. 571 drew a border along the Oxus. After the battle, the Hephthalites withdrew to Bactria and replaced king Gatfar with Faghanish, the ruler of Chaghaniyan. Small Hephthalite states remained, paying tribute either to the Turks or the Persians. They are reported in the Zarafshan valley, Chaghaniyan, Khuttal, Termez, Balkh, Badghis, Herat and Kabul.

Transoxiana "was a rich land, full of opportunities and wealth but defended by warlike men who valued their independence very highly", and indeed its subjugation would prove to be the longest and hardest-fought of the early Arab conquests, not being completed until the Battle of Talas secured Muslim dominance over the region in 751. The Arab conquests of Afghanistan began during the Arab conquest of Persia as the Arab Muslims migrated eastwards to Khorasan, Sistan and Transoxiana. 15 years after the Battle of Nahāvand, they controlled all Sasaniandomains except parts of Afghanistan and Makran. Khorasan and Sistan where Zoroastrianism was well-established, were conquered but Qandahar remained unconquered. The Arabs had begun to move towards the lands east of Persia and in 652 they captured the city of Herat, establishing an Arab governor there. The Arab frontier in Afghanistan had become stabilized after the first century of Hijri calendar as the relative importance of the Afghan areas diminished. It appears Tokharistan was the only area heavily colonized by Arabs where Buddhism flourished. Balkh's final conquest was undertaken by Qutayba ibn Muslim in 705. Kabul and Zabulistan which housed Buddhism and other Indian religions, offered stiff resistance to the Muslim advance for two centuries, with the Kabul Shahi and Zunbils remaining unconquered until the Saffarid and Ghaznavid conquests. The significance of the realm of Zunand its rulers Zunbils had laid in them blocking the path of Arabs in invading the Indus Valley.

It was long thought that Avestan represented "Old Bactrian", but this notion had "rightly fallen into discredit by the end of the 19th century". Bactrian, which was written predominantly in an alphabet based on the Greek script, was known natively as αριαο [arjaː] ("Arya"; an endonym common amongst Indo-Iranian peoples). It has also been known by names such as Greco-Bactrian, Kushan or Kushano-Bactrian. Under Kushan rule, Bactria became known as Tukhara or Tokhara, and later as Tokharistan. When texts in two extinct and previously unknown Indo-European languages were discovered in the Tarim Basin of China, during the early 20th century, they were linked circumstantially to Tokharistan, and Bactrian was sometimes referred to as "Eteo-Tocharian" (i.e. "true" or "original" Tocharian). By the 1970s, however, it became clear that there was little evidence for such a connection. For instance, the Tarim "Tocharian" languages were part of the so-called "centum group" within the Indo-European family, whereas Bactrian was a satemised Iranian language. Bactrian is a part of the Eastern Iranian areal group, and shares features with the extinct Middle Iranian languages Sogdian and Khwarezmian (Eastern) and Parthian(Western), as well as with the modern Eastern Iranian languages Pashto, Yidgha, and Munji. Its genealogical position is unclear. According to another source, the present-day speakers of Munji, the modern Eastern Iranian language of the Munjan Valley in northeast Afghanistan, display the closest possible linguistic affinity with the Bactrian language.

Following the conquest of Bactria by Alexander the Great in 323 BC, for about two centuries Greek was the administrative language of his Hellenistic successors, that is, the Seleucid and the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms. Eastern Scythian tribes (the Saka, or Sacaraucae of Greek sources) invaded the territory around 140 BC, and at some time after 124 BC, Bactria was overrun by a confederation of tribes belonging to the Great Yuezhi and Tokhari. In the 1st century AD, the Kushana one of the Yuezhi tribes founded the ruling dynasty of the Kushan Empire. The Kushan Empire initially retained the Greek language for administrative purposes, but soon began to use Bactrian. The Bactrian Rabatak inscription (discovered in 1993 and deciphered in 2000) records that the Kushan king Kanishka (c. 127 AD) discarded Greek (Ionian) as the language of administration and adopted Bactrian ("Arya language"). The Greek language accordingly vanished from official use and only Bactrian was later attested. The Greek script however remained and was used to write Bactrian. The territorial expansion of the Kushans helped propagate Bactrian in other parts of Central Asia and North India. In the 3rd century, the Kushan territories west of the Indus river fell to the Sasanians, and Bactrian began to be influenced by Middle Persian. Next to Pahlavi script and (occasionally) Brahmi script, some coinage of this period is still in Greco-Bactrian script. Beginning in the mid-4th century, Bactria and northwestern India yielded to the Hephthalite tribes. The Hephthalite period is marked by linguistic diversity and in addition to Bactrian, Middle Persian, North Indo-Aryan and Greek vocabulary is also attested. The Hephthalites ruled their territories until the 7th century when they were overrun by the Arabs, after which the official use of Bactrian ceased. Although Bactrian briefly survived in other usage, that too eventually ceased, and the latest known examples of the Bactrian script, found in the Tochi Valley in Pakistan, date to the end of the 9th century.

Among Indo-Iranian languages, the use of the Greek script is unique to Bactrian. Although ambiguities remain, some of the disadvantages were overcome by using heta (Ͱ, ͱ) for /h/ and by introducing sho(Ϸ, ϸ) to represent /ʃ/. Xi (Ξ, ξ) and psi (Ψ, ψ) were not used for writing Bactrian as the ks and ps sequences do not occur in Bactrian. They were however probably used to represent numbers (just as other Greek letters were). The Bactrian language is known from inscriptions, coins, seals, manuscripts, and other documents. Sites at which Bactrian language inscriptions have been found are (in North-South order) Afrasiyab in Uzbekistan; Kara-Tepe, Airtam, Delbarjin, Balkh, Kunduz, Baglan, Ratabak/Surkh Kotal, Oruzgan, Kabul, Dasht-e Navur, Ghazni, Jagatu in Afghanistan; and Islamabad, Shatial Bridge and Tochi Valley in Pakistan. Of eight known manuscript fragments in Greco-Bactrian script, one is from Lou-lan and seven from Toyoq, where they were discovered by the second and third Turpan expeditions under Albert von Le Coq. One of these may be a Buddhist text. One other manuscript, in Manichaean script, was found at Qočo by Mary Boyce in 1958. Over 150 legal documents, accounts, letters and Buddhist texts have surfaced since the 1990s, several of them currently a part of the collection of Nasser Khalili. These have greatly increased the detail in which Bactrian is currently known. The phonology of Bactrian is not known with certainty, owing to the limitations of the native scripts. A major difficulty in determining Bactrian phonology is that affricates and voiced stops were not consistently distinguished from the corresponding fricatives in the Greek script. The Greek script does not consistently represent vowel length. Fewer vowel contrasts yet are found in the Manichaean script, but short /a/ and long /aː/ are distinguished in it, suggesting that Bactrian generally retains the Proto-Iranian vowel length contrast. Original word-final vowels and word-initial vowels in open syllables were generally lost. A word-final ο is normally written, but this was probably silent, and it is appended even after retained word-final vowels: e.g. *aštā > αταο 'eight', likely pronounced /ataː/. The Proto-Iranian syllabic rhotic *r̥ is lost in Bactrian, and is reflected as ορ adjacent to labial consonants, ιρ elsewhere; this agrees with the development in the western Iranian languages Parthian and Middle Persian.
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