The early history of the area

07 Apr

By: Brian Spooner

Throughout its history the area between Iran and India has been strongly affected by influences from the more fertile areas surrounding it, particularly Kermān, Sīstān, Qandahār, Punjab, Sind, and Oman. Sea traffic connected it to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Little historical research has yet been focused on it, and the relevant syntheses so far available derive coincidentally from the pursuit of answers to questions arising from primary interests in the civilizations to the east and west.
What is now Baluchistan has long interested scholars as the hinterland of the settled societies of the Indus valley, the Iranian plateau, and Mesopotamia. A number of important archeological sites have yielded evidence of human occupation extending back to the fourth millennium (see baluchistan, ii, below). Archeologists and philologists have sought evidence of overland connections between the early civilizations of the Indus valley and Mesopotamia. Between 3000 and 2000 b.c. Sumerian and Akkadian records indicate trade relations between the Tigris-Euphrates valley and places called Dilmun, Makan, and Melukhkha, which, though their exact location has been a matter for debate, were obviously situated down the Persian Gulf and beyond. Makan is generally assumed to be related to Makrān which in later historical periods is the name of the southern half of the area, the coast, and its hinterland (Eilers, Hansman). Whether or not Makan always included this area, in the early periods the name seems to have applied mainly to the southern shores of the Gulf of Oman. This connection is significant, since it has continued into the present (though in more recent times the close relationship between the populations of what are now Baluchistan and Oman has been reduced by the apparatus of modern nation-states).
From the mid-1st millennium onward the area was divided into named provinces of the Persian empires. Maka and Zranka appear in the inscriptions of Darius at Bīsotūn and Persepolis. Maka here is certainly modern Makrān (the southern half of Baluchistan), and Zranka (NPers. Zarang), the Zarangai of Herodotus, Drangiane of Arrian, etc., was Sīstān, which appears then and later to have included most of the northern parts of the area and sometimes even to have extended into Makrān. More specific information is provided by Greek authors who began to be interested in the Persian Gulf as a result of the Persian wars (Herodotus, 3.93). Alexander’s expeditions beyond the Persian empire late in the 4th century generated more detailed writing. This was further encouraged by commercial interest in the sources of various luxury commodities, mainly spices and dyestuffs, which were already reaching the eastern Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean.
The province Alexander traversed on his return to Iran from India was named Gedrosia. The experience of his army and fleet given by Arrian is interesting because it suggests that (contrary to the assessments of modern ecologists) the natural conditions of Baluchistan have not changed significantly over the past 2,300 years. There were ports in Sonmiani Bay, northwest of modern Karachi, and at Gwadar (Badara) and Tīs (Tesa; earlier Talmena). Population was generally sparse, partly Indian, including the Arbies and Oreitae, partly Iranian, including the Myci (assumed to be related to Maka). Water and provisions were difficult to find without good guides. In the inland valleys agriculture was facilitated by sophisticated engineering of small-scale irrigation, based mainly on the yield from summer rains. The most fertile area was the Kech valley, which was densely settled. A highway to the Indus ran from the capital Pura, probably modern Bampūr, which is the largest area of fertile watered land, though it could have been in Kech, the next largest, or possibly even in one of the narrower river valleys, such as the Sarbāz. Indians, both Hindu and Buddhist, lived in Pura; through it both land and sea trade could pass onto the arterial route to Kermān.
Alexander founded an Alexandria at the principal settlement of the Oreitae in modern Las Bela. As he proceeded westward he was forced to strike inland by the difficulty of the coastal terrain. Between Bela and Pasni was the worst stretch of the whole expedition. Apart from intolerable heat and lack of food, water, and firewood, at one point a flash flood swept away most of the women and children following the army and all the royal equipment and the surviving transport animals. From Pasni they proceeded along the flat coastal plain to Gwadar, then inland to Pura. The experience of the fleet under Nearchos was similar. The daily search for food and water rarely produced more than fish meal and dates, sometimes nothing. Along the beach they found communities of Ichthyophagi (fish eaters), hairy people with wooden spears who caught fish in the shallows with palm bark nets and ate them raw or dried them in the sun and ground them into meal, wore fish skins, and built huts of shells and bones of stranded whales (Arrian, Anabasis 21-26, Indica 23-33).
The next significant information comes from the Sasanian period, when the area was once again integrated into a provincial administration. A king of Makrān paid homage to Narseh (son of the Sasanian Šāpūr I) at Narseh’s accession, who during the reign of his father bore the honorific (?) title of “king of Sakastān, Tūristān, and Hind up to the shore of the sea,” and later Bahrām’s son is called King of Sakas in the Paikuli inscription, which suggests that it was a not insignificant province (Skjærvø, III/2, pp. 10-11). Šāpūr I named four administrative entities within the area—Tugrān (later Tūrān, and presently Sarawan or Kalat), Pāradān (probably modern Kharan), and Hind (presumably Sind, or the land watered by the Indus), as well as Makrān—as appendages of Sakastān (Sīstān). The eastern boundary of the Sasanian province of Kermān was set at the port of Tīs on the coast, and at *Pohlpahraj (Fahraj), modern Īrānšahr, just beyond Bampūr at the far side of the irrigable area of the Jāz Mūrīān depression. Beyond that the kingdom of Makrān stretched along the coast to the port of Daibul at the mouth of the Indus. The kingdom of Pāradān stretched eastward from Bampūr to Tūrān. The kingdom of Tugrān probably extended from Kīzkānān (modern Kalat) and the Bolan pass (that connected Walishtan, modern Quetta, with the Sibi and Kacchi lowlands) through the Budahah district and the Pab and Kirthar ranges to a vague border with Makrān and Hind near Daibul. It appears to have been well populated by people who spoke a non-Iranian language, possibly Brahui as today. The main town was called Bauterna (modern Khuzdar). (For references and more detailed discussion see Brunner, pp. 772-77; Chaumont, pp. 130-37.)
Toward the end of the caliphate of ʿOmar, Makrān was invaded by the Arabs (23/644), who found it as unattractive as most outsiders appear to have done both before and since. After defeating the local ruler and marching almost to the Indus, they reported back to ʿOmar that it was an unattractive region, with the result that ʿOmar ordered that the Arabs should not cross the Indus. A similar sentiment is attributed to another commander: that the water in Makrān was scanty, the dates poor in quality; that a small army would be swallowed up in the deserts and a large one would die of hunger (Bosworth, 1968, pp. 1-25).
After the Arab conquest most of the area soon returned to its more characteristic condition of internal autonomy under alien hegemony. In particular it continued to serve as a refuge for people who had been displaced from the more fertile conditions of Iran and India. Especially, in the next few centuries, since Sīstān was a major center of Kharijite sentiment, many Kharijites found their way into Makrān (Bosworth, 1968, pp. 37-41 ).
In the early 5th/11th century the Ghaznavid empire established a pattern which has continued into more recent history. The geopolitical interests of the Ghaznavids, centered to the northeast of the area, complemented the decline of Sīstān, and brought Qoṣdār (Khuzdar), and through it much of Makrān, into dependency on Qandahār. Since then, although the governments of the western plateau (modern Iran) continued (until the establishment of Zāhedān as the administrative capital of the Iranian province of Baluchistan under Reżā Shah) to see Makrān as an extension of Kermān, governments on the eastern plateau (modern Afghanistan) have seen it as a southward extension from Qandahār.
Over the next three centuries, when first the Saljuqs and then the Mongols ruled in Iran, Iranian influence did not extend very far beyond Kermān, and Makrān became relatively autonomous again. In the 7th/13th century Marco Polo calls it Kesmacoran (Kech-Makrān), suggesting that the agricultural settlements along the Kech river were the most flourishing part of the area. Food was abundant and good (he mentions the full range of staples: rice and wheat, meat and milk). Kech had its own ruler (malek), and the people, who included non-Muslims and lived by commerce as much as agriculture, trading both overland and by sea in all directions, spoke a language Polo did not recognize. It is also worth noting that he identified the kingdom of Kesmacoran as the last in India, rather than the first in Iran (II, pp. 401-03). During this period Balōč migration intensified and the area began to take on the character of Baluchistan, absorbing a succession of immigrant groups, of which the Balōč were neither the first nor the last. But the history of the area cannot be understood as a refuge area or backwater. It is a borderland between India and Iran and a bridge between the Iranian plateau and the Arabian peninsula. Political and economic influences from both Iran (including what later became Afghanistan) and India continually affected the political economy, and local leaders have generally looked in both directions for potential sources of external support in their internal conflicts.


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