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HISTORICAL DISCOVERIES IN AFFGHANISTAN,
No literary discovery of modern times can be compared to that which was made, only ten years ago, by means of the coins and relics found in Affghanistan, of nations and dynasties of which history was either wholly silent, or afforded but dark and dubious glimpses. The discovery is remarkable, not only for its importance in supplying a main link in the chain of authentic historical records, but for the means by which it was effected—the extraordinary sagacity and wonderful perseverance of a single individual, the late Mr. James Prinsep. Unhappily, the discovery relates principally to a class of topics towards which the English public manifest an unconquerable repugnance; it is, consequently, not generally known, and the merits of the discoverer are scarcely yet appreciated, even by scholars and antiquaries. The ardour and application with which Mr. Prinsep devoted himself to this new department of archæology carried him off almost in the flower of his age, before he could complete those revelations which others appear to shrink from attempting. The premature death of M. Jacquet, a young Frenchman, gifted with many of Mr. Prinsep’s peculiar qualities, who had entered upon the same path of inquiry, and the recent decease of the Pundit Kamalakanta Vidyalanka (the fellow-labourer of Mr. Prinsep), with whom, we are told, has expired the accurate knowledge of the ancient Pali and Sanscrit forms of writing, have apparently, for the present, closed the avenues to further discoveries in the history and literature of ancient Bactria, Ariana, and Indo-Scythia.
In the meanwhile, Mr. H. T. Prinsep, having access to all the results of his brother's investigations, including the latest, hitherto unpublished—being himself an accomplished Oriental and Occidental scholar-has compiled the work before us, in order to place, as he says, before the popular reader, in a cheap and commodious form, a compendium of facts which“ cannot fail to throw much light on the worse than Cimmerian darkness that still envelopes the age
and country” to which the discoveries relate. The readers of this Journal, which carefully recorded the progressive advances made by the late Mr. James Prinsep in these discoveries, from their commencement, are not ignorant that European travellers in Affghanistan, and in those regions of Central Asia which were the seat of Greek dominion many years after their conquest
• Note on the Historical Results deducible from recent Discoveries in Affghanistan. By H. T. PRINSEP, Esq. London, 1844. Wm. H. Allen and Co.
by Alexander the Great, obtained possession of a great variety of coins belonging to sovereigns of Greek extraction, and their Seythian and Parthian successors, none of whom were mentioned in the extant histories of the East or West. The impulse of scientific curiosity led to the opening and exploring of the topes, or mausolea, to be found in many parts of the same countries, and those yielded also other relics of antiquity, which, like the coins, bore inscriptions in an unknown character. By the help of the bilingual legends upon the latter, which were in the Greek and the unknown character, Mr. James Prinsep obtained a key, wherewith, aided by his knowledge of Oriental dialects, and extraordinary ingenuity and sagacity, he obtained the knowledge of a new language, a form of Pali, or ancient Sanscrit, which must have been the vernacular dialect of some of the regions in which the Grecian colonies were established. The consequences of this discovery were not confined to Indo-Bactrian history; the language and character thus revealed were detected in inscriptions upon rocks and pillars in India, which, after being regarded for ages, even by the most learned Hindus, as mysterious and impenetrable, yielded their curious contents to the industry and skill of Mr. Prinsep.
Mr. H. T. Prinsep’s “ Note,” as he modestly terms his work, is confined to Bactro-Arian relics; but he states that the late Mr. James Prinsep's cabinet is richer far in coins of India, Buddhist and Brahminical, extending from periods of the most remote antiquity to the date of the Mahomedan conquest. He commences by explaining the localities of Aria, Ariana, and Bactria, of which many have but a faint and imperfect idea. Aria is the territory of which Herat is the capital ; Ariana is the general name given to the country east of Persia and Media, as far as the Indus; Bactria is the country watered by the Oxus and its tributaries. He then gives a sketch of the state of those countries. Their history, for 1,000 years after Alexander, was almost a blank. We knew, indeed, that for 200 years the kings of Bactria and of Ariana were of Greek race, and that the language of their coins and official documents was Greek. The whole of Western and Central Asia was the scene of continuous strife and convulsion during the entire period of Greek ascendancy in these regions, and the events in the West at that time diverted attention from the eastern colonies. Nevertheless, the scantiness of the information respecting those colonies is unaccountable. We know little of the means by which Alexander established them, of their number and position, of the arrangements made for their internal government, and of their relations with the natives. Bactria and Aria, however, that is, the countries lying on either side of the Hindoo Koosh, between the Oxus and Indus rivers, are on the highroad of Asiatic conquest, and, as Professor Lassen observes, have been the battle-field of every tribe and nation that has risen to dominion in the East. “The history of this tract, therefore," Mr. Prinsep continues, "if we had it complete and continuous, would tell more of the history of the world, and of the great revolutions in language, religion, civilization, and government, which have been brought about by conquest, and by the admixture of races resulting from conquest, than that of any other country on the face of the earth.”
After noticing the meagre results obtained by Bayer respecting the Greek kings of Bactria, of whom he could give the names of not more than six, Mr. Prinsep refers to the discoveries of the late Sir A. Burnes, in his mission in 1831-32, which, he observes, threw a new light upon this branch of archæology. Mr. Prinsep should not have left out of view the fact that the late Colonel Tod* may be said to have initiated this new study, in 1825, by his valuable paper on Indo-Bactrian coins printed in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, in which he gave coins of two kings, Apollodotus and Menander, who had “despised the narrow limits of the kingdom usurped by Theodotus,” accompanied with some valuable remarks upon Bactrian numismatics. Mr. Prinsep does no more than justice to the zeal with which the European officers in the service of Runjeet Singh, Generals Ventura, Allard, and Court, applied themselves to these investigations; and to the merits of Dr. Honigberger, and especially of Mr. Masson, to whom “we are indebted for the most complete and best-directed local researches that have yet been made in these regions.” The vast collection of coins and antiquities made by Mr. Masson is deposited in the Museum at the East-India House, where they are open to the inspection of the curious and learned. All these investigations were prosecuted and their results known some time before the British army invaded Affghanistan, and whilst that army was on its march, an illness which terminated in death suddenly withdrew James Prinsep from this field of inquiry: “there wanted, when he was gone, the Promethean spark to kindle into light and life the dust and ashes dug out of these interesting ruins, and to extract language and sense from the rude characters found traced on the venerable remains and relics obtained from them.”
Colonel Tod bequeathed his valuable collection of Bactrian and other coins to the Royal Asiatic Society.
Mr. H. T. Prinsep then briefly traces the march of Alexander, including his two campaigns in Bactria, north of the Hindoo Koosh, the fruit of which was the conquest of the territory lying between that range and the Jaxartes.
After the pursuit of and death of Darius, Alexander returned to the Caspian Sea, to complete the conquest of Hyrcania and of the Mardi, in June and July B.C. 330. The colonies here planted were the nucleus and main strength of the Parthian sovereignty established by Arsaces. In August and September of the same year, Alexander marched into Aria, and established a garrison at Susia, its capital, the locality of which is not settled. The garrison was overpowered as soon as Alexander had crossed the mountains in pursuit of Bessus; on his return, he retook the place, and capturing Artachaona, to the East of Susia, continued his operations southward to the inland sea, in which the Helmund terminates. Alexander now subjugated the entire country south of the Paropamisus, and placed governors in Seistan and Arachotia, that is, at Candahar, or in Urghundab. He also placed a colony in a new city, built to control the Arians, which all authorities concur in regarding as the foundation of Herat. He marched to the Cabool valley, his line of march being the upper or hill route from Herat, running close under and amongst the hills of the Paropamisan range. The cantonment in which his army passed the winter of B.C. 330-29 was the Alexandria-apud-Caucasum, the site of which has been traced on the plain of Beghram, near Charikar, about thirty or forty miles north of Cabool. It is here that coins of the Greco-Bactrian kings and of their Scythian successors have been found in much greater profusion than anywhere else.
Early in B.C. 329, Alexander crossed the Hindoo Koosh, and captured Drapsacus, or Indrab. Thence marching down the Oxus, he occnpied and established garrisons in the country between that river and the mountains, while Bessus, flying northwards across the Oxus, to Nautaka, or Karshi, was pursued and captured by Ptolemy. Alexander then marched to Markanda (Samarcand), and drove the Scythians before him to the Jaxartes, which he crossed, and gained a great battle on the mountains opposite Khojund. He was establishing colonies on the Jaxartes, for the defence of the passage of that river, when Spitamenes, from the Kuzil Koom desert, attacked Markanda, and overpowered a Grecian force sent to its succour. Alexander, countermarching, took Kuropolis (now ShuhurSubz), ravaged the valley of the Samarcand river, and wintered his army at Ariaspe, or Zariaspe, supposed to be Hazarasp. Asiat.Journ.N.S.VOL.IV.No.20.
In the spring of B.C. 328, he took the field in five divisions, to reduce the country between the Oxus and Jaxartes. Spitamenes was defeated and slain, after a vain attempt to surprise Ariaspe. The rest of the season was occupied in reducing the strongholds in the upper part of Soghdiana (the mountains which feed the Jaxartes) and Transoxiana, and in establishing colonies and garrisons in the subdued country. The winter of B.C. 328-27 was passed at Nautaka, or Karshi, and in the spring of B.C. 327 Alexander recrossed the Hindoo Koosh, and from Alexandria-apud-Caucasum commenced operations to reduce the country between that range and the Sofed-koh, that is, in the Kohistan and Cabool valley to the Indus. Alexander commanded to the north of the Cabool river, and Hephæstion, with Taxiles, the Indian king, took the route to the south, building the bridge of boats at Attock by which Alexander's army passed into the Punjab. This entire country was subdued and colonized, like Bactria ; Porus was defeated on the banks of the Jelum, and a fleet was built for the descent of the Indus.
The greater part of B.C. 326 was consumed in the passage down that river, and the reduction of the different people on its banks. At the close of the rainy season, Alexander commenced his return march : the first division, under Craterus, by Candahar and Seistan; the second, led by himself, through Beloochistan and Mekran to Karman ; the third, under Nearchus, by the sea-route to the Persian Gulf. The three divisions met at Suza at the close of B.C. 325.
The result of these operations was, that the whole tract of country from the Mediterranean to the Indus, and from the Jaxartes and Caspian to the sea, was subdued, garrisoned, and colonized. “ The government and armies were Greek; Hellenism was the system upon which the administration was organized and conducted, and society and religion yielded to the ascendancy of this dominant principle." Alexander died in the spring of A.D. 323; but his empire, though of only ten years' growth, was not transient. “ His colonies, and their institutions, manners, and language, had struck deep root even in this short period, and the impulse towards Hellenism had a lasting action in Central Asia, the effects of which were felt for at least 500 years after the decease of the conqueror.”
Mr. Prinsep proceeds to trace out this action in the regions where it had to maintain a struggle with barbarism, and to shew how it finally sunk and was extinguished.
Alexander left no successor, and consequently the men in power in his Eastern acquisitions became independent. The only system