The History of Bukhara by Narshaki

Richard N. Frye

At the outset there are several general points to be made about city chronicles in the Eastern Islamic World. First, in medieval times the books usually were presented, if not commissioned by, a ruler, an amir, or to a minister of the government, or occasionally even to a rich and influential person. The nineteenth and twentieth century city histories, however, were not presented to anyone but for the most part were written because of pride in the city or the desire to record or to exalt the names of a few leading families in the town. Second, many local histories, both old and more recent, give lists of visitors to ziyarets or local shrines while others are in search of roots, the reconstruction of family lines and identity relationships. After the Mongol conquests, most city histories concentrate on the 'ulama' or local religious leaders and rarely do political or other figures appear in them. From all of this, the natural conclusion is that for the writers of local chronicles, history simply meant biography. One might even go further in the suggestion that, just as in fine arts, we find individual biography in the west, so collective biography is the hallmark of the East.

In the earlier Islamic history of the estern Islamic world, however, we seem to find less interest in the 'ulama' and more in general historical events as related to a local area. The reason for this seems obviousd; there were not many prominent Islamic 'ulama' in the first few centuries after the Arab conquest, and it took a long time for local and Islamic interests to coalesce with the complete dominance of the latter over the former, which made anything pre or non-Islamic irrelevant to readers. The book under discussion in the present article is significant in being a transition between histories, such as that of Tabari, recounting historical events and the later histories, which, as remarked, were really collective biographies. Let us turn to the history of Narshaki, which for its original time and place of composition had to have been written in Arabic. It is the outstanding example of its kind which we have preserved, albeit not in its original garb.

The Persian translation of an original Arabic history of the town of Bukhara is one of a genre of literature found in the eastern part of the Islamic world, especially popular in Iran and Central Asia. The fact that it was emended several times and translated is a good indication of its popularity. The Arabic text of Narshaki, however, because of information in it other than concerning Muslim notables, seems to have been different from similar histories of other towns, unless we suppose that the epitomizer of his book, or the translato into Persian, added entire sections or some information not found in the Arabic, thus changing the original text. In any case, in view of the many manuscripts preserved of Narshaki's history, although most are from the nineteenth century, we may presume that this book was indeed well liked and deserving to be called a monument of Central Asian literature for that reason.

Who was Narshaki and what is the textual history and the contents of his book? And why was his workdiferent from comparable books such as the histories of Nishapur and Isfahan? Unfortunately, because of the paucity of sources, the first question cannot be answered, but we may attempt to answer the other two.

The text which we have today has passed through several rescensions and we maybegin with the original author. Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Ja'farNarshaki, from the village of Narshak in the Bukhara oasis, wrote a history of Bukhara in Arabic which he presented to the Samanid ruler Nuh b. Nasr either in 332/943 or in 337/948. Nothing is known about Narshaki except his authorship of this one book. In the month of May, 1128, a certain Abu Nasr Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Nasr al-Qubavi translated the book into Persian, since in his day people found it difficult to read Arabic, and some of his friends requested him to make the translation. The translator continues that he omitted unimportant items which would fatigue the reader. Then in 1178 or 1179 the work was abridged by Muhammad b. Zufar b. Umar and presented to the ruler of Bukhara at the time, a Hanafi religious leader called Ad al-Aziz b. Maze Bukhari with the title Sadr al- Sudur. Finally, an unknown person added material relating to the Mongol conquest of Bukhara, and, of course, he or others again may have re-worked the text.

There were other earlier histories of Bukhara and Narshaki certainly made use of some of them, but it is not possible to determine from whom and how much was borrowed either by him or later persons. The fact that his book was abridged and remade, possibly throughout the centuries, shows a continuing interest in the subject among the people of Central Asia. The contents of the book, one would guess, set it apart from other histories of cities in the eastern Islamic world. It is true that the first section, however, on the judges (qazi) of Bukhara is like the other histories of towns with lists of learned Muslims who lived in the town. Then, however, one of the redactors of Narshaki's book apparently became tired or innovative, unlike the authors of the histories of Isfahan, Nishapur, Qum, etc. and inserted an interesting section on the origin of Bukhara from a book called the Khaza'in al-ulum 'treasuries of the sciences' by Abu'l -Hasan Abd al-Rahman Muh. al-Nishapuri. This work contained interesting information about the pre-Islamic history of Bukhara and it is the source of most of the statements in Narshaki's book about that era which makes his work different from others in this genre. Narshaki's book, then, because of these additions, can be characterized as a work following a chronological pattern of events, whereas other city histories are merely biographies or simply lists of prominent Muslim leaders of scholars in the city. In Narshaki's work there is a section on various names, or strictly speaking appellatives, given to the town of Bukhara.

Although the rigin of the name of the city is not explained in the chapter on the names of Bukhara, Narshaki does give traditions about the merits of the city which, however, are found in other sources as well. There are tow suggestions about the name of the city. One is Bukhara is derived from an unattested Bactrian word for vihara or Buddhist monastery bohoro (written boioro), since Bactria was the home of Iranian Buddhism. Another theory has the name derived from Sogdian (Christian) fwq'r, meaning 'fortunate, blessed' which corresponds to Narshaki's appellative fakhire 'glorious, distinguished.' In this regard, it should be mentioned that Bukhara never became a Buddhist center as did Bactria, although the inhabitants of the oasis probably were as tolerant of Buddhism as they were of other religions. Like Samarqand, the Bukharans were primarily traders as well as famous craftsmen and weavers. Especially famous in the trade was the cloth known as Zandaniji, so named after the village of Zandana in the Bukharan oasis where it was first woven. Narshaki says that this cloth was exported to Iraq, India and elsewhere.

To return tothe early history of Bukhara, Nishapuri says that Bukhara originally was a swamp, but the (Zarafshan) river brought sediments such that the wet areas became filled and dry. This accords well with the opinions of geologists, although the agency of man in making irrigation canls and diverting water was also important. It would seem that early settlements in the oasis of Bukhara developed around the houses, later villas or castles, of principal landowners in various districts. Nishapuri says that Bukhara itself was late in development and other villages existed prior to the rise of our city. Baikand was the center of the most important ruler (amir) called Abrui, or Abarzi, who became tyrannical such that many prominent people of the oasis migrated to the district of Talas or Taraz, where they built a new town called Jamukat which is known to the medieval geographers. We also know that Sogdian colonies were created elsewhere on trade routes to the east, so the information in the history of Narshaki is quite plausible. The name Abrui or Abarzi, however, is not found elsewhere and one can only speculate that he was an Hephthalite chief with a name similar to Warz or Varaz which seems to have been a family or tribal name as reported in other Islamic sources.

Narshaki then gives a list of the rulers of Bukhara beginning with Bidun who died in 680 and was succeeded by his widow called by the common title khatun. She in turn was followed by her son Tugashada about 707 or 709 who was murdered by two nobles of Bukhara in 739. Then his son Qutaiba, named after the famous Arab general, ruled from 739 to 750 when he was killed by the order of Abu Muslim. His brother Sakan then ruled until about 757 when another brother Bunyat held the rule until 782 or 783. After him we have no information until we find the last lord of Bukhara called Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Khalid b. Bunyat II who died in 913. This account of the native dynasts of a district is unique in city histories of the Islamic world. Unfortunately, no coins with the names of these rulers exist, and it is possible that Narshaki is correct in claiming that pure silver coins were first struck in Bukhara during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (632-634), and they were probably those local coins with the bust of a ruler wearing a crown similar to that of Bahram V of Sasanian Iran who ruled in the fifth century. This does not necessarily mean that the Bukharan coins were minted at the time, of or shortly after, the reign of Bahram. The fame of this ruler, and possibly also his military campaigns in Central Asia, may have been enough to persuade later rulers of Bukhara to emulate him by copying his coins. The continuation of one kind of coinage from the fifth to the tenth century, which is the generally accepted view of the span of currency of the Bukharan coins, would be most unusual, however, and even if we accepted Narshaki's statement and consider the length of use of the coins to be only from the seventh to the tenth century, this length of time also is rarely found elsewhere. For the Bukharan legend on the coins remained the same for a very long period, until finally Arabic replaced the local language probably toward the end of the ninth century. The Bukharan legend was read by W.B. Henning as UwB k' w' or 'Bukharan King, emperor.' The last word, however, could be read as k/B w/n since the distinction betwen B and k as well as w and n is difficult to discern. Furthermore, the contention that the legend in time changed from k'w' to k'y, a Sogdian reflex of the Sasanian title, which was written kdy in Pahlavi, but pronounced kay, is difficult to accept. Also, I find it unlikely that Narshaki or his informant, according to Henning, misread the last word on the coins as kana and thereby created a ruler of Bukhara by that name who began the minting of these coins. Compared with coins elsewhere one would expect a proper name after the title on the coins with not unusual degeneration of that name in later coins of the same type. I suggest that the information given by Narshaki about pre-Islamic Bukhara was not all fantasy, and the story of the minting of coins could be substantially correct. Further evidence is needed to accept or refute this theory, of course, and such data is unlikely to appear. Whether fact or fantasy Narshaki book is unusual in giving such detailed information about pre-Islamic times.

Another chapter on the villages in the Bukharan oasis is noteworthy for various items of information about them. For example, in describing the village of Ramitin, he says that the people of Bukhara have special songs or dirges about the death of Siyavush, and his statement prompted the art historians to identify one of the wall paintings uncovered at Penjikent to the east of Samarkand as depicting people mourning over Siyavush. Not only villages but also the wall surrounding the oasis of Bukhara, as well as the wall around the city proper, receive detailed notices. Even in these chapters, Narshaki's book reveals features not found in other histories of cities written before the Mongol conquests.

Although other sources, especially Tabari, gives accounts of the Arab invasion and conquest of the oasis of Bukhara, Narshaki's book is the most detailed, as is his account of the religious rebellion of the followers of Muqanna' after the establishment f the Abbasid Khaliphate, most likely because people in his village of Narshak preserved stories about Muqanna' who had received support in this village. Likewise, the account of the Shi'ite uprising in Bukhara at the fall of the Umayyads, and its suppression at the order of Abu Muslim is detailed and reveals the support given to the Abbasids by the local ruler of Bukhara against the Shi'ites who probably represented the lower classes in the city. From Narshaki's book one may infer that the local aristocracy supported the Islamic government, first in Damascus then in Bagdad, upholding order against the lower classes who seem to have been prone to join disident Shi'ite and heretical movements. On several occasions Turks are mentioned as supporting the rebels or heretics, which indicates both an infiltration into the countryside of Turkish nomads as well as their opposition to the local government. The migration of Turkish tribes southward which bean in pre-Islamic times probably continued in the ISlamic period on a small scale untilthe fall of the Samanids when large groups of Turks spread into the Near East. The process was greatly accelerated under the Seljuks and then the Mongols.

The last part of the book tells of the rise of the Samanids followed by sections on each of the rulers, although the text becomes less detailed with later rulers of the dynasty. It is nonetheless a prime source on the history of the Samanids. The main value of the book, however, lies in the bits of scattered information related to Bukhara from the Arab conquests into the tenth century of our era. Items of interest include the statement that new converts to Islam did not have to learn Arabic but made their prostrations to commands in Sogdian, and they read the Quran in Persian! Tis remark may be a throwback from a later reference to interlinear Persian translations of the Quran, or it possibly might refer to early translation of part of the Quran into Persian by missionaries seeking to convert. It is not inconceivable that translations of parts of the Quran were made into Persian, or even into Sogdian soon after the Arab conquests in Central Asia and posibly first here rather than in Iran proper. The statement that Qutaiba bribed the people of Bukhara to come to the Friday prayers is also not unexpected and a welcome source regarding conversions to Islam. In short, the text of Narshaki contains many nuggets of information of interest to various specialists; it is indeed a unique source, especially for the early Islamic history of Central Asia.

Narshaki's book also served as a source as well as a model for later histories of Bukhara and elsewhere. For example, the later book Tarikh-e Mullazade by a certain Mu'in al-Fukara, written in the first part of the ninth/fifteenth century, made use of Narshaki's work, which is called Akhbar-e Bukhara by the author of Mullazade, although the latter book is concerned with the shrines of prominent Muslim judges and eligious scholars in the city, as well as being full of Arabic quotations to show the author's competence in that language. This book is a parallel to the popular counterpart of the history of Samarqand called Qandiyya, and it is difficult to determine whether the book on Samarqand served as a model for the Mullazade or the reverse. In any case, none of the later histories of cities has the same kind of information Narshaki's as history, although his remarks on the learned Muslim scholars of Bukhara are prerunners of the inflated and adorned accounts of later writers who do not hesitate to sprinkle their remarks with Arbic words and phrases, which is characteristic of post-Mongol Persian literature.

Narshaki's work can be regarded as the earliest preserved city history in the Persian language, the beginning of a genre which continued to be popular in Central Asia until the ninetenth century even when Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kazaks, Kirgiz and Uighurs dominated the scene. The Persian language continued to be the medium through which histories not only of cities but also of dynasties and rulers became known to the world. In any study of Muslim Central Asia the books written in Persian are the basic sources for the history and culture of that part of the world.

It should be remembered that, where today Turkish-speaking peoples and tribes roam or settled, before the eleventh centuty various Iranian-speaking peoples, such as the Bacrians, Khwarazmians, Sogdians and the widely spread Skas, dominated the landscape. Their cultural heritage persisted and the Turks mixed with the Iranians. As the eleventh-century author Mahmudd al- Kashgari in his Turkish dictionary said tasiz Turk bolmas, bassiz bork bolmas, 'there is no Turk without an Iranian, [as] no cap without a head [to hold it].'