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Destination: Uzbekistan
Last updated: 06 Jan 2017

History of Uzbekistan

The earliest traces of human civilization in Central Asia date back to 100,000-40,000 years ago. At that time the people of the region were isolated from the rest of the world by ice fields and impassable swamps of the glacial age. The earliest known relics ever found here are the remains of a boy, bones of animals and tools of ancient people in the Teshiktash cave (Surkhandarya Province). Those Neanderthals lived in families and had to cope with what the wild world around them had to offer.

Ancient Petroglyphs, Uzbekistan
Ancient Petroglyphs, Uzbekistan


Seven thousand years ago first human tribes emerged. People learned how to use bronze and iron instead of stone for their tools. Collecting and hunting as major occupations were replaced by agriculture and livestock breeding. Early farming communities organized in a state-like pattern appeared in the fertile oases of Bactria, Khorezm, Sogdiana and Parthia.

Head of a Neanderthal Boy from Teshiktash Cave
Head of a Neanderthal Boy from Teshiktash Cave


Ancient sources and inscriptions mention such agricultural oases of the first millennium BC.

Kalyan Minaret, epoch of Genghis Khan
Kalyan Minaret, epoch of Genghis Khan


Khorezm lay south of the Aral Sea in the lower reaches of the Amudarya River. The area between Syrdarya and Amudarya was called Sogdiana by local people. Arabian sources called it Movaranahr. Sak was the vast area north of the Syrdarya river where lived belligerent nomadic tribes, close relatives of the Scythians. These times and peoples had been described on the pages of the Holy Book Avesta, Zoroastrinian source of ancient Iran, written in golden ink on leather.
Hazarasp Clay Fortress in Khorezm
Hazarasp Clay Fortress in Khorezm
Later records of Central Asian history were found in chronicles of prominent warlords who came here to conquer the land.

The famous inscription (519 BC) made by Darius I, the Persian Achemenid "King of Kings" on the Behistun Rock in southern Iran, reads that the King invaded and conquered Central Asia, and mentions the three regions of Khorezm, Sogda (Sogdiana) and Sak as the King's satrapy.

In 329 BC Alexander the Great began his war raids in Central Asia after he defeated the last Achemenid King, Darius III in Persia. His army made a arduous march from Northern India through the glaciers of the Hindukush Ridge, crossed Amudarya and after a fierce and lengthy battle captured the city of Marakanda (modern Samarkand). But it was just the beginning of endless uprisings of the local population against the invaders.
Wall Decoration from Afrasiyab Excavations, Samarkand
Wall Decoration from Afrasiyab Excavations, Samarkand
After Alexander died, this part of his empire was rule by Seleucis, one of military commanders. The Seleucids Kingdom was replaced by the Graeco-Bactrian Empire.

In 138 BC. the Ferghana valley was visited by a Chinese Ambassador Chang Chien. He came here looking for allies in his struggle against Mongol tribes and found an amazingly complicated culture, famous for its "heavenly" horses and delicious fruit. Local people, in turn, were eager to take hold of magnificent clothing made of Chinese silk, secrets of paper making, gold and silver jewelry and weaponry. Countries situated to the west were huge potential markets for silk and other Chinese products.

Despite attacks of nomads and severe natural conditions, hundreds of camel caravans shuttled from east to west and backward, carrying knowledge, skills and cultural achievements along with silk packs and wine jugs. That was how the Great Silk Road emerged.

In the first century of the modern era, Sogdiana was under the rule of the Kushans, a mighty empire that controlled Northern India and Afghanistan. In its rise in the first century after Christ, it was one of the four great powers of the ancient world along with China, Parthia and Rome. Vast irrigation systems were constructed in that period, agriculture was improved in fertile oases and cities grew up forming prosperous centers of industry and trade. Architecture and the arts flourished during the time of the Kushans.

At all times this prolific land was an arena for merciless clashes of various nomadic hordes flocking in from the northern steppes and sedentary civilizations of peripheral countries. All of them sought to get control over extremely profitable trade routes and prosperous cities along them. The Kushans Dynasty fell under fierce assaults of nomadic Ephtalytes in the mid 4th century AD.

In the 6th century Turkic tribes from Southern Siberia and Central Asia united to found the Turkic Khanate that overthrown the mighty Ephtalyte Dynasty. At that time irrigation and cotton growing were amazingly well developed. In the 8th century, Arabs came to Central Asia after defeating the Sassanids of Iran, who were controlling some parts of Sogdiana. They brought Islam with them and through decades of wars and oppression the religion had become dominant in the region. Sogdiana was annexed to the Abbasid Caliphate.

A peaceable and affluent Samanid Dynasty (9th century) was founded by Ismail Samani, and its rise in Central Asia put an end to the rule of the Arabic Caliphate here. The Kingdom of Samanids emerged with Bukhara as the capital. This was a climax of economy and culture, a time which brought forth such outstanding scholars as Muhammed Khorezmi, Ahmed Ferghani, Abu Ali Ibn-Sina (Avicenna), Abu-Reichan Biruni and others.

This glorious civilization was weakened by internal conspiracies and fell under attacks of Turkic tribes who founded Ghaznevids Empire in Khorasan south of Amudarya and the Karakhanids Empire in Sogdiana and dry plains north of Syrdarya.
Mausoleum of Ismail Samani, Bukhara
Mausoleum of Ismail Samani, Bukhara
In 1219 invincible hordes of Genghis Khan flooded the country. A legend says that he Great Khan with his 200,000 army came to revenge for the murder of his merchants, which were executed in Otrar city (southern Kazakhstan). Mongols were literally wiping out civilizations. As a contemporary said, "they came to kill and destroy". All they were leaving behind was death, terror and demolition. Cities and oases were looted and a greater part of the population forced into slavery.

It took more than a hundred years for a hero to come who ended internal conflicts and with an "Iron hand" collected disembodied kingdoms into one mighty and powerful empire.
Statute of Tamerlane in Shakhrisabz
Statute of Tamerlane in Shakhrisabz
Amir Timur or Tamerlane the Great (1337-1405) founded his capital in Samarkand after conquering what we know now as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Caucasus, Northern India and the Golden Horde of Mongols. He was on his way to China when death stopped him. He brought immense treasures, skilled craftsmen, architects and artists to Samarkand. His spectacular capital was then turned into a paradise for scholars and artists by his grandson, Ulugbek, one of the greatest men of science in Middle Ages, astronomer and sponsor of art and knowledge. Some call his famous Observatory one of world's wonders.

In 1500 Central Asia became the scene of a fight between last Timurids and nomadic Uzbek tribes, led by Muhammad Sheybani. He defeated Bobur, a grandson of Timur, and established Uzbek control over the maximum territory of Central Asia. Bobur escaped to Afghanistan and founded the famous Empire of Great Moguls in Northern India.

In the mid 18th century three Uzbek dynasties, who settled down here and mixed with local Turkic population, divided the empire of Sheybanids into three parts: Khiva Khanate, Bukhara Emirates and Kokand Khanate. They existed for almost a century and yielded to Russian troops in the period from 1864 to 1884. Turkistan became a Russian colony though the administration of former rulers and their authorities were preserved under protectorate of Russia.
Medieval Khiva, Uzbekistan
Medieval Khiva, Uzbekistan
Between 1922 and 1991 Uzbekistan was one of the 15 member Republics of the Soviet Union. In September 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan became one of Central Asian Republics to proclaim independence.
Modern Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Modern Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Related pages

Tourism in Uzbekistan
Uzbek Cuisine
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Modern Art
Religious and Sacred Places in Uzbekistan