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Oxus and Jaxartes have never changed | have in such standard works as those of their course, but from time immemorial Strabo and Pliny and Ptolemy, a reprehave disembogued into the Aral Sea, pre-sentation of the true hydrography of Eastcisely as is the case at the present day. ern Persia for about 500 years before and On the other hand, it has been roundly asserted by geographers of almost equal weight, that the Aral has fluctuated at different periods of history between the condition of a great inland sea and that of a reedy marsh, according to the varying" Vakh," probably the right arm of the course of its two feeders, the Oxus and Jaxartes; and has sometimes even, when the supply of water from those feeders has been entirely cut off for a lengthened period, disappeared altogether from the map of Asia. We have reason to believe that this curious question of physical hydrography, which has been already partially ventilated before the Geographical Society of London,* will, in the course of their ensuing session, be subjected to further rigid inquiry, and will receive probably a definite solution; but, in the meantime, a brief recapitulation of the changes which the Aral is said to have undergone, and of the evidence on which those asserted changes depend, may not perhaps be out of place as an introduction to Marco Polo's own view of the geography of Central Asia.
after the Christian era. As late, indeed, as A.D. 570, when Zemarchus returned from his mission to the Turkish Khagan, then encamped in the Ak-Tagh, north of Samarcand, and crossed the Oech (or Oxus), near the city of Urganj, he found the Aral, not yet developed to the condition of an inland sea, but still bearing the character of a large reedy morass; and it was not probably till thirty or forty years later, during the reign of Khusrú Parvíz, that the great change took place which cut off the water of the Oxus entirely from the Caspian. and turned the full stream into the Aral- the sea of Kardar, which was the south-western portion of the present Abugír Lake, and which had been probably fed, up to that date, by the Urganj branch of the river, being at the same time desiccated, and a treasurecity (the modern Berrasin Gelmaz?) being thus exposed, which had been submerged in remote antiquity, and which, according to Persian tradition, required twelve years of unremitting labour to excavate and rifle of its riches.t
From this period till the rise of the Mongol power the Aral continued to absorb the entire stream of the two great rivers; and, if we may form an opinion from the consentient testimony of the Arab geographers, it must have exhibited for six consecutive centuries very much the same
Among the ancients, then, Herodotus and Strabo are the only authors who can be supposed from their writings to have had any cognizance of the existence of the Aral; and their description applies, not to a large independent sea, but rather to a series of reedy swamps, fed by the overflowing of the Jaxartes, the main arm of which river, however, found its way to the Caspian. All other writers simply bring the The geography of the expedition of Zemarchus Oxus and Jaxartes iuto the Caspian with- has, we think, been quite misunderstood by Colonel out any allusion to the deflexion or bifur-bulus was in the country of the Sogdians, and cerYule (Cathay, vol. i. p. clxiii). The camp of Dizacation of either stream, estimating the tainly, therefore, not beyond the Jaxartes. The distance between the mouths of the two name of Talas, indeed, which has led Colonel Yule astray, did not apply in the seventh century to the rivers at about eighty parasangs; and town and river which bore that title in later ti nes. when we consider the extent of informa- The Choliata (or Khalajat?) probably dwelt on the tion at the disposal of the Greek and Ro- left bank of the old bed of the Jaxartes. At any rate the Roman party must have struck the Aral man geographers, when we remember that marshes at their south-eastern corner, and thus Greek princes ruled for some centuries in skirted round their southern edge, the short deserttrack which was followed by George and his party the countries between Persia and the In-on their return to Byzantium being the direct line dian Caucasus, that Greek admirals navi- from Urganj to Asterabad, and so on by the north gated the Caspian, and Greek commanders of Persia to Asia Minor. This short cut, indeed, is quite inexplicable if we suppose Zemarchus to have penetrated beyond the Jaxartes, while the passed to the north of the Aral marshes. merchants who followed the caravan routes Dictionary under the head of Kardar. The ruins of †This tradition is cited by Yacut in his great from India to the Mediterranean brought the enchanted castle of Berrasin Gelmaz ("From their journals and road-books to Rome,- which there is no return ") are described by Abbott it seems impossible to doubt but that we land in the sea of Aral, but in the map accompany(vol. i. p. 211), who supposed them to occupy an is ing Boutakoff's Survey (" Royal Geographical Soci ety's Journal," vol. xxiii. p. 94), the same place See "Proceedings of the Royal Geographical famous for the rich treasures deposited in its Society," vol. xi. no. iii. p. 114; and "Journal of vaults," is laid down under the name of Barsa Kil the Royal Gec graphical Society," vol. xxxvii. Pres-mesh in the salt marsh immediately adjoining the ident's Addresi, p. 140. Abugir Lake.
appearance as at present. There were or southern arm of the river; for the chanmany changes, no doubt, in the "delta" of nel described by Hamdullah, in his acthe Oxus. The successive capitals of Fíl, count of the Oxus, is not the northern or of Mansureh, and of Kát, which were all in Urganj branch, but that which flowed from the same vicinity, at the southern apex of Hazarasp by the pass of Muslim and Kurthe delta, were destroyed by inundations láwá to Akrícheh on the Caspian, the point of the river, between the ninth and twelfth of embouchure being probably at the modcenturies, and there was also much shift-ern position of Akteppeh, a short distance ing of stream between the various irriga- north of the mouth of the Atrek. The tion canals, which extended 100 miles into traces of this southern arm were observed the desert to the west; but no drop of wa- by Abbott near the point of deviation at ter, either from the Oxus or Jaxartes, Hazarasp. Vambery gives the name of seems during all this period to have Döden to a station two stages farther on reached the Caspian. It was in A.D. 1221 to the WSW., thus marking the course of that Octáí Khán, the son of Jenghiz, the old bed, which is always so called by at the siege of Urganj, first broke the the Turcomans; and Arthur Conolly careOxus dam which regulated the influx of fully examined the lower part of the same water for irrigation purposes into the old channel near the Kuran hills, through channel, and thus, bringing the whole which no doubt passed the defile of Musforce of the current against the city walls, lim.* There is further abundant evidence undermined them, and levelled them with of the course of this southern arm in the the earth. We are not told what was the local records; and in fact in all probability full effect of this removal of the dam, or if it represents the original Oxus of the the operation was assisted by the construc- Greek geographers, which passed in the tion of a barrier across the Aral branch neighbourhood of the Barcani (Vehrkán above the point of deviation; but a few or Gurgán), and disembogued to the years afterwards, in A.D. 1224, we find the north of the Socanda (or Atrek), a trace first notice (in Yacút's description of Man- of which name remains in the Ab-oskún gashlágh) of the Oxus having again forced of the Arabs - the northern arm which its way to the Caspian; and we are war- passed by old Urganj and discharged itself ranted therefore in ascribing the great into the Bay of Balkán, and the dry bed change in physical geography which set in of which has been observed by Muravief from this time, and which ended in the and Vambery, and by all the Russian surdesiccation of the Aral, to Octáí's artificial veyors, being probably the original chandisruption of the Urganj dyke; the more nel by which the Jaxartes reached the sea, certainly as Hamdullah Mustowfí- the after throwing off a portion of its waters Persian Eratosthenes, as he is called by into the Aral marshes. There is also a Jaubertin describing in the following very curious passage in Hamdullah Muscentury (about A.D. 1330) the alteration of towfi's account of the Caspian Sea, in the course of the Oxus from the Aral to which he says that, owing to the influx of the Caspian, specifically says that the di- the Oxus waters for the preceding century version took place about the time of the the level of the sea had so risen in his day rise of the Mongol power. There must (A.D. 1330) as to submerge the famous port have been, however, almost simultaneously of Aboskun and the adjacent parts, and he with the destruction of Urganj, a second further speculates that this increment will crisis on the Oxus, which opened the upper continue until the incoming and outgoing are brought to an equilibrium, that is until the absorption by evaporation exactly equals the volume of water thrown into the sea through the various rivers which feed it.
A very curious accouut of the castle of 'Ir, the residence of the kings of Kharism, was quoted from Abu Rihan, in the Quarterly Review," no. 240, p. 491. There can be little doubt but that this is the same castle belonging to the royal city of Kat, which is described by the Arab geographers, and which was destroyed by the river between the visit of Istakhri in A.D. 951 and the visit of the Ibn Haukal in about 970 (see Goeje's "Viæ Regnorum," p. 301). Abu Rihan's date of A S. 1305 (which cannot be earlier than A.D. 982), however, requires explanation, and his use of the Hebrew synonym of 'Ir "the city," for the vernacular Kat, or Arabic Medineh, is equally remarkable. The old Kharismian name of Fil had probably the same meaning, being altered from Vird, "a city," according to the same orthographical law which has formed Sal "a year," from Sard; Gul"a rose," from Ward; Dil "the heart," from Hrid; Pal-ang "a leopard," from Pard; &c., &c.
of the present Aral,* we come to a very, on the Jaxartes, a line that would conduct important notice, recorded by a thorough- exactly across the present bed of the Sea ly competent authority in A.D. 1417, upon of Aral. It is inconceivable, indeed, that which, indeed, the present controversy the Catalan map which was drawn up in mainly hinges. This anonymous author, A.D. 1375, mainly to illustrate the route of who seems to have been Shah-rokh's min- the caravans which passed from Sarai on ister, and whose admirable book on the the Volga Urganj to China, should history and geography of Khorassán fur- have omitted any notice of the Aral, which nished materials for all the subsequent lay directly upon the line of march, had writers of that literary agent distinctly that remarkable natural feature been then states in two passages that the Aral, ow- in existence. ing to the long-continued draining of the The gradual reshifting of the waters of waters of the Oxus and Jaxartes into the the Oxus and the refilling of the Aral bed, Caspian, had in his time become, not subsequent to the year A.D. 1500, is somemerely shrunken in size or broken into what more obscure, owing to the difficulty marshes and lagoons, but had in fact of distinguishing between the various ceased to exist; and any impartial geogra- channels by which the river drained off pher who looks into the maps and travels into the Caspian, and which became closed of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth at different epochs; but it seems certain centuries, must, we think, come to the con- that at the beginning of the eighteenth clusion that this statement is substan-century, when Russia first sought, through tially correct; for not only is there no sin- the expeditions of Prince Beckevitch, to gle notice of the Aral, as an independent gain a footing in Khiva with a view of sea, in any of the numerous medieval itin- obtaining access to the reported aurifereraries through Central Asia, but there is ous waters of the Kizil-sú, or “red river," much powerful evidence against its possi- the desiccation of the Turcoman steppe ble existence. For instance, the monk was complete, and not a drop of the Oxus Rubruquis, in A.D. 1253, coming down water at that time reached to the Caspian. from the north upon the Lower Jaxartes, It has been reserved for Russian entersays that the river did not flow into any prise at the present day to revive the sea, but lost itself in the desert after scheme of Peter the Great for reopening making extensive swamps. Again, that the northernmost channel of the river, the basin of the Aral could not have been which is still known to the Persians as the filled with water when the elder Poli Kizil-sú, by breaking down the Sarkrauk made their journey in A.D. 1260, from the dam ; and no one who looks into the hisVolga to Bokhara, is rendered more than tory of the past, can doubt for a moment probable by Marco's silence regarding it; but that the scheme, as far as physical and this argument is further strengthened geography is concerned, is perfectly pracby Pegoletti's notice to travellers bound ticable, and that the living generation will for Tartary (written in about A.D. 1340), behold its realization.* that if they had merchandise to dispose of, We may now briefly consider a portion they might advantageously make the de- of Marco Polo's own geography. In A.D. tour of Urganj, but that otherwise they 1271, young Marco Polo, then a boy of would save five or ten days by passing di- seventeen years old, and belonging to a rect from Saraichik on the Yaik to Otrar noble family of Venice, set out
travels; not for instruction or amusement, • The following extract from the "Memoirs of but simply to make his fortune. He acBaber" is decisive as to the condition of the Jaxartes as late as the beginning of the sixteenth century: companied his father Nicolo and his uncle, "The Seihun runs on the north of Khojend and south of Finakat, which is now better known as Shahrokhia, and thence inclining to the north, flows • It is this avowed desire on the part of Russia to down towards Turkestan, and, meeting with no divert for purposes of trade a navigable branch of other river in its course, is wholly swallowed up in the Urganj river into the Caspian, and the import. the sandy desert considerably below Turkestan, and ant political results that may accrue from a contindisappears.” (Leyden's Baber, p. 1.)
uous water communication being thus opened up + As the authority of this anonymous writer has between St. Petersburg and the foot of the Indian been discredited by some of our best geographers Caucasus, which invest the ancient history of the (see " Journal of the Royal Geographical Society," Oxus with so much interest at the present.time. vol. xxvii. p. cxxxv.), it seems important to state There is some diversity of opinion among Russian that a very large portion of the famous work of engineers as to the practicability of the scheme, Abdorrazzák, which was translated and annotated but, on the whole, the reports are favourable, and, by Quatremère in the fourteenth volume of the but for the quasi-hostile attitude of Khiva, prepara“ Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits," was copied tions for the work would probably have already word for word from the earlier Herat history, Qua- commenced. Since the establishment, however, of tremère adding of the copy, “ L'ouvrage est, sans a strong Russian post at Krasnovodsk, and the rir. contredit, un des plus curieux et des plus véridiques tual extinction of Bokhara, the days of Khivan inqui aient été écrits dans les langues de l'Orient." dependence may be held to be numbered.
way to Buddhism and the original Pyræum had been replaced by a Buddhist temple, this same characteristic of "the flaunting banners" still remained the distinctive feature of the place. The Arab geographers, indeed, describe with much curious detail this famous Buddhist temple, the appanage of the Barmecide family, which, when the city fell before the arms of Islam in A.D. 655, was found to be decorated with silken pennons a hundred yards in length, and it is especially worthy of remark that through all subsequent history the building retained the same Sanscrit name of Nava-vihára (corrupted into Nowbehár, and signifying "the new monastery"), which had been given to it by its Buddhist founders, and by which it is designated in the "Travels of Hwen-Tsang," the famous Chinese pilgrim, who visited Balkh in A.D. 630.
Maffeo Polo, on their return to the court valley itself appears under four different of Kublai Khán, where the elder Poli had names in the famous list of the primitive already spent some year's engaged in com- Oromasdian creations in the Vendidád, the merce, and from whence they had recently upper plateau being called "the region of been deputed by the Mongol Emperor to the seven rivers," a name which it reopen negotiations with the Pope, with a tained as long as there were Zoroastrians view to his delegation of a band of mis- in the country; Badakhshan being represionaries to the far East, ostensibly for the sented by "Rangha" (or Rágh), the mounpurpose of teaching the Mongols the tenets tain district immediately bordering the of Latin Christianity, but in reality, it is river; the middle valley being described suggested, in order to supply that higher as "Vaekeret" (or Beikend), and the rich education which this enlightened sovereign alluvial portion of the lower delta having desired to introduce, but which it was in the title of "Urwan" or Urganj.* The vain to expect at the hands of the illiter- great city of Bactria or Balkh, which ate and degraded Nestorian priests then was visited by Marco Polo, was probably resident in Mongolia. As the Papal chair the earliest capital in Central Asia. Under happened to be vacant when the elder the primitive Aryan Empire it rejoiced in Poli visited Europe, and, owing to dissen- the epithet of "the bannered," and strange sions in the conclave, no successor to to say, when Zoroastrianism had given Clement IV. was appointed for the next two years, the invitation of Kublai, which being well suited to the Propagandist views of Rome might otherwise have led to important results, proved infructuous. The Poli family returned alone, and occupied nearly four years in working their weary way from the Mediterranean to the Great Khán's summer residence at Kaiping-fu, to the north of the great wall of China. There is considerable uncertainty as to the route which the travellers followed in their journey; and if Colonel Yule be right in taking them, firstly into Asia Minor, then through Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf, and finally by Kirman and Yezd, and across the desert to the Oxus, we can only say that they selected the most devious and the most inhospitable of all the many lines leading into Eastern Asia. The real interest of the route, however, commences at the Oxus; and here, therefore, we propose to consider the movements of the travellers in more detail. The Oxus has in all ages played an important part in the history of the East, taking its place as a great line of ethnic or territorial demarcation. In Persian romance it formed the boundary between Iran and Turan. Under the Mahommedans it divided the great province of Maver-en-nahr (" beyond the River") from the rest of Persia. At the present day it has been proposed as a frontier between the Russian and British Indian dependencies, and will ultimately, no doubt, be the Rubicon between the Empires. The Oxus valley, indeed, possessing for the most part a temperate climate and a luxuriant soil, has been ever held up to the admiration of the world, as one of the spots most favoured by nature in the East. It was the birthplace of Aryan civilization. The
As these identifications are all new and contravene the criticism of the last hundred years, it may be necessary to cite some authority in their support. First then, for the application of the name Hapta Hindu, or "the seven rivers," to the Upper Oxus, there is the direct authority of Abu Rihan. See Elliot's Historians of India," Edit. Dowson, 1. p. 49. India, or the Panjab, had been previously understood by the critics. Secondly, Rangha, which is next to Hapta Hindu in the list, was famous for its untamed horsemen;" and Ragh, the northernmost district of Badakhshan, is still notorious for the wild and warlike character of its inhabitants. Thirdly, Vackeret, which occurs in the list between Herat and Kharism, exactly answers to the position of Beikend, which was traditionally the oldest city of Sughd. The names too are equivalent, meaning "the abode of the Vae or Bei ;" and the epithet, "the seat of hell," which is attached to Vackeret, may be explained by the great "swallow" in the desert near Beikend, which engulfs and absorbs the beneficent waters of the Polytimetus, or Zarafshan. Lastly, Urvan, "famous for its meadows," corre sponds with the description of Kharism, or Urganj, which otherwise would not be mentioned in the list. The names too of Urvan and Urganj are identical, the modern g always replacing the old v, and the addition of a terminal being a well-known pecullarity of the Kharismian dialect.
Until recently our only trustworthy | been placed in Klaproth's hands for official authorities on the geography of the Upper purposes, were asserted to have been copOxus were Marco Polo and Benedict Goes, ied by him and sold to the British Foreign
we say trustworthy advisedly, because Office for 1,000 guineas. The Russians, on a large amount of inaccurate or spurious the one hand, vindicated the genuineness information regarding this part of Central of the George Ludwig MS., by referring Asia has been for some time past circulat- to the corroborative and independent auing, greatly to the confusion of geogra- thority of certain portions of the Chinese phers and the disturbance of sound in- Itinerary. The English, on the other hand, quiry; and because we think it only proper comparing the Chinese Itinerary, as sumin the interests of science that the mystifi. marized by Veniukoff
, with the Foreign cation which has thus been caused, should Office Report, to which access was kindly be now publicly denounced and exposed. given by Lord Stanley, and finding the About ten years ago, then, it was an- spurious geographical descriptions and nonounced to the Imperial Geographical So- menclature of the two documents to be ciety of St. Petersburg, by one of its most almost identical, came to the conclusion distinguished members, the late Mons. that the three manuscripts under considerVeniukoff, that a manuscript had been dis- ation, with their accompanying illustracovered in the archives of the “ État Ma- tions, had been all seve
verally forged by jor,” which professed to give a minute Klaproth - possibly from a mere love of account of all the country intervening be- mystification, but more probably from tween Cashmere and the Kirghiz Steppes. mercenary motives, since it could hardly The author was said to be a German have been by accident that the English re(George Ludwig von -), an agent port found its way to St. Petersburg, while of the East India Coinpany, who was de- the Russiau report was transferred to Lonspatched at the beginning of this, or the don, where they would each respectively end of the last, century, to purchase horses command the highest money value. On in Central Asia, and who, having on his one point only could there be any doubt. return froin his mission, quarrelled with There was nothing, as far as the texts the Calcutta Government on the subject were concerned, immediately to connect of his accounts, transferred his MSS. to the German and the Russian Reports; but St. Petersburg, where they had remained indirectly, nevertheless the two documents for over fifty years unnoticed in deposit. were fonnd to be very closely linked; for The chapters which Mons. Veniukoff pub- upon a map in Klaproth's own handwriting, lished from this work, and which were cer- which was bound up with the Russian retainly very curious, were received at St. port in our Foreign Office, and which was Petersburg with the most absolute confi- intended partly to illustrate it, a fictitious dence, as extracts from official documents, route was observed to be laid down from and were cordially welcomed even in Srinagar, the capital of Cashmere, to the Paris;
but in England they were viewed Indus, which was also given in detail in with suspicion from the cominencement; the George Ludwig Journal, positive proof and do sooner were the details brought being thereby afforded that the compiler forward than they were pronounced im- of the one document must have had access possible, and the whole story of the horse to the other. It may be well understood agent and his journal were accordingly that these forgeries, as far as regards local declared to be an impudent fiction. There- descriptions, etymology of names, and hisupon arose a controversy of some warmth, torical synchronisms, are executed with in which the late Lord Strangford and Sir considerable skill; for otherwise they H. Rawlinson attacked, and Messrs. Khan- would hardly have imposed on such expeikoff and Veniukoff defended, the genuine- rienced critics as the Geographical Socieness of the German MS. In the course of ties of Paris and St. Petersburg. In refthis controversy allusion was made to two erence to one particular point, indeed, the other kindred works; one being a so-called English investigators were, for a time, fairChinese Itinerary, translated Klaproth bewildered. Ten years ago, it must be in 1824, and a copy of which was also de- remembered, we had little positive inforposited in the archives of the Russian État mation regarding the Oxus and its affluMajor, and the other being the confiden- ents, beyond the immediate range of Lieut. tial report of a Russian agent, who was Wood's journey to the sources of the river; said to have been sent by the Emperor and when it was found, therefore, that a Paul at the beginning of the century to certain Colonel Gardner, who was known survey Central Asia up to the Indian fron- to have personally visited and surveyed tier, and whose manuscript notes, having the country between the Indus and the