A Forgotten Region

It is remarkable how quickly a region, whose peoples shared a long history and many aspects of culture, can be forgotten.

Few, we imagine, would feel that they should regard Greater Central Asia, the lands bounded in the west by Anatolia and the Euphrates, in the east by Sinkiang and Indo-gangetic plain, in the north by the Russian steppe and in the south by the Indian Ocean, as forming a region with a distinct identity. Certainly, they would not regard this to be so for the present, and perhaps not even for the past.

Yet, for nearly one thousand years, the peoples of this region shared a common elite culture. The ingredients came together between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries when several cities, for instance, Baghdad, Isfahan, Bukhara, became great centres of government and the civilised arts. Islam supplied a common framework of law and of values; sweet and sibilant Persian became the language of the courts; the Turkish, and later the Mongol, genius for warfare upheld state power; the Iranian genius in matters of intellect and the arts oiled the wheels of government and nourished courtly cultivation.

The masses spoke either a Turkic language such as Azeri, Turkmen, Uzbek or Kirghiz, or an Indo-Iranian tongue such as Persian, Kurdish, Pushtu, Baluchi or Hindi. In time, their local cultures came increasingly to interact with the high Islamic culture of the cities producing new hybrid forms like the Urdu language, which grew out of the interaction between the Persian-speaking court at Delhi and the Hindi-speaking world in which it dwelt.

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