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Arians


Map of Hyrcania. Design Jona Lendering.
Hyrcania, Parthia and Aria
Arians or Areians (Old-Persian Haraiva): ancient tribe, living in western Afghanistan. Their name means 'noblemen'.

In historical times, the Arians lived in the country along the river Arios (the modern Hari Rûd), which is more or less identical to the Afghanian province of Herât. There were large deserts surrounding the fertile river valley.

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It is possible to say something of the prehistory of the Arians. They must have been nomads from central Asia, who settled in Iran at the end of the second millennium. After some time, new tribal coalitions came into being: in the west, the Medes; in the south, the Persians; in the east the Bactrians and in the center the Arians.

From the late seventh or early sixth century BCE, the Arians were subjects of the Medes, and their country became a satrapy of the Achaemenid empire when king Cyrus the Great defeated the Medes (550 BC).


An Arian. Eastern stairs of the apadana at Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins.
An Arian. Relief from the
eastern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis (more).

During the civil war of 522/520, the Arians seem to have remained quiet. Under Persian rule, the Arians started to live in towns; the Greek geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria (Geography 6.17.3) states that there were many towns and villages in the valley of the river, and that there were nomadic tribes who were living in the mountains. The center of the Persian government was the palace at Artacoana, which is usually identified with the modern town of Herât.

In September 330 BC, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great conquered Aria in pursuit of the leaders of the Persian national resistance, king Bessus and the last satrap of Aria, Satibarzanes. Alexander used siege towers to take Artacoana; the inhabitants were killed or sold as slaves. The empty town was rebuilt and called Alexandria.

After Alexander's death (in 323), Aria became a stable part of the Seleucid empire -ruled by a Macedonian dynasty- for more than half a century. However, after 240, the neighboring countries Bactria and Parthia became independent from their Macedonian overlords. Aria was part of the new Bactrian kingdom, although the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great managed to extend his realm to the east between 208 and 190. His son Antiochus IV Epiphanes sent a general, Eucratides, to do the same in 167, but the Parthian king Mithridates I outsmarted him and seized almost all Afghanistan. From now on, Aria was part of the Parthian empire.

In Antiquity, Aria was famous for its wine. It is mentioned in the Avesta as one of Ahuramazda's special creations (Vendidad, Fargard 1.9). 

 
 
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