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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Map showing the location of the Aral Sea and the watersheds of the Amu Darya (orange) and Syr Darya (yellow) which flow into the lake. National capitals in bold.
Map of Jaxartes or Syr Darya

Jaxartes (Hindi:(जगजार्टिस) or Syr Darya also transliterated Syrdarya or Sirdaryo, is a river in Central Asia, sometimes known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name Ἰαξάρτης.


Jat Gotras Namesake

Jat Gotras Namesake


Map of area around the Aral Sea. Aral Sea boundaries are circa 1960. Countries at least partially in the Aral Sea watershed are in yellow.

The Greek name is derived from Old Persian, Yakhsha Arta ("Great Pearly"), a reference to the color of the river's water. In medieval Arabic writings, the river is uniformly known as Sayhoun (سيحون) - and is considered one of the four rivers whose common source lies in Paradise (the other three being Amu Darya/Jayhoun, the Nile, and the Euphrates).[3]


The name, which comes from Persian and has long been used in the East, is a relatively recent one in western writings; prior to the early 20th century, the river was known by various versions of its ancient Greek name. Following the Battle of Jaxartes the river marked the northernmost limit of Alexander the Great's conquests. Greek historians have claimed that here in 329 BC he founded the city Alexandria Eschate (literally, "Alexandria the Furthest") as a permanent garrison. The city is now known as Khujand. In reality, he had just renamed (and possibly, expanded) the city of Cyropolis founded by king Cyrus the Great of Persia, more than two centuries earlier.

Jat History

  • Tadeusz Sulimirski wrote: "The evidence of both the ancient authors and the archaeological remains point to a massive migration of Sacian (Sakas)/Massagetan ("great" Jat) tribes from the Syr Daria Delta (Central Asia) by the middle of the second century B.C. Some of the Syr Darian tribes; they also invaded North India." [4]
  • Arnold Joseph Toynbee, also wrote: "It had been carried from the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin into the Indus Basin by the Massagetae themselves, together with their tribal name (the Jats), in their Volkerwander- ung in the second century BC."[5]
  • Sir John Marshall, (Former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India) wrote: "These Scythian invaders came principally from the three great tribes of Massagetae (great Jats), Sacaraucae, and Dahae (still exists as a Jat clan of Punjab)[6], whose home at the beginning of the second century B.C. was in the country between the Caspian sea (sea) and the Jaxartes river (Central Asia)."[7]

Ram Sarup Joon[8] writes that.... Uchis got divided into two groups. One of these settled down On the borders of Tibet. The other settled on the banks of Sihun River and was known as Scythians. They defeated the Saka tribe and passed through Afghanistan. When exactly they did so is not known. They advanced through the Bolan Pass, crossed the River Indus and occupied the area upto the river Ganga. They got integrated with the local population to such an extent that they ceased to be called Scythians. This event has given rise to the historical ambiguity that Jats, Ahirs and Gujars are of Scythian descent. No Jat, however claims this honour bestowed on him by some historians who have looked only that for and no further.

On the other hand, there is sufficient evidence to prove that these Scythians themselves were Jats and so easily amalgamated with their kith and kin. These very Scythians had named their territory in Turkistan as Jug Jats and a province in Iran as Jatali. The Khisans of Khamrian were known as Jat i-Iran. [9]

जात इतिहास

डॉ रणजीतसिंह[10] के अनुसार ... देशराज[11] अपने इतिहास में लिखते हैं- "उनका (जाटों का) विस्तार उत्तर में जगजार्टिस और पश्चिम में ईरान की खाड़ी तक हो गया था। ईरान के डेरियस के अलावा अपने नेताओं के साथ उन्होंने यूनान को पहले ही देख लिया था। समय पाकर तथा अधिक संख्या एवं अन्य परिस्थितियों से वे आगे की ओर बढ़े और रोम तथा इटली में पूर्व की ओर से आक्रमण करने लगे। उधर मध्य एशिया में हूणों का प्रथम उपद्रव खड़ा हुआ तब जगजार्टिस के किनारे पर बसे हुए जाट लोगों का कुछ भाग नए और हरे-भरे देशों की खोज के लिए यूराल पर्वत को पार कर गया और जर्मनी में जा बसा। उससे भी अधिक उत्साही लोगों को वहां पहुंचा दिया जहां से आगे थल न था अर्थात जमीन का खात्मा हो गया था, वह देश था स्कंधनाभ अथवा स्कैंडिनेविया।"

Hukum Singh Panwar

Hukum Singh Panwar writes: [12] The Saka Tigarkhauda (Sakas with pointed helmets) lived beyond Sugud (Sogdiana, modern Bukhara region) as neighbours of the Bactrians and pitched their Tepes (tents) in a settled way along and across Jaxartes ( Jakhar or Jakshar or Yakshus) around which is today the country of Turkistan.

Hukum Singh Panwar[13] writes: The Soviet Scientists found to their surprise that Yakutian nationality, living in remote Siberia, have in their blood the "HLA - B 70" antigen, which is possessed only by the Hindus of north India (The Indian Express, Chandigarh, dt. Oct. 24,1988). We surmise that, as the name suggests, the Yakuts must be Yakhus = Jakhus or in Sanskrit Yakshus and in Prakrit Jakhus (Jakhar Jats), who lived in the Drishad and Sarasvati Doab in the Rigvedic period and who were expelled to northern countries after their defeat in the last battle of the Dasharajna wars

The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations: End of Section four - page ii

by the Bharatas and who, according to M.L. Bhargava, (who made an elaborate ethno-geographical study of the Sapta-Saindhava country of the Rigvedic period), gave their name as Yakhu (Oxus in Greek) and Yakshar (Jaxartes in Greek) to two rivers between the Aral sea and lake Balkhas (infra, ch. IX on migrations of Jats).

Ram Sarup Joon

Ram Sarup Joon[14] writes - In or about 200 BC serious internal strife occurred in Turkistan. Various tribes fought among themselves. Neung Nu, the Chinese historian writes that during these battles, a tribe known as Uti (Uchi) was winked out of the country

During its westward withdrawal this, tribe was intercepted by another tribe called Daushan. The

History of the Jats, End of Page-36

Uchis got divided into two groups. One of these settled, down. On the borders, of Tibet. The other settled on the banks of Sihun River and was known as Scythians. They defeated the Saka tribe and passed through Afghanistan. When exactly they did so is not known. They advanced through the Bolan Pass, crossed the River Indus and occupied the area upto the river Ganga. They got integrated with the local population to such an extent that they ceased to be called Scythians. This event has given rise to the historical ambiguity that Jats, Ahirs and Gujars are of Scythian descent. No Jat, however claims this honour bestowed on him by some historians who have looked only that for and no further. On the other hand, there is sufficient evidence to prove that these Scythians themselves were Jats and so easily amalgamated with their kith and kin. These very Scythians had named their territory in Turkistan as Jug Jats and a province in Iran as Jatali. The Khisans of Khamrian were known as Jat i-Iran. [15]

General Cunningham writes that the inhabitants of Jatali province in Iran are of Jat community of Yayati Dynasty. He also writes that people of the Shavi sub caste are the descendants, of the daughter of Daksha, and Raja Daksha was a Surya Vanshi.

Ch.28: Alexander crosses the Hindu-Koosh (p.196-199)

Arrian[16] mentions.... After the transaction of this business, he advanced against Bactra and Bessus, reducing the Drangians and Gadrosians[1] to subjection on his march. He also reduced the Arachotians to subjection and appointed Menon viceroy over them. He then reached the Indians, who inhabit the land bordering on that of the Arachotians. All these nations he reached marching through deep snow and his soldiers experiencing scarcity of provisions and severe hardship. Learning that the Areians had again revolted, in consequence of Satibarzanes invading their land with 2,000 cavalry, which he had received from Bessus, he despatched against them Artabazus the Persian with Erigyius and Caranus two of the Companions, also ordering Phrataphernea, viceroy of the Parthians, to assist them in attacking the Areians. An obstinately contested battle then took place between the troops of Erigyius and Caranus and those of Satibarzanes; nor did the barbarians give way until Satibarzanes, encountering Erigyius, was struck in the face with a spear and killed. Then the barbarians gave way and fled with headlong speed.

Meantime Alexander was leading his army towards Mount Caucasus,[2] where he founded a city and named it Alexandreia.[3] Having offered sacrifice here to the gods to whom it was his custom to sacrifice, he crossed Mount Caucasus, after appointing Proexes, a Persian, viceroy over the land, and leaving Neiloxenus son of Satyrus, one of the Companions, with an army as superintendent. According to the account of Aristobulus, Mount Caucasus is as lofty as any in Asia, and most of it is bare, at any rate in that part where Alexander crossed it. This range of mountains stretches out so far that they say even that Mount Taurus, which forms the boundary of Cilicia and Pamphylia, springs from it, as do other great ranges which have been distinguished from the Caucasus by various names according to the position of each, Aristobulus says that in this part of the Caucasus nothing grew except terebinth trees and silphium;[4] notwithstanding which, it was inhabited by many people, and many sheep and oxen graze there; because sheep are very fond of silphium. For if a sheep smells it even from a distance, it runs to it and feeds upon the flower. They also dig up the root, which is devoured by the sheep. For this reason in Cyrene,[5] some drive their flocks as far as possible away from the places where their silphium is growing; others even enclose the place with a fence, so that even if the sheep should approach it they would not be able to get within the enclosure. For the silphium is very valuable to the Cyrenaeans.

Bessus, accompanied by the Persians who had taken part with him in the seizure of Darius, and by 7,000 of the Bactrians themselves and the Daans who dwelt on this side the Tanais,[6] was laying waste the country at the foot of Mount Caucasus, in order to prevent Alexander from marching any further, both by the desolation of the land between the enemy and himself and by the lack of provisions. But none the less did Alexander keep up the march, though with difficulty, both on account of the deep snow and from the want of necessaries; but yet he persevered in his journey. When Bessus was informed that Alexander was now not far off, he crossed the river Oxus,[7] and having burnt the boats upon which he had crossed, he withdrew to Nautaca[8] in the land of Sogdiana. He was followed by Spitamenes and Oxyartes, with the cavalry from Sogdiana, as well as by the Daans from the Tanais. But the Bactrian cavalry, perceiving that, Bessus had resolved to take to flight, all dispersed in various directions to their own abodes.

1. Gadrosia was the furthest province of the Persian empire on the south-east It comprised the south-east part of Beloochistan.

2. This was not the range usually so called, but what was known as the Indian Caucasus, the proper name being Paropanisus. It is now called Hindu-Koosh.

3. This city was probably on the site of Beghram, twenty-five miles north-east of Cabul. See Grote's Greece, vol. xii. ch. 94.

4. There are two kinds of silphium of laserpitium, the Cyrenaic, and the Persian. The latter is usually called asafœtida. See Herodotus (iv. 169); Pliny (Historia Naturalis, xix. 15; xxiii. 48); Aelian (Varia Historia, xii. 37); Aristophanes (Plutus, 925); Plautus (Rud., iii. 2, 16); Catullus (vii. laserpitiferis Cyrenis).

5. Cyrene was a colony founded by Battus from Thera, an island colonized by the Spartans. The territory of Cyrenaica is now a part of Tripoli. Cf. Pindar (Pyth., iv. 457); Herodotus (iv. 159-205)

6. This Tanais was usually called Jaxartes, now Sir, flowing into the sea of Aral.

7. The Oxus, now called Jihoun or Amou, flows into the sea of Aral, but formerly flowed into the Caspian.

8. Some think this town stood where Naksheh now is, and others think it was at Kesch.


Ch.30: Capture of Bessus.—Exploits in Sogdiana (p.201-204)

Arrian[17] mentions.... Here Ptolemy learned that Spitamenes and Dataphernes were not firmly resolved about the betrayal of Bessus. He therefore left the infantry behind with orders to follow him in regular order, and advanced with the cavalry till he arrived at a certain village, where Bessus was with a few soldiers for Spitamenes and his party had already retired from thence, being ashamed to betray Bessus themselves. Ptolemy posted his cavalry right round the village, which was enclosed by a wall supplied with gates. He then issued a proclamation to the barbarians in the village, that they would be allowed to depart uninjured if they surrendered Bessus to him. They accordingly admitted Ptolemy and his men into the village. He then seized Bessus and departed; but sent a messenger on before to ask Alexander how he was to conduct Bessus into his presence. Alexander ordered him to bind the prisoner naked in a wooden collar, and thus to lead him and place him on the right hand side of the road along which he was about to march with the army. Thus did Ptolemy. When Alexander saw Bessus, he caused his chariot to stop, and asked him, for what reason he had in the first place arrested Darius, his own king, who was also his kinsman and benefactor, and then led him as a prisoner in chains, and at last killed him? Bessus said that he was not the only person who had decided to do this, but that it was the joint act of those who were at the time in attendance upon Darius, with the view of procuring safety for themselves from Alexander. For this Alexander ordered that he should be scourged, and that the herald should repeat the very same reproaches which he had himself made to Bessus in his inquiry. After being thus disgracefully tortured, he was sent away to Bactra to be put to death. Such is the account given by Ptolemy in relation to Bessus; but Aristobulus says that Spitamenes and Dataphernes brought Bessus to Ptolemy, and having bound him naked in a wooden collar betrayed him to Alexander.[1]

Alexander supplied his cavalry with horses from that district, for many of his own horses had perished in the passage of the Caucasus and in the march to and from the Oxus. He then led his army to Maracanda,[2] which is the capital of the land of the Sogdianians. Thence he advanced to the river Tanais. This river, which Aristobulus says the neighbouring barbarians call by a different name, Jaxartes, has its source, like the Oxus, in mount Caucasus, and also discharges itself into the Hyrcanian Sea.[3] It must be a different Tanais from that of which Herodotus the historian speaks, saying that it is the eighth of the Scythian rivers, that it flows out of a great lake in which it originates, and discharges itself into a still larger lake, called the Maeotis.[4] There are some who make this Tanais the boundary of Europe and Asia, saying that the Palus Maeotis, issuing from the furthest recess of the Euxine[5] Sea, and this river Tanais, which discharges itself into the Maeotis, separate Asia and Europe,[6] just in the same way as the sea near Gadeira and the Nomad Libyans opposite Gadeira separates Libya and Europe.[7] Libya also is said by these men to be divided from the rest of Asia by the river Nile. In this place (viz. at the river Tanais), some of the Macedonians, being engaged in foraging, were cut to pieces by the barbarians. The perpetrators of this deed escaped to a mountain, which was very rugged and precipitous on all sides. In number they were about 30,000. Alexander took the lightest men in his army and marched against these. Then the Macedonians made many ineffectual assaults upon the mountain. At first they were beaten back by the missiles of the barbarians, and many of them were wounded, including Alexander himself, who was shot right through the leg with an arrow, and the fibula of his leg was broken. Notwithstanding this, he captured the place, and some of the barbarians were cut to pieces there by the Macedonians, while many also cast themselves down from the rocks and perished; so that out of 30,000 not more than 8,000 were preserved.[8]

1. Curtius (vii. 24) follows the account of Aristobulus, and so does Diodorus (xvii. 83) in the main. Cf. Aelian (Varia Historia, xii. 37).

2. The modern Samarcand.

3. Arrian and Strabo are wrong in stating that the Jáxartes rises in the Caucasus, or Hindu-Koosh. It springs from the Comedae Montes, now called Moussour. It does not flow into the Hyrcanian, or [Caspian Sea]] but into the Sea of Aral. It is about 900 miles long.

4. The river Tanais, of which Herodotus speaks (iv. 45, 57), is the Don; and the Lake Maeotis, is the Sea of Azov. Cf. Strabo (vii. cc. 3 and 4).

5. Euxeinos (kind to strangers); called before the Greeks settled upon it Axenos (inhospitable). See Ovid (Tristia, iv.. 4). C£. Ammianus (xxii. 8, 33): " A contrario per oavillationem Pontus Euxinus adpellatur, et euethen Graeoi dieimus stultum, et nootem euphronen et furias Eumenidas."

6. So Gurtivs (vi. 6) makes the Don the boundary of Etirope and Asia. "Tanais Europam et Asiam medius interfuit." Ammianus says: "Tanais inter Caueasias oriens rupes, per sinuosos labitur circumflexus, Asiamque disterminans ab Europa, in stagnis Maeotieis deliteseit." The Eha, or Volga, is first mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century of the Christian era.

7. Gadeira is now called Cadiz. The Greeks called the continent of Africa by the name of Libya. So Polybius (iii. 37) says that the Don is the boundary of Europe, and that Libya is separated from Asia and Europe respectively by the Nile and the Straits of Gibraltar, or, as he calls the latter, " the mouth at the pillars of Hercules." Arrian here, like many ancient authors, considers Libya a part of Asia. Of. Juvenal, x. i.

8. Curtius (vii. 23) gives an account of the massacre by Alexander of the descendants of the Branchidae, who had surrendered to Xerxes the treasures of the temple of Apollo near Miletus, and who, to escape the vengeance of the Greeks, had accompanied Xerxes into the interior. They had been settled in Sogdiana, and their descendants had preserved themselves distinct from the barbarians for 150 years, till the arrival of Alexander. We learn from the table of contents of the 17th book of Diodorus, that that historian also gave an account of this atrocity of Alexander in the part of his history, now lost, which came after the 83rd chapter. Cf. Herodotus (i. 92, 157; v. 36); Strabo (xi. 11; xiv. 1).


Mention by Pliny

Pliny[18] mentions 'The Caspian Sea and Hyrcanian Sea.'....Bursting through, this sea makes a passage from the Scythian Ocean into the back of Asia,1 receiving various names from the nations which dwell upon its banks, the two most famous of which are the Caspian and the Hyrcanian races. Clitarchus is of opinion that the Caspian Sea is not less in area than the Euxine. Eratosthenes gives the measure of it on the south-east, along the coast of Cadusia2 and Albania, as five thousand four hundred stadia; thence, through the territories of the Anariaci, the Amardi, and the Hyrcani, to the mouth of the river Zonus he makes four thousand eight hundred stadia, and thence to the mouth of the Jaxartes3 two thousand four hundred; which makes in all a distance of one thousand five hundred and seventy-five miles. Artemidorus, however, makes this sum smaller by twenty-five miles.

1 His meaning is, that the Scythian Ocean communicates on the northern shores of Asia with the Caspian Sea. Hardouin remarks, that Patrocles, the commander of the Macedonian fleet, was the first to promulgate this notion, he having taken the mouth of the river Volga for a narrow passage, by means of which the Scythian or Northern Ocean made its way into the Caspian Sea

2 The country of the Cadusii, in the mountainous district of Media Atropatene, on the south-west shores of the Caspian Sea, between the parallels of 390 and 370 north latitude. This district probably corresponds with the modern district of Gilan.

3 Now the Syr-Daria or Yellow River, and watering the barren steppes of the Kirghiz-Cossacks. It really discharges itself into the Sea of Aral, and not the Caspian.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[19] mentions 'Media and the Caspian Gates'.... After leaving these gates (Caspian Gates) we find the nation of the Caspii, extending as far as the shores of the Caspian, a race which has given its name to these gates as well as to the sea: on the left there is a mountainous district. Turning back14 from this nation to the river Cyrus, the distance is said to be two hundred and twenty miles; but if we go from that river as far down as the Caspian Gates, the distance is seven hundreds15 miles. In the itineraries of Alexander the Great these gates were made the central or turning point in his expeditions; the distance from the Caspian Gates to the frontier of India being there set down as fifteen thousand six hundred and eighty16 stadia, to the city of Bactra,17 commonly called Zariaspa, three thousand seven hundred, and thence to the river Jaxartes18 five thousand stadia.

14 In a northern direction, along the western shores of the Caspian.

15 According to Hardouin, Eratosthenes, as quoted by Strabo, makes the distance 5060 stadia, or about 633 miles. He has, however, mistranslated the passage, which gives 5600 stadia, or 700 miles exactly, as stated by Pliny.

16 Or 1960 miles.

17 Bactra, Bactrum, or Bactrium, was one of the chief cities, if not the capital, of the province of Bactriana. It was one of the most ancient cities in the world, and the modern Balkh is generally supposed to occupy its site. Strabo, as well as Pliny, evidently considers that Bactra and Zareispa were the same place, while Appian distinguishes between the two, though he does not clearly state their relative positions.

18 The modern Syr-Daria, mentioned in c. 15. See p. 25.

Mention by Pliny

Pliny[20] mentions Nations situated around the Hyrcanian Sea... Beyond it are the Sogdiani,24 the town of Panda, and, at the very extremity of their territory, Alexandria,25 founded by Alexander the Great. At this spot are the altars which were raised by Hercules and Father Liber, as also by Cyrus, Semiramis, and Alexander; for the expeditions of all these conquerors stopped short at this region, bounded as it is by the river Jaxartes, by the Scythians known as the Silis, and by Alexander and his officers supposed to have been the Tanais. This river was crossed by Demodamas, a general of kings Seleucus and Antiochus, and whose account more particularly we have here followed. He also consecrated certain altars here to Apollo Didymæus.26

24 D'Anville says that there is still the valley of Al Sogd, in Tartary, beyond the Oxus. The district called Sogdiana was probably composed of parts of modern Turkistan and Bokhara. The site of Panda does not appear to be known.

25 It was built on the Jaxartes, to mark the furthest point reached by Alexander in his Scythian expedition. It has been suggested that the modern Kokend may possibly occupy its site.

26 The "twin," of the same birth with Diana.

External links


  1. Hukum Singh Panwar: The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/The identification of the Jats, p.316
  2. Hukum Singh Panwar: The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/The identification of the Jats, p.316
  3. The introductory chapters of Yāqūt's Muʿjam al-buldān, by Yāqūt ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥamawī, Page 30
  4. Sulimirski, Tadeusz (1970). The Sarmatians. Volume 73 of Ancient peoples and places. New York: Praeger. pp. 113–114.
  5. Royal Institute of International Affairs; Toynbee, Arnold Joseph (1962). A Study of History (2 ed.). Volume 10. Oxford University Press. p. 54.
  6. Dahiya, B. S., Jats, the ancient rulers: a clan study, Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India, 1980, p. 23.
  7. Sir John Marshall, (Sir, Hon. Fellow of King's College, Cambridge University, and formerly Director-General of Archaeology in India), A Guide to Taxila, Cambridge University Press, London, 1960, p. 24.
  8. History of the Jats/Chapter III,p.37
  9. Todd's Rajasthan - Urdu edition
  10. Jat Itihas By Dr Ranjit Singh/1.Jaton Ka Vistar,p.4
  11. देशराज, जाट इतिहास, पृष्ठ 169-71
  12. Hukum Singh Panwar: The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/The identification of the Jats, p.316
  13. The Jats:Their Origin, Antiquity and Migrations/Addenda,pp.ii-iii
  14. History of the Jats/Chapter III,pp. 36-37
  15. Todd's Rajasthan - Urdu edition
  16. The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, p.196-199
  17. The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, p.201-204
  18. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 15
  19. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 17
  20. Natural History by Pliny Book VI/Chapter 18

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