ASB iv. In Afghanistan



iv. In Afghanistan

The lands in northern Afghanistan and the upper Oxus valley—Čaḡānīān, Ḵottal, and Vaḵš on the right bank, and Ṭoḵārestān and Badaḵšān on the left bank—were well-provided with good pasture lands in the valleys running up into the mountains, and seem to have been famed for their horses from the period when the Arab invaders first penetrated into Central Asia, such horses being in demand both as war-mounts and for the relays of the barīd or postal and intelligence service. According to an episode in Masʿūdī (Morūǰ V, pp. 478-79; ed. Pellat, sec. 2232), the Ṭoḵārestān horse (berḏawn ṭoḵārī) was scarce and highly-prized in the caliphate of ʿAbd-al-Malek (65-86/685-705), but a generation later, in Hešām’s time (105-25/724-43), comparatively plentiful and in widespread use. The fame of Čaḡānīān for horse-breeding is attested by a well-known anecdote of Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī in the Čahār maqāla (ed. M. Qazvīnī and M. Moʿīn, Tehran, 1333 Š./1944, pp. 58-65, E. G. Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, GMS 11/2, London, 1921, pp. 39-45), in which the poet Farroḵī Sīstānī seeks the patronage of the Amīr of Čaḡānīān Abu’l-Moẓaffar Moḥammad (fl. early 5th/11th century), going to him at the spring branding grounds (dāḡgāh) in Čaḡānīān, where the ruler reputedly had 18,000 breeding mares. The region of Gūzgān in north-central Afghanistan, to the west of Ṭoḵārestān, is singled out by the Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, together with Ṭoḵārestān, Čaḡānīān, and particularly Ḵottal (whose horses, ḵatlī, have often been praised in poetry), for its numerous horses and for the manufacture of horse accouterments such as saddle-bags and girths (tr. Minorsky, pp. 106, 108, 114, 119).

The pasture lands along the frontiers of eastern Afghanistan and the right bank of the Indus, including those in the Solaymān Mountains (in the northeastern part of modern Baluchistan and in southern Waziristan), were equally famed for horse breeding, and the name of the Afghans, the indigenous people of these borderlands, has been linked with the Aśvaka (horse people) of Gandhara mentioned in the Mahābhārata (see K. de B. Codrington, “A Geographical Introduction to the History of Central Asia,” Geographical Journal 55, 1955, p. 39).

Given the importance of the horse in medieval Islamic warfare, it is not surprising that the treatise Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa on the art of war, by the Ghurid author Faḵr-e Modabber, should devote three chapters to them, dealing with such topics as equestrian training and horsemanship, the tactical use of horses in battle, the breeding, care, and doctoring of horses, etc. (India Office ms. 647, fols. 55b-71b; ed. A. Sohaylī Ḵᵛānsārī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 174-238). Here again, inter alia, the skills in horse breeding and farriery of the men of Ḵottal are stressed, as is importance of the upper Oxus provinces for the production of bridles and saddlery (see also Bosworth, The Ghaznavids, pp. 112-13).

The Delhi Sultans of the 7th-9th/13th-15th centuries utilized the breeding grounds of the Panjab and northwestern India as sources for their mounts, but were especially dependent on horses brought from Central Asia and Afghanistan, the region known to them as “the highland region,” molk-e bālā, these beasts being usually designated generically as “Tatārī” (see S. M. Digby, War Horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate: A Study of Military Supplies, Oxford, 1971, pp. 26-28, 34ff.). In Bābor’s time (early 10th/16th century), Kabul was a center for the horse trade, with 7,000 to 10,000 horses brought to its markets every year; as well as riding horses (called by Bābor tipučaqs, conveying in Eastern Turkish the idea of “swiftness, agitation”), Bābor mentions the breeding of pack horses in the Indus plains below Bannū (Bābor-nāma, tr. A. S. Beveridge, London, 1922, pp. 202-235).

The horse trade centered on Kabul continued over the succeeding centuries, for Mountstuart Elphinstone enlarges on the trade in “Kabul horses,” actually bred in the region of Balḵ (i.e., the medieval Ṭoḵārestān) and the Turkmen areas further down the Oxus in the emirate of Bukhara. These beasts comprised “Turki” or “Uzbeki” ones, small and stout, and “Turkomani” ones, larger and more suited to warfare; they were brought to the Kabul district and then fattened on the local pasturelands, mainly for export to India (An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, London, 1815, repr. Karachi, 1972, I, pp. 386-88).

In modern Afghanistan, the northern and eastern regions of the country (the Oxus lands, the Hindu Kush, Kabul, and Kandahar) remain the chief ones for horse breeding and raising; a total of 195,000 head was recorded by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 1957 (see J. Humlum, La géographie de l’Afghanistan, étude d’un pays aride, Copenhagen, 1959, pp. 263-64, 272-73).


See also Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 449; tr. Kramers, p. 434.

Eṣṭaḵrī, p. 279.

Le Strange, Lands, p. 438.

Yāqūt, II, p. 402. 

(C. E. Bosworth)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 16, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 736-737

Cite this entry:

C. E. Bosworth, “ASB iv. In Afghanistan,” Encyclopædia Iranica, 2/7, pp. 736-737, available online at (accessed on 30 December 2012).