The Limits of Empire in Ancient Afghanistan

Payne, Richard & Rhyne King (eds.). 2020. The limits of empire in ancient Afghanistan: Rule and resistance in the Hindu Kush, circa 600 BCE–600 CE (Classica et Orientalia 24). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

The territory of modern Afghanistan provided a center – and sometimes the center – for a succession of empires, from the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BCE until the Sasanian Iranians in the 7th century CE. And yet these regions most frequently appear as comprising a “crossroads” in accounts of their premodern history.

This volume explores how successive imperial regimes established enduring forms of domination spanning the highlands of the Hindu Kush, essentially ungovernable territories in the absence of the technologies of the modern state. The modern term “Afghanistan” likely has its origins in an ancient word for highland regions and peoples resistant to outside rule. The volume’s contributors approach the challenge of explaining the success of imperial projects within a highland political ecology from a variety of disciplinary perspectives with their respective evidentiary corpora, notably history, anthropology, archaeology, numismatics, and philology. The Limits of Empire models the kind of interdisciplinary collaboration necessary to produce persuasive accounts of an ancient Afghanistan whose surviving material and literary evidence remains comparatively limited. It shows how Afghan-centered imperial projects co-opted local elites, communicated in the idioms of local cultures, and created administrative archipelagoes rather than continuous territories. Above all, the volume makes plain the interest and utility in placing Afghanistan at the center, rather than the periphery, of the history of ancient empires in West Asia.

Table of contents:

  • Richard E. Payne and Rhyne King: The Limits of Empire in Ancient Afghanistan: An Introduction
  • Thomas Barfield: Afghan Political Ecologies: Templates Past and Present from the Eastern Iranian World
  • Pierre Briant: Bactria in the Achaemenid Empire: The Achaemenid Central State in Bactria (again)
  • Matthew P. Canepa: ‘Afghanistan’ as a Cradle and Pivot of Empires: Reshaping Eastern Iran’s Topography of Power under the Achaemenids, Seleucids, Greco-Bactrians and Kushans
  • Laurianne Martinez-Sève: Greek Power in Hellenistic Bactria: Control and Resistance
  • Robert Bracey: The Limits of Kushan Power and the Limits of Evidence
  • Christopher I. Beckwith: Vihāras in the Kushan Empire:
  • Tasha Vorderstrasse: The Limits of the Kushan Empire in the Tarim Basin
  • Nikolaus Schindel: When Did the Kushano-Sasanian Coinage Commence?
  • Nicholas Sims-Williams: The Bactrian Documents as a Historical Source
  • Rhyne King: Local Powerbrokers in Iranian and Post-Iranian Bactria (ca. 300–800 CE): Aristocrats, Dependents, and Imperial Regimes