Neighbours and (sometimes) Friends


The terrotory referred to as Chorasmia was centred the fertile lands south and east of the Aral sea and along the Amu Darya (Oxus to the Greeks); that is it's the eastern part of Iranshahr. It straddles modern Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, northeastern Iran itself and the northwestern part of Afghanistan. Not a very precise territory, in other words! It's also known as Choresmia, Khorasan, Khwarezm... Contrary to Greek expectations of desert, it was a fertile and prosperous region. It does not correspond to the present-day Iranian provinces known as Khorasan. The map on the right is, like this attempt to define Chorasmia, only a very rough approximation.

Before the Achaemenids

There was a legendary "Kingdom of Chorasmia" between the Caspian and the Hindu Kush: archaeology though shows no evidence of anything beyond the Scythian/Saka culture known as the Oxus Culture (or BMAC). It was one of the several territories claimed as the birthplace of Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), and also as the original home of the Avestan texts; although in the Iranian National History it is "Turan" the traditional enemy of Iran. Inscriptions show it had its own language - related to other Iranian languages.

Darius I to Darius III

It's mentioned as one of his satrapies by Darius on the Bisitun inscription (522 BC), and may have been one of Cyrus' late acquisitions before his death at the hands of the Massagetae: according to Ctesias, on his deathbed, he appointed his younger son Bardiya as satrap of Chorasmia, along with his other eastern conquests. Along with Parthiya it provided a useful 40,000 troops to Xerxes, although they were among those who took no part in the battle of Plataea (479 BC). Chorasmia was the source of turquoise for Darius' palace at Susa, and was probably always an important export. By the time of Darius III, however, it would seem to have become independent. No troops were sent to help agains Alexander.


The breakaway of Chorasmia supplies an early precedent for the revolt of Parthia a little later. By the time of Alexander's appearance (328 BC), the king, according to Arrian, was in confident mood:

Meanwhile there arrived at Alexander's headquarters Pharasmenes, the king of the Chorasmians, with 1500 horsemen. He said he lived next to the people of Colchis and the Amazon women…

… and he offered to show Alexander the way and help him conquer the lands to the east of the Black Sea: Alexander said he was concentrating on India, but he'd get round to it once he was master of Asia. He made a pact with Pharasmenes, although he'd supported both Bessus and Spitamenes against him.

Topraq Qala

Chorasmia remained independent of Alexander, and the Seleucids - and in fact was not reintegrated into the Iranian world until the Sasanians. The kings issued their own coinage from about 100 BC, and royal tombs have been excavated at Topraq Qala and Ayaz Qala (near Khiva). There's archaeological evidence for considerable economic growth from around that time (the building of a huge palace at Topraq Qala, together with a large residential area and temples), and also for Zoroastrian worship. After coming under Sasanian rule, it again became independent from AD 305 under the Afrighid dynasty. Chorasmia was conquered by the Arabs in AD 712, but its committed Zoroastrians resisted the Muslim religion for a long time.