|Greatest extent of the ancient Scythian/Saka empire, First century B.C.|
The Scythians were a nomadic Iranian-origin people who settled Central Asia and ruled different territories throughout Asia at different times. The name Scythia comes from Greek historians, while they referred to themselves as the Sakas. The name Saka was derived from the name of one of their chiefs from which they trace a common lineage. Chinese historians referred to them as the Sai. The territory ruled by the Scythians was referred to by them as Sakastana or Saka-estan, land of the Saka. For accuracy, the word Saka will be used for the duration of this post.
|Saka horse archers were known for the skilled use of their bows and their unique dress|
|A Persian relief of a procession of Saka warriors|
The Saka were the mightiest rulers in the great plains of Central Asia from the 8th century B.C. up until the 1st century B.C. Having a vast empire that stretched of the Caucasus to Mongolia. In the year 175 B.C., the pastoral Yuezi tribe of the Gansu basin in modern China were defeated by their rivals the nomadic Xiongnu (Mongols). Displaced Yuezi tribes entering Central Asia pushed some of the Sakas to retreat into modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan, founding the Indo-Scythian Kingdom. While the Yuezi became vassals of the Saka tribes of Central Asia, and later developed great empires of their own in Bactria and the Kushan Buddhist empire in India.
The Indo-Scythian Kingdom or Sakastan stretched from Afghanistan, encompassed Pakistan including Kashmir to the eastern region of modern Iran. Even today, Iran's easternmost province is known as Sistan-Baluchistan, Sistan coming from Sakastan. The Sakas also founded the ancient cities of Gandhara, Taxila, and maybe even Karachi, which at that time was known as Min by the Sakas or Min-nagara, the town of Min in Sanskrit. The Kushan empire (Yuezi) eventually conquered the Saka kingdoms in 75 A.D. and brought in the era of Buddhism to the region. In Sistan, Saka rule continued until about 400 A.D. when it was conquered by the Persians. This situation continued until the Islamic conquest around 712 A.D.
|The Golden Saka Prince buried in the Issyk Kurgan tomb in Kazakhstan|
|Tajik woman wearing traditional jewelry from the Saka era|
Although forgotten in the modern histories of Afghanistan and Pakistan today, Saka influence can still be felt in the languages, dress, foods, and customs they left behind. Being Muslims does not make us any less descendants of these great, powerful, and industrious people.