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0425 Innermost Asia : vol.2
Innermost Asia : vol.2 / Page 425 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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who rules from where lies the Zrayô Kâçaoya ', i. e. the lake of Sistan.4 Thus from the earliest period down to the great national epos of Firdausi, tradition has located the original home of the great legendary dynasty of Iran, the Kavi or Kayanian kings, in Sistan, and there to this day one of the old indigenous families, calling itself Kaydni, still proudly claims descent from them.5 It is from the ` lake Kâçaoya' of Sistan that according to early Zoroastrian belief, as attested already in the Avesta, Astvat-ereta, the victorious Saviour (çaoshyant), is to arise in the future to vanquish Ahriman, the spirit of evil, and to set free the worlds Equally significant. is the fame which Sistan claims in the epic lore of Iran as the home of its most popular heroes, Zal and Rustam, and as the chief scene of their great deeds.'

There is a striking contrast between this comparative wealth and antiquity of Sistàn's traditional associations and the scantiness of the reliable historical data that have come down to us concerning the pre-Muhammadan period of its history. This is illustrated by the absence of any definite information about that important ethnic movement, the conquest of the Sakas or Scythians to which the territory owes its designation as Sakastané or ` land of the Sakas ' first recorded by Isidoros of Charax in the time of Augustus.$ All the more must we welcome the survival of abundant archaeological remains in this territory and the close knowledge of its geography and economic and ethnographic conditions that has been secured during recent times. This knowledge is chiefly the result of the prolonged and detailed investigations which the Perso-Afghan Boundary Commission sent to Sistan by the Indian Government under Colonel Sir Henry McMahon carried out in the Helmand delta during 1903-5. Of the abundant materials then collected only a portion has as yet been published in a form accessible to the public. But the accurate large-scale surveys then made under the direction of Mr. G. P. Tate, of the Survey of India, and the accounts of the country and its people recorded by Sir Henry McMahon and his staff have provided the geographical student of Sistan with materials more ample perhaps than those at present available for any other part of Eastern I ran.e

With regard to archaeological remains, it deserves to be noted that the abundance of ruined sites to be found in the different parts of the Helmand delta is the direct result of physical conditions strikingly similar to those exhibited by the Tarim basin on a much larger scale. Great aridity of the climate has favoured the preservation of remains wherever the soil has at one time or another ceased to be cultivated or occupied. Changes in the main river-course, such as are inseparable from deltaic conditions, have at different periods greatly affected the position and extent of the cultivated area, wholly dependent as this is on irrigation from canals of the Helmand. Such

Scantiness of historical data.

Knowledge of modern Sistan.

Abundance of ruins.

4 See in particular Yasht xix. 66 sq. ; cf. also the designation of Haêtumant, i.e. the Helmand territory, as ` possessed of the kingly glory ' (hvarenah, Persian farr), in Vend. i. 13; Yasht xix. 39.

In my paper ` Afghanistan in Avestic Geography ' (Academy, May 16, 1885, pp. 348 sq. ; Indian Antiquary, xv. p. 22) I have identified four of the rivers which the passage immediately following Yasht xix. 66 mentions along with the Helmand, the Hvâçtra, Hvaçpa, Fradatha, and Hvarei uhaiti, as the present Khash, Khuspas, Farah, and Harût rivers all flowing into the Haman from the north. This proves the familiarity of the composer of that Avestic text with the hydrography of Sistan.

5 Cf. Tate, Seistan, pp. I, 28o sqq. and passim.

6 Cf. Vend. xix. 5 ; Yasht xix. 92 ; Bartholomae, Altiranisches Wörterbuch, p. 471.

7 Regarding the localization of these great heroes of

Firdausi's Shahnama and the origin of their legends, cf. Nöldeke, ` Das iranische Nationalepos ', in Grundriss der iran. Philologie, ii. pp. 138 sqq.

8 The suggestion that this conquest resulted from the migration of the Sai or Sakas (?), whom the Ta Yüeh-chih had driven from their seats east of Farghana in the first half of the second century B. c., appears to have been first made by von Gutschmid, Geschichte Irans, p. 78 ; for doubts indicated by Dr. Thomas, see J.R.A.S. 5906, p. 189.

Regarding the Sai yk and the correct reading of their name as recorded in the Han Annals, cf. now de Groot, Chinesische Urkunden, ii. p. 25.

9 See McMahon, ` Seistan Past and Present ', Geogr. Journal, 1906, pp. 209 sqq., 333 sqq., 522 sqq. ; Tate, Seistan, a Memoir on the History, Topography, Ruins and People of the Country, Calcutta, 5910.