Section 17 – The Kingdom of Liyi 栗弋 (Sogdiana)

1. Liyi 栗弋 [Li-i] = Sogdiana. This name is an obvious mistake for Suyi [Su-i]. For details on the name Sūlī = Sogdiana, see Bailey (1958), pp. 76-78, and Pulleyblank (1968), p. 125. See also the note on Kangju at 2.13 above.

“The name of Soghdak or Sogdiana first appears in the Hou-han-shu, Bk. 118. It is transcribed Li-i 栗弋, which is to be read Su-i [the very similar characters su and li are commonly confused], *Siwok-ick (*Siwok-dck) “Soghdak.” The passage runs as follows: “The country of Li-i belongs to K’ang-chü. Excellent horses, cattle, grapes and many other kinds of fruit are produced there. Among other things the country is famous for wine because of (its) water of superior quality.” The description could apply quite well to Sogdiana in Central Asia, which has been famous for its beautiful water, wine, and splendid horses from ancient times to the present. K’ang-chü is the present Kirghiz Steppe to the north of the Syr and must not be identified with Sogdiana.” Enoki (1955), p. 51.

Sogdiana was centred in the Zerafshan (Zaravshan) and Kashka Daryâ valleys, and included the important oases cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, on the main trade route to Merv and beyond.

   “This was a time when large-scale irrigation systems were developed in the Zerafshan and Kashka Darya valleys and the Tashkent oasis.... As a result of the development of irrigation in the Zerafshan valley, a vast area was supplied with water and brought under cultivation. According to our calculations, some 3,400-3,500 km2 of land along the lower reaches of the Zerafshan alone were irrigated in the period from the first to the fourth century A.D. The western boundary of these ancient irrigated lands, which today passes through the sands of the Kyzyl Kum, was then at certain points situated some tens of kilometres beyond the present-day limits of the Bukhara oasis. Thus, during the Kushan period, practically the entire flood-plain of the Zerafshan valley was brought under cultivation, and the two large agricultural oases of Samarkand and Bukhara were established.” Mukhamedjanov (1996), p. 266.

There is no evidence that the Kushans ever directly controlled Sogdiana – but it was controlled by the Kangju who seem to have maintained friendly relations with the Kushans. This friendship was sealed by the marriage of a Kangju princess to the Kushan Emperor in 84 CE. (See the biography of Ban Chao in Hou Hanshu, 77.6 b, Chavannes (1906), p. 230; Zürcher (1968), p. 369. 

Pliny NH (b) (VI. XVIII) describes Sogdiana as an independent entity:

“Beyond [the Bactri centred at Zariasta or Balkh] are the Sogdiani and the town of Panda, and on the farthest confines of their territory Alexandria [= modern Khujand], founded by Alexander the Great. At this place there are altars set up by Hercules and Father Liber, and also by Cyrus and Samiramis and by Alexander, all of whom found their limit in this region of the world, where they were shut in by the river Syr Darya, which the Scythians call the Silis and which Alexander and his soldiers supposed was the Don.... Beyond are some tribes of Scythians....”

          I have been unable to find references to a town called ‘Panda’ in other sources. It must be assumed to refer to Samarkand (ancient Maracanda the site now known as Afrasiab). It is tempting, however, to associate it with the similar-sounding town of Panjikent some 60 km east of Samarkand but it is thought that Panjikent was not founded until the 5th century.
          Alexandria Eschate (‘Alexandria-the-farthest’ = modern Khujand, also called Khojand, Khodzent or Leninabad) on the Jaxartes (Syr Darya), is briefly mentioned in the Weilue. The passage indicates that, by the time of the Weilue, Sogdiana had been broken up into semi-independent kingdoms within the Kangju federation: “Northern Wuyi (modern Khujand) is a separate ‘kingdom’ within Kangju (Tashkent plus the Chu, Talas and middle Jaxartes basins).”

“Alexander now camped on the Syr Darya river, 250 kilometres to the north-east of Samarkand, and the northern frontier of the Persian empire. Here, he had selected a site for a city, but work was postponed by news of the growing rebellion in Sogdia, which was spreading to Bactria, where a 7,000 cavalry nucleus had joined Spitamenes. Alexander immediately sent forces to blockade Cyropolis (today’s Kurkath is Kurus katha: ‘city of Cyrus’) a frontier town founded by Cyrus of Persia in 530 BC. Cyropolis was the centre of seven towns and the Greeks sacked these, one by one, mercilessly applying their military convention of killing all the men of military age. Cyropolis resisted sharply; so, too, did the fortress of a people known as the Memaceni – probably the ancient citadel of Ura-Tyube, which stand on a high mound 50 kilometres south of the river….
            After the fall of Cyropolis, and its neighbouring towns, Alexander returned to the Syr Darya to build his new town, which was now urgently needed as a forward-campaign base, given the worsening military situation. In seventeen days, a wall of sun-dried brick, 6 kilometres long, was thrown up around the camp to form the basis of the city which would have the honour, among over thirty Alexandrias, of being Alexandria Escharte – the Farthermost. It was populated by the usual mix: wounded, invalids, press-ganged mercenaries, retired veterans (some unwilling), but also with freed captives. Curtius claims (although how he knows this is unclear) that in his day (
AD 30s) the descendants of these people still retained their identity as a group because of their memory of Alexander. The town was a successful place in the Middle Ages, notable for its ‘chivalrous’ population, and ‘as famous for its pomegranates as Samarkand is for its apples’. It survived and is still a nice spot today, though burning hot in summer. Khodzent, in Tajikistan (having recently reverted to its medieval name after a few decades as Leninabad), is a pleasant modern town with a promenade along the river, and the Mogul Tau mountains rising nearly 1600 metres immediately beyond the town. Here Alexander would build his northernmost altars dedicated to Dionysus, perhaps somewhere near the spot where, today, a gleaming titanium statue of Lenin stand gesturing to the East, a monument to another wave of history which shook the world and then receded. Although the city may not quite have fulfilled Alexander’s hope of being ‘a world famous place’, Khodzent is still one of his happier legacies.” Grant (2001), pp. 156-158.