1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ghazni

GHAZNI, a famous city in Afghanistan, the seat of an extensive empire under two medieval dynasties, and again of prominent interest in the modern history of British India. Ghazni stands on the high tableland of central Afghanistan, in 68° 18′ E. long., 33° 44′ N. lat., at a height of 7280 ft. above the sea, and on the direct road between Kandahar and Kabul, 221 m. by road N.E. from the former, and 92 m. S.W. from the latter. A very considerable trade in fruit, wool, skins, &c., is carried on between Ghazni and India by the Povindah kafilas, which yearly enter India in the late autumn and pass back again to the Afghan highlands in the early spring. The Povindah merchants invariably make use of the Gomal pass which leads to the British frontier at Dera Ismail Khan. The opening up of this pass and the British occupation of Wana, by offering protection to the merchants from Waziri blackmailing, largely increased the traffic.

Ghazni, as it now exists, is a place in decay, and probably does not contain more than 4000 inhabitants. It stands at the base of the terminal spur of a ridge of hills, an offshoot from the Gul-Koh, which forms the watershed between the Arghandáb and Tarnak rivers. The castle stands at the northern angle of the town next the hills, and is about 150 ft. above the plain. The town walls stand on an elevation, partly artificial, and form an irregular square, close on a mile in circuit (including the castle), the walls being partly of stone or brick laid in mud, and partly of clay built in courses. They are flanked by numerous towers. There are three gates. The town consists of dirty and very irregular streets of houses several stories high, but with two straighter streets of more pretension, crossing near the middle of the town. Of the strategical importance of Ghazni there can hardly be a question. The view to the south is extensive, and the plain in the direction of Kandahar stretches to the horizon. It is bare except in the vicinity of the river, where villages and gardens are tolerably numerous. Abundant crops of wheat and barley are grown, as well as of madder, besides minor products. The climate is notoriously cold,—snow lying 2 or 3 ft. deep for about three months, and tradition speaks of the city as having been more than once overwhelmed by snowdrift. Fuel is scarce, consisting chiefly of prickly shrubs. In summer the heat is not like that of Kandahar or Kabul, but the radiation from the bare heights renders the nights oppressive, and constant dust-storms occur. It is evident that the present restricted walls cannot have contained the vaunted city of Mahmud. Probably the existing site formed the citadel only of his city. The remarks of Ibn Batuta (c. 1332) already suggest the present state of things, viz. a small town occupied, a large space of ruin; for a considerable area to the N.E. is covered with ruins, or rather with a vast extent of shapeless mounds, which are pointed out as Old Ghazni. The only remains retaining architectural character are two remarkable towers rising to the height of about 140 ft., and some 400 yds. apart from each other. They are similar, but whether identical, in design, is not clearly recorded. They belong, on a smaller and far less elaborate scale, to the same class as the Kutb Minar at Delhi (q.v.). Arabic inscriptions in Cufic characters show the most northerly to have been the work of Mahmud himself, the other that of his son Masa’ud. On the Kabul road, a mile beyond the Minaret of Mahmud, is a village called Rauzah (“the Garden,” a term often applied to garden-mausoleums). Here, in a poor garden, stands the tomb of the famous conqueror. It is a prism of white marble standing on a plinth of the same, and bearing a Cufic inscription praying the mercy of God on the most noble Amir, the great king, the lord of church and state, Abul Kasim Mahmud, son of Sabuktagin. The tomb stands in a rude chamber, covered with a dome of clay, and hung with old shawls, ostrich eggs, tiger-skins and so forth. The village stands among luxuriant gardens and orchards, watered by a copious aqueduct. Sultan Baber celebrates the excellence of the grapes of Rauzah.

There are many holy shrines about Ghazni surrounded by orchards and vineyards. Baber speaks of them, and tells how he detected and put a stop to the imposture of a pretended miracle at one of them. These sanctuaries make Ghazni a place of Moslem pilgrimage, and it is said that at Constantinople much respect is paid to those who have worshipped at the tomb of the great Ghazi. To test the genuineness of the boast, professed pilgrims are called on to describe the chief notabilia of the place, and are expected to name all those detailed in certain current Persian verses.

History.—The city is not mentioned by any narrator of Alexander’s expedition, nor by any ancient author so as to admit of positive recognition. But it is very possibly the Gazaca which Ptolemy places among the Paropamisadae, and this may not be inconsistent with Sir H. Rawlinson’s identification of it with Gazos, an Indian city spoken of by two obscure Greek poets as an impregnable place of war. The name is probably connected with the Persian and Sanskrit ganj and ganja, a treasury (whence the Greek and Latin Gaza). We seem to have positive evidence of the existence of the city before the Mahommedan times (644) in the travels of the Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan Tsang, who speaks of Ho-si-na (i.e. probably Ghazni) as one of the capitals of Tsaukuta or Arachosia, a place of great strength. In early Mahommedan times the country adjoining Ghazni was called Zābul. When the Mahommedans first invaded that region Ghazni was a wealthy entrepot of the Indian trade. Of the extent of this trade some idea is given by Ibn Haukal, who states that at Kabul, then a mart of the same trade, there was sold yearly indigo to the value of two million dinars (£1,000,000). The enterprise of Islam underwent several ebbs and flows over this region. The provinces on the Helmund and about Ghazni were invaded as early as the caliphate of Moaiya (662–680). The arms of Yaqub b. Laith swept over Kabul and Arachosia (Al-Rukhaj) about 871, and the people of the latter country were forcibly converted. Though the Hindu dynasty of Kabul held a part of the valley of Kabul river till the time of Mahmud, it is probably to the period just mentioned that we must refer the permanent Mahommedan occupation of Ghazni. Indeed, the building of the fort and city is ascribed by a Mahommedan historian to Amr b. Laith, the brother and successor of Yaʽkub (d. 901), though the facts already stated discredit this. In the latter part of the 9th century the family of the Samanid, sprung from Samarkand, reigned in splendour at Bokhara. Alptagin, originally a Turkish slave, and high in the service of the dynasty, about the middle of the 10th century, losing the favour of the court, wrested Ghazni from its chief (who is styled Abu Bakr Lawik, wali of Ghazni), and established himself there. His government was recognized from Bokhara, and held till his death. In 977 another Turk slave, Sabuktagin, who had married the daughter of his master Alptagin, obtained rule in Ghazni. He made himself lord of nearly all the present territory of Afghanistan and of the Punjab. In 997 Mahmud, son of Sabuktagin, succeeded to the government, and with his name Ghazni and the Ghaznevid dynasty have become perpetually associated. Issuing forth year after year from that capital, Mahmud (q.v.) carried fully seventeen expeditions of devastation through northern India and Gujarat, as well as others to the north and west. From the borders of Kurdistan to Samarkand, from the Caspian to the Ganges, his authority was acknowledged. The wealth brought back to Ghazni was enormous, and contemporary historians give glowing descriptions of the magnificence of the capital, as well as of the conqueror’s munificent support of literature. Mahmud died in 1030, and some fourteen kings of his house came after him; but though there was some revival of importance under Ibrahim (1059–1099), the empire never reached anything like the same splendour and power. It was overshadowed by the Seljuks of Persia, and by the rising rivalry of Ghor (q.v.), the hostility of which it had repeatedly provoked. Bahram Shah (1118–1152) put to death Kutbuddin, one of the princes of Ghor, called king of the Jibal or Hill country, who had withdrawn to Ghazni. This prince’s brother, Saifuddin Suri, came to take vengeance, and drove out Bahram. But the latter recapturing the place (1149) paraded Saifuddin and his vizier ignominiously about the city, and then hanged them on the bridge. Ala-uddin of Ghor, younger brother of the two slain princes, then gathered a great host, and came against Bahram, who met him on the Helmund. The Ghori prince, after repeated victories, stormed Ghazni, and gave it over to fire and sword. The dead kings of the house of Mahmud, except the conqueror himself and two others, were torn from their graves and burnt, whilst the bodies of the princes of Ghor were solemnly disinterred and carried to the distant tombs of their ancestors. It seems certain that Ghazni never recovered the splendour that perished then (1152). Ala-uddin, who from this deed became known in history as Jahān–soz (Brûlemonde), returned to Ghor, and Bahram reoccupied Ghazni; he died in 1157. In the time of his son Khusru Shah, Ghazni was taken by the Turkish tribes called Ghuzz (generally believed to have been what are now called Turkomans). The king fled to Lahore, and the dynasty ended with his son. In 1173 the Ghuzz were expelled by Ghiyasuddin sultan of Ghor (nephew of Ala-uddin Jahansoz), who made Ghazni over to his brother Muizuddin. This famous prince, whom the later historians call Mahommed Ghori, shortly afterwards (1174–1175) invaded India, taking Multan and Uchh. This was the first of many successive inroads on western and northern India, in one of which Lahore was wrested from Khusru Malik, the last of Mahmud’s house, who died a captive in the hills of Ghor. In 1192 Prithvi Rai or Pithora (as the Moslem writers call him), the Chauhan king of Ajmere, being defeated and slain near Thanewar, the whole country from the Himalaya to Ajmere became subject to the Ghori king of Ghazni. On the death of his brother Ghiyasuddin, with whose power he had been constantly associated, and of whose conquests he had been the chief instrument, Muizuddin became sole sovereign over Ghor and Ghazni, and the latter place was then again for a brief period the seat of an empire nearly as extensive as that of Mahmud the son of Sabuktagin. Muizuddin crossed the Indus once more to put down a rebellion of the Khokhars in the Punjab, and on his way back was murdered by a band of them, or, as some say, by one of the Mulāhidah or Assassins. The slave lieutenants of Muizuddin carried on the conquest of India, and as the rapidly succeeding events broke their dependence on any master, they established at Delhi that monarchy of which, after it had endured through many dynasties, and had culminated with the Mogul house of Baber, the shadow perished in 1857. The death of Muizuddin was followed by struggle and anarchy, ending for a time in the annexation of Ghazni to the empire of Khwarizm by Mahommed Shah, who conferred it on his famous son, Jelaluddin, and Ghazni became the headquarters of the latter. After Jenghiz Khan had extinguished the power of his family in Turkestan, Jelaluddin defeated the army sent against him by the Mongol at Parwan, north of Kabul. Jenghiz then advanced and drove Jelaluddin across the Indus, after which he sent Ogdai his son to besiege Ghazni. Henceforward Ghazni is much less prominent in Asiatic history. It continued subject to the Mongols, sometimes to the house of Hulagu in Persia, and sometimes to that of Jagatai in Turkestan. In 1326, after a battle between Amir Hosain, the viceroy of the former house in Khorasan, and Tarmashirin, the reigning khan of Jagatai, the former entered Ghazni and once more subjected it to devastation, and this time the tomb of Mahmud to desecration.

Ibn Batuta (c. 1332) says the greater part of the city was in ruins, and only a small part continued to be a town. Timur seems never to have visited Ghazni, but we find him in 1401 bestowing the government of Kabul, Kandahar, and Ghazni on Pir Mahommed, the son of his son Jahangir. In the end of the century it was still in the hands of a descendant of Timur, Ulugh Beg Mirza, who was king of Kabul and Ghazni. The illustrious nephew of this prince, Baber, got peaceful possession of both cities in 1504, and has left notes on both in his own inimitable Memoirs. His account of Ghazni indicates how far it had now fallen. “It is,” he says, “but a poor mean place, and I have always wondered how its princes, who possessed also Hindustan and Khorasan, could have chosen such a wretched country for the seat of their government, in preference to Khorasan.” He commends the fruit of its gardens, which still contribute largely to the markets of Kabul. Ghazni remained in the hands of Baber’s descendants, reigning at Delhi and Agra, till the invasion of Nadir Shah (1738), and became after Nadir’s death a part of the new kingdom of the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durani. We know of but two modern travellers who have recorded visits to the place previous to the war of 1839. George Forster passed as a disguised traveller with a qafila in 1783. “Its slender existence,” he says, “is now maintained by some Hindu families, who support a small traffic, and supply the wants of the few Mahommedan residents.” Vigne visited it in 1836, having reached it from Multan with a caravan of Lohani merchants, travelling by the Gomal pass. The historical name of Ghazni was brought back from the dead, as it were, by the news of its capture by the British army under Sir John Keane, 23rd July 1839. The siege artillery had been left behind at Kandahar; escalade was judged impracticable; but the project of the commanding engineer, Captain George Thomson, for blowing in the Kabul gate with powder in bags, was adopted, and carried out successfully, at the cost of 182 killed and wounded. Two years and a half later the Afghan outbreak against the British occupation found Ghazni garrisoned by a Bengal regiment of sepoys, but neither repaired nor provisioned. They held out under great hardships from the 16th of December 1841 to the 6th of March 1842, when they surrendered. In the autumn of the same year General Nott, advancing from Kandahar upon Kabul, reoccupied Ghazni, destroyed the defences of the castle and part of the town, and carried away the famous gates of Somnath (q.v.).