MERV, Meru or Maur, an oasis and town of Asia, in the Transcaspian province of Russia. The oasis is situated on the S. edge of the Kara-kum desert, in 37° 30' N. and 62° E. It is about 230 m. N. from Herat, and 280 S.S.E. from Khiva. Its area is about 1900 sq. m. The great chain of mountains which, under the names of Paropamisus and Hindu-Kush, extends from the Caspian to the Pamirs is interrupted some 180 m. south of Merv. Through or near. this gap flow northwards in parallel courses the rivers Heri-rud (Tejend) and Murghab, until they lose themselves in the desert of Kara-kum. Thus they make Merv a sort of watch tower over the entrance into Afghanistan on the north-west and at the same time create a stepping-stone or étape between north-east Persia and the states of Bokhara and Samarkand. The present inhabitants of the oasis are Turkomans of the Tekke tribe. In 1897 they numbered approximately 240,000. The oasis is irrigated by an elaborate system of canals cut from the Murghab. The country has at all times been renowned throughout the East for its fertility. Every kind of cereal andmany fruits grow in great abundance, e.g. wheat, millet, barley and melons, also rice and cotton. Silkworms are bred. The Turkomans possess a famous breed of horses and keep camels, sheep, cattle, asses and mules. They are excellent workers in silver and noted as armourers, and their carpets are superior 'to the Persian. They also make felts and a rough cloth of sheep's wool. The heat of summer is most oppressive. The least wind raises clouds of fine dust, which fill the air, render it so opaque as to obscure the noonday sun, and make respiration difficult. In winter the climate is very fine. Snow falls rarely, and when it does, it melts at once. The annual rainfall rarely exceeds 5 in., and there is often no rain from June till October. While in summer the thermometer goes up' to 97° F., in winter it descends to 19.5°. The average yearly temperature is 60°. Here is a Russian imperial domain of 436 sq. m., artificially irrigated by works completed in 1895.
History.—In Hindu (the Puranas), Parsi and Arab tradition, Merv is looked upon as the ancient Paradise, the cradle of the Aryan families of mankind, and so of the human race. Under the name of Mouru this place is mentioned with Bakhdi (Balkh) in the geography of the Zend-Avesta (Vendidad, ed. Spiegel, 1852–1863), which dates probably from at least 1200 B.C. Under the name of Margu it occurs in the cuneiform (Behistun) inscriptions of the Persian monarch Darius Hystaspis, where it is referred to as forming part of one of the satrapies of the ancient Persian Empire. It afterwards became a province (Margiana) of the Graeco-Syrian, Parthian and Persian kingdoms. On the Margus-the Epardus of Arrian and now the Murghab—stood the capital of the district, Antiochia Margiana, so called after Antiochus Soter, who rebuilt the city founded by Alexander the Great. About the 5th century, during the rule of the Persian Sassanian dynasty, Merv was the seat of a Christian archbishopric of the Nestorian Church. The town was occupied (A.D. 646) by the lieutenants of the caliph Othman, and was constituted the capital of Khorasan. From this city as their base the Arabs, under Kotaiba (Qotaiba) ibn Moslim, early in the 8th century brought under subjection Balkh, Bokhara, F erghana and Kashgaria, and penetrated into China as far as the province of Kan-suh. In the latter part of the 8th century Merv became obnoxious to Islam as the centre of heretical propaganda preached by Mokanna (q.v.). In 874 Arab rule in Central Asia came to an end. During their dominion Merv, like Samarkand and Bokhara, was one of the great schools of learning, and the celebrated historian Yaqut studied in its libraries. In 1040 the Seljuk Turks crossed the Oxus from the north, and having defeated Masud, sultan of Ghazni, raised Toghrul Beg, grandson of Seljuk, to the throne of Persia, founding the Seljukian dynasty, with its capital at Nishapur. A younger brother of Toghrul, Daud, took possession of Merv and Herat. Toghrul was succeeded by his nephew Alp Arslan (the Great Lion), who was buried at Merv. It was about this time that Merv reached the zenith of her glory. During the reign of Sultan Sanjar or Sinjar of the same house, in the middle of the 11th century, Merv was overrun by the Turkish tribes of the Ghuzz from beyond the Oxus. It eventually passed under the sway of the rulers of Khwarizm (Khiva).
In 1221 Merv opened its gates to Tule, son of Jenghiz Khan, chief of the Mongols, on which occasion most of the inhabitants are said to have been butchered. From this time forward the city began to decay. In the early part of the 14th century the town was made the seat of a Christian archbishopric of the Eastern Church. On the death of the grandson of Jenghiz Khan Merv was included (1380) in the possessions of Timur-i-Leng (Tamerlane), Mongol prince of Samarkand. In 1505 the city was occupied by the Uzbegs, who five years later were expelled by Ismail Khan, the founder of the Safawid dynasty of Persia. Merv remained in the hands of Persia until 1787, when it was captured by the emir of Bokhara. Seven years later the Bokharians razed the city to the ground, broke down the dams, and converted the district into a waste. When Sir Alexander Burnes traversed the country in 1832, the Khivans were the rulers of Merv. About this time the Tekke Turkomans, then living on the Heri-rud, were forced by the Persians to migrate northward. The Khivans contested the advance of the Tekkes, but ultimately, about 1856, the latter became the sovereign power . in the country, and remained so until the Russians occupied the oasis in 1883.
The ruins of Old Merv cover an area of over 15 sq. m. They consist of a square citadel (Bairam Ali Khan kalah), 11 m. in circuit, built by a son of Tamerlane and destroyed by the Bokharians, and another kalah or walled inclosure known as Abdullah Khan. North from these lies the old capital of the Seljuks, known as Sultan Kalah, and destroyed by the Mongols in 1219. Its most conspicuous feature is the burial mosque of Sultan Sanjar, reputedly dating from the 12th century. East of the old Seljuk capital is Giaur Kalah, the Merv of the Nestorian era and the capital of the Arab princes. North of the old Seljuk capital are the ruins of Iskender Kalah, probably to be identified with the ancient Merv of the Seleucid dynasty.
New Merv, the present chief town of the oasis, founded in the first quarter of the 19th century, is on the Transcaspian railway, 380 m. by rail south-west from Samarkand. It stands on both banks of the Murghab, 820 ft. above the Caspian. Pop. (1897), 8727, including Russians, Armenians, Turkomans, Persians and Jews. It has a meteorological observatory. Corn, raw cotton, hides, wool, nuts and dried fruit are exported.
See E. O’Donovan, The Merv Oasis (2 vols., London, 1882); C. Marvin, Merv (London, 1880); and H. Lansdell, The Russians at Merv and Herat (London, 1883). (J. T. Be.)