BALKASH, or Balkhash (called by the Kirghiz Ak-denghiz or Ala-denghiz and by the Chinese Si-hai), a lake of Asiatic Russia, in the Kirghiz steppes, between the governments of Semipalatinsk and Semiryechensk, in 45° to 47° N. and 73° 30′ to 79° E., about 600 m. to the east of Lake Aral. It is fourth in size of the lakes in Eurasia, having an area of 7115 sq. m., and lies at an altitude of 900 ft. It has the shape of a broad crescent, about 430 m. long from W.S.W. to E.N.E., having its concave side turned southwards; its width varies from 36 to 53 m. Its north-western shore is bordered by a dreary plateau, known as the Famine Steppe (Bek-pak-dala). The south-east shore, on the contrary, is low, and bears traces of having extended formerly as far as the Sasyk-kul and the Ala-kul. The Kirghiz in 1903 declared that its surface had been rising steadily during the preceding ten years, though prior to that it was dropping. The chief feeder of the lake is the Ili, which rises in the Khantengri group of the Tian-shan Mountains. The Karatal, the Aksu and the Lepsa also enter from the south-east, and the Ayaguz from the north-east. The first three rivers make their way with difficulty through the sands and reeds, which at a quite recent time were covered by the lake. Although it has no outlet, its waters are relatively fresh. It freezes generally from November to April. Its greatest depth, 35 ft., is along the north-west shore. The fauna of the lake and of its tributaries—explored by Nikolsky—is more akin to the fauna of the rivers of the Tarim basin than to that of the Aral; it also does not contain the common frog. It seems, therefore, probable that Lake Balkash stood formerly in communication through lakes Ebi-nor and Ayar (Telli-nor) with the lake that formerly filled the Lukchun depression (in 89½° E. long, and 42½° N. lat.), but researches show that a connexion with Lake Aral—at least in recent times—was improbable. The lake has been investigated by L. S. Berg (see Petermanns Mitteilungen, 1903).
BALKH, a city of Afghanistan, about 100 m. E. of Andkhui and some 46 m. S. of the Oxus. The city, which is identical with the ancient Bactra or Zainaspa, is now for the most part a mass of ruins, situated on the right bank of the Balkh river, 1200 ft. above the sea. It comprises about 500 houses of Afghan settlers, a colony of Jews and a small bazaar, set in the midst of a waste of ruins and many acres of débris. Entering by the west (or Akcha) gate, one passes under three arches, which are probably the remnants of a former Jama Masjid. The outer walls (mostly in utter disrepair) are about 6½ to 7 m. in perimeter, and on the south-eastern borders are set high on a mound or rampart, indicating a Mongol origin. The fort and citadel to the north-east are built well above the town on a barren mound and are walled and moated. There is, however, little left but the remains of a few pillars. The Masjid Sabz, with its green-tiled dome, is said to be the tomb of a Khwaja, Abul Narsi Parsar. Nothing but the arched entrance remains of the Madrasa, which is traditionally not very old. The earlier Buddhist constructions have proved more durable than the Mahommedan buildings. The Top-i-Rustam is 50 yds. in diameter at the base and 30 yds. at the top, circular and about 50 ft. high. Four circular vaults are sunk in the interior and four passages have been pierced below from the outside, which probably lead to them. The base of the building is constructed of sun-dried bricks about 2 ft. square and 4 or 5 in. thick. The Takht-i-Rustam is wedge-shaped in plan, with uneven sides. It is apparently built of pisé mud (i.e. mud mixed with straw and puddled). It is possible that in these ruins we may recognize the Nan Vihara of the Chinese traveller Hsüan Tsang. There are the remains of many other topes (or stupas) in the neighbourhood. The mounds of ruins on the road to Mazar-i-Sharif probably represent the site of a city yet older than those on which stands the modern Balkh. The town is garrisoned by a few hundred kasidars, the regular troops of Afghan Turkestan being cantoned at Takhtapul, near Mazar-i-Sharif. The gardens to the north-east contain a caravanserai, which is fairly well kept and comfortable. It forms one side of a courtyard, which is shaded by a group of magnificent chenar trees.
The antiquity and greatness of the place are recognized by the native populations, who speak of it as the Mother of Cities. Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Kaiomurs, the Persian Romulus; and it is at least certain that, at a very early date, it was the rival of Ecbatana, Nineveh and Babylon. For a long time the city and country was the central seat of the Zoroastrian religion, the founder of which is said to have died within the walls. From the Memoirs of Hsüan Tsang, we learn that, at the time of his visit in the 7th century, there were in the city, or its vicinity, about a hundred Buddhist convents, with 3000 devotees, and that there was a large number of stupas, and other religious monuments. The most remarkable was the Nau Behar, Nava Bihara or New Convent, which possessed a very costly statue of Buddha. A curious notice of this building is found in the Arabian geographer Yāqūt. Ibn-Haukal, an Arabian traveller of the 10th century, describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle and a mosque. Idrǐsī, in the 12th century, speaks of its possessing a variety of educational establishments, and carrying on an active trade. There were several important commercial routes from the city, stretching as far east as India and China. In 1220 Jenghiz Khan sacked Balkh, butchered its inhabitants and levelled all the buildings capable of defence,—treatment to which it was again subjected in the 14th century by Timur. Notwithstanding this, however, Marco Polo can still, in the following century, describe it as “a noble city and a great.” Balkh formed the government of Aurangzeb in his youth. In 1736 it was conquered by Nadir Shah. Under the Durani monarchy it fell into the hands of the Afghans; it was conquered by Shah Murad of Kunduz in 1820, and for some time was subject to the khan of Bokhara. In 1850 Mahommed Akram Khan, Barakzai, captured Balkh, and from that time it remained under Afghan rule.
See Hsüan Tsang, tr. by Julien, vol. i. pp. 29-32; Burnes's Travels in Bokhara (1831-1833); Ferrier's Travels; Vambery's Bokhara (1873); Report of the Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission of 1884-1885.
BALL, SIR ALEXANDER JOHN, Bart. (1759-1809), British rear-admiral and governor of Malta, came of a Gloucestershire family. He entered the navy, and in 1778 was promoted lieutenant. Three years later began a close association with Rodney, and, two days after his chief's crowning victory of April 12, 1782, Ball was promoted commander, and in 1783 he became captain. At this time he spent a year in France with the double purpose of learning the language and living economically. Nelson, then a captain, was at this time by no means favourably impressed by his future friend and comrade, and spoke of him as a “great coxcomb.” It was not until 1790 that Ball received a command. From that year, however, he was continuously employed. In 1798, assistance rendered by him to Nelson's ship in heavy weather caused the latter to forget his former animosity, and from that time the two were close friends. Under Nelson's command Ball took part in the battle of the Nile, and his ship, the “Alexander,” was the particular opponent of Brueys' flagship, “L'Orient,” which blew up. Two months later he was ordered to the blockade of Malta, which was kept up without a break for the next two years. Ball committed the blockade to his first lieutenant, and himself led the marines and local militia, which made the siege on the land side. His care for his men laid the foundations of his popularity with the Maltese which continued till his death. After the fall of Malta, Ball practically retired from the service, in spite of Nelson's urgent entreaty that he should continue afloat, and from 1801 (when he was made a baronet) to 1809 he was governor of Malta, where he endeared himself to the people by his regard for their interests, and his opposition to the policy of treating the island as a conquered dependency. His friendship with Lord Nelson, whose letters prove his high regard for him, was only broken by death. Ball died on the 20th of October 1809 and was buried in Malta. Sir Alexander Ball was kind to Coleridge and is highly praised by him in The Friend, “The Third Landing Place.” There are numerous mentions of Ball in Nelson's Despatches, in Sir H. Nicolas' edition.