Foreign Dispatch Report:

Early Islamic Period ArabicTexts
Recently Discovered in Northern Afghanistan

by MORIMOTO Kousei


We have just received a foreign dispatch report from MORIMOTO Kousei, a researcher in cooperation with Research Unit 1, Group C. We hope you will read it and find it useful.


Person dispatched: MORIMOTO Kousei

Period of dispatch: October 23 to October 29, 1998

Destinations: France, England



I went to the National Museum of France on Oct. 24th and searched the New Manuscript Section for legal summaries related to Islamic Law in the Oriental Manuscript Section. However, I was only able to find original manuscripts from materials which had already been published. I also contacted and spoke with Dominic Parmay, who can speak Japanese in hopes that he may be of assistance in the collection of reference materials in the future. Oct. 25th was mostly spent travelling from France to England. On the 26th, I travelled from London to Cambridge and spoke with Professor Simms-Williams of London University and Professor Geoffrey Kahn of Cambridge University about Early Islamic Period Arabic texts (on law and government) recently discovered in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan as well as the collection of information on legal texts written in Baktorian. According to both professors, the Arabic texts are currently in the process of being translated, but the Baktorian texts have been almost completely translated. As of yet, there are no definite plans to publish these. On October 27th, I visited the Khalili Collection in the suburbs of London and was assisted greatly by assistant curator, Ms Nasser and I had the opportunity to inspect 20 newly discovered Arabic and Baktorian texts, several of them still in scroll form. I left London on October 28th and returned to Japan on the 29th.


Foreign Dispatch Report:

Early Islamic Period Arabic Texts Recently Discovered in Northern Afghanistan


In recent years, many texts in Baktorian have been discovered in Afghanistan and there is great interest in academic circles concerning these texts. Baktorian is an ancient language based in the Baktoria area of what is now northern Afghanistan. It is related to Iranian, however, it is written in Greek characters. After Alexander the Great conquered Baktoria in the 4th century BCE, Greek was used in the area as the language of culture and government. However, the Kushanids who conquered the area from the north expressed the local language in Greek characters and made Baktorian the official language. King Kaniska of the Kushanid Empire promoted this policy and used Baktorian inscriptions on the currency. Baktorian continued to be used in Afghanistan, northern India and parts of Central Asia for almost 1,000 years thereafter, until after the Kushanid Empire was destroyed by the Sasanid Empire in the first half of the 3rd century CE.


Until recently, the only remaining original sources of Baktorian were Kushanid currency and a few epitaphs. However, since 1991, many texts in Baktorian have been discovered and it is said that there are now a total of 100 such texts. Most of these are now in London in the collection of Dr. Nasser D. Khalili and a very few are in collections such as that of artist Hirayama Ikuo.


The translation of these Baktorian texts is being carried out by Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams of London University . According to him, many of these texts pass through several hands before their inclusion in collections, so it is often impossible to know the exact location of discovery. However, it is thought that they originate from the Samingan region of northern Afghanistan.


As for their content, the most common are letters, but the next largest category is legal texts such as contracts, sales agreements, guarantees, receipts, and records of donations, etc. There are also marriage contracts which indicate polygamous marriages wherein one woman would have several husbands and manumission documents. These legal texts are dated from 342 to 781 BCE. It is of interest that the later texts are from the Islamic Period and that Baktorian texts are found along with Arabic texts from the Early Islamic Period.


The discovery of Arabic texts from the Early Islamic Period in areas outside of Egypt, particularly in northern Afghanistan near Central Asia, is very important to the study of the history and law of the Early Islamic Period.


At lectures given in Tokyo and other places by Professor Sims-Williams, I learned that a few Arabic texts had been discovered. Last October, in order to get more detailed information, I was able to interview Dr. Geoffrey Khan at Cambridge University, who is being entrusted by Professor Sims-Williams and collector Dr. Khalili with the translation of the Arabic texts. According to Dr. Khan, there are approximately 25 Arabic texts and most of them are tax receipts. However, due to the fact that there are also several contracts, the translation of these Arabic texts is expected to take quite some time.


The day after speaking to these two researchers, I visited the Khalili Collection in the suburbs of London and was assisted greatly by curator, Ms Nasser. I had the opportunity to inspect 20 newly discovered Arabic and Baktorian texts and take snapshots of them. Most of the texts were written on sheepskin and there were a few which were still in scroll form. According to Ms Nasser, the exact number of texts in the collection is still unclear.


My impression after a brief examination of these texts is that there are texts, manumission papers for example, which after their complete translation and comparison with Baktorian texts and texts from Egypt, could shed light on many issues related to the study of the history and law of the Early Islamic Period. I am anxiously awaiting the revised publication by Dr. Khalili.