BAḠLĀN, place name in northeastern Afghanistan.

i. Kushan period.

ii. Modern province.

iii. Modern town.


i. Kushan Period

The name originally derives from the Bactrian bagolango “image-temple” (< OIr. *baga-dānaka-), a term used in the inscription of Nokonzoko (SK4) from the archeological site of Surkh (Sorḵ) Kotal in Afghanistan. In this text, the temple-complex excavated by the Delegation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan from 1951-63, is named as Kanēško oanindo bagolango, probably to be understood as “Kanishka-Victory-Temple.” Though since the word oanindo represents both the name of an astral deity of victory, depicted winged and thus named on the Kushan gold coinage, and as an adjective “victorious,” some scholars have taken it as an epithet referring to Kanishka.

The temple excavated at this site appeared to be a fire-temple of dynastic character, dedicated for the rulers of the Kushan dynasty. It was founded perhaps early in the reign of Kanishka (according to the unfinished inscription SK2 in the year 289 of an unstated era which is most probably a Greco-Bactrian era of about 155 B.C., thus fixing the date of construction to about A.D. 124), and restored in the year 31 of a different era, probably of Kanishka I’s own enthronement, perhaps thus equivalent to A.D. 125 + 31 = 156 or shortly after. The complex contained a cella, an attached subsidiary fire-temple piled with fine ashes, statues of at least two Kushan emperors, one of which seems identical with a coin-portrait of Huvishka, and a stone orthostat in poorly preserved state which appears to show an enthroned ruler in the presence of a trophy (for another theory see Fussman, p. 123).

The temple site is some 15 km northwest of Pol-e Ḵomrī in northern Afghanistan on the road to Balḵ, and about the same distance from the modern administrative center of Baḡlān, a straggling settlement on the opposite (east) bank of the Qondūz River beside the road from Pol-e Ḵomrī to Qondūz. The meaning and original location of the name were evidently forgotten during the Middle Ages, so that it attached vaguely to the district as a whole, and ultimately to its modern center. The region was no doubt closely connected with the Kushan dynasty, and it bore in the Islamic period the name Ṭoḵārestān which derives from that of the Tocharoi, the ancient horde of which they became the rulers.




D. Schlumberger, M. Le Berre, and G. Fussman, Surkh Kotal en Bactriane, MDAFA 25, Paris, 1983, 2 vols. Besides the excavation reports there listed on p. viii, see especially W. B. Henning, “Surkh Kotal,” BSOAS 18, 1956, pp. 366-67; idem, “The Bactrian Inscription,” BSOAS 33, 1960, pp. 47-55; also I. Gershevitch, “The Well of Baghlan,” Asia Major 12, 1961, pp. 90-109; idem, “Bactrian Inscriptions and Manuscripts,” IF 72, 1967, pp. 27-57; A. D. H. Bivar, “The Kaniska Dating from Surkh Kotal,” BSOAS 26, 1963, pp. 498-502.

(A. D. H. Bivar)

ii. Modern Province

Baḡlān is a province (welāyat) of northeastern Afghanistan which covers 17,106 km2. It is presently (1363 Š./1984) divided into five districts (woloswālī) and four subdistricts (ʿalāqadārī). The main town and provincial center is Baḡlān and three more localities within the province have urban status (Pol-e Ḵomrī, Nahrīn, and Dahān-e Ḡōrī, recently renamed Šahīd Nyāz Gol).

The province of Baḡlān was created in 1343 Š./1964 out of the former province of Qaṭaḡan.

See Table 10 and Table 11 for compilation of main available data about present population and land use in the province, districts, and subdistricts.

(D. Balland)


iii. Modern Town

Baḡlān is a district and town of Afghanistan, in the upper valley of the Sorḵāb (Qondūz) river on the northern slope of the Hindu Kush range. At the end of the nineteenth century, the district had a population estimated at 1,000 Paṧtūn and Tajik families with its own governor (ḥākem), who resided at the village of Qešlāq-e Qāżī (a little to the north of the present industrial town), but was subordinate to the governor of the adjacent (southward) district of Ḡōrī. Some time in the first third of the nineteenth century, the administrative headquarters had been moved to another site five km to the north, i.e., the old town (Šahr-e Kohna), where a twice-weekly bazaar had long been held.

Urban growth in the district began in the 1930s when the opening of the motorable road from Kabul to Qondūz over the Šebar pass made the Sorḵāb valley an important line of communication. Three main urban nuclei, each bearing the name Baḡlān, came successively into being. (1) Old Baḡlān, mentioned above, had a still mainly rural appearance and a bazaar which, in the early 1970s, comprised some seventy shops and teahouses (čāy-ḵānas) but only became really busy in the autumn when villagers from the surrounding plain came to sell their cotton. (2) New Baḡlān (Šahr-e Jadīd), about four km to the south, was founded in 1937 as a new chief town for the province of Qaṭaḡan and became the headquarters of the province of Baḡlān under the territorial reorganization of 1964. Thanks to this administrative role, the town grew rapidly. In 1973 its bazaar comprised some six hundred shops, for the most part only open on market days (Mondays and Fridays). The shopkeepers consist of a Tajik group, mainly from the Parvān district, of an immigrant Paṧtūn element from Qandahār and the Nangrahār district, and of some others from Mazār-e Šarīf and Tašqorḡān. The town is split into two parts by the main road; the original nucleus with the grain and fruit markets lies in the western part, but the craftsmen’s shops and the restaurants and čāy-ḵānas, frequented mainly on market days, are all in the eastern part. The town was spaciously laid out and has kept a verdant appearance. It possesses some superior institutional buildings (secondary schools and a hospital) and comfortable residential sections. (3) The Industrial town (Baḡlān-e Ṣaṇʿatī), eight km to the south, took shape around the sugar refinery built in 1938-40 by the Škoda company of Czechoslovakia. The refinery was owned by a private firm, though eighty-five percent of the capital belonged to the National Bank of Afghanistan. With a capacity to treat 60,000 tons of beet and produce 7,000-8,000 tons of sugar per annum, the refinery employed 140 permanent staff and 1,000-1,200 seasonal workers. In addition, a modern silk factory was established in the town in 1951. The sugar company owned roughly one sixth of the 340 shops in the bazaar and a large proportion of the dwellings, which it built to house its employees. The houses were more modern than those of the other agglomeration and had the benefits of water and electricity, which the company supplied to them as well as providing a special hospital and schools. The town is also the seat of the provincial Agriculture Department, whose installations and staff houses are located here. The fact that some of the bazaar shops were being used as dwellings indicates that the bazaar had been made too large and that the main commercial activities were still centered in the administrative town.

It may be asked whether the three agglomerations, which had a total population of 39,228 according to the preliminary report of the 1979 census, really form one town. The answer is certainly affirmative in the case of Old Baḡlān and New Baḡlān, as the old settlement depends on the new town for all modern-type services. The industrial town, however, seems on the whole to be an independent entity, and in fact has a separate municipal administration. At the same time the brisk traffic of two-wheeled cabs (gādīs) and motor vehicles on the road to the new town shows that contact between the two centers is very close.


L. W. Adamec, Gazetteer of Afghanistan I, Graz, 1972, pp. 40-41.

E. Grötzbach, Kulturgeographischer Wandel in Nordost-Afghanistan seit dem 19. Jahrhundert, Afghanische Studien 4, Meisenheim am Glan, 1972, passim.

Idem, Städte und Basare in Afghanistan. Eine stadtgeographische Untersuchung, Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Reihe B, 16, Wiesbaden 1979, pp. 82-84.

The Baḡlān sugar refinery was the subject of several articles in the Kabul periodical Eqteṣād in 1318 Š./1939 and thereafter, particularly in a special issue, no. 225 of 1319 Š./1940.

Search terms:

 بغلان  baghlan baghlaan   


(A. D. H. Bivar, D. Balland, X. de Planhol)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 23, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 416-418