BARSḴĀN, or Barsḡān, a place in central Asia, on the southern shores of the Ïsïq-Göl, in the region known as Semirechye or Yeti-su “the land of the seven rivers,” in what is now the Kyrgyz Republic. In the medieval Islamic sources, the name seems also to have been applied, by a process of extension, to the tribe of Turks living in its vicinity. The author of Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, (tr. Minorsky, pp. 98, 116, cf. pp. 292-93 and map V at p. 279) describes this “upper” (i.e., farthest) Barsḵān (to be distinguished from a “lower” one in Transoxania; see Yāqūt, Boldān, Beirut, I, pp. 383-84) as a prosperous town, whose chief (dehqān) was from the Qarluq but whose inhabitants gave their preferential allegiance to the Toghuz-Oghuz, and he also states that there was a “river of Barsḵān,” presumably the Ču, which flows out of the Ïsïq-Göl. The place is mentioned several times by Maḥmūd Kāšḡarī, who spells it Barsḡān, locates it in the territory of the Čegel tribe and says that it is named after a son of the mythical hero Afrāsīāb (Dīvānloḡāt al-Tork, tr. Besim Atalay, Ankara, 1939-41, I, pp. 392-93, III, pp. 135, 417-18 and passim; a legend about the origin of Barsḵān from the semilegendary exploits of Alexander the Great is given also by Gardīzī, Zayn al-aḵbār, ed. Ḥabībī, pp. 265-66, in his section on Barsḵān; cf. also Barthold, Four Studies on the History of Central Asia, tr. V. and T. Minorsky, Leiden, 1962, III, p. 181).
Part of Barsḵān’s historical fame comes from the fact that Sebüktigin (q.v.), founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty in eastern Afghanistan, came from there, having been captured in tribal warfare and sold as a slave, according to the Pand-nāma attributed to Sebüktigin and reproduced by the later historian Moḥammad Šabānkāraʾī (see Bosworth, Ghaznavids, p. 39 and Later Ghaznavids, pp. 134, 144). The Qarakhanid tribal confederation which took over Transoxania from the Samanids in the 5th/11th century seems to have arisen from the Qarluq and Čegel of the Barsḵān region, and, in the middle years of the 5th/11th century, Barsḵān was ruled by a Qarakhanid prince called Yïnaltigin (Barthold, Four Studies I, pp. 89-90). In later times, however, it disappears from historical mention.
Bibliography: Given in the text.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988
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