BOST, archeological site and town located near the confluence of the Helmand and Arḡandāb rivers in southwest Afghanistan.
The monuments at Bost include remains from periods of ancient Iranian, Greco-Roman, and ancient Indian domination, as well as the ruins of an imposing fortress, a soaring arch with baked-brick decoration in geometric patterns, and mud-brick walls of private houses from the Islamic period. Although classicists and orientalists have collected and interpreted the notes of early geographers and historians and European travelers have been visiting the ruins of Islamic Bost, which lies on the traditional caravan track between Iran and India, since the early 19th century, archeological documentation of pre-Islamic occupation has been discovered and recorded only during the last two decades by Norman Hammond (1970), Manfred Klinkott (1974), Warwick Ball (1982), and William Trousdale (1984). In contrast to these documents, which lie hidden under the shifting sand dunes of the Sīstān desert, the monuments of the Islamic Middle Ages still dominate the desert and riverbanks. The wealth of the medieval city was attested by Arab and Persian writers. After the Mongol invasions, the wars between India and Persia in the 10th-12th/16th-18th centuries, and the final destruction of Bost by Nāder Shah in 1150/1738 the cultivated zone reverted to steppe. In 1324 Š./1945 the Helmand-Arḡandāb Valley Authority (HAVA) began a project to irrigate and reclaim the region along the banks of the two rivers for cultivation. Both ecological and archeological activities came to an end, however, with the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops in 1358 Š./1979.
In series of mounds to the north and south of Bost pottery, terracotta figurines, inscribed seals, and coins datable between 500 b.c. and a.d. 500 (Hammond, 1970; Ball, 1982), that is, from the successive Achaemenid, Parthian, Kushan, Sasanian, and Chionite-Hephthalite periods, have been found. They confirm reports in Greco-Roman sources that a fortified settlement was located in the triangle formed by the confluence of the Helmand and Arḡandāb rivers. It was known to classical geographers as Bestia Deselutia, Bestigia Deselenga, Bispolis, and Biyt; Islamic geographers and Western travelers have called it variously Bist, Bost, Bust, Kala-i-Bist, Qala-i-Bust, Cala Bust, and the like (Fischer, 1967, s.v.). It served as a guard post for the caravan trade from eastern Iran up the Helmand to the point at which the road divided, one branch running to Qandahār, the other to India. Cultural influences also traveled along this route from India to Iran and the reverse.
Pending further archeological exploration, only isolated discoveries can throw some light on the early material history of Sīstān. Klinkott (1974) compared fragments of fluted stone columns, baked bricks, and architectural terracotta from Sultan Bābā Zīārat, on the northern fringes of the Rīgestān desert, with structural and decorative forms in both secular and religious buildings of the Seleucid Near East, Parthian Nisa, and Greco-Bactrian Aï Khanum (Āy Ḵānom) Buddhist cave dwellings and sanctuaries at Ḵāna Gowbar illustrated by Trousdale (1984), together with a stupa at Qandahār, seem to mark the farthest westward penetration of this Indian religion (see buddhism). Gherardo Gnoli, following reports by Isidor of Charax (p. 17), indications on the Roman route map Tabula Peutingeriana (Tomaschek, 1883, pp. 207-08), and other ancient sources, has demonstrated the existence of Zoroastrian communities in Sīstān and particularly at Bost (pp. 45-47, 78-80); C. E. Bosworth, on the other hand, has collected references on the Nestorian (Assyrian) Christian community there (1968, pp. 9-10).
In pre-Islamic Iranian history Bost and its environs were prosperous, owing to an abundance of water from the two rivers and from wells. During the early Islamic Middle Ages the area was celebrated for its fertility, its well-irrigated orchards between the rivers, and the pontoon bridge crossing the Helmand at the point where it becomes navigable as it flows southeast. The Arab geographers of the first Islamic centuries reported both commercial and intellectual activity in the town and commented on the produce of the surrounding area, which was planted with fruit trees, vineyards, and palms. From the limited ruins so far excavated it can be surmised that soon after the Muslim conquest a strong fortress was constructed to protect the town, the irrigated farm land, and the trade route. This stronghold was the center of defense for a population under constant attack from invading armies, as well as subject to frequent rebellions among the townspeople (Tārīḵ-eSīstān, s.v.; cf. tr. Gold). It was constructed of mud and baked brick; its most notable feature was a deep well in the center of the mound, with seven galleries encircling its shaft. In general the citadel and the town itself shared the fate of the entire district: The Ghurid ruler ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Ḥosayn (r. 544-56/1149-61) sacked Ḡazna in 544/1149 and shortly afterward Bost, which then became a residence for the Ghurids and later the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs. After the Mongol invasion in 618/1221 and again after Timur’s death in 807/1405 the whole of Sīstān was devastated, and, though economic life recovered, it was on a smaller scale, for the manpower necessary to maintain the extensive irrigation system was lacking. Modifications still visible in the defensive walls and the system of towers are evidence that the citadel was used by the Mughals in their wars against the Persians in the 10th-12th/16th-18th centuries. In 1150/1738 Bost suffered the same fate as Qandahār, another outpost of imperial Indian rule, when its city walls were dismantled by Nāder Shah.
The ravages of time have spared precious documents of eastern Iranian Islamic architecture, architectural decoration, and calligraphy. The baked-brick “arch of Bost” is the monumental remnant of a large mosque erected under the Ghurids or possibly the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs. The soffit of the imposing arch is faced with cut-brick decoration in a pattern of interlocking lozenges, which has been somewhat spoiled by recent restorations (Schlumberger, 1978, s.v.). Fortunately, the decoration of the facade, with horseshoe-arched niches, reflecting influences from both India and eastern Iran under the Ghaznavids and Ghurids, has been comparatively well preserved. This characteristic Iranian combination of structural monumentality and intricate ornamentation survives on a smaller scale in the patterned brickwork of the octagonal dome over the nearby mausoleum of one Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn (or Ḥosayn Shah; Sourdel-Thomine, 1956; Hill and Grabar; Crane), where seven inscribed tombstones from the end of the 12th to the middle of the 13th century have been deposited in modern times (Sourdel-Thomine, 1956). Some mud-brick houses can be recognized in the ruins north of the citadel and town; they are modest but carefully constructed, with skillfully decorated ayvān courtyard houses in the style typical of Sīstān. Howard Crane and Trousdale (1972) found decorative and inscribed bricks throughout the entire district surrounding the town. As for ceramics, J.-C. Gardin has compared plain, incised, and painted types from the nearby ruins at Laškarī Bāzār and soundings in the old town of Bost with finds from Central Asian, eastern Iranian, and Indo-Pakistani sites and has identified three major periods between about 390/1000 and 616/1220, when the Mongol invasion apparently put an end to the manufacture of ceramics at Bost.
W. Ball, with J.-C. Gardin, Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, 2 vols., Paris, 1982.
C. E. Bosworth, Sīstān under the Arabs, from the Islamic Conquest to the Rise of the Ṣaffārids 30-250/651-864, Rome, 1968.
H. Crane, “Helmand Sistan Project: An Anonymous Tomb in Bust,” East and West 29, 1979, pp. 241-46.
Idem and W. Trousdale, “Helmand-Sistan Project: Carved Decorative and Inscribed Bricks from Bust,” East and West 22, 1972, pp. 215-26.
P. Daffinà, L’immigrazione dei Sakā nella Drangiana, Rome, 1967.
Dj. Davary, “Die Ruinenstadt Bost am Helmand,” in Monumentum H. S. Nyberg I, Acta Iranica 4, Tehran and Liège, 1975, pp. 201-08.
K. Fischer, “Zur Lage von Kandahar an Landverbindungen zwischen Iran und Indien,” Bonner Jahrbücher 167, 1967, pp. 129-232.
Idem, “From the Mongols to the Mughals,” in The Archaeology of Afghanistan from the Earliest Times to the Timurid Period, ed. F. R. Allchin and N. Hammond, London, 1978a, pp. 356-414.
Idem, “From the Rise of Islam to the Mongol Invasion,” ibid., 1978b, pp. 301-55.
Idem, “Archaeological Fieldwork in Afghan Sistan and Current Research on Eastern Iranian Architecture,” in Dokumentation in der Archäologie. Techniken, Methoden, Analysen, ed. G. Urban and M. Jansen, Aachen, 1983a, pp. 81-89.
Idem, “Überlieferungen volkstümlicher und herrschaftlicher Bauformen in Sistan,” in Ethnologie und Geschichte. Festschrift für Karl Jettmar, Wiesbaden, 1983b, pp. 135-46.
Idem, “Gebirge . . . Wüstungeṇ . . . Landverbindungen in Zentralasien, Ost-Iran, Südwest-Afghanistan und Nordwest-Indieṇ . . .” in K. Fischer et al., eds., pp. 239-65.
K. Fischer, D. Morgenstern, and V. Thewalt, eds., Geländebegehungen in Sistan 1955-1973 und die Aufnahme von Dewal-i Khodaydad 1970, Nimruz 1, Bonn, 1974.
B. M. Forūḡī, “Tarmīm-e čāh-e Qaḷʿa-ye Bost,” Bāstānšenāsī-e Afḡānestān 4, 1981, pp. 1-6.
J.-C. Gardin, Lashkari Bazar, une résidence royale ghaznévide et ghoride II: Les trouvailles. Céramiques et monnaies de Lashkari Bazar et de Bust, MDAFA 18, Paris, 1963.
G. Gnoli, Ricerche storiche sul Sīstān antico, Rome, 1967.
N. Hammond, “An Archaeological Reconnaissance in the Helmand Valley, South Afghanistan,” East and West 20, 1970, pp. 437-59.
D. Hill and O. Grabar, Islamic Architecture and Its Decoration A.D. 800-1500, 2nd ed., London, 1967.
Isidore of Charax, Parthian Stations, ed. W. H. Schoff, Philadelphia, 1914.
M. Klinkott, “Vorislamische Baufragmente vom Nordrand der Wüste Registan,” in K. Fischer et al., eds., pp. 56-67.
J. H. Kramers, “La question Baḷḫī-Iṣṭaḫrī-Ibn Ḥawḳal et l’Atlas de l’Islam,” Acta Orientalia 10, 1932, pp. 9-30.
Idem, “Djughrāfiyā,” in EI1, Supp., pp. 61-73.
S. Maqbul Ahmad, “Djughrāfiyā,” in EI2, pp. 575-87.
J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang. Untersuchungen zur mythischen und geschichtlichen Landeskunde von Ostiran, Leiden, 1938, p. 19.
A. A. Michel, The Kabul, Kunduz, and Helmand Valleys and the National Economy of Afghanistan, Washington, D.C., 1959.
K. Miller, Itineraria Romana . . . an der Hand der Tabula Peutingeriana, Stuttgart, 1916.
A. A. Naïmi, “Boste,” Afghanistan 3/4, 1948, pp. 14-16.
Pauly-Wissowa, s.vv. Bestia, Bigis, Bist; Suppl. X, col. 96, s.v. Bestia Deselutia. H. Radermacher, “Wasserwirtschaft und Kulturbauwesen in Sistan in historischer und aktueller Sicht,” in K. Fischer et al., eds., pp. 159-213.
D. Schlumberger, “Les fouilles de Lashkari Bazar. Recherches archéologiques sur l’époque ghaznévide,” Afghanistan 4/2, 1949, pp. 34-44.
Idem, Lashkari Bazar, une résidence royale ghaznévide et ghoride IA: L’architecture, MDAFA 18, Paris, 1978.
E. Schroeder, “Qala-i Bist,” in Survey of Persian Art II, pp. 988-89, 1321.
J. Sourdel-Thomine, “Stèles arabes de Bust (Afghanistan),” Arabica 3, 1956, pp. 285-306.
Idem, “Bust,” in EI2.
Idem, Lashkari Bazar, une résidence royale ghaznévide et ghoride IB: Le decor non-figuratif et les inscriptions, MDAFA 18, Paris, 1978.
Idem and B. Spuler, Die Kunst des Islam, Propyläen Kunstgeschichte 4, Berlin, 1973.
G. P. Tate, Seistan. A Memoir on the History, Topography, Ruins and People of the Country, Calcutta, 1910-12; repr. Quetta, 1977.
W. Tomaschek, “Zur historischen Topographic von Persien. I. Die Strassenzüge der Tabula Peutingeriana,” Sb. Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 102, 1883, pp. 145-231.
Idem, “Zur historischen Topographie von Persien. II. Die Wege durch die persische Wüste,” ibid., 108, 1885, pp. 561-652.
W. Trousdale, “Buddhistische Klöster am Hilmend-Fluss,” in Aus dem Osten des Alexanderreiches. Völker und Kulturen zwischen Orient und Okzident. Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indien. Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von K. Fischer, Cologne, 1984, pp. 143-53.
Idem, “Recent Research in Sistan,” in International Oriental Conference, Hamburg, August, 1986 (forthcoming).
Near the ancient urban ruins of Bost and Laškarī Bāzār the new town of Laškargāh, taking its name from the nearby village of Laškargāh-e Bāzār, was established on an alluvial terrace on the left bank of the Helmand river in 1946, under the auspices of the Helmand-Arḡandāb Valley Authority (HAVA). Designed as the hub of the Helmand development region, it differs profoundly in physical character and socioeconomic structure from other Afghan towns. The city plan, drawn up by American architects, consists of two rectangles flanking a quarter-circle, all spaciously laid out and surrounded by a greenbelt. The public buildings are located near the river, as is the mosque, which has thus been relegated to the edge of the built-up area. The more comfortable residential neighborhoods are also near the river, and around them are laid out more modest residential districts, in which detached houses, row houses, and apartment buildings are mingled. None of the residences has the enclosed garden characteristic of Afghan towns; the overall effect is more that of an American town, with houses set amid open lawns. Several lots have, however, subsequently been enclosed by fences of reed mats, an indication of “reorientalization.”
The bāzār, which was begun in 1962-63, comprised 655 shops in 1973. It is laid out along one main boulevard in the southeast and is very unusual in the Afghan context. First, the shops and the lots on which they stand, like the residential lots, are not the property of individuals but belong for the most part to the municipality or to public and semipublic companies connected with HAVA. Second, it contains a very special assortment of businesses, related to the relatively high standard of living of its clientele. There is, for example, an unusually large number of butcher shops, as well as general stores catering to demand beyond ordinary daily needs, dry-goods and fashionable dress shops, and modern restaurants. On the other hand, caravansaries (sarāy) are totally absent, as are shops for traditional garments (e.g., turbans). In fact, this bāzār is essentially geared to the needs of the town. The population of the surrounding rural area relies on bāzārs in the traditional villages of Ḵalač and Laškargāh-e Bāzār. The sole concession to its needs in the town bāzār is a number of second-hand clothing shops that sell to peasants the castoffs of the wealthier urban inhabitants. Besides, this commercial street is practically unique. There is only one very small secondary shopping center, in the southwestern part of town; the residential quarters are totally lacking in the small clusters of shops that customarily serve inhabitants’ daily needs. Finally, an industrial quarter has developed in the southeast (an oil press, marble- and woodworking firms, various workshops devoted to repairs for HAVA).
The population consists in large part of HAVA employees and various kinds of officials. It is characterized by a very high level of literacy, younger than average age, and an overwhelming preponderance of males, there are proportionally fewer families than in other towns in Afghanistan. Aside from foreigners (mainly Americans but also numerous Indians and Filipinos employed in the middle and lower levels of HAVA), who remained for varying periods of time, the population has immigrated from many different provinces. Pashtun predominate in the upper classes and in the agricultural-development sector as a whole, while Tajik from around Herat seem to outnumber them in trade. Laškargāh, which is well supplied with water and electricity and enjoys a high level of services (schools, a hospital, etc.), has experienced very rapid growth, in contrast to halting development in the irrigated countryside that it administers. The population, estimated at about 5,000 inhabitants in 1973 (twice that figure if the nearby villages are included), rose to 21,600, according to the preliminary reports of the 1979 census, and new subdivisions have spread northward from the original nucleus in recent years.
E. Grötzbach, Städte und Basare in Afghanistan. Eine stadtgeographische Untersuchung, Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients B-16, Wiesbaden, 1979.
D. Wiebe, “Zum Problem Entscheidungsprozesse in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Journal, 1975, pp. 135-47.
Idem, “Stadtentwicklung and Gewerbeleben in Südafghanistan,” in Aktuelle Probleme der Regionalentwicklung und Stadtgeographie Afghanistans, ed. E. Grötzbach, Afghanische Studien 14, Meisenheim-am-Glan, 1976, pp. 152-72.
Idem, Stadtstruktur und kulturgeographischer Wandel in Kandahar und Südafghanistan, Kieler Geographische Schriften 48, Kiel, 1978.
(Klaus Fischer, Xavier de Planhol)
Originally Published: December 15, 1989
Last Updated: December 15, 1989
This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 383-386