Ahuan – and the Parthian stations

Ahuan is one of the places in Khurasan where, on the 1601 walk to Mashhad, Abbas stayed in a ribat (fort). Click here to see Herzfeld’s plan – though it’s also as clear as can be on the satellite image.

Ahuan ribat

The hilltop ‘settlement’ (it’s now really just a petrol station) also has a superb extant caravanserai, which was still in active use (by the army) well into the twentieth century.  Although the caravanserai has often been attributed to Shah Abbas the Great, its inscription tablet (now stolen) was explicit that it was constructed in 1685, and so in the reign of Shah Soleiman. Click here for more pictures, including a plan.

I’ve written about how the extant caravanserais along the Khurasan road were apparently constructed after the reign of Shah Abbas the Great; but just because I can’t find an Abbasi caravanserai locally, that’s not to say that the area was not well-known even in the most ancient times.

Various classical historians, including Justin, Ptolemy of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder and Strabo of Amasya all mention the district. I’ve previously written of how Darius was murdered by his own men just nearby in 330 BCE as Alexander chased him the fast flat way – explicitly avoiding the hill up to Ahuan.

Measuring distances with a tanab

Almost my favourite account, though, comes from Isidore of Charax, writing his Parthian Stations sometime after 26BCE (click here to read the whole thing). Isidore detailed the overland trade route all the way from Antioch (near modern Antakya) to India.

After the Caspian Gates, he writes, “there is a narrow valley, and the district of Choarena [19 schoeni]; in which is the city of Apamia, after 4 schoeni; and there are 4 villages in which there are stations. Beyond is Comisena, 58 schoeni, in which there are 8 villages in which there are stations, but there is no city.” Choarena must be Choara or Thara – just between modern day Ahuan and Qusha – while Comisena is Qumis, or modern-day Damghan.

I love how this description so closely mirrors that of Munajjim Yazdi, recording Shah Abbas’ 1601 walk by noting down the farsakh-and-tanab distances between the halts – especially when you know that the schoeni is – just like the tanab – named from the word (though obviously in Greek rather than Persian!) for rope.

And one schoeni is equivalent to two parasangs, which got renamed . . to become the farsakh. Two thousand years later, it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s the same, and what’s changed!

2 Responses to “Ahuan – and the Parthian stations”

  1. y. crowe Says:

    Nice to know about the origins of the word “farsakh”. I enjoyed…. “it”. Thanks!
    Which is the no. of the slain Darius?

  2. Caroline Says:

    Sorry, I should have been clear
    Its Darius the Third: http://www.livius.org/aj-al/alexander/alexander_t08.html

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