The ethnonymAfghan (افغانAfġān) has been used in the past to denote a member of the Pashtuns, and that usage still persists in some places in Afghanistan. The name Afghanistan (افغانستانAfġānistān; Afghan + -stan) is a derivation from the ethnonym Afghan, originally in the loose meaning "land of the Pashtuns" and referred to the Pashtun tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush mountains.
In the 3rd century, the Sassanids mentioned an eastern tribe called Abgân, which is attested in its Arabic form Afġān in the 10th century Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam. Through the nineteenth century, the term "Afghan" was used by various writers as a synonym for "Pashtun", but such usage now is rare in English.
Tents of Afghan nomads in Badghis Province of Afghanistan who are known in Pashto language as Kuchans. They are mostly Ghilji and migrate from region to region depending on the season. Early peasant farming villages came into existence in Afghanistan about 7000 years ago.
From a more limited, ethnological point of view, "Afġān" is the term by which the Persian-speakers of Afghanistan (and the non-Paštō-speaking ethnic groups generally) designate the Paštūn. The equation [of] Afġān [and] Paštūn has been propagated all the more, both in and beyond Afghanistan, because the Paštūn tribal confederation is by far the most important in the country, numerically and politically. The term "Afġān" has probably designated the Paštūn since ancient times. Under the form Avagānā, this ethnic group is first mentioned by the Indian astronomer Varāha Mihira in the beginning of the 6th century in his Brhat-samhita.
Hiven Tsiang, a ChineseBuddhist pilgrim visiting the Afghanistan area several times between 630 and 644 CE, speaks about the native tribes inhabiting the region. According to scholars such as V. Minorsky, W.K. Frazier Tyler and M.C. Gillet, the word Afghan has appeared in the 982 Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam, where a reference is made to a village.
"Saul, a pleasant village on a mountain. In it live Afghans".
Saul was probably located near Gardez, in the Paktia province of Afghanistan. Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam also speaks of a king in "Ninhar" (Nangarhar), who shows a public display of conversion to Islam, even though he has over 30 wives, which are described as Muslim, Afghan, and pagan or Hindu wives. It should be noted that some of these names were used as geographical terms. For example, "Hindu" has been used historically as a geographical term to describe someone who was native from the general region known as Hindustan or the Indian subcontinent.
Al-Utbi, the Ghaznavid chronicler, in his Tarikh-i Yamini records that many Afghans and Khiljis (possibly the modern Ghilji) enlisted in the army of Sabuktigin after Jayapala was defeated.
"The Afghans and Khiljis who resided among the mountains having taken the oath of allegiance to Subooktugeen, many of them were enlisted in his army, after which he returned in triumph to Ghizny."
Al-Utbi further states that Afghans and Ghiljis made a part of Mahmud Ghaznavi's army and were sent on his expedition to Tocharistan, while on another occasion Mahmud Ghaznavi attacked and punished a group of opposing Afghans, as also corroborated by Abulfazl Beyhaqi. In the 11th century, Afghans are mentioned in Al-Biruni's Tarikh-ul Hind ("History of India"), which describes groups of rebellious Afghans in the tribal lands west of the Indus River in what is today Pakistan. It is recorded that Afghans were also enrolled in the Ghurid Kingdom (1148–1215). By the beginning of the Khilji dynasty in 1290, Afghans have been well known in northern India.
Ibn Battuta, a famous Moroccan traveler, visiting Afghanistan following the era of the Khilji dynasty in 1333 writes.
"We travelled on to Kabul, formerly a vast town, the site of which is now occupied by Afghans. They hold mountains and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highwaymen. Their principal mountain is called Kuh Sulayman. It is told that the prophet Sulayman [Solomon] ascended this mountain and having looked out over India, which was then covered with darkness, returned without entering it."
"He [Khalid bin Abdullah son of Khalid bin Walid] retired, therefore, with his family, and a number of Arab retainers, into the Sulaiman Mountains, situated between Multan and Peshawar, where he took up his residence, and gave his daughter in marriage to one of the Afghan chiefs, who had become a proselyte to Mahomedism. From this marriage many children were born, among whom were two sons famous in history. The one Lodhi, the other Sur; who each, subsequently, became head of the tribes which to this day bear their name. I have read in the Mutla-ul-Anwar, a work written by a respectable author, and which I procured at Burhanpur, a town of Khandesh in the Deccan, that the Afghans are Copts of the race of the Pharaohs; and that when the prophet Moses got the better of that infidel who was overwhelmed in the Red Sea, many of the Copts became converts to the Jewish faith; but others, stubborn and self-willed, refusing to embrace the true faith, leaving their country, came to India, and eventually settled in the Sulimany mountains, where they bore the name of Afghans."
In the writings of the 17th-century Pashto poet Khushal Khattak, it states "Pull out your sword and slay any one, that says Pashtun and Afghan are not one! Arabs know this and so do Romans: Afghans are Pashtuns, Pashtuns are Afghans!"
"The road from Khorasān leads by way of Kandahār. It is a straight level road, and does not go through any hill-passes... In the country of Kābul there are many and various tribes. Its valleys and plains are inhabited by Tūrks, Aimāks, and Arabs. In the city and the greater part of the villages, the population consists of Tājiks*(Sarts). Many other of the villages and districts are occupied by Pashāis, Parāchis, Tājiks, Berekis, and Afghans... In the hill-country to the north-east lies Kaferistān, such as Kattor and Gebrek. To the south is Afghānistān."
The name "Afghanistan" is also mentioned many times in the writings of the 16th-century historian, Ferishta, and many others.
"The men of Kábul and Khilj also went home; and whenever they were questioned about the Musulmáns of the Kohistán (the mountains), and how matters stood there, they said, "Don't call it Kohistán, but Afghánistán; for there is nothing there but Afgháns and disturbances." Thus it is clear that for this reason the people of the country call their home in their own language Afghánistán, and themselves Afgháns. The people of India call them Patán; however the reason for this is not known. But it occurs to me, that when, under the rule of Muhammadan sovereigns, Musulmáns first came to the city of Patná, and dwelt there, the people of India (for that reason) called them Patáns—but God knows!"
"The country now known as Afghanistan has borne that name only since the middle of the 18th century, when the supremacy of the Afghan race became assured: previously various districts bore distinct apellations, however the country was not a definite political unit, and its component parts were not bound together by any identity of race or language. The earlier meaning of the word was simply "the land of the Afghans", a limited territory which did not include many parts of the present state but did comprise large districts now either independent or within the boundary of British India (Pakistan)."
In Sanskrit, the word ashva (Iranianaspa, Prakritassa) means "horse", and ashvaka (Prakrit assaka) means "horseman","horse people","land of horses", as well as "horse breeders". Pre-Christian times knew the people of the Hindukush region as Ashvakas (horsemen), since they raised a fine breed of horses and had a reputation for providing expert cavalrymen. The 5th-century-BCE Indian grammarianPāṇini calls them Ashvakayana and Ashvayana.Mahabharata mentions them as Ashvaka(na). Classical writers, however, use the respective equivalents Aspasioi (or Aspasii, Hippasii) and Assakenoi (or Assaceni/Assacani, Asscenus) etc. The Aspasioi/Assakenoi (Ashvakas = Cavalrymen) is stated to be another name for the Kambojas of ancient texts because of their equestrian characteristics.Alexander Cunningham and a few other scholars identify these designations with the modern name Afghan.
There are a number of other hypotheses suggested for the name historically, all of them obsolete.
The "Maḫzan-e Afġān" by Nimat Allah al-Harawi, written in 1612 at the Mughal court, traces the name Afghan to an eponymous ancestor, an Afghana, identified as a grandson of Saul. Afghana was supposedly a son of Irmia (Jeremia), who was in turn a son of Saul (Talut). Afghana was orphaned at a young age, and brought up by David. When Solomon became king, Afghana was promoted as the commander-in-chief of the army. Neither Afghana nor Jeremia son of Saul figure in the Hebrew Bible. Some four centuries after Afghana, in the 6th century BCE, Bakhtunnasar, or Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babil, attacked the Kingdom of Judah and exiled the descendants of Afghana, some of whom went to the mountains of Ghor in present-day Afghanistan and some to the neighborhood of Mecca in Arabia. Until the time of Muhammad, the deported Children of Israel of the east continually increased in number in the countries around Ghor which included Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni, and made wars with the infidels around them. Khalid bin Walid is said to belong to the tribe of descendants of Afghana in the neighborhood of Mecca, although actually he was from the tribe of Quraysh. After conversion to Islam, Khalid invited his kinsmen, the Children of Israel of Ghor, to Islam. A deputation led by Qais proceeded to Medina to meet Muhammad, and embraced Islam. Muhammad lavished blessings on them, and gave the name Abdur Rashid to Qais, who returned to Ghor successfully to propagate Islam. Qais had three sons, Sarban, Bettan and Ghourghusht, who are progenitors of the various Pashtun tribes.
Samuel G. Benjamin (1887) derived the name Afghan from a term for 'wailing', which the Persians are said to have contemptuously used for their plaintive eastern neighbors.
H. W. Bellew, in his 1891 An Inquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, believes that the name Afghan comes from Alban which derives from the Latin term albus, meaning "white", or "mountain", as mountains are often white-capped with snow (cf.Alps); used by Armenians as Alvan or Alwan, which refers to mountaineers, and in the case of transliterated Armenian characters, would be pronounced as Aghvan or Aghwan. To the Persians, this would further be altered to Aoghan, Avghan, and Afghan as a reference to the eastern highlanders or "mountaineers".
Michanovsky suggests the name Afghan derives from Sanskrit Avagana, which in turn derives from the ancient Sumerian word for Badakhshan - Ab-bar-Gan, or "high country".
There are also a few people who have attempted to link "Afghan" to an Uzbek word "Avagan" said to mean "original".
^Noelle-Karimi, Christine; Conrad J. Schetter; Reinhard Schlagintweit (2002). Afghanistan -a country without a state?. University of Michigan, United States: IKO. p. 18. ISBN 3-88939-628-3. Retrieved 2010-09-24. The earliest mention of the name 'Afghan' (Abgan) is to be found in a Sasanid inscription from the 3rd century, and it appears in India in the form of 'Avagana'...
^R. Khanam, Encyclopaedic ethnography of Middle-East and Central Asia: P-Z, Volume 3 - Page 18
^A Glossary Of The Tribes And Castes Of The Punjab And North-West Frontier Province Vol. 3 By H.A. Rose, Denzil Ibbetson Sir Published by Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 1997, Page 211, ISBN 81-85297-70-3, ISBN 978-81-85297-70-5
^Indische Alterthumskunde, Vol I, fn 6; also Vol II, p 129, et al.
^"The name Afghan has evidently been derived from Asvakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian... " (Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180. See also: Alexander's Invasion of India, p 38; J. W. McCrindle).
^Etude Sur la Geog Grecque & c, pp 39-47, M. V. de Saint Martin.
^The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1891, p 83, Élisée Reclus - Geography.
^"Even the name Afghan is Aryan being derived from Asvakayana, an important clan of the Asvakas or horsemen who must have derived this title from their handling of celebrated breeds of horses" (See: Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture abroad, p 124, Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan).
^cf: "Their name (Afghan) means "cavalier" being derived from the Sanskrit, Asva, or Asvaka, a horse, and shows that their country must have been noted in ancient times, as it is at the present day, for its superior breed of horses. Asvaka was an important tribe settled north to Kabul river, which offered a gallant resistance but ineffectual resistance to the arms of Alexander "(Ref: Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1999, p 275, Royal Scottish Geographical Society).
^"Afghans are Assakani of the Greeks; this word being the SanskritAshvaka meaning 'horsemen' " (Ref: Sva, 1915, p 113, Christopher Molesworth Birdwood).
^Cf: "The name represents Sanskrit Asvaka in the sense of a cavalier, and this reappears scarcely modified in the Assakani or Assakeni of the historians of the expedition of Alexander" (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological..by Henry Yule, AD Burnell).
^See few more references on Asvaka = Afghan: The Numismatic Chronicle, 1893, p 100, Royal Numismatic Society (Great Britain); Awq, 1983, p 5, Giorgio Vercellin; Der Islam, 1960, p 58, Carl Heinrich Becker, Maymūn ibn al-Qāsim Tabarānī; Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, Trivandrum, India (City), University of Kerala. Dept. of History; Literary History of Ancient India in Relation to Its Racial and Linguistic Affiliations, 1970, p 17, Chandra Chakraberty; Stile der Portugiesischen lyrik im 20 jahrhundert, p 124, Winfried Kreutzen.; See: Works, 1865, p 164, Dr H. H. Wilson; The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1891, p 83; Chants populaires des Afghans, 1880, p clxiv, James Darmesteter; Nouvelle geographie universelle v. 9, 1884, p.59, Elisée Reclus; Alexander the Great, 2004, p.318, Lewis Vance Cummings (Biography & Autobiography); Nouveau dictionnaire de géographie universelle contenant 1o La géographie physique ... 2o La .., 1879, Louis Rousselet, Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin; An Ethnic Interpretation of Pauranika Personages, 1971, p 34, Chandra Chakraberty; Revue internationale, 1803, p 803; Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, Trivandrum, India (City). University of Kerala. Dept. of History; Edinburgh University Publications, 1969, p 113, University of Edinburgh; Shi jie jian wen, 1930, p 68 by Shi jie zhi shi chu ban she. Cf also: Advanced History of Medieval India, 1983, p 31, Dr J. L. Mehta; Asian Relations, 1948, p 301, Asian Relations Organization ("Distributed in the United State by: Institute of Pacific Relations, New York."); Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1892, p 275, Royal Scottish Geographical Society - Geography; The geographical dictionary of ancient and mediaeval India, 1971, p 87, Nundo Lal Dey; Nag Sen of Milind Paṅhö, 1996, p 64, P. K. Kaul - Social Science; The Sultanate of Delhi, 1959, p 30, Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava; Journal of Indian History, 1965, p 354, University of Kerala Dept. of History, University of Allahabad Dept. of Modern Indian History, University of Travancore - India; Mémoires sur les contrées occidentales, 1858, p 313, fn 3, Stanislas Julien Xuanzang - Buddhism.
^Ref: Hindu Polity: A Constitutional History of India in Hindu Times, 1915, p 140, Dr K. P. Jayaswal; Sva, 1915, p 113, Christopher Molesworth Birdwood; Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture Abroad, 1980, p 124, Vivekananda Kendra; Stile der portugiesischen Lyrik im 20. Jahrhundert, 1980, p 124, Winfried Kreutzer.
^Al-Hind, The Making of Indo-Islamic World, 2002, p 84, Andre Wink; The Rise of the Indo-Afghan Empire, C. 1710-1780, 1995, p 16, JJL Gommans; Journal of Indian History Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, University of Kerala, Department of History; A Geographical Introduction to the History of Central Asia, 1944, K. B. Codrington.
^Historical Geography of Madhya Pradesh, From Early Records, 1977, p 3, Dr P. K. Bhattacharya; Proceedings of the World of Sanskrit Conference. 1985, p 783, International association of Sanskrit.
^Encyclopedia of Religions of Faiths of Man, Part I, 2003, p 554, J. G. R. Forlong.
^History and Culture of Indian People, the Age of Imperial Unity, Vol II, p 45, Dr A. D. Pusalkar, Dr R. C. Majumdar, Dr Munshi etc; Panjab Past and Present, pp 9-10, Dr Buddha Parkash; See also: History of Porus, pp 12, 38; Ancient India, 2003, pp 260-61, Dr V. D. Mahajan; India as Known to Pāṇini, pp 456-57, Dr V. S. Aggarwala; Preliminary Notes on the Excavation of the Necropolises found in Western Pakistan and The Tombs of the Asvakayana-Assakenoi, Antonini, Chiara Silvi & Tucci, Giuseppe, pp 13 to 28; 'Asvakayana-Assakenoi', East and West, NS,. 14 (Roma, t963), pp 27-28.
^Political History of Ancient India, 1996, p 133 fn 6, pp 216-20, (Also Commentary p 576 fn 22), Dr H. C. Raychaudhury, Dr B. N. Mukerjee; Historie du bouddhisme Indien, p110, Dr E. Lammotte; History of Poros, 1967, p 89; East and West, 1950, pp 28, 149, 158, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Editor, Prof Giuseppe Tucci, Co-editors Prof Mario Bussagli, Prof Lionello Lanciotti; History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Saka Era, 1988, P 100, History; Panjab Past and Present, pp 9-10, Dr Buddha Parkash. J. W. McCrindle says that the modern Afghanistan -- the Kaofu (Kambu) of Xuanzang was ancient Kamboja, and the name Afghan evidently derives from the Ashavakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian (Alexandra's Invasion of India, p 38; Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180, J. McCrindle); Ancient Kamboja, People and Country, 1981, pp 271-72, 278, Dr J. L. Kamboj; These Kamboj People, 1979, pp 119, 192, K. S. Dardi; Kambojas, Through the Ages, 2005, pp 129, 218-19, S Kirpal Singh; Sir Thomas H. Holdich, in the his classic book, (The Gates of India, p 102-03), writes that the Aspasians (Aspasioi) represent the modern Kafirs. But the modern Kafirs, especially the Siah-Posh Kafirs (Kamoz/Camoje, Kamtoz) etc are considered to be modern representatives of the ancient Kambojas. Other noted scholars supporting this view are Dr Romilla Thapar, Dr R. C. Majumdar etc.
^The Ancient Geography of India. I. The Buddhist Period, Including the Campaigns of Alexander, p 87, Alexander Cunningham; India as Seen in the Brhatsamhita of Varahamihira, 1969, p 70, Dr Ajay Mitra Shastri.
^Journal of American Oriental society, 1889, p 257, American Oriental Society; Mahabharata 10.18.13.
^Kambojo assa.nam ayata.nam i.e Kamboja the birthplace of horse......(|| Samangalavilasini, Vol I, p 124||).
^Aruppa-Niddesa of Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa describes the Kamboja land as the base of horses (10/28)
^In the Anushasnaparava section of Mahabharata, the Kambojas are specifically designated as Ashava.yuddha.kushalah (expert cavalrymen).
^Jataka, Vol VI, pp 208, 210 (trans Fausboll); The Jataka, VI, p 110, (Trans. E. B. Cowell) + Videvati XIV.5-6 + Herodotus (I.140); Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1912, p 256, Dr Grierson; Das Volk Der Kamboja bei Yaska, First Series of Avesta, Pahlavi and Ancient Persian Studies in honour of the late Shams-ul-ulama Dastur Peshotanji Behramji Sanjana, Strassberg & Leipzig, 1904, pp 213 ff, Dr Ernst Kuhn
^*Dr V. S. Agarwala writes: "As shown in the Jataka and Avestic literature, the Kamboja was the center of ancient Iranian civilization as is evidenced by the peculiar customs of the country " (Ref: The Kamboja Janapada, January 1964, Purana, Vol VI, No 1, p 229; Jataka edited by Fausboll, Vol VI, p 210.)
Dr Michael Witzel: "The Kambojas, located somewhere in east Afghanistan, spoke Iranian language and followed Zoroastrian habits of killing lower animals." (Early Eastern Iran and the Atharvaveda, Persica-9, 1980, fn 81, p 114; Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 7 (2001), issue 3 (May 25), Art. 9).
Dr D. C. Sircar: "The Kambojas were of Iranian extractions .. they were settled in Afghanistan region in Uttarapatha. Their numbers were occasionally swelled by new migrants from Iran, especially during age of Achaemenians." (Purana, Vol. V, No. 2, July 1963, p 256, Dr D. C. Sircar).
Willem Vogelsang: "The name Kamboja was commonly applied in Indian sources to the Iranian population of the borderlands i.e Afghanistan." (The Afghans (Peoples of Asia), 2001, p 127).
Dr R. Thapar: "The Kambojas were a tribe of the Iranians " (History of India, Vol. I, 1997, p 276).
E. Benveniste: "The Kambojas ... were known in Indian traditions as a foreign people, with peculiar customs, ... raised celebrated horses, spoke - as the Nirukata (II,2.8) tells us - a language with Iranian words in it ... and had, according to Buddhist Jataka (VI.206, 27-30), a certain religious practice - the killing of insects, moths, snakes and worms - which we may recognize as Mazdean from the passages in Mazdean books like the Videvati (XIV.5-6) as well as from the remark of Herodotus (I.140) about the Persian religion " (Journal Asiatique, CCXLVI 1958, I, pp 47-48, E. Benveniste).
^Cf: "Zoroastrian religion had probably originated in Kamboja-land (Bacteria-Badakshan)....and the Kambojas spoke Avestan language" (Ref: Bharatiya Itihaas Ki Rup Rekha, p 229-231, Jaychandra Vidyalankar; Bhartrya Itihaas ki Mimansa, p 229-301, J. C. Vidyalankar; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 217, 221, J. L. Kamboj).
^The Quarterly Review, 1873, p 537, William Gifford, George Walter Prothero, John Gibson Lockhart, John Murray, Whitwell Elwin, John Taylor Coleridge, Rowland Edmund Prothero Ernle, William Macpherson, William Smith.
^The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as Described by Arrian, Q. Curtius, Diodoros, 1893, p 334, John Watson M'Crindle, Quintus Curtius Rufus, Marcus Junianus Justinus, Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus.
^Evolution of Heroic Tradition in Ancient Panjab, 1971, p 72; History of Punjab, Publication Bureau Punjabi University Patiala, 1997, p 225, Dr Buddha Prakash .
^A Comprehensive History of India, Vol II, p 118, Dr Nilkantha Shastri.
^Gary W. Bowersox, Bonita E, Gemstones of Afghanistan, pg 27
^Gankovsky, Yu. V., et al. "A History of Afghanistan." Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982. 8vo. Cloth. 359 p. USD 22.50
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