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"Shapur's Will" in Bukhara


By: P.B. Lurje


In the following paper I shall examine the history of one local word of the Bukhara oasis, namely kām '(big) irrigating canal', which has undergone a rather unusual morphological development. A historical starting point for this discussion was recently introduced by B. I. Marshak, my good teacher in archeology. It is a pleasure to present this small paper in his Festschrift*.


1. The word in question was recorded for the first time in orientalist researches a century ago. A Russian military topographer in Bukhara, colonel N.F. Sitniakovskij, mentioned it in his 'Notes on the Bukharan part of the Zaravshan valley' as early as in 1900 (p. 136-139). He translated the names of two canals in the neighborhood of Bukhara, Kām-i Zar1 and Jōy-i Zar as 'Greater Zar' and 'Smaller Zar'. W.W. Barthold (1965 (1914), p. 118) wrote:

'The word kām seems not to be recorded either in Persian, or in Turkish dictionaries; it is used, as far as I know, only in Bukhara and adjacent areas in the sense of 'ariq'. This word is probably of Iranian origin' (my translation).

In the footnote Barthold adds that this word has been known since medieval times (Naršaxī, vide infra) and was still used in his day (Sitniakovskij).

After Barthold's research kām appeared, as far as I can judge, only in one dictionary: the 'Luγati nimtafsilii Tojikī' by S. Aynī (1976, p. 161). For the third meaning of Tajik kom he gives:

'Big canal (Shofurkom, komi Abumuslim, komi Šarγ... all these are the names of large canals around Bukhara)' (my translation).

Later on, Russian specialists in toponymics used Bukharan kām for etymologizing käm, a widespread hydronymical element in Altai and Tuva, for the last survey see Murzaev, 1984, p. 269-270. I should add, that an extremely probable Samoyed etymology of käm was proposed by I. Vāsāri, 1971, p. 469-482 and attempts to find Indo-European background of this term are at least risky.

My modern informants in Bukhara region do not know this word, except as an element in canal-names.

A common noun kām is fixed at least in two groups of sources, originating from the Bukhara oasis: the XIV-th century waqf (beneficient land-ownership) document for the mausoleum of famous sūfī Sayyid Bāxarzī (Bukharskie dokumenty, No 1, 402) and the XVI-th century waqf documents of the sūfī clan of Jōybāī (Jōybārī, No 369).

The meaning of kām is exclusively 'large, first-step irrigating canal', for the lesser canals Bukharans used different terms (naḥr, jōy, afdaq2).

2. River-names on kām are recorded for the first time in 10th century Arab geographies. Let us proceed with the list of such names, arranged in chronological order:

  1. Šāfur-kām - Ibn-Ḥauqal, 486; Iṣtaxrī, 310 (scriptio defecta Sāfarī-kām), Naršaxī XIII, tr. Frye, 31-32 -
    Šāfur-kām <Šāpūr-kām (vide infra), Jōybārī, passim, a name of a canal, district, big village to the north-east of Bukhara. At the turn of 20th century -- Šofirkom (maps, S. Aynī); now Šofirkon (maps) or Šofrikon (colloquial Uzbek and Tajik).

  2. Ḥarām-kām - Naršaxī, IV, tr. Frye, 15, 19, a name of a canal, which was earlier called Rōd-i Šarγ3 and Sāmjan4; Jōybārī, p. 261, No 287, p. 313, No 363 cons. From Arabic ḥarām 'holy, inviolable'. This branch was flowing to the North-East of Bukhara and probably was the main stream of Zarafshan5.

  3. Kām(-i) Daimūn - Naršaxī, XIII, tr. Frye, 32 also called Lower Farāwēz6. Cf. the village Δaimūn7 lying two farsakhs from Bukhara towards Paikand (Sam'ānī, 241b; Yāqūt, II, 727).

The other numerous canal-names in kām appear only after Mongols. The most significant are:

  1. Kām-i 'Akka (Bukharskie dokumenty, N°1, 447 cons.) - a canal around modern Vabkent, probably named after some village 'Akka. The village itself with all probability won its name after 'Akka, the Palestinian town8. Later Kām-i Yakka (literary, 'a single canal').

  2. Кām-i Abū Muslim (Samarkandskie dokumenty, N°10, 231 cons., Jōybārī, No 358), a district and canal to the North-East of Bukhara, around modern Vaganzi. Ascribed to Abū Muslim, who was active in Bukhara in 750-7519.

  3. Kām-i Mēγ (Jōybārī, 369), canal to the North of Kermine-Navoi, modern Konimex (literary - 'mine of the nails'). We know an older village Mēγ (Sam'ānī, 548b; Yāqūt, IV, 717) which probably goes back to Sogd. myγ, Oir. *maiga- 'cloud, gloom'.

  4. Kāmāt (Jōybārī, No. 277-278), a district (tūmān), a parallel name of Vobkent (older Wābkana). This one seems to be pseudo-Arabic plural on -āt from kām.

3. As we can see from above, usually the canal-name with -kām was formed after a name of neighboring village10, using Persian iḍāfa- construction and only twice (No 1 and 2) it is a tatpuruṣa-compound; two of the three names given by Naršaxī, have doublet names, evidently Sogdian in origin and recorded in the earlier literature; and only No.1, Šāfur-kām is known to Arab geographers, our earliest authentic sources (10-11th century)11 and has no parallel name.

Thus the first hydronym, Šāfur-kām stands apart from all the others and needs separate discussion.

4. Naršaxī (XIII, 31-32) gives an account on the history name-giving of this canal. Although it was much discussed in modern literature, let me once again quote this passage in the excellent translation of R.N. Frye:

"The second [canal of Bukhara] is Šāpūrkām, which the common folk of Bukhara call Šāfurkām. It is told in a story that one of the sons of Kisrā12, of the house of Sāsān, provoked the anger of his father and came to this district. His name was Šāpūr and pūr in the Persian language means "son"13. When he arrived in Bukhara the Buxār Xudāh showed him honor. Šāpūr liked to hunt. One day he went hunting and came to this district. At that time there was neither village nor cultivated field but it was a pasture land. The hunting area pleased him. He requested it as a fief from Buxār Xudāh in order to make it inhabited locality. The Buxār Xudāh gave him that place. He dug a great canal and gave it his name, i.e. Šāpūrkām. He built villages and a palace on that canal. The locality is called "the villages of Abūya" He built the village of Vardāna and a castle, and made this place his residence..."

This legend or semi-legend, although resembling a kind of popular etymology14, has a certain linguistic confirmation. It is not difficult to prove, that M-Pers. Ša(:)h-puhr could give in Sogdian rendering /*Šāvur/15.

5. Sogdian form has regulary lost both -h-'s; the second one could not lengthen the vowel before it (u), cf. the Bactrian form Þa/oβoro (Davary, 1982, p. 273; Sims-Williams, 1992, p. 28 and 2001, p. 234). Greek forms of the name of Shapuhr I (III AD) witness that internal -p- was voiced into b even during his reign (Σαβωρ, Σαβωυρ, also Σαπωρ(ης), see Huyse, 1999, I, p. 160-161, II, p. 5-6). Persian (Šāpūr) and Armenian (Šapouh) forms with internal -p- seem to be historical spellings, with regards to the eye-evident etymology of this name. Sogdian had no phonemic b (only in positione) and foreign b was often rendered as β(v): βγρ'wr < Parth. (Bactr.?) bag-puhr; 'βršr, 'βršxr < M.-Pers, Parth. Abar-šahr, the Sassanian name of modern Xurāsān, lit. 'Higher country'. Another (and more popular) way of rendering of the foreign b was through p. We meet this type in the two occurrences of the name Shapuhr (probably, of one and the same person) in Sogdian script - š'p(')wr in the inscriptions of Upper Indus Valley (Sims-Williams, 1992, p. 72). The traditional Arabic writing system has no symbol for β (v) and this Sogdian sound appeared as f, w or b (Lurje, 2001, p. 24). Later on (under the influence of the prestigious literary tongue) the arabicized form with f overcame colloquial pronunciation. Similarly, arabisized Iṣfahān prevailed over the expected Sǝpa(:)hān, Šāš over Čāč, etc. Modern i on place of u in Šofirkon is an Uzbeki development: cf. dorixona from Pers. dārō-xāna 'drugstore', nozik < nāzuk 'soft'16. Finally, -n from -m seems to be a result of standardization: -ān is the most typical marker of a toponym in or around Iran.

This is enough for the first part of the compound and let us turn to the second one. Šāfurkām as a whole looks definitely as a reflex of Middle Persian compound Šābuhr-kām, meaning 'Shapurs Will', with MPers. kām 'will, desire, purpose' and therefore the toponym itself looks as a typical example of Sassanian official geographical name-giving. We know numerous examples of such names from the territory of Iran: Nēw-Šāhbuhr 'Nishapur', lit. 'Shapur the Brave', Veh-Ardaxšēr 'Kirman', lit. 'Ardashir the Best', and even 'monsters' like Ērān-āsān-kerd-Kavād 'Kawad (who) relieved Iran', Vēh-Antiōk-Šāhbuhr 'Shapur(s town) better (than) Antioch'. The king's name could occupy not only the second place in toponym, but the first place as well: Kav-Xusrav-Šād 'Kay Khosrow the happy', Ardaxšēr-farn 'Charisma of Ardashir'. The list of upper register words accompanying king's name included, among others (rām 'tranquility', šād 'happy', veh 'the best', nēv(ak) 'good, brave' etc.), the word kām as well. A place-name Kām(-i) Fērōz 'Will of Peroz' in Northern Fars is recorded from early Islamic time (Ibn Xurdāδbeh, 58, 66) and is still in use.

6. Now, after recognizing Šāfur-kām as a Middle-Persian and ultimately Sassanian place-name, we get involved with a different problem: how could it enter Bukhara oasis, far from the borders of the Sassanian Empire?

I see three ways for solving this problem.

  1. Firstly, we can trust the story which is told by Naršaxī although it is not confirmed by the other sources. Šāhbuhr was a rather popular name among Persians and some minor prince of the Sassanian family bearing this name could have fled to Bukhara.

  2. I know at least another single place-name in Sogdiana which is based on the Middle Persian language and formed in Sassanian "style"17: it is Farruxšāδ (also Farruxšīδ), a village near Samarkand and (after it) the gates of the city (Ṭabarī, II, 1540; Ibn-Ḥauqal, 493; Iṣṭaxrī, 316), which evidently goes back to M.Pers. Farraxv-šād 'Farrukh's joy' (Lurje, 2001, p. 25)18. It is well known that Sassanian silver-smithing, coinage, painting, decorative ceramics, partially, onomastics were borrowed by the inhabitants of Central Asia. We know two Middle Persian inscriptions from Sogdiana: one from Penjikent and the other from Paikend. Two place-names above can also be considered as examples of Sassanian 'vogue' in toponymy.

  3. The third explanation agrees with primary sources. In the big inscription of Shapur the First (ŠKZ, §3) it is stated that his empire extended up to Kāšγar (or Kiš?), Sogdiana and Čāč. All these places seem to be named in an exclusive and not inclusive sense, i.e. limits of Sassanian Empire reached the borders of these places and did not cover them (for the history of the problem see Huyse, 1999, II, p. 36-37). But in any case, Shapur could not even get close to the borders of Čāč and Soγδ without penetrating the oasis of Bukhara. Thus, Bukhara at least for a short time might have been a part of the Empire of Shapur. Boris Il'ich proposed a probable idea, that the canal Šāfurkām was originally dug by an order of Shapur the First, a short-time ruler of Bukhara19.

7. Thus, the Bukharan canals on kām express two different patterns of name-giving: one of them (the older one, Šāfurkām) is linked with the Sassanian tradition, while the other (later) is purely local, unknown in other regions. But I can hardly imagine that these two lines of naming never meet each other.

Apart from our kām 'will' (Sogd. k'm) there is homonymous Iranian word, that could possibly suit for the meaning 'canal'. It is Pers. kām, Pashto kūmai (Morgenstierne, 1927, No. 74) 'palate', Parachi kamā 'gullet', Ossetic kom 'palate', 'ravine'20, Khotanese kaṃma 'wound'21, see Abaev (1959, 599); an earlier history of this word is unclear (OIr. *kahman-, as per Abaev, loc. cit?). We can add here diminutives of the same root: Sogdian k'my 'Vertiefung' (Sundermann, 1985, *b 145, b 182, lacking in Gharib, 1994), Khorasmian k'myk 'Kerbe', eig. 'Mündchen' (Benzing, 1983, p. 345), Tajiki koma 'paz, zhelobok, borozda; vydolblennoe otverstie, jama, razmytaia vodoj na dne vodojoma' (groove, fillet; gouged hole, pit, washed out by water at the bottom of a pond - Rakhimi-Uspenskaia, 1954, p. 190). As for semantics of the last group, cf. German Auskehlung < Kehle.

Both geographical terms, reflecting this kām(-a), namely 'ravine' and 'groove', however, can not suit the conditions of our kām, because (1) the Bukhara oasis is a flat lowland and has no ravines or gorges, and because (2) kām means 'big, primary canal' and never 'small brook' or 'gutter'. Thus, we are primarily limited to -kām in Šāfurkām in the explanation of this place-name element.

8. There is a group of words with unexpected semantic re-analysis. We know pseudo-Latin omnibus (Dat-Abl. Pl. from omnis 'all'), meaning 'big coach' ('carriage for everybody'). In later derivatives the last syllable won its own unexpected meaning, giving bus, auto-bus, aero-bus; Watergate gave Irangate; Hamburger derives from Hamburg, but there is no Cheeseburg on the world map etc.

Such re-interpretations are known to Iranian world as well. W. Eilers (1982, S. 27) mentions such Persian examples as ye-roške 'one horse carriage' from (originally Russian) doroške (usually, with two horses) and se-γulū 'triplets' from (originally Turkish) doγulū 'twins'.

A slightly different pattern is known to Iranian river-names as well. Abaev's (1959, p. 485-6; 1979, p. 299) explanation of Ossetic ford, fūrd 'big river, sea' links this word to Povrata, Modern Prut, a large tributary of the lower Danube, which is considered to be a non-Iranian river-name22.

The history of Jayḥūn, an Islamic name of Oxus, can be traced more in detail. This name (similarly Saiḥūn = Jaxartes) was given by Arabs after Jaiḥān (and Saiḥān), Arabic rendering of Gihon (and Phison), river in Paradise, see, e.g. Canard (1962, 502-3). Afterwards, at least in some Persian dialects, the word jaiḥūn designated every big river, cf. Bakrān, 10b,17-21:

'Ninth chapter [is] description of jaiḥūns. It is said (gufta āmad-ast) that a big stream (jōy-i buzurg) is called rōd and common people ('awām) call a big river (rōd-i buzurg) 'jaiḥūn'. But Jaiḥūn in Arabic is the name of that (ō) river which passes Tarmiδ, comes to Xvārizm and from there goes to the Aral sea (buḥaira-yi Jand). And among the jaiḥūns of the whole world there is no one greater than the Nile of Egypt...' (my translation).

The same words are nearly verbatim reproduced by Jurjānī, a 15th century compiler (for German translation see De Goeje, 1875, S. 20; for Russian see Barthold (1965b (1902), p. 71-72).

Elsewhere, Bakrān names Jaiḥūn-i Atīl (Volga), Jaiḥūn-i Kūr, Jaiḥūn-i Gang and even Jaiḥūn-i Šāš for Saiḥūn (Jaxartes - Syr-Darya).

Apart from Bakrān, I could find the word jaiḥūn in the similar meaning in Juvainī, where: (I, 66-67, 71, 72, II, 77) Syr-darja is called jaiḥūn(-i Xujand; -i Fanākat)23; az xūn jaiḥūn (I, 74, II, 55) means 'river of blood'; ṣaḥrā az xūn jaihūn šud (I, 77) 'a plain became a big river with blood'; jaihūn in Bukhara (I, 80); Jaihūn = Indus (II, 5924, 142); Jaihūn = Kura (II, 124); Jaihūn = Tigris (III, 290).

Barthold (1913, p. 356) informs us that Gardīzī used jaihūn in similar way25

9. Thus, I suppose, that the history of Bukharan kām 'bug canal' is organized on the same pattern: first, there was an 'unusual' canal-name, Šāvur-kām, meaning 'Shapurs will' and probably dug out by the order of Sassanian king Shapur I. Afterwards, due to some uncommon, but possible scenario, the natives re-interpreted this name, as if kām were a special upper register word for 'large canal' and gave new names with this element to the older canals, replacing Sogdian nomenclature26.


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* I am greatly indebted to Prof. V.A. Livshits and Dr. A. Naymark for their comments on this paper. Mr. I. Yakubovich kindly agreed to improve my poor English. I must admit that V.A. Livshits does not agree with the main idea of this paper.

1 From here below I use G. Lazard's transliteration system of Persian for the medieval texts (both Persian and Arabic) up to the turn of 20th century. As for glosses from later times, transliteration of the modern Tajik (and Uzbek) languages is used instead.

2 For the etymology of the last term, see Lur'je, forthcoming.

3 Better, Čarγ a form Jarγ is given by Ibn-Ḥauqal, 486, Iṣṭaxrī, 312, Muq. 267 (A correct spelling in MS C), Sam'ānī, 331b; a form Šarγ is given by Sam'ānī, 331b and Yāqūt, III, 276; Naršaxī, loc. cit. This name was borne by a village to the South-West of Bukhara. Etymology is unclear, cf., however, Pers. čarγ, Chor. crγ etc. 'Falcon'. In view of initial č hardly to Chor. šrγ 'Bewasserungskanal' (Schwartz, 1970 p. 292) or Sogd. šrγw 'Lion'.

4 Originally, the name of two districts ('Higher Sāmjan' and 'Lower S.') and a canal, see Ibn-Ḥauqal, 485, Iṣṭaxtī, 310, Naršaxī, loc. cit, Bukharskie dokumenty, ¹1, 498.

It contains in the second part jan 'river, canal', in the first, probably, Bukharan sām (Oir. *syāma-) 'black' (Markwart, 1938, p. 29; 81; Frye, 1955, p. 115). We should add that 'normal' Sogdian šāw 'black' is not attested in the place-names around Bukhara, while s(iy)ām appears for some 5 times.

5 Once (Jōybārī, p. 313) it is stated that Ḥ arām-kām is also called Kōhak, i.e. Zaravshan.

6 To Sogd. pr'wyz /parāwe(:)ž/ 'to flow, irrigate' (I wrongly reconstructed Sogdian /**frāwēž/ in Lurje, 2001, p. 23); Barthold (1965, p. 202) mentions Kam-i Feraviz.

7 This Δaimūn can go back either to Sogd. δym 'eyepupil, face' or to Pers. daim(a) 'dry land'. Altogether, since daima has a Nebenform lalmī (evidently Bactrian in origin), one would expect something like /*δaδm-/ in Sogdian. Lalmī-land, however needs no irrigating canals. Sam'ānī states that Δaimūn has much water.

A shift ān>ūn is a feature of Bukharan dialect of Sogdian (I hope to discuss this item elsewhere).

8 We know that Timur named new settlements around Samarkand after the greatest towns in Islamic world: Dimišq, Miṣr (Cairo), Baγdād (see Barthold, 1965-a (1913), p. 272).

9 Barthold (1965, 203) was reluctant to recognize a real builder of this canal in Abū Muslim.

10 One of the features of the toponymic system of Central Asia, distinct from the European one, is fragility of hydronyms as compared with oikonyms (settlement-names). While Samarkand has preserved its name for some 2500 years, a river that runs near it changed names for 5 times (Polytimetos, Nāmīk, Rōd-i Buxārā, Kōhak, Zarafšān). The modern name of Āmū-daryā is derived from the name from one of its crossings: Āmūya or Āmul. This kind of geographical name-giving is unknown on Europe.

Going further into this problem, I suppose, a possible explanation is that Europeans consider rivers to have natural and unchangeable course, while in lands of extensive irrigation, river-beds can be artificial as well. A human has a privilege to give a name to what he has constructed or what he is able to (re-)construct, while it is better not to rename immutable objects.

11 A lost Arabic version of the 'History of Bukhara' was composed in 943-4 AD., but the extinct Persian translation was seriously abridged and distorted in XI-XIII-th century (see Frye, 1954, p. XII). It seems as if a chapter on the rivers was also reedited.

12 The Arabic rendering of the name Xusraw, par excellence Khusraw Anushirwan. Later Kisrā served as a name for any Sassanian king.

13 From here we can judge that this passage belongs to original Arabic version of Bukhara History, rather than to later Persian additions. Unlike Arabs, Persian reader does not need translation of the word pūr.

14 It was advocated, among the latest authors, by A. Naymark (2001, p. 291).

15 It is needless to say that Oir. *Xšāyaθya-puθra- 'King's son' would give in Sogdian something like /*Ǝxšāθ-pɨšē/ and never Ša(:)h-puhr which is an exclusively Parthian or Bactrian development.

16 Here we can suppose a tendency to adapt a word for a usual Arabic fā'il-participle type.

17 The place-names in -gird from Transoxiana, which were probably inherited from the Christians that escaped Iran, are a different matter of investigation. One of the districts of Samarkand, namely Čahārsōq ('crossroads, square', in the waqf document of Tabγāj-xān (Buniiatov, Gasanov, 1994, p. 53)) and Karmābaj (i.e. Garmābag 'bath', as Ibn-Ḥauqal, 508; Muq, 276), the gates of Binkaθ, bear Middle (and not New-) Persian names.

18 Bol'shakov (1973, p. 226) seeks ixšīd (the title of the Samarkand kings) in the second part of this name. The second part can hardly reflect OIr. *srāda- 'house'. I will not discuss here the etymology of Kawādiyyān.

19 Personal comments; this idea was expressed in the Second Volume of 'Istoriia Tadzhikskogo Naroda' (History of Tajik Nation), published in 1999 in Dushanbe (actually, Tehran), but this book is inaccessible for me.

Dr. Alexander Naymark (e-mail dated 27/02/03) informed me that there is a certain numismatic evidence that Shapur the 2nd was active in Bukhara. Apart from influence of his coinage on early bronze pieces of Bukhara (Naymark, 1995) there is a number of his Marv coins found in Bukhara oasis.

20 Semantic shift mouth > ravine (cf. French gorge) is known from the other languages, see Murzaev (1974, p. 133).

21 Differently Bailey (1979, p. 52).

22 An Iranian explanation of the name Prut (Vasmer, 1923, S. 60) was criticized by Abaev (loc. cit.).

23 Jaihūn-i Jand is Qazwini's restoration.

24 Here in the footnote Qazwini mentions and quotes Bakrān's usage of jaihūn.

25 I could find jaihūn designating the river Asus (Ishim in Kazakhstan?) and one of the North Pontic rivers, Don or Danube, see text in Barthold, 1973 (1897), p. 27, 37.

26 Sogdian, Chorasmian and Tajik words for 'pit' may have played a certain role in this derivation. Sadriddin Aynī, evidently the best expert on morals and manners of Bukhara inhabitants, once mentioned that 'the people of Bukhara have a habit to give nick-names by a contrast (with real features of a person)' (mardumi Buxoro bo aloqai ziddiyati ma'no... laqabro doda budand). They called one young Bohemian 'Mahdum the Handsome' (Mahdumi Xušrūy) because his face was disfigured by an 'Afghan' ulcer (Aynī, 1955, p. 449). It is, however, risky to state that the hydronyms in question won their names by the hand Bukharan jokers, who liked a somewhat humorous contrast of 'big canal' and 'small pit'.


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