Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Central Asia-The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to Turkish Expansion

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Central Asia-The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to Turkish Expansion

Article excerpt

The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to Turkish Expansion, by Richard N. Frye. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publications, 1996. 239 pages. Appends. to p. 252. Index to p. 263. $34.95 cloth; $16.95 paper.

Reviewed by Svat Soucek

The conceptual framework of this book is what French scholars have called "Iran exterieur," which is also the title of chapter 4 of Richard Frye's Heritage of Persia, published in 1963. In anthropological and ethnolinguistic terms, the focus is on eastern Iranian peoples, cultures and languages (Sogdian, Khwarazmian, Bactrian, Khotanese), and on the sedentary civilizations which they created. The Iranians' nomadic past is not glossed over, nor are their chiefly nomadic Turco-Mongol neighbors left unmentioned; but those aspects remain incidental to the main story. The cut-off date further emphasizes the Iranian focus of the book: It is not the Arab-Islamic conquest of the seventh-eighth centuries, but the Turkic one at the turn of the millennium which was to transform this "Iran exterieur" into Turkestan.

The author, dean of American Iranologists and professor emeritus at Harvard University, puts to good use his erudition, brilliance and rich personal experience. "Over the past thirty-five years I have traveled to Central Asia seven times, and spent 1990-91 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, teaching the ancient history of Iran and Central Asia at the University of Tajikistan," he states in the introduction (pp. 6-7). In a special way, the book also reflects the thrust of the author's scholarly career: the interaction between Persia (shall we say "Iran interieur"?) and "Iran exterieur."

The book succeeds in demonstrating the complexity and richness of Iranian Central Asia's history and civilization, but at the price of a perhaps unavoidable imbalance and incompleteness. …

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