1. Cultural Life of Merv in Pre- Islamic Period
Merv (Mary, Turkmenistan) known from the ancient times
under the names of Mouru, Margus, Margiana,
Alexandria,Seleucuia, Antiochia, is one of the most ancient cities on the territory of Turkmenistan. Bactria ( more ancient names of it were Badhy , Bactra and later Balkh ) to get her with Merv appearin historical documents both as names ofcities and countries earlier than any other ancient cities of Central Asia. According to Avesta ( Venidad 1,2 ) Zoroastrian Holy Book- - which originated in Central Asia and adjacent territories in pre - Achaemenid times Ahura Mazda, the Almighty God, naming 16 countries which he had created mentioned Margiana the third and called it strong.and devoted to Arta, the goddess of justice ( 26. p.350). In the well- known cuneiform inscription on the rock near Behistun (not far from the present Kermanshah, Iran) carved in 522 B.C. in three languages (ancient Persian, Elamic and Akkad) to commemoarate the successful campaign of
the Achaemenid king Darius I the Great (522 - 486 B.C. ) among other conquered states " the country called Margiana" is also mentioned ( 26. P.361)
The descriptions of Merv, Margiana as a city and country can be found in books by Greek classical writers - Diodorus, Strabor PI inus, Quintus Curtius and writings of later Christian authors as well. The most detailed information on the history of Merv and its cultural life is to be found in Medieval Molim writings. They stress the ancient origin of the city, and say in particular that the Merv citadel ( Gyaur- Kala ) was erected by Tahmorath, the third mythical ruler ( after, Kayomarth and Hushang ) of the pre - Achaemenian Iran and its old part - by Iskandar Zulkarnain - Alexander the Great.
The Old Merv was called Margianian, Alexandria in the pre-Seleucuid epoch. The Seleucuids had done a lot to strengthen their power in Margiana. Antioch I Soter (280-261 B.C.) according to Strabon (XI, 1 0) surrounded Margiana with a wall 1500 stadia long, i.e. a little longer than 250 km. (1 3, p.260-275). In the Middle Ages the wall was called "Ar-Rai" and its ruins were clearly visible in the first half of the X century when a well-known geographer Abu Ishak al- Faris al-Istakhry (850-934) visited Merv (1 33, P- 1 76; 16, P. 1 9).
Antioch I renamed Margianian.Alexandria into Seleucuia in honour of his father and late named it Antiochia (21, P. 93). \Vhen V.V. Bartold.wrote that "the Seleucuids had built the Merv which had ahead of it so dazzling future" ( 2, P. 424) he meant the reconstruction works undertaken by Antioch I in Merv. He also cited the German Orientalist M.Garten who believed that "Eastern territories, the trapezium with the coriiers Merv-Samarkand-Herat-Balkh in particular had continuous and all-sided invigorating impact upon the western part of the Moslim Asia and it was North-East to which the young Islam is indebted with its best minds" ( 2 1, P. 417). These scientists stressed the great role that Merv played in the cultural and scientific life of peoples inhabiting Central Asia and Iran and that of the whole Moslim world in the Middle Ages.
As for the book business in Merv during the pre-Moslim epoch historical documents do not tell us anything about it. There is no information about libraries there as well. Archaeological excavations going on in this city for about one hundred years have not shed any light on these problems too. So we can only guess whether they had existed in Merv before it was conquered by the Arabs. However, there are no serious objections to the fact that the so-called "Big Achaeraenid Avesta" written on 12000 bullock skins in gold ink somewhere in Central Asia might have been done in Merv. This idea is very close to the conclusion of I.M. Dyakonoff who thinks that texts in the Avesta were written in some script of Aramaic origin being in wide use in Parthia of that time. He believes that the script of the texts on ostracons found in Nissa -the. first capital of Parthia - is the same used for the texts of Avesta in the Achaemenid epoch (1 5, p.47). This same author put forward another very important idea that Avesta was created in the valley of the rivers Helmand (in Drangiana) and Tedjen- Herirud (I 4, P. 142). This idea is supported by the fact that many outstanding orientalists (V.V. Struve, A.. Maye, P. Tedesco, J. Duchesne-Guillemin, WB. Henning, G. Zener, 1. Gershevitch and others) have identified Parthian or even Margiana (9, p-45; N, P. 100 )as the place of origin of the Zoroastrian teaching. Though there are different views as to the place of origin of Zoroastrianism within Central Asia its origin in Margiana has not been totally rejected. V.I. Sarianidi, carrying out archaeological excavations in South - Eastern Turkmenistan, believes that the most probable place of origin of the ancient Iranians' religion, is the country of Margus "where Togolok temple 21, situated in the heart of the Kara-Kum is the first proto-Zoroastrian temple (24, p.99). His belief is based on his latest findings.
It is quite probable that books were circulating in Merv in the Parthian era history of the rich oral poetry and poetry of Poet- narrators, committed later to writing, took their origin on the territory inhabited by Parthians. Poet-narrators were very popular and played an important role with the Sasa-nian king8 (18, P. 1 1 0). Then and there circulated large-scale poetic works, some of which persisted. Till our times, they are ."A yadgar-i Zateran" ("Memorial book of Zarer"), "Drakht-i Asuri@' and wonderful love-novel "Vis u Ramin" the story of which takes place in Merv. Investigations of E. Bonveniste (29, P. 1 93-225; 3o, p. 245-293) and other scholars have shown that these manuscripts of the Parthian epoch were written in the Parthian language and only in the second half of the Sasanian period they were translated into the Middle Persian (MP) language. One can suppose that the literary life of the epoch in question was not cut off the cultural life of Merv -the largest city in Central Asia of that time.
Cultural life of Iranian and Central Asian peoples under the Sasanids was very different from that under the Achaemenids and Parthians. Because of the serious ideological differences between the Byzantine and the Sasanian Empire, the Sasanian kings paid great attention to religious matters in their own state. For example, as soon as Christianity was proclaimed, the official state religion in Byzantium in the IV century Zoroastrianism got the same status in the Sasanian Iran. However, unlike Christianity which had fully elaborated and canonized its Holy Books, Avesta at that period had not been codified and officially confirmed. That's why by order of the king several high priests (Arda Viraz, Katir, Aturpad Maraspandan, Veh Shapur) were working at canonizing Avesta. While during much longer period under the Achaemenids and Parthians only one name - Tansar - is known to be connected with the same task. A Zoroastrian manuscript of the IX century tells that 4 copies of Avesta have been prepared under the guidance Of Veh-Shapur, the high priest of the state under Khusrau I Anushirvan (531-579) and sent to Pars, Media, Parthia and Seistan (10, p.164). A copy of Avesta could have been kept in the library of the Temple of Fire in Merv. In the Sasanian epoch prominent priests were writing books explaining the contents and meaning of the. encyclopedic Avesta. M. Boyce, a well-known. contemporary investigator of Zoroastrianism, writes that interpretation of Avesta gave impetus to the Sasanian scholars towards book reading and writting and stimulated the spread of literacy in Persia in.the.narrow sense of the word (3 1, P. 38).
The spread of Manichaeism and Christianity in the Sasanian state must have had a significant impact upon the book business. The adherents of these religions attached great importance to the written word for they believed it preserved the truth and that's why they were diligently copying their books (I I 0-t P- 1 39). Its was, probably, especially true for Merv which was one of the major centres of Manichaeism and Christianity in the Sasanian state.There was a well organized Manichaean community in Merv during the life of the prophet Mani (died in 276) (19, p-77). The prophet himself was eager to disseminate his teaching in Central Asia and to have his books translated into the Middle Persian (MP) and Parthian languages. Mar Ammo was sent to Parthia to organize there the first Manichaean communities and he made the Parthian language the official language of the eastern Manichaean Church. He is believed to play an outstanding role in the formation and development of Parthian literature in that epoch. W B. Henning ascribes to him the authorship of the most important poetic works written in Parthian and persisted till today. They were written not later than in the second half of the III century and consist of two series of hymns named according to their initial words "Khuvidagman" and "Angad Roshnar@', Mar Ammo was also the one who translated Mani's writings into the Parthian language.
Merv became a centre of Christianity in the East rather early. Fifty years after the death of Mani, Merv was the seat of Nestorian Episcopal Metropoly and the first Merv Metropolitan Ilia started his activity there in 334 (16, P. 1 8). The Bible - the Holy Book of Christians, was probably the first Christian book that appeared on the territory of Central Asia. J. Messina stressed that it may circulate among Christians inhabiting Merv and its environs as early as in the first half of the III century. There are no facts which are at variance with this supposition. Ever growing in numbers the Christian communities with their centres in large cities gave an impetus to further spread of Christian books.
Manichaean and Christian priests used books when carrying out sermons. Missionaries from Merv were sent to the far away parts of Asia, some of them even got to China. Their activity resulted.in translating Manichaean and Christian theological writings into the languages of peoples inhabiting Central Asia (Parthians, Sogdians, ancient Turks) in the pre-Moslim epoch. .Fragments of these books in different scripts were found in the Eastern Turkistan at the beginning of the XX century (38, p.4)
The main factor in developing book business under the Sasanids was establishing contacts of Iranians with their western and eastern neighbours (34, p.245; 359 p.95 1). It is generally accepted that due to the fact that these books were translated into the Syrian and MP languages peoples inhabiting Iran and Central Asia got acquainted with works of Plato, Aristotle, Hippocratus and other scholars. In the same period the population of the area got access to books of Indians and Babylonians. ( 3, P. 32). However, the exact contribution of Merv to these translations is not as yet known. One of the investigators of the Central Asia antiquity D.I.Evarnitaky (without referring to the source of his information) maintains that the works of the above Greek scholars were translated into the Syrian language in Merv by the local Christian scholars ( 28, P. 27).
Medieval Moslim authors noted that Sasanian Merv was a large city which attracted many scholars who came to live and work there. At that period even such cultural centres of Central Asia as Samarkand could not be considered its equal (4, P. 108). Historians mention some outstanding personalities - natives of Merv. Some of them were connected with the book business, others like Barzuy the celebrated translator of the Indian "Panchatantrd' - a book of wisdom - from Sanskrit into MP were writing and translating books. In the middle of the VIII century "Panchatantra" was translated from MP into the Arabic language by the outstanding man of letters Abdallah ibn al-Muqaffd (720-759) and the world knows it under the title "Kalila wa Dimnd' (17, P-38).
A prominent patron of arts and book dealer of his time
Buzurgmihr ibn Bahtagan, a wise vizir of Khusrau I Anushirvan (33 1 - 579),
a famous Sasanian king, was also a native of Merv. According to historian
Abu Bakr ibn Aibek ad-Davadari, a Turkman- Seldjuk by origin, who lived
in Egypt in the XIV century, the name of Buzurgmihr is closely connected
with the most ancient copy of "Oxus-namd' - the heroicepos of the
Turkmens. In this book" Durarut-Tidjak wa Tawarih guraraz - zaman "( "Pearl
from the history of the honoured") claims that the religious leader of
Khorasan Abu al- Rahman ibn Muslim, known as Abu Muslim (died in 755) had
in his treasury a book which was a literary monument of ancient Turks.At
one time it belonged to Buzurgmihr. Professor H. Korogly supposes
that this book was translated into MP and its title was "The World of Ulug
ata Bitigchi" and was the oldest variant of the "Oxus-nama" which did not survive till now and contained the earliest tales and legends of the Oguz Turks - ancestors of the Turkmen people. Under Harun ar-Rashid (763-809) Jebrail Bahtiyashu, a Syrian from Bagdad translated this heroic epos into the Arabic language. Unfortunately there is no information as to from what language it was translated into Arabic and what was the script of the original like. But the fact of translating it into both languages fully corresponds to the traditions of the reign of the last Sasanian kings and first Arab caliphs. According to H. Korogly the translation ofthe "Oxus-nama" in the VI century into MP testifies to the interest of the mighty Sasanians to the culture of ancient Turks. This conclusion fully coincides with the Zoloastrian sources of the III-IX centuries where measures,
undertaken by the Sasanian kings to collect scientific and literary creations of their neighbouring people and to translate them into the MP, are described.
2. Libraries of the Medieval Merv
It was only in the Moslim epoch that Merv
reached its golden age as the capital and centre of science. In this
period Merv played probably the most outstanding role in.the political
life of Central Asia. "Madinat Khorasan" ("Capital of Khorasar@')
is the name given to Merv by Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Faqih,
-an Arab geographer of the IX century (I 2, P. 44 ). Since the very beginning
of the Arab conquest Merv was the administrative, economic and cultural
centre of Central Asia "its position increased its possibilities for development
of science and culture because the treasury of the ruler was the main source
of their existence" (12, p.45). Taking into.consideration the role of Merv
as a political, cultural and. scientific centre, practically all authors
speak very high about it. According to them it excels all other cities
in Central Asia and even in Iran.
Speaking about Merv, they usually add the epithet "shahjan" (beloved by king, king' s soul) ( 16, p. 6 ) and "schahjahan" ( [residence of] the king of the world). Merv is also called the city "on which the world rests" ( 22, p . 1 9 1), mother of "all Iranian cities" (22, P. 196), "cupola of Islam" (16, P.33), "None of other cities can boast of so many prominent people of various standing who were born to it". These are the words of a well-known geographer Yaqut ibn Abdallah ar-Rumi al-Hemavi who lived at the end of the XII and beginning of the XIII century ( 16, p.34).
At the beginning of the Islam period Merv was the seat of the governor of the Khorasan caliphs. V.A. Zhukovsky, a well- known scholar who investigated Merv antiquity, stressed that Merv was the place from which Arabs extended their rule over Turkistan to its farthest corners (I 6, P. IO)
The history of Merv libraries begins with its conquest by Arabs. The author of the "History of Bagdad", a scholar of the ix century, Ahmad Ibn Tahir Taifyr, whose writings according to other scho- lars "were based on the real historical material" (8, P. 1 3), tells that when the last Sasanian king. Yazdigerd III (632-65 1) having escaped from Arabs arrived at Merv, he brought with him a collection of Pahlavi manuscripts from different cities ( 49, p.71). A.. Metz believes these books to be the basis of the famous medieveal libraries of Merv (23, P. 148). According to VV. Bartold the above Pahlavi manuscripts were still in Merv at the beginning of the IX century under the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun (813-833.) but there is no information whether they were in the libraries of this city in the epoch of Yaqut or had disappeared long before the Mongolian invasion (3, P. 19 5).
Unfortunately foreign historians studying Mostim libraries do not pay due attention to IbnTaifLir information ( 33,37,39,40, 43, 45-48). The fact is that Arabs unlike other civilized eastern peoples, Indians and Iranians for example, had no written literature or books in the pre-Islamic period. Even during the life of the Prophet Muhammad and after his death in 632 the Koran was written piecemeal on palm leaves and clay tablets. And in this form it was sent by Muhammad to different rulers with the appeal to adopt Islam. The lack of cheap material to write on - paper, which Arabs did not know - was a limiting factor for recording the Koran texts in the pre-Abbasid period (37, p. 1 57). Besides, in the first period of Islam the written text of the Koran was considered to be not so important, being God's Revelation it had to be learnt by heart. In one of the battles that Arabs were waging for the extension of their religion it happened that people who knew the Holy Texts by heart were killed. So, one of the of the followers of Muhammad, Omar, who later was the second caliph, addressed the first.caliph Abu.Bakr (632-634) with the suggestion to collect all disseminated parts of the Koran and write them down to prevent the loss of the Holy Text. As Muhammad had not mentioned in his will that the Holy Texts must be written down the problem had to be considered. Aftter discussion Omar's suggestion was adopted. The secretary of the Prophet, Zaid ibn Tabit, was entrusted with this task ( 50, P. 1 132). These uncodified copies of the Holy Book belong to the first caliphs - Abu Bakr and Omar. M. Qasimi considers these copies to be the first collection of the written texts of the Koran in the history of Islam.(48, p. 2).
The third caliph Osman (644-656) had a group of scholars working under Zaid ibn Tabit who codified the written texts of the Koran and arranged them in the form of a book. This work was finished in 651 and this copy, according to M.Qasimi, "may be considered the first book in the history of Moslim libraries" ( 43, p.2).
Thus, the Koran in the form of a book appeared in the year when a collection of Pahlavi manuscripts to was brought to Merv which means that the earliest library in the Moslim world was founded in Merv. As for the other countries, the libraries appeared there later under the Omayid dynasty (661-75 I). It is true the rulers of this dynasty were engaged in wars both civil and foreign as well as in the socioeconomic organization of their state and had little possibility for supporting their literary institutions, nevertheless it was under the Omayids that the basis for the future active literary life was created. The time when literary interests of a Moslim were limited by reading the Koran were sinking into oblivion ( 42, p. 1 1 15). The Arab society of this period got acquainted with linguistics (the Arab grammar), religious traditions and history, first translations of scientific writings from.Greek into the Arab language had been undertaken. The Omayid scholar Khalid ibn Yezid played an important role in process and is considered to be the founder of the first Mostim library (43, p-3 ). However, we believe that it was founded later than the Merv library.
In the middle of the VIII century the
rule over the caliphate passed from the Omayids to the Abbasids.
Many rulers of this dynasty were patrons of science and literature and
it had a significant impact upon the cultural life of Merv. Since
the IX century the political role of Merv had increased significantly.
It was connected with the fact that in 808 caliph Harun ar-Rashid (786-809)
sent his second son al-Mdmun to Merv as the governor of Khorasan who later
became a patron of arts and science. His arrival to Merv was welcomed by
a poem in his honour written by po@et Abbas in the New Persian language
( 16, p.23). It testifies to the fict that it was Merv and Khorasan where
the new stage in Persia literature - the classical period - was beginning.
In 813 in Merv al-MainLin assumed the title of caliph. The new ruler
staycd 'Lii i\/Ierv till 817, and during these seven years Merv was the
capital of the vast caliphate stretching from Spain to the borders of China.
The fact that Merv under al-Ma'mun, though not for a long time, was the
official seat of the caliph, was stressed by Abu Rayhan Biruni a scholar
of the IX century (I 2, p. 44). It is quite possible that the epithets
"shahj ar@', "shahjahar@' used together with the name of Merv by almost
all medieval Moslim scholars, were attached to it when it was the capital
of the caliphate. Unfortunately there is no information on the activity
of al-Md mun as a patron of arts while in Merv. However, the period
of his stay in Merv (308-817) and the rule over the caliphate are characterized
by most scientists as the highest peak of the Oriental Renaissance (16,
p.23 ) and had a marked influence on Merv. A well-known geographer
and traveller Abu Abdallah ibn Abu Bakr al-Mukaddasi having visited Merv,
wrote about it in 985: "I believe that the elegance of its citizens and
their manners are the result of the caliph@s (Mdmun) stay here: they all
have adopted Iranian customs starting from servants and up to his courtiers"
(I 2, p. 46). It is quite probable that he started collecting manuscripts
in all spheres of knowledge during his stay in Merv for when al-Mdmun moved
to Bagdad - the new capital of his caliphate - he invited many outstanding
Central Asian scientists to join his court, later they made up the core
of his "Bayt al-Hikmd' ("The House of Wisdom") set up in the capital.
Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khorezmi, Ahmad ibn Kassir al-Fergani, Khalid ibn
Abd al-Malik al-Marverudi, Halash al-Khashib al-Merkezi were among those
scholars. "Most likely it was not by chance that all these great thinkers
of Central Asia - stressed P.G. Bulgakov and B.A..Vakhabova. -
have, gathered in Bagdad where they- were carrying out mathematical and astronomical studies. They were probably invited by al-Mdmun during his reign in Merv and followed him to Bagdad. It could happen only if they were prominent scientists and were known to al-Mdmun in their homeland - Central Asia, while he lived there (I 2, P. 46). It follows that in Merv like in other big cities of the region there were libraries as in the VIII-IX centuries, otherwise it would be difficult to explain the appearance of so many great scientists at the period.
Al-Ma'mun's Academy was the largest book- collection in Bagdad. The outstanding bibliographical work by Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn an-Nadim "The Fihrist" containing the most complete information on books in the Arabic language up to the end of the X century was compiled on the basis of this collection. The contemporary scientists reject the opinion that "Fihrist" was the catalogue of al-Mdmui@s library ( 42, p.24). "There was a large staff of scribes and translators who were engaged in copying and translating Persian, Syrian, Indian and Greek books" (43, p-263) into the Arabic language in the library of al-Mamun. Al-Mdmun like his father Harun ar-Rashid paid great attention to translating Persian books. It can probably be explained by the fact that Persians had great influence on Arabs in their political, scientific and cultural life. The Abbasid caliphs imitated the Persians to a large extent in governing their state. Even their palaces in Bagdad were very much like those of Persians. Many Persians who adopted Islam were in the government service under the Abbasids as well as Zoroastrians - followers of the ancient Iranian religion. In addition to various jobs they had to translate Persian books written in the pre-Islamic period ( 36, p.623; 42, p.3 1). To accomplish this task al-Mamun had to use Pahlavi manuscripts collected in Merv libraries of which he was certain to know having been the governor of Khorasan and later the ruler of the caliphate.
Large medieval libraries of Merv had been established and existed due to the support of the Abbasid caliphs. Since the beginning of the IX century Bagdad, the new capital of the caliphate was setting the example for the whole Moslim world in establishing libraries and schools. Following the example of al-Mdmun, not only caliphs but also rich.people, scholars, religious leaders and government officials considered it their duty to have libraries. Little by little this tradition had acquired the wholesale character and in many cities, including the seats of the rulers of principalities, libraries were set up. These rulers were founders of many libraries in the outlying regions of the empire.
Nothing is known about libraries In Merv in the IX-X centuries except that Yezdgerd III had brought there a collection of Pahlavi manusripts. To be more precise , it is difficult to say anything for sure for lack of concrete information about Merv libraries at that period. But there are indirect proofs of their availability. Under al-Mdmun there were many scholars in Merv, so there should be libraries and they should have been established long before that period. It is quite probable that information on them had not reached us.
Reliable information on libraries in Merv exists since the XI century when it became the residence of the Seljuk sultans. In this period all historical and political events were connected with Merv which was the capital city. That is, if the Arab governors started their campaign in the eastern direction of Merv, the Seljuk rulers carried out their expansion campaigns in the south-western direction also from Merv. In the second half of the XI century all countries of the South-Western Asia up to the Mediterranean Sea were conquered by the Seljuks. An outstanding scholar, Nizam al-Mulk Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Ishak at-Tusi (1 0 17-1092) a.vizir of the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan (I 063-1072) played a very important role in these events. He was the author of "Siyasat-nama" ("Book about How to Rule a State"). The main idea of this book was consolidation of people under Islam through the orthodox teaching carried out by madrassahs and incorporating this idea into the ruling authorities and literate part of society (46, p. 127).
To accomplish his idea Nizam al-Mulk began setting
up schools (madrassahs) with the libraries under the traditional name "Nizamiyd'
all over the Seljuk empire. "Nizamiyas" were visited by and there
worked many outstanding scholars of that time. VA. Zhukovsky characterized
the educational activity of Nizam al-Mulk in the following words: " ...one
of the greatest personalities in the Moslim East. His house was always
full of scholars, law-makers and philanthropists. In his constant
care for education, he set up schools and seminaries in Isfahan, Nishapur,
Herat, Balkh and Bagdad. Academies there were called 'Nizamiya' in
his honOLir. He spent a lot of money on establishing 'nurseries'
of science and knowledge in various spheres, his activity in this direction
extended to Merv where he started his official career" (16, p.28). In 1064
in Merv, Nizaiii al-Mulk becai-ne a vizir of the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslaii
and in the following year he set up a colle@,e witli a library Linder the
"Nizaiiiiy,.@' in Bagdad, conquered by Seljuks in 1055. Ttits "Nizaiiily@t" was one of the four large libraries in this city in the Middle Ages and due to ample financing of it by its founder it excelled all others. "Nizamiya" maintaned this status during three and a half centuries since the moment of its foundation in 1065. It is believed to be destroyed by the troops of Timur at the beginning of the X-V century during his seven-year campaign in South-Western Asia ( 43, P. 296).
This Seljuk vizir founded "Nizamiya" of the same kind in Merv too, the exact time of its foundation is not known. But considering that Nizam al-Mulk started his career in Merv, it is quite possible that this college with a library was one of the first among the same colleges founded by him in other cities. It is quite probable that the Merv "Nizamiya" was in no way inferior to that in Bagdad. B.Yaqut who worked in both libraries, spoke highly about the collection of manuscripts in Merv libraries. One of the sources of obtaining the most rare manuscripts for the libraries were gifts of statesmen and scholars ( 23, P 15 I). Medj al-Mulk al-Balasani, a contemporary of Nizam al-mulk, had also founded a library in Merv. The founder of this library is known to be a grandee at the court of sultan Melikshah. According to historian Ibn al-Asir (22, p.373-380) during the controversy between sultan Melikshah and Nizam al-Mulk at the end of their lives (both were killed in 1092) Medj al-Mulk al-Balasani acted as an emissary in the talks between these two leaders of states.
In the XI century in Merv there was one more library, founded by Sheref al-Mulk Abu Said Muhammad ibn Mansur. The abbreviated form of his,name is Bu Mansur Mustaufl (pseudonym "mustaufi" means treasurer). According to Abu'l-Fazi Bayhaqi (1, p.348,510, 643-, 800-803 ) and Yaqut (22, P. 434 ) he was a well-known dignitary at the court of the Gaznevids and lived a long life. As a young man he served at the court of the mighty sultan Mahmud (999.1030) and then he served his son Mas'ud (1 030-1040) as the treasuerer. Sheref al-Mulk ibn Mansur died in I 1 00. His library in Merv was probably founded in the first half of the XI century, that is earlier than those of Nizam al-Mulk and Medj al-Mulk.
Merv reached its golden age in the XI century
when it was the capital of the mighty Seljuk sultan Sanjar (I 1 18-1157).
V.A. Zhukovsky calls this statesman the Alexander Macedonian of Khorasan
(I 6, p.29). Under Sanjar the scientific and cultural life of the capital
city had become active; new libraries were set up. There is reliable
information about some of them. "Aziziyd'library was founded in the
first half of the XII century. Its founder was Aziz ad-Din Abu Bakr
Atik az-Zinjani, favourite of sultan Sanjar( 47, p.226 ) two other libraries
were set up by the prominent Merv scholar Abu Said Abdulkerim ibn Muhammad
as- Samani - the author of the eight-volume "Book of Pedigrees" ("Kitab
al-Ansab"). As-Samani wrote also the history of Merv
which did not survive till our time ( 22, P. 434). V.V Bartold said that the "Book of Pedigrees" by as-Samani is "of great importance for the Medieval geography and was one of the main sources for Yaqut's writings
(5, P. 8 1).
In the XII century in Merv there were other libraries called. "Amidiya", "Khatuniya" and "Duiiiairiyd'but nothing is known either about the time of their establishment or people who founded them. One can only suppose that they were also established by representatives of local aristocracy - dignitaries, scholars, or religious leaders. It was a tradition in the epoch of flourishing Moslim education and science IX-XI
Since the middle of the XII century, i.e. after
the death of sultan Sanjar in I 1 57 when Merv ceased to be the capital
and the rise of the new dynasty of Khorezmshahs began, there is no information
on establishment of new libraries there. On the contrary, some authors
wrote about destruction of libraries by the Oguz -Turkmens. The fact
of destruction of libraries in Nishapur is mentioned by Ibn al-Asir (22.
P. 391, 399). Some scientists believe that the Oguz -Turkmens destroyed
libraries in Merv too. 0. Pinto enumerating Merv libraries, mentioned also
those which were supposed to be burnt by the Oguz -Turkmens in II 53 (
47, p.226 ). That year the Oguz- Turkmens plundered Merv twice ( in summer
and autumn ) and captured sultan Sanjar himself. However, none of
the Medieval scholars mentiones the fact of burning Merv libraries by the
Turkmens. So O. Pinto's words seem to be contrary to the facts. Besides,
the Turkmens who adopted Islam in the second half of the X century (1,
P. 352), having plundered the city and its inhabitants, could not however
have infringed upon the Moslim sacred
things- mosques and madrassahs to which libraries were attached. Furthermore, the same ibn al-Asir who wrote about destruction of Nishapur libraries by the Oguz -Turkmens, said nothing about their burning libraries in Merv. On the contrary, he states that having conquered Merv in I 1 57, the Oguz were ruling it very well and "respected scholars and imams like Taj ad-Din Abu Said as-Samani, Sheikh al-Islam Ali al-Balkhi and others ( 22, P. 394 ).
Besides, Yaqut who visited Merv in 1216, 63
years after its plunder by the Oguz and lived there for three years (up
to 1219), working in its libraries, appreciated them so much that it is
impossible to believe that they were destroyed not so long ago. All libraries
which were established in this city in X-XII centuries were still functioning
at the beginning of the XIII century. Here is what Yaqut wrote about his
visit to Merv: " I left (Merv) in 616 (= 1219) when it was
in its best state. There are two mosques in Merv; Hanafite and Shafiite.
surrounded by a common fence. I stayed there for three years and did not find there any flaw other than one which causes grief to the inhabitants - Medina worm. They are suffering from this worm very much every year. There is practically no person who managed to escape it. If it were not for the Tatar invasion of these states and their destructior,. I would have never left it (Merv) till my death because of the courteousness, gentleness and politeness of its citizens and because there were a lot of books on fundamental sciences. )men I was leaving it there were ten libraries - vakfs - there. Nowhere in the world have I seen anything equal to them in the number and perfection. Two of the libraries are attached to the central mosque, one is called Aziziya, it was the contribution of a man Aziz ad-Din Abu Bakr Atik az-Zinjani or Atik ibn Abu Bakr by name. He was the fukkai of sultan Sanjar. At the beginning of this career he was selling fruits and aromatic herbs at the Merv market. Then he became the fukkdi (of the sultan) and was honoured by him. In this library there are 12000 books or so. The other is called Kemaliya. I do not know where this name has come from. There (in Merv) is the library of Sheref al-Mulk mustaufi Abu Said Muhammad ibn Mansur in his madrassah. This mustauft died in 494 (I I 00); he belonged to the Hanafite Sect. (At the same place) there is the library of Nizam al-Mulk al-Hasan ibn Ishak at his madrassah. And there are two libraries which belong to (the family of) as- Samani, and another library at the Amidiya madrassah and the library of Mej al-Mulk, one the vizirs of the later time. There is
also the library Khatuniya in the madrassah (of the same name) and Dumairiya in the same khanaqah there. It was easy to obtain from it: without leaving my house 200 books and more (taken from it) without any security (it seems our contemporary readers have much to learn from the Medieval libraries - A. Ya.) and their value was 200 dinars. I enjoyed my stay there and learn a lot of useful things. And my love (of books) made me forget all other cities. Books diverted my attention from my family and children. Most of what is useful in this book (Yaqut means his book "Mu'jam al-Buldan". - A.Ya.) and others which I wrote (comes) from these libraries ( 22, p. 434 ).
Famous libraries of Merv detained Yaqut for three years
there. It was in Merv in 1218 where he had the idea of writing his
well-known book on geography "Mu'jam al-Buldar@' ("Alphabetical List of
Towns") which, according to O.Yu. Krachkovsky, is a "Summary of treasures,
accumulated by Arab literature during six centuries" ("Selected works".
- M., 1975, vol.4-p. 339). Yaqut planned to stay in Merv for ever.
However, during his short trip to Khorezm (Urgench) he learnt about the
Mongol invasion of Central Asia and about.their capture of Bukhara.and
Samarkand. In 1219 Yaqut was obliged to leave Merv because wild Mongol
hordes were moving to the city from the East. Before their invasion
of Khorasan, they captured Balkh and killed all its citizens. Mutugan,
the son of Chagatay and beloved grandson of Chingiz-khan was killed in
the battle. It infuriated
Chingiz and he sent his yonger son Tului to Khorasan with the order "not to spare anyone and kill everybody - from a child in its cradle to a centenariai@' (16, p.65). The death of his son-in-law in the battle at Nishapur in Khorasan infuriated Chingiz- khan even greater. When Mongols besieged Merv, the city could not defend itself, because of the controversy among its dignitaries and treachery of some of its clergy and nobility. In spite of the fact that citizens of Merv and of its environs were fighting bravely, the city was conquered and "for its resistance - wrote V.V. Bartold - Merv had to pay much heavier toll than Samarkand and Bukhara (I 1, p. 1 50). And there is no exaggeration in these words. M.E.Masson stressed that "archaeological excavations confirmed information of Medieval authors about terrible devastation of Merv by the Mongol troops having unearthed its visible traces ( 20, p. 16
Merv could never recover from that terrible disaster. The words of B. Brown, a well-known Western Orientalist, refer to the fatal lot of Merv and other Moslim cities when he wrote:" Losses of science which never attained its previous level cannot be described and are greater than it can be imagined: not only thousands of priceless manuscripts had been totally destroyed but the tradition of scholarship itself.. was almost totally ruined, because many learned men either were killed or had to flee to save their lives ( 32, p. 46 ).
2. Cultural Life of Merv in the YJII- XIX Centuries
At the beginning of the X-V century sultan Shahrukh,
the son of Timur, being appointed the governor of Khorasan, built Merv
anew ( the site Abdulla- khan- kala ) and life in the city was reviving
little by little, some religious and other social buildings were erected
there. But the XV century was the beginning of decline of scientific
and cultural life in the cities of Central Asia. The cause of it
was the struggle between the supporters of the bookish theology and Moslim
learning on the one side, and mystical, dervish ( sufi ) teaching. on the
other. The former was headed by Ulugbek, representatives of the orthodox
faith (sheikh ul- Islams) and aristocracy while Khoja Ahrar ( Nasir ad-
Din Ubaydallah), a rich landlord, leader of the dervishes and a Fierce
foe of the bookish learning, was at the head of the latter. The assassination
of Ulugbek In 1449 - great scientist and
statesman of the epoch who had fallen a prey of fanatics, supporters of Khodja Ahrar, was the climax of this struggle. After Ulugbeles assassination, his famous astronomical laboratory was closed (6, p. 138). And two years later Khodja Ahrar became the real ruler of the country and was ruling it during forty years through "substitutes who were real or feint descendants of Timur" (7, p.8).The transfer of the power to a reactionary ruler affected severely the cultural life of the country. If there is some reliable information about a large scientific library in Samarkand while Ulugbek was ruling there ( 6, p. 122), nothing is known about it in the period that followed. "The victory of dervishes - wrote V.V. Bartold- was the victory of barbarity over culture, Khoja Ahrar was nicknamed "a village sheikh' in Samarkand, his supporters were enemies of any bookish learning and
theology as well" (7, p.8 ). Merv in the XV century and later was raising from ashes and developed according to the tendencies existing at that time. And like other large cities of Central Asia in X-V-XIX centuries it could not boast any longer about its numerous rich libraries.
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Dr. Almaz Yazberdiyev
Director of the Library of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat