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(Ar. Šāš), the name of a district and of a town in medieval Transoxania; the name of the town was gradually supplanted by that of Tashkent from late Saljuq and Mongol times onwards.

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Volume IV, Fascicle 6, pp. 604-605

ČĀČ (Ar. Šāš), the name of a district and of a town in medieval Transoxania; the name of the town was gradually supplanted by that of Tashkent (q.v.) from late Saljuq and Mongol times onwards.

The pre-Mongol period. The province of Čāč lay on the right bank of the Syr Darya or Jaxartes, with those of Īlāq to its south and of Asfījāb to its north, and through it ran the right-bank affluent of the Syr Darya, the Parak/Barak or Chirchik river (the name nahr al-Šāš was however, reserved in early Islamic times for the course of the Syr Darya itself after it had received various tributaries running down from the mountains, see Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. Minorsky, p. 73).

A settlement in the Chirchik oasis existed in pre-Islamic times. In his inscription on the Kaʿba-ye Zardošt at Naqš-e Rostam Šāpūr I lists Čāč (Parth. šʾšs[tn?], Gk. Tsatsenes) as the furthermost limit of the empire to the northeast (Maricq, pp. 306-7, 336-37). In Chinese sources of the T’ang period, we have Ši and Čeče for Čāč, and the Buddhist pilgrim Hsüan-Tsang visited it in the early 7th century (Bretschneider, II, pp. 55-56). In Sogdian script the form cʾcnʾy is attested (Henning, pp. 8-9). In the accounts of the Arab conquests in Transoxania in the early 2nd/8th century by Qotayba b. Moslem, there is mentioned a local ruler (malek) of Šāš (whether this man was Turkish or Iranian is unknown) with his capital at the otherwise unidentified town of Ṭārband (Balāḏorī, Fotūḥ, p. 421; Ṭabarī, II, pp. 1517, 1521; cf. Gibb, pp. 49, 51, and Grousset, p. 166). There were, in fact, several towns in the province, the most significant of which were Banākaṯ on the Syr Darya itself and Benkaṯ, two farsaḵs away, normally described in the Islamic geographical literature of the 4th/10th century as the capital of the province and possibly lying on the site of the later, and modern, Tashkent (see Maqdesī [Moqaddasī], p. 276, and Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. p. 118: Benkaṯ the qaṣaba of Šāš/Čāč; also mentioned ibid., p. 117, is Jabḡūkaṯ described as formerly the military camp of Čāč, and this name, obviously containing the ancient Turkish tribal title Yabḡu, points to a strong Turkish presence in the region by this time).

Like Asfījāb, Čāč was in the first Islamic centuries regarded as a frontier region protecting the dār al-Eslām against the pagan Turks, and as in several other parts of Central Asia and the region to the southeast of the Caspian Sea, there existed there a protective rampart and ditch against the steppe dwellers, possibly built by the son of the ʿAbbasid governor of Khorasan Ḥomayd b. Qaḥṭaba (see Ebn Ḥawqal, ed. Kramers, p. 509, tr. Kramers, p. 486; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 172-73). A local ruler of Čāč and his Turkish followers joined the rebellion of Rāfeʿ b. Layṯ against Hārūn al-Rašīd (Ṭabarī, III, p. 712), but later in the 3rd/9th century Čāč fell within the dominions of the Samanids, and one of the early members of the family, Yaḥyā b. Asad, was granted the governorship of Čāč as early as 204/819 by the governor of Khorasan Ḡassān b. ʿAbbād (Ebn al-Aṯīr, ed. Tornberg, VII, p. 192; cf. Naršaḵī, ed. Modarres Rażawī, pp. 90-91, tr. Frye, pp. 76-77). Public works were then undertaken there, such as the restoring of a canal which had silted up, for which the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem grudgingly contributed a substantial sum (Ṭabarī, III, p. 1326, tr. Marin, p. 129, and ʿAwfī, quoted in Barthold, op. cit., p. 212).

The classical Islamic geographers describe the province as fertile, populous and agriculturally prosperous, and its chief town Benkaṯ as a town with the classical division of a madīna with a citadel (qalʿa) and Friday mosque, an inner suburb (rabaż) and an outer one, all surrounded by walls; the inhabitants were bellicose frontier fighters; and the specialties of the region included bows and arrows made of ḵadang (birch?) wood and saddles of shagreen (kīmaḵt) hide (Maqdesī [Moqaddasī], pp. 276-77, 325; Ebn Ḥawqal, pp. 507-9, tr. pp. 485-87; Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, tr. pp. 117-18, comm. p. 357; Yāqūt, Boldān, Beirut, III, pp. 308-9; Le Strange, Lands, pp. 480-83; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 168-75; for kīmaḵt/kīmoḵt see Zeki Validi Togan, pp. 122-24).

It is in the 5th/11th century that the name for Čāč of Tashkent first appears in the India of Bīrūnī (ed. Sachau, p. 149, tr. I, p. 298), where the Khwarazmian scholar quotes the etymology of Turkish taš plus Iranian kand, lit. “stone city,” and identifies it with the “stone fortified town,” lithos pyrgos, of Ptolemy’s Geography (cf. Marquart, Ērānšahr, p. 155); but Minorsky much more plausibly saw in the first element a dissimilated form of čāč (Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, comm., p. 357). It is in the later 5th/11th century and the 6th/12th century that coins, formerly in large part minted simply at Šāš (i.e., Benkaṯ), begin to be minted at Banākaṯ (Zambaur, pp. 79, 80, 156-57), and it may well be that, by this period, with the florescence of the Qarakhanids and Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, Banākaṯ had eclipsed Benkaṯ in importance; it is the former alone which is mentioned in the Mongols’ attack on Čāč (Jovaynī, tr. Boyle, I, pp. 91-92), but it was to be Tashkent which, under the Great Khans and then the Chaghatayids, was to have the greater fame.


E. E. Barthold, “Tashkent,” in EI1. Bol’shaya sovetskaya èntsiklopediya, 3rd ed., XXV, p. 307; Eng. tr. XXV, p. 393.

Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb taḥqīq mā le’l-Hend men maqbūl le’l-ʿaql aw marḏūla, ed. E. C. Sachau, London, 1887; tr. E. C. Sachau, Alberuni’s India, 2 vols., London, 1920.

E. Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources, London, 1910.

H. A. R. Gibb, The Arab Conquests in Central Asia, London, 1923.

R. Grousset, L’empire des steppes, 4th ed., Paris, 1952.

W. B. Henning, Sogdica, James G. Forlong Fund 21, London, 1940; repr. in Selected Papers II, Acta Iranica 15, pp. 1-68.

A. Maricq, “Res Gestae Divi Saporis,” Syria 35, 1958, pp. 295-360; repr. in Classica et Orientalia, Paris, 1965, pp. 37-101.

A. Zeki Validi Togan, Ibn Faḍlān’s Reisebericht, Leipzig, 1939.

E. von Zambaur, Die Münzprägungen des Islams, zeitlich und örtlich geordnet I, Wiesbaden, 1968.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “ČĀČ”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 22 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_7224>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 19901215

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