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Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Bactrian projects

Research in a lost Iranian language

Bactrian belongs to the Iranian sub-branch of the Indo-European family.

Originating in what is now northern Afghanistan, it was adopted as the official language of the Kushan empire by Kanishka the Great in about 120 AD and thus came to be widely used throughout Afghanistan, northern India and Central Asia, surviving as a written language up to early Islamic times (8th-9th centuries AD). Ten years ago this language was virtually unknown but the recent discovery of some 150 Bactrian documents has made it possible to decipher the Bactrian cursive script, to analyse the structure of the language and to compare it systematically with other Middle Iranian languages.

Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams has achieved a remarkable success in securing external funding for a succession of research projects on Bactrian. These will explore the new documentation for the light it can shed on a little-known period of Central Asian history and culture. See the menu on the left for further details