What Was Afghanistan Called in Ancient Times?

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in South Asia, has a rich and complex history that dates back thousands of years. It has been home to many different civilizations, each leaving behind their unique cultural legacy.

But what was Afghanistan called in ancient times? Let’s take a closer look.

The Land of Aryans

The first recorded name of Afghanistan was “Aryana,” which means “the Land of Aryans.” This name was given by the ancient Indo-Iranian people who migrated to the region around 2000 BCE. The term “Aryan” referred to a group of people who spoke Indo-European languages and shared a common culture.


In the 6th century BCE, the region came under the control of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and it was then known as “Gandhara.” The name is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit word “gandha,” which means fragrance or perfume. Gandhara was an important center of Buddhism and Hinduism and is famous for its Greco-Buddhist art.


In the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great invaded Afghanistan and founded several cities, including Kandahar and Herat. The region then became known as “Bactria,” named after its capital city, Bactra (modern-day Balkh). Bactria remained a Hellenistic kingdom until it was conquered by nomadic tribes in the 1st century CE.

The Kushan Empire

In the 1st century CE, Afghanistan became part of the powerful Kushan Empire, which controlled much of Central Asia and northern India. The Kushans were known for their artistic achievements, especially in sculpture and coinage. They also played an important role in spreading Buddhism throughout Asia.

The Islamic Conquest

In the 7th century CE, Arab armies led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s companions invaded Afghanistan and brought Islam to the region. The country then became known as “Khorasan,” which means “the Land of the Rising Sun” in Persian. Khorasan was an important center of Islamic learning and culture and remained so throughout the medieval period.

The Timurid Empire

In the 14th century CE, Afghanistan came under the control of the Timurid Empire, founded by Timur (Tamerlane), a Turkic-Mongol conqueror. The Timurids were known for their patronage of art and literature, especially poetry. Herat, a city in western Afghanistan, became a center of Timurid culture and a hub for artists, scholars, and poets.

The Modern Era

During the colonial period, Afghanistan was known as a buffer state between British India and Russian Central Asia. In 1919, Afghanistan gained independence from Britain after years of struggle. Since then, Afghanistan has gone through many political upheavals, including communist rule in the 1970s and a long-running war with Soviet Union forces in the 1980s.


In conclusion, Afghanistan has been known by many different names throughout its long history. From Aryana to Khorasan to modern-day Afghanistan, this land has seen many civilizations rise and fall. Despite its tumultuous past and present, it remains a land of great cultural richness and diversity.