Prehistory - 17th Century AD

Prehistoric Period

Early man in Afghanistan settled on terraces along the river in caves and rock shelters. Lower Paleolithic Quartzite tools dating back to more than 100,000 years ago were found Dasht-e-Nawor, west of Ghazni in central part of Afghanistan. Other sites include caves along the northern Hindu Kush mountains in Darra-e Dadil (near Darra-e Suf in Samangan province) Hazara Sum (near Aibak in Samangan province), and Qara Kamar (near Khulm to the east of Mazar-e-Sharif). Evidence of these early colonies is found in Darra-e-Dur, far from Kishm, Badakhshan, whose stone tools date back to ca. 50,000 years ago and flint tools from Aq Kuprok (south of Balkh) to ca. 20,000-15,000.

As the settler populations grew, they relocated to the warmer plains, forming tiny villages, and began to domesticate animals. Excavated bone and stone implements, hand pottery and human burials indicate domestication of wild sheep and goats and other animals.

Bronze Age
The Bronze Age saw a rise of village and urban communities with trade links to the Indus Valley, Central Asia, Iran and Mesopotamia. Sites belonging to this period are scattered throughout southern, northern, eastern and northeastern parts.

Historical References
There are two historical pieces with references to early Afghanistan:
1) Reg Veda -- A Hindu Scripture estimated to be compiled between 1000-1,500 BC, and;
2) Avesta -- The religious book of Zoroastrianism, a religion started by Zoroaster (Zarathustra) around 600 BC in northern Afghanistan.



  • Zarathustra (Zoroaster) introduces a new monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism, in Balkh. The founder is said to have been killed during a nomadic invasion from Central Asia near Balkh in 522 BC.

522-330 BC

  • Achaemenid conquests begin into western and northern Afghanistan. King Vishtaspa and Queen Hutaosa's son Darius also known as the Great, expands and rules over a vast empire. The Queen had converted to Zoroastrianism in 556 BC.

336-323 BC

  • The Achaemenid ruler Darius III is defeated by Alexander the Great, who now rules over parts of Afghanistan. His order of conquest was: Herat, Seistan, Helmand, Qandahar, Kabul, Charikar, Balkh, Samarkand and India (325 BC through the Khyber Pass).

327 BC

  • Ai Khanum, a grand Hellenic urban sprawl on the banks of the Oxus River (Amu Darya), is founded.

323 BC

  • After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the empire is ruled by Alexander's numerous generals. His lieutenant Antigonos Monopthalmos governs northern Afghanistan. The Greco-Bactrian Era, also known as the Hellenic period, lasts for 250 years.

305 BC

  • Seleucids from Mesopotamia take control of Bactria; Mauryans from present-day India take control of Gandhara, extending south of Hindukush from Kabul to Kandahar and Laghman.

250 BC

  • Local Bactrian rulers gain independence from Seleucids and move south.

238 BC

  • Diodotus declares Bactria's independence, where Greek culture thrives.

180 BC

  • Demetrius, nephew of Diodotus, conquers Gandhara again.

135 BC

  • Central Asian nomads invade northern Afghanistan.

100 BC

  • Ai Khanum begins to decline.

50 BC

  • Last Bactrian King yields to the nomads who have joined the Kushans.

50-130 AD

  • Kushans gain control of most of Afghanistan and end the Greco-Bactrian period. Kushan expansion extends from Ganges Valley to Gobi Desert under the leadership of Kanishka. There emerges the Silk Road trading link extending from Rome to China through Balkh. Buddhism begins to revive in India and moves to Central Asia through Afghanistan. This is also a golden period of Buddhist sculpture, representing Buddha in human form.


  • The Sassanid Dynasty begins to extend over present-day Afghanistan, marking the decline of the Kushan Dynasty.


  • The Hephtalite Dynasty, also known as the White Huns, emerges from Central Asia and establishes itself in the northern Hindu Kush region of Takhar. The new dynasty gains control over the majority of present day Afghanistan by 425.


  • The Sassanids merge with Western Turks to defeat the Hephtalites. The Hephtalite rulers now serve as satraps of the new rulers over Buddhist and Hindu parts of Afghanistan.


  • Chinese scholar monk Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) visits Afghanistan and is overwhelmed by his observations in Bamyan.


  • Muslim armies of Arab origin conquer the Sassanid Empire during the reign of the second Caliph of Islam, Omar ibn al-Khattab (634-644).


  • Western parts of Afghanistan accept the Islamic faith while many parts are ruled by independent princes.


  • Silla monk Hui Chao visits Bamyan and writes that it still is a Buddhist city. The conversion to Islam occurs during the reign of Abbasid caliphate of al-Mansur (754-775).


  • The first quasi-independent Muslim Dynasty is established in western Afghanistan.


  • The Saffarid Dynasty with its capital at Nimroz gains control over territory that includes most of present day Afghanistan, expelling the Hindu Shahi of Kabul.


  • The Samanid Empire with its capital at Bokhara emerges victorious by defeating the Saffarid forces in Balkh and extends authority over Afghanistan. While Baghdad during this period serves as the intellectual capital of Islam, the Samanid Empire in Balkh and Samarkand witnesses the rise of Persian scholarly endeavors, eventually emerging as a match in art and learning.


  • The Ghaznavid dynasty is founded in the province of Ghazni which breaks away from the Samanid rulers of Bukhara.


  • The Ghaznavid Empire flourishes under the leadership of Sultan Mahmood (998-1030), who defeats Abu Nasr Samani in 1001 and launches several successful military expeditions in India. Eventually his Empire extends from the Caspian Sea to Banares in India. It is said that some 900 scholars served in the court of Sultan Mahmood, among them al-Biruni, Firdausi and al-Utbi.


  • Seljuks from Central Asia reduce the control of the Ghaznavids to Ghazni only.


  • The Ghorid Dynasty is founded by Allaudin Ghori (also known as Jahansooz). Alaudin defeats Bahram Shah Ghaznawi and eventually destroys Ghazni in 1151.


  • Ghiyasuddin Ghori establishes his rule and builds monuments such as the Minaret of Jam and the Great Mosque of Herat, which depict the artistic sophistication of the Ghorids. He dies in 1202.


  • Khwarazm Shah consolidates power and brings an end to the Ghorid Dynasty.


  • Genghis Khan declares war against Kawarazm Shah and conquers Afghanistan with his 200,000-strong army, killing most inhabitants and destroying cities such as Shahr-e-Zohak and Shahr-e-Gholghola and silted canals. Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi (known as Rumi), who later becomes a great Muslim theologian and Sufi Master leaves Afghanistan around 1215-1220 due to the invasion.


  • Marco Polo travels through Afghanistan.


  • New rulers in Herat known as Kart Maliks gain independence from the Mongols.


  • Tamerlane of Timurid Empire rules from Samarkand.


  • Shah Rukh, son of Tamerlane establishes a vast empire, which stretches from the present-day Iraq to the western China with its capital in Herat. He dies in 1447.


  • Herat reaches its cultural zenith under Sultan Hussain Ba-yaqra who dies in 1506.


  • A union of Uzbek chieftains captures Herat, marking the demise of the Timurid Empire.


17th Century

  • Babur, founder of Moghul Dynasty and of matrilineal lineage from Genghis Khan and patrilineal lineage from Tamerlane captures Kabul. Afghanistan becomes a competing ground between the Safavid (1501-1732) and Moghul (1526-1739) Dynasties, western and southern parts (Herat and Kandahar) ruled by the former and eastern parts (Kabul) ruled by the latter.