The northwest of the Indian subcontinent, which now constitutes Pakistan, lies athwart the historic invasion routes through the Khyber, Gumal, and Bolan passes from central Asia to the heartland of India, and for thousands of years invaders and adventurers swept down upon the settlements there. The Indus valley civilization, which flourished from c.2600b.c. to c.1900 b.c., was one of the region's earliest civilizations. The Aryans, who surpassed the Indus, were followed by the Persians of the Achaemenid empire, who by c.500 b.c. reached the Indus River. Alexander the Great, conqueror of the Persian empire, invaded the Punjab in 326 b.c. The Seleucid empire, heir to Alexander's Indian conquest, was checked by the Mauryas, who by 305 b.c. occupied the Indus plain and much of Afghanistan.
After the fall of the Mauryas (2d cent. b.c.) the Indo-Greek Bactrian kingdom rose to power, but was in turn overrun (c.97 b.c.) by Scythian nomads called Saka and then by the Parthians (c.a.d. 7). The Parthians, of Persian stock, were replaced by the Kushans; the Kushan Kanishka ruled (2d cent. a.d.) all of what is now Pakistan from his capital at Peshawar. In 712, the Muslim Arabs appeared in force and conquered Sind, and by 900 they controlled most of NW India. They were followed by the Ghaznavid and Ghorid Turks. The first Turki invaders reached Bengal c.1200 and an important Muslim center was established there, principally through conversion of the Hindus. Although the northeast of the Indian subcontinent (now Bangladesh) remained, with interruptions, part of a united Mughal empire in India from the early 16th cent. to 1857, the northwest changed hands many times before it became (1857) part of imperial British India. It was overrun by Persians in the late 1730s; by the Afghans, who held Sind and the Punjab during the latter half of the 18th cent.; and by the Sikhs, who rose to power in the Punjab under Ranjit Singh (1780–1839).
Sections in this article:
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Pakistan and Bangladesh Political Geography