Bactrian Documents and Archives from Northern and Southern Afghanistan


Nicholas Sims- Williams


February 8, 2024


Numerous documents in Bactrian dating from the 4th-8th century CE have emerged since the early 1990s. They include letters, legal contracts and economic documents, mostly written on parchment; some of the latest documents are associated with a group of Arabic legal documents and tax receipts. Although there is no reliable information about where the documents were found, the majority can be shown from internal evidence to have been written in various parts of Northern Afghanistan. Very recently, a further collection of 4th-century Bactrian letters has come to light. These are written on birch-bark and almost certainly come from somewhere to the south of the Hindukush. In this paper I shall describe these two groups of documents and discuss the question whether either can be considered as constituting a single archive.



Nicholas Sims-Williams is Emeritus Professor of Iranian and Central Asian Studies at SOAS University of London. He has published many books and articles on Middle Iranian texts and languages, including three volumes of Bactrian documents from Northern Afghanistan.