The first people known to inhabit the Central Asian region of modern-day Uzbekistan were Iranian nomads who arrived from the northern grasslands of what is now Kazakhstan sometime in the first millennium BC. These nomads, who spoke Iranian dialects, settled in Central Asia and began to build an extensive irrigation system along the rivers of the region. At this time, cities such as Bukhoro (Bukhara), Samarqand (Samarkand) and Chash (Tashkent) began to appear as centres of emerging government and high culture. By the 5th century BC, the Bactrian, Soghdian, and Tokharian states dominated and ruled over the region.
As China began to develop its silk trade with the West, Iranian cities took advantage of this commerce by becoming centres of trade. Using an extensive network of cities and rural settlements in the province of Mouwaurannahr (a name given the region after the Arab conquest) in Uzbekistan, and further east in what is today China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Soghdian intermediaries became the wealthiest of these Iranian merchants. As a result of this trade on what became known as the Silk Route, Bukhoro and Samarqand eventually became extremely wealthy cities, and at the time Transoxiana (Mawarannahr) was one of the largest, most influential and powerful Persian provinces of antiquity.
Russian troops taking Samarkand in 1868.
Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great conquered Sogdiana and Bactria in 327 BC, marrying Roxana, daughter of a local Bactrian chieftain. A conquest was supposedly of little help to Alexander as popular resistance was fierce, causing Alexander’s army to be bogged down in the region that became the northern part of the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. For many centuries the region of Uzbekistan was ruled by the Persian empires, including the Parthian and Sassanid Empires, as well as by other empires, for example those formed by the Turkic Hephthalite and Gokturk peoples.
In the 8th century Transoxiana, the territory between the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers, was conquered by the Arabs (Ali ibn Sattor) who enriched the region with the Early Renaissance. Many notable scientists lived there and contributed to its development during the Islamic Golden Age. Among the achievements of the scholars during this period were the development of trigonometry into its modern form (simplifying its practical application to calculate the phases of the moon), advances in optics, in astronomy, as well as in poetry, philosophy, art, calligraphy and many others, which set the foundation for the Muslim Renaissance.
In the 9th to 10th centuries, Transoxiana was included into the Samanid State. Later, Transoxiana saw the incursion of the Turkic-ruled Karakhanids, as well as the Seljuks (Sultan Sanjar) and Kara-Khitans.
The Mongol conquest under Genghis Khan during the 13th century would bring about a change to the region. The Mongol invasion of Central Asia led to the displacement of some of the Iranian-speaking people of the region, their culture and heritage being superseded by that of the Mongolian-Turkic peoples who came thereafter. The invasions of Bukhara, Samarkand, Urgench and others resulted in mass murders and unprecedented destruction, such as portions of Khwarezmia being completely razed.
Following the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, his empire was divided among his four sons and his family members. Despite the potential for serious fragmentation, the Mongol law of the Mongol Empire maintained orderly succession for several more generations, and control of most of Transoxiana stayed in the hands of the direct descendants of Chagatai Khan, the second son of Genghis Khan. Orderly succession, prosperity, and internal peace prevailed in the Chaghatai lands, and the Mongol Empire as a whole remained a strong and united kingdom. (Ulus Batiy, Sattarkhan)
In the early 14th century, however, as the empire began to break up into its constituent parts. The Chaghatai territory was disrupted as the princes of various tribal groups competed for influence. One tribal chieftain, Timur (Tamerlane), emerged from these struggles in the 1380s as the dominant force in Transoxiana. Although he was not a descendant of Genghis Khan, Timur became the de facto ruler of Transoxiana and proceeded to conquer all of western Central Asia, Iran, Asia Minor, and the southern steppe region north of the Aral Sea. He also invaded Russia, Turkey, and Iraq, and placed Iran and India under his command before dying during an invasion of China in 1405.
Timur was known for his extreme brutality and his conquests were accompanied by genocidal massacres in the cities he occupied.
Timur initiated the last flowering of Transoxiana by gathering together numerous artisans and scholars from the vast lands he had conquered into his capital, Samarqand. By supporting such people, he imbued his empire with a rich Perso-Islamic culture. During his reign and the reigns of his immediate descendants, a wide range of religious and palatial construction masterpieces were undertaken in Samarqand and other population centres. Amir Timur initiated an exchange of medical discoveries and patronized physicians, scientists and artists from the neighbouring countries such as India; His grandson Ulugh Beg was one of the world’s first great astronomers. It was during the Timurid dynasty that Turkic, in the form of the Chaghatai dialect, became a literary language in its own right in Transoxiana, although the Timurids were Persianate in nature. The greatest Chaghataid writer, Ali-Shir Nava’i, was active in the city of Herat (now in northwestern Afghanistan) in the second half of the 15th century.
The Timurid state quickly split in half after the death of Timur. The chronic internal fighting of the Timurids attracted the attention of the Uzbek nomadic tribes living to the north of the Aral Sea. In 1501 the Uzbek forces began a wholesale invasion of Transoxiana. The slave trade in the Khanate of Bukhara became prominent and was firmly established. Estimates from 1821 suggest that between 25,000 and 60,000 Persian slaves were working in Bukhara alone at that time.Before the arrival of the Russians, present Uzbekistan was divided between Emirate of Bukhara and khanates of Khiva and Kokand.
In the 19th century, the Russian Empire began to expand and spread into Central Asia. By 1911 Russians living in Uzbekistan numbered 210,306.The “Great Game” period is generally regarded as running from approximately 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. A second, less intensive phase followed the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. At the start of the 19th century, there were some 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi) separating British India and the outlying regions of Tsarist Russia. Much of the land in-between was unmapped.
By the beginning of 1920, Central Asia was firmly in the hands of Russia and, despite some early resistance to the Bolsheviks, Uzbekistan and the rest of the Central Asia became a part of the Soviet Union. On October 27, 1924 the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was created. From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, 1,433,230 people from Uzbekistan fought in the Red Army against Nazi Germany. A number also fought on the German side. As many as 263,005 Uzbek soldiers died in the battlefields of the Eastern Front, and 32,670 went missing in action.
On August 31, 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan declared independence. September 1 was proclaimed the National Independence Day.