Kath (city)

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Location of Kath in western Central Asia
The large oasis Choresm (greenish Fruchland) with its capitals Kath and Gurgandsch (satellite image from 2009)

The now dilapidated Khorezm city ​​of Kath ( Arabic and Persian) is located near Khiva on the east bank of the Amudarya كاث, DMG Kāṯ ) was the capital and residence of the Khorezm Shahs from the Afrighid dynasty from 305 to 995 . Today it is located in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakistan in western Uzbekistan .


The exact meaning of Khwarazmian word Kat (some sources also Kat or Kāzh ) is unclear. According to Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229), who did not visit Khorezm until 1219, it describes a wall in the steppe , but this cannot be further proven. A connection with kaṯ or kanṯ , the Sogdian word for city, would also be conceivable . The partly overbuilt ruins of Kath were known in modern times (after a local saint) as Sheikh Abbas Wali (DMG Šaiḫ ʿAbbās Walī), later as Schabbas (DMG Šabbaz). 1958 Schabbas in honor of Choresmiers al-Biruni in Beruniy (also Biruniy renamed). The remains of a fortress on the northern outskirts of the city are also known as Pil Kala (or Fil Kala ), although it is not certain that these are actually the ruins of the great Afrighiden Castle (see next section).


The history of Kath in pre-Islamic times is little known. According to the universal scholar Abu Raihan al-Biruni (d. 1048), Shah Afrigh, the founder of the Afrighid dynasty, moved the capital of his empire (from Toprak-Kala ?) To Kath in 305 and left his new capital on the outskirts as a landmark Build a huge castle made of mud bricks, which was named al-Fīr (so al-Biruni) or al-Fīl, was surrounded by three parallel, equally high walls and was crowned by the palace of the Khorezm Shahs, which can be seen from afar. Al-Biruni 994 could see with his own eyes the abandoned ruins of this complex, which Amu Darya washed under and almost completely washed away.

In the course of the conquest of Choresm by the Muslim Arabs in 712, which apparently caused great destruction, but not the fall of the Afrighids, Kath, which was then divided into three parts, is described as one of the three largest and most important cities in the region, an old cultural center and bishopric. The most detailed information about the still prosperous country center comes from Muslim geographers and travelers of the 10th century, such as Ibn Fadlan , who visited the court of Kath in 921/22 as an emissary of the caliph , especially al-Istachri , Ibn Hauqal , al- Muqaddasi and the (not known by name) author of the work " Ḥudūd al-ʿālam " ("The limits of the world").

Al-Istachri reports, for example, that the old town of Kath, including the castle, palace, prison and Friday mosque, was so badly damaged by the Amu Darya (which kept changing its course) that the inhabitants had left it entirely and headed east (i.e. away from the Water) where a new city center was built. He also writes that a canal ran through the middle of the city center and the bazaars , and, like Ibn Hauqal, gives the length and width of the city as 3 Farsach each (in another version with ⅓ Farsach).

All of this is largely confirmed by al-Muqaddasi, who reads: “Kath, which is also called Shahristan , lies directly on the bank and is about as big as Nishapur or (according to another version) larger than Bukhara . It lies east of the river and has a Friday mosque surrounded by bazaars, the pillars of which are made of black stone and then wood to the height of a qama (about 5 or 6 feet ). The palace of the emir forms the center of the city, the castle has already been destroyed by the river. The city, the center of which is criss-crossed by water canals, is simply magnificent: it is home to numerous scholars, writers and wealthy people and you can find many luxury goods and merchandise in it. The builders are known for their great ability and as far as the Koran reciters are concerned, there are none in Iraq who match them in terms of the beauty of their voices, the expressiveness of their presentations, their behavior or their education. On the other hand, the city is also constantly flooded by the river, so that the residents move (further and further) away from the bank. It is also dirtier than Ardabil and the numerous sewers flood the streets everywhere. The residents use the streets as a latrine and collect the rubbish in pits, from where it is then transported in sacks to the fields. Due to the enormous amount of rubbish, strangers can only walk through the city in daylight, while the locals (simply) kick the dirt away with their feet, creating piles. "

In the "Hudud al-'Alam" Kath (here Kazh , the "gateway) Turkestan and the Oghuz " especially as a rich "commercial center of the Turks , Turkestan, Transoxiana and the Khazars praised" on the great markets, among others, "textiles, quilted Coats and Snow ”and its inhabitants are particularly known for their“ qualities as warriors and their commitment as religious fighters against the pagan Turks ”.

The heyday of Kath finally ended in the year 995, when the apparently long existing - Choresm divided into two competing spheres of power - decided political and economic rivalry between the old capital and the wealthy trading town of Gurganj (today's Köneürgenç ) in the northwest of Choresm was that Mamun (I.), the Emir of Gurganj, conquered Kath, overthrew the Afrighids and - moving the capital as the new Khorezm Shah to Gurganj - founded the Mamunid dynasty. Kath now increasingly lost its importance, while Gurganj rose to one of the most glamorous metropolises in the Islamic world under the rule of the Mamunids and Anuschteginids . According to Ibn Battuta , who visited Kath in 1332/33 (after the Mongol storm ) (and calls it al-Kat ), it was "small and pretty" and "the only settlement on the way from Gurganj to Bukhara". Politically, the city only belonged to the Chagatai Khanate in the 14th century , before it came under the rule of the regional Sufid dynasty and was conquered by Timur in 1372 , who first completely devastated it (in the war against Toktamish ), but later had it fortified. The rule of the Timurids , Shaibanids and Safavids was followed in the 16th century by that of the Arabshahids , who made Khiva ( Uzbek : Xiva) their capital , which has meanwhile risen to the largest and most important city of Khorezm . Since the canal on which it was located was finally completely dry, the old Kath had to be finally abandoned in the 17th century, which the Arabshahid- Khan Muhammad Anuscha b. Abi l-Ghasi (ruled 1663-87) to found a new (but insignificant) Kath west of the Amudarjas (near Urganch ).

Sources and literature

See also