Modern day Pakistan is a land enormously blessed with a rich history like no other country in the world. A journey through the history of Pakistan outlines the significance and richness of this land. It is a land hosting ancient civilizations of the world and housing most significant archaeological sites recognized worldwide. These sites and cities, dating back to thousands of years, are simply a testimony to the existence of ancient civilization in human history on this land. The legacy has passed through different empires and each empire has left a mark that made the history of this country alluring. A brief account of historic events this land has hosted is highlighted below.
Ancient History of Pakistan – A journey through the ages
Soanian Culture: From the lower Paleolithic era
The edged pebble tools discovered during an excavation on the bend of the Soan River near the twin cities (Rawalpindi/Islamabad) is perhaps the oldest sign of life in the heart of Pakistan. Thus, long before the emergence of the great Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) on the banks of River Indus, about some 5,000 years ago, the earliest known humans to make present-day Pakistan their abode were a hunter-gatherer society who lived some 50,000 years ago called the Soanians. They are called Soanians because of the site called the Soan Valley where Stone Age relics are found in the form of tools and pottery. The Soan valley is a rich archaeological and natural heritage site along the Soan Riverbank. Today, the river has been reduced to nothing more than a sewer and a dump site, unfortunately.
Mehrgarh: the world’s oldest village culture
Mehrgarh is one of the most significant Neolithic (7000 B.C.E. to 3200 B.C.E.) sites located in Balochistan province of Pakistan, on the Kachhi plain near the Bolan Pass, between the cities of Quetta (Kalat) and Sibi. The 9000 years old settlement encompassing an area of about 200 hectares was discovered in 1974 by an archaeological team directed by French archaeologist Jean-François Jarrige.
The earliest settlement unearthed was a small farming village dated between 7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E. from early food-producing era called Pre-Harappan phase. Evidence founded from the excavation at Mehrgarh unfolded an exceptional insight to life before and during the first stages of the Indus Valley civilization, one of the earliest sites of human civilization existed in today’s Sindh province of Pakistan.
Archaeologists divide the occupation at the site into several periods. The first period (7000 B.C.E.–5500 B.C.E.) called the Neolithic and aceramic (without the use of pottery). Early Mehrgarh inhabitants lived in mud brick houses, used to store their grain in granaries, created tools fashioned with local copper ore, and lined their large container with bitumen. The progress continued through several hundred years until 2600 BCE when the region largely became arid and was abandoned in favour of Indus Valley Civilization.
Indus Valley civilization (3300 BC to 1800 AD): An advanced society of the ancient time
The Indus valley civilization (also known as the Harappan Civilization) was a Bronze Age riverine civilization that flourished along the Indus River Valley around 3300-1800 BCE. The IVC is known to have consisted of two major cities called Harappa in Punjab and Moenjodaro in Sindh excavated in 1921 and 1922 respectively.
The more than 5000 old Indus Valley Civilization is divided into three major phases and eras: the Early Harappans from 3300 to 2600 BCE (Regionalization era), the Mature Harappans from 2600 to 1900 BCE (Integration era), and the Late Harappans from 1900 to 1300 BCE (Localization era).
The people of Indus Valley Civilization were said to be very advanced in the use of technology. Their tools and system for measurement, their uniform size moisture-resistant fire-backed bricks, their buildings and sewage system all suggest the features of a highly advanced society at a time when America was the land of Red Indians and people in Europe dressed in animal hide. By around 1800 BCE, about five million inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned and the reason was the climate change which disrupted the rivers system and they could not produce food anymore.
Gandhara (1st Century BC to 11th century AD): the cradle of Buddhism
The ancient kingdom of Gandhara comprised of the major cities in Northwest Pakistan, the Potohar plateau, and Jalalabad in Kabul. Its main cities were Pushpapura (current day Peshawar), Pushkalavati (Current day Charsada), Mardan, Swat, Dir, Malakand, Bajaur agencies, Takshashila (modern Taxila ) in Punjab and Varmayana (Bamiyan in Jalalabad) in Afghanistan. The kingdom was the cradle of Gandhara civilization and spread to rest of the Buddhist world as far away as Japan and Korea.
Buddhism was adopted as state culture and lasted here for over 1000 years. The famed archaeological sites spread over Taxila, Swat and other cities of KP, as well as rock carvings and petroglyphs along the Karakoram Highway (ancient Silk Route), are a great reminder of the Gandhara Civilization. The Kingdome of Gandhara lasted from 6th century BC to 11th century AD. It attained its height under Kushan Kings from 1st to 5th century AD and was disappeared when it was conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1021 AD.
Alexander (326 BC): The Great Conqueror
Alexander the great (famous as Sikandar-e-Azam in Urdu) of Macedonia, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror, entered Punjab in Pakistan from the northern route at Swat in 326 BC. He received a glorious welcome from Ombhi, the then ruler of Taxila, and was offered an alliance against the King Porus who was a source of agitation for Taxila and annexing regions. Alexander stayed at Taxila for some time and held the discussion with the learned people of the time. He left for south via the Indus River and crossed over to the region what is called Balochistan today.
Alexander wandered major parts of today’s Pakistan and left a sizeable population of his armies in every region he conquered including Gandhara. When he died in June 323 AD, most of his armies returned home but he left his mark in the form of the Greek centre and people. The Kalash tribe in the north are said to be descendants of Alexander’s men. There are relics of Alexander and his armies all over Pakistan, such as old coins commemorating his battles and victories and the Jandial Temple in Taxila.
The Maurya Empire (322 BCE – 185 BCE): an iron grip of Kings
The departure of Alexander the Great created a void which was filled by Chandragupta Maurya. He recruited an army and killed the king of tyrannical Magadha kingdom and ascended the throne and founded the Mauryan dynasty. Chandragupta used different techniques to expand his kingdom and expanded from eastern Iran to Burmese hills including the subcontinent. After 25 years of rule, he passed on the throne to his son, Bindusara, and became a Jain monk while he was Hindu. Bindusara further expanded the realm. After the death of Bindusara, Ashoka (son of Bindusara and grandson of Chandragupta), whom the world has ever known the greatest ruler, became the king of Mauryan dynasty. The empire Ashoka inherited was even larger than what his predecessors seized. He gave up violence and actively patronized Buddhism.
Ashoka (273 BC-232 BC), like his grandfather, started his career from Taxila as a governor. He himself collected the ashes of Buddha and distributed among major cities of his empires and he constructed grand stupas and renovated older ones. Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila and the Butkara stupa in Swat are two of them. Mauryan control over northern areas is confirmed from the Rock Edicts left by Ashoka, such as at Shahbaz Garhi, Mardan.
Chandragupta, the founder of Mauryan Empire was Hindu but converted to Jain and became a monk in his later life, while Ashoka promoted Buddhism but it was not clear whether he formally converted or not. The stronghold of Mauryan Empire shrank 50 years after the death of Ashoka when the king was assassinated by his own general.
The Mughal Empire (1526-1707): Where the splendid art and architecture boomed
Babar was the first Mughal ruler and founder of the Mughal Empire in the subcontinent. The dominance of the six Great Mughal Emperors lasted from 1526 to 1707 (Babur (1526-1530) Humayun (1530-1540, 1555-1556), Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), Shah Jahan (1627-1658), and Aurangzeb (1658-1707). During this period, the Mughals experienced ups and downs yet founded and built remarkable buildings with unique architecture, even boasting today, such as the Badshahi Mosque, the Shalimar Gardens, the Lahore Fort, Wazir Khan Mosque, Hiran Minar, and many more monuments in Punjab.
The Mughal way of architecture features decorating with stone carvings, glazed tile decorations, and beautiful decorative designs in precious stones set in marble. A vivid testimony is an exquisite work done inside the buildings in Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, and Makli Tombs in Thatta (the largest necropolis in the world and home to the resting place of Sindh’s people, between the 14th and 18th centuries, with many belonging to kings, Queens, and saints).
The British Raj (1858 to 1947): A dominant realm in the subcontinent
The British came in the guise of East India Company, ruled the Subcontinent from 1858 to 1947 and divided the subcontinent into Pakistan and India after almost 90 years presence in the region. However, much was done by the British for the administration of the country, infrastructure, and institutions. The glorious monuments like Aitchison College Lahore, Clock Tower in Peshawar, the clock tower in Faisalabad, Frere Hall Tower in Karachi are some of the remarkable pieces of architecture left by the British.