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The Merv Oasis

Important Intersection of the Silk Road


Nestorian Monastery at Merv, Turkmenistan

Nestorian Monastery at Merv, Turkmenistan

Travelling Runes

The Merv Oasis is located in the delta of the Murghab River in what is today southeastern Turkmenistan, about 200 kilometers north of the town of Takhta Bazar. While it is undoubtedly geographically isolated by mountains and desert, Merv was an important node on the Silk Route from China, acting as the gateway to Persia and Rome from China and central Asia.

The archaeological ruins at the site consist of a series of separate and adjacent walled cities, beginning in the sixth century BC, and through the 15th century AD. Occupations at Merv include late Iron Age Erk Kala (beginning in the 3rd century BC); extensive Persian Empire settlements, including a Seleucid period [330-170 BC] citadel, a Parthian [170 BC-AD 226] city with its own mint, and a Sasanian [AD 224-651] settlement called Gyaur Kala; and a medieval city of the Islamic sultan Kala. Merv was also an important city with its own mint during the Parthian empire [247 BC-AD 228].

The first excavations at Merv were conducted by a Russian military general, A.V. Komarov in 1884. Valentin Alekseevich Zhukovsky, orientalist for the Russian Imperial Archaeological Commission, excavated in Gyaur Kala in 1890; shortly after, the American Carnegie institute excavated there as well under the direction of geologist Raphael Pumpelly and German archaeologist Hubert Schmidt. Beginning in the 1950s excavations have been run by the Southern Turkmen Archaeological Comprehensive Mission (YuTAKE), led by ME Masson. Merv is currently the focus of the Ancient Merv Project.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to the Persian Empire and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Brun, Pierre. 2005. From arrows to bullets: the fortifications of Abdullah Khan Kala (Merv, Turkmenistan). Antiquity 79:616-624.

Casellato, Umberto, et al. 2007 Physico-chemical and mineralogical study of ceramic findings from Mary City, Turkmenistan. Journal of Cultural Heritage 8(4):412-422.

Puschnigg, Gabriele. 2006. Ceramics of the Merv Oasis: Recycling the city. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

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