The Tocharians were the Tocharian-speaking inhabitants of the Tarim basin, making them the easternmost speakers of an Indo-European language in antiquity.


The term Tocharians has a somewhat complicated history. It is based on the ethnonym "Tokharoi" (Greek Τόχαροι) used by Greek historians (e.g. Ptolemy VI, 11, 6). The first mention of the Tocharians appeared in the 1st century BC, when Strabo presented them as a Scythian tribe, and explained that the Tokharians — together with the Assianis, Passianis and Sakaraulis — took part in the destruction of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom in the second half of the 2nd century BC. [ "Most of the Scythians, beginning from the Caspian Sea, are called Scythian Daheans, and those situated more towards the east Massageteans and Saceans; the rest have the common appellation of Scythians, but each separate tribe has its peculiar name. All, or the greatest part of them, are nomads. The best known tribes are those who deprived the Greeks of Bactriana, the Asians, Pasians, Tocharians, and Sacarauls, who came from the country on the other side of the Jaxartes, opposite the Sacean and Sogdians."; (Strabo, [ 11-8-1] )]

These Tocharians ("Tokharoi") are identified with the Yuezhi and one of their major tribes, the Kushans.Fact|date=December 2007 The geographical term "Tokharistan" usually refers to 1st millennium Bactria (Chinese "Daxia" 大夏).

Today, the term is associated with the Indo-European languages known as "Tocharian". Based on a Turkic reference to Tocharian A as "twqry", these languages were associated with the Kushan ruling class, but the exact relation of the speakers of these languages and the Kushan "Tokharoi" is uncertain, and some consider "Tocharian languages" a misnomer. Tocharian A is also known as East Tocharian, or Turfanian (of the city of Turfan), and Tocharian B is also known as West Tocharian, or Kuchean (of the city of Kucha)Fact|date=December 2007

The term is so widely used, however, that this question is somewhat academic. Tocharians in the modern sense are, then, defined as the speakers of the Tocharian languages. These were originally nomadsFact|date=March 2007, and lived in today's Xinjiang (Tarim basin). The native name of the historical Tocharians of the 6th to 8th centuries was, according to J. P. Mallory, possibly "kuśiññe" "Kuchean" (Tocharian B), "of the kingdom of Kucha and Agni", and "ārśi" (Tocharian A); one of the Tocharian A texts has "ārśi-käntwā", "In the tongue of Arsi" ("ārśi" is probably cognate to "argenteus", i.e. "shining, brilliant"). According to Douglas Q. Adams, the Tocharians may have called themselves "ākñi", meaning "borderers, marchers".


The Tarim mummies suggest that precursors of these easternmost speakers of an Indo-European language may have lived in the region of the Tarim Basin from around 1800 BC until finally they were assimilated by Uyghur Turks in the 9th century AD.Fact|date=April 2008

There is evidence both from the mummies [cite web|url=|title=The Takla Makan Mummies |publisher=PBS|date=|accessdate=17 January|accessyear=2008] and Chinese writings. [Xuanzang is said to have reported upon this [ The Oases of the Northern Tarim Basin at] ]

A later group of Tocharians were the Kushans and maybe some Iranian tribes of the Hephthalites whose Iranian population also settled in modern Afghanistan, North-Eastern Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkestan, whereas the nomadic Turkic ones were defeated by Bahram Gur and the Gok-Turks, who pushed them over the Hindukush mountains to Sindh (Pakistan) and North-West India.

The Tarim Basin mummies (1800 BC) and the Tocharian texts and frescoes from the Tarim Basin (AD 800) have been found in the same general geographical area, and are both connected to an Indo-European origin. The mummies and the frescoes both point to White types with light eyes and hair color. However it is unknown if the frescos and Tarim Basin mummies are directly connected.


The Tocharians appear to have originally spoken two distinct languages of the Indo-European Tocharian family, an Eastern ("A") form and a Western ("B") form. According to some, only the Eastern ("A") form can be properly called "Tocharian", as the native name for the Western form is referred to as Kuchean (see below). Commonalities between the Tocharian languages and various other Indo-European language families (as with Celtic, Germanic, Balto-Slavic, even Italic or Greek) have been suggested, but the evidence does not support any close relationship with any other family. The only consensus is that Tocharian was already far enough removed, at an early date, from the other eastern Indo-European proto-languages (Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-Iranian), not to share some of the common changes that PBS and PII share, such as early palatalization of velars.

Tocharian A of the eastern regions seems to have declined in use as a popular language or mother tongue faster than did Tocharian B of the west. Tocharian A speakers probably yielded their original language to Turkic language of immigrating Turkic peoples, while Tocharian B speakers were more insulated from outside linguistic influences.Fact|date=December 2007 It appears that Tocharian A ultimately became a liturgical language, no longer a living one, at the same time that Tocharian B was still widely spoken in daily life. Among the monasteries of the lands inhabited by Tocharian B speakers, Tocharian A seems to have been used in ritual alongside the Tocharian B of daily life.Fact|date=December 2007

Besides the religious Tocharian texts, the texts include monastery correspondence and accounts, commercial documents, caravan permits, medical and magical texts, and a love poem. Their manuscript fragments, of the 8th centuries, suggest that they were no longer either as nomadicFact|date=March 2007 or "barbarian ("hu")" as the Chinese had considered them.Fact|date=December 2007

Historic role

Central Asian (Tocharian?) and East-Asian Buddhist monks, Bezeklik, Eastern Tarim Basin, 9th-10th century.] The Tocharians, living along the Silk Road, had contacts with the Chinese, Persians, Indian and Turkic tribes. They might be the same as, or were related to, the Indo-European Yuezhi who fled from their settlements in eastern Tarim Basin after attacks by the Xiongnu in the 2nd century BC (Shiji Chinese historical Chronicles, Chap. 123) and expanded south to Bactria and northern India to form the Kushan Empire.

The Tocharians who remained in the Tarim Basin adopted Buddhism, which, like their alphabet, came from northern India in the first century of the 1st millennium, through the proselytism of Kushan monks. The Kushans and the Tocharians seem to have played a part in the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism to China.Fact|date=December 2007 Many apparently also practised some variant of Manichaeanism.Fact|date=December 2007

Protected by the Taklamakan Desert from steppe nomads, the Tocharian culture survived past the 7th century.Fact|date=December 2007

In Sanskrit literature

Sanskrit literature in numerous instances refers to the Tocharians as "Tukhāra" (also "Tuṣāra", "Tuḥkhāra", "Tukkhāra").

The Atharavaveda-Parishishta [Ed Bolling & Negelein, 41.3.3] associates them with the Sakas, Yavanas and the Bahlikas. ["Saka. Yavana.Tushara.Bahlikashcha". ] It also juxtaposes the Kambojas with the Bahlikas. ["Kamboja-Bahlika..."...AV-Par, 57.2.5; cf Persica-9, 1980, p 106, Dr Michael Witzel.] This shows the Tusharas probably were neighbors to the Shakas, Bahlikas, Yavanas and the Kambojas in Transoxian region.

The Rishikas are said to be same people as the Yuezhi. [(India as Known to Panini, p 64, Dr V. S. Aggarwala, Dr V. S. Aggarwala.] The Kushanas or Kanishkas are also the same people. [Bhartya Itihaas ki Ruprekha, 1941, Dr J. C. Vidyalnkara ] M. A. Stein proposed that the Tukharas are same as Yuezhi. [Rajatarangini of Kalhana, I, p 6, trans. M. A. Stein (1900).] P. C. Bagchi holds that the Yuezhi, Tocharioi and Tushara were identical. [India and Central Asia, 1955, p 24.] . The Parama Kambojas of the Trans-Pamirs, mentioned in the Mahabharata are said to be related to the Rishikas ["The Deeds of Harsha: Being a Cultural Study of Bāṇa's Harshacharita", 1969, p 199, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala.] who are placed in the Sakadvipa (or Scythia). ["India as Known to Pāṇini: A Study of the Cultural Material in the Ashṭādhyāyī", 1953, p 64, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala - "India; A Grammatical Dictionary of Sanskrit (Vedic)": 700 Complete Reviews of the ..., 1953, p 62, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawala, Surya Kanta, Jacob Wackernagel, Arthur Anthony Macdonell, Peggy Melcher - India.] B. N. Puri takes the Kambojas to be a branch of the Tukharas. [Puri, B. N. "Buddhism in Central Asia", p. 90.] Some scholars state that the Kambojas were a branch of the Yuezhi themselves. [ "Journal of Tamil Studies", 1969, pp. 86, 87, International Institute of Tamil Studies - Tamil philology.]

"Sabha Parva" of Mahabharata states that the Parama Kambojas, Lohas and the Rishikas were "allied tribes". ["Mahabharata" 2.26.25: See: trans. by Kisari Mohan Ganguli [] .] Like the "Parama Kambojas" ("most distant Kambojas"), the Rishikas of the Transoxian region are similarly styled as "most distant" or "Parama Rishikas" ["Mahabharata" 2.26.26.] . Based on the syntactical construction of the Mahabharata verses 5.5.15 and 2.27.25, Ishwa Mishra believes [See: Indiancivilization Forum, messages No 64552 dated Sept 27, 2004; Message 64654, dated September 29, 2004 , Adhin88 (alias Ishwa Misra); Jathistory Forum, Message 454, Dated April 15, 2003, Ishwa Misra.] that the Rishikas were a section of the Kambojas i.e. Parama Kambojas.


ee also

* Tocharian languages
* Tarim mummies
* Kizil Caves
* Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
* Kucha
* Togarmah
* 突厥 Tūjué
* Hephthalite
* Kushan Empire
* Sogdiana
* Yuezhi
* Rishikas
* Parama Kambojas

Books and magazines

Note: Recent discoveries have rendered obsolete some of René Grousset's classic "The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia", published in 1939, which, however, still provides a broad background against which to assess more modern detailed studies.

*Baldi, Philip. 1983. "An Introduction to the Indo-European Languages." Carbondale. Southern Illinois University Press.
* Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. 1999. "The Mummies of Ürümchi". London. Pan Books.
* Beekes, Robert. 1995. "Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction." Philadelphia. John Benjamins.
*Hemphill, Brian E. and J.P. Mallory. 2004. "Horse-mounted invaders from the Russo-Kazakh steppe or agricultural colonists from Western Central Asia? A craniometric investigation of the Bronze Age settlement of Xinjiang" in "American Journal of Physical Anthropology" vol. 125 pp 199ff.
* Lane, George S. 1966. "On the Interrelationship of the Tocharian Dialects," in "Ancient Indo-European Dialects", eds. Henrik Birnbaum and Jaan Puhvel. Berkeley. University of California Press.
* Walter, Mariko Namba 1998 "Tocharian Buddhism in Kucha: Buddhism of Indo-European Centum Speakers in Chinese Turkestan before the 10th Century C.E." Sino-Platonic Papers No. 85. October, 1998.
* Xu, Wenkan 1995 "The Discovery of the Xinjiang Mummies and Studies of the Origin of the Tocharians" "The Journal of Indo-European Studies", Vol. 23, Number 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 1995, pp.357-369.
* Xu, Wenkan 1996 "The Tokharians and Buddhism" In: "Studies in Central and East Asian Religions" 9, pp. 1-17. []
* Zuev, Ü.A. 2002, "Early Türks: Outline of history and ideology", Almaty, "Daik-Press" ISBN 9985-441-52-9 (In Russian)

External links

* [ Tocharian alphabet.]
* [ Tocharian alphabet]
* [ Modern studies are developing a Tocharian dictionary.]
* [ Mark Dickens, 'Everything you always wanted to know about Tocharian'.]
* [ "Mysterious Mummies of China"] by Nova on Google Video

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