308 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
rivers on the northern and western sides, only two contribute sufficient water to form
lakes.. On the south the mountains are cleft here and there for the passage of some more
ambitious stream to the sea, but for the rest running water is a stranger. With the coming
of the summer heats the limits of the desert are greatly extended; for many districts
which in the brief spring-time put up a sudden verdure, wither to desolation under the
cloudless skies and fierce suns of July. At such seasons of the year the river beds are
dry and the air glows like a furnace.
In the western portions of the great plateau the conditions of nature are modified by the
proximity of the mountains. Here the surface of the country is broken into ridges. Rain is
more abundant, and many small streams trace the valleys with a band of life. In the south
and east also the same changes occur as the limits of the table-land, are approached, and
the plains grow green as the hills rise above the horizon. But within these surrounding
borders of comparative fertility there is little else than a barren waste of blackened
On the north of the region here described Is another not more attractive. It is the
district occupied by the modern Khiva and Bokhara, bounded on the west by the Caspian, and
running eastward through fourteen degrees of longitude. Its breadth is about the same,
extending from the thirty-sixth to the fiftieth parallel of north latitude, a distance of
more than eight hundred miles. The whole region is one of the most forbidding in the
world. It is the great Sahara of the North, a vast trackless plain of red or black sand,
blown up here and there into dunes by the bleak wind which finds nought else upon which to
waste its vagrant energies. If it were not for the ranges of the Great and Little Balkan
which, near the Caspian, break the surface with moderate elevations and furnish the
conditions of rain, the whole region would be a treeless and almost lifeless desert.
To the modifying influence of these mountains must be added the presence of two large
rivers which traverse the waste
and pour their volumes into the basin of the Aral. These are the Oxus (the modern Amoo)
and the JAXARTES (the modern Sir)-two streams of considerable historical importance.
Others of lesser note are the MURGAH, the ABI MESHED, the HERIRUD, the MAYMENE, the BALKH,
and the AK Su. Most of these take their rise on the slopes of the mountains referred to,
and flow desertward until they are lost in the sands. In some instances small, brackish
lakes are formed as the termini of these streams. It is along the banks of these rivers
that the only fertile soil of the country-except in proximity to the Balkans-is found.
Here, in good seasons, a fair degree of fruitfulness is seen, and a line of orchards and
cornfields and meadows marks the course of the river across the waste. Here, from times
immemorial, the larger part of the population inhabiting this desolate region has been
Lying to the east of this desert of Bokhara and Khiva is the VALLEY OF THE INDUS, one of
the most ancient seats of civilization. Its importance has been but feebly apprehended by
the Western nations, to whom the Nile of the East has seemed like a dream on the horizon.
The region drained by the Indus is divided into two distinct regions, a broad, triangular
plain towards the north, and a long, narrow valley towards the south. The broad district
of the north is a territory through which, gathering their waters from the hills, flow
five considerable rivers converging into one-the Indus; and hence to this division of the
country is given the name of Punjab, or Five Rivers. At the lower angle of this district
the five valleys narrow into one, and through this to the sea flows the river of India.
This valley is known in modern geography as SINDE, which is merely a variation of the word
India or Hindu.
The Punjab region has at the north a breadth of about three hundred and fifty miles, but
the country narrows towards the south until, at the confluence of the Five
I In the native language the Indus is called the Sindus.