Ancient History, General History

Multan: exploring in ancient history

Multan: exploring in ancient history

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


Multan is a city in Punjab region of Pakistan. The word Punjab means region of the five rivers. It is Pakistan’s fifth largest city by population and has an area of 133 square kilometres (51 sq. mi). The city is located on the banks of the Chenab River in the geographic centre of the country. []

Multan is known as the City of Sufis or City of Saints and Madinat-ul-Auliya because of the large number of shrines and Sufi saints from the city. The city is blanketed with bazaars, mosques, shrines, and ornate tombs. It is the birthplace of Fariduddin Ganjshakar (popularly known as “Baba Farid”), recognized as the first major poet of the Punjabi language. []

Multan is one of the oldest cities not only in the Asian subcontinent but also in the world. This assertion is made by the Multan tourist Board and the Multan police service. Yet these organisations are not archaeologists.




In the earliest history of Pakistan the Indus civilisation figures high. The Indus civilisation was one of the four great civilisations which began around 3,300 BC – the others were 1st Mesopotamia, 2nd Egypt and the 4th Huang Ho Valley in China. [Talk by Mark Kenoyer, University of Wisconsin, Madison to Oriental Institute, University of Chicago] The Indus civilisation is said to have started about 2,500 BC. [George F. Dales, ‘Indus Valley Civilisation’, in The World Book Encyclopaedia, vol. 10 (Chicago, 1980), page 181]

The following papers and articles deal with the Indus civilisation on the website article.

Shows map of main settlement sites




Shows map of main settlement centres


Map of lower Indus river to the coast = outside Punjab area


Ideas on the disappearance of Indus civilisation


Gives a list of Indus reference books


Talks about rural settlement sites = no paper uploaded


Cambridge archaeologist studying Indus civilisation


Mentions a number of Indus Valley cities but no mention of Multan as far as I can see = nice maps. This paper describes what to look for in finding an Indus city = a mound with religious/public buildings on top – the city proper in a grid pattern in the valley below with houses oriented north-south – and a water source [most important feature].


Nice short study on Indus Valley chronology and has map of chief sites with list of books for further reading


Before the Indus Valley


Not very clear writing but still an important article on Indus writing


Although writing about an area outside the Multan area the article still gives the names of a number of Indus valley locations


Another paper not uploaded by Jennifer Bates of Cambridge

This paper, not uploaded, still has potential in that Multan is not mentioned in the list of Indus cities but that is not to exclude Multan as an Indus village which stayed small for a long time and only later grew in size.





By 1700 BC the Indus civilisation had disappeared.

According to Hindu legends, Multan was the capital of the Trigarta Kingdom at the time of the Mahabharata war, ruled by the Katoch Dynasty. [] The Mahabharata is one of the two major epic poems of ancient India. It has gone through many editions. The earliest edition of the text is said to be from about 400 BC but the origins of the text are said to be further back in the 8th and 9th centuries BC. []

Multan has frequently been a site of conflict due to its location on a major invasion route between South Asia and Central Asia. The Persians conquered the Punjab during the 500’s BC and made it part of the Achaemenid Empire. It is not clear if Multan existed at that time. In 326 BC Multan was conquered by Alexander the Great. [Robert Crane, ‘Pakistan’, in The World Book Encyclopaedia, vol. 15 (Chicago, 1980), page 81] Other sources contradict and say that Alexander was defeated at Multan and this defeat stopped his eastward campaign and he returned to Persia. []

Using this reference to Alexander the Great, Robert Crane said that Multan was one of the oldest cities in Pakistan and dated to the 300’s BC. [Robert Crane, ‘Multan’, in The World Book Encyclopaedia, vol. 13 (Chicago, 1980), page 758]

Multan was conquered along with Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim, from the local ruler Chach of Alor circa 712 AD. Following bin Qasim’s conquest, the city was securely under Muslim rule, although it was in effect an independent state and most of the subjects were non-Muslim. []

After the Muslim period Multan became a popular place for Sufi saints and their tombs adore the city.

As said Robert Crane dates Multan to the 300’s BC and says it is one of the oldest in Pakistan. In the lists of oldest cities in the world those of Erbil (Iraq) 6,000 BC, Luoyang (China) 2,070 BC, Balkh (Afghanistan) 1,500 BC, Aleppo (4,300 BC), Damascus, and Jericho 3,000 BC are usually given as the oldest. []

In Pakistan the city of Peshawar is given as the oldest, dating to at least 539 BC. This makes it one of the oldest in South Asia. []

In 2013 Robert Bracey gave a talk on the coinage used in the Multan area but has so far not uploaded this talk to the web.






Another website = = places the earliest Multan coins to about 316 BC.


In about 1870 James Grant wrote in his History of India that “Moultan is built on a considerable height, formed by the accumulated debris of many cities that have occupied the same site, on the left bank of the Chenab”. He said that in about 1848, before the Multan revolt against the new British occupation, the city had a population of 80,000. “Its silks and carpets rivalled those of Persia”. [James Grant, History of India (London, c.1870), vol. 2, page 168] In 1870 the National Encyclopaedia, vol. 9, page 191 gave the population of Mooltan as 80,000. In 1980 the population of Multan was 538,000.  [Robert Crane, ‘Pakistan’, in The World Book Encyclopaedia, vol. 15 (Chicago, 1980), page 78c] By 2014 the population of Multan was about 750,000. []



After all of this writing where does that leave the age of Multan? It is so far clear that Multan is not the oldest city in the world or the second oldest or even lower. Within Pakistan, Multan appears as the second oldest city after Peshawar and thus by continuation Multan is one of the very oldest cities in South Asia [Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Uzbekistan]. Yet in all of this the only way of knowing how old Multan is for sure is to dig it up in a series of archaeological digs in different parts of the city.




This collection of sources about papers of ancient Multan was assembled in December 2014 to help a young history student in Pakistan. Its publication here is hoped to help others to understand the joy of the ancient world and how we walk on the shoulders of giants.




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