(c. 1500 B.C. - 330 B.C.)
A pastoral, cityless, people led by heroic warriors riding two-horsed chariots came out of the north to shatter the great Cities of the Indus Valley. In the sacerdotal writings of the Vedic Aryans, the Rigveda, we read of the Kubha (Kabul) River and know of their passage through Afghanistan sometime around 1500 B.C. In the related Persian hymns of the Avesta, we read of Bakhdi (Balkh) "the beautiful, crowned with banners" and of Zarathustra Spitama (Zoroaster), the great politico-religious leader who lived in Balkh sometime between 1000 and 600 B.C.
The Aryans found the northern plains ideal for their flocks of sheep and goats. Many settled here and prospered. As the years passed, however, the various Aryan tribes frequently fought among themselves, encouraging the subjugated indigenous tribes to rise in revolt. Predatory raids by bands of horse-riding nomads from across the Oxus added to the turmoil. Keeping the Aryan herdsmen from their grazing lands, the nomads demanded, and began to receive, tribute for grazing rights. Aryan independence seemed doomed. It was then that Zoroaster came forth to exhort the people to unite, in the name of the god Ahuramazda.
Victorious, Zoroaster then advised his followers to develop agriculture in addition to herding if they wished to remain independent and grow strong. The fertile plains of Bactria blossomed and the land prospered.
Successive waves of Aryan migrations from Trans-Oxiana, finding the Afghan area occupied by the Vedic Aryans, moved west, onto the Iranian Plateau, where they evolved from a semi-nomadic state into an extensive empire which eventually stretched from the borders of Greece to the Indus River. The Achaemenid Kings conquered in the name of Ahuramazda and Zoroastrianism was their religion.
Achaemenid campaigns into the Afghan area were undertaken by Darius I (522-486 B.C.), builder of the famous palaces of Susa and Persepolis, and are recorded on his tombstone. To facilitate trade, an imperial highway passed through Afghanistan, along virtually the same route modern highway builders have but recently paved. The excavations at Shahr-i-Kona, the old city of Kandahar, undertaken by the British Institute of Afghan Studies in 1974 (D. Whitehouse) and 1975 (A. McNicoll) indicate that by 500 B.C. Kandahar had replaced Mundigak as the major city of the south. In the north, Soviet excavations at a series of mounds given the general designation of (A)ltyn, not far from the Dashli group above Balkh, revealed a large principal administrative town and a monumental private residence in the Achaemenid style with a central court dominated by a pool or fountain. Outside the residence there was a large columned courtyard divided into two equal sections by a line of rooms possibly used for public audiences by some grandee or noble. There is evidence of a great conflagration which burned the wooden superstructure of the portico surrounding these courtyards. Curiously, it seems to have been set just about the time of Alexander of Macedon's sojourn in northern Afghanistan. (V. Sariandi, 1972)