Forts Built In Pakistan

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Forts Built In Pakistan

March 26, 2006

Holding the fort


Forts Built In Pakistan
Forts Built In Pakistan

This book is a study of forts built in Pakistan in different ages. It traces the history of these monuments from pre-history to the post Muslim era

Archaeological evidence has shown that the concept of fortification was very much there even in ancient times, writes Shaikh Khurshid Hasan

Ever since his habitation on this planet, man has had to fight for his survival. In the face of multitude problems, he had to save himself from wild animals as well as from the extremities of climatic conditions. In primitive society, when man started domesticating animals, he felt the need for green pastures and disputes often arose over their possession and grazing rights. Such fighting usually took place between the various nomadic tribes in which weapons made of bones and flint were used. As a matter of fact, the bone of contention between two tribes had always remained the exploitation of economic resources.

Migration from one region to another was necessitated in search of adequate means of sustenance. Hence, the cause of confrontation between the new settlers and the old ones. The need for raising the fortification for protection was, however, felt when man started living a settled life.

A fortification was raised around a settlement as a measure of defence against possible attack by an enemy. Archaeological evidence has shown that the concept of raising fortifications was very much there even in ancient times.

One of the earliest fortifications was raised at Jericho (Palestine) in 7000BC. The city was protected by 21 feet high walls encompassing in an area of 10 acres, and by an outer moat that was 15 feet wide and 9 feet deep, hewn through solid rock. There was also a watchtower for keeping a vigilant eye on the enemy. Apparently, the need for encircling the settlement was to safeguard the water spring against forcible occupation by wandering tribes.

In Babylonia structural remains of ancient walls dating back to 2500BC were found as a result of excavations. These were 23 feet high and four inches thick and were strengthened at intervals of about 140 feet by towers. They were defended by a moat.

In Egypt, near Wadi Halfa, are the remains of three border fortresses, said to date from about 2000BC. One of them at the island of Uronarti on the Nile was built out of very thick walls, supported at frequent intervals by massive buttresses constructed of bricks with timber bonding. The city of Khorasbad near Mosul, of which there are extensive remains, was built in 722-705BC. One gateway in the northern wall of the city and two each in the outer walls appear to have existed. These gateways were formidable structures, each flanked by a tower on either side. In front of each gateway there was a barbican (150 feet wide by 82 feet long) with an outer gateway.

There was a fortress in the city of Tyre in ancient Phoenicia. It was located in an island half a mile from the shore. It was such a formidable fortress that Alexander could only break its defences after a continuous siege of seven months.

Massive elongated walls were also a feature of early permanent fortifications. The great wall of China built by Emperor Shish Huang in 246-210BC, stretching along the northern borders of China, is 1,600 miles long. It has a considerable batter on both sides and is about 25 feet thick at the base and 17 feet at the top. It is 25 to 30 feet high. The wall walk on the top is 13 feet wide and is paved with stones ... The wall was built to protect the country against the incursions of Mongolians and Tartars. Again in China, remains of Chang City (16th-11th century BC) were discovered to the south of the Panlungcheng River. This city too was protected by walls ...

The great Roman Empire was spread out in north-western Europe as well as in Africa and to protect certain vulnerable places, the Romans had built a number of continuous walls, foremost among them being the Hardian wall in Britain. The wall was constructed of stones with concrete core and was 73 miles long. Its thickness varied between nine feet and six inches to seven feet and six inches. The height of the wall walk was about 15 feet. For long stretches, the wall ran along on the top of high ridges with precipitous falls on the northern side; but on lower ground, it was defended by a deep ditch with a level terrace between the ditch and the wall. There are 16 forts along the line spaced at intervals of about four miles. All these walls were built on the usual Roman model.

In Greece, the fortifications of Mycense and Tiryns both dating from about 1500BC are notable. The acropolis of Mycense stands on a hill at the north end of the lower city and is enclosed by a strong wall of massive hewn masonry and can be entered from the lower city by a ramp and a double gateway. The ramp is enclosed on either side by a strong tower of large blocks of stone and is defended by a strong tower at the top on the right hand side of the gateway.

This, in brief, is the history of fortifications in some principal cities of the ancient world. As regards Pakistan, its historical account can he divided into four periods: Prehistoric, Hindu-Buddhist, Muslim and post-Muslim.


Kotdiji in Khairpur District (Circa 3500BC) tops the list of these fortifications. The most impressive structural features of the Kotdiji citadel is the defensive wall of considerable height and width. It was raised on the bedrock, the lower part having been built with undressed lime stone blocks and the imposing structure above it having been built with mud bricks. Externally, it was strengthened with bastions at intervals. Internally, it slanted at an angle of 8 1/2 degrees and was reinforced at intervals with two feet wide stone revetment bonded with the foundation courses. The outer face was riveted with mudbricks. The Kotdiji citadel, in all probability, represents the earliest fortified town of the South Asian subcontinent. It is likely that the inhabitants in the plains were not always on friendly terms with their hilly neighbours, who may have posed a threat on several occasions and were considered a permanent menace.

Rehman Dheri in Dera Ismail Khan is another important site of the pre-Indus Civilisation. Since the earliest occupation, except for the extension outside the city in the south, the entire habitation area of Rehman Dheri was enclosed by a massive wall, built from dressed blocks made from clay slabs.

Almost all the sites of the Indus Civilisation were fortified. It would be relevant to mention here an interesting feature of defensive measures adopted at Harappa. It is the construction of rectangular salients at regular intervals. The main entrance to the citadel lies in the northern side, while a curved re-entrant in the western arm, controlled by a bastion leads to a system of extra-mural ramps and terraces approached by gates and supervised from guard rooms overlooking the gateway. In tracing the history of the defences, three phases of construction have been distinguished by the excavator. Years after the initial construction, the mudbrick wall, it appears, was worn out and a revetment of brickbats was provided, which too had to be replaced subsequently by a better rivetment of whole bricks, as can be seen in the curved re-entrant at the gateway. Finally, the defences in the north-west corner had to be enlarged and the gateway blocked for entry and exit.

Likewise, an elaborate defensive system existed at Mohenjodaro, the other principal site of the Indus Civilisation ... Each major mound was surrounded by an enormous mudbrick wall with gateways at the key points. The western citadel mound is the highest habitation area at this excavated site, where a Buddhist stupa and monastery, dating back to second century AD were discovered.

This mound is surrounded by a massive mudbrick wall or platform, which is now eroded to the modern plain level. Besides, there was a gateway at the south-east corner of the citadel mound. A fortification is also suspected to have existed around the lower city of Mohenjodaro. Digging carried out in 1964-65 on the eastern edge of the so called H.R. area had unearthed a massive construction compound of large solid mudbrick embankments with baked brick retaining walls. For the present, it would be premature to conjecture that the lower city was fortified in a military sense ...

During the course of archaeological survey, the team of the Federal Department of Archaeology has recently discovered two pre-historic forts namely the Taulaja Fort and Akrand Fort in Khushab District. Fortification walls built with dressed stones are still extant here.

Alexandrian era

Following the trails of Alexander’s military campaigns in the areas now constituting Pakistan, it can be observed that he had to face stiff resistance from the local rulers at each and every place. The cities were strongly fortified and tremendous efforts by the Greek conqueror were required to capture them ...

Alexander invaded the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent in 326BC. Prior to that he had conquered Kabul whereafter he proceeded towards the valleys of Swat and Bajaur, inhabited by fierce tribes. His campaigns in the hills proved to be very arduous. His first great exploit was the capture of Massaga, the capital of Assakenoi and a hill fort surmounted by a wall of bricks and stones that was nearly seven kilometres long. The fort was so impregnable that it was subdued after five days of severe fighting ... Alexander received a leg injury during this campaign. Thereafter he deputed one of his commanding officers to take the city of Bazira while he himself moved towards Ora in Swat. The Greeks succeeded in capturing these cities, though they were strongly fortified.

Alexander’s most important achievement was the capture of the stronghold of Aornos, which was believed to be impregnable and fabled to have defied the efforts of even Hercules. He then marched towards the Indus to join the advance guard of his army near Embolima above Attock.

After crossing the Indus, Alexander conquered the territories between Indus and Jhelum and also between Jhelum and Chenab ruled by Raja Ambhi and Raja Porus respectively. He continued his advance eastwards and invaded the territory called Glausians, receiving their submission. He crossed the rivers Chenab and Ravi and stormed Sangla, a fortified city with several gates. Thereafter, he passed through Sibi, then inhabited by a rude folk clad in skins and armed with clubs. They submitted to him and were spared. Alexander advanced his arms against the Agalassians who had mustered an army of 40,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 horsemen. They, too, were defeated.

Alexander could not proceed beyond the river Beas, due to the unwillingness of his army. He, therefore, decided to return home. Arrangements were made for a voyage down the course of the river Indus towards the sea. On his return journey, he had to face resistance by the local tribes. A fierce battle had taken place at Mallois. Alexander is reported to have received fatal wounds while attempting to scale its walls.

Incidentally, it may be pointed out that the excavations conducted at Tulumba have revealed the remains of a burnt brick fortification around the citadel. It, however, dates back to 7-12 centuries AD ...


Excavations undertaken at the ancient cities of Sirkap and Sirsukh, near Taxila, have confirmed that the Buddhist period also had adequate fortifications. The city of Sirkap, was founded in the early years of the second century BC by the Bactrian Greeks. This city had a fortification wall, built in stone, having a length of over three miles with a thickness varying from 15 to 21 feet and six inches. It has an irregular alignment broken by various salients and recesses.

In early 80BC, the Kushans decided to abandon the city of Sirkap and build a new one in its place. They selected a new site now known as Sirsukh, situated about a mile from the northern wall of Sirkap. The fortification walls are clearly visible on the southern wall of Sirkap. However, the fortifications built at Sirsukh and Sirkap differ in many respects ...

In Sindh, there are remains of an ancient fort known as Mahorta or Maihota, about 10 miles from Larkana, as mentioned by Cunningham and Masson. The former identifies it with the Praesti, Porticanus or Oxykanus of Arian, Curtius, Diodorus and Starbo. Masson identifies it as the remains of an ancient fortress on a huge mound. In Raverty’s view, it is the site of an ancient fortified town. As the site has not yet been fully explored and excavated, nothing can be said with certainty about its exact date.

The excavations at Mian Ali Faqiran, in Sheikhupura, have revealed the remains of an ancient city Taki or Tse-Kia, which was once the capital of Punjab. Taki was known as Taifand when Mahmud of Ghazna captured it in 1023AD. The diggings show that the city was encircled by a defence wall, remains of which have been exposed in the northern side of the mound. The date of construction of the fortification wall has been assigned between fourth to sixth centuries AD.

The city of Uchh in Bahawalpur District is undoubtedly one of the oldest in the province of Punjab. It was destroyed and a new city of Alexandria was founded by Alexander. The city was known by various names such as Alexandria-Ussa of Greek chroniclers, Swandi of Arab Historians, Chachpur or Askalanda of Kufi, Bhatiya of the Ghaznavid historians and Uchch of Tarikh-i-Masumi. According to Baloch, Bhatiya was probably situated between Aror and Uchh on the southern bank of the river Beas (Early eighth century AD). It was captured by Muhammad bin Qasim. Later on, it was subdued by Mahmud of Ghazna, when Baji Rai was its ruler.

Sialkot is another city which was fortified in ancient times. Tradition has it that the foundation of the city then known as Shalkil was laid by Raja Shal or Sal.

According to another legend, it was a fort constructed by Raja Salwan or Saliwahan during the reign of Vikramjit Vikramaditiya. The fort was, however, razed to the ground when the city was attacked in 326BC by Raja Porus. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who visited this country some time in seventh century AD, has stated in his travel accounts that the fort was in ruinous condition, but its foundation still existed.

During the Muslim period, many rulers had assumed control over the city of Sialkot. Sultan Shahabuddin Muhammad Ghauri and Emperor Jehangir are reported to have carried out repairs on the fort. It remained in occupation of the Sikh rulers till 1847 when the British forces took it from them. Presently, this fort is being used by the Municipal Committee to house some of its offices. A portion of the retaining wall on the southern side of the fort still exists.

The Arab General Muhammad Bin Qasim subdued the port city of Al-Deybul in 711AD whereafter the Arab forces penetrated deep into the province of Sindh, whose boundaries at that time also included the region of Multan. The forts which were of pre-Muslim period included apart from Al-Deybul, Nirun, Brahmanabad, Swistan, Al-Ror, Multan, Baghror.

Excerpted with permission from: Historical Forts in Pakistan By Shaikh Khurshid Hasan National Institute of Historical & Cultural Research, Centre of Excellence, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad ISBN 969-415-069-8 170pp. Rs1,000

Shaikh Khurshid Hasan is a former director general of the Federal Department of Archaeology who specialises in Islamic Art and Architecture. He has also served as a Unesco consultant in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

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