Quoted from Ralph Hattox, Dictionary of the Middle Ages: Vol 10; J.R. Strayer, ed.; Charles Scribner's Sons, New York; pp 640-1.
SAMARKAND: [Samarkand, known in ancient times as Markanda, is a city of Transoxania, which was formerly capital of Uzbekistan]. It is difficult to place a date on the founding of Samarkand, although it is reputed to have been established as a frontier outpost in the mid sixth century B.C. by Cyrus the Great as protection against incursions by central Asian nomads, out in the no-man's-land that separates the Iranian world from inner Asia. The city was known to Europe in classical antiquity as the capital of Sogdiana and was captured by Alexander on his campaign into India. But while Samarkand for much of its early history drifted in and out of the political influence of Persia, and very occasionally that of China, locally it was usually dominated by Turko-Mongol elements. Its importance, not only for Persia and China but for medieval Europe as well, is that of location: it was an important stop on the East-West trade route, one of the last major outposts for the merchant travelling east before reaching the Jaxartes [a river in Eastern Uzbekistan now known as the Syr Darya] and entering the vast and sparsely populated inner Asian steppe.
Conquered by the Arabs in the early eighth century, Samarkand became one of the easternmost outposts of Islam and, along with Bukhara, one of the foremost cities of Mawara' al-Nahr (the land beyond the river). At first part of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires, as localism prevailed over the theoretically united Islamic empire, Samarkand came to be ruled by a succession of dynasties.
Following the collapse of the Samanids in the late tenth century, Samarkand passed from one Turko-Muslim dynasty to another, first dominated by the Ghaznavids, then, in quick succession, the Oarakhanids, the Seljuks and ultimately by the Khwarizmshahs.
Samarkand, though it escaped the absolute annihilation that was the lot of cities such as Merv or Nishapur, did suffer conquest and occupation by the Mongols. It was eventually incorporated into that part of the Mongol realm ruled by the descendants of Chagatay Khan (d. 1242). The conquest apparently took quite a toll on the city: fourteenth-century travellers lamented that the city which they saw was only a shadow of what pre-Mongol Samarkand must have been, although even in ruins the city impressed them. By the mid fourteenth century Chagatay control of Transoxiana had been replaced by local anarchy, out of which Tamerlane (Timur-i Leng [1336- 1405]), a local chieftain with hazy Chagatay connections, emerged victorious and established Samarkand as his capital.
by: Quoted from Ralph Hattox, Sat 20 July, 2002