Built on the site of Afrosiab, which dated from the 3d or 4th millennium B.C., Samarkand was known to the ancient Greeks as Marakanda; ruins of the old settlement remain north of the present city. The chief city of Sogdiana, on the ancient trade route between the Middle East and China, Samarkand was conquered (329 B.C.) by Alexander the Great and became a meeting point of Western and Chinese culture. The first paper mill outside China was established there in 751.
The Arabs took Samarkand in the 8th cent. A.D., and under the Umayyad empire it flourished as a trade center on the route between Baghdad and China. In the 9th and 10th cent., as capital of the Abbasid dynasty in central Asia, Samarkand emerged as a center of Islamic civilization. The tomb of Bukhari (d. 870), near Samarkand, is a major Muslim shrine. Samarkand continued to prosper under the Samanid dynasty of Khorasan (874–999) and under the subsequent rule of the Seljuks and of the shahs of Khwarazm.
In 1220, Jenghiz Khan captured and devastated the city, but it revived in the 14th cent. when Timur (or Tamerlane) made it the capital of his empire. Under his rule the city reached its greatest splendor; sumptuous palaces were erected, and mosques and gardens laid out. Under Timur's successors, the Timurids, the empire soon was much reduced; it broke up in the late 15th cent. and was ruled by the Uzbeks for the following four centuries. Samarkand eventually became part of the emirate of Bukhara (see Bukhara, emirate of) and fell to Russian troops in 1868, when the emirate passed under Russian suzerainty. In 1925, Samarkand became the capital of the Uzbek SSR, but in 1930 it was replaced by Tashkent.