Merv myĕrf [key], ancient city, in Turkmenistan, in a large oasis of the Kara Kum desert, on the Murgab River. The city, known in antiquity as Margiana, or Antiochia Margiana, was founded in the 3d cent. BC on the site of an earlier settlement. Its periods of greatness were from AD 651 to 821, when it was the seat of the Arab rulers of Khorasan and Transoxania and one of the main centers of Islamic learning, and from 1118 to 1157, when it was the capital of the Seljuk Empire under the last sultan, Sandzhar, and a seat of learning and culture. The Mongols destroyed the city and slaughtered the inhabitants early in the 13th cent., and also destroyed the Murgab dam that had supplied water to the city and its canals. Merv was slowly rebuilt, to be destroyed again by the Bukharans in 1790. The Russians conquered the area in 1884. Several mausoleums, mosques, and castles of the 11th and 12th cent. are preserved and are among the best monuments of Muslim art in Central Asia. Present-day Merv, c.20 mi (30 km) from the old city, was renamed Mary in 1937.

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