BACTRIA: ANCIENT INDO-GREEK AFGHANISTAN

BACTRIA

In the centuries that followed Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Transoxiana once again found itself a border zone, torn apart by different centres of power, such as Parthia, Graeco-Bactria and the Kushan and Sasanian empires.

In ancient times, Afghanistan was known as Ariana or Bactria. Bactria was inhabited from roughly 2000 B.C. to 1000 B.C. by fire-worshiping agricultural tribes. After the death of Alexander, Central Asia broke up into a number of kingdoms ruled by ex-Greek generals and their descendants. One such kingdom was Bactria. It covered much of what is now Afghanistan and was centered in the Bactrian Plain in northern Afghanistan between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya (Oxus River) around the city of Bactria (present-day Balkh).

Bactria has at its height from around 200 B.C. to 150 B.C. It was located in a prosperous region and it grew rich from trade between Gandhara, the Middle East and Europe. In 185 B.C., the Bactrian king Demetrius marched over the Hindu Kush and claimed much of what is now Pakistan. Much of the artwork found at Bactrian sites came from places along the Silk Road. The stuff that was locally made often had influences from foreign cultures.

Under Menander, (155-130 B.C.) the Bactria spread into the Punjab, the Swat Valley and the Hazara district. Menander converted to Buddhism but that didn’t stop him from trying conquer the Ganges Valley, which ultimately was unsuccessful and brought about the decline and downfall of Bactria.

Andrew Lawler wrote in National Geographic, “Long a hub of trade flowing from east to west and north to south, Afghanistan is where caravans of bundled Chinese silk passed camels loaded with glass from ancient Rome. It's where classical Greek art fused with the sinuous sculpture of India.The storied city of Balkh at the foot of the central highlands is the legendary home of the great prophet Zoroaster, who lived here centuries before Alexander the Great arrived. And it was in this region that Buddhism was transformed into a vibrant world religion. [Source: Andrew Lawler, National Geographic, December 2004 <>]

In the third and second centuries B.C., the Parthians, a nomadic people speaking Indo-European languages, arrived on the Iranian Plateau. The Parthians established control in most of what is Iran as early as the middle of the third century B.C.; about 100 years later another Indo-European group from the north--the Kushans (a subgroup of the tribe called the Yuezhi by the Chinese)--entered Afghanistan and established an empire lasting almost four centuries. The Kushan Empire spread from the Kabul River Valley to defeat other Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians. By the middle of the first century B.C., the Kushans' control stretched from the Indus Valley to the Gobi Desert and as far west as the central Iranian Plateau. [Source: Library of Congress, 1997]

“Nowhere is the past so evident as the remote valley of Bamian, northwest of Kabul at the edge of the Hindu Kush mountain range. A vast Buddhist community of devout monks and nuns thrived here in the early centuries a.d. Two giant Buddhas once towered over the valley and its sprawling monasteries, gleaming in gilt and bright paint, possibly gesturing with wooden arms and attracting pilgrims from as far away as China. Rain and snow and marauders robbed the Buddhas of their faces and arms, but they remained magnificent sentinels of the province until 2001, when the ruling Taliban blasted the Buddhas into dust, causing a global outcry.” <>

Revolt of Parthia and Bactria

About the middle of the third century B. C. two events occurred in Central Asia, which were destined to have fat-reaching effects on the course of Indian history. These were the defections of Parthia and Bactria from the Seleucid empire. The revolt of the former province, comprising the inhospitable regions of Khurasan and the South-East Caspian coast, which had never adopted the Greek culture, was a an enterprising chief named Arsakes. The dynasty he founded about 248 B.C. lasted nearly, five centuries. The rebellion of Bactria, on the other hand, was largely due to the ambitions of its own governor Diodotus, who about the same time formed designs of breaking away from the Seleucids. The land of Balkh, lying between the Hindu-Kush and the Oxus, was rich, fertile, and thickly populated; and it was regarded as an important out-post of Hellenism in the East. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

We do not know how far the disturbed condition of the Syrian monarchy after the death of Antiochos II Theos in 246 B. C. helped Diodotus in his undertakings, but his son, who had come to terms with his Parthian con-temporary, appears to have achieved full independence. Probably Diodotus II ruled from circa 245 to 230 B. C. He met a violent death at the hands of an adventurer from Magnesia named Euthydemos, who seized the throne for himself. He was, however, involved in a protracted struggle with Antiochos III (circa 223-185 B.C.), when the latter made determined efforts about 212 B.C. to recover the lost provinces. After a long siege of Balkh the contending parties made peace mainly through the good offices of a certain Teleas. The Seleucid monarch recognised the independence of Bactria, and as a mark of friendship gave the hand of his daughter to Demetrios, son of Euthydemos, with whose diplomacy and dignified bearing during the course of the peace negotiations he was greatly impressed. Antiochos III then crossed the Hindu-kush in 207 or 206 B.C., and received the submission of king ' Sophagasenos (Subhagasena), perhaps the successor of Vlrasena, who, according to Taranatha, soon after Ashoka’s death established his sway over Gandhara. Antiochos the Great did not, however, proceed beyond the frontiers of India, and he hastily returned homeward to attend to urgent affairs in the West. His departure thus left the Bactrian Greeks free to pursue their schemes of expansion and aggrandizement.

Conquests of the Bactrian Greeks

The kingdom of Bactria rapidly grew in power under Euthydemos who appears to have subjugated a large part of Afghanistan. When he died about 190 B.C., his son Demetrios undertook foreign expeditions of greater magnitude. Crossing the Hindu Kush about 183 B.C. he conquered a considerable portion of the Punjab; and if he is the Yavana general mentioned in the Mahabhasya he overran Pancala country, besieged Madhyamika (Nagari, Chitor) and Saketa (Ayodhya), and even threatened Pataliputra, perhaps in the time of Pusyamitra. It is noteworthy that Strabo partly gives to Demetrios and partly to Menander the credit for the extension of Greek dominion in Ariana and India. While Demetrios was busy with his Indian adventure, a certain Eukratides, who, according to Tarn, Antiochos IV, successfully raised the standard of revolt in Bactria with the help of the disgruntled Greek settlers, and seated himself on the throne (c. 175 B.C.). Demetrios could not dislodge his rival from this position, and it seems, therefore, his authority remained confined to the Greek conquests in the Punjab and Sind. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Strabo wrote: “The Greeks (i.e., Euthydemos and his family) who occasioned the revolt, owing to the fertility and advantages of Bactria, became masters of Ariana and India....These conquests were achieved partly by Menander and partly by Demetrios, sonof Euthydemos. They overran not only Pattalene, but the kingdoms of Saraostos and Sigerdis, which constitute the remainder of the coast. They extended their empire as far as the Seres and Phrynoi.”

Tarn believes that Demetrios and Menander were “acting in concert,” and that the latter went farther than the former Ra Indorum, "king of the Indians”; and we also learn that he founded a town, Euthydemia, in memory of his father. Further, the town of Dattamitri among the Sauvlras perhaps owes its origin to Dattamitra or Demetrios, as pointed out by Tarn on the strength of a scholion to Patanjali. Demetrios was the first Greek ruler to issue bilingual coins, having legends in Greek along with the Indian language in the Kharosthl script. Sometime afterwards (y. 165-60 B.C.) Eukratides, who had founded the city of Eukratideia, bearing his own name, in Bactria, "conquered India and became lord of a thousand cities”. Thus arose two separate

Greek principalities in the East were ruled by the rival houses of Euthydemos and Eukratides. The former held eastern Punjab, with its capital at Euthydemia or Salcala (Sialkot), Sind, and the adjoining regions; and the latter was in possession of Bactria, Kabul valley, Gandhara, and western Punjab. Coins are almost our sole evidence about these numerous princelings. Among the descendants or successors of Euthydemos mention may be made of Agathocles, Pantaleon, and Antimachus. Perhaps Apollodotus and Menander also belonged to this line

Menander

Menander (died 130 B.C.) is by far the most interesting figure in Indo-Greek history. Strabo says that he conquered "more nations than Alexander.” No doubt, this claim is to some extent confirmed by the wide distribution of his coins, which have been found from Kabul to Mathura and even in places further eastwards like Bundelkhand. Some scholars have identified Menander with the Yavana invader, who carried his arms as far as Madhyamika, Saketa, and Pataliputra during the reign of Pusyamitra. Milinda or Menander was a Buddhist, and he has survived in Indian traditions. Thus, the Milindapanho preserves some of his puzzling questions on religion put to Thera Nagasena. Indeed, according to a Siamese legend Menander even attained to Arhatship. Some of his coins bear the Buddhist symbol dharma-cakra and the epithet “Dhramikasa,” which may be regarded as an additional proof of his faith in Buddhism. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Menander ruled from Taxila and later from Sagala (Sialkot). He rebuilt Taxila (Sirkap) and Pushkalavati. He is remembered in Buddhist records for his discussions with the great Buddhist philosopher, Nāgasena, in the book Milinda Panha. The Milindapanbo also contains a glowing account of the capital, Sakala, which abounded with parks, gardens, tanks, beautiful buildings, well-laid out streets, and strong defences. It had shops for the sale of Benares muslin, jewels, and other costly articles indi- • eating the wealth and prosperity of the kingdom. Menander was noted for his justice, and Plutarch informs us that on his death in camp 3 there were disputes among his subjects for the possession of his ashes, over which they wanted to raise Stupas. Coins yield us the names of Menander’s successors — Strato I, Strato II, and others — but nothing definite is known about them.

Around the time of Menander's death in 140 BC, the Central Asian Kushans overran Bactria and ended Greek rule there. Around 80 BC, the Sakas, diverted by their Parthian cousins from Iran, moved into Gandhara and other parts of Pakistan and Western India. The most famous king of the Sakas, Maues, established himself in Gandhara. [Source: Wikipedia]

House of Eukratides

To turn to Eukratides; it appears he did not enjoy his conquests long. While he was returning home after his Indian expedition he was assassinated, as Justin u y. deposes, by his son and colleague (?) ViIOC ‘ es who has been rightly identified with Heliocles. This event happened about 155 B.C., and the unnatural youth is alleged to have gloried so much in his heinous crime that he even refused to give a burial to the dead body. Tarn, however, does not accept the tradition of parricide, or that Heliocles insulted his father’s corpse. He was the last Greek king of Bactria, for after Heliocles it was overwhelmed by the Saka deluge from the steppes of Central Asia. Of the many members of his line, whose authority was confined to the valleys of Afghanistan and the Indian border-lands, history has not condescended to record.. „., anything except their names. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942] One

Antialkidas is known from the Besnagar pillar inscription to have sent his ambassador Heliodora or Heliodorus, son of Diya (Dion), to the court of Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, identified with the fifth Shunga monarch, Odraka, or with the last but one, Bhagavata. It is noteworthy Amtalikhita or Antialkidas is described as king of Taxila, and his ambassador calls himself a Bhagavata — worshipper of Visnu. Most of the coinage of Antialkidas, like that of other Greek rulers in India, is bilingual but there is one silver issue on the Attic standard bearing his Greek legend only, “Of king Antialkidas the Victorious,” which may indicate some of his military suc cesses.

The last Greek ruler of the frontier regions and the Kabul valley was Hermaeus, who flourished about the second quarter of the first century A.D. Hemmed in by enemies on all sides, he succumbed to the pressure of the advancing Kushans under Kujula Kadphises. The Greek power had already been weakened by internal feuds, and so it could not withstand the inroads of these “barbarian” hordes.

Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians)

The history of the Indo-Parthians or Pahlavas is still obscure. But a few facts may be gleaned from coins and inscriptions. The earliest known prince of the dynasty was Vonones, who attained power in Arachosia and Seistan, and adopted the title of “great king $f kings.” On his coins, imitated from the issues of the house of Eukratides, Vonones is associated with his brothers, Spalirises and Spalahores, and his nephew, Spalagadames. Perhaps they were his Viceroys in the conquered regions. Vonones was succeeded by Spalirises, who appears to have been the suzerain of Azes II, for on certain coins the former's name is given in Greek on the obverse and that of Azes in Kharosfhi on the reverse. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Gondophernes (Vindapharna) 1 was the next and the greatest Indo-Parthian monarch. The period of his reign has been almost definitely fixed with the help of the Takht-i-Bahi inscription, which is dated in the year 103. Referring it to the Vikrama era, Fleet placed the record in 45 A.D. This date represents the 26th year of Maharaya Guduvhara’s (?) rule. Hence he came to the throne in 19 A.D. and remained king at least till 45 A.D. The epigraph further proves that the Peshawar district then owned his sway. His cointypes indicate that he became master of the SakaPahlava dominions both in Eastern Iran and Northwestern India. That he supplanted Azes II in some territories seems evident from the coins of Aspavarman, who was at first the latter’s Strategos, but afterwards acknowledged the overlordship of Gondophernes. In Christian traditions he is called “king of Lidia,” and is connected with St. Thomas. One can hardly rely on such legends, but this much appears to be based on fact that the Apostle visited the court of Gondophares or Gondophernes and that he met there with some success in his missionary labours. When the Pahlava sovereign died, his kingdom broke up and was appropriated by various princes. One of these, Pakores, probably ruled over Western Punjab and portions of Southern Afghanistan

Tillya Tepe

Tillya Tepe (“Golden Hill”)—in northern Afghanistan near the large village of Sheberghan, about 50 miles from the Turkmenistan border —is one of the oldest archeological sites in Central Asia. A 3300-year-old temple for fire worship was found there. It contained a double line of columns around a mud-brick altar covered with ashes. After that the region was quiet for a few hundred years and then dominated by a succession of empires include the Persians of the Achaemenid period, the Greeks, the nomadic Kushans and the eastern Scythians. Zoroastrianism began in Afghanistan in the 6th century B.C. The most significant finds at Tillya Tepe are from around 200 B.C. to A.D. 200. Local people had forgotten how the hill got it name intil a “golden hoard” was found there.

According to Metropolitan Museum of Art: Nomads from the Eurasian steppes overran northern Afghanistan around 145 B.C., bringing an end to the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms that had flourished there. The first evidence of this nomadic presence in the region was found at Tillya Tepe, or "hill of gold." In 1978, a Soviet-Afghan team of archaeologists made an extraordinary discovery: the cemetery of a nomadic family buried in the first century A.D. The graves revealed a stunning treasure of some twenty thousand gold objects, consisting of jewelry and luxury items including ceremonial weapons and appliqués. Most of them were inlaid with an astonishing range of materials, available to the local artists, particularly semiprecious stones such as turquoise from Iran, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, garnets and amethysts from India, and Baltic amber. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York ><]

The finds at Tillya Tepe revealed a nomadic culture that was very refined and eclectic. The nomads retained their own imagery—the "animal style" of the steppes—but they also absorbed different elements from works of art traveling along the Silk Road, resulting in a synthesis and reinterpretation of Hellenistic, Indian, Chinese, and nomadic traditions. Typical of nomadic burials, the graves at Tillya Tepe were dug into an earthen mound. In the Eurasian steppes, funeral mounds, or kurgans, were man-made constructions of overwhelming size, erected with a huge amount of the sod of grazing lands. In Tillya Tepe, however, the nomads reused an existing "hill," which was actually the earth-covered remains of a fortified mud-brick temple of earlier antiquity. The most important person, the chieftain in tomb IV, was interred at the highest point in the center of the mound, and the female burials were arranged roughly in a circle around him. The deceased were interred in lidless coffins that were wrapped with burial shrouds and placed in simple trenches covered by timber planks and earth. ><

No evidence survives to suggest how the people buried at Tillya Tepe died. Perhaps they were victims of sickness or the harsh Afghan environment. It is also possible that the women were sacrificed upon the death of the chieftain. According to Herodotos' description of the burial practices of Scythian nomads, a man did not go alone into the hereafter, but was accompanied by members of his household. Archaeological evidence from nomadic graves scattered from Ukraine to Siberia complements this account, attesting to impressive burials filled with gold adornments, weapons, symbols of high status, and provisions, servants, grooms, and horses to accompany the deceased into the eternal pastures. ><

Golden Hoard of Bactria

"Golden Hoard of Bactria" refers to an astonishing collection of about 100 artifacts — totaling more than 22,000 pieces of gold, some smaller than a teardrop — found at Tillya Tepe. Regarded as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, the pieces date back about 2,000 years and were discovered in 1978 by Russian archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi while he was excavating the burial site of a nomadic royal and five of his wives in Tillya Tepe.

The "Golden Hoard of Bactria" was presented to the Kabul Museum and displayed in 1980 and 1991 before disappearing from view. Thought to have been lost or stolen or melted down during years of civil war and turmoil, in 2004 the treasure was dramatically revealed to be intact, hidden away in a secure bank vault.

The Bactrian pieces were excavated in 1978-79 from the graves of six wealthy nomads believed to be Saka tribesmen from Central Asia or the Yuezhi from northwest China. Five of the graves were occupied by five women, initially said to be Kushan princesses. The other belonged to a man. Soviet archeologist decided to excavate the area after some local farmers found field mice burrows filled with gold platelets. [Source: Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, National Geographic March 1990] ▪ The discovery was called Bactrian Gold even though it came from the Kushans. The find was extraordinary. It was compared with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. It gave archeologists great insight into trade networks and civilizations of that time. Unfortunately, the find was made at the around the time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Two unexcavated tombs were looted and their contents showed up on the world market.

Roger Atwood wrote in National Geographic, “The hoard tells a uniquely Afghan story of how nomads rode off the Central Asian steppes around the time of Christ, crossed the Amu Darya River, and created a civilization whose art reflects an amalgam of East and West, transience and settled life. From the wilds of Siberia come the animals, such as a bear depicted on a knife handle, dancing and holding a grapevine in its mouth. Greek and Hindu influences merge in a golden Aphrodite with wings and an Indian-style circle on her forehead. Many objects show a strikingly Western naturalism, such as a ram sculpted in gold that decorated a nomad nobleman's headdress. Only under a magnifying glass can the masterpiece's splendid workmanship be fully appreciated. And a delicate, golden crown tells of a refined culture that had not given up its steppes roots. The crown can be disassembled into six pieces for easy transport, perhaps in a leather satchel on a two-humped Bactrian camel - a perfect accessory for a nomadic princess. [Source: Roger Atwood, National Geographic, June 2008]

Bactrian Gold Objects

Most of the gold pieces from were made of thins sheets of hammered gold with semiprecious stones and were dated to around 2,000 years ago. Some of the craftsmanship was extraordinary. Sheets of gold wore formed into beads. Gold grains were meticulously soldered onto hemispheres that joined beads. Analysis of the gold found that some of it came from local rivers.

Among the golden artifacts were golden hair pendants, a realistic-looking Greco-Bactrian ibex once part of a ceremonial diadem; a necklace with hollow gold and black-painted ivory; hundreds of gold bangles; gold jewelry; hundreds of tiny discs and platelets sewn into clothing; Chinese-style gold buckles with inlaid turquoise; fluted shell-like dishes; and a lidded gold jar decorated with pomegranate images.

A collapsible gold crown was composed of a gold mainframe with hundreds of thin gold disks dangling from it. The main frame came apart into six pieces—five elaborate palmettes, which fit into a slotted headband. The crown was found in the grave presumed to belong to a princess. It was designed to be assembled and taken apart easily for nomads on the move.

Many works had clear Greco-Roman influences. A gold clasp featured cupids and dolphins inset with pearls. This piece clearly showed foreign influence. Bactria was located in a landlocked desert about a thousand miles from the nearest dolphin. There was also a small Aphrodite pendant with wings (a Bactrian tradition) and forehead mark (an Indian tradition) and a clasp with Dionysus fondling Ariadne on a chimera with a drunkard extending a cup. Other pieces had Scythian beasts.

Some of the pieces featured gods and dragons and encrusted with semiprecious stones, A warrior belt featured gold medallions connected by braided gold. Each medallion contained an exquisitely-crafted image of a goddess riding on a snarling lion. The images are similar those found on Scythian gold objects. It was found on a warrior wearing Greco-Roman-style armor and a Macedonian-style helmet, a gold dagger with turquoise inlays and images of dragons and beasts.

Richard Covington wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “The 2,000-year-old artifacts exhibit a rare blend of aesthetic influences (from Persian to Classical Greek and Roman) and a high level of craftsmanship. The diadem, a five-inch-tall crown of hammered gold leaf, conveniently folds for travel, and a thumb-size gold figure of a mountain sheep is delicately incised with curving horns and flaring nostrils. [Source: Richard Covington, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2008]

Discovery of the Bactrian Gold

Viktor Sarianidi, the Moscow archaeologist who led the joint Soviet-Afghan team that uncovered the graves in 1978-79, compares the impact of the find to the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. "The gold of Bactria shook the world of archaeology," he wrote. "Nowhere in antiquity have so many different objects from so many different cultures—Chinese-inspired boot buckles, Roman coins, daggers in a Siberian style—been found together in situ." [Source: Richard Covington, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2008 /*\]

Richard Covington wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “Sarianidi first came to the Bactrian plain in 1969 to search for traces of the Silk Road. After excavating ruins of a first-century A.D. city there, he stumbled across, and soon began uncovering, an Iron Age temple used for fire worship that dated from 1500 to 1300 B.C. While carting away earth from the temple mound in November 1978, a worker spied a small gold disk in the ground. After inspecting it, Sarianidi dug deeper, slowly revealing a skull and skeleton surrounded by gold jewelry and ornaments—the remains of a woman, 25 to 30 years old, whom he called a nomadic princess. He subsequently found and excavated five additional graves, all simple trenches containing lidless wooden coffins holding the remains of once ornately attired bodies. Over the next three months, he cleaned and inventoried more than 20,000 individual items, including hundreds of gold spangles, each about the size of a fingernail. /*\

“In late 1978, just before the outbreak of widespread civil war in Afghanistan, armed tribesmen began threatening the dig. By February 1979, the political situation and the impending onset of winter caused Sarianidi to abandon the site before he could excavate a seventh grave; it would later be stripped by looters. Sarianidi crated up the artifacts he had found at the site and brought them to the National Museum in Kabul, where they remained until their removal to the bank vault in 1989.” /*\

Contents of the Bactrian Gold Graves

Richard Covington wrote in Smithsonian Magazine, “In the grave of a chieftain—the only male found at the site—Sarianidi's team uncovered turquoise-studded daggers and sheaths and a braided gold belt with raised medallions that bear the image, some say, of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, riding sidesaddle on a panther. (Others speculate it's the Bactrian goddess Nana seated on a lion.) Near the chieftain's rib cage, excavators found an Indian medallion that, according to Véronique Schiltz, a French archaeologist with the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, bears one of the earliest representations of Buddha. The man had been buried with his head resting on a gold plate on a silk cushion. Around him lay two bows, a long sword, a leather folding stool and the skull and bones of a horse. [Source: Richard Covington, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2008 /*\]

“In a nearby grave, the archaeological team found the remains of a woman in her 30s wearing signet rings with images of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and a pair of matching jeweled pendants with gold figures grasping S-shaped dragons, as if to tame them. Another grave, that of a teenage girl, contained thin gold shoe soles (meant, says Hiebert, for the afterlife), along with a Roman coin minted in the early first century a.d. in Gallic Lugdunum (present-day Lyon, France). Schiltz says the coin probably came to southern India by sea before ending up with the woman through trade or as booty. Schiltz also speculates that the nomads had migrated south from Central Asia or China and ended up plundering the Greco-Bactrian cities. The opulent jewelry that accompanied their burials, she says, indicates that the group belonged to a ruling family. The graves apparently survived intact because they were well concealed in the ruins of the Iron Age temple. /*\

“Archaeological evidence about nomadic groups is rare, for obvious reasons. The Tillya Tepe graves contained the first examples of nomadic art to be found in Afghanistan. Initially Hiebert thought the nomads had acquired the artifacts by "cherry-picking the Silk Road," he says. But after inventorying the objects, he was persuaded by their similarities that they all came from a single local workshop. "That meant that these nomads took iconography from Greece, Rome, China, India, even as far away as Siberia, and put it together into their own unique and highly refined art style," he says. "They were creators, not merely collectors." He suspects that the workshop lies buried near the tombs.

Impact of Greek Contacts on India

An Indian revolt, following closely upon Alexander the Great’s premature death in 323 B.C., soon obliterated all traces of Greek conquest. Then came Seleucus Nicator about 306 B.C., but he got no chance to disseminate the seeds of Greek culture on Indian soil. His arms were effectively checked on the frontiers by Chandragupta Maurya, who is said to have wrested from his adversary four important satrapies corresponding to modem Baluchistan and southern Afghanistan. Neither Megasthenes nor Kautilya bears out that there were any Hellenic signs in the Maurya court. For the next one hundred years India enjoyed immunity from Greek incursions. In 206 B.C. Antiochos III appeared on her border-lands, but he, too, had to hurry back home after receiving the homage of a prince named Sophagasenos (Subhagascna). The later expeditions of Demetrios, Eukratides, and Menander, which covered with intervals a period of about four decades (c. 190-155 B.C.), penetrated far into the interior of the country. These were not wholly transitory raids, for in the Punjab and adjacent territories they led to the establishment of Greek rule, which lasted over a century and a half. It is, however, surprising that traces of Hellenism are even here very scanty. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

It appears that in the matter of coinage Indians learnt much from the Greeks. Prior to their advent rude punch-marked coins were current in India, but they introduced the practice of using regular coins, properly shaped and stamped. The Greek word Drachma was even adopted by Indians as Dramma. Further, the Greek language on coins is supposed to indicate that it was understood in the Indo-Greek.dominions, but this view is not borne out by the evidence available. The introduction of the Indian legends and the use of the Kharosthl on coins would, on the other hand, prove that the masses in general did not know the Greek language at all. That this was the case is also clear from the fact that no Greek inscription has so far been discovered in India.

Turning to literature, it is alleged by St. Chrysostom (A.D. 1 7) that “the poetry of Homer is sung by the Indians, who had translated it into their own language and modes of expression.” This is further corroborated by Plutarch and./Elian, but there is hardly any basis for such assertions except some superficial similarities between the legends or Greece and those of India. For instance, the main theme of the R atnayana curiously offers a parallel to the story of the Iliad. Similarly, although Greek plays may have been staged in places like Sakala and other centres of Greek power, we have really no evidence to warrant the assumption that Indian drama owes much to the Greek. The term Yavanikd merely denoted a curtain of Greek fabric, and other resemblances also are doubtless mostly fortuitous.

In the realm of astronomy Indians were certainly indebted to the Greeks. Thus says the Gdrgi-Samhita : ‘‘The Yavanas are barbarians yet the science of astronomy originated with them, and for this they must be reverenced like gods.” Indian astronomy preserves a number of Greek terms; and, of course, the Romaka and Vaults a Siddhantas bear obvious traces of Greek influences. As to astrology, Indians had some knowledge of it, but they are said to have borrowed from Babylon the art of divining the future by means of the stars.

It is difficult to say how far these Indo-Greeks affected the development of Indian art and architecture. Not one notable piece of sculpture belonging to the period of Demetrios and Menander has so far been unearthed, but the later Gandhara school, depicting on stone scenes from the life of the Buddha, is beyond doubt inspired by Hellenic ideals. Similarly, no Greek building in India has come to light, save the unembellished walls of some houses and a temple at Taxila with Ionic pillars and classical mouldings, dating from about the first quarter of the first century B.C. The Hellenic style preponderated in the decorative arts for a long time. It was then modified by the addition of Indian motifs.

The contact of diverse civilisations gave an impetus to trade and commerce, and there began a constant flow of ideas, which produced far-reaching results in different directions. Such instances as the conversion of Heliodorus to Vaisnavism, and of Menander or of Theodoros of the Swat Vase inscription to Buddhism, show that the Greeks were gradually succumbing to the subtle influence of Indian faiths. Thus, when “the legions had thundered past,” India “plunged in thought again” in a manner which slowly converted her military conquerors into her moral and spiritual captives. The Indianisation of the Greeks must have been, to some extent, brought about by mixed marriages also.

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Text Sources: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016


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