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Appendix 4 – On the Greek Kingdom of Bactria

Accounts of the ancients

The great kingdom of Bactria, as formerly known to us, had so little influence on India, that it would scarcely have deserved mention in the history of that country. Late discoveries have shown a more permanent connection between it and India, and may throw light on relations as yet little understood. But these discoveries still require the examination of antiquarians; and a slight sketch of the results hitherto ascertained will be sufficient in this place. When Alexander retired from India, he left a detachment from his army in Bactria.

BC 312

After the first contest for the partition of his empire, that province fell to the lot of Seleucus, king of Syria. He marched in person to reduce the local governors into obedience, and afterwards went on to India, and made his treaty with Sandracottus730. Bactria remained subject to his descendants, until their own civil wars and the impending revolt of the Parthians induced the governor of the province to assert his independence.

BC 250

Theodotus was the first king. He was succeeded by his son of the same name, who was deposed by Euthydemus, a native of Magnesia, in Asia Minor. By this time, the Seleucidae had consolidated their power; and Antiochus the Great came with a large army to restore order in the eastern part of his dominions. He defeated Euthydemus, but admitted him to terms; and

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confirmed him in possession of the throne he had usurped. It does not seem probable that Euthydemus carried his arms to the south of the. eastern Caucasus; but his son, Demetrius, obtained possession of Arachosia and a large portion of Persia. He also made conquests in India, and was in possession, not only of Lower Sind, but of the coast of India further to the east. He seems, however, to have been excluded from Bactria, of which Eucratidas remained master. After the death of Euthydemus, Demetrius made an unsuccessful attempt to dispossess this rival; and, in the end, lost all his Indian conquests, which were seized by Eucratidas. In his time the Bactrian power was at its height.

In the midst of his greatness he was assassinated by his own son, Eucratidas II.; and, during the reign of this prince, some of his western dominions were seized on by the Parthians, and Bactria itself by the Scythians731; and nothing remained in his possession but the country on the south of the eastern Caucasus. The period of the reigns of Menander and Apollodotus, and the relation in which they stood to the Eucratidae, cannot be made out from the ancients. Menander made conquests in the north-west of India, and carried the Greek arms further in that direction than any other monarch of the nation. The position of his conquests is shown in a passage of Strabo, that likewise contains all we know of the extent of the Bactrian kingdom. According to an ancient author there quoted, the Bactrians possessed the most conspicuous part of Ariana, and conquered more nations in India than even Alexander. In this last achievement, the principal actor was Menander, who crossed the Hypanis towards the east, and went on as far as the Isamus. Between him and Demetrius, the son

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of Euthydemus (continues the same author), the Bactrians occupied not only Pattalene, but that part of the other coast which is called the kingdom of Tessariostus and the kingdom of Sigertes. The Hypanis mentioned in the beginning of the passage referred to is admitted to mean the Hyphasis; but the Isamus is thought by some to be the Jamna river, by others the Hemalaya mountains (sometimes called Imaus), and by others, again, a small river called Isa, which runs into the Ganges on the western side. Whichever is correct, the territory to the east of the Panjab must have been a narrow strip. No mention is made of acquisitions towards the south; and if any had been made in that direction as far as Delhi, or even Hastinapur, they would not have entirely escaped the notice even of Hindu authors. The south-western conquests extended to the Delta of the Indus (Pattalene being the country about Tatta); but whether the kingdom of Sigertes, on the other coast, was Cach or the peninsula of Guzerat, we have no means of conjecturing. The author of the “Periplussays that coins of Menander and Apollodotus were met with in his time at Baroch, which, in the state of circulation of those days, makes it probable that some of their territories were not very distant. On the west,the most conspicuous part of Arianawould certainly be Khorasan; but they had probably lost some portion of that province before their Indian conquests attained the utmost limit732.

The above is the information we derive from ancient authors. It has been confirmed and greatly augmented by recent discoveries from coins. These increase the number of Greek kings from the eight above mentioned to eighteen;

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and disclose new dynasties of other nations who succeeded each other on the extinction of the Greek monarchy. IV.

The subject first attracted notice in consequence of some coins obtained by Colonel Tod, and an interesting paper which he published regarding them in the first volume of the “Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society.” It excited great attention on the Continent, and was zealously followed up in India by Professor Wilson and by Mr. Prinsep.

Professor Wilson has published an account of the coins of the Greek kings, and arranged them as far as our present knowledge permits; but as they bear no dates either of time or place, the arrangement is necessarily incomplete. The coins of the kings already mentioned, down to Eucratidas I., are found on the north of the eastern Caucasus. The inscriptions, the figures, the reverses, and the workmanship are pure Greek. From Eucratidas II., no coins are found on the northern side of the mountains; and those found on the southern side assume a new form. They are often square, a shape of which there is no example in any other Grecian coinage either European or Asiatic: they frequently bear two inscriptions, one in Greek and another in a barbaric character; and, from the reign of Menander, they have occasionally an elephant, or a bull with a hump; both animals peculiar to India, and indicative of an Indian dominion.

The barbaric character has been but imperfectly deciphered, and has given rise to a good deal of discussion. It is certainly written from right to left; a mode, as far as we know, peculiar to the languages of the Arab family: it may be assumed that it represents the language of the country, which it is natural to suppose would be Persian; and these circumstances suggest Pehlevi as the language. This opinion, accordingly, has been maintained by some of those who have written on the subject; but a close

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examination by Professor Wilson leads him to doubt the conclusion, though he has no theory of his own to support. Others, thinking that they discover words of Shanscrit origin in the inscriptions, believe the language to be Zend, or else some of the dialects of India.

Of this series of coins the first that attract notice are those of Menander. As they exhibit the title of Soter, which was adopted by the two Eucratidae, and as the devices on the reverses are the same as on coins of these princes, it is a legitimate deduction that the king who struck them belonged to the same dynasty. The same argument extends to the coins of Apollodotus, who was perhaps the son of Menander. Two more kings, Diomedes and Hermoeus, have also the title of Soter, and may be presumed to belong to the same dynasty. The inferior execution of the coins of Hermoeus points him out as the latest of the series; and it is his coins, also, that furnish the model for another description which it may be inferred came immediately after his time.

These are of much ruder workmanship, and the inscriptions are an almost illegible Greek; the names, also, are barbarous and uncouth, – Kadphises, Kanerkes, &c. These are conjectured, on very probable grounds, to be Scythians, and to have subjected the southern kingdom of the Bactrian Greeks about the beginning of the Christian aera.

Other coins are also found resembling the last series, but perhaps connected with the Parthians rather than the Scythians.

To complete the chronology, there are coins not yet examined, but obviously belonging to the Sassanians, who were in possession of Persia at the time of the Mahometan invasion.

There is another class of coins, resembling, in many respects,

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those of the Eucratidae, and probably belonging to a series collateral with that of the Soters, but extending beyond the duration of that dynasty. Many of the names they bear are accompanied by epithets derived from Nike (victory); from which, and other points of resemblance, they are regarded as belonging to one dynasty.

There is one more class, consisting of only two princes, Agathocles and Pantaleon. They are thought to be the latest of all the Greek coins, but are chiefly remarkable because they alone have their second inscriptions in the ancient character found on the caves and columns of India, and not in the one written from right to left.

Some conclusions may be drawn from the situations in which the coins have been discovered. Those of Menander are numerous in the country about Cabul, and also at Peshawer. One has been found as far east as Mattra on the Jamna. We may perhaps infer that his capital was situated in the tract first mentioned, and this would give ground for conjecturing the residence of the Soter dynasty. I do not know that there is any clue to that of the Nike kings. Professor Wilson conjectures Agathocles and Pantaleon to have reigned in the mountains about Chitral; which, being the country of the Paropamisian Indians, may perhaps afford some explanation of the Indian character on their coins. The situation in which the Scythian coins are found is itself very remarkable; and there are other circumstances which hold out a prospect of their throwing great light on Indian history. All the former coins, with the exception of some of those of Hermceus, have been purchased in the bazars, or picked up on or near the surface of the earth on the sites of old cities. But the Scythian coins are found in great numbers in a succession of monuments which are scattered over a tract extending eastward from the neighbourhood of Calm], through the whole basin

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of the Cabul river, and across the northern part of the Panjab. These huge structures are the sort of solid cupola so common among the votaries of Budha; and, like the rest, contain each a relic of some holy person. No Greek coins are ever found in them, except those of Hermoeus; but there are other coins, a few from remote countries, and the earliest yet discovered is one belonging to the second triumvirate. This coin must have been struck as late as the forty-third year before Christ; but might easily have found its way to the frontiers of India before the first overthrow of the Greek kingdom, which all agree to have taken place about the beginning of the Christian aura.

These facts corroborate the conjectures of De Guignes, drawn from Chinese annals, that the Greeks were driven out of Bactria, by the Tartar tribe of Su from the north of Transoxiana, 126 years before Christ; and that their Indian kingdom was subverted about twenty-six years before Christ by the Yueshchi, who came from Persia, and spread themselves along a large portion of the course of the Indus733.

The Sulhave left no coins; but it is natural to suppose that the Yue-chi, who came from Persia, would follow the example set by the Parthians, and would imitate the coinage of their Greek predecessors. This practice of the Indo-Scythians (whoever they were) was taken up by some dynasty of the Hindus; for coins of the latter nation have been found, bearing nearly the same relation to those of the Indo-Scythians that theirs did to the coins of the Greeks.

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We must not suppose that the Bactrian kingdom was composed of a great body of Greek colonists, such as existed in the west of Asia or in the south of Italy. A very large proportion of Alexander’s army latterly was composed of barbarians, disciplined and undisciplined. These would not be anxious to accompany him on his retreat; and, on the other hand, we know that he was constrained to retrace his steps by the impatience of the Greeks and Macedonians to return to their own country.

From this we may conclude that a small part of those left behind were of the latter nations; and, as Alexander encouraged his soldiers to take Persian wives, (a course in itself indispensable to the settlers, from the absence of Greek women,) it is evident that the second generation of Bactrians must have been much more Persian than Greek. Fresh importations of Greek adventurers would take place during the ascendancy of the Seleucidae; but, after the establishment of the Parthian power, all communication must necessarily have been cut off; which explains the total silence of Greek authors regarding the later days of the Bactrian kingdom: the degeneracy of the latter coinage is consistent with these facts, which also remove the difficulty of accounting for the disappearance of the Greeks after the overthrow of their southern kingdom.


730. See p. 262.

731. About 130 B.C. (Clinton’s Fasti); 125 B.C. (De Guignes).

732. The information to be found in ancient authors is collected in Bayer’s Bactria. There is a clear, concise sketch of Bactrian history from the same sources in Clinton’s Fasti Hellenici, vol. iii. p. 315., note x.

733. De Guignes’s account of the first conquest is, that the Su came from Ferghana, on the Jaxartes, and conquered a civilised nation, whose coin bore a man on one side, and horsemen on the other. The coins of the Eucratidae have the king’s head on one side, and Castor and Pollux, mounted, on the other.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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