The Indo-Greek Kingdoms or were partly Hellenistic kingdoms covering various parts of Afghanistan, and the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent (parts of modern Pakistan and northwestern India), during the last two centuries BC and was ruled by more than thirty kings, often conflicting with one another. Euthydemus I was, according to Polybius, a Magnesian Greek. His son, Demetrius I, founder of the Indo-Greek kingdom, was therefore of Greek ethnicity at least by his father. A marriage treaty was arranged for the same Demetrius with a daughter of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III (who had some Persian descent). The ethnicity of later Indo-Greek rulers is less clear. For example, Artemidoros (80 BC) may have been of Indo-Scythian ascendency.
The kingdom was founded when the Graeco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded the subcontinent early in the 2nd century BC. The Greeks in the Indian Subcontinent were eventually divided from the Graeco-Bactrians centered in Bactria (now the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan), and the Indo-Greeks in the present-day north-western Indian Subcontinent. The most famous Indo-Greek ruler was Menander (Milinda). He had his capital at Sakala in the Punjab (present-day Sialkot).
The expression "Indo-Greek Kingdom" loosely describes a number of various dynastic polities, traditionally associated with a number of regional capitals like Taxila, (modern Punjab (Pakistan)), Pushkalavati and Sagala. Other potential centers are only hinted at; for instance, Ptolemy's Geographia and the nomenclature of later kings suggest that a certain Theophila in the south of the Indo-Greek sphere of influence may also have been a satrapal or royal seat at one time.
During the two centuries of their rule, the Indo-Greek kings combined the Greek and Indian languages and symbols, as seen on their coins, and blended Greek and Indian ideas, as seen in the archaeological remains. The diffusion of Indo-Greek culture had consequences which are still felt today, particularly through the influence of Greco-Buddhist art..
Following the death of Menander, most of his empire splintered and Indo-Greek influence was considerably reduced. Many new kingdoms and republics east of the Ravi River began to mint new coinage depicting military victories. The most prominent entities to form were the Yaudheya Republic, Arjunayanas, and the Audumbaras. The Yaudheyas and Arjunayanas both are said to have won "victory by the sword". The Datta dynasty and Mitra dynasty soon followed in Mathura. The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared as a political entity around 10 AD following the invasions of the Indo-Scythians, although pockets of Greek populations probably remained for several centuries longer under the subsequent rule of the Indo-Parthians and Kushans.
In 326 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent as far as the Hyphasis River, and established satrapies and founded several settlements, including Bucephala; he turned south when his troops refused to go further east. The Indian satrapies of the Punjab were left to the rule of Porus and Taxiles, who were confirmed again at the Treaty of Triparadisus in 321 BC, and remaining Greek troops in these satrapies were left under the command of general Eudemus. After 321 BC Eudemus toppled Taxiles, until he left India in 316 BC. To the south, another general also ruled over the Greek colonies of the Indus: Peithon, son of Agenor, until his departure for Babylon in 316 BC.
Around 322 BC, the Greeks (described as Yona or Yavana in Indian sources) may then have participated, together with other groups, in the armed uprising of Chandragupta Maurya against the Nanda Dynasty, and gone as far as Pataliputra for the capture of the city from the Nandas. The Mudrarakshasa of Visakhadutta as well as the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan talk of Chandragupta's alliance with the Himalayan king Parvatka, often identified with Porus, and according to these accounts, this alliance gave Chandragupta a composite and powerful army made up of Yavanas (Greeks), Kambojas, Shakas (Scythians), Kiratas (Nepalese), Parasikas (Persians) and Bahlikas (Bactrians) who took Pataliputra.
In 305 BC, Seleucus I led an army to the Indus, where he encountered Chandragupta. The confrontation ended with a peace treaty, and "an intermarriage agreement" (Epigamia, Greek: Ἐπιγαμία), meaning either a dynastic marriage or an agreement for intermarriage between Indians and Greeks. Accordingly, Seleucus ceded to Chandragupta his northwestern territories, possibly as far as Arachosia and received 500 war elephants (which played a key role in the victory of Seleucus at the Battle of Ipsus):
The Indians occupy in part some of the countries situated along the Indus, which formerly belonged to the Persians: Alexander deprived the Ariani of them, and established there settlements of his own. But Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus in consequence of a marriage contract, and received in return five hundred elephants.
The details of the marriage agreement are not known, but since the extensive sources available on Seleucus never mention an Indian princess, it is thought that the marital alliance went the other way, with Chandragupta himself or his son Bindusara marrying a Seleucid princess, in accordance with contemporary Greek practices to form dynastic alliances. An Indian Puranic source, the Pratisarga Parva of the Bhavishya Purana, described the marriage of Chandragupta with a Greek ("Yavana") princess, daughter of Seleucus, before accurately detailing early Mauryan genealogy:
"Chandragupta married with a daughter of Suluva, the Yavana king of Pausasa. Thus, he mixed the Buddhists and the Yavanas. He ruled for 60 years. From him, Vindusara was born and ruled for the same number of years as his father. His son was Ashoka."
Also several Greeks, such as the historian Megasthenes, followed by Deimachus and Dionysius, were sent to reside at the Mauryan court. Presents continued to be exchanged between the two rulers. The intensity of these contacts is testified by the existence of a dedicated Mauryan state department for Greek (Yavana) and Persian foreigners, or the remains of Hellenistic pottery that can be found throughout northern India.
On these occasions, Greek populations apparently remained in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent under Mauryan rule. Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka, who had converted to the Buddhist faith declared in the Edicts of Ashoka, set in stone, some of them written in Greek, that Greek populations within his realm also had converted to Buddhism:
Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dharma.— Rock Edict Nb13 (S. Dhammika).
In his edicts, Ashoka mentions that he had sent Buddhist emissaries to Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean (Edict No. 13), and that he developed herbal medicine in their territories, for the welfare of humans and animals (Edict No. 2).
The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka such as Dharmaraksita, or the teacher Mahadharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek ("Yona", i.e., Ionian) Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (the Mahavamsa, XII). It is also thought that Greeks contributed to the sculptural work of the Pillars of Ashoka, and more generally to the blossoming of Mauryan art. Some Greeks (Yavanas) may have played an administrative role in the territories ruled by Ashoka: the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman records that during the rule of Ashoka, a Yavana King/ Governor named Tushaspha was in charge in the area of Girnar, Gujarat, mentioning his role in the construction of a water reservoir.
He (Antiochus) crossed the Caucasus (the Caucasus Indicus or Paropamisus: mod. Hindú Kúsh) and descended into India; renewed his friendship with Sophagasenus the king of the Indians; received more elephants, until he had a hundred and fifty altogether; and having once more provisioned his troops, set out again personally with his army: leaving Androsthenes of Cyzicus the duty of taking home the treasure which this king had agreed to hand over to him.
Alexander had also established several colonies in neighbouring Bactria, such as Alexandria on the Oxus (modern Ai-Khanoum) and Alexandria of the Caucasus (medieval Kapisa, modern Bagram). After Alexander's death in 323 BC, Bactria came under the control of Seleucus I Nicator, who founded the Seleucid Empire. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was founded when Diodotus I, the satrap of Bactria (and probably the surrounding provinces) seceded from the Seleucid Empire around 250 BC. The preserved ancient sources (see below) are somewhat contradictory and the exact date of Bactrian independence has not been settled. Somewhat simplified, there is a high chronology (c. 255 BC) and a low chronology (c. 246 BC) for Diodotos’ secession. The high chronology has the advantage of explaining why the Seleucid king Antiochus II issued very few coins in Bactria, as Diodotos would have become independent there early in Antiochus' reign. On the other hand, the low chronology, from the mid-240s BC, has the advantage of connecting the secession of Diodotus I with the Third Syrian War, a catastrophic conflict for the Seleucid Empire.
Diodotus, the governor of the thousand cities of Bactria (Latin: Theodotus, mille urbium Bactrianarum praefectus), defected and proclaimed himself king; all the other people of the Orient followed his example and seceded from the Macedonians.
The new kingdom, highly urbanized and considered as one of the richest of the Orient (opulentissimum illud mille urbium Bactrianum imperium "The extremely prosperous Bactrian empire of the thousand cities" Justin, XLI,1), was to further grow in power and engage into territorial expansion to the east and the west:
The Greeks who caused Bactria to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Ariana, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander... Their cities were Bactra (also called Zariaspa, through which flows a river bearing the same name and emptying into the Oxus), and Darapsa, and several others. Among these was Eucratidia, which was named after its ruler.— (Strabo, XI.XI.I)
When the ruler of neighbouring Parthia, the former satrap and self-proclaimed king Andragoras, was eliminated by Arsaces, the rise of the Parthian Empire cut off the Greco-Bactrians from direct contact with the Greek world. Overland trade continued at a reduced rate, while sea trade between Greek Egypt and Bactria developed.
Soon after, relieved by the death of Diodotus, Arsaces made peace and concluded an alliance with his son, also by the name of Diodotus; some time later he fought against Seleucos who came to punish the rebels, and he prevailed: the Parthians celebrated this day as the one that marked the beginning of their freedom— (Justin, XLI,4)
Euthydemus, a Magnesian Greek according to Polybius and possibly satrap of Sogdiana, overthrew Diodotus II around 230 BC and started his own dynasty. Euthydemus's control extended to Sogdiana, going beyond the city of Alexandria Eschate founded by Alexander the Great in Ferghana:
"And they also held Sogdiana, situated above Bactriana towards the east between the Oxus River, which forms the boundary between the Bactrians and the Sogdians, and the Iaxartes River. And the Iaxartes forms also the boundary between the Sogdians and the nomads.— Strabo XI.11.2
Euthydemus was attacked by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III around 210 BC. Although he commanded 10,000 horsemen, Euthydemus initially lost a battle on the Arius and had to retreat. He then successfully resisted a three-year siege in the fortified city of Bactra (modern Balkh), before Antiochus finally decided to recognize the new ruler, and to offer one of his daughters to Euthydemus's son Demetrius around 206 BC. Classical accounts also relate that Euthydemus negotiated peace with Antiochus III by suggesting that he deserved credit for overthrowing the original rebel Diodotus, and that he was protecting Central Asia from nomadic invasions thanks to his defensive efforts:
...for if he did not yield to this demand, neither of them would be safe: seeing that great hordes of Nomads were close at hand, who were a danger to both; and that if they admitted them into the country, it would certainly be utterly barbarised.
Following the departure of the Seleucid army, the Bactrian kingdom seems to have expanded. In the west, areas in north-eastern Iran may have been absorbed, possibly as far as into Parthia, whose ruler had been defeated by Antiochus the Great. These territories possibly are identical with the Bactrian satrapies of Tapuria and Traxiane.
To the north, Euthydemus also ruled Sogdiana and Ferghana, and there are indications that from Alexandria Eschate the Greco-Bactrians may have led expeditions as far as Kashgar and Ürümqi in Chinese Turkestan, leading to the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BC. The Greek historian Strabo too writes that:
Greek influences on Chinese art have also been suggested (Hirth, Rostovtzeff). Designs with rosette flowers, geometric lines, and glass inlays, suggestive of Hellenistic influences, can be found on some early Han dynasty bronze mirrors.
Numismatics also suggest that some technology exchanges may have occurred on these occasions: the Greco-Bactrians were the first in the world to issue cupro-nickel (75/25 ratio) coins, an alloy technology only known by the Chinese at the time under the name "White copper" (some weapons from the Warring States period were in copper-nickel alloy). The practice of exporting Chinese metals, in particular iron, for trade is attested around that period. Kings Euthydemus, Euthydemus II, Agathocles and Pantaleon made these coin issues around 170 BC and it has alternatively been suggested that a nickeliferous copper ore was the source from mines at Anarak. Copper-nickel would not be used again in coinage until the 19th century.
"When I was in Bactria (Daxia)", Zhang Qian reported, "I saw bamboo canes from Qiong and cloth made in the province of Shu (territories of southwestern China). When I asked the people how they had gotten such articles, they replied, "Our merchants go buy them in the markets of Shendu (India)."
Upon his return, Zhang Qian informed the Chinese emperor Han Wudi of the level of sophistication of the urban civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia, who became interested in developing commercial relationships with them:
The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria (Daxia) and Parthia (Anxi) are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, and placing great value on the rich produce of China— (Hanshu, Former Han History)
The Indian emperor Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty, had re-conquered northwestern India upon the death of Alexander the Great around 322 BC. However, contacts were kept with his Greek neighbours in the Seleucid Empire, a dynastic alliance or the recognition of intermarriage between Greeks and Indians were established (described as an agreement on Epigamia in Ancient sources), and several Greeks, such as the historian Megasthenes, resided at the Mauryan court. Subsequently, each Mauryan emperor had a Greek ambassador at his court.
Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka converted to the Buddhist faith and became a great proselytizer in the line of the traditional Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, directing his efforts towards the Indian and the Hellenistic worlds from around 250 BC. According to the Edicts of Ashoka, set in stone, some of them written in Greek, he sent Buddhist emissaries to the Greek lands in Asia and as far as the Mediterranean. The edicts name each of the rulers of the Hellenistic world at the time.
The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (4,000 miles) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni.— (Edicts of Ashoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika)
Some of the Greek populations that had remained in northwestern India apparently converted to Buddhism:
Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dharma.— (Edicts of Ashoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika)
Furthermore, according to Pali sources, some of Ashoka's emissaries were Greek Buddhist monks, indicating close religious exchanges between the two cultures:
When the thera (elder) Moggaliputta, the illuminator of the religion of the Conqueror (Ashoka), had brought the (third) council to an end… he sent forth theras, one here and one there: …and to Aparantaka (the "Western countries" corresponding to Gujarat and Sindh) he sent the Greek (Yona) named Dhammarakkhita... and the thera Maharakkhita he sent into the country of the Yona.— (Mahavamsa XII)
Greco-Bactrians probably received these Buddhist emissaries (At least Maharakkhita, lit. "The Great Saved One", who was "sent to the country of the Yona") and somehow tolerated the Buddhist faith, although little proof remains. In the 2nd century AD, the Christian dogmatist Clement of Alexandria recognized the existence of Buddhist Sramanas among the Bactrians ("Bactrians" meaning "Oriental Greeks" in that period), and even their influence on Greek thought:
Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sramanas among the Bactrians ("Σαρμαναίοι Βάκτρων"); and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians, who foretold the Saviour's birth, and came into the land of Judea guided by a star. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and the other barbarian philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called Sramanas ("Σαρμάναι"), and others Brahmins ("Βραφμαναι").— Clement of Alexandria, "The Stromata, or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV
In India, the Maurya Dynasty was overthrown around 185 BC when Pushyamitra Shunga, the commander-in-chief of Mauryan Imperial forces and a Brahmin, assassinated the last of the Mauryan emperors Brihadratha. Pushyamitra Shunga then ascended the throne and established the Shunga Empire, which extended its control as far west as the Punjab.
Buddhist sources, such as the Ashokavadana, mention that Pushyamitra was hostile towards Buddhists and allegedly persecuted the Buddhist faith. A large number of Buddhist monasteries (viharas) were allegedly converted to Hindu temples, in such places as Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Sarnath or Mathura. While it is established by secular sources that Hinduism and Buddhism were in competition during this time, with the Shungas preferring the former to the latter, historians such as Etienne Lamotte and Romila Thapar argue that Buddhist accounts of persecution of Buddhists by Shungas are largely exaggerated. Some Puranic sources however also describe the resurgence of Brahmanism following the Maurya Dynasty, and the killing of millions of Buddhists, such as the Pratisarga Parva of the Bhavishya Purana:
"At this time [after the rule of Chandragupta, Bindusara and Ashoka] the best of the brahmanas, Kanyakubja, performed sacrifice on the top of a mountain named Arbuda. By the influence of Vedic mantras, four Kshatriyas appeared from the yajna (sacrifice). (...) They kept Ashoka under their control and annihilated all the Buddhists. It is said there were 4 million Buddhists and all of them were killed by uncommon weapons".
Some narrative history has survived for most of the Hellenistic world, at least of the kings and the wars; this is lacking for India. The main Greco-Roman source on the Indo-Greeks is Justin, who wrote an anthology drawn from the Roman historian Pompeius Trogus, who in turn wrote, from Greek sources, at the time of Augustus Caesar. In addition to these dozen sentences, the geographer Strabo mentions India a few times in the course of his long dispute with Eratosthenes about the shape of Eurasia. Most of these are purely geographical claims, but he does mention that Eratosthenes' sources say that some of the Greek kings conquered further than Alexander; Strabo does not believe them on this, nor does he believe that Menander and Demetrius son of Euthydemus conquered more tribes than Alexander There is half a story about Menander in one of the books of Polybius which has not come down to us intact.
There are Indian literary sources, ranging from the Milinda Panha, a dialogue between a Buddhist sage Nagasena and Indianized names that may be related to Indo-Greek kings such as Menander I. Names in these sources are consistently Indianized, and there is some dispute whether, for example, Dharmamitra represents "Demetrius" or is an Indian prince with that name. There was also a Chinese expedition to Bactria by Chang-k'ien under the Emperor Wu of Han, recorded in the Records of the Grand Historian and Book of the Former Han, with additional evidence in the Book of the Later Han; the identification of places and peoples behind transcriptions into Chinese is difficult, and several alternate interpretations have been proposed.[full citation needed]
Other evidence of the broader and longer influence of Indo-Greeks is possibly suggested by Yavanarajya inscription, dated to 1st-century BCE. It mentions Yavana, a term which literally implies "foreigner" and may mean Indo-Greeks or someone else.
Demetrius I, the son of Euthydemus is generally considered as the Greco-Bactrian king who first launched the Greek expansion into India. He is therefore the founder of the Indo-Greek realm. The true intents of the Greek kings in occupying India are unknown, but it is thought that the elimination of the Maurya Empire by the Sunga greatly encouraged this expansion. The Indo-Greeks, in particular Menander I who is said in the Milindapanha to have converted to Buddhism, also possibly received the help of Indian Buddhists.
There is an inscription from his father's reign already officially hailing Demetrius as victorious. He also has one of the few absolute dates in Indo-Greek history: after his father held off Antiochus III for two years, 208–6 BC, the peace treaty included the offer of a marriage between Demetrius and Antiochus' daughter. Coins of Demetrius I have been found in Arachosia and in the Kabul Valley; the latter would be the first entry of the Greeks into India, as they defined it. There is also literary evidence for a campaign eastward against the Seres and the Phryni; but the order and dating of these conquests is uncertain.
Demetrius I seems to have conquered the Kabul valley, Arachosia and perhaps Gandhara; he struck no Indian coins, so either his conquests did not penetrate that far into India or he died before he could consolidate them. On his coins, Demetrius I always carries the elephant-helmet worn by Alexander, which seems to be a token of his Indian conquests. Bopearachchi believes that Demetrius received the title of "King of India" following his victories south of the Hindu Kush. He was also given, though perhaps only posthumously, the title Ἀνίκητος ("Aniketos", lit. Invincible) a cult title of Heracles, which Alexander had assumed; the later Indo-Greek kings Lysias, Philoxenus, and Artemidorus also took it. Finally, Demetrius may have been the founder of a newly discovered Yavana era, starting in 186/5 BC.
After the death of Demetrius, the Bactrian kings Pantaleon and Agathocles struck the first bilingual coins with Indian inscriptions found as far east as Taxila so in their time (c. 185–170 BC) the Bactrian kingdom seems to have included Gandhara. These first bilingual coins used the Brahmi script, whereas later kings would generally use Kharoshthi. They also went as far as incorporating Indian deities, such as goddess Lakshmi and Hindu deities, as well as various Indian devices (lion, elephant, zebu bull) and symbols, which can also be seen in the Post-Mauryan coinage of Gandhara.
The Hinduist coinage of Agathocles is few but spectacular. Six Indian-standard silver drachmas were discovered at Ai-Khanoum in 1970, which depict Hindu deities. These are early Avatars of Vishnu: Balarama-Sankarshana with attributes consisting of the Gada mace and the plow, and Vasudeva-Krishna with the Vishnu attributes of the Shankha (a pear-shaped case or conch) and the Sudarshana Chakra wheel. These first attempts at incorporating Indian culture were only partly preserved by later kings: they all continued to struck bilingual coins, sometimes in addition to Attic coinage, but Greek deities remained prevalent. Indian animals however, such as the elephant, the bull or the lion, possibly with religious overtones, were used extensively in their Indian-standard square coinage.
Several Bactrian kings followed after Demetrius' death, and it seems likely that the civil wars between them made it possible for Apollodotus I (from c. 180/175 BC) to make himself independent as the first proper Indo-Greek king (who did not rule from Bactria). Large numbers of his coins have been found in India, and he seems to have reigned in Gandhara as well as western Punjab. Apollodotus I was succeeded by or ruled alongside Antimachus II, likely the son of the Bactrian king Antimachus I.
The next important Indo-Greek king was Menander (from c. 165/155 BC) who has been described as the greatest of the Indo-Greek Kings; his coins are found as far as eastern Punjab. Menander seems to have begun a second wave of conquests, and since he already ruled in India, it seems likely that the easternmost conquests were made by him. Thus from 161 B.C. onwards Menander was the ruler of Punjab until his death in 130 B.C. Menander made Sagala his capital, and after conquering the Punjab region he subsequently made an expedition across northern India and reached the Mauryan capital of Patna. Soon after, Eucratides I king of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom began warring with the Indo-Greeks in the north western frontier.
According to Apollodorus of Artemita, quoted by Strabo, the Indo-Greek territory for a while included the Indian coastal provinces of Sindh and possibly Gujarat. With archaeological methods, the Indo-Greek territory can however only be confirmed from the Kabul Valley to the eastern Punjab, so Greek presence outside was probably short-lived or non-existent.
Some sources also claim that the Indo-Greeks may have reached the Shunga capital Pataliputra in northeastern India. However, the nature of this expedition is a matter of controversy. One theory is that Indo-Greeks were invited to join a raid led by local Indian kings down the Ganges river. The other is that it was a campaign likely made by Menander. Irrespective it appears that Pataliputra, if at all captured, was not held as the expedition was forced to retreat, probably due to wars in their own territories.
The Hathigumpha inscription ("Elephant Cave inscription") details the conquests of Kharavela of the Mahameghavahana dynasty in Kalinga. Kharavela is accredited to have defeated one of the Indo-Greek Kingdoms and forced a Yavana king to retreat to Mathura.
Mathura was regained by the Sungas around 100 B.C.E. (or by other indigenous rulers: The Arjunayanas (area of Mathura) and Yaudheyas mention military victories on their coins ("Victory of the Arjunayanas," "Victory of the Yaudheyas"), and during the first century B.C.E., the Trigartas, Audumbaras and finally the Kunindas also started to mint their own coins.
The Reh Inscription, an ancient Sanskrit inscription on a Shiva linga pillar discovered in 1979 near Reh about 350 kilometres (220 mi) south-east of Mathura was proposed by Sharma to be related to Menander. This theory and interpretation of the inscription and archaeological data has been discredited by later scholars, though the discovery of the Brahmi script inscription on ancient Shiva Linga is considered an authentic and important recent archaeological find.
An inscription in Mathura discovered in 1988, the Yavanarajya inscription, mentions "The last day of year 116 of Yavana hegemony (Yavanarajya)". The Yavana may refer to Indo-Greeks or someone else in the 2nd–1st century BC in Mathura. The extent of Indo-Greek rule in Mathura has been disputed. Archeological excavations of Karshapana coins have revealed the presence of the Mitra dynasty in Mathura dating from 150 BCE to 20 BCE.
|Menander I became the most important of the Indo-Greek rulers.||Eucratides I toppled the Greco-Bactrian Euthydemid dynasty, and attacked the Indo-Greeks from the west.|
The important Bactrian king Eucratides seems to have attacked the Indo-Greek kingdom during the mid 2nd century BC. A Demetrius, called "King of the Indians", seems to have confronted Eucratides in a four-month siege, reported by Justin, but he ultimately lost.
Menander is considered to have been probably the most successful Indo-Greek king, and the conqueror of the largest territory. The finds of his coins are the most numerous and the most widespread of all the Indo-Greek kings. Menander is also remembered in Buddhist literature, where he is called Milinda, and is described in the Milinda Panha as a convert to Buddhism he became an arhat whose relics were enshrined in a manner reminiscent of the Buddha. He also introduced a new coin type, with Athena Alkidemos ("Protector of the people") on the reverse, which was adopted by most of his successors in the East.
Following the death of Menander his empire was greatly reduced due to the emergence of new kingdoms and republics within his allotted territories within India. The most eminent entities to splinter were the Yaudheya Republic and the Arjunayanas, which began to mint coins mentioning military victories. Along with numismatic evidence, the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman details the conquests of the Saka King Rudradaman I of the Western Satraps over the Yaudheya Republic, reaffirming their independence from the Menanders Empire.
From the mid-2nd century BC, the Scythians, in turn being pushed forward by the Yuezhi who were completing a long migration from the border of China, started to invade Bactria from the north. Around 130 BC the last Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles was probably killed during the invasion and the Greco-Bactrian kingdom proper ceased to exist. The Parthians also probably played a role in the downfall of the Bactrian kingdom.
Immediately after the fall of Bactria, the bronze coins of Indo-Greek king Zoilos I (130–120 BC), successor of Menander in the western part of the Indian territories, combined the club of Herakles with a Scythian-type bowcase and short recurve bow inside a victory wreath, illustrating interaction with horse-mounted people originating from the steppes, possibly either the Scythians (future Indo-Scythians), or the Yuezhi (future Kushans) who had invaded Greco-Bactria. This bow can be contrasted to the traditional Hellenistic long bow depicted on the coins of the eastern Indo-Greek queen Agathokleia. It is now known that 50 years later, the Indo-Scythian Maues was in alliance with the Indo-Greek kings in Taxila, and one of those kings, Artemidoros seems to claim on his coins that he is the son of Maues, although this is now disputed.
The extant of Indo-Greek rule is still uncertain and disputed. Probable members of the dynasty of Menander include the ruling queen Agathokleia, her son Strato I, and Nicias, though it is uncertain whether they ruled directly after Menander.
Other kings emerged, usually in the western part of the Indo-Greek realm, such as Zoilos I, Lysias, Antialcidas and Philoxenos. These rulers may have been relatives of either the Eucratid or the Euthydemid dynasties. The names of later kings were often new (members of Hellenistic dynasties usually inherited family names) but old reverses and titles were frequently repeated by the later rulers.
While all Indo-Greek kings after Apollodotus I mainly issued bilingual (Greek and Kharoshti) coins for circulation in their own territories, several of them also struck rare Greek coins which have been found in Bactria. The later kings probably struck these coins as some kind of payment to the Scythian or Yuezhi tribes who now ruled there, though if as tribute or payment for mercenaries remains unknown. For some decades after the Bactrian invasion, relationships seem to have been peaceful between the Indo-Greeks and these relatively hellenised nomad tribes.
There are however no historical recordings of events in the Indo-Greek kingdom after Menander's death around 130 BC, since the Indo-Greeks had now become very isolated from the rest of the Graeco-Roman world. The later history of the Indo-Greek states, which lasted to around the shift BC/AD, is reconstructed almost entirely from archaeological and numismatical analyses.
It is around this time, in 115 BC, that the embassy of Heliodorus, from king Antialkidas to the court of the Sungas king Bhagabhadra in Vidisha, is recorded. In the Sunga capital, Heliodorus established the Heliodorus pillar in a dedication to Vāsudeva. This would indicate that relations between the Indo-Greeks and the Sungas had improved by that time, that people traveled between the two realms, and also that the Indo-Greeks readily followed Indian religions.
Also around the same period, circa 115 BC, decorative reliefs were introduced for the first time at nearby Sanchi, 6 km away from Vidisha, by craftsmen from the northwest. These craftsmen left mason's marks in Kharoshthi, mainly used in the area around Gandhara, as opposed to the local Brahmi script. This seems to imply that these foreign workers were responsible for some of the earliest motifs and figures that can be found on the railings of the stupa. These early reliefs at Sanchi, (those of Sanchi Stupa No.2), are dated to 115 BC, while the more extensive pillar carvings are dated to 80 BC. These reliefs have been described as "the oldest extensive stupa decoration in existence". They are considered as the origin of Jataka illustrations in India.
|Early reliefs at Sanchi, Stupa No.2 (circa 115 BC)|
|Sanchi, Stupa No 2
Mason's marks in Kharoshti point to craftsmen from the north-west (region of Gandhara) for the earliest reliefs at Sanchi, circa 115 BC.
A warrior figure, the Bharhut Yavana, appeared prominently on a high relief on the railings of the stupa of Bharhut circa 100 BC. The warrior has the flowing head band of a Greek king, a northern tunic with Hellenistic pleats, he hold a grape in his hand, and has a Buddhist triratana symbol on his sword. He has the role of a dvarapala, a Guardian of the entrance of the Stupa. The warrior has been described as a Greek, Some have suggested that he might even represent king Menander.
Also around that time, craftsmen from the Gandhara area are known to have been involved in the construction of the Buddhist torana gateways at Bharhut, which are dated to 100-75 BC: this is because mason's marks in Kharosthi have been found on several elements of the Bharhut remains, indicating that some of the builders at least came from the north, particularly from Gandhara where the Kharoshti script was in use.
Cunningham explained that the Kharosthi letters were found on the ballusters between the architraves of the gateway, but none on the railings which all had Indian markings, summarizing that the gateways, which are artistically more refined, must have been made by artists from the North, whereas the railings were made by local artists.
Again in Sanchi, but this time dating to the period of Satavahana rule circa 50-0 BC, one frieze can be observed which shows devotees in Greek attire making a dedication to the Great Stupa of Sanchi. The official notice at Sanchi describes "Foreigners worshiping Stupa". The men are depicted with short curly hair, often held together with a headband of the type commonly seen on Greek coins. The clothing too is Greek, complete with tunics, capes and sandals, typical of the Greek travelling costume. The musical instruments are also quite characteristic, such as the double flute called aulos. Also visible are carnyx-like horns. They are all celebrating at the entrance of the stupa.
King Philoxenus (100–95 BC) briefly occupied the whole Greek territory from the Paropamisadae to Western Punjab, after what the territories fragmented again between smaller Indo-Greek kings. Throughout the 1st century BC, the Indo-Greeks progressively lost ground to the Indians in the east, and the Scythians, the Yuezhi, and the Parthians in the West. About 20 Indo-Greek kings are known during this period, down to the last known Indo-Greek rulers, Strato II and Strato III, who ruled in the Punjab region until around 10 AD.
Around eight "western" Indo-Greek kings are known; most of them are distinguished by their issues of Attic coins for circulation in the neighbouring region.
One of the last important kings in the Paropamisadae (part of the Hindu Kush) was Hermaeus, who ruled until around 80 BC; soon after his death the Yuezhi or Sakas took over his areas from neighbouring Bactria. When Hermaeus is depicted on his coins riding a horse, he is equipped with the recurve bow and bow-case of the steppes and RC Senior believes him to be of partly nomad origin. The later king Hippostratus may however also have held territories in the Paropamisadae.
After the death of Hermaeus, the Yuezhi or Saka nomads became the new rulers of the Paropamisadae, and minted vast quantities of posthumous issues of Hermaeus up to around 40 AD, when they blend with the coinage of the Kushan king Kujula Kadphises. The first documented Yuezhi prince, Sapadbizes, ruled around 20 BC, and minted in Greek and in the same style as the western Indo-Greek kings, probably depending on Greek mints and celators.
Around 80 BC, an Indo-Scythian king named Maues, possibly a general in the service of the Indo-Greeks, ruled for a few years in northwestern India before the Indo-Greeks again took control. He seems to have been married to an Indo-Greek princess named Machene. King Hippostratus (65–55 BC) seems to have been one of the most successful subsequent Indo-Greek kings until he lost to the Indo-Scythian Azes I, who established an Indo-Scythian dynasty in 48/47 BC. Various coins seem to suggest that some sort of alliance may have taken place between the Indo-Greeks and the Scythians.
Although the Indo-Scythians clearly ruled militarily and politically, they remained surprisingly respectful of Greek and Indian cultures. Their coins were minted in Greek mints, continued using proper Greek and Kharoshthi legends, and incorporated depictions of Greek deities, particularly Zeus. The Mathura lion capital inscription attests that they adopted the Buddhist faith, as do the depictions of deities forming the vitarka mudra on their coins. Greek communities, far from being exterminated, probably persisted under Indo-Scythian rule. There is a possibility that a fusion, rather than a confrontation, occurred between the Greeks and the Indo-Scythians: in a recently published coin, Artemidorus seems to present himself as "son of Maues" ( but this is now disputed), and the Buner reliefs show Indo-Greeks and Indo-Scythians reveling in a Buddhist context.
The last known mention of an Indo-Greek ruler is suggested by an inscription on a signet ring of the 1st century AD in the name of a king Theodamas, from the Bajaur area of Gandhara, in modern Pakistan. No coins of him are known, but the signet bears in kharoshthi script the inscription "Su Theodamasa", "Su" being explained as the Greek transliteration of the ubiquitous Kushan royal title "Shau" ("Shah", "King").
The Indo-Greeks continued to rule a territory in the eastern Punjab for some time. They may have ruled as far as the area of Mathura from the time of Menander I until the middle of the 1st century BC: the Maghera inscription, from a village near Mathura, records the dedication of a well "in the one hundred and sixteenth year of the reign of the Yavanas", which corresponds to circa 70 BC. Soon after 70 BC, however, they lost the area of Mathura and south-eastern Punjab (modern day Southern Haryana), west of the Yamuna River, possibly to the Mitra rulers of Mathura, or more probably to the Indo-Scythian Northern Satraps.
The Arjunayanas (area of Mathura) and Yaudheyas mention military victories on their coins ("Victory of the Arjunayanas", "Victory of the Yaudheyas"). During the 1st century BC, the Trigartas, Audumbaras and finally the Kunindas also started to mint their own coins, usually in a style highly reminiscent of Indo-Greek coinage.
The Indo-Greeks continued to rule a territory in the eastern Punjab, until the kingdom of the last Indo-Greek kings Strato II and Strato III were taken over by the Indo-Scythian Northern Satrap ruler Rajuvula around 10 AD.
Some Greek nuclei may have continued to survive until the 2nd century AD.
Yavanas from the region of Nashik are mentioned as donors for six structural pillars in the Great Buddhist Chaitya of the Karla Caves built and dedicated by Western Satraps ruler Nahapana in 120 CE, although they seem to have adopted Buddhist names. In total, the Yavanas account for nearly half of the known dedicatory inscriptions on the pillars of the Great Chaitya. To this day, Nasik is known as the wine capital of India, using grapes that were probably originally imported by the Greeks.
Nahapana had at his court a Greek writer named Yavanesvara ("Lord of the Greeks"), who translated from Greek to Sanskrit the Yavanajataka ("Saying of the Greeks"), an astrological treatise and India's earliest Sanskrit work in horoscopy.
One of the Buddhist caves (Cave No.17) in the Pandavleni caves complex near Nashik was built and dedicated by "Indragnidatta the son of the Yavana Dharmadeva, a northerner from Dattamittri", in the 2nd century CE. The city of "Dattamittri" is thought to be the city of Demetrias in Arachosia, mentioned by Isidore of Charax.
|The "Yavana cave", Cave No.17 of Pandavleni caves, near Nashik (2nd century AD)|
In the Manmodi caves, near Junnar, an inscription by a Yavana donor appears on the façade of the main Chaitya, on the central flat surface of the lotus over the entrance: it mentions the erection of the hall-front (façade) for the Buddhist Samgha, by a Yavana donor named Chanda:
These contributions seem to have ended when the Satavahana Gautamiputra Satakarni vanquished Nahapana, and claimed to have defeated a confederacy of Shakas (Western Kshatrapas), Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians), and Yavanas (Indo-Greeks), in the inscription of his mother Queen Gotami Balasiri at Cave No.3 of the Nasik caves:
...Siri-Satakani Gotamiputa (....) who crushed down the pride and conceit of the Kshatriyas; who destroyed the Sakas, Yavanas and Palhavas; who rooted out the Khakharata race; who restored the glory of the Satavahana family...
Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, and their rule, especially that of Menander, has been remembered as benevolent. It has been suggested, although direct evidence is lacking, that their invasion of India was intended to show their support for the Mauryan empire which may have had a long history of marital alliances, exchange of presents, demonstrations of friendship, exchange of ambassadors and religious missions with the Greeks. The historian Diodorus even wrote that the king of Pataliputra had "great love for the Greeks".
The Greek expansion into Indian territory may have been intended to protect Greek populations in India, and to protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the Shungas. The city of Sirkap founded by Demetrius combines Greek and Indian influences without signs of segregation between the two cultures.
The first Greek coins to be minted in India, those of Menander I and Apollodotus I bear the mention "Saviour king" (ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ), a title with high value in the Greek world which indicated an important deflective victory. For instance, Ptolemy I had been Soter (saviour) because he had helped save Rhodes from Demetrius the Besieger, and Antiochus I because he had saved Asia Minor from the Gauls. The title was also inscribed in Pali as ("Tratarasa") on the reverse of their coins. Menander and Apollodotus may indeed have been saviours to the Greek populations residing in India, and to some of the Indians as well.
Also, most of the coins of the Greek kings in India were bilingual, written in Greek on the front and in Pali on the back (in the Kharosthi script, derived from Aramaic, rather than the more eastern Brahmi, which was used only once on coins of Agathocles of Bactria), a tremendous concession to another culture never before made in the Hellenic world. From the reign of Apollodotus II, around 80 BC, Kharosthi letters started to be used as mintmarks on coins in combination with Greek monograms and mintmarks, suggesting the participation of local technicians to the minting process. Incidentally, these bilingual coins of the Indo-Greeks were the key in the decipherment of the Kharoshthi script by James Prinsep (1799–1840). Kharoshthi became extinct around the 3rd century AD.
In Indian literature, the Indo-Greeks are described as Yavanas (in Sanskrit), or Yonas (in Pali) both thought to be transliterations of "Ionians". In the Harivamsa the "Yavana" Indo-Greeks are qualified, together with the Sakas, Kambojas, Pahlavas and Paradas as Kshatriya-pungava i.e. foremost among the Warrior caste, or Kshatriyas. The Majjhima Nikaya explains that in the lands of the Yavanas and Kambojas, in contrast with the numerous Indian castes, there were only two classes of people, Aryas and Dasas (masters and slaves).
In addition to the worship of the Classical pantheon of the Greek deities found on their coins (Zeus, Herakles, Athena, Apollo...), the Indo-Greeks were involved with local faiths, particularly with Buddhism, but also with Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.
After the Greco-Bactrians militarily occupied parts of northern India from around 180 BC, numerous instances of interaction between Greeks and Buddhism are recorded. Menander I, the "Saviour king", seems to have converted to Buddhism, and is described as a great benefactor of the religion, on a par with Ashoka or the future Kushan emperor Kanishka. The wheel he represented on some of his coins was probably Buddhist, and he is famous for his dialogues with the Buddhist monk Nagasena, transmitted to us in the Milinda Panha, which explain that he became a Buddhist arhat:
And afterwards, taking delight in the wisdom of the Elder, he (Menander) handed over his kingdom to his son, and abandoning the household life for the house-less state, grew great in insight, and himself attained to Arahatship!— The Questions of King Milinda, Translation by T. W. Rhys Davids.
Another Indian text, the Stupavadana of Ksemendra, mentions in the form of a prophecy that Menander will build a stupa in Pataliputra.
Plutarch also presents Menander as an example of benevolent rule, and explains that upon his death, the honour of sharing his remains was claimed by the various cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in "monuments" (μνημεία, probably stupas), in a parallel with the historic Buddha:
But when one Menander, who had reigned graciously over the Bactrians, died afterwards in the camp, the cities indeed by common consent celebrated his funerals; but coming to a contest about his relics, they were difficultly at last brought to this agreement, that his ashes being distributed, everyone should carry away an equal share, and they should all erect monuments to him.
The Butkara stupa was "monumentalized" by the addition of Hellenistic architectural decorations during Indo-Greek rule in the 2nd century BC. A coin of Menander I was found in the second oldest stratum (GSt 2) of the Butkara stupa suggesting a period of additional constructions during the reign of Menander. It is thought that Menander was the builder of the second oldest layer of the Butkara stupa, following its initial construction during the Maurya empire.
Several Indo-Greek kings use the title "Dharmikasa", i.e. "Follower of the Dharma", in the Kharoshti script on the obverse of their coins. The corresponding legend in Greek is "Dikaios" ("The Just"), a rather usual attribute on Greek coins. The expression "Follower of the Dharma" would of course resonate strongly with Indian subjects, used to this expression being employed by pious kings, especially since the time of Ashoka who advocated the Dharma in his inscriptions. The seven kings using "Dharmakasa", i.e. "Follower of the Dharma", are late Indo-Greek kings, from around 150 BCE, right after the reign of Menander I, and mainly associated with the area of Gandhara: Zoilos I (130–120 BCE), Strato (130–110 BCE), Heliokles II (95–80 BCE), Theophilos (130 or 90 BCE), Menander II (90–85 BCE), Archebios (90–80 BCE) and Peukolaos (c. 90 BCE). The attribute of Dhramika was again used a century later by a known Buddhist practitioner, Indo-Scythian king Kharahostes, to extoll on his coins the virtues of his predecessor king Azes.
From the time of Agathokleia and Strato I, circa 100 BCE, kings and divinities are regularly show on coins making blessing gestures, which often seem similar to the Buddhist Vitarka mudra. As centuries past, the exact shapes taken by the hand becomes less clear. This blessing gesture was also often adopted by the Indo-Scythians.
Philoxenus (c. 100 BC), unarmed, making a blessing gesture.
Nicias making a blessing gesture.
Strato I in combat gear, making a blessing gesture, circa 100 BCE.
The Heliodorus pillar is a stone column that was erected around 113 BCE in central India in Vidisha near modern Besnagar, by Heliodorus, a Greek ambassador of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas to the court of the Shunga king Bhagabhadra. The pillar originally supported a statue of Garuda. In the dedication, the Indo-Greek ambassador explains he is a devotee of "Vāsudeva, the God of Gods". Historically, it is the first known inscription related to the Bhagavata cult in India.
In general, the art of the Indo-Greeks is poorly documented, and few works of art (apart from their coins and a few stone palettes) are directly attributed to them. The coinage of the Indo-Greeks however is generally considered as some of the most artistically brilliant of Antiquity. The Hellenistic heritage (Ai-Khanoum) and artistic proficiency of the Indo-Greek world would suggest a rich sculptural tradition as well, but traditionally very few sculptural remains have been attributed to them. On the contrary, most Gandharan Hellenistic works of art are usually attributed to the direct successors of the Indo-Greeks in India in the 1st century AD, such as the nomadic Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians and, in an already decadent state, the Kushans In general, Gandharan sculpture cannot be dated exactly, leaving the exact chronology open to interpretation.
The possibility of a direct connection between the Indo-Greeks and Greco-Buddhist art has been reaffirmed recently as the dating of the rule of Indo-Greek kings has been extended to the first decades of the 1st century AD, with the reign of Strato II in the Punjab. Also, Foucher, Tarn, and more recently, Boardman, Bussagli and McEvilley have taken the view that some of the most purely Hellenistic works of northwestern India and Afghanistan, may actually be wrongly attributed to later centuries, and instead belong to a period one or two centuries earlier, to the time of the Indo-Greeks in the 2nd–1st century BC:
This is particularly the case of some purely Hellenistic works in Hadda, Afghanistan, an area which "might indeed be the cradle of incipient Buddhist sculpture in Indo-Greek style". Referring to one of the Buddha triads in Hadda, in which the Buddha is sided by very Classical depictions of Herakles/Vajrapani and Tyche/Hariti, Boardman explains that both figures "might at first (and even second) glance, pass as, say, from Asia Minor or Syria of the first or second century BC (...) these are essentially Greek figures, executed by artists fully conversant with far more than the externals of the Classical style".
Alternatively, it has been suggested that these works of art may have been executed by itinerant Greek artists during the time of maritime contacts with the West from the 1st to the 3rd century AD.
The Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, beyond the omnipresence of Greek style and stylistic elements which might be simply considered as an enduring artistic tradition, offers numerous depictions of people in Greek Classical realistic style, attitudes and fashion (clothes such as the chiton and the himation, similar in form and style to the 2nd century BC Greco-Bactrian statues of Ai-Khanoum, hairstyle), holding contraptions which are characteristic of Greek culture (amphoras, "kantaros" Greek drinking cups), in situations which can range from festive (such as Bacchanalian scenes) to Buddhist-devotional.
Uncertainties in dating make it unclear whether these works of art actually depict Greeks of the period of Indo-Greek rule up to the 1st century BC, or remaining Greek communities under the rule of the Indo-Parthians or Kushans in the 1st and 2nd century AD. Benjamin Rowland thinks that the Indo-Greeks, rather than the Indo-Scythians or the Kushans, may have been the models for the Bodhisattva statues of Gandhara
The abundance of their coins would tend to suggest large mining operations, particularly in the mountainous area of the Hindu-Kush, and an important monetary economy. The Indo-Greek did strike bilingual coins both in the Greek "round" standard and in the Indian "square" standard, suggesting that monetary circulation extended to all parts of society. The adoption of Indo-Greek monetary conventions by neighbouring kingdoms, such as the Kunindas to the east and the Satavahanas to the south, would also suggest that Indo-Greek coins were used extensively for cross-border trade.
It would also seem that some of the coins emitted by the Indo-Greek kings, particularly those in the monolingual Attic standard, may have been used to pay some form of tribute to the Yuezhi tribes north of the Hindu-Kush. This is indicated by the coins finds of the Qunduz hoard in northern Afghanistan, which have yielded quantities of Indo-Greek coins in the Hellenistic standard (Greek weights, Greek language), although none of the kings represented in the hoard are known to have ruled so far north. Conversely, none of these coins have ever been found south of the Hindu-Kush.
The Indo-Greek kings in Southern Asia issued the first known cupro-nickel coins, with Euthydemus II, dating from 180 to 170 BC, and his younger brothers Pantaleon and Agathocles around 170 BC. As only China was able to produce cupro-nickel at that time, and as the alloy ratios are exclusively similar, it has been suggested that the metal was the result of exchanges between China and Bactria.
An indirect testimony by the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria around 128 BC, suggests that intense trade with Southern China was going through northern India. Zhang Qian explains that he found Chinese products in the Bactrian markets, and that they were transiting through northwestern India, which he incidentally describes as a civilization similar to that of Bactria:
"When I was in Bactria", Zhang Qian reported, "I saw bamboo canes from Qiong and cloth (silk?) made in the province of Shu. When I asked the people how they had gotten such articles, they replied: "Our merchants go buy them in the markets of Shendu (northwestern India). Shendu, they told me, lies several thousand li southeast of Bactria. The people cultivate land, and live much like the people of Bactria".— Sima Qian, "Records of the Great Historian", trans. Burton Watson, p. 236.
Recent excavations at the burial site of China's first Emperor Qin Shi Huang, dating back to the 3rd century BCE, also suggest Greek influence in the artworks found there, including in the manufacture of the famous Terracotta army. It is also suggested that Greek artists may have come to China at that time to train local artisans in making sculptures.
Maritime relations across the Indian Ocean started in the 3rd century BC, and further developed during the time of the Indo-Greeks together with their territorial expansion along the western coast of India. The first contacts started when the Ptolemies constructed the Red Sea ports of Myos Hormos and Berenike, with destination the Indus delta, the Kathiawar peninsula or Muziris. Around 130 BC, Eudoxus of Cyzicus is reported (Strabo, Geog. II.3.4) to have made a successful voyage to India and returned with a cargo of perfumes and gemstones. By the time Indo-Greek rule was ending, up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India (Strabo Geog. II.5.12).
The coins of the Indo-Greeks provide rich clues on their uniforms and weapons. Typical Hellenistic uniforms are depicted, with helmets being either round in the Greco-Bactrian style, or the flat kausia of the Macedonians (coins of Apollodotus I).
Their weapons were spears, swords, longbow (on the coins of Agathokleia) and arrows. Interestingly, around 130 BC, the Central Asian recurve bow of the steppes with its gorytos box started to appear for the first time on the coins of Zoilos I, suggesting strong interactions (and apparently an alliance) with nomadic peoples, either the Yuezhi or the Scythians. The recurve bow becomes a standard feature of Indo-Greek horsemen by 90 BC, as seen on some of the coins of Hermaeus.
Generally, Indo-Greek kings are often represented riding horses, as early as the reign of Antimachus II around 160 BC. The equestrian tradition probably goes back to the Greco-Bactrians, who are said by Polybius to have faced a Seleucid invasion in 210 BC with 10,000 horsemen. Although war elephants are never represented on coins, a harness plate (phalera) dated to the 3–2nd century BC, today in the Hermitage Museum, depicts a helmetted Greek combatant on an Indian war elephant.
The Milinda Panha, in the questions of Nagasena to king Menander, provides a rare glimpse of the military methods of the period:
-(Nagasena) Has it ever happened to you, O king, that rival kings rose up against you as enemies and opponents?
-(Menander) Yes, certainly.
-Then you set to work, I suppose, to have moats dug, and ramparts thrown up, and watch towers erected, and strongholds built, and stores of food collected?
-Not at all. All that had been prepared beforehand.
-Or you had yourself trained in the management of war elephants, and in horsemanship, and in the use of the war chariot, and in archery and fencing?
-Not at all. I had learnt all that before.
-With the object of warding off future danger.— (Milinda Panha, Book III, Chap 7)
The Milinda Panha also describes the structure of Menander's army:
Now one day Milinda the king proceeded forth out of the city to pass in review the innumerable host of his mighty army in its fourfold array (of elephants, cavalry, bowmen, and soldiers on foot).— (Milinda Panha, Book I)
The armed forces of the Indo-Greeks engaged in important battles with local Indian forces. The ruler of Kalinga, Kharavela, claims in the Hathigumpha inscription that he led a "large army" in the direction of Demetrius' own "army" and "transports", and that he induced him to retreat from Pataliputra to Mathura. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes took special note of the military strength of Kalinga in his Indica in the middle of the 3rd century BC:
The royal city of the Calingae (Kalinga) is called Parthalis. Over their king 60,000 foot-soldiers, 1,000 horsemen, 700 elephants keep watch and ward in "procinct of war."— Megasthenes fragm. LVI. in Plin. Hist. Nat. VI. 21. 8–23. 11.
An account by the Roman writer Justin gives another hint of the size of Indo-Greek armies, which, in the case of the conflict between the Greco-Bactrian Eucratides and the Indo-Greek Demetrius II, he numbers at 60,000 (although they allegedly lost to 300 Greco-Bactrians):
Eucratides led many wars with great courage, and, while weakened by them, was put under siege by Demetrius, king of the Indians. He made numerous sorties, and managed to vanquish 60,000 enemies with 300 soldiers, and thus liberated after four months, he put India under his rule— Justin, XLI,6
These are considerable numbers, as large armies during the Hellenistic period typically numbered between 20,000 and 30,000.
The Indo-Greeks were later confronted by the nomadic tribes from Central Asia (Yuezhi and Scythians). According to Zhang Qian, the Yuezhi represented a considerable force of between 100,000 and 200,000 mounted archer warriors, with customs identical to those of the Xiongnu.
From the 1st century AD, the Greek communities of central Asia and the northwestern Indian subcontinent lived under the control of the Kushan branch of the Yuezhi, apart from a short-lived invasion of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. The Kushans founded the Kushan Empire, which was to prosper for several centuries. In the south, the Greeks were under the rule of the Western Kshatrapas. The Kalash tribe of the Chitral Valley claim to be descendants of the Indo-Greeks; although this is disputed.
It is unclear how much longer the Greeks managed to maintain a distinct presence in the Indian sub-continent. The legacy of the Indo-Greeks was felt however for several centuries, from the usage of the Greek language and calendrical methods, to the influences on the numismatics of the Indian subcontinent, traceable down to the period of the Gupta Empire in the 4th century.
The Greeks may also have maintained a presence in their cities until quite late. Isidorus of Charax in his 1st century AD "Parthian stations" itinerary described an "Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia", thought to be Alexandria Arachosia, which he said was still Greek even at such a late time:
Beyond is Arachosia. And the Parthians call this White India; there are the city of Biyt and the city of Pharsana and the city of Chorochoad and the city of Demetrias; then Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia; it is Greek, and by it flows the river Arachotus. As far as this place the land is under the rule of the Parthians.
The Indo-Greeks may also have had some influence on the religious plane as well, especially in relation to the developing Mahayana Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism has been described as "the form of Buddhism which (regardless of how Hinduized its later forms became) seems to have originated in the Greco-Buddhist communities of India, through a conflation of the Greek Democritean–Sophistic–Skeptical tradition with the rudimentary and unformalized empirical and skeptical elements already present in early Buddhism".
Today 36 Indo-Greek kings are known. Several of them are also recorded in Western and Indian historical sources, but the majority are known through numismatic evidence only. The exact chronology and sequencing of their rule is still a matter of scholarly inquiry, with adjustments regular being made with new analysis and coin finds (overstrikes of one king over another's coins being the most critical element in establishing chronological sequences).
There is an important evolution of coin shape (round to square) and material (from gold to silver to brass) across the territories and the periods, and from Greek type to Indian type over a period of nearly 3 centuries. Also, the quality of coinage illustration decreases down to the 1st century CE. Coinage evolution is an important point of Indo-Greek history, and actually one of the most important since most of these kings are only known by their coins, and their chronology is mainly established by the evolution of the coin types.
The system used here is adapted from Osmund Bopearachchi, supplemented by the views of R C Senior and occasionally other authorities.
|Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kings, their coins, territories and chronology
Based on Bopearachchi (1991)
|Greco-Bactrian kings||Indo-Greek kings|
|West Bactria||East Bactria||Paropamisade
||Arachosia||Gandhara||Western Punjab||Eastern Punjab||Mathura|
|326–325 BCE||Campaigns of Alexander the Great in India|
|312 BCE||Creation of the Seleucid Empire|
|305 BCE||Seleucid Empire after Mauryan war|
|280 BCE||Foundation of Ai-Khanoum|
|255–239 BCE||Independence of the
|239–223 BCE||Diodotus II|
|230–200 BCE||Euthydemus I|
|200–190 BCE||Demetrius I|
|190–185 BCE||Euthydemus II|
|185–170 BCE||Antimachus I|
|180–160 BCE||Apollodotus I|
|175–170 BCE||Demetrius II|
|160–155 BCE||Antimachus II|
|155–130 BCE||Yuezhi occupation,
loss of Ai-Khanoum
|130–120 BCE||Yuezhi occupation||Zoilos I||Agathokleia||
|120–110 BCE||Lysias||Strato I|
|110–100 BCE||Antialcidas||Heliokles II|
|100 BCE||Polyxenos||Demetrius III|
|90–85 BCE||Nicias||Menander II||Artemidoros|
|Yuezhi occupation||Maues (Indo-Scythian)|
|75–70 BCE||Telephos||Apollodotus II|
|55–35 BCE||Azes I (Indo-Scythian)||Zoilos II|
|25 BCE – 10 CE||Strato II and Strato III|
|Zoilos III/ Bhadayasa|
The invasion of India by a Greco-Bactrian army in ... led to the creation of an Indo-Greek kingdom in northwestern India (present-day India and Pakistan).
Three phases must be distinguished, (a) The Greek rulers of Bactria (the Oxus region) expand their power to the south, conquer Afghanistan and considerable parts of north-western India, and establish an Indo-Greek kingdom in the Panjab where they rule as 'kings of India'; i
There were later Indo-Greek kingdoms in northwest India. ...
They are referred to as 'Indo-Greeks' and there were about forty such kings and rulers who controlled large areas of northwestern India and Afghanistan. Their history ...
Since parts of their territories comprised northwestern India, these later rulers of Greek origin are generally referred to as Indo-Greeks.
The existence of Greek kingdoms in Central Asia and northwestern India after Alexander's conquests had been known for a long time from a few fragmentary texts from Greek and Latin classical sources and from allusions in contemporary Chinese chronicles and later Indian texts.
Apollodotus, founder of the Graeco- Indian kingdom (c. 160 BC).
Menander, also spelled Minedra or Menadra, Pali Milinda (flourished 160 BCE?–135 BCE?), the greatest of the Indo-Greek kings and the one best known to Western and Indian classical authors. He is believed to have been a patron of the Buddhist religion and the subject of an important Buddhist work, the Milinda-panha ("The Questions of Milinda"). Menander was born in the Caucasus, but the Greek biographer Plutarch calls him a king of Bactria, and the Greek geographer and historian Strabo includes him among the Bactrian Greeks "who conquered more tribes than Alexander [the Great]."
Demetrius died in 166 B.C., and Apollodotus, who was a near relation of the King died in 161 B.C. After his death, Menander carved out a kingdom in the Punjab. Thus from 161 B.C. onward Menander was the ruler of Punjab till his death in 145 B.C. or 130 B.C..
MENANDER Born: c. 210 B.C.; probably Kalasi, Afghanistan Died: c. 135 B.C.; probably in northwest India Areas of Achievement: Government and religion Contribution: Menander extended the Greco-Bactrian domains in India more than any other ruler. He became a legendary figure as a great patron of Buddhism in the Pali book the Milindapanha. Early Life – Menander (not to be confused with the more famous Greek dramatist of the same name) was born somewhere in the fertile area to the south of the Paropaisadae or present Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. The only reference to this location is in the semilegendary Milindapanha (first or second century A.D.), which says that he was born in a village called Kalasi near Alasanda, some two hundred yojanas (about eighteen miles) from the town of Sagala (probably Sialkot in the Punjab). The Alasanda refers to the Alexandria in Afghanistan and not the one in Egypt.
Sculptures showing Greeks or the Greek type of human figures are not lacking in ancient India. Apart from the proverbial Gandhara, Sanchi and Mathura have also yielded many sculptures that betray a close observation of the Greeks.
A reference to a Yona in the Sanchi inscriptions is also of immense value.(...) One of the inscriptions announces the gift of a Setapathia Yona, "Setapathiyasa Yonasa danam" i.e the gift of a Yona, inhabitant of Setapatha. The word Yona can't be here anything, but a Greek donor
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Indo-Greek Kingdom.|
|Northwestern India||Indo-Gangetic Plain||Central India||Southern India|
|Upper Gangetic Plain||Middle Gangetic Plain||Lower Gangetic Plain|
|Culture||Late Vedic Period||Late Vedic Period
|Late Vedic Period
|6th century BC||Gandhara||Kuru-Panchala||Magadha||Adivasi (tribes)|
|Culture||Persian-Greek influences||"Second Urbanisation"||Pre-history|
|5th century BC||(Persian rule)||Shishunaga dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)|
|4th century BC||(Greek conquests)||Nanda empire|
|Culture||Spread of Buddhism||Pre-history||Sangam period
(300 BC – 200 AD)
|3rd century BC||Maurya Empire||Early Cholas
46 other small kingdoms in Ancient Thamizhagam
|Culture||Preclassical Hinduism[c] - "Hindu Synthesis"[d] (ca. 200 BC - 300 AD)[e][f]
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
|2nd century BC||Indo-Greek Kingdom||Shunga Empire||Early Cholas
46 other small kingdoms in Ancient Thamizhagam
|1st century BC|
|1st century AD||Kuninda Kingdom|
|2nd century||Kushan Empire|
|3rd century||Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom||Kushan Empire||Western Satraps||Kamarupa kingdom||Kalabhra dynasty|
|Culture||"Golden Age of Hinduism"(ca. AD 320-650)[g]
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
|4th century||Kidarites||Gupta Empire||Kalabhra dynasty|
|5th century||Hephthalite Empire||Alchon Huns||Kalabhra dynasty|
|6th century||Nezak Huns||Maitraka||Adivasi (tribes)||Badami Chalukyas|
|Culture||Late-Classical Hinduism (ca. AD 650-1100)[h]
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
|7th century||Indo-Sassanids||Vakataka dynasty
Empire of Harsha
|Mlechchha dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Pandyan Kingdom(Under Kalabhras)|
|8th century||Kabul Shahi||Pala Empire||Pandyan Kingdom|
|9th century||Gurjara-Pratihara||Rashtrakuta dynasty|
|10th century||Ghaznavids||Pala dynasty||Kalyani Chalukyas|