Cultures > Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom


The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (250-125 BC) formed the most eastern portion of the Hellenistic cultures. It was a Greek dynastic kingdom that was established on the former Achaemenid Persian satrapies of Sogdia (Sogdiana) and Bactria, in modern times covering the territory of Afghanistan. The Greco-Bactrians would eventually expand throughout the region into northern India and modern day Pakistan where they founded the Indo-Greek Kingdom which lasted until AD 10 when it was invaded by the Indo-Scythians. The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was first established by the Seleucid satrap of Bactria named Diodotus I who declared his independence from the Seleucid Empire circa 250 BC. The event was documented by the Roman historian Marcus Junianus Justinus who stated;

"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."

- Justin, XLI,4

There is a disputed chronology for this event with some saying it occurred in 255 BC (high chronology) and others saying 246 BC (low chronology).

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.[6] 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.

Based around the capital city of Bactra, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom was highly developed and urbanized due to the Achaemenid and Seleucid influences. During the Hellenistic Period the kingdom was known as opulentissimum illud mille urbium Bactrianum imperium in Latin for its fabled wealth and riches. According to Roman sources,

"The extremely prosperous Bactrian empire of the thousand cities"

- Justin, XLI,1

Click here to see a list of all Bactrian settlements and cities.

Throughout the Hellenistic period the Greco-Bactrian kingdom would expand further east and west where they conquered the satrapy of Aria (Ariana) as well as parts of India. This was documented by the Greco-Roman historian Strabo as;

"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

Following the succession of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom the Ptolemaic Kingdom captured the Seleucid capital at Antioch and caused political strife throughout the region. During the ensuing power vacuum the Satrapy of Parthia declared independence as well. However, within ten years he would be slain by Arsaces I of Parthia who founded the Parthian Empire.

However, this had the effect of isolating the Greco-Bactrian kingdom from the rest of the Hellenistic world and drastically affected the vital trade routes back to the Hellenistic Mediterranean. To adapt, the Greco-Bactrians compensated for a decrease in land based trade by increasing their maritime routes with the Ptolemaic Egyptians. Diodotus I would eventually be succeeded in rule by his son Diodotus II. Under the new rule the Greco-Bactrians allied themselves with the Parthians against the Seleucid ruler named Seleucid II Callinicus. The alliance was documented by Romans historians who stated;

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

Overthrow of Diodotus II

Diodotus II would eventually be overthrown between 230 and 220 BC by a Magnesian Greek named Euthydemus who may have been the satrap of Sogdia (Sogdiana). Following the conquering of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom Euthydemus began his own dynasty and ruled over Sogdia as well. His rule extended beyond the city of Alexandria Eschate that was founded by Alexander III the Great during his campaign in Ferghana. This was documented by Strabo who stated;

"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

Seleucid Invasion

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom under Euthydemus would be attacked around 210 BC by the Seleucid leader Antiochus III. The Greco-Bactrian military was known to have around 10,000 cavalry however, Euthydemus lost the opening battle with the Seleucids on the Arius river. The Greco-Bactrians retreated back to their capital at Bactra and Antiochus III besieged the city for three years.

Eventually the Seleucid leader gave up on the siege and recognized Euthydemus as the legitimate ruler. To cement this around 206 BC he offered his daughters to Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus. According to some classical historians Euthydemus was able to negotiate peace with the Seleucids by stating he was the one who overthrew the original rebel Diodotus and that he was in fact protecting the Hellenistic world from nomadic invasions. According to Roman historian Polybius;

...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.

Polybius, 11.34

Once the Seleucid army left the region the Greco-Bactrian kingdom expanded to the west likely as far as Parthia. The Parthians themselves had just been defeated by the Seleucids prior to being attacked by Antiochus III. These territories became known as 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 Xinjiang, leading to the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BC. The Greek historian Strabo too writes that:

"They extended their empire even as far as the Seres (Chinese) and the Phryni".

Strabo, XI.XI.I

Han Empire

See Han Empire

Several statuettes and representations of Greek soldiers have been found north of the Tien Shan, on the doorstep to China, and are today on display in the Xinjiang museum at Urumqi (Boardman).[16] Greek influences on Chinese art have also been suggested (Hirth, Rostovtzeff). Designs with rosette flowers, geometric lines, and glass inlays, suggestive of Hellenistic influences,[17] can be found on some early Han dynasty bronze mirrors.[18]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.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,[21] 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).[22] 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.[23] Copper-nickel would not be used again in coinage until the 19th century.The presence of Chinese people in India from ancient times is also suggested by the accounts of the "Ciñas" in the Mahabharata and the Manu Smriti. The Han Dynasty explorer and ambassador Zhang Qian visited Bactria in 126 BC, and reported the presence of Chinese products in the Bactrian markets:

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).

Shiji 123, Sima Qian, trans. Burton Watson

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 relationship 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).A number of Chinese envoys were then sent to Central Asia, triggering the development of the Silk Road from the end of the 2nd century BC.[24]

Maurya Empire

See Maurya Empire

Contacts with the Indian Subcontinent (250–180)The Indian emperor Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty, had re-conquered the northwestern subcontinent upon the death of Alexander the Great around 322 BC. However, contacts were kept with his Greek neighbors in the Seleucid Empire, a dynastic alliance or the recognition of intermarriage between Greeks and ancient Indo-Iranians 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 Indo-Iranic 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 inhabitants that remained in India are believed to have converted to Buddhism and actually a new type of ideology known as the syncretic Greco-Buddhism developed. According to the Edicts of Ashoka;

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 XIIGreco-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.

Expansion into the Indian subcontinent (after 180 BC)

Indo-Greek Kingdom

See Indo-Greek Kingdom

Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus, started an invasion of the subcontinent from 180 BC, a few years after the Mauryan empire had been overthrown by the Shunga dynasty. Historians differ on the motivations behind the invasion. Some historians suggest that the invasion of the subcontinent was intended to show their support for the Mauryan empire, and to protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the Shungas as alleged by Buddhist scriptures (Tarn). Other historians have argued however that the accounts of these persecutions have been exaggerated Thapar, LamotteDemetrius may have been as far as the imperial capital Pataliputra in today's eastern India (today Patna). However, these campaigns are typically attributed to Menander. The invasion was completed by 175 BC. This established in the northwestern Indian Subcontinent what is called the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which lasted for almost two centuries until around AD 10. The Buddhist faith flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, foremost among them Menander I. It was also a period of great cultural syncretism, exemplified by the development of Greco-Buddhism.

Usurpation of Eucratides

Back in Bactria, Eucratides, either a general of Demetrius or an ally of the Seleucids, managed to overthrow the Euthydemid dynasty and establish his own rule around 170 BC, probably dethroning Antimachus I and Antimachus II. The Indian branch of the Euthydemids tried to strike back. An Indian king called Demetrius (very likely Demetrius II) is said to have returned to Bactria with 60,000 men to oust the usurper, but he apparently was defeated and killed in the encounter: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)[26]Eucratides campaigned extensively in present-day northwestern India, and ruled on a vast territory as indicated by his minting of coins in many Indian mints, possibly as far as the Jhelum River in Punjab. In the end however, he was repulsed by the Indo-Greek king Menander I, who managed to create a huge unified territory.In a rather confused account, Justin explains that Eucratides was killed on the field by "his son and joint king", who would be his own son, either Eucratides II or Heliocles I (although there are speculations that it could be his enemy's son Demetrius II). The son drove over Eucratides' bloodied body with his chariot and left him dismembered without a sepulchre:

As Eucratides returned from India, he was killed on the way back by his son, whom he had associated to his rule, and who, without hiding his parricide, as if he didn't kill a father but an enemy, ran with his chariot over the blood of his father, and ordered the corpse to be left without a sepulture.

Justin XLI,6

Parthian Empire

See Parthian Empire

During or after his Indian campaigns, Eucratides was attacked and defeated by the Parthian king Mithridates I, possibly in alliance with partisans of the Euthydemids:

"The Bactrians, involved in various wars, lost not only their rule but also their freedom, as, exhausted by their wars against the Sogdians, the Arachotes, the Dranges, the Arians and the Indians, they were finally crushed, as if drawn of all their blood, by an enemy weaker than them, the Parthians.

Justin, XLI,6

Following his victory, Mithridates I gained Bactria's territory west of the Arius, the regions of Tapuria and Traxiane:

"The satrapy Turiva and that of Aspionus were taken away from Eucratides by the Parthians."

Strabo XI.11.20

In the year 141 BC, the Greco-Bactrians seem to have entered in an alliance with the Seleucid king Demetrius II to fight again against Parthia:

The people of the Orient welcomed his (Demetrius II's) arrival, partly because of the cruelty of the Arsacid king of the Parthians, partly because, used to the rule of the Macedonians, they disliked the arrogance of this new people. Thus, Demetrius, supported by the Persians, Elymes and Bactrians, routed the Parthians in numerous battles. At the end, deceived by a false peace treaty, he was taken prisoner.

Justin XXXVI, 1,1

The 5th century historian Orosius reports that Mithridates I managed to occupy territory between the Indus and the Hydaspes towards the end of his reign (c. 138 BC, before his kingdom was weakened by his death in 136 BC).Heliocles I ended up ruling what territory remained. The defeat, both in the west and the east, may have left Bactria very weakened and open to nomadic invasions.

Invasions of Greco-Bactria

First Yuezhi Expansion

(c. 162 BC-)

Migrations of the Yuezhi (176 BC to AD 30)

According to the Han chronicles, following a crushing defeat in 162 BC by the Xiongnu, the nomadic tribes of the Yuezhi fled from the Tarim Basin towards the west, crossed the neighbouring urban civilization of the "Dayuan" (probably the Greek possessions in Ferghana), and resettled north of the Oxus in modern-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in the northern part of the Greco-Bactrian territory. The Dayuan remained a healthy and powerful urban civilization which had numerous contacts and exchanges with China from 130 BC.


(c. 140 BC-)Around 140 BC, eastern Scythians (the Saka, or Sacaraucae of Greek sources), apparently being pushed forward by the southward migration of the Yuezhi started to invade various parts of Parthia and Bactria. Their invasion of Parthia is well documented: they attacked in the direction of the cities of Merv, Hecatompolis and Ecbatana. They managed to defeat and kill the Parthian king Phraates II, son of Mithridates I, routing the Greek mercenary troops under his command (troops he had acquired during his victory over Antiochus VII). Again in 123 BC, Phraates's successor, his uncle Artabanus I was killed by the Scythians.[29]

Second Yuezhi Expansion

(120 BC-)When Zhang Qian visited the Yuezhi in 126 BC, trying to obtain their alliance to fight the Xiongnu, he explained that the Yuezhi were settled north of the Oxus but also held under their sway the territory south of Oxus, which makes up the remaining of Bactria.According to Zhang Qian, the Yuezhi represented a considerable force of between 100,000 and 200,000 mounted archer warriors,[30] with customs identical to those of the Xiongnu, which would probably have easily defeated Greco-Bactrian forces (in 208 BC when the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus I confronted the invasion of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great, he commanded 10,000 horsemen).[14] Zhang Qian actually visited Bactria (named Daxia in Chinese) in 126 BC, and portrays a country which was totally demoralized and whose political system had vanished, although its urban infrastructure remained:Daxia (Bactria) is located over 2,000 li southwest of Dayuan, south of the Gui (Oxus) river. Its people cultivate the land and have cities and houses. Their customs are like those of Dayuan. It has no great ruler but only a number of petty chiefs ruling the various cities. The people are poor in the use of arms and afraid of battle, but they are clever at commerce. After the Great Yuezhi moved west and attacked Daxia, the entire country came under their sway. The population of the country is large, numbering some 1,000,000 or more persons. The capital is called the city of Lanshi (Bactra) and has a market where all sorts of goods are bought and sold. (Records of the Great Historian by Sima Qian, quoting Zhang Qian, trans. Burton Watson)The Yuezhi further expanded southward into Bactria around 120 BC, apparently further pushed out by invasions from the northern Wusun. It seems they also pushed Scythian tribes before them, which continued to India, where they came to be identified as Indo-Scythians.The invasion is also described in western Classical sources from the 1st century BC:

"The best known tribes are those who deprived the Greeks of Bactriana, the Asii, Pasiani, Tochari, and Sacarauli, who came from the country on the other side of the Jaxartes, opposite the Sacae and Sogdiani."

Strabo, 11-8-1

Around that time the king Heliocles abandoned Bactria and moved his capital to the Kabul valley, from where he ruled his Indian holdings. Having left the Bactrian territory, he is technically the last Greco-Bactrian king, although several of his descendants, moving beyond the Hindu Kush, would form the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom. The last of these "western" Indo-Greek kings, Hermaeus, would rule until around 70 BC, when the Yuezhi again invaded his territory in the Paropamisadae (while the "eastern" Indo-Greek kings would continue to rule until around AD 10 in the area of the Punjab region).Overall, the Yuezhi remained in Bactria for more than a century. They became Hellenized to some degree, as suggested by their adoption of the Greek alphabet to write their Iranian language, and by numerous remaining coins, minted in the style of the Greco-Bactrian kings, with the text in Greek.Around 12 BC the Yuezhi then moved further to northern India where they established the Kushan Empire.

Greco-Bactrian Kings

Many of the dates, territories, and relationships between Greco-Bactrian kings are tentative and essentially based on numismatic analysis and a few Classical sources. The following list of kings, dates and territories after the reign of Demetrius is derived from the latest and most extensive analysis on the subject, by Osmund Bopearachchi ("Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonné", 1991).

House of Diodotus

Territories of Bactria, Sogdiana, Ferghana, Arachosia:

Diodotus I (reigned c. 250–240 BC)

Diodotus II (reigned c. 240–230 BC) - Son of Diodotus

The existence of a third Diodotid king, Antiochus Nikator, perhaps a younger son of Diodotus I, has recently been suggested.

House of Euthydemus

Territories of Bactria, Sogdiana, Ferghana, Arachosia:Euthydemus I (reigned c. 223-c. 200 BC) Overthrew Diodotus II. CoinsDemetrios I Baktria (c. 205–171 BC). founder of the Indo-Greek kingdom The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ – "(of) King DemetriusThe descendants of the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus invaded northern India around 190 BC. Their dynasty was probably thrown out of Bactria after 170 BC by the new king Eucratides, but remained in the Indian domains of the empire at least until the 150s BC. Demetrius I (reigned c. 200–180 BC) Son of Euthydemus I. Greco-Bactrian king, and conqueror of India.The territory won by Demetrius was separated between western and eastern parts, ruled by several sub-kings and successor kings:Territory of BactriaEuthydemus II (c. 180 BC), probably a son of Demetrius. CoinsAntimachus I (possibly c. 185–170 BC), brother of Demetrius. Defeated by usurper Eucratides.Silver coin of Antimachus I. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΘΕΟΥ ΑΝΤΙΜΑΧΟΥ – "(of) King God Antimachus".Territories of Paropamisadae, Arachosia, Gandhara, PunjabPantaleon (190s or 180s BC) Possibly another brother and co-ruler of Demetrius I.Agathocles (c. 190–180 BC) Yet another brother? CoinsApollodotus I (reigned c. 180–160 BC) A fourth brother?Antimachus II Nikephoros (160–155 BC)Demetrius II (155–150 BC) CoinsMenander (reigned c. 155–130 BC). Legendary for the size of his Kingdom, and his support of the Buddhist faith. It is unclear whether he was related to the other kings, and thus if the dynasty survived further.CoinsFollowed by Indo-Greek kings in northern India.House of Eucratides[edit]Silver tetradrachm of King Eucratides 171–145 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ – "(of) King Great Eucratides".Territory of Bactria and SogdianaEucratides I 170-c. 145 BC CoinsPlato co-regent c. 166 BCEucratides II 145–140 BC CoinsHeliocles (r. c. 145–130 BC).Heliocles, the last Greek king of Bactria, was invaded by the nomadic tribes of the Yuezhi from the North. Descendants of Eucratides may have ruled on in the Indo-Greek kingdom.Greek culture in Bactria[edit]Corinthian capital, found at Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BCThe Greco-Bactrians were known for their high level of Hellenistic sophistication, and kept regular contact with both the Mediterranean and neighbouring India. They were on friendly terms with India and exchanged ambassadors.Their cities, such as Ai-Khanoum in northeastern Afghanistan (probably Alexandria on the Oxus), and Bactra (modern Balkh) where Hellenistic remains have been found, demonstrate a sophisticated Hellenistic urban culture. This site gives a snapshot of Greco-Bactrian culture around 145 BC, as the city was burnt to the ground around that date during nomadic invasions and never re-settled. Ai-Khanoum "has all the hallmarks of a Hellenistic city, with a Greek theater, gymnasium and some Greek houses with colonnaded courtyards" (Boardman). Remains of Classical Corinthian columns were found in excavations of the site, as well as various sculptural fragments. In particular a huge foot fragment in excellent Hellenistic style was recovered, which is estimated to have belonged to a 5–6 meters tall statue.Stone block with the inscriptions of Kineas in Greek. Ai Khanoum.One of the inscriptions in Greek found at Ai-Khanoum, the Herôon of Kineas, has been dated to 300–250 BC, and describes Delphic precepts:As children, learn good manners.As young men, learn to control the passions.In middle age, be just.In old age, give good advice.Then die, without regret.Some of the Greco-Bactrian coins, and those of their successors the Indo-Greeks, are considered the finest examples of Greek numismatic art with "a nice blend of realism and idealization", including the largest coins to be minted in the Hellenistic world: the largest gold coin was minted by Eucratides (reigned 171–145 BC), the largest silver coin by the Indo-Greek king Amyntas Nikator (reigned c. 95–90 BC). The portraits "show a degree of individuality never matched by the often bland depictions of their royal contemporaries further West" (Roger Ling, "Greece and the Hellenistic World").Several other Greco-Bactrian cities have been further identified, as in Saksanokhur in southern Tajikistan (archaeological searches by a Soviet team under B.A. Litvinski), or in Dal'verzin Tepe.


Silver coin depicting Demetrius I of Bactria (reigned c. 200–180 BC), wearing an elephant scalp, symbol of his conquests in India.Bilingual Edict of Ashoka (in Greek and Aramaic), found in Kandahar. Circa 250 BC, Kabul Museum.Remains of a Hellenistic capital found in Balkh, ancient Bactra.Silver tetradrachm of King Eucratides I 171–145 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ – "(of) King Great Eucratides".Bilingual coin of Eucratides in the Indian standard, on the obverse Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ-"(of) King Great Eucratides", Pali in the Kharoshthi script on the reverse.Gold 20-stater of Eucratides, the largest gold coin of Antiquity. The coin weighs 169.2 grams, and has a diameter of 58 millimeters.Bronze Herakles statuette. Ai Khanoum. 2nd century BC.Silver coin of Heliocles (r. 150–125 BC), the last Greco-Bactrian king. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΗΛΙΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ – "(of) King Heliocles the Just".Coin depicting the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus 230–200 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΕΥΘΥΔΗΜΟΥ – "(of) King Euthydemus".Probable statuette of a Greek soldier, wearing a version of the Greek Phrygian helmet, from a 3rd-century BC burial site north of the Tian Shan, Xinjiang Region Museum, Urumqi.Sculpture of an old man, possibly a philosopher. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.Close-up of the same statue.Frieze of a naked man wearing a chlamys. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.Same frieze, seen from the side.Gargoyle in the form of a Greek comic mask. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.Painted clay and alabaster head of a Zoroastrian priest wearing a distinctive Bactrian-style headdress, Takhti-Sangin, Tajikistan, Greco-Bactrian kingdom, 3rd-2nd century BCPlate depicting Cybele pulled by lions. Ai Khanoum.Gold coin of Diodotus c. 245 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΙΟΔΟΤΟΥ – "(of) King Diodotus".Probable Greek soldier in the Sampul tapestry, woollen wall hanging, 3rd–2nd century BC, Sampul, Urumqi Xinjiang Region Museum.Zhou/Han bronze mirror with glass inlays, perhaps incorporated Greco-Roman artistic patterns (rosette flowers, geometric lines, and glass inlays). Victoria and Albert Museum.Western-influenced Zhou vase with glass inlays, 4th–3rd century BC, British Museum.

See Also


+ Cultures List


Primary Sources

Justin XLI, paragraph 4

Justin XLI, paragraph 1

Strabo XI.XI.I

Justin XLI

Polybius 11.34

Strabo 11.11.2

Polybius 10.49, Battle of the Arius

Polybius 11.34 Siege of Bactra

Secondary Sources

Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D.". Social Science History. 3 (3/4): 132. doi:10.2307/1170959.

Doumanis, Nicholas. A History of Greece Palgrave Macmillan, 16 dec. 2009 ISBN 978-1137013675 p 64

Baumer, Christoph. The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors Vol. 1 I.B.Tauris, 11 dec. 2012 ISBN 978-1780760605 p 289

Kaushik Roy. Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia Routledge, 28 jul. 2015 ISBN 978-1317321279

J. D. Lerner, The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau: the Foundations of Arsacid Parthia and Graeco-Bactria, (Stuttgart 1999)

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F. L. Holt, Thundering Zeus (Berkeley 1999)

Encyclopaedia Metropolitana: Or Universal Dictionary of Knowledge, Volume 23, edited by Edward Smedley, Hugh James Rose, Henry John Rose, 1923, page 260, states: "Eucratidia, named from its ruler, (Strabo, xi. p. 516.) was, according to Ptolemy, 2° North and 1° West of Bactra." As these coordinates are relative to, and close to, Bactra, it is reasonable to disregard the imprecision in Ptolemy's coordinates and accept them without adjustment. If the coordinates for Bactra are taken to be 36°45′N 66°55′E, then the coordinates 38°45′N 65°55′E can be seen to be close to the modern day city of Qarshi.

On the image of the Greek kneeling warrior: "A bronze figurine of a kneeling warrior, not Greek work, but wearing a version of the Greek Phrygian helmet.. From a burial, said to be of the 4th century BC, just north of the Tien Shan range". Ürümqi Xinjiang Museum. (Boardman "The diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity")

Notice of the British Museum on the Zhou vase (2005, attached image): "Red earthenware bowl, decorated with a slip and inlaid with glass paste. Eastern Zhou period, 4th–3rd century BC. This bowl was probably intended to copy a more precious and possibly foreign vessel in bronze or even silver. Glass was little used in China. Its popularity at the end of the Eastern Zhou period was probably due to foreign influence."

"The things which China received from the Graeco-Iranian world-the pomegranate and other "Chang-Kien" plants, the heavy equipment of the cataphract, the traces of Greeks influence on Han art (such as) the famous white bronze mirror of the Han period with Graeco-Bactrian designs (...) in the Victoria and Albert Museum" (Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, pp. 363-364)

BBC Western contact with China began long before Marco Polo, experts say

The Mausoleum of China’s First Emperor Partners with the BBC and National Geographic Channel to Reveal Groundbreaking Evidence That China Was in Contact with the West During the Reign of the First Emperor

Copper-Nickel coinage in Greco-Bactria.

Ancient Chinese weapons A halberd of copper-nickel alloy, from the Warring States Period.

A.A. Moss pp317-318 Numismatic Chronicle 1950

C.Michael Hogan, Silk Road, North China, Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham

Clement of Alexandria "The Stromata, or Miscellanies" Book I, Chapter XV

c Justin XLI,6

Justin XXXVI, 1,1

Mentioned in "Hellenism in ancient India", Banerjee, p140, to be taken carefully since Orosius is often rather unreliable in his accounts.

"Parthians and Sassanid Persians", Peter Wilcox, p15

"They are a nation of nomads, moving from place to place with their herds, and their customs are like those of the Xiongnu. They have some 100,000 or 200,000 archer warriors... The Yuezhi originally lived in the area between the Qilian or Heavenly mountains and Dunhuang, but after they were defeated by the Xiongnu they moved far away to the west, beyond Dayuan, where they attacked and conquered the people of Daxia (Bactria) and set up the court of their king on the northern bank of the Gui (Oxus) river" ("Records of the Great Historian", Sima Qian, trans. Burton Watson, p234)

Strabo 11-8-1 on the nomadic invasions of Bactria

Nikonorov, Valerii; The Armies of Bactria 700 B.C. - 450 A.D, page 39.

Boardman, John (1994). The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03680-2.

Boardman, John, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray (2001). The Oxford Illustrated History of Greece and the Hellenistic World. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-285438-4.

Bopearachchi, Osmund (1991). Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonné. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ISBN 2-7177-1825-7.

Bopearachchi, Osmund and Christine Sachs (2003). De l'Indus à l'Oxus, Archéologie de l'Asie Centrale: catalogue de l'exposition. ISBN 2-9516679-2-2.

McEvilley, Thomas (2002).The Shape of Ancient Thought. Comparative studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Allworth Press and the School of Visual Arts. ISBN 1-58115-203-5

Puri, B. N. (2000). Buddhism in Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi. ISBN 81-208-0372-8.

Tarn, W. W. (1966) The Greeks in Bactria and India. 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Watson, Burton, trans. (1993). Records of the Great Historian. Han dynasty II, by Sima Qian. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08167-7.

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