Bactria to Kushan
Baktria. Pre-Seleukid Period. Eagle Series. ca 325-300 BC. AR Diobol (10mm, 1.00 gm). Laureate & bearded head of Zeus right / Eagle standing left, head right;
to right, two bunches of grapes on stalk.
305-294 BC Sophytes, a prince, apparently independent, who ruled over a kingdom in the north of the Panjab.
256-239 BC Diodotos I, revolted from the Seleucid empire during reign of Antiochos II, rise of Parthia,coins minted in
name of Antiochus
256-230 BC Diodotos II, son of Diodotos I–ZEUS-gold and silver
230-190 BC Euthydemos I, overthrew Diodotos I-expanded empire North, West to Pathia, and East to Chinese
Turkestan, establishing first contact by the West and creating the Silk Road. Issued copper-nickel coins.
205-171 BC Demetrios I, son of Euthydemos I-conquers north-east India. He and brothers issue bilingual coins.
ELEPHANT HEADDRESS/HERAKLES; ELEPHANT/STAFF OF HERMES
190-171 BC Euthedemos II, son of Demetrios I
190-180 BC Pentaleon, son of Demetrios I
171-160 BC Agathokles, son of Demetrios and co-ruler with Antimachos-ZEUS
171-160 BC Antimachos I, Brother of Demetrios and ultimately unsuccessful defender against the rebel Eukratides
-POSEIDON. First to call himself God-King. Wearing kausa.
160-155 BC Antimachos II, son of Antimachos
174-165 BC Apollodotos I, Indo-Greek ruler who took southern part of kingdom which dissolved after Eukratides took
power. ATHENA; ELEPHANT/BRAHMA BULL
171-145 BC Eukratides I, overthrew the dynasty of Euthydemos and Demetrios I, driving them south into India,
Minted largest Greek gold coin. DIOSCURI. Macedonian Military helmet
145-140 BC Eukratides II, murders father.
165-130 BC Menander I Soter, Indo-Greek successor to Apollodotos I in the south. General of Eukratides, restores
empire. Converts to Buddhism.ATHENA; BULL/TRIPOD; DHARMA WHEEL/PALM OF VICTORY
145-130 BC Heliokles I, son of Eukratides. Retreats before invading nomads. ZEUS
130-110 BC Antialkidas, West, Indo Greek-ZEUS AND ELEPHANT-Eukratides relative?
130-95 BC Lysias, Indo Greek, allied with Antialkidas-ELEPHANT HEADDRESS AND HERAKLES
135-130 BC Epander, Indo-Greek co-ruler of southern province, son of Menander
130-110 BC Strato I, son of Menander-under stress of invasions Bactria divides into 4-5 independent kingdoms.
130-125? BC Agathokleia, Regent of Strato I
110-80 BC Apollodotos II, EAST-Pushes back Scythians,Indo-Greek-ATHENA
110-100 BC Heliokles_II
110-80 BC Philoxenos-expands empire, HINDU GODDESS/BRAHMA BULL
95-90 BC Diomedes
c.90 BC Theophilos
90-85 BC Nikias
90-80 BC Archebios, Indo-Greek-ELEPHANT/OWL
90-70 BC Hermaios
70-65 BC Telephos
80-60 BC Hippostratos,EAST, son of Apollodotso II, Indo-Greek, defeated by Scythians, TYCHE and/or HINDU
60-40 BC Amyntas, WEST, minted largest Greek silver coin-ATHENA
40-15 BC Strato II
40-1 BC Hermaios, postumous issues-overrun by Kushans-Athena
90-57 BC Maues-conquered most of northern Bactria, but kingdom not established. NIKE;ELELPHANT/STAFF OV
HERMES also Buddhist and Hindu symbols as well.
57-35 BC Azes I-conquered northern India-ATHENA; Apollo on omphalos Kushan statuary-Greek and Hindu
55-105 AD Soter Megas (Vima Takto), expanded empire-Head in Macedonian helmet
90-100 AD Vima Kadphises-SACRIFICING AT ALTAR/BRAHMA BULL AND NANDI, son of Vima Takto
77-70 BC Sinatruces, put on throne by Sycthians at age 80-SEATED BOWMAN, imitating ancient Persia
38-2 BC Phraates IV-same reverse, traditionally one of the 4 wisemen, came to throne after murdering father and 30
brothers, defeated by Anthony and restores to throne by Scythians, becvame a dependent of Augustus,
murdered by his Italian wife.
25-55 AD Gondophares, first independent king of Indo-Parthians, hosted Saint Thomas-ATHENA
90-100 AD ERROR-Pacores II-NIKE
soldier in Indian armour
soldier in Indian armour
court lady in Indian dress
238-250 AD Viyayasena-Blundered Greek/Hindu stupa with sun and moon and river
90-100 AD Vima Kadphises-gold IN CLOUDS/SHIVA-horned devil
Vima Kadphises-gold LOOKING OUT WINDOW-Trident-Neptune?
COURTING COUPLE WITH MONKEY BEFORE
AX HANDLE-GRIFFIN AND HUMAN TORSO WITH 2 EAGLE HEADS
CHINESE DRAGON ON SWORD SHEATH
ENTHRONED RULER WITH HINDU WINGED SNAKES
2 RINGS WITH ATHENA
Bactria (Bactriana) was the ancient Greek name of the country between the range of the Hindu Kush (Caucasus Indicus) and the Amu Darya (Oxus), with the
capital Bactra (now Balkh) in Afghanistan. To the east, it was bordered by the ancient region of Gandhara in the Indian subcontinent. Bactria's inhabitants spoke
the Bactrian language, an Iranian language of the Indo-Iranian languages sub-familly of Indo-European languages. Today's Tajiks (of Central Asia) are their
It is a mountainous country with a moderate climate. Water is abundant and the land is very fertile. Bactria was the home of one of the Iranian tribes. Modern
authors have often used the name in a wider sense, as the designation of the whole North of Afghanistan.
It was in these regions, where the fertile soil of the mountainous country is surrounded by the Turanian desert, that the prophet Zoroaster preached and gained
his first adherents. The sacred language in which the Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrianism, is written, was once called "old Bactrian."
It is not known whether Bactria formed part of the Median empire, but it was subjugated by Cyrus and from then formed one of the satrapies of the Persian
empire. After Darius III had been defeated by Alexander and killed in the ensuing chaos, his murderer Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, tried to organize a national
resistance based on his satrapy.
Alexander the Great
But Bactria was conquered by Alexander the Great without much difficulty; it was only farther in the north, beyond the Oxus, in Sogdiana, where he met with
strong resistance. Bactria became a province of the Macedonian empire, and soon came under the rule of Seleucus, king of Asia.
The Macedonians (and especially Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I) established the Seleucid Empire, and founded a great many Greek towns in eastern Iran,
and the Greek language became for some time dominant there. The paradox that Greek presence was more prominent in Bactria than in areas far more adjacent
to Greece could possibly be explained by the supposed policy of Persian kings to deport unreliable Greek as colonists to this the most remote province of their
The many difficulties against which the Seleucid kings had to fight and the attacks of Ptolemy II, gave to Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, the opportunity of making
himself independent (about 255 BC) and of conquering Sogdiana. He was the founder of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Diodotus and his successors were able to
maintain themselves against the attacks of the Seleucids particularly Antiochus III the Great, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans (190 BC).
The Greco-Bactrians were so powerful that they were able to expand their territory as far as India:
"As for Bactria, a part of it lies alongside Aria towards the north, though most of it lies above Aria and to the east of it. And much of it produces everything
except oil. 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...." (Strabo, XI. xi. 1)
The Greco-Bactrians were a dynasty of Greek kings who controlled Bactria and Sogdiana, an area comprising today's northern Afghanistan and parts of Central
Asia, the easternmost area of the Hellenistic world, from 250 to 125 BC. Their expansion into northern India established the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which was to
last until around 10 CE.
Independence from the Seleucid Empire (250 BC)
The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was founded by the Seleucid military governor of Bactria Diodotus around 250 BCE when he wrestled independence for his
territory from the Seleucid Empire. At about the same time in the West, the Parthian Arsacid Dynasty was rising, therefore cutting the Greco-Bactrians from
direct contacts with the Greek world. Overland trade continued at a reduced rate, while sea trade between Greek Egypt and Bactria developed. Diodotus was
succeeded by his son Diodotus II.
The Euthydemid dynasty (230 BCE)
Euthydemus overthrew Diodotus II around 230 BCE and started his dynasty. Euthydemus's control extended to Sogdiana, reaching and going beyond the city of
Alexandria Eschate founded by Alexander the Great in Ferghana.
Conflict with the Seleucid empire and Parthia
Euthydemus is famous for having repulsed a reconquest effort by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III around 206 BCE. He successfully resisted a two-year siege in
the fortified city of Bactra, before Antiochus finally decided to recognize the new ruler, and to offer one of his daughters to Euthydemus's son Demetrius.
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 hords 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).
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 Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan, leading to the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BCE. 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).
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 1, 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 2 ). The practice of exporting Chinese metals, in particular iron, for trade is attested around that period. Kings
Agathocles and Pantaleon made these coin issues around 170 BCE. Copper-nickel would not be used again in coinage until the 19th century.
The Han Dynasty explorer and ambassador Zhang Qian visited Bactria in 126 BCE, and reported the presence of Chinese products in the Bactrian markets.
Numerous Chinese missions were then sent to Central Asia, triggering the development of the Silk Road from the end of the 2nd century BCE.
Expansion (after 200 BCE)
Demetrius I (200-180 BCE), wearing an elephant scalp, symbol of his conquest of India.
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.
Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus, started an invasion of India from 180 BCE, a few years after the Mauryan empire had been overthrown.
Demetrius seems to have been as far as the imperial capital Pataliputra in eastern India (today Patna). The invasion was completed by 175 BCE. This established
in northern India what is called the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which lasted for almost two centuries until around 10 CE. 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.
Back in Bactria, Eucratides managed to overthrow the Euthydemid dynasty and establish his own rule around 170 BCE. Demetrius 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. Antimachus I, brother of Demetrius, also fought against
Eucratides, but ultimately lost around 160 BCE.
Greek culture in the East
The 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 (probably Alexandria on the Oxus), demonstrate a sophisticated Hellenistic urban culture. "It has all the hallmarks of a
Hellenistic city, with a Greek theater, gymnasium and some Greek houses with colonnaded courtyards" (Boardman).
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
BCE), the largest silver coin by the Indo-Greek king Amyntas (reigned c. 95-90 BCE). 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").
First Yueh-Chih expansion (c. 162 BCE)
According to the Han Chronicles, following a crushing defeat in 162 BCE by the Xiongnu (Huns), the nomadic Indo-European tribes of the Yueh-Chih fled from
the Tarim Basin towards the west, crossed the neighbouring urban civilization of the "Ta-Yuan" (probably the Greek possessions in Ferghana), and re-settled
north of the Oxus in modern-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in the middle of Greco-Bactrian territory. The Ta-Yuan remained a healthy and powerful urban
civilization which had numerous contacts and exchanges with China from 130 BCE.
It is not clear whether the incursion of the Yueh-Chih consisted in an invasion of the Greco-Bactrian territory, or possibly a resettlement in front of the Xiongnu
attacks from the north, reminiscent of the Roman practice of the foederati. The Yueh-chi certainly did not destroy the Greek settlements of the Ferghana, and
later adopted many elements of the Hellenic civilization. When Zhang Qian visited the Yueh-Chih in 126 BCE, trying to obtain their alliance to fight the Xiong-Nu,
he described them as living peacefully and content, unwilling to be involved in such a fight.
Second Yueh-Chih expansion (c. 120 BCE)
The Yueh-Chih further expanded southward into Bactria around 120 BCE, apparently pushed out by invasions from the northern Wu-Sun. It seems they also
pushed Scythian tribes before them, who continued to India, where they came to be identified as Indo-Scythians.
Around 125 BCE the king Heliocles abandoned Bactria and moved his capital to the Kabul valley, from where he ruled his Indian holdings. He is technically the
last Greco-Bactrian king, although the Indo-Greek Kingdom founded by Demetrius continued in northern India until around 10 CE.
The Yuezhi remained in Bactria, where they were to stay more than a century. They became Hellenized to some degree, as suggested by their adoption of the
Greek alphabet and by some remaining coins, minted in the style of the Greco-Bactrian kings, with the text in Greek. Around 12 BCE the Yuezhi were then to
move to northern India where they established the Kushan Empire.
Video Clips from: "Lost Treasures of Afghanistan," National Geographic, 2006 and "Mystery of the Afghan Gold," History Channel, 2008. They are available at
the respective websites or Amazon. Several pictures were from the "Afghan: Crossroads of the World" exhibit, now at the British Museum. An excellent catalog
is available from the exhibit and there are lots of slides on-line, pictures from National Geographic article promoting the exhibit 2 years ago are at the National
Geographic website. David Elliott