The Greek Empires 312 - 60 BC

Bactria 2500 BC- 200 AD

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Greek Empires
GE Map: Bactria-Margiana-Archeological Complex (BAMC)

The history of Bactria goes back to Iranian, Greek, and Chinese times. New excavations at Tepe Fullol have unearthed a (possibly) Indo-Iranian civilisation (2500 BC) the exsistence of which had been entirely unknown
Alexander the Great spent a winter in Bactria (324 BC) and got married to Oxana in Balkh. Thereafter the area was ruled for a while by Greek satraps. Being fertile and rich many people occupied Bactria subsequently.

Folding gold crown, part of the famed "Bactrian hoard" of treasures from Tilia Tepe, Afghanistan, 1st century AD.

The crown was discovered in one of six graves of nomads of the ancient state of Bactria in 1978. The Soviet-Greek archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi unearthed the hoard—a crown, necklaces, belts, rings, headdresses set with precious jewels and a treasure of 2000 gold and silver coins.The artifact will be part of the U.S. exhibition “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul" in 2008 and 2009.
In the conterxt of the spread of early Buddhism it is notable that the archeological finds from the 2rd cernt AD onwards show a strong Buddhist presence. An early stupa (1st cent AD) was found 2005 in the vicinity of Balkh.
The archeological exploration of Bactria has just begun,promising surprises and a considerable enlargement of our historical knowledge.
Photo from National Geographic Magazine

Skythians 500 BC- 200 AD

GE Map: Skythian Bactria

Fantasy painting of a royal Skythian couple by an unknown 19th-cent (Russian?) artist.

Modern historical accounts of the Scythians often assume that the Scythians were a single tribe called Saka (Sakai or Sakas). But early Greek and Latin texts suggest that the term Scythians referred to a much more widespread group of Central Asian peoples.
The confusion is caused by the fact that what was considered Skythian territory covers the vast area from the Caspian to beyond the Pamirs and south into present day Pakistan and Afghanistan, and by the Greeks and Romans calling Sakas and Skythians by the same name:
To Herodotus (484-425 BC), the Sakai were the 'Amurgioi Skythai' (i.e. Scythians from Ammyurgia).Strabo (Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo, 63 BC-24 AD ) suggests that the term Skythais referred to the Sakai and several other tribes. Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus, 92-175 AD), refers to the Sakai as Skython (a Scythian people) or the Skythai (the Scythians) who inhabit Asia. According to Strabo, Bactriana was taken by nomads like Asii/Asio, Pasianoi,Tokhario, and Sakarauloi who had originally come from country on other side of the Jaxartes (Central Asia). The prologus XLI of Historiae Philippae also refers to the Scythian invasion of the Greek kingdom of Bactria and Sogdiana---the invaders are described as Saraucae.

Alexander the Great 356–323 BC

Alexander the Great, detail of the Pompeian mosaic in the Naples Museum of Archeology
Photo Wikipedia

Alexander of Macedonia's march east through Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Bactria, and Persia to the borders of India (334 – 324 BC) transformed the cultures of these countries in an immeasurable way. His political success, the conquest and destruction of the Persian Empire may have been important for Greece, but left little more than myths of an undefeatable, god-like hero in the east, which are still being fought over, see e.g. Hinduwebsite. The impact of Greek sculpture on Buddhist art, however, lasted for centuries and spread as far as China, Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia: The Buddha depicted as a Ghandaran prince in a Greek chiton!

Alexander's march to India
Photo Wikipedia for a larger, readable map click here

Alexander died in Susa, Persia on his way back to Greece (323 BC). His empire was fiercely fought over by and devided among the Diadochians, his generals. His body was taken in a golden casket in a funeral cortege to Greece. On the way it was ambushed by his general Ptolomy, ruler of Egypt and taken to Memphis, Egypt. Ptolomy's son transfered the corpse to Alexandria from where it disappeared at the beginning of the 8th century AD without trace. The “historian” Andrew Chugg suggests that Alexander's bones were sold to Venitian merchants as those of Saint Marc, and that they are now enshrined in the cathedral in Venice. - Bizarre?

Diadochian Empires 323 - 60 BC

Alexander's generals (the Diadochi) jostled for supremacy over parts of his empire, and Ptolemy, one of his generals and satrap of Egypt, was the first to challenge the new rule, leading to the demise of Perdiccas. His revolt led to the "Partition of Triparadisus" in 320 BC.
Seleucus, who had been "Commander-in-Chief of the camp" under Perdiccas since 323 BC but helped to assassinate the latter, received Babylonia, and from that point continued to expand his dominions ruthlessly. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312 BC, the foundation date of the Seleucid Empire. He ruled over not only Babylonia, but the entire enormous eastern part of Alexander's empire:
Quote from Appian of Alexandria (95- 165 AD),"Roman History":
"Always lying in wait for the neighboring nations, strong in arms and persuasive in council, he [Seleucus] acquired Mesopotamia, Armenia, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia, Persis, Parthia, Bactria, Arabia, Tapouria, Sogdia, Arachosia, Hyrcania, and other adjacent peoples that had been subdued by Alexander, as far as the river Indus, so that the boundaries of his empire were the most extensive in Asia after that of Alexander. The whole region from Phrygia to the Indus was subject to Seleucus."
Seleucus made peace with Chandragupta Maurya,who had stopped Alexander's advance by trading some of his territory against 500 war elephants!
These political events had little impact on India. However the craftsmen and artists who worked for the Greeks - although they were not all Greek - changed the sculpture, architecture and sensibility of Indian art for the next 400 years.The Hellenistic Greeks provided the most important source of Buddhist Indian and Southeast Asian art.

The Greek Seleucids 312-63 BC

GE Map: Seleucius' Empire

The Seleucid Empire(312 - 63 BC)was the eastern remnant of the Macedonian-Greek Empire of Alexander the Great It was a Hellenistic empire centered in the Middle East and in the Asian part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. At the height of its power it included central Anatolia,the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan,the Pamirs and parts of Pakistan.It was a major center of Hellenistic culture which maintained the preeminence of Greek customs whereever a Greek-speaking Macedonian elite existed,mostly in the urban areas.
Text Wikipedia

The longest lasting influence of the Greek presence on India,even more than on Achmenid Persia, was artistic. The art of early Buddhism became a unique mixture of Greek and local idioms: From there Hellenistic Greek influences are seen way into Southeast Asia.

Parthians 200 BC-100 AD

GE Map: Parthia

The eastern part of the Achmenid empire was inhabited by Parthians. Parthia first appears as a political entity in Achaemenid lists of governates ("satrapies") under their dominion. Prior to this, the people of the region seem to have been subjects of the Medes, and 7th century BC Assyrian texts mention a country named Partakka or Partukka. Following the death of Alexander, in the Partition of Babylon in 323 BCE, Parthia became a Seleucid governate under Nicanor. Following the secession of Parthia from the Seleucid Empire around 238 BC and the resultant loss of Seleucid military support, under the command of Arsaces and his brother Tiridates seized control of Astabene (Astawa), the northern region of that territory,.
From about 130 BC onwards, Parthia suffered numerous incursions by various nomadic tribes, including the Sakas, the Yeuchi, and the Massagatae and was finally absorbed into the Sassanir empire. Under Sassanid rule, Parthia was folded into a newly formed province, Khorasan, and henceforth ceased to exist as a political entity.

Indo-Sassanids 224 BC- 651 AD

GE Map: Sassanids

The Sassanids, shortly after their victory over the Parthians, extended their dominion into Bactria during the reign of Ardashir I around 230 CE, then into Kushan territory (in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan) during the reign of his son Shapur I (240-270 AD). Thus the Kushans lost their western territory (including Bactria and Gandhara) to the rule of Sassanid nobles named Kushanshahs or "Kings of the Kushans".
Kartir, a high-priest that served as advisor to at least three of the early kings, instigated the persecution of non-Zoroastrians, that is, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and - in particular - the Manichaeans, who were primarily in and from the eastern territories. The persecution ceased during the reign of Narseh (293-302 AD).
Around 325, Shapur II was directly in charge of the southern part of the territory, while in the north the Kushanshahs maintained their rule until the rise of the Kidarites.
The decline of the Kushans and their defeat by the Sassanids led to the rise of an indigenous Indian dynasty, the Guptas, in the fourth century. In 410 the Hephthalites or Indo-Hephthalites conquered Bactria and Gandhara, thus temporarily replacing the Indo-Sassanids. The last remnants of the empire fell to the Moslem invasions in 651 AD.

The Sassanids' cultural influence extended far beyond the empire's territorial borders, reaching as far as Western Europe, Africa, China, and India. It played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asiatic medieval art. This influence, and especially the dynasty's unique, aristocratic culture, carried forward to the early Islamic world after the Muslim conquest of Iran.] An Iranian scholar, Zarinkoob, found that much of what later came to be known as Islamic culture, architecture, writing and other skills, were borrowed mainly from the Sassanids, then propagated throughout the broader Muslim world.
See Wikipedia

Saka or Indo-Skythians 100 AD

GE Map: Saka Indo-Skythians

Indo-Skythian rider
Photo Wikipedia.

The Sakas were the Indo-Scythian branch of the Skythians who occupied Sogdiana-Bactria in the 1st cent AD, displacing Greek satrapies and Parthians who lived in the western parts of this region.. The Greek and Roman texts are highly confusing because they use the same name for the Sakas and the Skythians.
According Strabo, Bactriana was taken by nomads, Asii/Asio, Pasianoi, Tokhario and Sakarauloi who had originally come from the country on the other side of Jaxartes (Central Asia). The Prologus XLI of Historiae Philippcae also refers to the Scythian invasion of the Greek kingdom of Bactria and Sogdiana---the invaders are described as Saraucae.

An excellent article om the Indo-Skytians: Wikipedia

Ferghana Valley 4th-1st cent BC

In 329 BC, Alexander the Great founded a Greek settlement in the southwestern part of the Ferghana valley. There are indications that the Greco-Bactrians may have led expeditions as far as Kashgar and Ürümqi in Chinese Turkestan.
The Chinese general Zhang Qian (126 BC) calls the people of Ferghana Dayuan, possibly descendants of the Greek colonists (Da Yuan might be a transliteration of "Great Ionians"). Ferghana-Dayuan was renowned for its Heavenly Horses which the Chinese tried to obtain with little success until they waged war against them in 104 BC.
Zhang Qian describes the Dayuan as unusual in features, with a sophisticated urban civilization, similar to that of the Bactrians and Parthians:
"The Son of Heaven on hearing all this reasoned thus: Ferghana (Dayuan) and the possessions of Bactria and Parthia 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, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China" (Hou Han Shu).

Alexandria Eschate 4th-1st cent BC

Alexandria Eschate was founded by Alexander the Great in 329 BC as his most advanced base in the Fergana Valley. Chinese historical records of the Han Dynasty describe the embassy of Zhang Qian to Alexandria Eschate around 130 BC. He encounteredt the Dayuan there, probably the last descendants of Alexander's Greeks. If so, this was the the first major interaction between an urbanized Indo-European culture and the Chinese civilization, which led to the opening of the Silk Road in the 1st cent BC.

Ai Khanum or Alexandria on Oxus 329 BC

Ai Khanum, Alexandria on Oxus was founded, probably by Hephaestion, during Alexander the Great's campaigns in Bactria and Sogdiana. It was a built on an older, Persian city, and was settled with Greek and Iranian veterans, and native serfs.

Greek clay sculpture from the 2nd cent BC.
found in Ai Khanoum, exhibited at Musée Guimet, Paris
Photo from National Geographic Magazine

Hellenistic Sculpture, Ai Khanoum, 3rd cent BC.
Photo Dorothy Lobel King's blogpage / © Thierry Ollivier, Musée Guimet, Paris.

Today, the town is called Ai Khanum, which means "Lady Moon" in Uzbek It was excavated by French archaeologists and looks surprisingly like a Greek city, including temples, a heroön, palace, colonnaded courts, city walls, gymnasium, houses, Corinthian columns, free-standing statues, and a theater wth 5,000 seats. The citadel, which is on a 60 m high loess-covered natural mound, has not been investigated yet.

Among the finds were Greek and Indian coins, inscriptions, sundials, jewelry and the famous plate shown here of the Phrygian goddess Cybele in a carriage with the Greek god Helios and an Iranian fire altar on the right. Text and second photo from Livius