The Greek Empires 312 - 60 BC
Bactria 2500 BC- 200 AD
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GE Map: Bactria-Margiana-Archeological Complex (BAMC)
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
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.
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
painting of a royal Skythian couple by an unknown 19th-cent
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
the Great, detail of the Pompeian mosaic in the Naples Museum of
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Saka or Indo-Skythians 100 AD
GE Map: Saka Indo-Skythians
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
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.
clay sculpture from the 2nd cent BC.
found in Ai Khanoum, exhibited at Musée Guimet, Paris
Photo from National Geographic Magazine
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