Territories and expansion of the Indo-Greeks. Sources for the map: Historical Atlas of Peninsular India. (Oxford University Press) (dark blue, continuous line); A. K. Narain. The coins of the Indo-Greek kings. (dark blue, dotted line); Westerman's Atlas der Welt Gesishte (light blue, dotted line).
|Languages||Greek (Greek alphabet)
Pali (Kharoshthi script)
Sanskrit, Prakrit (Brahmi script)
Ancient Greek religion
|Capitals||Alexandria in the Caucasus
|Area||Northwestern Indian subcontinent|
|Existed||180 B.C.E.–10 C.E.|
The Indo-Greek Kingdom (or sometimes Graeco-Indian Kingdom covered various parts of the northwest and northern Indian subcontinent from 180 B.C.E. to around 10 C.E., ruled by a succession of more than 30 Hellenic and Hellenistic kings, The kingdom began when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded India in 180 B.C.E., ultimately creating an entity which seceded from the powerful Greco-Bactrian Kingdom centered in Bactria (today's northern Afghanistan). Since the term "Indo-Greek Kingdom" loosely describes a number of various dynastic polities, it had numerous cities, such as Taxila in the easternmost part of the Pakistani Punjab, or Pushkalavati and Sagala. Those cities would house a number of dynasties in their times, and based on Ptolemy's Geographia and the nomenclature of later kings, a certain Theophila in the south also probably held a satrapal or royal seat at some point.
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 ancient Greek, Hindu, and Buddhist religious practices, as seen in the archaeological remains of their cities and in the indications of their support of Buddhism. The Indo-Greek kings seem to have achieved a very high level of cultural syncretism, the consequences of which are still felt today, particularly through the diffusion and influence of Greco-Buddhist art.
The Indo-Greeks ultimately disappeared as a political entity around 10 C.E. 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 B.C.E. Alexander III conquered the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent as far as the Hyphasis River, and established satrapies as well as several cities, such as Bucephala, until his troops refused to go further east. The Indian satrapies of the Punjab ruled Porus and Taxiles, confirmed again at the Treaty of Triparadisus in 321 B.C.E. and remaining Greek troops in those satrapies remained under the command of general Eudemus. Sometime after 321 Eudemus toppled Taxiles, until he left India in 316 B.C.E. Another general also ruled over the Greek colonies of the Indus: Peithon, son of Agenor, until his departure for Babylon in 316 B.C.E., and a last one, Sophytes, may have ruled in northern Punjab until around 294 B.C.E.
According to Indian sources, Greek ("Yavana") troops seem to have assisted Chandragupta Maurya in toppling the Nanda Dynasty and founding the Maurya Empire. By around 312 B.C.E. Chandragupta had established his rule in large parts of the northwestern Indian territories.
In 303 B.C.E., 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: Επιγαμια), 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."Strabo. Geography 15.2.1(9) 
Also several Greeks, such as the historian Megasthenes followed by Deimachus and Dionysius, went to reside at the Mauryan court. The two rulers continued to exchange presents.
On those 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 claims he sent Buddhist emissaries to Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean (Edict No13), and that he developed herbal medicine in their territories, for the welfare of humans and animals (Edict No2).
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, described in Pali sources as leading Greek ("Yona") Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (the Mahavamsa, XII). Greeks may have contributed to the sculptural work of the Pillars of Ashoka,
Again in 206 B.C.E., the Seleucid emperor Antiochus led an army into India, where he received war elephants and presents from the king Sophagasenus:
"He (Antiochus) crossed the Caucasus (Hindu Kush) and descended into India; renewed his friendship with Sophagasenus the king of the Indians; received more elephants, until he had a 150 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 also had established in neighboring Bactria several cities (Ai-Khanoum, Begram) and an administration that lasted more than two centuries under the Seleucids and the Greco-Bactrians, all the time in direct contact with Indian territory.
The Greco-Bactrians maintained a strong Hellenistic culture at the door of India during the rule of the Maurya Empire in India, as exemplified by the archaeological site of Ai-Khanoum. when the Sungas toppled the Maurya Empire around 185 B.C.E., the Greco-Bactrians expanded into India, where they established the Indo-Greek kingdom.
In India, the overthrow of Maurya Dynasty occurred around 185 B.C.E. when Pusyamitra Sunga, described as a "senapati", was the commander-in-chief of Mauryan Imperial forces and a Brahmin, who assassinated the last of the Mauryan emperors Brhadrata. Pusyamitra Sunga then ascended the throne and established the Sunga Empire, which extended its control as far west as the Punjab.
Buddhist sources, such as the Asokavadana, mention that Pusyamitra Sunga took a hostile stance towards Buddhists and allegedly persecuted the Buddhist faith. The dynasty allegedly converted a large number of Buddhist monasteries (viharas) to Hindu temples in such places as Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Sarnath or Mathura. Secular sources establish that Hinduism and Buddhism competed during that time, with the Sungas preferring the former to the latter. Historians such as Etienne Lamotte and Romila Thapar argue that Buddhists largely exaggerated accounts of persecution by Sungas.
The invasion of northern India, and the establishment of the "Indo-Greek kingdom," started around 180 B.C.E. when Demetrius I, son of the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus I, led his troops across the Hindu Kush. Bopearachchi dates the reign of Demetrius 20 years earlier, 200-190 B.C.E. Some debate has occurred as to the exact extent of the conquests of Demetrius: Bopearachchi believes that Demetrius received the title of "King of India" following his victories south of the Hindu Kush. Mitchiner considers that the Greeks probably raided Pataliputra during the time of Demetrius. Narain considers those conquests made by a later Demetrius II. Demetrius I received the posthumous title ανικητος ("Anicetus," lit. Invincible) after these victories, a title never assumed to any king before.
According to Tarn, Apollodotus, seemingly a relative of Demetrius, led the invasion to the south, while Menander, led the invasion to the east. Possibly at a later period, the Greeks advanced to the Ganges River, apparently as far as the capital Pataliputra, under the orders of Menander. Only Tarn, of the writers on Indo-Greek history, ascribe Menander's campaign to the reign of Demetrius I; both Narain and Bopearachchi place him much later than this Demetrius, and ascribe the campaign to his own independent reign. Tarn says that Menander took Pataliputra as Demetrius's general, and Narain agrees that Menander raided Pataliputra, Historians and numismatists generally remain divided on the dates and position of Menander.
Written evidence of the initial Greek invasion survives in the writings of Strabo and Justin, and in Sanskrit in the records of Patanjali, Kālidāsa, and in the Yuga Purana. Coins and architectural evidence also attest to the extent of the initial Greek campaign.
The Greco-Bactrians went over the Hindu Kush and first started to re-occupy the area of Arachosia, where Greek populations had been living since before the acquisition of the territory by Chandragupta from Seleucus. Isidore of Charax describes Greek cities there, one of them called Demetrias, probably in honour of the conqueror Demetrius.
"Of the eastern parts of India, then, there have become known to us all those parts which lie this side of the Hypanis, and also any parts beyond the Hypanis of which an account has been added by those who, after Alexander, advanced beyond the Hypanis, to the Ganges and Pataliputra."Strabo. Geography, 15-1-27
Greek and Indian sources tend to indicate that the Greeks campaigned as far as Pataliputra until a coup staged by Eucratides forced them to retreat following the back in Bactria ca 170 B.C.E., suggesting an occupation period of about eight years. Alternatively, Menander may merely have joined a raid led by Indian Kings down the Ganga, as Indo-Greek territory has only been confirmed from the Kabul Valley to the Punjab.
To the south, the Greeks may have occupied the areas of the Sindh and Gujarat down to the region of Surat (Greek: Saraostus) near Mumbai (Bombay), including the strategic harbor of Barygaza (Bharuch), conquests also attested by coins dating from the Indo-Greek ruler Apollodotus I and by several ancient writers (Strabo 11; Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Chap. 41/47):
"The Greeks… took possession, not only of Patalena, but also, on the rest of the coast, of what is called the kingdom of Saraostus and Sigerdis."Strabo Geography 11.11.1
Narain dismisses the account of the Periplus as "just a sailor's story," and holds that coin finds inconclusive indicators of occupation. Coin hoards suggest that in Central India, the area of Malwa may also have been conquered.
Various Indian records describe Yavana attacks on Mathura, Panchala, Saketa, and Pataliputra. The term Yavana may be a transliteration of "Ionians," designating Hellenistic Greeks (starting with the Edicts of Ashoka, where Ashoka writes about "the Yavana king Antiochus"), but may have sometimes referred to other foreigners as well after the first century C.E.
"Then, after having approached Saketa together with the Panchalas and the Mathuras, the Yavanas, valiant in battle, will reach Kusumadhvaja ("The town of the flower-standard," Pataliputra). Then, once Puspapura (another name of Pataliputra) has been reached and its celebrated mud[-walls] cast down, all the realm will be in disorder."Yuga Purana, Paragraph 47–48, quoted in Mitchiner, 2002 edition
According to Mitchiner, the Hathigumpha inscription indicates the presence of the Greeks led by a "Dimita" (Demetrius) in eastern India (Magadha) sometime during the first century B.C.E.,, although Narain previously disputed that interpretation. A pillar discovered in 1979 at Reh, 350km south-east of Mathura, which also bears the name of Menander, serves as another confirmation of those conquests.
Back in Bactria however, around 170 B.C.E., an usurper named Eucratides managed to topple the Euthydemid dynasty. He took for himself the title of king and started a civil war by invading the Indo-Greek territory, forcing the Indo-Greeks to abandon their easternmost possessions and establish their new oriental frontier at Mathura, to confront this new threat The Indo-Greeks retreated and consolidated in northwestern India:
"The Yavanas, infatuated by war, will not remain in Madhadesa (the Middle Country). There will be mutual agreement among them to leave, due to a terrible and very dreadful war having broken out in their own realm."Yuga Purana, paragraphs 56–57, 2002 edition.
Demetrius, as "King of the Indians," seems to have confronted Eucratides in a four-month siege, reported by Justin, but he ultimately lost. In any case, Eucratides seems to have occupied territory as far as the Indus, between ca 170 B.C.E. and 150 B.C.E. His advances were ultimately checked by the Indo-Greek king Menander I, who asserted himself in the Indian part of the empire, apparently conquered Bactria as indicated by his issue of coins in the Greco-Bactrian style, and even began the last expansions eastwards.
The majority of historians consider Menander the most successful Indo-Greek king, and the conqueror of the greatest territory. Archeologists have discovered more of his coins, throughout an area more widespread than any of the Indo-Greek kings. Buddhist literature presents Menander as Milinda, described in the Milinda Panha as a convert to Buddhism: he became an arhat with relics 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, adopted by most of his successors in the East. King Menander I most likely made the conquests east of the Punjab region during the second half of the century.
Following Menander's reign, about 20 Indo-Greek kings ruled in succession in the eastern parts of the Indo-Greek territory. Upon his death, Agathokleia, Menander's queen, succeeded him and for some time acted as regent to their son Strato I.
From 130 B.C.E., the Scythians and then the Yuezhi, following a long migration from the border of China, started to invade Bactria from the north. Around 125 B.C.E. the Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles, son of Eucratides, probably killed during the invasion, ending the Greco-Bactrian kingdom proper. Heliocles may have been survived by his relative Eucratides II, who ruled south of the Hindu Kush, in areas untouched by the invasion. Other Indo-Greek kings like Zoilos I, Lysias and Antialcidas may possible have been relatives of either the Eucratid or the Euthydemid dynasties; they struck both Greek and bilingual coins and established a kingdom of their own.
A stabilizing alliance with the Yuezhi then seems to have followed, as hinted on the coins of Zoilos I, who minted coins showing Heracles' club together with a steppe-type recurve bow inside a victory wreath.
The Indo-Greeks thus suffered encroachments by the Greco-Bactrians in their western territories. The Indo-Greek territory was divided into two realms: the house of Menander retreated to their territories east of the Jhelum River as far as Mathura, whereas the Western kings ruled a larger kingdom of Paropamisadae, western Punjab and Arachosia to the south.
Throughout the first century B.C.E., the Indo-Greeks progressively lost ground to the Indians in the east, and the Scythians, the Yuezhi, and the Parthians in the West. About 19 Indo-Greek kings are known during this period, down to the last known Indo-Greek king Strato II, who ruled in the Punjab region until around 10 C.E.
The Indo-Greeks may have ruled as far as the area of Mathura until sometime in the first century B.C.E.: 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 could be as late as 70 B.C.E. Soon Indian kings recovered the area of Mathura and south-eastern Punjab, west of the Yamuna River, and started to mint their own coins. The Arjunayanas (area of Mathura) and Yaudheyas mention military victories on their coins ("Victory of the Arjunayanas," "Victory of the Yaudheyas"). During the first century B.C.E., the Trigartas, Audumbaras and finally the Kunindas (closest to Punjab) also started to mint their own coins, usually in a style highly reminiscent of Indo-Greek coinage. The Western king Philoxenus briefly occupied the whole remaining Greek territory from the Paropamisadae to Western Punjab between 100 to 95 B.C.E., after what the territories fragmented again. The western kings regained their territory as far west as Arachosia, and eastern kings continued to rule on and off until the beginning of our era.
Around 80 B.C.E., 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. King Hippostratos (65-55 B.C.E.) 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. 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. Greek mints produced their coins, 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. A fusion, rather than a confrontation, may have occurred between the Greeks and the Indo-Scythians: in a recently published coin, Artemidoros presents himself as "son of Maues", and the Buner reliefs show Indo-Greeks and Indo-Scythians reveling in a Buddhist context.
The Indo-Greeks continued to rule a territory in the eastern Punjab, until the kingdom of the last Indo-Greek king Strato II the Indo-Scythian ruler Rajuvula took over around 10 C.E.
Approximately eight western Indo-Greek kings have been identified. The last important king, Hermaeus, reigned until around 70 B.C.E.; soon after his death the Yuezhi took over his areas from neighboring Bactria. Chinese chronicles (the Hou Hanshu) actually tend to suggest that the Chinese general Wen-Chung had helped negotiate the alliance of Hermaeus with the Yuezhi, against the Indo-Scythians. Coins depict Hermaeus on a horse equipped with the recurve bow and bow-case of the steppes.
After 70 B.C.E., the Yuezhi nomads became the new rulers of the Paropamisadae, and minted vast quantities of posthumous issues of Hermaeus up to around 40 C.E., when they blend with the coinage of the Kushan king Kujula Kadphises. The first documented Yuezhi prince, Sapadbizes, ruled around 20 B.C.E., and minted in Greek and in the same style as the western Indo-Greek kings, probably depending on Greek mints and celators.
An inscription on a signet ring of the first century C.E. in the name of a king Theodamas, from the Bajaur area of Gandhara, in modern Pakistan constitutes the last known mention of an Indo-Greek ruler. 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"), although coins of him have never been found.
Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, and their rule, especially that of Menander, has been remembered as benevolent. Although lacking direct evidence, their invasion of India may have been intended to show their support for the Maurya 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 Sungas. The city of Sirkap near Taxila, founded by Demetrius combines Greek and Indian influences without signs of segregation between the two cultures. Alternatively, some described the Greek invasions in India as purely materialistic, only taking advantage of the ruin of the Maurya Empire to acquire territory and wealth.
The first Greek coins minted in India, those of Menander I and Appolodotus I, bear the mention "Saviour king" (BASILEOS SOTHROS), 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. Artisans also inscribed the title 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.
Most coins of the Greek kings in India in Greek on the front and in Pali on the back (in the Kharoshthi script, derived from Aramaic, rather than the more eastern Brahmi, 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 B.C.E., Kharoshthi letters served as mintmarks on coins in combination with Greek monograms and mintmarks, suggesting the participation of local technicians to the minting process. Incidentally, those bilingual coins of the Indo-Greeks provided the key in the decipherment of the Kharoshthi script by James Prinsep (1799–1840). Kharoshthi script became extinct around the third century C.E.
Indian literature describes the Indo-Greeks as Yavanas (in Sanskrit), or Yonas (in Pali) both considered transliterations of "Ionians." Direct epigraphical evidence involves the Indo-Greek kings, such as the mention of the "Yavana" embassy of king Antialcidas on the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha, or the mention of Menander I in the Buddhist text of the Milinda Panha. In the Sanskrit text Harivamsa, it is written that the "Yavana" Indo-Greeks cluster 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, only two classes of people existed, Aryas and Dasas (masters and slaves). The Arya could become Dasa and vice versa.
In addition to the worship of the Classical pantheon of the Greek deities found on their coins (Zeus, Herakles, Athena, Apollo…), the Indo-Greeks 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 B.C.E., histories record numerous instances of interaction between Greeks and Buddhism. Histories describe Menander I, the "Saviour king," seemingly a convert to Buddhism, as a great benefactor of the religion, on a par with Ashoka or the future Kushan emperor Kanishka. A Buddhism wheel seems impressed on coins representing him, and his dialogues with the Buddhist monk Nagasena made him famous, 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 writing, 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 honor 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."
In general, little documentation on the art of the Indo-Greeks exists, and few works of art (apart from their coins and a few stone palettes) may be directly attributed to them. Historians generally consider the coinage of the Indo-Greeks as some of the most artistically brilliant of Antiquity. The Hellenistic heritage (Ai-Khanoum) and artistic proficiency of the Indo-Greek would suggest a rich sculptural tradition as well, but traditionally very few sculptural remains have been attributed to them. On the contrary, Art historians attribute most Gandharan Hellenistic works of art to the direct successors of the Indo-Greeks in India in first century C.E., such as the nomadic Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians and, in an already decadent state, the Kushans. In general, precise dating of Gandharan sculpture has been impossible, 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 first century C.E., with the reign of Strato II in the Punjab. Also, Foucher, Tarn and more recently Boardman, Bussagli or 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 second-first century B.C.E.
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 very Classical depictions of Herakles/Vajrapani and Tyche/Hariti side with Buddha, 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 B.C.E. (…) these are essentially Greek figures, executed by artists fully conversant with far more than the externals of the Classical style".
Alternatively, those works of art may have been executed by itinerant Greek artists during the time of maritime contacts with the West from the first to the third century C.E.
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 second century B.C.E. Greco-Bactrian statues of Ai-Khanoum, hairstyle), holding contraptions characteristic of Greek culture (amphoras, "kantaros" Greek drinking cups), in situations which range from festive (such as Bacchanalian scenes) to Buddhist-devotional.
Uncertainties in dating make it unclear whether those works of art actually depict Greeks of the period of Indo-Greek rule up to the first century B.C.E., or remaining Greek communities under the rule of the Indo-Parthians or Kushans in the first and second century C.E. 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.
Very little is known about the economy of the Indo-Greeks. 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 neighboring 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.
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. The coins finds of the Qunduz hoard in northern Afghanistan have yielded quantities of Indo-Greek coins in the Hellenistic standard (Greek weights, Greek language), although most likely none of the kings represented in the hoard ruled so far north. Conversely, none of those coins have ever been found south of the Hindu-Kush.
An indirect testimony by the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria around 128 B.C.E., suggests that intense trade with Southern China went through northern India. Zhang Qian explains that he found Chinese products in the Bactrian markets, 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, 236.
Maritime relations across the Indian Ocean started in the third century B.C.E., 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 B.C.E., 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 approached an end, up to 120 ships set sail every year from Myos Hormos to India.
The coins of the Indo-Greeks provide rich clues on their uniforms and weapons depicting typical Hellenistic uniforms, with helmets being either round in the Greco-Bactrian style, or the flat kausia of the Macedonians (coins of Apollodotus I).
Their weapons consisted of spears, swords, longbow (on the coins of Agathokleia) and arrows. Interestingly, around 130 B.C.E. the Central Asian recurve bow of the steppes with its gorytos box starts to appear for the first time on the coins of Zoilos I, suggesting strong interactions (and apparently an alliance) with nomadic peoples, either Yuezhi or Scythian. The recurve bow becomes a standard feature of Indo-Greek horsemen by 90 B.C.E., as seen on some of the coins of Hermaeus.
Generally, artists often represent Indo-Greek kings riding horses, as early as the reign of Antimachus II around 160 B.C.E. The equestrian tradition probably goes back to the Greco-Bactrians, whom Polybius said faced a Seleucid invasion in 210 B.C.E. with 10,000 horsemen. A harness plate (phalera) of Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek work, dated to the third-second century B.C.E., today in the Hermitage Museum, depicts a helmeted Greek combatant on an Indian war elephant. Indian war elephants constituted a standard feature of Hellenistic armies, and this would naturally have been the case for the Indo-Greeks as well.
The Milinda Panha, in the questions of Nagasena to king Menander, provides a rare glimpse of the military methods of the period:
The Milinda Panha also describes the structure of Menander's army:
The armed forces of the Indo-Greeks engaged in important battles with local India 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. A "large army" for the state of Kalinga must indeed have been quite considerable. The Greek ambassador Megasthenes took special note of the military strength of Kalinga in his Indica in the middle of the third century B.C.E.:
"The royal city of the Calingae (Kalinga) is called Parthalis. Over their king 60,000 foot-soldiers, 1000 horsemen, 700 elephants keep watch and ward in "procinct of war."Megasthenes fragm. LVI. in Pliny. Hist. Nat. VI. 21.8–23.11.
An account by the Roman writer Justin (third century) 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
Considerable numbers, since large armies during the Hellenistic period typically numbered between 20,000 to 30,000. The military strength of nomadic tribes from Central Asia (Yuezhi and Scythians) probably constituted a significant threat to the Indo-Greeks. 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. The Indo-Greek seem to have combined forces with other "invaders" during their expansion into India, since accounts often referred to in combination with others (especially the Kambojas), in the Indian accounts of their invasions.
From the first century C.E., the Greek communities of central Asia and northwestern India 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 prospered for several centuries. In the south, the Greeks came under the rule of the Western Kshatrapas. Historians have been unable to determine the time the Greeks disappeared in the Indian sub-continent.
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).
|Middle kingdoms of India|
|Timeline:||Northern Empires||Southern Dynasties||Northwestern Kingdoms|
6th century B.C.E.
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