Read this article to learn about the five things to know about Greco-Bactrian kingdom.
1. Founder of Greco-Bactrian Kingdom: Divodat I:
He is considered to be the founder of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, but it is doubtful if he declared himself independent of Selukas II.
Divodat was not only a governor under Selukas, but was also the son-in-law of Antioch II and after the death of the latter his son Selukas II became king and his daughter married Divodat II.
While this new Greco-Bactrian dynasty was establishing itself, a branch of the Scythians, the Dehai, was setting up a kingdom of its own with the help of the Kungs. The Dehai lived on the banks of the Jaxartes but as time went on they occupied Parthia as well and came to be known as the Parthians. It was Mithrdat one of the rulers of this dynasty, who put an end to the dynasty of Selukas.
The Parthians ruled over Iran for almost 400 years. The founder of this dynasty, Arsnak I (249-47 B. G.), was a contemporary of Divodat I. The Parthians extended their kingdom to include Iran and Mesopotamia and eventually became a threat to the Roman and Scythian Empires.
Divodat II (230-225 B. C.), the son of the first ruler of that name had gone as his father’s representative to the court of Selukas II, but he was unable to retain control over his father’s dominions for long. Selukas II had given his other daughters in marriage to the rulers of Tont and Kapadakiya in expectation of obtaining their help in protecting his western frontiers.
Meanwhile those who had inherited various parts of the Greek empire continued to fight amongst themselves. Talmi II, king of Egypt, seized Selukia, the capital, in 246 B. C. and Selukas II had to flee for his life. Divodat I did not give any aid to the Dehai of the north, but when Divodat II joined hands with Tridot, who had attacked the empire of Selukas, the widow of Selukas II gave her daughter in marriage to Aethudim, the powerful Satrap, and sought his help.
Aethudim succeeded in killing Divodat II. Antioch II had by this time succeeded to the Greek throne.
During the rule of Aethudim and of his son Dimitri, the Greco-Bactrian dynasty rose to the highest pinnacle of its glory. His kingdom embraced Bactria, Sogdhia, Murgiyana, Fargana, Arkhosiya and Propisdai, which are known in modern times as Tazikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Khirgizistan and Kazakstan. It also included territories that now form part of India and Pakistan.
The help of Aethudim was essential for the protection of the Selukan Empire from the nomadic Dehai of the north, but Antioch III was well aware of the ambitious nature of Aethudim and in 208 B. C. he attacked him. Aethudim was defeated and took shelter in the end in Bactria, his fortified capital city. For two long years Antioch beseiged the city, but when Aethudim threatened to seek the help of the nomad Kungs, he came to terms with him.
Aethudim sent elephants as presents and Antioch in return offered to marry his daughter to Aethudim’s son Demitri. Aethudim’s expansion was barred on his west by Antioch III but in the north he extended his kingdom as far as Sogdhia and Fargana. ( Fargana was the birthplace of Babar and it was so prosperous in the 15th century that even after he became Emperor of India Babar could not forget it. ) Fargana was famous for its fruits and jewels, and because the trade route to China lay through this country.
Bactria was not the desert then as it is today. Indeed it was called Politimelis because of its fertility. On account of its many canals and cities it was also known as ‘the land of the thousand cities.’ The rubies of Badkhasan and the emeralds of Khurasan were to be found in this kingdom, while Badkhasan was rich in copper and iron.
The silk route leading westwards from China lay through Bactria. One of its paths crossed the Pamirs and led to Fargana, another followed the Alai valley to Bactria. The road that led to the Terim valley was controlled by the ruler of Fargana and Bactria, while the other was controlled by the Wusuns who were masters of the Issikul lake.
Even in the reign of Aetrodim the Huns and the Muchis lived in the regions adjoining China and trading with the Chinese was the main source of their revenue. There was also considerable trade between Bactria and India through Afghanistan. A Chinese emissary who visited the area found in it many articles of Indian origin, as also goods from China that came via India.
The expansion of trade and commerce prompted Aetrodim to search for gold. To the north-west of his kingdom lay stretched the Wusun territories, which included the golden mountains of Altai. This region is rich in gold mines even today. Further north lay the world-famous Lena gold-fields of Siberia. It was from the mines of Lena and Altai that gold found its way to Central Asia, India and Iran.
But since the time of Darius I the traffic in gold had ceased. Aetrodim hoped to resume it, thus enhancing the importance of Bactria, which was already the centre of the silk route. In the second millennium before Christ the forefathers of the Scythians had worked in the gold-mines of Altai and Kazakstan, but their descendents, the Wusuns, were now prevented from doing so by the Huns.
Aetrodim made an attempt to establish his control over these areas in the north with a view to reopening the gold traffic. From Fargana he marched across the Tyenshan mountains, but did not succeed in his venture.
The goldmines of the Upper Yenesei and elsewhere were under the control of the Huns, not the Wusuns, and as the conquest of these nomads proved too difficult, Aetrodim was obliged to return disappointed. This explains why, Bactrian coins were made of silver rather than gold although the art of minting coins had reached a high degree of perfection during the reign of Aetrodim.
On his return from the north, Aetrodim defeated the Parthians and seized a part of their territory, and thereafter he made his son Antimakhu governor of Murgiyana and the lower Aryu Valley, with Merv as its capital.
Antimakhu governed both on behalf of his father and of his brother Dimitri. In Seleukia the heir-apparent was generally made the viceroy. This practice was also prevalent with the Greco-Bactrians, but among the Huns and other nomadic tribes, provincial governors were often given the title of viceroy. The Parthians followed this custom and it was very likely that Aetrodim adopted their system.
The governors minted their own currency and were so powerful that their subjects were often not aware that they were not their kings. Not only among the Greco-Bactrians, but among the Muchis, Kushans, white Huns and Turks also such mistaken notions obtained with regard to their governors and it is because of this that it had not been found possible to determine whether the white Hun ruler Torman was merely a viceroy or the actual king. Antimakhu had the word “Thev” stamped on his coins and Thev or Dev was the term used for kings. The Parthian King Arthani (214-181 B.C.) also called himself Thevputur (i.e. Devputr – son of God).
The nomads of the north grew strong again in this period and according to Chang Kyan, who visited the area in 128 B.C., the people of Bactria and Sogdhia in order to protect themselves from their incursions not only fortified their towns, but even their villages.
2. Kings Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in India:
Menander and his descendants were the last of the rulers of Greco-Bactrian kingdom. The book of questions and answers entitled “Milind Prashn” written by the priest Nag Sen refers to Menander and it is from this book that we learn that Menander’s capital was Sialkot and that he was born in Alexandria. However, as there were many cities of that name it is difficult to say exactly where he was born. It is also difficult to establish whether he was of noble birth or whether he rose to his high position by virtue of his ability as a soldier. It is known, however, that he married the daughter of Dimitri.
At first he ruled only the part of the Greek Empire that lay east of the Jhelum, but after the return of Aecrotid to Bactria he extended his territories as far as Gandhar, Sindh and Gujarat. Sialkot was his capital, he had stationed satraps in Gujarat and Bharauch, and had assumed the titles “Sutiros” and “Dikios”.
After the death of Menander in 145 B.C., his son Strat I became the ruler. Heliokal snatched Gandhar away from his kingdom but Strat I continued to rule over the area between Sialkot and Mathura.
He was succeeded by his son Strat II and coins bearing the latter’s image present a picture of a middle-aged and bearded person. Later coins reveal that the kings Apollodot, Philapator, Diyonisilous, Joilus, Soter and Liksenus ruled one after another, but nothing is known about them. It appears that these Greek kings had become naturalised as Indians and they seem also to have mixed with the Scythians.
The Scythian king Ajes put his imprint on the coins of Apollodot II which shows that the latter was living in 30 B. C. Many Scythians fled to India after the Mithrdat’s commander, Soren had attacked them and they occupied Saurashtra, Cutch and Sindh between 110 and 80 B. C.
3. Administration of Greco-Bactrian Kingdom:
The structure of the administration of Greco-Bactrian kingdom closely followed that set up by Alexander, who in his turn had based his on the Iranian model of Darius I. Darius I had established in his provinces, beside the army commander and the Satrap a third post, that of royal representative or viceroy, but this post was abolished by Alexander. The ruler of the province was now known as ‘Strategos’, Darius’s provinces had been very large. In an empire many times greater than that of the Selukans, he had thirty three provinces while the Selukan kings divided their kingdom into seventy-two. The provinces were again divided into districts and sub-divisions known as Aparachis and Hiparachis respectively.
The Bactrians converted the districts or Aparachis into provinces ruled by the Satraps. In addition there were the towns, which followed the pattern of the Greek Polis. Alexander had set up about seventy townships. The Selukan townships were military cantonments. The Greek city was administered by a council and an assembly.
Selukia, situated on the banks of the Tigris, had a council of 300 which met every month and a larger assembly which held annual sessions. Not only was the assembly required to administer the town, but also to attend to the physical and cultural needs of the citizens. To this end, playgrounds, gymnasiums and theatres had been established. The official language was Greek. The magistrate of the city was called Epsital and was elected by the council.
The town also had an elected treasurer. Elections were generally held once every three years. Bactria and Gandhar were counted among the main Greek cities. The Selukans discriminated between Greeks and non-Greeks, hence relations between them were bitter just as in the case of those Indian cantonments where the local people were not on good terms with the British soilders.
This did not mean, however, that the two nationalities did not intermarry. Rulers like Dimitri I felt that this discrimination was not fair so that in his reign there was some improvement. He appointed natives to high positions and there were no restrictions on Parthians and Selukans becoming Satraps.
The Mauryas too made foreigners Governors of provinces, as was the case in Gujarat. Books written in the first and second centuries A. D. mention how the Greeks dwelt in the Indian cities of Dashpur. The position was similar in the case of Bactria and Sogdhia. It is possible of course that in other parts of Central Asia the Greeks were not so easily absorbed into the local population as they were in India.
We have seen how Apollodot’s coins bore nothing but Indian inscriptions and some of the Indian Greek kings stamped their money with the images of Indian gods. Menander openly embraced Buddhism. It was difficult to maintain any racial distinctions in India, because after the time of Alexander the Greek cantonments ceased to exist and when Dimitri I came he too pursued a policy of eliminating differences.
4. Religion Followed in Greco-Bactrian Kingdom:
From the coins issued by their rulers it is clear that the gods of their cities were taken from the Greek pantheon. Thus Hercules, who was highly respected for his courage and strength, was one of their chief deities, while the image of Zeus, the father of the gods is found on the coins issued by Divodat II and Heliokal, Apollo on Aecrotid’s coins and clay figures of the latter have also been discovered.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom and of Athens, whose other name was Pallada, is found on some of the coins, especially those issued by Dimitri, Apollodot and Menander. Nika, goddess of victory, is found on the coins of Antimakhu, Aecrotid, Menander and others. Divonis was a deity specially honoured in Bactria, Kapisha and Fargana.
According to the traveller Megasthenes, Indians living in the hills worshipped Dionysius, while those on the plains turned to Hercules, but it is quite likely that he was confusing these deities with Shiv and Vasudev.
The Iranian goddess Anahita was given a place in the Greek religion. Just as the original deity of Sogdhia was Daity and of the Sir Darya, Tenis, so Anahita was that of the Vakhshu. There are those who consider Anahita to have been a Babylonian deity taken over by the Iranians, while the Roman historian Clement Alexandria reveals that the Bactrian towns of that time worshipped Aphrodite.
Worship of the Sun God called Mitr exercised a powerful influence over the Greeks and at one time it was so dominant that in the early centuries after Christ there was a possibility that Greece and Rome might have adopted this religion instead of Christianity. Mitr was probably an Aryan god.
The Iranian Aryans also worshipped the sun god, calling him Mitr. Although Zoroaster reformed the Iranian religion and gave the first place to Ahurmazd, he was not able to dethrone Mitr. Even the Indian Aryans worshipped Mitr, the sun god. In the earlier stages both Indians and Iranians worshipped the sun directly, but later on they began to make images of it. in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., Mitr and Anahita were the most powerful deities of Bactria and their images occur frequently on the coins of the period.
The Scythians also worshipped (Mitr) Mihir in the early days. For some time after coming into India they pursued their own customs, but these soon got mingled to such an extent with those of the local people that it became difficult to make a distinction between them. But they too left their imprint by giving the sun god to Indian religion and he (the sun), like that of the Scythians, was clad in boots reaching to the knees.
The Indian goddess Dhisna was to be found among the deities worshipped by the Greek Bactrian kings, but although a Vedic Goddess she was not so well-known in India. An image of the two-armed goddess, half-clad and with a prince on either side of her, has been found engraved on a metal cup.
The image of Buddha is found in Gandhar, the meeting-place of the Indian Greek culture. Images of Buddha were not made till the 2nd century B.C. and that is why Greek coins bear the stupas or the tree as the symbol of Buddha. Like the Scythians, the Greeks were very liberal in religious matters. They worshipped the Iranian Ahurmazd on the one hand and the Hindu god Inder on the other, and were willing to beg favours from Zeus, Buddha, Anahita, Pallas, Vritregn, or Hercules, without any distinction.
5. Art and Crafts in Greco-Bactrian Kingdom:
Greek-Bactrian art had a high place in Asia. Greek art was respected even in the Selukan cities, but it remained barren there. Reaching Bactria however it exercised a-profound influence on the art of India, Afghanistan and Central Asia. After coming into contact with India it came to be known as the Gandhar culture.
The culture that was expressed in the coins of Aecrotid had no parallel elsewhere. Then came the Kushan culture of Mathura which was succeeded by that of the Gupta. The culture of Mathura developed during the period when it was the capital of the Greek and Scythian satraps.
While the Greek culture served as an inspiration for that of India this cannot be said of its influence in Central Asia. Some influence it did have on the Kings of Khwarezm, although they never came under the political domination of the Greeks.
In the middle Vakhshu valley remains of this culture have been found in Termiz and other places, but it did not last, for the influence of Islam was felt in these regions from the 8th to the 10th centuries A.D., and the art of making images therefore had no chance to flourish. In Turphan and other places however models have been found which show the influence of Greek-Bactrian culture on Eastern Central Asia and Western China.