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Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

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Before proceeding to the description of the history of Greco-Bactria, it is worth saying the following. Information about the countries that lay on the eastern edge of the Hellenistic world (modern Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan, and the northwestern regions of India) is very sparse and fragmentary. Far removed from civilizations with a developed written historical tradition, these countries only rarely came to the attention of both Greek-Latin historians and geographers, and the court historiographers of the Chinese emperors. If there was a historical tradition in these countries, we still do not know it. Therefore, the direct historical evidence provided by archaeology is particularly valuable, whether it is economic documents or coin finds (see the article “Coins with the image of kings”), art monuments or weapons, the remains of irrigation facilities or the ruins of ancient buildings. All this in particular has to be taken into account when considering the history of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

The Seleucid kingdom, which was the heir to the eastern possessions of Alexander, began to shrink in size within a few decades after its inception. Especially noticeable for the Seleucids was the loss of the two farthest eastern regions — Bactria (modern Northern Afghanistan and partly the right bank of the Amu Darya River) and Parthia (the Kopetdag Mountains and the adjacent valleys of Southwestern Turkmenistan and Northeastern Iran). They were lost in the middle of the third century BC during the feuds between two Seleucid princes-Seleucus and Antiochus.

Map of Greco-Bactria II century BC.

Map of Greco-Bactria II century BC.

In the middle of the third century B.C. (between 256 and 245 B.C., about 250 B.C.), at the same time as Parthia, “Diodotus (see Table of the Kings of Greco-Bactria), the governor (eparch) of a thousand Bactrian cities, was deposited from the Seleucids, and ordered to be called king; following this example, the peoples of the whole East fell away from the Macedonians,” writes the Roman historian Justin. The core of the domain of Diodotus and his successors was the territory of Northern Afghanistan (the capital of Bactria was located near the modern city of Balkh), but the exact boundaries of the kingdom are difficult to determine. But he did not immediately break off relations with the Seleucid state, and for some time recognized himself formally dependent on it. However, in essence, Bactria, as well as other Central Asian regions that were part of the vast viceroyalty of Diodotus, were finally lost to the Seleucids. His son Diodotus II, relying on the local nobility and seeing the shaky position of the Seleucids (due to the protracted Syrian wars), had already openly proclaimed himself king. The example of Diodotus II was followed by Euthydemus, the governor of Sogdiana or, as others believe, Margiana and Areia (Ariana). Euthydemus seems to have become subordinate to Diodotus. Both Diodotus and Euthydemus were Hellenes and relied primarily on Hellenic warriors, but it is possible that they also found support from the Iranian nobility, who preferred them to the Seleucids.

Around 239 BC, when Diodorus II became king, we concluded an alliance treaty with the Parthian king Arsacus against Seleucus II. With this alliance, they manage to defend their independence from the Seleucid empire. In 230 (235) BC or 223 BC, Diodorus II was removed from power by his vassal, Euthydemus I, who founded a new dynasty of rulers of Bactria. At the same time, the Seleucids became active, trying to regain the fallen areas. Antiochus III defeats the Parvians in 208 (209) BC and sends his troops to Bactria. In the first serious battle on the river Gerirud (Arius), 10 thousand cavalry of the Bactrians are defeated by Antiochus III. Euthydemus flees to his capital Bactria (Balkh) and locks himself in. A long siege began, lasting 2 years. The siege was lifted only after Euthydemus sent a messenger to Antiochus, with the following message: “Our situation is becoming unsafe. On the border there are huge hordes of nomads (Saki and Massaget), threatening both: if only the barbarians cross the border, the country will surely be conquered by them.” Heeding the arguments of Euthydemus, Antiochus lifted the siege. In 206 BC. A dynastic marriage was concluded (Euthydemus ‘ son Demetris married the daughter of Antiochus) and the king of Bactria recognized himself as dependent on the Seleucids.

Under the successors of Euthydemus, the center of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom is gradually moving from north to south. Euthydemus ‘ son and successor Demetris I ascends the throne around 200 BC and in 187-184 BC he conquers Areia, Arachosia, Drangiana (future Sakastan), Paropamisades (Hindu Kush) and Northwestern India. This was the time of the greatest territorial expansion of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. One of the reasons for crossing the Hindu Kush was the protection of Buddhist teachings.

Map of Greco-Bactria I century BC

Map of Greco-Bactria I century BC

In 171 BC, the stratagus Eucratides revolts against Demetrius, as a result of which he seizes power in Bactrian, while Demetrius I remains in the captured northwest India and establishes the Indo-Greek kingdom. According to another version, the successors of Demetrius settled in India and became the founders of the local kingdoms. Eucratides assumed the title of king of kings, probably because his domain included not only the rulers of certain areas of the Greco-Bactrian state, but also local kings who existed in both Indian and other parts of the country. Under him, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom loses part of its possessions. Soon after the accession of Eucraditus, Sogdiana separated from Bactria, which later became part of Khorezm. Around this time, the Parthian king Mithridates I captured Margiana. Around 162, Eucratides moved to conquer India, where the power was already in the heirs of Demetrius, and seized a significant part of their possessions. But soon he loses all his conquests in India, which eventually leads to a rebellion in his own domain. The end of the life of the great “king of kings” was deplorable. He was killed by his son Heliocles in 160 BC, who abused his corpse. Perhaps, in the opinion of many Hellenes, this was a just punishment for Eucratides for the war between the Hellenes that he had started.

Apparently, Heliocles did not immediately come to power after the murder of his father. The beginning of his reign is attributed to 155 BC. e. During his reign, Greco-Bactria is increasingly torn by internal contradictions and eventually falls under the blows of the Yuezhi nomads. This happens in 145 BC, or between 140 and 130 BC. But apparently, this was not a one-time strike, but a series of raids. Subsequently, among the Yuezhchi, a tribe of Tokhars stood out, after which the region of Bactria also became known as Tokharistan.

Heliokol himself, with the remnants of his army, crossed the Hindu Kush and recaptured part of the land from the Indo-Greek kingdom, settling in Arachosia. Thus ended the Hellenistic period of Bactria, but in the meantime the descendants of Euthydemus and Eucraditus continued to rule in northern India.

Society and economy

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom maintained a clear separation of the Greeks from the local population, while preserving all Hellenistic institutions and traditions in social life, the Greek language, and most other elements of culture. Here we mean people who preserved the Greek way of life and Greek culture, but could not necessarily be the descendants of only the Greeks. One of the Greco-Bactrian cities of Alexandria Oxiana, excavated by French archaeologists in Northern Afghanistan (the site of the Ai-Khanum at the confluence of the river. Kokcha in the Amu Darya), is a typical Hellenistic city with its characteristic acropolis and agora, regular layout and public buildings, propylaea and porticos, colonnades and fortifications that reliably protected the inhabitants of this island of Greek culture among the “barbaric” environment. This city was founded in the last quarter of the IV century BC, and ceased to exist at the end of the II or I century BC.

The purely Greek appearance is also characteristic of the coinage of the Greco-Bactrian kings-from the titulature and names of the kings to the weight system. It was here, in Bactria, that the largest gold coins in the history of the ancient world were minted (with a value of 20 staters — about 160 g.) and silver (with a value of 20 drachmas — more than 80 g.). The portraits of the Greco-Bactrian kings on the coins are considered one of the unsurpassed artistic peaks of the ancient medallion art. The reverse side of the coins depicted Greek deities who patronized the king, the prototype for which was the best canons of Hellenistic times.

On the territory of Bactria there were various types of farms: Along with irrigation agriculture, cattle breeding, especially horse breeding, has also developed significantly in the most fertile parts of the country. In Bactria and Sogdiana, gold was mined in small quantities.

The bulk of the exploited population seemed to be free peasants and slaves. Above them stood the Bactrian and Sogdian nobles, who retained their privileges under the Greek-Macedonian rule, but were removed from the government of the state. Still higher was the narrow stratum of the conquerors-the Greeks and Macedonians-consisting of court nobles, warriors, and inhabitants of Hellenistic cities. It was they who, despite their small number, controlled the fate of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. The attempts of the tsars to get closer to the local nobility were repeatedly paralyzed by the Greek-Macedonian military “caste”, which did not want to share power with the”barbarian Asians”.

The army of the Greco-Bactrian kings, in addition to the Greco-Macedonian core, consisted of cavalry, recruited from representatives of the local nobility, and infantry armed with bows, in which ordinary free people served. Chariots and war elephants were also used. Despite the small number of the Greek-Macedonian conquerors, the Hellenization of the eastern regions of Iran and Central Asia continued even after the overthrow of the Seleucid rule. The Greco-Bactrian kings, following the example of other Hellenistic monarchs, founded new cities or transformed local settlements into polis. There are cities named after the kings Euthydemus, Demetrius, and Eucratides. Cities contributed to the development of slavery and the disintegration of primitive social relations. They were important to the tsars both as a strategic and as a social pillar of their power. They were also shopping centers. Bactria lay at the crossroads of the trade routes that went from here to Iran, India, and China. Incense, spices, and fabrics were brought from India, while silk, iron, nickel, and furs were brought from China. The Greco-Bactrian coins were in circulation far beyond the kingdom itself; they are found, in particular, on the territory of Eastern Europe.

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