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Indo-Greek Kingdom


The Indo-Greek kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom that included, at different times, various areas of the northwest Indian subcontinent. The time of existence of the last two centuries BC.

In fact, the Indo-Greek kingdom was a continuation of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom (although they co-existed for a while), destroyed by the Yuezhi nomads.

It is assumed that the conquest of Indian territories began as early as Demetrius I in 187/185 BC. e. after the Maurya dynasty was overthrown by the general Pusyamita Shunga, who founded his Shunga dynasty (185-78 BC. e.). Initially, Gandhara was captured. Later, under the reign of Menander (155/165-130 BC), the Greeks were able to advance as far as the capital of Pataliputra in Eastern India. But the first stage of the land grab was completed by 175 BC, and the kingdom of Shunga was pushed to the east.

Map of Greco-Bactria I century BC

Map of Greco-Bactria I century BC

In 170/166 BC, Eucratides I came to power in Bactria, overthrowing the Euthymedean dynasty. And he begins a campaign in the Indian lands to finally eradicate the overthrown dynasty. There he finds Apollodotus I, from whom he takes away part of the territory.

Apollodotus I himself can be considered the founder of the Indo-Greek state, located south of the Hindu Kush, which was ruled by representatives of the dynasty descended from the Greco-Bactrian kings (there is an assumption that Apollodotus was the brother of Demetrius I). Apollodotus I owned the lands to the south of the Hindu Kush. Being from the Euthydemid dynasty, he owned the Paropamisades and the northern part of Arachosia. Subsequently, he expanded his kingdom, subjugating some areas in the Indus basin south of Gandhara.

The second ruler of this state was Antimachus II the Victorious (Nicephorus), after whom Menander, the most famous Indo-Greek king, began to rule around 155 BC, according to our sources.

Menander ruled during the lifetime of Eucratides I, who never gave up trying to subdue the Indo-Greek rulers. At the beginning of his reign, Menander had to experience the bitterness of defeat. About 150 g. Eucratides occupied the Paropamisades. However, while returning from an Indian campaign around 145 BC, Eucratides was killed by his own son.

As for Menander, whose name is associated with the real heyday of the Indo-Greek power, he, unlike most other Indo-Greek kings, was well known in the ancient written tradition. Thus, in the reports of ancient sources, he appears as a powerful and just monarch, whose memory continued to live in subsequent generations. The wise and attentive interlocutor of the Buddhist monk Nagasena is shown King Milinda (Menander) in the Indian philosophical work “Milindapanha” (“Questions of Milinda”), the oldest parts of which were compiled in northwestern India around the turn of the era. By the way, in this work it is reported about the birthplace of Menander, the city of Kalisigram near Alasanda (Alexandria), located in the area between the two rivers. Most likely, this city was Kadrusi, founded, according to ancient tradition, by Alexander himself in Paropamisades, one day’s journey from Alexandria of the Caucasus. Since the Greco-Bactrian expansion into the Indian territories began around 187 BC, Menander was approximately 30 years old at the time of his accession (around 155 BC).

At the beginning of his reign, Menander attempted to advance deep into India. He marched far into the valley of the Ganges, and came as far as Pataliputra (Patna), the capital of the kings of the Shung dynasty. However, he had to turn back, because he learned about the invasion of Eucratides in his domain. Probably on the way back, somewhere on the banks of the Sindhu River (Kali Sindhu), Menander’s cavalry was defeated in a battle with the army of Vasumitra, the grandson of the Shung king Pushyamitra. Such a failure was to seriously weaken the fighting capacity of the Indo-Greek army on the eve of its clash with the troops of Eucratides.

Statuette of Athena from Gandhara

A statuette of Athena from Gandhara.

Forced to abandon Eucratida Paropamisada, Menander moved his capital from Alexandria of the Caucasus (Begram), which was in the hands of the enemy, to Sagala (Sakala, modern. Sialkot) in the Punjab, named by the Greeks Euthydemia in honor of Euthydemus I, the ancestor of the dynasty to which Menander belonged.

Nevertheless, immediately after the death of Eucratides in 145 BC, Menander conquered the Paropamisades from his successors and returned with his court to the former capital. He even managed to oust the Greco-Bactrian ruler Heliocles from the western regions of Gandhara, thus becoming the most powerful of the Greek kings of India. The center of his vast state was Gandhara, Paropamisadas, and probably the northern and eastern regions of Arachosia. The eastern border of Menander’s domain was on the Ravi River in the Punjab. In the north, Menander held the Swat Valley, and in the south, the Indus Delta region, the Kathiyawar Peninsula, and part of the Arabian Sea coast between the Khab and Khingol Rivers. Menander died around 130 BC during a campaign that is sometimes assumed to have been directed against nomads attacking Bactria. In ancient Indian literature, he is represented as the patron and even almost an adept of Buddhism, but if the former is not in doubt, since Menander thus sought to expand his social support among the autochthonous population, then his conversion to Buddhism does not seem so necessary.

After the death of Menander, his widow Agathoclea became the ruler, under his infant son Strato I. At the same time, the Yuezhi tribes invade Bactria. The late Bactrian king Heliocles (son of Eucratides I), according to one version, dies, according to another, flees through the mountains to the Hindu Kush and reclaims part of the land from the heirs of Menander. At the same time, the division of the Indo-Greek kingdom into two parts — eastern and western. The Eastern one was owned by the heirs of Menander and extended east from the Jhelum River, and all the way to Mathura. The western one included Arachosia and Paropamisada, western Punjab.

During the first century BC, the Indo-Greeks gradually lost territory. The eastern regions were attacked by the Indians, while the western regions were attacked by the Scythians, Yuezhi, and Parthians. After Menander, about 20 Indo-Greek kings are known (a list of kings and coins of Indo-Greek kings), but due to the fact that there are no clear written sources, it is very difficult to establish both the time of the reign of these kings and the territories under their control.

A stone palette depicting a mythological scene. 2-1 centuries BC

Northern India
A stone palette depicting a mythological scene. II-I centuries BC North India.

The eastern territories of the Indo-Greeks begin to lose around about 100 BC, as evidenced by the coins of the Indian rulers found in the Mathura region. Then the Western king Philoxenus managed to briefly restore the territory of the Indo-Greek kingdom from Paropamisad to the western Punjab, but then this kingdom also collapsed.

Around 80 BC, the Indo-Scythian king Meus, or perhaps a military commander in the service of the Indo-Greeks, ruled northwestern India (Gandhara and Taxila) for several years, but then the Indo-Greeks were able to regain power again (Apollodotus II came to power). The next king, Hippostratus (65-55 BC), was perhaps the most successful of the subsequent kings, but then he was defeated, and the Indo-Scythian king Azes I established a new dynasty.

The last of the western Indo-Greeks was Hermaeus, who ruled until about 70 BC, when he was succeeded by the Yuezhi, who came from Bactria. In the Chinese chronicles of the Late Han Dynasty, it is said that the Chinese general Wen Zhong helped organize the alliance of Hermei with Yuezhi against the Indo-Scythians. After 70 BC, the Yuezhi began to manage the Paropamisades, but for another thirty years they issued Hermei coins, and then they were replaced by Kushan coins.

Throughout the first century BC, the Indo-Greeks gradually lost territory due to the invasion of the Indo-Scythians, holding on to eastern Punjab until the last Indo-Greek king, Straton II, was defeated by the Indo-Scythians, and Rajuvula came to power in 10 AD.

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