The Indo-Greeks

The forgotten Buddhist Hellenes.

The Indo-Greeks

Origin of the Kingdom

Probably of all the far-flung territories formerly conquered by Alexander the Great, the Indo-Greeks were perhaps the most 'exotic' and surprising. How the Greeks could find themselves so far away from "the known world" as told by historians and geographers of the time was of course linked to the fantastic life of the son of Philip V of Macedon. Wit his armies, first by searching a fleeing King Darius and afterwards, his murderers, Alexandros pushed his growingly impatient and mixed armies to the fringes of the known world, to the Hindu-Kush. There, after a harrowing last travel he ended in modern Pakistan, and confronted the local King, Porrhos (Puru), giving his name to the Indian Paurava dynasty. The Macedonian King won, but that was probably one of his most difficult battle and afterwards his Macedonians rebelled. He "punished" them by crossing back to Persia through the Gedrosian desert, claiming thousands, and later he himself died in 335 BC, of still unknown causes.

Indo-Greek-Bactrian troops.

His legacy is tremendous and earned him for all eternity, more perhaps than any other man, the overused title of "the great". He founded many cities baearing his name dotting the landscape and hosting garrisons. Instead of redrawning the map, he shifted into the former "king of kings" shoes, keeping officials in place and old satrapic entities intact. The most eastern one was Bactria, which as to be led by Philip's former officer Cleitos. However the latter was killed after a heated, alcoolized dispute. After Alexander passed away without designing a clear successor, his Empire split between his former Companions, soo to be known as the "Diadochi". Bactria was headed by a native from Cyprus, Stasanor. Seleucos I eventually reclaimed most of the Empire, ancient Persian satrapies, including Bactria.

Bactria was one of the legendary "16 perfect Iralian lands", and was a valley country situated between the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains. It had a semi-harsh continental climate, compensated by a microclimate generated by the mountains. Superb, plentyful, but remote, Bactria soon became isolated, and Antiochus I, the son of Seleucus, organized his empire the best he could, consolidated frontiers, establishing new garrison cities, and to populate Bactria, started the deportation of Greeks in the area, which paradoxically became more Hellenized than other, closser parts of his Empire. With a growing nomadic threat and wars with Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Seleucid Empire was proven not to be able anymore to defend its most remote provinces, and a local satrap took matter in his own hands, declaring the satrapy an independent Kingdom.

Rise and fall of the Greco-Bactrian Empire

Diodotus I became in 245 BC ruler of the new Kingdom and soon used his army to subdue Sogdia. The new, large kingdom, grew again with various expansions west, north and south, eventually changing into an Empire. The Empire reached its zenith in 180 BC. North, its borders were fixed along the Syr Daria, and east, at Alexandria Eschate (the furthest), controlling the valley of Ferghana. South, Alexandria of Caucasus became a provincial capital ruling over the Hindu Kush passaged to the Indus valley. A prosperous town and emporion were established there, on the western side of the Indus. Southwards, controlled by the garrison cities of Demetria and Alexandria in Arachosia, the latter was annexed. From the wide plains of Sogdiana, westwards, the Empire reached the Traxiane and Tapuria, as far as the Caspian sea south bank. By that time, the Seleucid Empire was robbed from more than half of its initial landmass.

Dreams of conquering India were not satisfied however; While Euthydemus I supplanted the original rebel, Antiochus III invaded his empire with success as Euthydemus was defeated at the Battle of the Arius at the end of the famous siege of Bactra (Balkh). He however obtained an honourable peace and his son was married to Demetrius's daughter. While the former Empire was reduced again to the Bactian satrapy, Antiochus crossed into the Kabul valley and reached the Indian king Sophagasenus, which whom he befriended, gaining one hundred and fifty elephants. However, back to the west he was soon found at war with the Romans in Greece, and lost, defeated in 191 BC by Manius Acilius Glabrio. The easternmost provinced declared independent once again, and Bactria was a Kingdom again. However, with the rapid rise of Parthia to the west and a new powerful Mauryan dynasty in India, the kingdom shrinked to a much smaller size, but only to rise again to the status of an Empire after ennexing the satrapies of Tapuria and Traxiane. It even reached its greatest extent in 180 BC, under Euthydemus II, the short-lived son of Demetrios I which ensured his kingdom was secured and wealthy. He was replaced by Antimachus I, which only ruled for 10 years, then from 170 BC a new dynasty took his place, under Eucratides.

King Menander I (Milinda) and his court of Patala, asking questions to Buddhist monks.

The Buddhist Hellenes: King Menander

Probably the most important ruler afterwards was Menander, which ruled in 155–130 BC, and supported the Buddhist faith. Reining in 155–130 BC he was one of the few Indo-Greek kings mentioned in both Graeco-Roman and Indian sources. The kingdom Indian-Bactrian Kingdom ruled by Pantaleon (190-180), preceded by Demetrios I and Apollodotus I Soter was visited several time by emissaries from the great Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya, which converted to Buddhism and actively helped spreading the religion. Menander has been often coined the greatest of the Indo-Greek Kings, expanding his Empire to northwestern India, today's Punjab and Pakistan, during a second wave of conquests. Sagala became his capital and he marched on the Maurya capital city of Patna. However back in Bactria, secession was declared by Eucratides, which made himself king and was soon found at war with Menander over the frontier, the latter bent on retaking Bactria, Sogdiana and provinces around. He failed to do so but extended to Sindh and possibly Gujarat. He perhaps launched a great expedition in northeastern India, to the Shunga capital Pataliputra, but this was just a theory. He was to return west, to confront Eucratides. A long siege was started by one of his generals Demetrios, without success. Eventually however, the Bactrian King retired and his former conquests which went as far as the Indus, were reclaimed by Menander. Another point coming from Indian sources said her was called called Milinda, described in the Milinda Panha as a convert to Buddhism, becoming an arhat (reaching Nirvana). Perhaps driven by the same disgust of war that driven Ashoka to this new religion.

Left: Greek Buddha. The sycretism between both arts and religion gave the Buddhist art Greek codes influenced also (controversially) Chinese art of the Han period, possibly even the famous terracota soldiers of Emperor Ci Xin Huandi. After Menander passed away, a succession of rulers, with difficult dates to establish ruled the Indo-Greek Kingdom or only some areas of it until the late Republican Era, and up to around 10 AD, with the last known ruler, Strato III Philopator. At that stage the Greek world has been enitirely subdued but Hellenes subsisted in the various Parthian satrapies. Local rulers reigned over Paropamisade, Arachosia, Gandhara, Western Punjab, Eastern Punjab and Mathura. After Strato III, the whole region fell under the rule of nomadic Indo-Scythians under King Rajuvula (Sakas probably pushed from the norhtwest by the Yuezhe, displaced themselves from the Tarim basin by the Xiongnu, Wusun, Parthians and Kushans. The latter would occupy the former Bactrian Kingdom. The last Hellenes probably intermingled with time with the local population. This ancient and long relationship with the Greeks fascinated today the Indians. There has been also many contacts between the Chinese Han and the Indo-Greeks. The great Kushan ruler of the time was called Kujula Kadphises and he was succeeded by the Indo-Greek kings Bhadayasa and Sodasa.

King Thraso (Reigned 95–80 BCE).

Indo-Greek warfare

Yavana warrior Perhaps one of the most recoignisable military figure of that foggy army of the Indo-Greeks was the Yavana. This Indian term designated apparently either Greeks fighting in India, partially clothed and armed the Indian way, or Indo-Greeks settlers with mixed origin. The depiction here shows boots and chiton. It is from the Rani Gumpha ("Cave of the Queen") Udayagiri Caves.

By default of knowing musch about the topic, attempts of reconstitution shows the used of phalanx, the Hypaspitai, and Leukaspides (veterans) at least until around 80 BC, alongside the more mobile and current Thureophoroi an peltasts, and includng the thorakitai, and swordsmen like the Maichairaphoroi. Bactrian troops before the Empire split up, comprised also local troops from neigghbouring lands, local cavalry of horse archers, local foot archers and mountaineers, probably used as axemen and skirmishers in the old tradition. The ruler could count on an Agema, companion cavalry. The important of archery could have trigerred a form of Royal archer, or heavy archer as a personal retinue for the ruler. Elephants of course were also frequently used, as well as Saka mercenaries, Sogdian archers, on foot or mounted and cataphracts. It is also reported the existence of Indo-Greek or more specifically Bactrian hoplites. Whatever their function and way of fighting, they were aspis-bearers.

Right; statue of a local Indo-Greek warrior wearing a modified tracian helmet.
The Urumqi warrior, with blue eyes and eastern tunic style looks like a Yavana. The Indo-Greeks probably used also lots of Indian mercenaries. Reconstitutions tends to privilege the "cap helmet", often embossed and decorated. Local auxiliaries has soft and felt caps, armors were most often made with scales.

Sources/Read More

♕ Aquitani & Vasci ♕ Celts ♕ Indo-greeks ♕ Veneti ♕ Yuezhi ♕ Indians ♕ Etruscans ♕ Numidians ♕ Samnites ♕ Judaean ♕ Ancient Chinese ♕ Corsico-Sardinians