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They are the continuation of the Greco-Bactrian dynasty of Greek kings (the Euthydemids) founded by the military governor Diodotus around 250 BCE, when he established the independence of his Bactrian territory from the Seleucid Empire.
The Occuppation of NW India
Demetrius started the invasion of northern India from 180 BCE, following the destruction of the Mauryan dynasty by the general Pusyamitra Sunga, who then founded the new Indian Sunga dynasty (185-78 BCE). Demetrius went as far as the capital Pataliputra in eastern India (today Patna): "Those who came after Alexander went to the Ganges and Pataliputra" (Strabo, 15.698). The Indian records also describes Greek attacks on Saketa , Panchala , Mathura and Pataliputra (Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana chapter). To the south, the Greeks occupied the areas of the Sindh and Gujarat down to the strategic harbour of Barigaza (Bharuch), as attested by several writers (Strabo 11; Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, ch.41) and by coinage of the Indo-Greek ruler Apollodotus I.
The invasion was completed by 175 BCE, and the Sungas were confined to the east but, back in Bactria, the usurper Eucratides managed to eradicate the Euthydemid dynasty and occupy territory as far as he Indus, between 171 and 165 BCE, killing Demetrius in battle. The Indo-Greeks retreated in the east to the area around Mathura, and their general Menander I finally managed to push back the Greco-Bactrians beyond the Hindu Kush, becoming king shortly after his victory.
The Indo-Greeks suffered a new attack from the descendants of Eucratides around 125 BCE, as the Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles, son of Eucratides, was fleeing from the invasion of the Yuezhi in Bactria and trying to relocate in Gandhara. The Indo-Greeks retreated to their territories east of the Jhelum River as far as Mathura, and the two houses coexisted in the northern Indian subcontinent.
The Indo-Greeks and Indian culture
Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, and it has been suggested that their invasion of India was intended to show their support for the philhellenic Mauryan empire, and to protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the Sungas.
Demetrius, who organized the invasion, was named Dharmamita ("Friend of the Dharma") in the Indian text of the Yuga-Purana. The city of Sirkap founded by Demetrius combines Greek and Indian influences without signs of segregation between the two cultures.
The first Greek coins to be minted in India, those of Menander I and Appolodotus I bear the mention "Saviour king" (BASILEOS SOTHROS), a title with a very high value in the Greek world which "had only been used twice before in history: 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." (Tarn, "The Greeks in Bactria and India").
Also the coins of the Greek kings in India were bilingual, written in Greek on the front and in Kharoshthi on the back, a tremendous concession to another culture never before made in the Hellenic world.
Development of Greco-Buddhism
Main article: Greco-Buddhism
Menander I, one of the most famous successors of Demetrius, ruled from 150 to 135 BCE. He is presented by Greek authors as an even greater conqueror than Alexander the Great. Strabo (XI.II.I) says Menander was one of the two Bactrian kings who extended their power farthest into India.
Menander, the "Saviour king", seems to have converted to Buddhism, and is described in Buddhist texts as a great benefactor of the religion, on a par with Ashoka or the future Kushan emperor Kanishka. He is famous for his dialogues with the Buddhist monk Nagasena, transmitted to us in the Milinda Panha. Upon his death, the honour of sharing his remains was claimed by the various cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in stupas, in a parallel with the historic Buddha (Plutarch, Praec. reip. ger. 28, 6).
During the reign of Menander, the Greek (Pali: Yona, lit: "Ionian") Buddhist monk Mahadhammarakkhita (Sanskrit: Mahadharmaraksita) is said to have come from “Alasandra” (thought to be Alexandria of the Caucasus, the city founded by Alexander the Great, near today’s Kabul) with 30,000 monks for the foundation ceremony of the Maha Thupa ("Great stupa") at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, indicating the importance of Buddhism within Greek communities in northwestern India, and the prominent role Greek Buddhist monks played in them:
- "From Alasanda the city of the Yonas came the thera (elder) Yona Mahadhammarakkhita with thirty thousand bhikkhus." (Mahavamsa, XXIX)
Although the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and Northern Asia is usually associated with the Kushans, a century or two later, there is a possibility that it may have been introduced in those areas from Gandhara "even earlier, during the time of Demetrius and Menander" (Puri, "Buddhism in Central Asia").
During the reign of the Indo-Greek king Antialcidas (r.c. 115-95 BCE) relations with the Sungas seem to have improved, and some level of religious reconciliation started, as suggested by the erection of the Heliodorus pillar by an ambassador of the king to the court of the Sungas.
There were over 30 Indo-Greek kings, often in competition on different territories. Many of them are only known through their coins. The Indo-Greeks correspond to a key period of cultural interaction between the Hellenistic and the Buddhist cultures, referred to as Greco-Buddhism.
Scythian and Kushan invasions
From 130 BCE, Indo-European nomads (the Scythians and then the Yuezhi) started to invade Bactria from the north. In 125 BCE the Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles abandoned Bactria and moved his capital to the Kabul valley, from where he ruled his Indian holdings.
While the Yuezhi were to stay in Bactria for more than a century, the Scythians went on to the south-east into northern Pakistan to form Indo-Scythian kingdoms, seemingly recognizing the power of the local Indo-Greeks rulers there. The coins of the Indo-Scythians displayed Greek legends and Greek divinities such as Zeus or Nike. However, towards the end of the 1st century BCE it seems they finally controled most of the territory under Azes II.
The last Indo-Greek kings, Hermaeus and Hippostratos, were replaced by Indo-Scythian kings around 50 BCE, although some smaller Indo-Greek rulers, such as Theodamas in northern Gandhara, seem to have been ruling Greek communities, without the right of coinage, into the 1st century CE.
From the 1st century CE, 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 was to prosper for several centuries. In the south, the Greeks were under the rule of the Western Kshatrapas.
It is unclear how much longer the Greeks managed to maintain a distinct presence in the Indian sub-continent.
Art and religion
The "Kanishka casket", dated to the first year of Kanishka's reign in 127 CE, was signed by a Greek artist named Agesilas, who oversaw work at Kanishka's stupas (caitya), confirming the direct involvement of Greeks with Buddhist realizations at such a late date.
Greek representations and artistic styles, with some possible admixtures from the Roman world, continued to maintain a strong identity down to the 3rd-4th century, as indicated by the archeological remains of such sites as Hadda in eastern Afghanistan.
The earliest Indian writing on astronomy, the "Yavanajataka" or "Saying of the Greeks", is a translation from Greek to Sanskrit made by "Yavanesvara" ("Lord of the Greeks") in 149-150 CE under the rule of the Western Kshatrapa king Rudrakarman I.
Indian astronomy is widely acknowledged to be derived from the Alexandrian school, and its technical nomenclature is essentially Greek: "The Yavanas are barbarians, yet the science of astronomy originated with them and for this they must be reverenced like gods" (The Gargi-Samhita).
At the beginning of the 2nd century CE, the Central India Satavahana king Gautamiputra Sātakarni (r. 106 - 130 CE) would call himself "Destroyer of Sakas (Western Kshatrapas), Yavanas (Indo-Greeks) and Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians)" in his inscriptions, suggesting a continued presence of the Indo-Greeks.
Limited population genetics studies have been made on genetic markers such as mitochondrial DNA in the populations of the Indian subcontinent, to estimate the contribution of the Greeks to the genetic pool. Although some of the markers which are present in a large proportion of Greeks and Macedonians today have not been found, the Greek/European genetic contribution to the Punjab area has been estimated between 0%-15%:
"The political influence of Seleucid and Bactrian dynastic Greeks over northwest India, for example, persisted for several centuries after the invasion of the army of Alexander the Great (Tarn 1951). However, we have not found, in Punjab or anywhere else in India, Y chromosomes with the M170 or M35 mutations that together account for 30% in Greeks and Macedonians today (Semino et al. 2000). Given the sample size of 325 Indian Y chromosomes examined, however, it can be said that the Greek homeland (or European, more generally, where these markers are spread) contribution has been 0%–3% for the total population or 0%–15% for Punjab in particular. Such broad estimates are preliminary, at best. It will take larger sample sizes, more populations, and increased molecular resolution to determine the likely modest impact of historic gene flows to India on its pre-existing large populations." (Kivisild et al. "Origins of Indian Casts and Tribes" 1).
Main Indo-Greek kings, timeline and territories
House of Euthydemus (Western and Eastern territories)
The descendants of the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus invaded northern India around 180 BCE as far as Pataliputra, before retreating to the area between the Hindu-Kush and Mathura, where they ruled most of the northwestern Indian subcontinent:
- Demetrius I (reigned c. 205–171 BCE) Son of Euthydemus I. Greco-Bactrian king, and conqueror of India. Coins
The relationship of the following five kings remain unclear. Some of them might have been members of the house of Euthydemus.
- Euthydemus II (190-171 BCE) Possibly a son and sub-king of Demetrius I. Coins
- Demetrius II (c. 180 BCE) Possibly a son and sub-king of Demetrius I.
- Pantaleon (190-185 BCE) Possibly a son and sub-king of Demetrius I or Euthydemus I. Ruler of the Paropamisadae. Coins
- Agathocles (185-170 BCE) Possibly a son and sub-king of Demetrius I and co-ruler with Antimachus I. Ruled the Paropamisadae. http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/baktria/kings/agathokles/t.html Coins]
- Apollodotus I (reigned c. 174–165 BCE). Possibly succeeded Demetrius in India. Ruled Gandhara region south to Saurastra, possibly associated with the king Menander I who possibly was holding the Eastern part of the kingdom.
- Antimachus II Nikephoros (160-155 BCE) Coins
- Menander I (reigned c. 165–130 BCE). Successor to Apollodotus. Married to Agathocleia. Legendary for the size of his Kingdom, and his support of the Buddhist faith. Coins
- Agathokleia (r.c. 130-125 BCE), Possibly widow of Menander, Queen-Mother and regent for her son Strato I. Coins
Following the 125 BCE invasion of Gandhara by the Greco-Bactrian king Heliocles, son of Eucratides, the descendants of Euthydemus retreated to their territories east of the Jhelum River as far as Mathura, where they ruled until around 100 BCE:
- Strato I (125 - 110 BCE) Coin, son of Menander and Agathokleia
- Zoilos I (130 - 120 BCE) Coins
- Lysias (120 - 110 BCE) Coins
- Demetrios III Aniketos (c. 100 BCE)
- Strato II (c. 100 BCE) Coin
Territory of Eastern Punjab (100 - 55 BCE):
- Menander II Dikaios "The Just" (90 - 85 BCE) Coins
- Zoilos II (90 - 85 BCE)
- Theophilos (c. 90 BCE) Coin
- Nicias (reigned c. 90–85 BCE)
- Apollodotus II (80 - 65 BCE) Coins
- Dionysios (65 - 55 BCE)
- Hippostratos (65 - 55 BCE) Coins, defeated by the Indo-Scythian King Azes I.
House of Eucratides (Western territories)
The descendants of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides ruled the territories west of the Jhelum River to the Hindu Kush, following their invasion by Heliocles, but then progressively lost their southern territories to the Indo-Scythians until around 80 BCE, when their capital Taxila was taken by the Scythian king Maues. The last western king Hermaeus held out in the mountains a few more years.
- Heliocles (r.c. 150-125 BCE), occupied the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom around 125 BCE.
- Antialcidas (r.c. 115-95 BCE) Coins
After Antialcidas, the territory was divided into the three realms of Paropamisidae (Hindu-Kush), Taxila and Gandhara:
Territory of Paropamisadae(110 - 70 BCE):
- Heliokles II (110 - 100 BCE) Coins
- Amyntas (95 - 90 BCE) Coins
- Telephos (75 - 70 BCE) Coins
- Hermaeus (reigned c. 90–70 BCE), ruled in the Paropamisadae (Hindu-Kush)
- Hermaeus (40-1BCE) Coins Posthumous issues
Territory of Taxila (90 - 85 BCE):
Territory of Gandhara: (100 - 85 BCE)
- Philoxenus (reigned c. 100––95 BCE) Coins
- Diomedes (95 - 90 BCE)Coin
- Epander (95 - 90 BCE) Coins
- Peukolaos (c. 90 BC)
- Artemidoros (c.85 BCE) Coins. Also ruled Taxila, and was succeeded by the Indo-Scythian Maues.
Indo-Greek princelets (Gandhara)
After the Indo-Scythian Kings became the rulers of northern India, remaining Greek communities were probably governed by lesser Greek rulers, without the right of coinage, into the 1st century CE, in the areas of the Paropamisadae and Gandhara:
- Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
- Seleucid Empire
- Indo-Parthian Kingdom
- Kushan Empire
- "The Shape of Ancient Thought. Comparative studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies" by Thomas McEvilley (Allworth Press and the School of Visual Arts, 2002) ISBN 1581152035
- "Buddhism in Central Asia" by B.N. Puri (Motilal Banarsidass Pub, January 1, 2000) ISBN 8120803728
- "The Greeks in Bactria and India", W.W. Tarn, Cambridge University Press.
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