Dimitrios Papanikolaou – « The Last Phase of ‘Hellenismos’ in post-Hellenistic India »

Dimitrios Papanikolaou (philopappos@yahoo.gr)

The Last Phase of in ΕΛΛΗΝΙCΜΟC post-Hellenistic India


It was in 1886, when P. Gardner published his work on Hellenistic Greek coinage from Bactria and India, the first important modern account of the subject.1 In this work, Gardner made an account and a presentation of coins of Greek-speaking Hellenistic monarchs in Bactria and India and, in fact, made a (not always flawless) first attempt at establishing the history, succession and dates of those Greek-speaking monarchs.2  His main problem were the coins of Greek monarchs south of the Hindokush struck after 130 BC, i. e. after the collapse of Greek rule in Bactria north of the Hindokush at the hands of the Yueh-chi. Gardner was at a loss concerning the dates of all those later monarchs.3 He contended (erroneously as it was later proven) that Greek rule south of the Hindokush appears to have faded out around 30 BC in the region of Kabul or Begram under king Hermaeus; this assertion seems to have influenced the analysis of W. W. Tarn and A. K. Narain on the end of Greek rule over parts of the Indian subcontinent.4

Today, after the pioneering work of Osmund Bopearachchi, we are in the happy position to have acquired a better understanding of the very long Greek rule south of the Hindokush after 130 BC.5  Unknown Greek monarchs in the Indian subcontinent have come to light6 ; the dates of Greek rulers of India have also been more plausibly suggested.7 What is particularly interesting (and has not received the scholarly attention that it deserves) is the better understanding of the chronological end of the Indo-Greek kingdom, i. e. of the sovereignty of Greek-speaking rulers over parts of today’s Pakistan and India. After careful scrutiny of the coins of kings Strato II and III, Bopearachchi arrived at the conclusion that those two last Greek monarchs of India ruled around AD 10-15.8  Bopearachchi’s observations are of cardinal importance, since they make the Greek kingdom of India one of the most long-lasting (if not the most long-lasting) among Hellenistic monarchies: its chronological end should be put nearly four or five decades after the demise of the Ptolemaic empire in Northern Africa. The distribution of the find-spots of coins of Strato II and III reveals also the last territory of the Indian subcontinent reigned by Greeks: namely the northern Punjab, the today’s region of Sialkot.9

It is quite probable that the Greek language did not die out soon after the collapse of the Indo-Greek kingdom; in fact, Greek seems to have been spoken in parts of India (as a minority language) centuries after the loss of the last Greek-speaking political formation in the area. We only have to rethink here Philostratus’ Βίος Ἀπολλωνίου, where Apollonius communicates with his Indian interlocutors in Greek in remote areas of India (e. g., Philostr. VA 2.27-31, 3.12, 3.16, 3.36). Apollonius’ aforementioned episodes in India might well reflect historical realities of Philostratus’ times: namely the persistent use of Greek by a part of the population in certain regions of India during the first, second and third centuries AD – and the vague knowledge of this linguistic reality on the part of Greek intellectuals active in the Roman-occupied oecoumene.10  Apollonius’ linguistic habits in India (as fictitiously reported by Philostratus) should be combined with the epigraphic testimony provided in a number of Buddhist cave shrines built in the western coastline of India (Nasik, Karle, Junnar). In those cave shrines, whole ranges of pillar inscriptions (mostly dated in the second century AD) record the contribution of Yavana (=Greek, Greek-speaking) donors to them; those Yavana donors have to be understood as men of a Greek ethnic identity, Buddhist descendants of Hellenistic Greek settlers in northern India, who probably migrated to the trade hubs of the west coast from northern India after the collapse of the Indo-Greek kingdom.11

Therefore, the survival of Greek statehood, identity and language in Gandhara, Punjab and parts of north and western India has to be chronologically reconsidered: a Greek state was still fighting for its survival in northern India during the early first century AD, whereas the Greek language and ethnic identity were still current in parts of India up to (at least) the second century AD – if not somewhat later. For what we can be also sure, is the fact that that the Greco-Buddhist style of Gandhara (in sculpture and the visual arts) outlived both the Greek statehood and language in northern India and Bactria.12 The statues of Buddha at Bamiyan / Afghanistan, and especially the majestic 55m Buddha colossus at Bamiyan’s eastern terrace, constructed in the 6th  century AD and still standing up to the dark days of March 2001, provide(d) vital testimony to this fact.



Citer ce billet : “The Last Phase of in ΕΛΛΗΝΙCΜΟC post-Hellenistic India ”, par Dimitrios Papanikolaou. Publié sur : Les sociétés méditerranéennes antiques et les mondes de l’océan Indien le 11 septembre 2018. Lien : https://median.hypotheses.org/2027.

  1. P. Gardner, The Coins of the Greek and Scythic Kings of Bactria and India in the British Museum, London 1886. []
  2. Gardner (n.1), xviii-xxxii, xxxiv-xxxix. []
  3. On this uncertainty, see Gardner (n.1), xxx-xxxii, xxxiv, xxxviii. []
  4. On this assertion, see Gardner (n.1), xxxi. Cf. the analysis of W. W. Tarn, The Greeks in Bactria and India, Cambridge 1922 (1951 2 ), 349-350; A. K. Narain, The Indo-Greeks, Oxford 1957, p.164. []
  5. O. Bopearachchi, Monnaies gréco-bactriennes et indo-grecques. Catalogue raisonné, Paris 1991. []
  6. One of those kings is discussed by O. Bopearachchi, « Un roi Indo-Grec: Téléphe. Observations sur l’ iconographie de son monnayage et de la date de son règne », Schweizer Münzblätter 39, book 156 (1989), 88-94. []
  7. Nevertheless, serious problems of interpretation of Indo-Greek coins persist: see St. Kalita, « Portraits of Rulers on Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins. An Attempt at Classification », Notae Numismaticae 2 (1997), 7-9. []
  8. Bopearachchi, Monnaies (n.5), 139-141. []
  9. Bopearachchi, Monnaies (n.5), 125-126. []
  10. On the historical nucleus concerning Apollonius’ linguistic habits in India, see Gardner (n.1), liii. []
  11. For a useful modern discussion of all those inscriptions (with linguistic analysis and older bibliography), see J. D. Lerner, « The Greek-Indians of Western India: A Study of the Yavana and Yonaka Buddhist Cave Temple Inscriptions », The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies, n.s. 1 (1999-2000), 83-109, esp. 90-92, 96, 99, n.40; 101, n.61. See also N. J. Andrade, The Journey of Christianity to India in Late Antiquity, Cambridge 2018, 107-109. []
  12. On Gardner’s thesis that the Greek language perished in late antique India, as a result of Hindu policies under the Gupta dynasty, see Gardner (n.1), liii. Nevertheless, the process of Indianisation of those Yavanas is evident in the inscriptions much before the rise of the Guptas: see Lerner, « The Greek-Indians of Western India » (n.11), 93-95, 97. []