Kushan History Kushan History

Bactria: Alexanders Easternmost Legacy

"A very great adventure ..." 1


It is necessary to leave the story there, with the Yu-chi poised to overrun Bactria for a short digression. An understanding of the Kushan Empire is too some extent dependent on understanding the country they gained control of, the general population, the Greeks, Iranians and nomadic invaders who had ruled there before they came. In the 320's Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, as far as subduing northern India. He died shortly afterwards and his Empire was divided between his generals, the Diadochi. Seleucos Nikator I inherited the eastern domains, including Bactria and Northern India.

Seleucos quickly found himself at war with Chandragupta Maurya and the tenuous hold on the Greek domains became apparent. The two signed a peace treaty in 304 BC and after his death in 281 BC the Greek's ceded the Punjab and most of Afghanistan. The Seleucid empire withdrew further to the east and mid-way through the third century both Parthia and Bactria broke away from the Seluecids 2. Though it was not until Antiochus III (212 - 204) that the Bactrian state was recognized. It was ruled by Euthydemus, who founded the long Euthydemind dynasty. Greek kings also reconquered parts of Northern India, including the Kabul valley, the Pubjab, and the Indus. This region retained its independence after Bactria was lost to the Yu-Chi and the last Greek state in the region, that of Hermaus did not come under Parthian rule till the end of the pre-christian era3

While the Greek states continued to diminish, the Parthian and Saca domains (the peoples called Saca and Pahlava by Indian sources and from here-on in referred to as Indo-Parthian) expanded. These kingdoms stretching from Arachosia in the west too the Indus valley, Gandhara in the east, became most prominent in the first century AD.

Maeus (dated to 75 BC) by the Taxila copper plate is the first of this dynasty of Indo-Parthian kings which contains many of the most famous names in north Indian history. One of his successors Azes I began an era at the date of his ascension (if he followed the pattern of other kings) in 58 BC. The last great king if the region was Gondaphares, who makes an appearance in the life of St Thomas. By the first century AD however the kingdom was in decline and by the mid-first century civil war was raging within what was left of the Indo-Parthian kingdoms.

Political instability was the halmark of the period. For most of the period no single King managed to unite the whole region. The Greek kingdoms which Alexander left never succeeded in dominating the region but Alexander left a remarkable legacy of Greek Culture. Rostovtzeff4 felt that the process of urbanization and hellenization were only very superficial. In some respects, he is right. We have no evidence to indicate that the Nomadic populations or natives of northern India ever thought of themselves as Greek, and the vast majority of the population continued to work in rural areas. However, sites such as Begram 5 and Ai-Khanum show the effect Hellenic influences had on the ruling class as well as the remarkable urban projects carried out in Greek times. Likewise the use of Greek by Kanishka shows that it remained a living language long after the Greeks ceased to rule.

What differentiates the region from Alexanders other conquests is that the Greek culture cannot be easily divided from the native culture. The people who lived in the region were to adopt elements of Greek culture into their own without losing their identity. This remarkable confidence and the very beautiful results are best displayed in the Gandharan school of sculpture. Most importantly, Alexander was to leave behind a small class of people who, whether they were or not, considered themselves to be Greek. They promoted trade with the west and their influence on art kept that of north-west India distinct for centuries. This group is testified to by the propaganda coins of Kajula and his son when they invade India in the first century.


Notes


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