The ancient Greek state in Afghanistan

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Golden stater of the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides. Credit: public domain, illustration by Greek Reporter

Bactria, a vast region of today’s Afghanistan, was the eastern boundary of the ancient Greek Empire, established by Alexander the Great.

Alexander and his army began a massive military campaign in 334 BC which led to the Macedonians establishing numerous Greek cities across a wide swath of Southeast Asia. His reign, and that of his successors, would eventually extend to the Indian subcontinent.

Alexander and his army conquered large tracts of land between Greece and India. However, in the ancient state of Bactria, the Greek presence became much larger than in areas much closer to Greece.

The kingdom of Bactria was located north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya River on the plateau where Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are located today.

After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among the generals of his army. Bactria became part of the Seleucid Empire, named after its founder, General Seleucus.

Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I went on to found a large number of Greek cities. The Greek presence was so overwhelming that the Greek language remained predominant in the region for some time.

Bactria the eastern limit of the Greek Empire

However, one of the lesser known reasons for the overwhelming Greek cultural influence in the region was the mass deportations of Greeks to Bactria. During the reign of Darius I, each of the inhabitants of the Greek city of Barca in Cyrenaica was deported to Bactria for refusing to hand over the suspected assassins to the authorities.

Persian King Xerxes also sent prisoners to the area. The “Branchidae” were the descendants of Greek priests who had once lived near Didyma and ceded the temple to it. The Greek historian Herodotus also records a Persian commander threatening to enslave the daughters of the revolting Ionians and send them to Bactria.

Diodotus I, the satrap or ruler of Bactria declared independence from the Seleucid kings in the year 245 BC. BC, conquering Sogdia and becoming the founder of the great Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Diodotus and his successors withstood continued attacks from the Seleucids, especially Antiochus III the Great, who was eventually defeated by the Romans in 190 BC.

Greek state of BactriaThe Greco-Bactrians became very powerful militarily and succeeded in extending their territory to present-day India.

The Greeks who had stirred up the revolt in Bactria had become extremely wealthy, partly thanks to the great fertility of their country. Their great wealth enabled them to become masters not only of Bactria but also of India.

Greek language for administrative purposes

The Greco-Bactrians used the Greek language for administrative purposes, and local languages ​​were also influenced by Hellenism, as their adoption of the Greek alphabet and Greek words suggests.

The Bactrian King Euthydemus I and his son Demetrius I crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and began their conquest of the Indus Valley. Before long, they were so powerful that a Greek empire seemed to be growing in the East.

However, corruption and infighting tore the fledgling empire apart. When Demetrius advanced far east of the Indus River, one of his generals, Eucratides, proclaimed himself king of Bactria.

Usurpers suddenly arose in all the provinces. All wanted to be kings, and they fought hard against each other.

Many of them became kings, as evidenced by the numerous gold coins found centuries later in Afghanistan, but they were only kings in their own provinces. The internecine wars between them had wreaked great and irreversible havoc, destroying much of what had made their societies progressive and diminishing the Hellenic element.

After Demetrius and Eucratides, the kings abandoned the Attic standard of coinage and introduced a native one to attract support from non-Greeks.

In the Indus Valley, the Indo-Greek King Menander I converted to Buddhism. The last known Indo-Greek ruler, King Strato II, ruled the Punjab region until 55 BC. approximately, according to some sources. Others place the end of Strato II’s reign as late as AD 10

With information from Wikipedia

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