Bactria

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A brief cross-cultural look at necklaces from the ancient world.

The first is made of green jadeite, from Chiapas in Mexico, and likely of the Maya culture. AD 200-900.

Second is an Egyptian necklace from the Late-Ptolemaic Period (711-30 BC), made of gold, mother of pearl, and yellow, green, and tan faience.

The next is Greco-Roman, and made of gold with the profile head of an emperor, dating to the 3rd-4th century AD.

Returning to Mexico, this next example is made of shell, and from Colima. 200 BC-AD 500.

The fifth necklace shown in Egyptian, dates to 664-525 BC, and is made of carnelian and faience.

The next example is likely Etruscan, dates to the Hellenistic period (325-50 BC), and made of gold.

Our final example is from ancient Bactria (located in modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), made of agate, and dates to the Namazga V period, circa 2200-1800 BC.

All artefacts courtesy of & currently located at the LACMA, USA. Via their online collectionsM.71.73.318M.81.15050.22.18M.86.296.203M.91.200.250.22.8 & M.2000.183.1.

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Seated Female Figure, commonly called a ‘Bactrian Sitting Princess’

Chlorite and limestone, 12.7 cm high (5 in)

Present-day Northern Afghanistan, Ancient Bactria, ca. 2500-1500 B.C.

…Also evident is the distinctive layered wool textile, known as kaunakes in southern Iran and Mesopotamia, which is commonly associated with the garment of deities and princesses in the ancient civilizations of Elam and Sumer. The figure shares its overall composition with a well-known group of figures associated with the Bactrian-Margiana civilization in central Asia in the third millennium BC; for this reason, such objects are frequently referred to as “Bactrian.”

Source: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

What Does Alexander the Great Have to Do with Buddhist Imagery?

Greco-Buddhism refers to the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BC and the 5th century AD in Bactria and the Indian subcontinent. It was a cultural consequence of a long chain of interactions begun by Greek forays into India from the time of Alexander the Great.

Read More…

Bactrian Gold Ibex, c. Early 2nd Millennium BC

This was probably used as a strap ornament.

Bactria was an ancient country located in modern northern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It was situated near the Silk Road between the Hindu Kush mountains in the south and the Oxus River (modern Amu Darya) in the north. The terrain consisted of very fertile alluvial plains, a hot desert, and cold mountains. The region was famous for its fierce warriors and its ancient Zoroastrian religion, which was founded by Zarathustra (aka Zoroaster).

Bactria has often been part of various empires and has been conquered many times — notably by Cyrus the Great and several later Persian rulers, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and by Russia.

More about Bactria…

Mughal jade dagger handle

Carved out of white ‘moss in snow’ jadeite jade, probably from Burma, this carved dagger hilt from the 17th Century Mughal empire at its peak is very typical of the Central Asian Islamic tradition, that represented more animals than in other branches of Islamic art, possible from a distant memory of animism and the wonderful works of ancient Bactria in modern Afghanistan, founded by Alexander the Great on his way to India. The steel blade is from Damascus and repeatedly folded like Japanese samurai swords, with the wonderful patterns known as Damascene work. Its creation in India evidences the trading links between different regions of the Islamic world. The piece is inlaid with small rubies, and now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

Loz

Image credit: Jastrow

Panel fragment with the god Shiva/Oesho

Bactria (present-day northern Afghanistan), Kushan period, ca. 3rd century A.D.

Terracotta and gouache; height 57.2 cm and width 41.6 cm

This rare Central Asian votive panel depicts a deity (with nimbus) being approached by a worshiper, probably nonroyal but portrayed as of equal stature to the god. Compositionally, they follow scenes of homage and investiture from the post-Hellenistic West and from Iran in which a king and a god appear side by side. Along with the hands of a missing worshiper, the god Siva/Oesho is depicted. Four-armed and three-headed, with a prominent third eye, he wears an animal skin and a belted, diaphanous garment and holds a trident. Here, the rich intercultural style that developed in the Kushan realm is most clearly displayed: Indian divine iconography; the Iranian type of two-figured composition; and Greco-Roman naturalism in the drapery and pose, as well as in the use of light and shadow to suggest modeling.  The panel has holes at the corners and was probably set up, together with three others acquired by the Museum (MMA 2000.42.1, .2, .3), on the interior walls of a sanctuary, perhaps a family shrine.

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Designation: Coin of the Bactrian king Menander I Date: approx. 155-130 BCE Medium: Silver Place of Origin: Northern Afghanistan | former kingdom of Bactria | Pakistan | former kingdom of Gandhara Credit Line: Acquisition made possible in part by the Society for Asian Art Label: Greek inscriptions, royal portraits, and images of Greek deities such as Athena were standard features on coins issued by the Indo-Greek rulers of Central Asia and northern Afghanistan during the centuries just before the Common Era. Many Indo-Greek coins contained translations of the Greek into a local script and language on their reverse sides, indicating the great cultural diversity in this area of the ancient world. 
The combination on coins of royal portraiture and divine imagery-a powerful statement of divinely sanctioned rule-was used for many centuries in Central and South Asia. On coins of the Kushan dynasty, images of the Iranian goddess Ardoksho and the Indian god Shiva reflect the expansion of the Kushans into former Iranian realms as well as into northern India. The Gupta dynasty, which later ruled northern India, issued many coins depicting on one side the goddess Lakshmi, who is associated with royal fortune. The portrait sides of Gupta coins contain several innovations. An early example showing the dynasty’s founder together with his queen proclaims the power and legitimacy he gained through a strategic marriage alliance. 

 

1st Century AD Gold, Turquoise and Carnelian Boot Buckles depicting a chariot drawn by dragons, found in Tomb IV in Tillya Tepe, Afghanistan

The burial could correspond to Scythian or Parthian tribes dwelling in the area, or may correspond to the extinction of the local Yuezhi royal dynasty after the conquests of all the other xihou or ‘princes’ in Daxia by Kujula Kadphises.

More about Tillya Tepe…

Bactria headdress. This is from the tribe I was born into in Iran (also known as the Charmahal Bakhtiari tribe). It is the oldest nomadic tribe in the world. The Bactrias are descendandts of the Medes, Persians, Magi and Ancient Sumerians. I went back to my Motherland & met my great grandmother who told me tales of her days & about my ancestors. Apparently when I was born, a wolf forearm thats been passed down throughout generations was placed in my cot for the 1st 90 days of my life to protect my spirit. One of many traditions of the tribe. This is where my connection and love for indigenous people and tribes around the world comes from ♥

Greco-Bactrian alloy coin, minted in Afghanistan (found at Begram), ca.  174 BC-145 BC

1.8cm high by 1.6cm wide

(obverse) Helmeted and diademed bust of Eucratides I, King of Bactria . Greek inscription on three sides.

(reverse) City goddess within a rectangular frame, seated on throne to left, holding a palm branch. The head of an elephant in the lower left field and a monogram and mountain in the right. A Kharoshthi inscription around three sides of the border reads “Goddess of the city of Kapishi.”

Source: The British Museum (IOC.44.A)