Bactria

Bactrian gold and garnet earrings. The source claims that these earrings date to 2200-1700 BCE, but due to the level of craftsmanship, these earrings likely date to the Hellenistic period instead (c. 400 to 30 BCE).

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Two Indo-Greek silver coins with profiles of Alexander

Bactria (present-day Afghanistan), 1st-2nd century

After Alexander of Macedon succeeded in conquering Egypt and Persia in 331 BC, his ambition to rule the known world led him further east across Bactria in Afghanistan, through the Hindu Kush mountain pass, and into India. There he succeeded in defeating all the local kings of the region until his men, on the brink of mutiny, insisted that they return to Greece. Alexander left governors in charge of his territories, and after his death in 323 BC, his governors became independent kings, establishing Hellenistic cities and a Greek cultural base in the region, which lasted for almost 200 years.

Bactria-Margiana Composite Stone Idol
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 2500 BC to 1800 BC
Dimensions:   6" (15.2cm) high   x 5" (12.7cm) wide    

The now-extinct country of Bactria spread across what are now Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. It was one of many economic and social entities in the vicinity, and was a powerful country due to the exceptional fertility and wealth of its agricultural lands. This in turn gave rise to a complex and multifaceted set of societies with specialist craftsmen who produced luxury materials such as this for the ruling and aristocratic elites. For this reason, the area was fought over from deep prehistory until the mediaeval period, by the armies of Asia Minor, Greece (Macedonia), India and the Arab States, amongst others.

This piece pertains to a civilisation referred to as the Oxus (or the BMAC). Flourishing between about 2100 and 1700 BC, it was contemporary with the European Bronze Age, and was characterised by monumental architecture, social complexity and extremely distinctive cultural artefacts that vanish from the record a few centuries after they first appear. Trade appears to have been important, as Bactrian artefacts appear all over the Persian Gulf as well as in the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley. Pictographs on seals have been argued to indicate an independently-developed writing system.

Religion may have been based around deities represented by pieces such as this. However, they are extremely rare. A 2003 inventory calculated that there were at least thirty-eight examples of such Bactrian idols known, and although the number of examples discovered since has increased, the total number of such Bactrian idols remains relatively small. Nine examples have been found in southeastern Turkmenistan and two more in Pakistan. Their significance is unclear. Some scholars identify them as elite members of this early society, while others consider their compelling monumentality to signify that these female figures are depictions of one (or more) goddesses.

Recent Carbon 14 dating of the organic material found in association with some of the excavated examples suggests a chronological position for the group in the early second millennium BC about 2000-1800 BC, and the use of different coloured stone is apparently consistent with this dating. The technique appears to be used for the creation of composite figures of approximately the same dimensions excavated at Ebla. As one of less than fifty such examples in the world, this piece has the quality of rarity as well as an intensely powerful presence out of all proportion to its size. In its simplicity and its inherent monumentality, the figure resonates with contemporary aesthetic taste. This is a remarkable and fascinating piece of ancient art, and a credit to any collection fortunate enough to contain it.

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Bronze coin of uncertain denomination minted between 190 and 160 BCE in the Greco-Indian territory of Bactria.

This coin is an interesting piece because of its uncharacteristic rectangular shape, a product of haste and actually relatively common among bronze coins from the ancient world, which are often struck quickly and messily. However, from a scholarly standpoint, it is also interesting because of its legends and imagery.

The front (also called the obverse, shown above) reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΗΣ, King Agathocles, identifying the ruler of Bactria from about 200 to 145 BCE, and it shows a standing lion, a feature of many royal coinages across the Greek world, dating all the way back to the origins of coinage in the 7th century BCE. The back (called the reverse, shown right) follows an entirely different tradition, showing an unidentifiable goddess, probably a local deity, or possibly Subhadra (sister of Krishna), and, though obscured on this coin, a legend to the goddess’ right side in Brahmi script and the language Prakrit, Rajane Agathuklayasa. Bilingual coins are very unusual but this example helps us to visualize the varied and dynamically mixed cultures that existed at the edges of the Hellenistic world.

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 ♥

Nava Vihara in Balkh: Sun/Fire Temple.

Nau-Vihara Temple: Balkh is one of the oldest towns in the world, being the birthplace of Zoraster. As per Zorastrian tradition Balkh was built by first Aryan ruler Bakhdi. Ancient Greek historians called, it Bactra, (Baktra or Bactria) and the whole country ‘Bactriana’. Situated in north-west Afghanistan, its present capital is Mazar-i-Sharif. It is a small town now, lying in ruins.The Nava-Vihara was also an important Buddhist monastery in Balkh for advance learning. It was a strongly built Vihara and was remarkable for its imposing structure. This Vihara was most sacred place of Balkh for it housed in its shrine-hall the water-basin (pot) and a tooth-relic of the Buddha,

en.wikipedia.org
Greco-Buddhism: the Coolest Cultural Cross-Over Ever
Greco-Buddhism, sometimes spelled Graeco-Buddhism, refers to the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE 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, carried further by the establishment of the Indo-Greek Kingdom and extended during the flourishing of the Hellenized Kushan Empire. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic, and perhaps the spiritual development of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism.

Buddha in a Corinthian capital (top of a column), found in Ghandara

Several Buddhist deities may have been influenced by Greek gods. For example, Heracles with a lion-skin, the protector deity of Demetrius I of Bactria, “served as an artistic model for Vajrapani, a protector of the Buddha” In Japan, this expression further translated into the wrath-filled and muscular Niō guardian gods of the Buddha, standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples.

Vajrapani, protector of the Buddha, in the style of Hercules

In the direction of the West, the Greco-Buddhist syncretism may also have had some formative influence on the religions of the Mediterranean Basin…

Strabo and Plutarch (c. 45–125 CE) also wrote about Indo-Greek Buddhist king Menander, confirming that information about the Indo-Greek Buddhists was circulating throughout the Hellenistic world…

Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel.

AU where Buddhism becomes a popular mystery religion in the Roman Empire

  • yoga classes in the forums
  • hot yoga classes in the bathhouses
  • people getting less worked up about minute differences of Christian doctrine because they have a chiller religion to believe in
  • philosophers in the Platonic Academy of Athens learning how to meditate
  • Buddhism being taken up by the Empress and then suddenly all the rage in high society during her reign
  • Buddha being depicted in a Roman-style toga
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Greco-Buddhism is the term given to refer to the cultural syncretism of Hellenistic and Buddhist culture in ancient Bactria and the India (present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India) between the 4th century BCE and 5th century CE. The style gave rise after the invasion of Bactria (present-day Afghanistan) and the Indus Valley by the Greek armies of Alexander the Great, and flourished under the subsequent Indo-Greek Kingdom and the Kushan Dynasty, who incorporated the Greek Alphabet and other aspects of Hellenistic culture into their own society. The result was an interesting combination of Greek artistic elements in the local Buddhist art. It is generally believed that the first anthropomorphic images of the Buddha emerged during the Greco-Buddhist period in the 1st century CE. Scholars credit many stylistic elements of the image of the Buddha, such as his halo, stylistic curls, and top bun style to Greco-Roman artistic influence. Interestingly, many standing images of the Buddha at this time also depict him in a Greek contrapposto. Many deities from the Hellenistic pantheon were also adopted into Buddhist religion. The most notable examples are the deities, Heracles, Tyche, and Boreas, who eventually became associated with the Buddhist deities, Vajrapani, Hariti, and Oado respectively. Aspects of Greco-Buddhism managed to filter into Buddhist art within the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Asia as the religion started to spread eastward. Greco-Buddhism is one of the greatest examples of long distance cultural and artistic exchange in the ancient world, spanning between two continents and adapting elements from countless different cultures, most notably, Greco-Roman, Persian, and Hindu.

Greco-Buddhism particularly flourished in the ancient region of Gandhara which encompassed the land around the border of Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. Excavations in the archaeological site of Hadda, located near the Kyber Pass in Afghanistan, recovered over 23,000 examples of Greco-Buddhist art. Many of these sites, unfortunately, were destroyed or heavily damaged through looting and vandalization by the Taliban in the 1990s. The artifacts that have survived are a testament of a very rich and diverse cultural syncretism.

Images:
1) Statue of the “Hadda Triad.” A Giant statue of the Buddha sits between the two deities, Vajrapani/Heracles and Hariti/Tyche who are sculpted in the Hellenistic style. From the Tapa-i-Shotor Buddhist complex in Hadda, Afghanistan. c. 2nd-5th century CE.  This statue was destroyed in the 1990s by the Taliban. Only photographs and illustrations survive.

2) Sculpture relief of the Buddhist gods Hariti/Tyche and her consort Pancika. The two figures are donned in Greek style dress and Hariti/Tyche is holding a Hellenistic-style cornucopia. From Gandhara, Pakistan, c. 3rd century CE. British Museum.

3) Bronze statuette of a seated Buddha. From Gandhara, Pakistan, c.1st-2nd  century CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

4) A reliquary known as the “Bimaran Casket.”  The Buddha, pictured in the center, is depicted in a contrapposto pose. He is surrounded by two deities, Brahma and Śakra, inside Greco-Roman style arched niches. From Hadda, Afghanistan, c. 1st century CE. British Museum.

5) Indo-Conrinthian capital decorated with a seated Buddha. From Gandhara, Pakistan. 3rd century CE. Musée Guimet