Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Ancient Greek diaspora spread over half of Eurasia: Greek India in the time of Buddha and Jesus

A nation of merchants left the Aegean and reached the edges of the ancient world, from the mouth of the Tagus in Portugal to the cliffs of the Himalayas in northern India and the borders of western China. These remote communities were almost forgotten by Greek historians. Who would guess that the Indo-Greek kingdom remained an influent and independent state for almost two centuries after Greece became a mere Roman province? How many of us know that the first images of the Buddha were Greek? Immigrant nations – often seen as weak, impure and degraded versions of their metropolis – outlive their parents!

The Mediterranean and Black Sea were the first playing grounds of the Greeks, who settled colonies in Asia Minor, Crimea, Cyprus, Sicily, southern Italy, eastern Spain, south France and even Libya. The ancient Greeks would trade with their original cities and keep strong ties with their international community, including the worship of the same gods and traditions. They even reached the mouth of the river Tagus, the most western point in Europe, where a strong Greek community existed in the city of Olisipo which would become modern Lisbon. Historians debate who founded Lisbon, perhaps either Phoenician or Greek traders. Greeks and Romans believed the city was founded by Ulysses during his travels, but some think Olisipo was a Phoenician-influenced name and that later Greek colonists who arrived at this city misinterpreted the name as part of their mythical traditions. The name of Olisipo was later abbreviated to Lisbon after the Islamic occupation, but its original Greek-Phoenician name is still in use in cultural circles: when buying books you often read on the first page the editorial details as “published in Olisipo”. Lisbon is a city prone to earthquakes and floods from the river and ocean who bath it. It is a city on top of many older cities. The left pic below shows Roman ruins underground in Lisbon.

Even more splendid than the Mediterranean expansion were the Hellenistic kingdoms in Egypt, Persia and India, which followed the expedition of Alexander the Great. However, there were already many Greeks living in Persia before Alexander. Persians brought Greek slaves from their territories in Asia Minor, many of whom worked as artisans and goldsmiths. Often these slaves were forced to live with mutilated bodies, since their masters would cut a body-part such as a nose, hand or limb in order to make their escape more difficult and so that they would be recognized as runaway slaves.

The picture on the right shows a Greek influenced Persian gold cup from 400 BC. This object is a rare item, since gold can be melted and few such antiques survive. This cup inspires me with the feeling that such beautiful artworks were the only joy their unhappy creator knew.

After Alexander’s death Hellenistic kingdoms were founded in Pergamum, Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Persia. There were large Greek populations in big cities such as Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia-on-the-Tigris. However, these three brilliant kingdoms were exhausted in wars against each other and with Rome. By 129 BC Rome had reduced Greece and Pergamum to mere provinces and the Seleucid Empire had lost almost all its territory to the Parthians, being reduced to a few cities in modern Syria. Ptolemaic Egypt ended when Cleopatra and Mark Antony committed suicide in 30 BC after losing the Roman civil war.

All the political and family intrigues of the Seleucids, Ptolemais, Attalids of Pergamum, ancient Macedon and the Greek cities are detailed by the Roman historians. Roman and Greek historians wrote little about the Greco-Bactrian (in Afghanistan) and the Indo-Greek (in Pakistan-North India) kingdoms. These two remote kingdoms were described by Roman historian Justin as “the extremely prosperous Bactrian empire of the thousand cities”, and expanded as far as Uzbekistan and western China. The pics on the sides show a Greek influenced Chinese vase and a wool tapestry representing Greek soldiers from around 220-200 BC found in the Chinese city of Urumqi.

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom initially included the Greek colonies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It lasted from 250 BC to 120 BC, when a central Asian nomad people, the Yuezhi, occupied Afghanistan as they escaped from wars in China. After some internal disputes between Greek generals there was also an independent Indo-Greek kingdom in northern India, which lasted from 190 BC to 20 AD. The Indo-Greeks thrived in cities such as Alexandria on the Caucasus, Alexandria in Arachosia (modern Kandahar), Taxila and Gandhara. Below I show the ruins of Alexandria in Arachosia and a Greek sculpture from Alexandria on the Caucasus.
The most famous Greco-Bactrian kings were Demetrius I and Menander I, who were undefeated in war and were often compared to Alexander the Great. Eucratides I was another famous Greco-Bactrian king, who ruled for several decades and issued very good currency, including the largest gold coin ever found from antiquity, as seen in the pic below.

The capital of Eucratides was Alexandria on the Oxus (the current site of Ai-Khanoum) and its ruins located between the rivers Oxus and Kokcha are very well preserved. This capital founded by some soldiers of Alexander which were perhaps too tired to pursue his Indian campaign had every trace of a great Greek city within its great walls and fortress towers, including classical temples, a palace, a theater, and even a gymnasium, as seen in the pics below.

Menander I (ruled from 155 to 130 BC) became a patron of Buddhism and an important Buddhist work, the Milinda Panha (“Questions of Milinda”) portrays him as a wise man, who knew philosophy and many sciences besides war. Roman historian Plutarch reports that Menander I was so popular that its ashes were divided among several Indian cities, placed under sacred shrines in the same way as the Buddha. In fact the Greeks were extremely important for Buddhism. The first human representations of the Buddha appeared in the Greek cities of India around 130 BC, right after Menander’s death. Before then the Buddha was represented by symbols such as the Dharma wheel or a Palm Tree as in this coin issued by the Indo-Greek king Menander. The other pic shows a 2nd century BC Buddha from the city of Gandhara, where a strong Greek community embraced Buddhism and expressed this religion with Hellenized art forms.
The Indo-Greek kings started losing power as new peoples such as the Sakas and the Yuezhi (which would found the Kushan Empire in northern India) pressed from the north after 70 BC. There are few written stories from such period, but fortunately for us there are plenty of Greek coins until 20 AD. These coins often show that Greek kings such as Hermaios and Saka or Kushan kings in the same coin. Some think this shows that Greek kings and the new nomad settlers shared power for several decades and ruled India jointly. Other historians think that this simply shows that the new Kushan kings admired the Greek civilization and wanted to be seen as worthy successors of those wise rulers. In fact the Kushan kings used Greek language for their administration and currency until 127 AD, one century after the last Greek king existed in India. Below I show a coin of Greek king Hermaios and the first Kushan king, Kujula Kaphises.

Gandhara was a center of Greek influenced Buddhism until the end of the Roman Empire. Below there are sculptures of Buddhist gods on the left from the 3rd century AD and a Bodhisattva on the right from the 4th century AD, which show a clear influence from Greek-Roman art of the time. Therefore a vibrant Hellenic community lasted in India at least four centuries after Christ.


39 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much for your comment! I started just last month and all the encouragement is dear to me.

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    2. Very good my friend, thank you!

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  2. Carlos, εισαι απο τους ελαχιστους μη Ελληνες, που αναφερονται ΘΑΡΡΕΤΑ, στην πορεια του ελληνισμου, στον κοσμο !! Μπραβο, και συνεχισε !!!

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    1. Dear Kostas, Thank you for your comment. The Hellenic world is so fascinating. I guess all those things - Alexander, Greeks in India, Mycenaean Greece and Troy - now look like a faraway dream, so hard to believe.

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    2. Greeks have also been to Scotland. "Scotia" in greek is the land of the Scots but also the land of skotos, darkness. The seaside places of Ayr, Iona, Trinisch isles, and at least a dozen others, are all obviously greek!

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    3. Very enjoyable. .a forgotten history..thank uou

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    4. The Romans named them Scotti. Though the time period the Romans conquared
      England (First century), the dominant language in Mediterranean basin was Greek (Koine).

      Caledonia derives from the Ancient Greek city Kaledon.

      It is said that Scot derives from the Greek word ΣΚΟΤΟΣ=darkness.

      Aristotle mentions it:
      "Land of Calydon is that the fertile plains of gazing into the narrow passages of the sea in the Pelop's country."

      The Roman writer Solinus C. Iulius, 250 AD. in his book «Collectana Rerum Memorabillium (622, 112)» states:
      "The Homeric Odysseus reached Caledonia. This is evidenced by a writing engraved on a slab of an altar with Greek letters. "

      Cicero stated: "Should the gods speak, they would use the Greek language".

      The Ancient Greeks also had pibroch.

      The Scots' dress is similar to the Minoans warriors' dress.

      80 names of Scotland in Geographer-Ptolemy's map (ca. 160 AD) are Greek.
      Examples: Orkades Islands, Kouri, Korda, Keryneia, Karnos, Nakos etc.

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    5. The Romans named them Scotti. Though the time period the Romans conquared
      England (First century), the dominant language in Mediterranean basin was Greek (Koine).

      Caledonia derives from the Ancient Greek city Kaledon.

      It is said that Scot derives from the Greek word ΣΚΟΤΟΣ=darkness.

      Aristotle mentions it:
      "Land of Calydon is that the fertile plains of gazing into the narrow passages of the sea in the Pelop's country."

      The Roman writer Solinus C. Iulius, 250 AD. in his book «Collectana Rerum Memorabillium (622, 112)» states:
      "The Homeric Odysseus reached Caledonia. This is evidenced by a writing engraved on a slab of an altar with Greek letters. "

      Cicero stated: "Should the gods speak, they would use the Greek language".

      The Ancient Greeks also had pibroch.

      The Scots' dress is similar to the Minoans warriors' dress.

      80 names of Scotland in Geographer-Ptolemy's map (ca. 160 AD) are Greek.
      Examples: Orkades Islands, Kouri, Korda, Keryneia, Karnos, Nakos etc.

      Delete
  3. Interesatísimo artículo...

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  4. Interesantísimo artículo

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  5. love reading your stuff.. amazing!

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  6. Ploutarch was not Roman. His name is Greek. Plutarch (45-120) was a Greek historian, biographer and essayist. Born in the small town of Chaeronea, in Boeotia, probably during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius, the Mestrios Plutarch traveled extensively in the Mediterranean world of his day and twice in Rome (see. Plut. Demosth. 2.2, Plut. Otho 14.1-2, Plut. Otho 18.1). Friends Romans had a strong influence, among which stand out the Soscius Senecio and Fundanus, both important senators, to whom was dedicated some of his later writings. He lived most of his life at Chaeronea, where it is said that he was initiated into the mysteries of Apollo. He was the eldest priests of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi. (See Ethical 792F) where he was responsible for interpreting the oracle Pythia, a post he held for 29 years until his death. He lived a very active social and political life, during which produced an incredible body text, which survived until our time.

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  7. Lisbon derives from Ulysess-boa=Ulysess port.
    Libya (ΛΙΒΥΗ) is the Ancient Greek name for Africa.
    The Ancient Greek mythology narrats the travels of the mythical Greek heroes Dyonesus and Hercules westwards and eastwards.(

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  8. Keep going, great job. This was one of the best blogs I have come across in recent times. Have a wonderful year, and may your road to success be paved with interesting discoveries, fun, and wisdom... Lots of Good Wishes.

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  9. Great mate, shamefully here in greece ZOG governments strugle to dehellinise the greeks..

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  10. Keep up the great work ! Greetings from Athens!

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  11. Amazing blog!!!keep up the good work. Finally, someone who is writing down what modern Hellenes are actively trying to forget! (We know who's behind all this).Modern man doesn't need to know its history, right?

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  12. Thank you for the great historical article !

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  13. Congrats my friend... high time some enlightened peoe spent time recording and encoding Greek history, a great remedy in our adverse days... keep well

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  14. Nikos Dimos has written a book titled the Greek Buddha. The book details the impact of Greeks on Indian Sculpture in North West India and Afghanistan. In return, the Stoics and the Skeptics were influenced by both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy.
    Harry Melvani, March 12, 2016

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  15. the Hellenes Alexander the Great reached all the way to Japan.there is an island off Japan and they look European. FROM THE OCEANS HELLENES WENT ALL OVER THE WORLD...LUINGUISTS SAY ALL LANGUAGES COME FROM HELLENIC. AS DOES MUSIC/DANCES,SCIENCES,MEDICINE,HISTORY,ART,FIGHTING TECHNIQUES AND EDUCATION...THE ONLY LANGUAGE WHERE CHILD(PAIDI) AND EDUCATION(PAIDEIA) ARE SYNONYMOUS IS HELLENIC. WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST HERMANO!

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  16. HERMANO READ MY PROFILE AND NOTES UNDER "INFORMATION" ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE IT SAYS "INFORMATION ABOUT ATHANASIOS" AND MY NOTES ARE ALL THE WAY DOWN WHERE IT SAYS "SHOW ALL"...FACEBOOK.COM/ATHANASIOSNIKAS

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  17. Πολύ ενδιαφέρον άρθρο. Συγχαρητήρια στον συγγραφέα. Θα πρέπει να ενημερωθούν οι συμπατριώτες μας η κοινή γνώμη κυρίως τώρα που έχουμε στη Ελλάδα την επέλαση μεταναστών από Αφγανιστάν κτλ.

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  18. Hi guys... arent you all over exagurating ?? Im persian.... be honest with yourself.... macedonia was made by darius the great.. to expand his empire and prevent intruders. Where were greeks...? When we PERSIANS where the first CIVILIZATION AND FIRST BIGGEST UNITED EMPIRE IN THE WORLD. ??.... just listen to yourself... greek budha influence? Greek japan? The sasanian ardaviraf note .sasanian persians where in japan.. i .. never mind... so stupid this blog is... all lies and lies... alexander never defeat a empire... he was an admirer of cyrus the great and called himself achaemenian king!.... you poeple specialy that biggest lier ever in history herodotus just write anti persian empire stories... like your unbelivable stupid childish 300 movie... yeah keep it up. How can all be greek? Hear that fool comments here amd says : HEY WE ALL GREEK!...fool. the language tree begins with HINDUARIAN INDUIRANIAN THEN INDOEUROPEAN!.....WHERE ON EARTH WAS BLOODY GREEKS THAT TIME??

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    1. Interesting but not convincing. The coins found in India are in Greek not Persian. How do you account for it?

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  19. https://www.google.gr/search?sclient=tablet-gws&client=safari&channel=ipad_bm&site=&source=hp&q=you+speak+greek+you+just+don%27t+know+it&oq=you+speak&gs_l=tablet-gws.1.0.0l3.2603.6972.0.8542.9.8.0.1.1.0.132.966.0j8.8.0....0...1c.1.64.tablet-gws..0.9.974...0i131j0i131i10j0i10.9xVFcahAdDA#imgrc=SWhwjo4YNfyDAM%3A

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  20. We do not know who Homer was, but that is what the ancient Greeks called him. Scholars have debated whether there was ever a single actual author rather than a collection of oral stories but it is now thought that such an author existed. His defining works are The Iliad and The Odyssey. The adventures described in these two epic poems have shaped our thinking about the ancient Greeks – their religious and social structures – and have profoundly influenced subsequent writers, who have used his characters in multiple ways, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, James Joyce to Star Trek, and several poets have adopted his verse forms. The two poems are so vivid and detailed that we are seduced into thinking that he has written an actual history, and to this day we quote from Homer as though we were rehearsing actual history. I liked your blog, Take the time to visit the me and say that the change in design and meniu?

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    1. Mamuka, the Greek name of " Homer" , the real one , is 'OMIROS, hard to pronounce in english, therefore converted to Homer , nothing to do with the Muslim name , cool off, mate...

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    2. There might be also the possibility that Homer was Ulysseus himself, making an epos of his adventures and in order to stay in history.

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  21. Yep.... "Greeks invented".. EVERYTHING!!
    LoL (my big fat Greek wedding)

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  22. There still are people in Afghanistan- the Kalash tribe, different in colors and pagan in religion, who consider themselves descendants of Alexander's soldiers... before the financial crisis in Greece, they gladly accepted Greek teachers, attending bilingual schools and loving anything that had to do with the elusive remote " land of their ancestors "....

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    1. Sorry its not Alfghalnistan alnd North Pakistan instead. They r al trully secluded), unique tribe. Its like travelling back sever millennia!!!

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    2. Sorry its not Alfghalnistan and North Pakistan instead. They r all truly secluded), unique tribe. Its like travelling back sever millennia!!!

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  23. Great read but r u sure its the palm tree & not the bodhi tree or even banyan, depicted on the coin wth Buddha?

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