BACTRIA AT THE HEIGHT OF ITS POWER

It must have been about the year 230 B.C. that Euthydemus, the Magnesian, murdered Diodotus and usurped his throne. Who Euthydemus was is quite unknown; but no doubt a kingdom with the romantic history of Bactria appealed to the Greek imagination, and attracted many “soldiers of fortune” ready to make a bid for success in the new world which had just been thrown open to them.

The treachery of Euthydemus was palliated, if not justified, by its success. Under him and his successors Bactria not only magnificently vindicated her rights to an independent existence, but launched upon a career of conquest and expansion which paralyzed her rivals, and was destined to spread Hellenic influence more surely and permanently than had been done by the great Macedonian himself. So remarkable is the career of Euthydemus, that later historians forget the existence of Diodotus. “The house of Euthydemus,” says Strabo, “was the first to establish Bactrian independence.” It is possible, indeed, that the weak and vacillating policy of Diodotus particularly towards Bactria’s national and well-hated rival, Parthia, was to a large degree responsible for his murder, which could hardly have taken place without the connivance of at least the great Iranian nobles.

Euthydemus had some years of uneventful prosperity in which to consolidate the empire he had seized before he was challenged to vindicate his right by the ordeal of war. In 223 B.C. Antiochus III., second son of Seleucus Callinicus, succeeded to the throne of Syria. Antiochus has some right to the title of “The Great,” which he assumed. He is one of the few Syrian monarchs for whom we can feel any real respect, combining as he did the personal valour which had become a tradition among the successors of Alexander’s generals with a military talent and a reluctance to waste the resources of his kingdom in interminable petty campaigns, which is only too rare in his predecessors.

It was only in reply to a direct challenge from Parthia that Antiochus interfered at all in what was taking place in the east of his dominions. Artabanus I. (who succeeded Tiridates I. about 214 B.C.), pursuing the policy of aggression which under his predecessors had succeeded so admirably, took advantage of the rebellion of a satrap named Achaeus to advance and occupy Media. This was open defiance, and Antiochus could not ignore it if he would. An arduous campaign followed. Antiochus did not make the mistake of underrating his foe, and Justin even puts his forces at 100,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. However, the Parthians merely fell back farther and farther into their mountain fastnesses, and at length the dogged courage of Artabanus found its own reward.

The independence for which Parthia had fought so well and so persistently was at last recognized, and Antiochus even condescended to form an alliance with his gallant antagonist, though lesser Media was restored to Syria. Perhaps, however, it was Artabanus who suggested to Antiochus the invasion of the rival State of Bactria, and he may even have lent him troops or promised co-operation. He may have pointed out to Antiochus what was fast becoming apparent, that Bactria, under the peaceful rule of Euthydemus, with its great natural resources, and the advantage of an enterprising Greek to direct its fortunes, was fast becoming a menace to Parthia and Syria alike. Besides, it would be a triumph of diplomacy if Parthia could divert the forces of so dreaded a neighbour against her cherished rival. Whichever way the fortunes of war might veer, Parthia must be the gainer. If Antiochus were successful, the fidelity and assistance of Artabanus might be rewarded by the control of Bactria, and, at the least, Bactrian aggression would be checked for ever. On the other hand, if the Syrian forces were defeated, anarchy would no doubt soon reign once more in Syria, and Parthia would find her opportunity for further expansion once again. Antiochus had an excuse at hand for yielding to the arguments of Artabanus, if indeed we are right in supposing the Syrian monarch to have been influenced in his action by his new ally. Bactria had incurred the enmity of the Seleucids in the reign of the last monarch; the weak and short-sighted policy of Diodotus II. had enabled Parthia to establish her independence, as we have seen, unmolested; and, above all, the Syrian Empire, rich though it was, had been almost exhausted by years of suicidal war and misgovernment, and could ill afford the loss of the most fertile of her provinces, “the glory of Iran,” as it was popularly called. To regain the allegiance of Bactria was a natural ambition.

The expedition against Bactria must have started in the year 209 B.C., perhaps in the early spring. Antiochus chose to attack the country by approaching from the south and striking at the capital.

The campaign has been described by Polybius in the concise vivid style which gives the reader so ready an impression of military operations. Unfortunately, the chapter is an isolated fragment only, and breaks off after a description of the battle with which the campaign opened, leaving all account of the subsequent operations a blank. Of the invasion, however, the ravages of time have spared us a minute account. Antiochus marched along the southern borders of the Arius, the river which rises in the Hindu-Kush, and loses itself, like so many rivers in that region, in the shifting sands and fertile patches just beyond the Tejend Oasis. The invader had of necessity to choose his route in a march upon Bactria, if he wished to avoid the hardships and perils of the Bactrian wastes.

He learnt that the ford6 by which he intended to cross into the enemy’s territory was held in force by the famous Bactrian cavalry, and to attempt to force a passage in the face of these was to court disaster. Knowing, however, that it was a Bactrian custom to withdraw their main army at night, leaving a thin screen of pickets to hold the positions occupied, Antiochus determined on a bold bid for success. Leaving his infantry behind, he advanced swiftly and suddenly with a picked body of cavalry, and attacked, probably at dawn, so unexpectedly, that he carried the passage almost unopposed, driving the pickets back upon the main body. A fierce encounter now took place between the picked horsemen of Iran and Syria. Antiochus, with the recklessness characteristic of the successors of Alexander and his generals, led the charge, and after a hand-to-hand combat, in which he received a sabre-cut in the mouth and lost several teeth, he had the satisfaction of routing the enemy completely. The main Syrian army now came up and crossed the river. Euthydemus appears not to have risked a general engagement, but to have fallen back on his almost impregnable capital. Of the details of the siege we know nothing, but it may be that it is to this blockade that Polybius refers when he says that the “siege of Bactria” was one of the great sieges of history, and a common-place for poet and rhetorician. Time wore on, and still the “City of the Horse” held out. A long absence from home was unsafe for Antiochus, for the Syrian Empire might at any moment break out into one of those incessant rebellions which were the bane of the Seleucid Empire. Both sides, perhaps, were not unready for a compromise, and this was brought about by the good offices of a certain Teleas, a fellow-countryman of Euthydemus, and hence especially suitable for the task. On behalf of the Bactrian prince, he pointed out that it was illogical to cast upon him the blame accruing from the policy of Diodotus II. in forming an alliance with Parthia. In fact, Euthydemus was the enemy of Diodotus, and had merited the gratitude of Antiochus in destroying the “children of those who first rebelled.” A still more cogent argument sufficed to convince the king. The Scythian hordes were on the move, and threatening the borders of the Jaxartes like a storm-cloud. Bactria was the outpost of Hellenic civilization, and on its integrity depended the safety of the Syrian empire; and Euthydemus pointed out that to weaken Bactria would be a fatal step for the cause of Hellas. “Greece would admittedly lapse into barbarism.”

This is the first mention we have of the aggressive attitude of the tribes beyond the Jaxartes; but the problem was evidently not a new one to Euthydemus or to Antiochus. The Seleucid monarch came to the conclusion that it was to his interest to preserve the integrity of this great frontier state, which guarded the roads from India and the north. The terms on which peace was concluded must have caused intense chagrin to the Parthian allies of Antiochus.

An alliance, offensive and defensive, was concluded between the royal houses of Bactria and Syria: this, of course, included the recognition of the claim by Euthydemus to the royal title, which was perhaps granted on condition that he should guard the Scythian frontier (for it was chiefly on this ground that the claim had been put forward); the alliance, moreover, was to be sealed by the betrothal of the young daughter of Antiochus to Demetrius, the gallant prince who had caught the attention of the Seleucid whilst conducting negotiations on behalf of his father in the Syrian camp. Euthydemus may have urged on Antiochus the propriety of recovering that old appanage of Bactria, the satrapy of Paropamisus. The strategic value of the kingdom of Kabul was beyond question; it had been recognized by Alexander, who had placed it in the hands of Oxyartes, who, as we have already seen, probably continued to administer it till, by the weakness or negligence of Seleucus Nicator, it passed back to the hands of Chandragupta Maurya. It was probably in this domain that Antiochus found the Indian princeling Sophagasenas or Subhagasena reigning; who the latter was is quite uncertain. It was conjectured at one time that the name Subhagasena is a title of Jalauka, a son of the great Asoka, who had died in 231 B.C.; but Jalauka himself is a misty personality, of whom we know little besides the vague, though voluminous, stories of Kashmir tradition. Euthydemus, on behalf of whom the expedition was mainly undertaken, was under the obligation by the terms of the treaty to provide the means for its accomplishment. For a third time (the last for many centuries) the tramp of armies from the far west was heard down the long winding defiles of the historic Khyber.

But the expedition does not appear to have been carried out with the thoroughness which Euthydemus would have liked. It was little more than a demonstration in force. Subhagasena appears to have yielded very easily, and consented to the payment of a considerable indemnity and the surrender of elephants. Antiochus had already been overlong absent from Syria, and he hastened home by the Kandahar road, through Arachosia and Carmania. Androsthenes of Cyzicus was left behind to receive the sum owing to the Syrian coffers, and to follow with it later.

Euthydemus figures on several fine coins which have been recovered; he appears on them as a man in the prime of life, with a heavy stern face. The wide area over which his coins are found points to a considerable extension of the Bactrian domains. An attempt was probably made in his life-time to annex those territories which had been ceded to Chandragupta by Seleucus Nicator, and with the break-up of the Maurya kingdom on the death of Asoka this was quite feasible. Doubtless Demetrius took a prominent part in leading his father’s armies, and he may have been associated with him in ruling in the now extensive dominions of Bactria, though it is probably a mistake to attribute the Indian expedition and the foundation of Euthydemia to this reign. It is, of course, unsafe to draw inferences too certainly from coins, but the coins of Euthydemus have been discovered, not only in Bactria and Sogdiana, but in Paropamisus (which may have been put under the suzerainty of Bactria by Antiochus), Arachosia, Drangiana, Margiana, and Aria.

Euthydemus may well have looked back upon his career with pride. By sheer ability he had vindicated his right to the crown he had so violently wrested away. The ablest of the Seleucids had come to punish him as a revolting vassal; before he left, the Bactrian, by his dogged valour, had won that monarch’s respect and friendship. He was lord of a great, fertile, and important realm; his son had already shown promise as a warrior and statesman; and the latter’s wedding with a princess of the proudest of the Hellenic families, whose royal ancestor, the great “Seleucus the Conqueror,” second only to Alexander himself, claimed the God Apollo as his father, was a guarantee of lasting peace and friendship with Syria. The hated Parthians were paralyzed for the time by their rival’s success, and Bactria must have been growing rich in her position at the confluence of the world’s trade routes. Ever since the day when, according to the oft-repeated story, Bindusara sent to request a “supply of wine and a sophist” from his Syrian contemporary, and Chandragupta sent presents of drugs to his father-in-law, the growth of luxury in the Greek world, and the establishment of new cities of the type of Alexandria, must have created a great demand for Indian goods. A further proof of the close ties binding India and the West is found in the fact that, twice at least, Greek ambassadors were in residence at the court of the Mauryas, Megasthenes at the court of Chandragupta, and Deimachus at that of Bindusara.

Frequent as must have been the caravans from Kabul to Bactria, others doubtless arrived from the distant Seres of the north-east, for the then novel commodity of silk was in great demand in the luxurious towns of the new and cosmopolitan Hellenic age, of which Alexandria is so typical. The forum of Bactria must have resembled that of Sagala in Menander’s days, when traders of every creed and tongue crowded the bazaars, and the innumerable shops were loaded with the most heterogeneous articles—muslin and silk, sweetstuffs, spices, drugs, metal work in brass and silver, and jewels of all kinds.25 Small wonder that Euthydemus is regarded as the founder of Bactria. Only one storm-cloud marred the otherwise shining prospect, and that was as yet low down on the distant horizon. The barbarians beyond the Jaxartes were still moving uneasily. About the year 190 B.C. the long and eventful reign of Euthydemus came to an end, and the kingdom passed to a worthy successor in Demetrius. Whether Demetrius had already begun his eastern conquests we do not know, but at some period of his reign Bactria reached the climax of her prosperity. The ancient citadel of the Iranians was the capital of a mighty Empire, as the words of Strabo testify: “The Greeks who occasioned the revolt (i.e., Euthydemus and his family), owing to the fertility and advantages of Bactria, became masters of Ariana and India…. These conquests were achieved partly by Menander and partly by Demetrius, son of Euthydemus…. They overran not only Pattalene, but the kingdoms of Saraostos and Sigerdis, which constitute the remainder of the coast.…They extended their empire as far as the Seres and Phrynoi.” Their object, obviously, was to reach the sea for trading purposes; a similar object led them to secure the highroad into China.

The evidence of the coins of Euthydemus (vide ante) seems to point to the occupation of Aria by that king. Conquests east of Kabul, on the other hand, appear from Strabo’s words to have been the work of Demetrius, probably after his father’s death, though this is not certain. Strabo speaks very vaguely of the extent of the dominions of Demetrius. By Pattalene he appears to mean the kingdom of Sind, the country which was first taken from Musicanus by Alexander the Great. On the west of the Indus, all the country from the Cophen to the mountains appears to have thus belonged to Bactria; east of the Indus, after the annexation of the kingdom of the Delta (Pattalene), it was not a great step to proceed to subdue the neighbouring kingdom of Kathiawar or Surashtra (the Greek Saraostos). What quite is indicated by the “kingdom of Sigerdis” it appears to be impossible to determine. It may have been some minute “kingdom” (i.e., the domain of some petty raja) between Pattala and Surashtra.

Besides these kingdoms on the coast, we have evidence to confirm the opinion that a considerable portion of the Panjab fell into the hands of Demetrius as well. It is usual to ascribe to him the foundation of the town of Euthydemia, which he named after his father, according to a not uncommon practice. Euthydemia became the capital of the Bactrian kingdom east of the Indus, and under its Indian name, Sagala, grew to be a flourishing city of great wealth and magnitude. The question of the identity of Sagala (or Sakala) is a matter of dispute. It is now held that it is not to be confused with the “Sangala” razed to the ground by Alexander; and modern authorities identify it with either Shorkot, near the modern Jhang, not far from the confluence of the Acesines and Hydraotes, or Sialkot, further north, near Lahore, and not far from the head waters of the Acesines. Later on we shall see that Menander was born “near Alexandria,” “200 leagues from Sagala,” and this would certainly point to Sialkot rather than Shorkot, if “Alexandria” is the town at the “junction of the Acesines and Indus” mentioned by Arrian (Anab., VI. 5). It is difficult to believe that the Bactrians had any permanent hold on the country up to the Chinese borderland. Perhaps all that Strabo means is that all the territory up to the great emporium on the extreme west of Serike—i.e., Tashkurghan in Sarikol, was under Bactrian influence, and, perhaps for commercial reasons, was protected by their troops from the raids of Sakas and other nomadic marauders.

The coins of Demetrius illustrate the history of his reign in an interesting manner. Like his father, he seems to have adopted the god Hercules as his patron deity, and Hercules figures upon the coins of Euthydemus and Demetrius, very much as the thundering Zeus figures on those of the Diodoti, or the Dioscuri on the coinage of Demetrius’s antagonist and successor, the pro-Syrian Eucratides. These coins were doubtless issued for circulation in Bactria proper, like the famous and striking specimen which Gardner reproduces, on which a figure, almost certainly to be identified as the Bactrian Anahid, appears, clad as she is described in the Zend-Avesta.

For use in his domains beyond the Paropamisus, Demetrius issued a series of coins of a more suitable character, remarkable alike for their workmanship and as representing the earliest attempt at that amalgamation of Greek technique and Indian form, which is one of the most striking features of the coinage of the Indo-Bactrian dynasties. To this series we may safely assign the silver coins which represent the King as an Indian raja, wearing an elephant helmet, and those bearing an elephant’s head; these coins are, it must be observed, purely Greek in standard and pattern, and are probably earlier than the series of square coins, where an attempt at compromise between Greek and Indian methods first appears.

It seems probable that Demetrius divided his Indian possessions into minor principalities for greater convenience of government. A system of satrapies, or small feudal states, appears to have been the only form of administration found possible by the invaders of India, whether Scythian, Parthian, or Greek. It was, indeed, the form of government most adapted to the eastern temperament. From time to time the influence of some master mind had consolidated a great empire in India; but the bonds had always been purely artificial, liable to dissolution on the appearance of a weak or incapable ruler. It had become apparent on the death of Asoka how little even the great Mauryas had succeeded in introducing elements of cohesion into their vast and heterogeneous realms.

The small satrapy appears to have been the natural political unit in India, as the city state was in Greece. However, Demetrius did not arrive at a satisfactory solution of the problem of simultaneously governing two distant and diverse kingdoms. Perhaps his continued absence in India aroused the jealousy of the Græco-Iranian kingdom in the north; it may be that the inhabitants of Bactria looked upon Sagala with jealous eyes, as a new and alien capital; at any rate, the absence of Demetrius gave ample opportunity for a rival to establish himself securely in Bactria before the arrival of troops from the far south to overthrow him.

The rival who did this was one Eucratides. Who he was, or what may have been his motive, we can only infer from his coins in a somewhat conjectural fashion; one thing, however, seems more or less plain, that he was connected in some way to the royal house of Seleucus. In his sympathies, and probably by birth, he is distinctly closely bound up with the reigning dynasty in Syria.

Justin implies that he seized the throne about the time of the accession of Mithradates I. in Parthia—i.e., about 174 B.C., or a little earlier. We may suppose that Demetrius was engaged in his Indian conquests and the administrative and other problems they entailed, and either had no leisure to attend to what was happening in Bactria, or did not feel himself strong enough to march against so powerful a rival until his power in the south was sufficiently consolidated. Meanwhile Eucratides was pursuing a vigorous policy in the north, not always with the success he deserved. Enemies were springing up in all directions to menace Bactria, and Eucratides had to vindicate his right to the throne he had claimed. The first and most formidable rival was Mithradates I. Mithradates appears to have succeeded with the special mission of counteracting Bactrian influence, for Phraates, his brother, had left the throne to him in preference to his numerous sons, as the ablest successor, and one most likely to continue the great mission of extending Parthian dominion in the east, the progress of which had been thwarted since 206 B.C., when Antiochus the Great had raised her rival to the position of ally and equal. The continual threats of aggression from the Parthians, the ever-increasing pressure on the frontier, which caused various wars (perhaps not of great magnitude, but harassing, as a foretaste of what was to come) on the Sogdian frontier, and a campaign—against whom we are not informed—in Drangiana, made the life of Eucratides anything but peaceful. The struggle with the monarch he had dispossessed, moreover, was coming, and Eucratides went to meet it with great spirit. At one time the fortunes of war seemed to have definitely turned against him; by a final effort Demetrius, with the huge force of 60,000 men, caught and besieged his rival, whose army by some means had sunk to only 300 men. By a marvellous combination of skill and good-fortune, Eucratides cut his way out after a siege, which (if we are to believe the only authority upon the incident) lasted five months, and this proved to be the turning-point in the war. Soon after the Indian dominions of Demetrius fell into the hands of Eucratides, and the once powerful Demetrius either perished or was deposed about the year 160 B.C.

If, as is just possible, Eucratides was really the grandson of his royal opponent,39 the great disparity between their ages would account for the ease with which that once doughty leader allowed himself to be defeated by a handful of desperate men, whom he had conquered with a vastly superior force; it would also save the historian from the necessity of condemning Justin’s whole account of these incidents as exaggerated and inaccurate—always a pre-eminently unscientific proceeding in the case of an uncontroverted statement. The victory over Demetrius is probably commemorated in the fine coins reproduced by Gardner, which represent, in a most spirited fashion, “the great twin brethren,” with their lances at the charge, waving the palms of victory. These were evidently struck for use in Bactria; for use in the provinces beyond the Hindu-Kush very probably he struck a series of coins, where the blending of Greek and Indian art is illustrated in a curious manner, bearing the goddess Nikê, holding a wreath on the obverse, and a Pali inscription on the reverse, in Kharoshthi characters. The coins are bronze and square, this being another instance in which the Indian shape replaces the Greek circular coin.

It is extremely interesting to notice the manner in which the Greek temperament adapts itself to changed conditions. Eucratides gives himself the title of “Maharaja” (which he translates by the Greek ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ) in his Indian domains; in Bactria, however, he appears as the leader of the Greek, as opposed to the Iranian section of the populace. By birth and leanings it seems evident that Eucratides was thoroughly Greek. His coins betray his pride of birth; the distinctive figure on nearly all his Bactrian issues is a representation of the Dioscuri, mounted; they were the patron saints of the Seleucids, and under the rule of the “son of Laodice,” took the same place on his coinage as Zeus, the thunder-god, did on the coins of the Diodoti. One of the most striking features of Bactria is the utter predominance of everything Greek in its history. The coins are essentially Greek, the rulers are certainly so. The Iranian population never seems to have had any voice at all in the government, though we must remember that Greek was the language of commerce and civilization in Western Asia, and we are apt to be easily misled by the fact that Greek names, coinage, and language were exclusively used. In Parthia, for instance, we know that national feeling was utterly anti-Hellenic, and yet Greek appears to have been the language generally used for commercial and public purposes. Perhaps it was his partiality for Greek customs and his pride in his Seleucid blood that brought about the downfall of Eucratides.

While returning from India, Justin tells us, he was murdered by his own son, who had shared the throne with him, and who, far from concealing the murder, declared that he had killed “not a parent, but a public enemy,” and brutally drove his chariot through the dead monarch’s blood, and ordered his body to be cast out unburied (circa 156 B.C.). Thus perished one of the most remarkable of the many really great, though obscure, monarchs of the Bactrian Empire. A splendid coin, figured by Gardner in his catalogue, enables us to form a very good idea of the appearance of the king—a proud, determined man, wearing the Kausia, diademed with crest, and the bull’s horn at the side. On the reverse, significantly, are figured the Dioscuri, charging with long lances and waving the palms of victory. The delineation of the steeds is worthy of the highest traditions of Greek Art. The title of ‘the Great’ appears on the coin, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΕϒΚΡΑΤΙΔΟϒ. The name of the parricide who thus foully deprived his father of his life and throne is not recorded. Some authorities have identified him with Heliocles, who is supposed by them to have headed a native reaction, fomented either by his father’s Hellenizing tendencies, or by his inactive policy against Mithridates. Mithradates, we know, took the satrapies of “Aspionus and Turiva” from Eucratides, and it is possible that this caused dissatisfaction at the policy of the Bactrian monarch. There is, however, some reason to suppose that the parricide’s name was Apollodotus, who may have been led by the supposed patriotic character of his deed to assume the titles of ΣΩΤНΡ, ΝΙΚНΦΟΡΟΣ, and ΜΕΓΑΣ, which we find on his coins. It is supposed that Heliocles avenged his father’s murder and secured the throne, probably putting his brother to death; some have thought that this is indicated by the title “ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣ,” which appears on his coins. It is probable, however, that the title of the “Just” is of Buddhist origin, but this point may be more appropriately discussed later on.

Apollodotus seems to have enjoyed a very brief reign, and Heliocles probably succeeded in 156 B.C. With him the rule of the Greeks in Bactria comes to an end; the Bactrian princes were forced to transfer their empire to their capital beyond the Hindu-Kush. The murder of Eucratides was worse than a crime—it was a blunder. The death of the one man capable of saving the situation rendered resistance useless, and the country was still further enfeebled by the rise of a number of princelings or satraps, who were necessary for the government, as we have seen, of the immensely increased Bactrian territory, but who were always inclined, on the removal of a strong hand, to assert their independence. The semi-independent character of these petty rajas is shown by the style of the inscriptions upon their coins.

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