The Ancient Greeks and Kashmir

Menander Kashmir Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks and Kashmir

Archaeology is not so much allied with inventions rather it is more concerned about discovering historical evidences in different forms including artifacts, painting, ruins and even quantitative data, besides other aspects, so as to provide the background for making conjectures and their refutation.

The debate among the Indian historians over certain disputed historical structure proves this point quite adequately. Archeology in history, thus, involves extracting the truth from the past carefully discovering and analysing the historical data.

The fact that the existence of modern human lives in Kashmir dated back to around 18,000 years ago is fairly attested by the archeological evidence.

The period witnessed excessive rains forcing people to move out and it was only after the climatic conditions improved at around 5,000 BC that Kashmir became habitable, thus attracting the Neolithic people of neighbouring territories to settle there.

It is therefore not surprising that the Neolithic culture began in Kashmirat  around 2,920 BC as it presents a striking affinity with the Neolithic cultures of China, Russia, Iran, West Asia and Central Asia.

At around 1,500 BC, another wave of immigrations and settlements is substantiated by the presence of new culture alongside the old one. The new culture is said to be Megaliths, cist graves, iron, rubble structures and rice and millet cultivation.

In 516 BC, Darius the Achaemenian ruler of Iran extended his empire up to India by annexing Sind, Gandhara.

As we have learnt from Greek sources, at the time of Iranian invasion, Kashmir was a part of Gandhara and Iranians ruled over these territories until Alexander‘s invasion of India in 326 BC.

So, Achamenian rule continued in Kashmir for about 200 years paving the way for huge Iranian influence.

It is interesting to know that Kashmiri masses became familiar with money currency for the first time during this period which is evident from the Kashmiri word used for money, Diyar.

While Diyar is the Kashmirised version of Greek (Dinarus),during the Kushan period, Kashmir became the great Centre of Buddhism, so much so that it attracted Kanishka to convene the Fourth world Buddhist council in Kashmir.

According to the famous Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang, hundreds of Buddhist monks participated.

The architectural remains of Kashmir are perhaps the most remarkable of the existing monuments of India as they exhibit undoubted traces of the influence of Grecian art.

Some narrative history has survived for most of the Hellenistic world, at least of the kings and the wars, this is lacking for India. the main Greco-Roman sources on the Indo-Greeks is Justin, who wrote an anthology drawn from the Roman historian Pompeii’s Trogus, who in turn wrote from Greek sources at the time of Augustus Caesar.

Whereas Justin tells the part of Trogus’ history, he finds it particularly interesting and connects them by short and simplified summaries of the rest of the material.

In the process, he has left 85% to 90% of Trogus out and his summaries are held together by phrases.

He has occasionally made provable mistakes as Develin, the recent annotator of Justin.

In addition to this, the geographer Strabo mentions India a few times in the course of his long dispute with Eratosthenes about the shape of Eurasia.

Most of these are purely geographical claims, but he does mention that he does not believe that Menander and Demetrius son of Euthydemus conquered more tribes than Alexander the Great.

There are also Indian literary sources, ranging from the Milinda Panha, recounting a dialogue between Buddhist sage Nagasena and King Menander I (155-130 B.C) - one of the few Indo-Greek kings mentioned in both Greco-Roman and Indian sources.

There is also significant archaeological evidences, including some epigraphic evidences, for the Indo-Greek kings, such as the mention of the "Yavana" embassy of king Antialcidas on the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha, in addition to the main Archeological evidences in the Coins.


There is mention of two famous Greek kings, one is Demetrius and the other is Menander.

Demetrius has been described as the king of the empire, which included southern parts of Kashmir.

Menander is recorded to have held a discussion with the Buddhist Monk at a place which was only 12 km's from Srinagar. Milndaphana records a discussion with Nagasena, the Buddhist saint, the place where the discussion was held can be identified as Harwan, where the fourth Buddhist council was held.

The Greeks, headed an advanced civilization in the ancient world and had developed a high society and were grand masters of education and technology. They were contemporaries to Romans and influenced their art and culture.

They also introduced currency in their respective domains and devised such coinages, which after the passage of thousands of years, do not fail to surprise the mint masters.

The Greeks introduced bi-metallic coinage in silver and copper and named their coins as Drachma and struck it on attic weight standard.

It was based on the attic currency weighing just under 17 grams as tetradrachm with its various fractions. It later came to be known as (Dirham) in personalised form.

The Greeks continued with their numismatic type in their Bactrian regions. Diodotus, the independent king of Bactria also adopted the Hellenistic types and were the first rulers who introduced inscribed coins on the soil of the sub-continent.

Their coins mostly depicts half portraits of their kings in bust shape, on obverse, and a series of Grecian deities on the reverse. Sooner, when their currency came in contact with Indian currency of (Panch Marka) it adopted various Indian features.

Firstly they had accommodate the attics coinage to currency needs of India so they introduced a light weight standard keeping (Drachma), less than 3 grams which was only a few grains more than (PanchMarka) coins Prevalent in Indian regions

Secondly they introduced (Prakrit) language on the reverse face of the coin, beside the Greeks. which they have been displaying on the obverse face of their coins.

Besides, their own religious icons they displayed few Indian deities and sacred animals and introduced Prakrit script and local deities to localise these coins to establish their own political and cultural links in the sub continent.

Among the Greek kings, whose coins have been found in Kashmir, are Philip II and Alexander. Bactrian Greek Diodotus and Euthydemus are represented by their two silver coins.

Numismatic traditions introduced and promoted by these Greek princes in the north western part of India and Pakistan had a very deep influence on the successive coinage of these regions.

A systematic and advanced system of coinage was developed in the region and the Numismatic links spread over a vast empire which provided the basic for flourishing of trade and commerce. A Stage was reached when these regions developed trade relations with Roman Empire.

Coins inscriptions and motifs also helped people to understand the cultural and religious beliefs of one another. The imprints of Greek numismatic continued for long in the subcontinents and has had a more deep influence on Kashmir coinage, where it stayed till the Kushan period (4th century A.D).

By Syed Rooh Fatima for Kashmir Images.

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Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor