Legacy of the Indo-Greeks


Legacy of the Indo-Greeks

The Legacy of the Indo-Greeks starts with the formal end of the Indo-Greek Kingdom from the 1st century CE, as the Greek communities of central Asia and northwestern India lived under the control of the Kushan branch of the Yuezhi, apart from a short-lived invasion of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. ["Though the Indo-Greek monarchies seem to have ended in the first century BC, the Greek presence in India and Bactria remained strong", McEvilley, p.379] The Kushans founded the Kushan Empire, which was to prosper for several centuries. In the south, the Greeks were under the rule of the Western Kshatrapas.

It is unclear how much longer the Greeks managed to maintain a distinct presence in the Indian sub-continent.

Political legacy

The 36 Indo-Greek kings known through epigraphy or through their coins belong to the period between 180 BCE to 10–20 CE. [Boppearachchi, "Monnaies Indo-Grecques"] There are a few hints of a later Indo-Greek political presence in the Indian subcontinent.

Theodamas, known from an inscription on a signet, may have been an Indo-Greek ruler in the Bajaur area in the 1st century CE.

In the 3rd century, the Scythian Western Satraps seem to have relied on Greeks, such as Yavanesvara ("Lord of the Greeks"), who may have been organized in more or less independent "poleis". [McEvilley, p385]

Some sort of Greek political organization is thought to have existed in the first half of the 4th century after the rule of the Satavahanas. [David Pingree, "The Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja", p4. Quotes in McEvilley, p385] This is also suggested by the Puranas (the Matsya Purana, the Vayu Purana, the Brahmanda Purana, the Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata Purana) which give a list of the dynasties who ruled following the decline of the Satavahanas: this list includes 8 Yavana kings, thought to be some dynasty of Greek descent, although they are not otherwise known. [Comments given in Rapson "Catalogue of the Indian coins in the British Museum. Andhras etc...", Rapson, p LXVIII:
"These must, no doubt, belong to some dynasty of Greek descent, but it is impossible to determine which dynasty this could have been"
The full list, with comments, is given in Rapson "Catalogue of the Indian coins in the British Museum. Andhras etc...", Rapson, p LXVIII::* 7 other Andhras kings (called "Andhrabhrytias", or "Servant of the Andhras", probably the Chutus in the Western and Southern districts.:* 10 Abhira kings, who ruled in the area of Nasik.:* 7 Gardabhila kings, who ruled in the area of Ujjain:* 18 Saka kings, probably the Western Satraps.:* 8 Yavana kings, thought to be some dynasty of Greek descent.:* 14 Tusara kings (also called Tuskaras), thought to be the Kushans (who are called "Turuska" in the Rajatarangini).:* 13 Murunda or Gurunda kings.:* 21 Huna kings (also called Maunas), probably the Indo-Hephthalites.
] According to one theory however, the Southern Indian dynasty of the Chalukyas was named after "Seleukia" (the Seleucids), [Dr. Lewis Rice, S. R. Sharma and M. V. Krishna Rao

Greek era

A Greek "Yona" calendar era seems to have been in use in Northwestern Indian for several centuries following the foundation of the Indo-Greek kingdom. A recently discovered inscription in Kharoshthi on a Buddhist reliquary gives a relationship between several eras of the period::"In the twenty-seventh - 27 - year in the reign of Lord Vijayamitra, the King of the Apraca; in the seventy-third - 73 - year which is called "of Azes", in the two hundred and first - 201 - year of the Yonas (Greeks), on the eighth day of the month of Sravana; on this day was established [this] stupa by Rukhana, the wife of the King of Apraca, [and] by Vijayamitra, the king of Apraca, [and] by Indravarma (Indravasu?), the commander (stratega), [together] with their wives and sons." ["Afghanistan, carrefour en l'Est et l'Ouest" p.373. Also Senior 2003] As the Azes era is usually considered identical to the Vikrama era starting in 58 BCE, the Yona era would correspond to 186 BCE, which falls in the reign of Demetrius I, although dates ranging from 186 to 150 BCE are still debated. [See [http://www.kushan.org/essays/chronology/azesvikrama.htm Chronology of Indian eras] ] The inscription would date to circa 15 CE.

A second inscription, called the Maghera inscription, found in the Mathura district, is dated to the year 116 of the "Era of the Greeks" ("Yavanarajyasya sodasuttare varsasate 100 10 6), which would correspond to 70 BCE. ["Afghanistan, carrefour en l'Est et l'Ouest" p.373]

Macedonian calendar

The names of the months belonging to the Ancient Macedonian calendar remained in use under the Indo-Scythians and the Kushans until around the 2nd century CE. For example the Indo-Scythian Taxila copper plate inscription uses the Macedonian month of "Panemos". [Tarn, p.494] Later, the Dast-i Nawur inscription mentionning the Kushan king Vima Kadphises (reigned circa 90–100 CE) is dated to the 279th year (possibly in the Yona era, which would make it 93 CE, but alternatively in "the Great Arya era" mentioned by Kanishka in the Rabatak inscription, possibly an era started by Mithridates I which would give 108 CE), and the 15th day of the month of "Gorpaios" (Γορπιαίος), which is the 11th month of the Macedonian calendar, corresponding to the moon of August. [Mario Bussagli, "L'art du Gandhara", p187]

Astronomy and astrology

One of the earliest Indian writings on astronomy and astrology (although not the earliest, as the "Vedanga Jyotisha" is dated to around 1350 BCE), titled the "Yavanajataka" or "The Saying of the Greeks", is a translation from Greek to Sanskrit made by "Yavanesvara" ("Lord of the Greeks") in 149–150 CE under the rule of the Western Kshatrapa king Rudrakarman I. The Yavanajataka contains instructions on calculating astrological charts (horoscopes) from the time and place of one's birth. Astrology flourished in the Hellenistic world (particularly Alexandria) and the Yavanajataka reflects astrological techniques developed in the Greek-speaking world. Various astronomical and mathematical methods, such as the calculation of the 'horoskopos' (the zodiac sign on the eastern horizon), were used in the service of astrology. [McEvilley, p.384-386]

Another set of treatises, the Paulisa Siddhanta and the Romaka Siddhantas, are attributed to later Greco-Roman influence in India. The Paulisa Siddhanta has been tentatively identified with the works of Paulus Alexandrinus, who wrote a well-known astrological hand-book.Fact|date=October 2007

Indian astronomy is widely acknowledged to be influenced by the Alexandrian school, and its technical nomenclature is essentially Greek: "The Yavanas are barbarians, yet the science of astronomy originated with them and for this they must be reverenced like gods" (The Gargi-Samhita). Several other Indian texts show appreciation for the scientific knowledge of the "Yavana" Greeks. [Indian sources on Yavana learning:

*A comment in "Brihat-Samhita" by the mathematician Varahamihira says: "The Greeks, though impure, must be honored since they were trained in sciences and therein, excelled others....." ("mleccha hi yavanah tesu samyak shastram kdamsthitam/ rsivat te 'p i pujyante kim punar daivavid dvijah" (Brihat-Samhita 2.15)).
*Also the Mahabharata compliments the Greeks as "the all-knowing Yavanas" (sarvajnaa yavanaa): "The Yavanas, O king, are all-knowing; the Suras are particularly so. The mlecchas are wedded to the creations of their own fancy." ("sarvajnaa yavanaa rajan shuraaz caiva vishesatah/ mlecchah svasamjnaa niyataanaanukta itaro janah (Mahabharata VIII.31.80))
]

Influence of Indo-Greek coinage

Overall, the coinage of the Indo-Greeks remained extremely influential for several centuries throughout the Indian subcontinent:

*The Indo-Greek weight and size standard for silver drachms was adopted by the contemporary Buddhist kingdom of the Kunindas in Punjab,Fact|date=October 2007 the first attempt by an Indian kingdom to produce coins that could compare with those of the Indo-Greeks. [Tarn, p.324-325]
*In central India, the Satavahanas (2nd century BCE- 2nd century CE) adopted the practice of representing their kings in profile, within circular legends. [Rapson, clxxxvi-]
*The direct successors of the Indo-Greeks in the northwest, the Indo-Scythians and Indo-Parthians continued displaying their kings within a legend in Greek, and on the obverse Greek deities. [Whitehead, p.91-97]
*To the south, the Western Kshatrapas (1st-4th century) represented their kings in profile with circular legends in corrupted Greek. [Rapson "A catalogue of Indian coins in the British Museum. p.cix] ["It was their (the Indo-Greek's) commercial success that led the western Satraps to imitate them." Narain, "The Indo-Greeks", p.115]
*The Kushans (1st-4th century) used the Greek language on their coinage until the first few years of the reign of Kanishka, whence they adopted the Bactrian language, written with the Greek script. [Whitehead, p.171-177]
*The Guptas (4th-6th century), in turn imitating the Western Kshatrapas, also showed their rulers in profile, within a legend in corrupted Greek, in the coinage of their western territories. ["Evidence of the conquest of Saurastra during the reign of Chandragupta II is to be seen in his rare silver coins which are more directly imitated from those of the Western Satraps... they retain some traces of the old inscriptions in Greek characters, while on the reverse, they substitute the Gupta type (a peacock) for the chaitya with crescent and star." in Rapson "A catalogue of Indian coins in the British Museum. The Andhras etc...", p.cli] The latest use of the Greek script on coins corresponds to the rule of the Turkish Shahi of Kabul, around 850.

Genetic contribution

Limited population genetics studies have been made on genetic markers such as mitochondrial DNA in the populations of the Indian subcontinent, to estimate the contribution of the Greeks to the genetic pool. Although some of the markers which are present in a large proportion of Greeks today have not been found, the Greek/European genetic contribution to the Punjab region has been estimated between 0%–15%:

Some pockets of Greek populations probably remained for some time, and to this day, some communities in the Hindu Kush claim to be descendants of the Greeks, such as the Kalasha and Hunza in Pakistan, and the neighbouring Nuristani in Afghanistan. [Tarn, p.408] Failed verification|date=October 2007

One cannot assume however that the present Greek population is representative of the Macedonian army under Alexander. This army probably contained a large number of Persians and other groups such as Scythians and Thracians.Fact|date=October 2007

Greco-Roman exchanges with India

Although the political power of the Greeks had waned in the north, mainly due to nomadic invasions, trade relations between the Mediterranean and India continued for several centuries. The trade started by Eudoxus of Cyzicus in 130 BCE kept on increasing, and according to Strabo (II.5.12), by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships were setting sail every year from Myos Hormos to India. So much gold was used for this trade, and apparently recycled by the Kushans for their own coinage, that Pliny (NH VI.101) complained about the drain of specie to India. In practice, this trade was still handled by Greek middlemen, as all the recorded names of ship captains for the period are Greek.

Also various exchanges are recorded between India and Rome during this period. In particular, embassies from India, as well as several missions from "Sramanas" to the Roman emperors are known (see Buddhism and the Roman world). Finally, Roman goods and works of art found their way to the Kushans, as archaeological finds in Begram have confirmed.

Artistic legacy

The "Kanishka casket", dated to the first year of Kanishka's reign in 127 CE, was signed by a Greek artist named "Agesilas", who oversaw work at Kanishka's stupas (caitya), confirming the direct involvement of Greeks with Buddhist realizations at such a late date. [Tarn, p.355] Failed verification|date=October 2007

Greek representations and artistic styles, with some possible admixtures from the Roman world, continued to maintain a strong identity down to the 3rd–4th century, as indicated by the archaeological remains of such sites as Hadda in eastern Afghanistan. [Boardman, p.141-144]

The Greco-Buddhist image of the Buddha was transmitted progressively through Central Asia and China until it reached Japan in the 6th century. ["Needless to say, the influence of Greek art on Japanese Buddhist art, via the Buddhist art of Gandhara and India, was already partly known in, for example, the comparison of the wavy drapery of the Buddha images, in what was, originally, a typical Greek style" (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p19)]

Numerous elements of Greek mythology and iconography, introduced in northwestern India by the Indo-Greeks through their coinage at the very least, were then adopted throughout Asia within a Buddhist context, especially along the Silk Road. The Japanese Buddhist deity Shukongoshin, one of the wrath-filled protector deities of Buddhist temples in Japan, is an interesting case of transmission of the image of the famous Greek god Herakles to the Far-East along the Silk Road. The image of Herakles was introduced in India with the coinage of Demetrius and several of his successors, used in Greco-Buddhist art to represent Vajrapani the protector of the Buddha, and was then used in Central Asia, China and Japan to depict the protector gods of Buddhist temples. ["The origin of the image of Vajrapani should be explained. This deity is the protector and guide of the Buddha Sakyamuni. His image was modelled after that of Hercules. (...) The Gandharan Vajrapani was transformed in Central Asia and China and afterwards transmitted to Japan, where it exerted stylistic influences on the wrestler-like statues of the Guardian Deities (Nio)." (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p23)]

Intellectual and religious legacy

The impact of the Indo-Greeks on Indian thought and religion is unknown, although many influences have been suggested. Scholars believe that Mahayana Buddhism as a distinct movement began around the 1st century BCE in the North-western Indian subcontinent, corresponding to the time and place of Indo-Greek florescence. Intense multi-cultural influences have indeed been suggested in the appearance of Mahayana: "Key formative influences on the early development of the Mahayana and Pure Land movements, which became so much part of East Asian civilization, are to be sought in Buddhism's earlier encounters along the Silk Road". [Foltz, "Religions on the Silk Road", p8.] As Mahayana Buddhism emerged, it received "influences from popular Hindu devotional cults (bhakti), Persian and Greco-Roman theologies which filtered into India from the northwest". [Tom Lowenstein, "The Vision of the Buddha, p63.] Many of the early Mahayana theories of reality and knowledge can be related to Greek philosophical schools of thought: Mahayana Buddhism has been described as "the form of Buddhism which (regardless of how Hinduized its later forms became) seems to have originated in the Greco-Buddhist communities of India, through a conflation of the Greek Democritean-Sophistic-Skeptical tradition with the rudimentary and unformalized empirical and skeptical elements already present in early Buddhism". [McEvilley, "The Shape of Ancient Thought", p503.] However, this view can hardly explain the origin of the bodhisattva ideal, already delineated in the Aagamas, which also already contained a well developed theory of selflessness (anaatman) and emptiness (shunyaata), none of these essential Mahayaana tenets being traceable to Greek roots.

Notes

References

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