History Files

 

 

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Persia and the East

 

 

 

Bactria

A Bronze Age culture emerged in Central Asia in about 2200-1700 BC, at the same time as city states were beginning to flourish in Anatolia. It was known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation, peopled by Indo-European tribes who were also entering India at the same time, and they appear to first enter the historical record in around the sixth century BC, when they came up against the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

Bactria was located in the far north-east of ancient Persia. Known as Bhalika in Arabic and Indian languages, the territory which formed it lay between the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the south-east and the River Amu Darya in the north, and often formed part of the ancient region of Khorasan. Today its territory forms northern Afghanistan, western Tajikistan, southern Uzbekistan, and eastern Turkmenistan, and the name survives in the Afghan province of Balkh. In its time it became famous for its warriors and being the birth place of Zarathusta, the founder of Zoroastrianism.

Persian Satraps

Conquered in the late sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great, Bactria was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was either part of the Median empire, or was populated by tribal groups, but which is unknown. Under the Persians, the province became a satrapy.

520s - 510s BC

Dadarshish

Satrap.

? - 329 BC

Bessus

Satrap. Murderer of Achaemenid Darius III.

330 - 328 BC

Persia is conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. Persian king Darius III retreats into his eastern territories where he is murdered by Bessus, the satrap of Bactria. Bessus attempts to create a national focus of resistance, and it takes Alexander two more years to fully conquer the region.

Argead Dynasty

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-330 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and several wars, the region was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 305 BC.

330 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

329 - 328 BC

Artabazus

Phrygian. Resigned his position.

328 BC

Clitus / Cleitus the Black

Killed by Alexander the Great in a drunken quarrel.

328 BC

Following the resignation of Artabazus, Clitus is given the post of satrap of Bactria along with command of 16,000 Greeks who had formerly fought under the Persians as mercenaries. He sees this posting as a reduction of his influence and position with Alexander and, at a banquet in the satrap's palace at Maracanda (modern Samarkand), the two get into a drunken quarrel. Enduring gross insults from Clitus, in his rage Alexander runs him through with a spear. Almost immediately he deeply regrets the death of his former friend (the scene is well depicted in the feature film, Alexander (2004), although the location is transferred to India).

328 - 321 BC

Amyntas Nikolaos

Greek satrap of Khorasan / Bactria & Sogdiana.

328 - 321 BC

Scythaeus

Greek satrap of Khorasan / Bactria & Sogdiana.

323 - 321? BC

Philip / Philippus

Greek satrap of Khorasan / Bactria & Sogdiana.

321 - 312 BC

Stasanor the Solian

Greek satrap of Indo-Greek territory & Khorasan (316 BC).

312 - 306 BC

The Wars of the Diadochi decide how Alexander the Great's empire is carved up between his generals, but the period is very confused, especially in the east. Bactria is taken by the Seleucids in around 312 BC. In some sources, the assassination of Philippus is placed at 325 BC, during Chandragupta Maurya's conquest of northern India and his takeover of the Macedonian vassal states there.

Macedonian Bactria

Once safely under Seleucid control after the conclusion of the Greek Wars of the Diadochi, Bactria (or Bactriana) was governed by Macedonian satraps. The descendants of these became independent kings, after Bactria had been cut off from the Seleucids by Parthian incursion into central Persia. The kingdom consisted of the core provinces of Bactria and Sogdiana (to the north, reaching up to the southern shore of the Aral Sea, mostly within modern Turkmenistan). Located in one of the richest and most urbanised of regions, it quickly blossomed into a large eastern Greek empire, but continual internal discord and usurpations saw it continually fragmented and vulnerable to outside conquest. The eastern section was almost permanently separated from Bactria and came to be known as the Indo-Greek kingdom.

The chronology of the Indo-Bactrian rulers is based largely on numismatic evidence (coinage). There are few written accounts, and other records are relatively sparse, while frequent internecine conflicts makes the facts even harder to pin down, so dates are rarely reliable. Some possible kings are known only from a few coins, and the interpretation of these can sometimes be very uncertain.

(Where information conflicts regarding the Indo-Greek territories, Osmund Bopearachchi's Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonné (1991) has been followed. Additional information by David Kelleher.)

306 - 256 BC

Bactria is governed by Seleucid satraps as one of the easternmost sections of the empire. During a period in which the Arsacids (Parthians) rise to prominence in central Iran, Seleucid control is cut, and Diodotus I declares independence in around 256/255 BC.

305 BC

Following the failure of Seleucus Nicator to reconquer India, the regions of Paropamisadae (immediately east of Bactria proper, modern Kabul), Arachosia (modern southern Afghanistan and northern and central Pakistan, and perhaps extending as far as the Indus), Gandhara (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), and Punjab are handed to the Mauryan empire in India by the Seleucids as part of an alliance agreement. Arachosia's capital is Alexandria in Arachosia (the modern form of which is Kandahar).

256 - 248 BC

Diodotus I Soter

Satrap (governor-general). Declared the kingdom.

256 BC

Diodotus declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as the satrap of Parthia. He rules the former provinces of Bactria, Sogdiana (to the north of Bactria), Ferghana (modern eastern Uzbekistan), and Arachosia.

248 - 235 BC

Diodotus II

Son. Deposed by Euthydemus.

Antiochus Nikator

Possible brother mentioned on coins but otherwise unknown.

c.235/230 BC

Diodotus is overthrown by Euthydemus, possibly the satrap of Sogdiana. The date is uncertain and Strabo puts forward 223/221 BC as an alternative, placing it within a period of internal Seleucid discord.

235 - 200/195 BC

Euthydemus I Theos

Satrap of Sogdiana? Founder of the Euthydemid Dynasty.

c.220 BC

Euthydemus' realm is a large one, including Sogdiana, Ferghana, and Margiana and Ariana to the south or east. There are indications that from Alexandria Eschate the Greco-Bactrians may lead expeditions as far as Kashgar and Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan, establishing the first known contacts between China and the West in around 220 BC.

208 - 206 BC

Euthydemus repulses an effort at the re-conquest of Bactria by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III. Following defeat in battle, Euthydemus successfully resists a two year siege in the fortified city of Bactra before Antiochus finally decides to recognise his rule. He offers one of his daughters to Euthydemus' son, Demetrius.

c.200 - 195 BC

FeatureThe last years of Euthydemus' reign probably sees him and his son cross the Hindu Kush and begin the conquest of northern Afghanistan and the Indus valley. A great Indo-Greek empire rises far in the east.

200/195 - c.180 BC

Demetrius I

Son. In Bactria & Indo-Greek territories.

185 BC

The Mauryan empire falls apart. Demetrius annexes the western half of the empire, possibly as a show of support for the former allies, and possibly in part to protect Greek populations there. The territory gained includes Paropamisadae, all of Arachosia (southern Afghanistan), Gandhara (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), and modern Punjab and Kashmir. He advances as far as the Ganges and Pataliputra (modern Patna), although this advance is usually ascribed to the later king, Menander I.

c.180 BC

Placing Demetrius' death (of unknown causes) on this date is generally accepted but far from certain. It is used in an attempt to fit in his death with the subsequent appearance of many successors in several regions of the enlargened kingdom. At some point, Demetrius invades the Sunga kingdom of Magadha from the west as Kharavela of Kalinga is attacking from the south. Rather than press home his own attack, Kharavela turns on the Bactrian king and forces him to retreat. This event must be towards the very end of Demetrius' reign and at the beginning of Kharavela's for them to be ruling simultaneously.

Some of Demetrius' successors may be co-regents, but civil wars and territorial divisions are very likely. Pantaleon, Antimachus I, Agathocles, and possibly Euthydemus II are all theoretically linked as relatives to Demetrius. In Bactria, Euthydemus II rules, while in the Indo-Greek territories, Agathocles rules in Paropamisadae while Pantaleon rules in Arachosia.

190 - 185/180 BC

Euthydemus II

Son. Either ruled afterwards or as a sub-king to him.

180? - 165? BC

Antimachus I Theos

Son or brother. In Bactria & Indo-Greek territories.

170? BC

Antimachus is apparently defeated by the able newcomer and former general, Eucratides (an alternative is that his territory is absorbed by Eucratides upon his death). Eucratides is opposed by Demetrius II from the Indo-Greek territories. who apparently returns to Bactria with 60,000 men to oust the usurper, but he is defeated and killed in the encounter. Antimachus I also fights against Eucratides, but ultimately loses in around 160 BC and Eucratides seems to occupy territory as far as the Indus. The Euthydemids are pushed out of Bactria, retaining only the Indo-Greek territories.

171 - c.145 BC

Eucratides I / Eukratides I

Bactrian. In Paropamisadae, Arachosia, Gandhara & W Punjab.

c.155 BC

In the east, the Indo-Greek king, Menander, seems to repel the invasion by Eucratides, and pushes him back as far as Paropamisadae, thereby consolidating the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in northern India. After this, the Indo-Greek kingdom is permanently divided from Bactria.

c.150 - 145 BC

Plato

Brother? In Bactria or Paropamisadae.

c.145 - 140 BC

Eucratides II

Son of Eucratides I?

c.140 BC

Eucratides II is dethroned in a dynastic civil war which is sparked by the murder of Eucratides I.

c.140 - 130 BC

Heliocles I

Probably killed during the Kushan invasion.

c.140 - 130 BC

Following a long migration from the border of China, from the mid-second century BC, Scythians and then the Tocharians/Yuezhi, start to invade Bactria from the north. At around the time of the death of Indo-Greek king Menander in 130 BC, they overrun Bactria and end Greek rule. Heliocles may possibly invade the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom, as there are strong suggestions that the Eucratids continue to rule there, especially in Heliocles' presumed son, Lysias.

In Bactria, Hellenic cities appear to survive for some time, as does the well-organised agricultural system. The general area of Bactria comes to be called Tokharistan before one of their tribes unites all of them under one banner to create the Kushan empire. Areas of Bactria later form parts of Afghanistan.