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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Incorporating the Balhikas

A Bronze Age culture emerged in Central Asia around 2200-1700 BC, at the same time as city states were beginning to flourish in Anatolia (such as those of the Hatti). This was known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation. Indo-European tribes soon integrated into it from the north, but its influence was widespread while it lasted, reaching the settlement area of the former Hissar culture by about 2200 BC.

The northern tribal bodies of Indo-Iranians were largely held back by this civilisation until it began to fade from around 2000 BC. Within a few centuries the same people could be found well to the south of it and beginning the process of migrating into India. Those who remained behind appear to enter the historical record around the sixth century BC, when they came up against their cousins of the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

The ancient province of Bactria was located to the far north-east of Persia. Prior to its late sixth century BC domination by the Achaemenid Persians, Bactria seems to have formed part of a much larger and more poorly-defined region known as Ariana, of which the later province of Aria was the heartland. Barely recorded by written history, its precise boundaries are impossible to pin down. It may have encompassed much or all of Transoxiana - the region around the River Oxus (the Amu Darya) - and could have reached as far south as the coastline of the Arabian Sea.

Known as Bhalika in Arabic and Indian languages, the territory which formed Bactria lay between the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the south-east and the River Oxus in the north, and at times formed part of the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan, and the later Islamic region of Khorasan. Bactria was neighboured to the south by Paropamisadae, to the west by Aria and Margiana, and to the north by Sogdiana and Ferghana, with the Pamirs lying between it and the north-western edge of the Himalayas. Today its territory forms parts of 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 for being the birthplace of Zarathusta, the founder of Zoroastrianism.

The Balhikas are one of the border tribes in the ancient Indian texts, Atharveda (or Atharvavada) and the Mahabharata, along with the Gandhari, both outlying groups (as far as Indo-Aryan settlement is concerned) which were useful as retreats for the fever-stricken. The Balhikas are heavily linked to affairs in India itself, suggesting that Bactria's location in southern Central Asia was no obstacle to communication with India (and the reverse was certainly not the case, as evidenced by frequent migrations into north-western India).

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, from Alexander the Great and Hernán Cortés: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons, from Central Asia: A Historical Overview, Edward A Allworth (Duke University Press, 1994), from The Paths of History, I M Diakonoff (Cambridge University Press, 1999), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Iranians & Turanians in the Avesta.)

c.2200 - 2000 BC

An indigenous Bronze Age culture emerges in Central Asia between modern Turkmenistan and down towards the Oxus, the somewhat nebulous region known as Transoxiana. It is known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation (centred on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana). Indo-European tribes from the north of Central Asia soon integrate themselves into it.

The Karakum burial with a valuable horse sacrifice added
This king's tomb in the Indo-European settlement in the Karakum (modern Turkmenistan) contains a valuable horse to accompany him into the afterlife

2000 - 1700 BC

Climate change from around 2000 BC onwards greatly affects this civilisation, denuding it of water as the rains decline. The people are forced to migrate away, abandoning many of their cities. Indo-Iranian groups become dominant here, and over time some of their descendants enter Iran to found states such as that of the Mannaeans, the Medians, and early Persia.

Some go even farther and even earlier to form the Mitanni empire (possibly Indo-Aryans who divert away from the general Indo-Aryan migration into India). Others cross the rivers of modern Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains and enter India between 1700-1500 BC. They eventually form their own kingdoms there such as Magadha, plus Kalinga, and the Kaurava state.

7th century BC

The semi-mythical Indo-Iranian kings of Turan are brothers, or cousins, of the far better historically-attested Parsua. The two appear to have divided at some point in the fairly recent past to form two powerbases in what is now Iran and Afghanistan. Battle between them in the seventh century BC results in heavy casualties, mainly for the Turanians.

Map of Central Asia & India c.700 BC
Following the climate-change-induced collapse of indigenous civilisations and cultures in Iran and Central Asia between about 2200-1700 BC, Indo-Iranian groups gradually migrated southwards to form two regions - Tūr (yellow) and Ariana (white), with westward migrants forming the early Parsua kingdom (lime green), and Indo-Aryans entering India (green) (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea).

Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse.

The inference is very clear - whatever control of Turan (principally Bactria and Margiana) the Persians had enjoyed following the death of Afrasiab, it has not lasted, or had been somewhat tenuous to begin with, and those lands now have to be conquered properly. They subsequently form part of the Persian empire for the next two hundred years.

Iran's Makran Coast
Modern Iran's Makran Coast formed the southern edge of the ancient province of Gedrosia, on what is now the border with south-western Pakistan

Persian Satraps of Bakhtrish (Bactria)
Incorporating the Satraps of the Barcanians

Conquered in the mid-sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great, the region of Bactria was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was populated by Indo-Iranian tribal groups, and especially by the region's largest Indo-Iranian tribe, known as the Balhikas. Under the Persians it was formed into an official great satrapy or province which, according to the Behistun inscription of Darius the Great, was called Bakhtrish (Bāxtriš - Bactria is a Greek mangling of the name). Its capital was Bactra, seemingly using the same name as the tribe itself, although more likely it was a variation. An alternative name for it was Zariaspa, on the site of modern Balkh.

These eastern regions of the new-found empire were ancestral homelands for the Persians. They formed the Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated west in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been no language barriers for Cyrus' forces and few cultural differences.

Although details of his conquests are relatively poor, he seemingly experienced few problems in uniting the various tribes under his governance. He was the first to exert any form of imperial control here, although his campaign may have been driven partially by a desire to recreate the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan in the land of Tūr, but now under Persian control. Curiously the Persians had little knowledge of what lay to the north of their eastern empire, with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast had been.

The appointed satraps were usually Achaemenid princes or members of the highest social elite, with Bessus being the best-known example. Information about the satrapy's administration comes predominantly from the time of Alexander's campaign. The minor satrapy of Mergu was also under the oversight of the satrap of Bakhtrish, as apparently was much of the Central Asian region, as proven by the Behistun inscription.

The southern border with the province of Gadara was formed by the Hindu Kush, which today still marks the frontier of numerous Afghan provinces. To the north the River Oxus (Amu Darya) marked the frontier with Suguda (Sogdiana), but the borders can only roughly be estimated where they met Haraiva to the south-west, Mergu to the west, and the minor satrapy of the Dyrbaeans to the east.

The Barcanians were Greek members of the former colonial city of Barce in Cyrenaica. The Greeks were always troublesome for the Persians to govern, and around 515 BC they didn't even directly - officially - govern the Greek cities of the Pentapolis on the eastern Libyan coast. The rulers of Cyrene and Barce were killed at this time and the satrap of Mudrāya (Egypt), only recently conquered by Persia, demanded that the assassins be handed over. When he was refused, Barce was besieged, the assassins captured and executed, and a large portion of the city's population was shipped over to form a new city of Barce within the boundaries of Bakhtrish. It's no wonder that Bactria became so heavily influenced by Greek culture - even before Alexander's conquests.

Persians & Medes

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from From Democrats to Kings: The Brutal Dawn of a New World from the Downfall of Athens to the Rise of Alexander the Great, Michael Scott, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

c.546 - 540 BC

During his campaigns in the east, Cyrus the Great initially takes the northern route from Persis towards Bakhtrish and Suguda to reassure or subdue the provinces. This route probably involves the 'militaris via' by Rhagai to Parthawa.

At some point Cyrus builds a line of seven forts to defend his frontier in Suguda against the tribal Massagetae to the north, the strongest of these being Kyra or Kyreskhata (Cyropolis - the Greek form of its name). Then he takes the more difficult southern route, destroying Capisa along the way (possibly Kapisa on the Koh Daman plain to the north of Kabul - which is possibly also the Kapishakanish named at Behistun as a fortress in Harahuwatish).

Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great freed the Indo-Iranian Parsua people from Median domination to establish a nation which is recognisable to this day, and an empire which provided the basis for the vast territories which were later ruled by Alexander the Great

On a fresh leg of the campaign, Cyrus enters the Dasht-i-Lut desert (the modern Dasht-e Loot) on the eastern route out of Karmana towards Harahuwatish. His army faces crippling loses but for the assistance provided by the Ariaspae on the River Helmand. They are named 'the Benefactors' (Greek 'Euergetai') by Cyrus in thanks. This route appears to have been poorly reconnoitred, hinting at a lack of Persian knowledge of this region (and therefore a lack of preceding Median occupation if the existence of its eastern empire is to be believed).

520s - 510s BC

Dadarshish / Dādaršiš / Dâdarši

Satrap. Quelled rebellion in Mergu.

522/521 BC

Upon the execution of the Persian usurper, Smerdis, the Cyaxarid, Fravartiš, tries to restore Median independence. He is defeated by Persian generals and is executed. The same happens in Armina, Parthawa, and Verkâna whose inhabitants, as Darius the Great reports, had also joined Fravartiš. The quashing of the insurrections from Armina to Parthawa is chronologically coordinated in Persian records and occurs between May and June 521 BC.

Another major rebellion takes place in Mergu (referred to as Margush in this instance) towards the end of 522 or 521 BC (scholars disagree over the year, although it is agreed that the rebellion is put down in December). Darius sends against him Dadarshish, satrap of Bakhtrish, and the rebellion is duly crushed.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history and was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times - but during this period it flowed right through the heart of the region which was known as Bactria

516 - 515 BC

Achaemenid ruler Darius embarks on a military campaign into the lands east of the empire. He marches through Haraiva and Bakhtrish, and then to Gandhara and Taxila. By 515 BC he is conquering lands around the Indus Valley to incorporate into the new satrapy of Hindush before returning via Harahuwatish and Zranka. Along the way the Sakas are largely defeated and conquered, but probably only along the borders.

c.515 BC

Both Arcesilaus of Cyrenaica and Alazeir, ruler of the sister city of Barce, are murdered in that city. Help is requested of Satrap Aryandes of Mudrāya (Egypt) who provides her with an army and strengthens his own hold over the Pentapolis.

Barce is besieged and captured, the implicated murders of Arcesilaus are put to death, and a large proportion of the population is carried off into Persian slavery in a new settlement of Barce which is located in distant Bakhtrish.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargardae
The final resting place for Cyrus the Great, creator of the Achaemenid empire, was in this stone tomb at his imperial capital of Pasargardae (modern Fārs Province)

c.515 BC


Son of Spitamenes. Satrap of the Barcanians.

The unreliable Ctesias has Cyrus the Great in 530 BC appointing Cambyses as his successor. He also makes two appointments to satrapies, placing Spitaces in command over the Dyrbaeans and his brother Megabernes over the Barcanians. Since the Barcanians are not moved into the region until around fifteen years later, this appointment has to be a later one, or to a different location. It may not be coincidental that the same Megabernes can be found as satrap of Verkâna in or around this time.

fl 500 BC


Brother of Darius I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

fl 480 BC


Brother of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

? - 464 BC


Son of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?). Killed?

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian kills Xerxes in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the empire, ostensibly as a regent for Xerxes' three sons. Artabanus has the murder pinned on the eldest of these, Darius, and has him killed by the youngest son, Artaxerxes.

Xerxes the Great and Esther
Xerxes is pictured with Esther, daughter of Mordecai, who marries him to foil a plot by the chief adviser, Haman, to organise a pogrom against the Jews (Xerxes in this Old Testament story is known as Ahasuerus)

Artaxerxes accedes to the throne before Artabanus attempts to murder him too. In the end, it is Artabanus who dies, but Artaxerxes is forced to defeat the second of Xerxes' sons, Hystaspes, satrap of Bakhtrish and his own brother. This brief civil war is ended when Artaxerxes defeats the forces of Hystaspes in battle during a sandstorm.

360s/350s BC

Artaxerxes II is occupied fighting the 'revolt of the satraps' in the western part of the empire. Nothing is known of events in the eastern half of the Persian empire at this time, but no word of unrest is mentioned by Greek writers, however briefly. Given the newsworthiness for Greeks of any rebellion against the Persian king, this should be enough to show that the east remains solidly behind the king. It seems that all of the empire's troubles hinge on the Greeks during this period.

? - 329 BC

Bessus / Artaxerxes V

Satrap of Bakhtrish & Suguda. Murdered Achaemenid Darius III.

330 - 328 BC

In 330 BC Suguda becomes part of the Greek empire despite the efforts of Bessus, self-styled 'king of Asia', to retain at least some of the Persian territories. His claim is legal, since Bakhtrish is traditionally commanded by the next-in-line to the throne and he has already murdered the former holder, Darius, but Persia has already been lost and his loose collection of eastern allies - which includes the other two most senior officials, Barsaentes of Harahuwatish and Satibarzanes of Haraiva - provides nothing more than a sideshow to the main event - the fall of Achaemenid Persia. Still, it takes Alexander the Great two more years to fully conquer the region.

Hindu Kush mountains
In his Hannibal Barca moment of brilliant tactical manoeuvre, Alexander the Great confounded expectations by entering Bakhtrish (Bactria) from the southern side of the Hindu Kush mountain range

In Bakhtrish, Bessus returns to his capital to organise the resistance by the eastern satrapies. Alexander enters Bakhtrish in 329 BC via the Hindu Kush, which has been left undefended. After burning the crops, Bessus flees east, crossing the River Oxus.

By now his own mounted levies are deserting en masse, and he is seized by several of his chieftains and handed over to the Macedonians. At Hamadan, the traditional Persian punishment for rebels and regicides is carried out on him, with his nose and earlobes being removed. After this he is executed, possibly by crucifixion, decapitation, or by being torn apart by two recoiling trees (sources differ). From here, Alexander proceeds into Suguda.

Argead Dynasty in Bactria

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 331-328 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 during the course of several wars, Bactria was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 305 BC.

Bactria's appointed satraps during the Achaemenid period were usually royal princes or members of the highest social elite. Information about the satrapy's administration comes predominantly from the time of Alexander's campaign. The minor satrapy of Margiana was also under the oversight of the satrap of Bakhtrish, as apparently was much of the Central Asian region, as proven by the Behistun inscription.

The southern border with the province of Gandhara was formed by the Hindu Kush, which today still marks the frontier of numerous Afghan provinces. To the north the River Oxus (Amu Darya) marked the frontier with Sogdiana, but the borders can only roughly be estimated where they met Aria to the south-west, Margiana to the west, and a region to the east which had, in the earliest phase of Achaemenid occupation, formed the minor satrapy of the Dyrbaeans.

Alexander the Great

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia, Frank Lee Holt, from The Generalship of Alexander the Great, J F C Fuller, from the Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Warfare, J Woronoff & I Spence, from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (London, 1873), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Links: The Geography of Strabo (Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1932), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

328 - 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

Persian resistance in the east to Alexander the Great's invasion is primarily centred in Bactria. Alexander enters the province in 329 BC via the Hindu Kush, which has been left undefended. After burning the crops its final Persian satrap, Bessus, flees east, crossing the River Oxus where he is seized by several of his chieftains and handed over to the Macedonians. Bactria has been taken and Sogdiana is next. Artabazus is created satrap of Bactria.

Map of Central Asia & Eastern Mediterranean 334-323 BC
The route of Alexander's ongoing campaigns are shown in this map, with them leading him from Europe to Egypt, into Persia, and across the vastness of eastern Iran as far as the Pamir mountain range (click or tap on map to view full sized)

329 - 328 BC


Phrygian satrap of Bactria. Resigned his position.

328 BC

Clitus / Cleitus 'the Black'

Satrap. Killed by Alexander the Great in a drunken quarrel.

328 BC

Following the resignation of Artabazus, Clitus ('the Black', to distinguish him from 'the White', later satrap of Lydia) 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 (the capital of the satrapy of Sogdiana, 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).

Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Mountains in the east of modern Tajikistan became a border region for the post-Greek regions of Sogdiana, and have produced some interesting archaeological finds over the years

328 - 323? BC

Amyntas Nikolaos

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

328 - 323? BC


Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

323 BC

Following the death of Alexander the Great, some changes come to Chorasmia, Sogdiana, and Bactria. The end of the term of office for Amyntas Nikolaos and his subordinate, Scythaeus, is often given as 325 BC, and sometimes as 321 BC. However, Philip is certainly in place by 323 BC, so this date is used here.

323 - 321 BC

Philip / Philippus

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana, then Parthia.

321 BC

With Philip being reassigned to Parthia, his replacement in the east is Stasanor the Solian, former satrap of Aria and Drangiana. This new satrap is the brother to Stasander, his replacement in Aria and Drangiana. Perhaps he also has more of a focus towards the Northern Indus territories than the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, as later suggested by events.

His territory initially extends as far north and west as Chorasmia and Ferghana, which contains the city of Alexandria Eschate ('the Furthest', possibly modern Khojend but see the Ferghana introduction for more details), while Stasander also has ambitions. If he holds Chorasmia then he probably also holds (or takes) neighbouring Margiana.

River Indus
The various territories which made up the satrapy of the Northern Indus (Punjab) which was centred over the mighty River Indus, alongside those of Gandhara, would go on to form the heartland of Indo-Greek control of the east in the remaining centuries BC

321 - 312 BC

Stasanor the Solian

Greek satrap of Chorasmia to Sogdiana, & Nth Punjab (316 BC).

320s BC

In the 320s BC, the Greeks under Alexander, like the Persians before them, place the Amyrgian Sakas beyond Sogdiana, across the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Iaxartes, Jaxartes, or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia).

This is thanks to their having encountered them after crossing Sogdiana and the Syr Darya in the approximate region of Alexandria Eschate. It is generally accepted that they control all of Ferghana (immediately to the east of Sogdiana) and the Alai Valley. Indeed, they may have been relocated onto the plain following their conquest by the Persians.

316 - 315 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. These provinces appear to be invaded and controlled by the Antigonids for a period, with General Antigonus being responsible for the death of Eudamus, satrap of the Northern Indus.

The Mauryan capital of Patna
While the Macedonian generals squabbled over the division of Alexander the Great's empire, Chandragupta was gradually taking their easternmost territories away from them (his capital of Pataliputra - modern Patna - is shown here in computer-generated form as it would have appeared from the air in the fourth century BC

However, at some point in 316 BC, Stasanor the Solian, satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana (with Ferghana) seizes the Northern Indus while his brother seizes Parthia. Clearly the two are either working in unison with Seleucus of Babylonia from the beginning or are attempting to stamp their own independent authority on much of the east. Unfortunately, Stasander is removed from office in 315 BC.

315? - 305? BC


Greek satrap of Bactria or vassal of Stanasor?

315 - 305 BC

Proof of the growing independence of the Greek commanders in the east of the empire is provided by numismatic (coin) evidence. Several local issues of gold, silver, and bronze are struck in the names of independent satraps, including Sophytes and Vakshuvar (possibly Oxyartes of Paropamisus or his successor) between 315-305 BC.

It is impossible on the basis of the available evidence to say whether this Sophytes has replaced Stanasor as satrap of Bactria or whether he governs a neighbouring region as Stanasor's equal or vassal.

Perhaps most likely is the possibility that he becomes satrap, or assistant satrap, of Bactria when Stasanor focuses his attention on the Northern Punjab from 316 BC. The coinage of Sophytes is greatly attributed to a Bactrian mint on the basis of its distribution and evolution from earlier Greek coinage types, supporting that possibility.

Battle of Ipsus
The Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC ended the drawn-out and destructive Wars of the Diadochi which decided how Alexander's empire would be divided

312 - 306 BC

Bactria is taken by the Seleucids around 312 BC, and it is possibly this event which serves to end the reign of Stasanor. Some areas seem to have been lost to regional warlords, such as parts of Drangiana, but by far the larger part remains under the control of the Greek satrap of Bactria. Sophytes presumably remains satrap of Bactria, so could he possibly also govern Sogdiana too? Furthermore, given the tradition of Sogdiana's satrap also governing Chorasmia, that too could remain under the control of a single satrap.

305 BC

Following the failure of Seleucus Nicator to reconquer Mauryan 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), Northern Indus, and Southern Indus are handed to the Mauryan empire in India by the Seleucids as part of an alliance agreement.

306 - 301 BC

During the Fourth War of the Diadochi, the diadochi generals proclaim themselves king of their respective domains following a similar proclamation by Antigonus the year before (306 BC).

Ancient Gandhara is slowly being explored by archaeologists who constantly unearth relics from several millennia of habitation, possibly including signs of early Indo-Aryan domination here

Following the death of Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, his territories within the Antigonid empire are carved up by the other diadochi. Polyperchon, otherwise quiet in his stronghold in the Peloponnese, dies in 303 BC and Cassander of Macedonia claims his territory. All of the eastern territories, including Bactria, go into forming the empire of the Seleucids.

Macedonian Bactria (Greco-Bactrian Kingdom)

The unexpected death of Alexander in 323 BC changed the situation dramatically within his vast Greek empire. Immediately his generals divided the empire between them. Seleucus was able to expand his holdings with some ruthlessness, building up his stock of Alexander's far eastern regions as far as the borders of India and the River Indus (Sindh). Appian's work, The Syrian Wars, provides a detailed list of these regions, which included Arabia, Arachosia, Aria, Armenia, Bactria, 'Seleucid' Cappadocia (as it was known) by 301 BC, Carmania, Cilicia (eventually), Drangiana, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Media, Mesopotamia, Paropamisadae, Parthia, Persis, Sogdiana, and Tapouria (a small satrapy beyond Hyrcania), plus eastern areas of Phrygia.

Following the conclusion of the Wars of the Diadochi between the generals, Bactria (or Bactriana) was governed by Macedonian satraps. The descendants of these satraps became independent kings after Bactria had been cut off from the Seleucid heartland in Syria 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). The latter of these two provinces also included Ferghana and the city of Alexandria Eschate.

Located in one of the richest and most urbanised of regions, Macedonian Bactria quickly blossomed into a large, eastern Greek empire, but continual internal discord and usurpations saw it progressively fragmented and vulnerable to outside conquest. The easternmost section was soon almost permanently separated from Bactria and came to be known as the Indo-Greek kingdom. Ironically this outlived its parent state following an invasion of barbarians from the north.

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 make 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. The Chinese explorer, Zhang Qian, recorded Bactria as Daxia to further complicate matters.

Second century BC Greeks in internecine strife

(Information by David Kelleher and Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Impact of Seleucid Decline on the Eastern Iranian Plateau, Jeffrey D Lerner (1999), and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Encyclopædia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Silk Road Seattle (Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington), and Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, Marcus Junianus Justinus (Rev John Selby Watson, Trans, 1895), via Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Turkic History. Where information conflicts regarding the Indo-Greek territories, Osmund Bopearachchi's Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonné (1991) has been followed.)

301 - 256 BC

Following the conclusion of the Fourth War of the Diadochi in 301 BC, something approaching peace has broken out across the lands of the now-divided Greek empire. Seleucus is now king of all Hellenic territory from Syria eastwards.

For the next half a century Bactria is governed by his Seleucid satraps as one of the easternmost sections of the empire. 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), Northern Indus, and Southern Indus remain in the hands of the Mauryan empire in India.

Ancient Bactra/Balkh city walls
The landscape around the walls of the ancient city of Bactra, capital of Bactria (shown here - now known as Balkh in northern Afghanistan, close to the border along the Amu Darya), was and still is very diverse, offering both challenges and rewards to any settlers there, including the newly arrived Greeks

c.294 - 293 BC


Seleucid satrap (governor-general) of Bactria & Sogdiana.

A former general under Seleucid rulers Seleucus I Nicator and Antiochus I Soter, Demodamas later serves twice as satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana. During this time he undertakes military expeditions across the Syr Darya (otherwise known as the River Tanais) to explore the lands of the Sakas, repopulating Alexandria Eschate ('the furthest', probably modern Khojend) in Ferghana in the process following its earlier destruction by barbarians.

His journeys of exploration take him farther than any other Greek, barring perhaps Alexander himself, and his records of what he finds provide an important platform for later Roman writers.

c.293 - 281 BC


One or more unknown Seleucid satraps.

283 - 281 BC

During his time campaigning and exploring the lesser-known lands to the north of Bactria, Demodamas directs his attentions towards nomads who are inhabiting the lands to the north of Sogdiana. These would be Sakas, often unruly and hard to govern effectively while they occupy the sweeping steppe to the north of the Syr Darya.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' but, in this case, more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia

Whether Demodamas has to direct any efforts towards securing Sogdiana itself remains unclear. It seems to fall off the historical record after this point, at least as far as the Greeks are concerned, suggesting that it is largely lost or abandoned while the Greeks focus on far more lucrative and promising expansion to the south.

c.281 - 280 BC


Seleucid satrap for the second time.

c.280 - 256 BC


Unknown Seleucid satrap(s).

256 - 248 BC

Diodotus I Soter

Satrap. Declared the kingdom.

256 BC

Diodotus declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as the satrap of Parthia. It may even be the actions of Andragoras of Parthia which force the hand of Diodotus I Soter, since there is little immediate chance of Seleucid retaliation.

However, although the written evidence is confused and somewhat contradictory, it is more likely to happen the other way around. Bactria declares independence and Parthia follows. Diodotus now rules the former provinces of Bactria, Sogdiana (to the north of Bactria), Ferghana (modern eastern Uzbekistan), and Arachosia (modern Kandahar). It is Strabo who confirms that Sogdiana at this time remains a Greco-Bactrian possession.

Seleucid war elephants
Seleucid war elephants were first introduced into the empire thanks to an exchange of gifts with the Mauryan emperor in India, these being the larger Indian elephants rather than the slightly smaller, now-extinct North African forest elephant used by Egyptians and Carthaginians

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

Former satrap in Sogdiana? Founder of the Euthydemids.

c.220 BC

Euthydemus' realm is a large one, perhaps still including Sogdiana and Ferghana to the north, and Margiana and Aria to the west. There are indications that from Alexandria Eschate in Ferghana the Greco-Bactrians may lead expeditions as far as Kashgar (a little under three hundred and twenty kilometres due east of Ferghana), and Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan. There they would be able to establish the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BC.

Even more remarkably, recent examinations of the terracotta army have established a startling new concept - the terracotta army may be the product of western art forms and technology. An entire terracotta army plus imperial court are manufactured using five workshops and a form of human representation in sculpture which has never before been seen in China.

Archaeologists today continue the process of discovering new pits and even a fan of roads leading out from the emperor's burial mound, one of which, heading west, may be a sort of proto-Silk Road along which Greek craftsmen may be travelling.

The Qin Dynasty terracotta army
Emperor Qin Shihuang created the 'Terracotta Army' to accompany him on his trip onto the afterlife and, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, archaeologists suspect that an unexcavated tomb could contain a replica of the entire city of Xi'an, which the warriors also guard

208 - 206 BC

Euthydemus repulses an effort at the re-conquest of Bactria by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III. Following defeat at the Battle of the Arius, Euthydemus successfully resists a two year siege in the fortified city of Bactra before Antiochus finally decides to recognise his rule in 206 BC.

He offers one of his daughters in marriage to Euthydemus' son, Demetrius, but it may also be at this time that Euthydemus refers to great hordes of nomads accumulating on the northern borders, possibly meaning that Sogdiana has been removed from his control, and posing a threat to both their domains - Bactria and the Seleucid empire.

Antiochus subsequently marches across the Hindu Kush into the Kabul Valley and renews ties of friendship with an Indian king by the name of Sophagasenos. This king is otherwise completely unknown and cannot be matched with any more certain Indian rulers. Instead, given the location it seems that he may be a local ruler, perhaps in post-Mauryan Paropamisadae before it is seized by the Indo-Greek kingdom.

c.200 - 195 BC

FeatureThe last years of Euthydemus' reign probably sees he and his son cross the Hindu Kush and begin the conquest of what is now northern Afghanistan and the Indus valley. A great Indo-Greek empire rises far in the east (see feature link).

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes which would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), all of Arachosia (southern Afghanistan), and modern Punjab and Kashmir, areas which could be included in the former satrapy of Northern Indus. 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.

Sunga terracotta plaque
This late-period Sunga terracotta plaque from the first century BC depicts the goddess Durga and her attendants

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 is defeated 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.

A silver tetradrachm of Eucratides I of Bactria
The successor to Antimachus I of Bactria (circa 180-165 BC) was Eucratides I, with this silver tetradrachm being minted in his image at some point during the twenty-six years or so of his reign

171 - c.145 BC

Eucratides I / Eukratides I

Bactrian. In Paropamisadae, Arachosia, & W Indus.

167 BC

Under Mithradates the Parthians rise from obscurity to become a major regional power, although a precise chronology is not possible. Their first expansion takes the former province of Aria (now northern Afghanistan) from the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

It seems possible that Aria (and possibly a rebellious Drangiana too) had already been conquered once by the Arsacids, with the Greco-Bactrians recapturing it, probably during the reign of Euthydemus I Theos. During the reign of Eucratides the Greco-Bactrians are also engaged in warfare against the people of Sogdiana, showing that they have lost control of that northern region too (and by inference Ferghana).

The last statement raises the question of who in Sogdiana is standing against Eucratides. There exist a few coins which are minted under the command of one Hyrcodes, an otherwise unknown individual. Despite much speculation about whether he is based in Bactria or in Sogdiana and whether he commands in the second or first century BC, it seems most likely that he is an Indo-Greek opponent of Eucratides.

The Iron Gates of the Baba-tag Mountains in Sogdiana
The Iron Gates (shown here), are part of a narrow but popular linking route between Sogdiana and Bactria in the Baba-tag Mountains (close to modern Derbent) (click or tap on image to view full sized)

However, if true, and if placing him around this date is correct, then he is unlikely to survive the imminent Saka and Greater Yuezhi invasions of Sogdiana.

The other eastern provinces, all of which still appear to be in Seleucid hands, must also fall to the Parthians very quickly after this - including Carmania, Gedrosia, and Margiana - although firm evidence to show a specific date appears to be lacking.

Another date which may be valid for these losses is 185 BC, when Seleucus IV loses eastern Iran to Parthian expansion, but the fact that the Parthians fail to expand out of their initial conquests until Mithradates accedes makes this period a more likely one.

c.165 BC

Defeated by the Xiongnu, the Greater Yuezhi are forced to evacuate their lands on the borders of the Chinese kingdom. They begin a migration westwards which triggers a slow domino effect of barbarian movement. However, Bactria seems to be at least a decade away from being affected by this, and the Greek kings continue to focus more on their battles against established rivals.

Map of the Yuezhi lands and exodus route
The Greater Yuezhi were defeated and forced out of the Gansu region by the Xiongnu, and their migratory route into Central Asia is pretty easy to deduct from the fact that they chose to try and settle in the Ili river valley below Lake Balkhash (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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


Brother? In Bactria or Paropamisadae.

c.145 BC

Under pressure in their established homeland thanks to the migration of the Greater Yuezhi, the Sakas enter the territory of Bactria around this time. They burn to the ground the city of Alexandria on the Oxus, an event which seemingly coincides with the death of Eucratides I himself. Generally presumed to be the modern ruins known as Ay Khanum (or Ai Khanum, literally 'Lady Moon' in Uzbek), the city is possibly also known as Eucratidia during its last days - almost certainly thanks to Eucratides I. The city goes into unrecoverable decline and today is entirely uninhabited.

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. His successor, Heliocles I, is forced to face the reality of the kingdom's situation, with ever-increasing pressure by Sakas and Greater Yuezhi on its shrinking northern border. He moves the capital to the Kabul Valley, but it is only a temporary stop-gap.

Zhang Qian, ambassador and explorer
Zhang Qian was a Chinese ambassador and explorer who, between 138-126 BC, met and documented many of the steppe tribes, and referred to Bactria as Daxia

c.140 - 130 BC

Heliocles I

Probably killed during the Greater Yuezhi invasion.

c.140 - 130 BC

Sakas have long been pressing against Bactria's borders. Now, following a long migration from the borders of the Chinese kingdoms, the Greater Yuezhi start to invade Bactria from Sogdiana to the north. Initially, Saka elements who are already in Bactria become vassals to the Greater Yuezhi.

Suvars (or Subars), a horse husbandry tribe known from the environs of Sumerian Mesopotamia (if in fact they are the same group - doubtful given the time span involved), now gain renewed prominence when they join the 'Tokhars' and Ases in the nomadic conquest of Sogdiana and Bactria about this time.

The Ases have been equated with the Ases of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the sixth century. They may be the same group, although this is debatable. A case can be made, however, by this nomadic group returning northwards to be swept up in early Turkic migrations towards the Caspian Sea - the Suvars seem to follow the very same course.

At around the time of the death of Indo-Greek King Menander in 130 BC, the Greater Yuezhi overrun Bactria and end Greek rule. Heliocles may possibly invade the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom (part of the process of moving his capital to the Kabul Valley?), as there are strong suggestions that the Eucratids continue to rule there, especially in the form of Heliocles' presumed son, Lysias.

Menander coin
This photo depicts the single obverse side of a coin which was issued by the Indo-Greek King Menander, known in India as the great King Milinda

In Bactria, Hellenic cities appear to survive for some time, as does the well-organised agricultural system. On the northern bank of the River Oxus the fortress religious centre of Takht-i Sangin (now in southern Tajikistan) survives and flourishes until the late Kushan period.

The general region which once had formed Bactria comes to be called Tokharistan instead, before one of the Greater Yuezhi tribes unites all of the tribes under one banner to create the Kushan empire. Areas of Bactria later form parts of Afghanistan and most of eastern Turkmenistan.

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