Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom


a slave-owning state located mainly in Middle Asia. It originally embraced Bactria, Sogdiana, Margiana. and, possibly, parts of Shash and Fergana. It emerged about 250 B.C. as a result of the weakening of the Seleucid state and the breaking away of the latter’s Middle Asian domains.

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom was founded by the satrap (or eparch) of Bactria. Diodotus. Drawing support from the local Hellenized Bactrian-Tocharian aristocracy and taking advantage of the rise of the liberation movement of the Middle Asian peoples against the Greco-Macedonian empire. Diodotus proclaimed himself king. The territory of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom was considerably expanded as a result of the campaigns undertaken by Diodotus’ successors (especially Demetrius I), but, after its formation, the state proved to be internally weak. Around 175 B.C. the Greco-Bactrian kingdom broke apart into the Greco-Bactrian and the Greco-Indian kingdoms. Eukratides seized power in the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Under him the kingdom experienced the last stage of its rise. Around 155 B.C.. Eukratides was murdered by his son and coruler Helioklus. His domains in Middle Asia were limited to Bactria proper. The Greco-Bactrian kingdom came to an end during his reign (between 140 and 130 B.C.) as a result of the rise of a liberation movement of the Middle Asian peoples against the Greco-Bactrian rulers and the invasion of the Yüeh-chih nomads from the northeast. In place of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom arose the Kushan kingdom.

The comparatively short period of existence of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom has great significance in the history of the Middle Asian peoples: during this time, the further development of slave-owning relationships occurred, handicrafts grew, and cities developed. According to historical tradition, Bactria was called “the land of a thousand cities.” The most important cities were Bactra, also called Zariaspa (present-day Balkh or Wazirabad), Antiochia-Margiana (now Mary). Maracanda (now Samarkand), and Kapisa (Bagram or Begram). At this time, trade between the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and Iran, India, and China increased. In oases on irrigated lands, viticulture, horticulture, and cattle-raising developed. Archaeological relics of the era of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom have been discovered in northern Bactria at the Kobadian oasis (the site of the fortified settlement of Kei-Kobad-shakh), in Termez. and at other points. In southern Bactria. on the territory of present-day Afghanistan, strata dating from the time of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom have been brought to light in Bagram (R. Ghirshman) and Balkh (D. Schlumberger).

Greco-Bactrian figurative art was until recently known only through coins with portraits of kings and figures of Greek gods and with Greek inscriptions. These coins, which are masterpieces of Hellenistic medal art. are indicative of the blending of the Greek and native traditions which had begun in the center of Asia. This syncretism was manifested still more powerfully in the architecture of two cities of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom—Ay Khanum (in northeastern Afghanistan) and Saksan-Okhur (in the southern part of the Tadzhik SSR)—that were discovered through excavations in the 1960’s. The few samples of sculpture found until now were executed in the Greek traditions. The art of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom constituted one of the artistic schools of eastern Hellenism and played an important role in the further development of the art of Middle Asia. Its traditions are clearly observed in the monuments of the Kushan kingdom and extend into the early Middle Ages.


Istoriia Uzbekskoi SSR, vol. 1, book 1. Tashkent. 1955. Chapter 4.
D’iakonov. M. M. Slozhenie klassovogo obshchestva ν Severnoi Baktrii. In the collection Sovetskaia arkheologiia, vol. 19. Moscow, 1954.
Tarn, W. W. The Greeks in Bactria and India, 2nd ed. Cambridge, 1951.
Bernard. P. “Ay Khanum on the Oxus: A Hellenistic City in Central Asia.” In Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 53. London, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Explaining the shared histories and common heritages, Dr Tarar said the historical links between Central Asia and South Asia goes back to pre-historic time as the cultural influence of Greco-Bactrian kingdom originating from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in 200BC led to the splendour of Gandhara sculptures.
Nomads from the northern grasslands that stretch from the Black Sea to Mongolia invaded Bactria (northern Afghanistan) around 145 BCE, bringing an end to the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms that had flourished there.