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- "...much of [Bactria] produces everything except oil. The Greeks who caused Bactria to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Bactria and beyond, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander..." — Strabo
Perhaps more interesting than that of any other faction in Kings & Conquerors, the history of the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria might be seen as far more intriguing and exotic, being at the head of a small but significant empire distinguished by its cosmopolitanism and its location in the mysterious lands northwest of India. First created in the wake of Alexander's death in Babylon, the Graeco-Indian kingdom of Bactria was a subsidiary to the mighty Seleucid empire in the near east which managed to flourish and prosper following the drastic reduction of Seleucid hegemony in Asia which led to the Bactrian kingdom becoming the most long-lived of all of the Diadochid kingdoms until it was torn apart by civil strife and barbarians. Bactrian influence helped to preserve and disseminate Greek culture in Asia, and Bactrian kings were amongst the first European adherents of a new religion that had taken root in India: Buddhism.
The Ancestral LandsEdit
The land that that we call Afghanistan once answered to a different name, and also spoke a language which was totally different compared to our day. Despite being mostly arid and hostile, Bactria had and has several resources which made it a vital player in Western Classical history. The first was its being the crossroads between China, India and Iran. The second was Afghanistan's natural resources, which included not just precious metals, but semiprecious gems as well such as turquoise and lapis which were highly prized in the far west beyond the Zagros.
Prior to the arrival of the Macedonians, the land of Bactria was colonised by several Iranic-speaking tribes as early as 2000BCE. These tribes eventually came under the Median sphere of influence. When the Medes were supplanted by the Achaemenid Persians, the Bactrians were eventually assimilated into their imperium and received five satraps who ruled the land for the Achaemenids as viceroys, but generally the Achaemenids preferred to leave them semi-independent — an arrangment that would be used by successive conquerors such as the Macedonians, Arabs, Mughals and Safavids.
Hellenic oecus, Asiatic temenosEdit
Once Alexander had passed back to the west to die at Babylon, his empire was parcelled out by his strategoi. Of these, one of the most powerful and possibly the most successful was Seleucus (dubbed Nicator or "the victor") who seized the Middle Eastern components of the Alexandrine empire for himself. This also included outlying territories such as Asia Minor, as well as the former Persian lands including Bactria. Seleucus and his successors would retain the satrapy system inherited from their late Achaemenid foes, and a Macedonian nobleman, Diodotus, was appointed to rule Bactria on behalf of the "King of Kings" ruling from Mesopotamia.
Diodotus, however, was not content playing second fiddle, and took the opportunity to assert independence from the Seleucids during the reign of Seleucus Nicator's grandson Antiochus II. According to the late Roman historians Trogus and Justin, Antiochus II was embroiled in conflict with the Egyptian Ptolemaïkoi, while Bactria was enriched from trade and so Diodotus found it easy to promote himself and his son from being satraps to basiloi or kings in Bactria, but Diodotus II the younger was assassinated by his brother-in-law Euthydemus in 230BCE who then assumed rule of Bactria.
The Euthydemids — consisting of Euthydemus and his heir Demetrius I — did all they could to shore up Bactria's power. In the late 3rd century BCE, the biggest threat was the Seleucids. By professing his inimical stance towards the Diodotids and pledging his son Demetrius I to marry a Seleucid princess, Euthydemus ensured that his western border was made safe. His next target was the Maurya dynasts to the south. Embassies were exchanged between the Greeks and Indians, ensuring trade and diplomatic goodwill. However, when the Mauryas were overthrown by the Sungas in the early 2nd century BCE, the Bactrian Greeks took up arms and marched south, annexing a territory which is approximately contiguous with present-day northern Pakistan by the time of Antimachus I.
As mentioned before, Bactria's strategic location at the crossroads between Iran and Asia meant that it could engage in entrepot trade. Silks from China and spices from India headed their way to the Bactrian capital of Bactra (present-day Balkh) where they would then be disbursed westwards from where merchants bearing precious metals and Near Eastern glass would travel to push their wares eastwards into the Far East. It was this strategic location as well as the fertile valleys of the northern Hindhu Kush which allowed Bactria to become a regional power. This wealth would ensure Bactrian hegemony in southern Asia for a time as well as the development of Hellenistic culture and its spread in Asia.
However, the rule of the Euthydemids was not a one-way cultural street. One interesting import from the Indian world which reached Bactria was a religion named Buddhism. Founded by a Buddhist prince in the 6th century BCE, Buddhism soon spread under the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Further invasions by the Bactrian Greeks into India lead them into greater contact with Indian culture, allowing Buddhism to spread northwards into Bactria and beyond. The Indo-Greek kingdom established by Demetrius I on the southern borders of his Bactrian kingdom even embraced Buddhism as its official religion, even as it continued to play its part as the easternmost outpost of Greek cultural influence in the world.
The Cycle of the AgesEdit
Even so, further expansion and progress could not prevent one major enemy which the Greeks could never beat — themselves. As the Bactrian Greeks expanded their hegemony west and south, so too did the ambitions of their nobles. It initially began with Demetrius I's expedition to the south, which managed to secure a new territory in the south for the Bactrian kingdom by early 180BCE. Evidence is sketchy on what exactly happened next, but it is surmised that Demetrius I passed away shortly afterwards and was succeeded by a new king named Euthydemus II, whose rule was challenged by a nobleman name Eucratides, who then usurped the throne and managed to beat back Euthydemid invasions from the adopted southern home of Demetrius I and his heirs.
From the early 2nd century BCE, the whole of Bactria was ablaze in civil war, even as a new Greek kingdom in India was established in the south. It is thought that while the Indo-Greek kingdom (consisting of southern Affghanistan and modern Pakistan) would flourish for a century or more, Bactria itself slipped into decline. Embattled by the Parthians and Indo-Greeks to the west and south, it soon also suffered harassment from a group of nomadic invaders, the Yuezhi and the Saka, who had been evicted from their lands by the Han Chinese in the distant northeast before being annexed by the latter in the mid-2nd century BCE. The Indo-Greek kingdom established by the Euthydemids would continue to reign for a little more until it too was absorbed by the Sakas in the late 1st century BCE.
Even so, the Greeks were late in passing. Like the Graeco-Bactrians before them, the Saka embraced cosmopolitanism. Buddhism, the official religion of the Indo-Greek religion was adopted, and Greek-styled coins continued to be used for most of the Saka empire's six centuries of rule in India.
- The History Files; Middle East Kingdoms — Ancient Persia and the East