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Greeks in Kashmir 

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The remains of the Harvan monastery

By: Syed Rooh Fatima

Archaeology is not so much allied with inventions rather it is more concerned about discovering historical evidences in different forms including artifacts, painting, ruins and even quantitative data, besides other aspects, so as to provide the background for making conjectures and their refutation. The debate among the Indian historians over certain disputed historical structure proves this point quite adequately. Archeology in history, thus, involves extracting the truth from the past carefully discovering and analyzing the historical data.

The fact that the existence of modern human lives in Kashmir dated back to around 18000 Years ago is fairly attested by the archeological evidence. The period witnessed excessive rains forcing people to move out and it was only after the climatic conditions improved around 5000 BC that Kashmir became habitable attracting the Neolithic people of the neighboring territories to settle here. It is therefore not surprising that the Neolithic culture began in Kashmir around 2920 BC as it presents a striking affinity with the Neolithic cultures of china, Russia, Iran, West Asia and Central Asia.

Around 1500 BC another wave of immigrations and settlements is substantiated by the presence of new culture alongside the old one. The new culture is said to be Megaliths, cist graves, iron, rubble structures and rice and millet cultivation. In 516 BC, Darius the Achaemenian ruler of Iran extended his empire up to India by annexing Sind, Gandhara.

As we have learnt from Greek sources that at the time of Iranian invasion, Kashmir was a part of Gandhara and Iranians have ruled over these territories upto Alexander‘s invasion of India in 326 BC. So, Achamenian rule continued in Kashmir for about 200 years paving the way for huge Iranian influence. It would be significant to mention that the  Achaemenians introduced writing in India and also their script Aramaic. The kharoshti scripts which became common in Kashmir was also carved out of Aramaic.

It is interesting to know that Kashmiri masses became familiar with money currency for the first time during this period which is evident from the Kashmiri word (Diyar) used for money. While Diyar is the Kashmirized version of Greek (Dinarus),during the Kushan period, Kashmir became the great Centre of Buddhism so much so that it attracted Kanishka to convene Fourth world Buddhist council in Kashmir in which, according to the famous traveler from china  Hieun Tsang, hundreds of Buddhist monks participated.

The architectural remains of Kashmir are perhaps the most remarkable of the existing monuments of India as they exhibit undoubted traces of the influence of Grecian art. Some narrative history has survived for most of the Hellenistic world, at least of the kings and the wars, this is lacking for India. the main Greco-Roman sources on the indo-Greeks is Justin, who wrote an anthology drawn from the Roman historian Pompeii’s Trogus , who inturn wrote from Greek sources at the time of Augustus Caesar. Whereas Justin tells the part of Trogus’ history, he finds it particularly interesting and connects them by short and simplified summaries of the rest of the material. In the process, he has left 85% to 90% of Trogus out and his summaries are held together by phrases like meanwhile “ (eodem tempore ) and “thereafter (deinde) which he uses very loosely where Justin covers periods for which there are other better sources. He has occasionally made provable mistakes as Develin, the recent annotator of Justin. Justin does find the customs and growth of the Parthians, which were covered in Trogus ‘ 41st book , quite interesting and discusses it at length ; in the process, he mentions four of the kings of Bactria and one indo-Greek king.

In addition to this the geographer Strabo mentions India a few times in the course of his long dispute with Eratosthenes about the shape of Eurasia. Most of these are purely geographical claims , but he does mention that Eratosthenes ‘ sources say that some of the Greek kings conquered further than Alexander the Great; Strabo does not believe them on this but modern historians do; nor does he believe that Menander and Demetrius son of Euthydemus conquered more tribes than Alexander the Great.

There are also Indian literary sources, ranging from the Milinda Panha , a dialogue between a Buddhist sage Nagasena and King Menander I (155-130 B.C) as one of the few Indo- Greek kings mentioned in both Greco-Roman and Indian sources. There is also significant archaeological evidences, including some epigraphic evidences, for the Indo-Greek kings, such as the mention of the ‘’Yavana” embassy of king Antialcidas on the Heliodorus pillar in Vidisha besides the main Archeological evidences in the Coins.


There is mention of two famous Greek kings, one is Demetrius and the other is Menander- Demetrius has been described as the king of the empire, which included southern parts of Kashmir while as Menander is recorded to have held a discussion with the Buddhist Monk at a place which was only 12 kms from Srinagar. Milndaphana records a discussion with Nagasena, the Buddhist saint, the place where the discussion was held can be identified as Harwan where the fourth Buddhist council was held. Greeks, as everyone knows headed an advanced civilization in the ancient world and had developed a high society and were grand masters of education and technology. They were contemporaries to Romans and competed with them in Art, culture. They also introduced currency in their respective domains and devised such coinages, which after the passage of thousands of years, do not fail to surprise the mint masters. Greeks introduced bi-metallic coinage in silver and copper and named their coins as Drachm and struck it on attic weight standard. It was based on attic currency weighing just under 17 grams as tetradrachm with its various fractions. It later came to be known as (Dirham) in personalized form. Greeks continued with their numismatic type in their Bactrian regions. Diodotus, the independent king of Bactria also adopted the Hellenistic types and were the first rulers who introduced inscribed coins on the soil of the sub-continent.

Their coins mostly depicts half portraits of their kings in bust shape, on obverse , and a series of Grecian deities on the reverse. Sooner, when their currency came in contact with Indian currency of (Panch Marka) it adopted various Indian features. Firstly they had accommodate the attics coinage to currency needs of India so they introduced a light weight standard keeping (Drachm), less than 3 grams which was only a few grains more than (PanchMarka) coins Prevalent in Indian regions

Secondly they introduced (Prakrit) language on the reverse face of the coin, beside the Greeks. which they have been displaying on the obverse face of their coins. Besides, their own religious icons they displayed few Indian deities and sacred animals and introduced Prakrit script and local deities to localize these coins so as to establish their own political and cultural links in the sub continent. Among the Greek kings, whose coins have been found in Kashmir are Philip II and Alexander. Bactrian Greek Diodotus and Euthydemus are represented by their two silver coins.

Numismatic traditions introduced and promoted by these Greek princes in the north western part of India and Pakistan had a very deep influence on the successive coinage of these regions. A systematic and advanced system of coinage was developed in the region and the Numismatic links spread over a vast empire which provided the basic for flourishing of trade and commerce. A Stage was reached when these regions developed trade relations with Roman Empire.

Coins inscriptions and motifs also helped people to understand the cultural and religious beliefs of one another. The imprints of Greek numismatic continued for long in the subcontinents and has had a more deep influence on Kashmir coinage, where it stayed till the Kushan period (4th century A.D).

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