Mauryans & Graeco-Bactrians
(c. 305 B.C. – 48 B.C.)
Three years after Alexander left India he died in Babylon (343) a.c.) and, while his Companions fought over the division of his conquests, independent local dynasties in the east rose and pros-pered.
Seleucus, inheritor of Alexander’s eastern conquests, came to establish his authority in Bactria (305 B.C.), but south of the Hindu Kush he lost the Kabul-Kandahar area to the Indian Mauryan Dynasty, which had united the plethora of petty kingdoms in India under their strong and able rule after Alexander left. Having received the southern provinces of Afghanistan from Seleucus in return for 500 elephants and a princess, the Mauryans confirmed local chieftains in their satrapies but continued to regard them with a keen sense of benevolent responsibility, especially during the rule of King Ashoka, the dynasty’s renowned ruler who reigned from 268-233 B.c.
An Ashokan bilingual rock inscription discovered on a boulder near the old city of Kandahar in 1967 is written in Greek and in Aramaic, the official language of the Achaemenids. A lengthier Greek inscription, also found in the old city of Kandahar, in 1963, provided further concrete evidence for an important Greek-speak-ing community in Kandahar in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. Many had undoubtedly come during the period of Achaemenid rule for the Achaemenids are known to have deported politically dissident Greeks to Bactria. Their number no doubt swelled dur-ing and following the advent of Alexander.
The Ashokan Rock and Pillar Edicts which spell out his pre-cepts for a life devoted to charity and compassion toward both man and beast, are well known in India, but these Kandahar Edicts are the western-most Edicts to have been found and they are the only ones to use Greek. As such they are an exciting addi-tional illustration of Afghanistan’s traditional role in bringing to-gether east and west.
An Ashokan inscription in Aramaic found in 1969 in Laghman Province indicates that Ashoka also thought of lands far to the west of the Afghan area. Professor André Dupont-Sommer of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Paris, points out that the inscription contains the phrase “At a distance of 200 ‘bows’ this way to (the place) called Tadmor.” Tadmor may be identified as Palmyra, Syria, and the inscription stood beside the highway which led from India to the Middle East. Ashoka’s missionaries travelled the length of this highway and Professor Dupont-Som-mer, who also worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls, theorizes that they may have provided the inspiration for such monastic orders as the Essenes, authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose origins continue to mystify scholars.
Though the ideals are similar, the texts on the inscriptions found in Afghanistan are not identical to any of the texts found in India. Ashoka adapted his edicts to meet the cultural patterns of the peo-ple to whom they were addressed. Ashoka’s Doctrine of Piety is put forth in the Greek text from the bilingual inscription at Kandahar:
“Ten years (of reign) having been completed, King Piodasses (Ashoka) made known (the doctrine of) Piety to men; and from this moment he has made men more pious, and everything thrives throughout the whole world. And the king abstains from (killing) living beings, and other men and those who (are) huntsmen and fisher-men of the king have desisted from hunting. And if some (were) intemperate, they have ceased from their intem-perance as was in their power; and obedient to their father and mother and to the elders, in opposition to the past also in the future, by so acting on every oc-casion, they will live better and more happily.” (Trans. by G.P. Carratelli)
For the people living south of the Hindu Kush, subject to this humanitarian influence from the east, this was a period of tran-quility accompanied by prosperity.
In the north, Bactria also prospered but here the cultural ori-entation was toward the west and the times were turbulent instead of tranquil. A local Bactrian governor eventually declared complete independence from Seleucid rule in 250 B.C. and his successors ultimately expanded Bactrian authority below the Hindu Kush to Kabul and to the cities of the Punjab where Mauryan power had steadily declined since the death of Ashoka.
The search in Afghanistan for a genuine Bactrian city, begun in the 1920s, finally ended in 1965 when French archaeologists began excavations, now under the direction of Paul Bernard, at the mile long mound of Ai Khanoum (Moon Lady, in Uzbaki), at the confluence of the Kokcha and Oxus Rivers, northeast of Kunduz. The 627 magnificent Bactrian coins contained in the Kunduz Treasure recovered (1946) from Khist Tapa at Qala-i-Zal, northwest of Kunduz (now in the National Museum, Kabul), are masterful monuments to the strength of those they portray; they speak of a highly sophisticated culture.
Superbly rich Ai Khanoum yearly adds substance to our knowledge of life in Bactria during the rule of the Bactrians. The lower levels of the city mound site of Emchi Tepe near Shibarghan excavated by Soviet archaeologists produced many human figurines in Bactrian style, sherds inscribed with Greek characters, plates with central ornamental medallions in relief and other artifacts permitting a dating from the end of the 4th to the end of the 2nd centuries B.C. (I. Kruglikova, 1969-70).
The Bactrian dynasties were beset in later years by internal weak-nesses brought on by overextension, personal rivalries, murder and fratricide. Charred beams and great quantities of charcoal through-out the upper levels of Ai Khanoum provide mute evidence of a succession of nomadic invasions at the end of the Second CenturyA.D.