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Agathocles of Bactria

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Agathocles Dicaeus
Portrait of Agathocles
Indo-Greek king
Reign190–180 BC
SuccessorApollodotus I or Antimachus I
FatherDiodotus II

Agathocles I Dicaeus (Ancient Greek: Ἀγαθοκλῆς Δικαῖος, romanizedAgathoklēs Dikaios, the epithet means "the just") was a Greco-Bactrian/Indo-Greek king, who reigned between around 190 and 180 BC, likely of the dynasty of Diodotus I, due to his commemoration of Antiochus Nicator.

Accounts and discovery


There is a near-complete lack of written sources except an extensive coinage.[1][2][3]

Agathocles was first discovered by Johann Martin Honigberger in 1834, with hordes of coins being discovered at a rapid pace.[4] No sooner had Desiré-Raoul Rochette held him to be the founder of the Bactrian dynasty than he was rejected by Christian Lassen, who felt that Agathocles was a contemporary of Demetrius and Eucratides I.[4]


Silver coin of Agathocles.
Obverse: Diademed bust of young king Agathocles.
Reverse: Zeus holding Greek goddess Hecate in his hand.[5] Legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ, ("King Agathocles")

Agathocles' father may have been Diodotus II, and he would therefore have been illegitimate.[3] Agathocles ruled c. 185 BC[a] and was probably the immediate successor of Pantaleon; he was a contemporaneous relative (maybe, son) of Demetrius I, who was busy expanding towards India.[2][6][3][b]

He was challenged by Antimachus I.[2][6] Depending on the results, which is not accurately ascertainable, he was either immediately ousted by Antimachus I or a few years later, by an usurper Eucratides I.[2][6][3]



No gold mints have been found.[7] Bronze and silver mints were commonplace. Copper mints having significant Nickel were discovered by Flight in 1868; François Widemann believes them to have had an intermediate value between bronze and silver.[7][8]

Commemorative coinage


Agathocles issued a series of coins mentioning a variety of rulers.[2]

The first of these types was acquired by a Russian explorer Nicholai de Khanikoff from Bukhara and published by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy: on the obverse was the usual image of Diodotus but with an epithet of "ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ" (savior) instead of basileus and on the reverse was the usual image of Zeus but with an additional inscription that read "ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΟΝΤΟΣ ΑΓΑΘΟ­ΚΛΕΟΥΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ" (Agathocles the Just, ruling as a King).[4] This peculiar coinage led to significant debate among numismatists — Barthélemy had construed the coins to venerate a dead ancestor but Johann Gustav Droysen argued, to significant acclaim, that it meant Agathocles was ruling as a subordinate of Diodotus.[4][c]

Precisely similar coins but commemorating other rulers were located in the following decades — Euthydemus (1858) and Antiochus (1868).[4] A coin of the same kind commemorating Diodotus but struck by Antimachus was also chanced upon.[4] Scholars increasingly accepted the reasoning of Droysen and Cunningham proposed that Agathocles (alongside Antimachus) first ruled under Diodotus[d] and then under Euthydemus and Antiochus.[4] The general understanding of Bactrian Kingdom around the middle nineteenth century hold all of these Kings to be contemporaneous co-rulers.[4] Among the rare dissenting voices was Alfred von Sallet who asserted that these "ancestor coins" were struck for the purpose of commemoration and rejected that these rulers were contemporary, based on the design of coins.[4]

Deities on the coinage of Agathokles
The coinage of Agathocles (c. 180 BCE) incorporated the Brahmi script and several deities from India, which have been variously interpreted as Vishnu, Shiva, Vāsudeva, Balarama or the Buddha.[9][10]

1. Zeus standing with goddess Hecate.[11] Greek: "King Agathokles".
2. Deity wearing a long himation with a volume on the head, arm partly bent, and contrapposto pose. Greek: "King Agathokles".[11] This coin is in bronze.[12]
3. Hindu god Balarama-Samkarshana with attributes. Greek: "King Agathokles".[13]
4. Hindu god Vāsudeva-Krishna with attributes.[13] Brahmi: "Rajane Agathukleyasa", "King Agathokles".

5. Goddess Lakshmi, holding a lotus in her right hand.[14] Brahmi: "Rajane Agathukleyasa", "King Agathokles".

In 1880, a coin of the same kind struck by Agathocles but "commemorating" Alexander, Son of Philip was published by Percy Garnder of British Museum.[4] That it was impossible for Agathocles to be a sub-king of someone who had ruled about two hundred years earlier, Droysen's explanation was summarily rejected in favor of Sallet.[4][e] Gardner proposed that these coins were struck to increase his public on the eve of an (eventually successful) challenge by Eucratides I.[15] In the early-mid 1900, Hugh Rawinson and William Tarn would extrapolate Gardner's ideas to further their visions of a grand Hellenistic past where Agathocles had faked his pedigree and Eucratides I was carrying out the orders of Antiochus IV to reestablish the Seleucid control.[16][15] Other scholars generally avoided giving too much significance to these "ancestor coins".[17]

More varieties of these coins would be discovered later.[4] These mention Diodotus II, Demetrius II and Demetrius.[4][6][18][17] In the last few decades, such coins have been discovered in more numbers but the accuracy of these finds remain plagued by the fact that these did not came from controlled excavations but auction networks.[4] They were evaluated by scholars only after they have traveled continents and passed through multiple hands.[4]

It has been since accepted that these coins indeed represented Agathocles' predecessors.[19] The precise context of minting and significance is still not clear.[6]

Religious coinage


Agathocles was unique in issuing bilingual coinage.[6][3] Meant for local circulation in Gandhara, they were typically of smaller denominations, square or rectangular in shape, and minted in bronze or silver.[20][6] The obverse had his portrait labelled in Greek while the reverse had imagery from the Buddhist as well as Hindu pantheon alongside inscriptions in Brahmi/Kharosthi.[20][3][f] Monolingual coinage (in Kharosthi) of similar kinds have been discovered.[22]

These finds have led scholars to conclude that Agathocles favored socio-religious tolerance.[22] Osmund Bopearachchi hold him to have inaugurated the first Indo-Greek era; others have been skeptic.[6]



Buddhist symbols such as the stupa and the "tree in railing" have been located in his coins.[3][22] These coins sometimes use Brahmi, and sometimes Kharoshthi, whereas later Indo-Greek kings only used Kharoshthi. Lakshmi, goddess of abundance and fortune, appears in several of these coins.[23]


Coin of Agathocles
Obv ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ (Basileōs Agathokleous).
Rev 𑀭𑀚𑀦𑁂 𑀅𑀕𑀣𑀼𑀼𑀓𑁆𑀮𑁂𑀬𑁂𑀲 Rajane Agathukleyesa "King Agathocles".

On 3 October 1970, six Indian-standard silver drachmas were discovered at the administrative quarters of Ai-Khanoum from a pilgrim's water vessel by a team of French archaeologists.[26] These coins are the first numismatic representations of Vedic deities and serve as key evidences about Bhagavatism being the first form of Vaishnavism in early India.[27][28]

The coins display early Avatars of Vishnu: Balarama-Sankarshana with attributes of pestle and plow on reverse, and Vāsudeva-Krishna with attributes of Shankha and Sudarshana Chakra on obverse.[27][28][g] On the bases of the coins bearing characteristic trademarks of Indian sculpture — frontal pose as opposed to three-quarter, stiff and starched folds in drapes, absence of proportions, and sideways disposition of feet — Audoin and Bernard speculated that the engravings were by Indian artists.[27] Bopearachchi disputes the conclusion and points out the mis-representational depictions of Vāsudeva-Krishna's chattra with a headdress and conch with a high-necked vase; he hypothesizes that a Greek artist had engraved the coin from a now-lost (or undiscovered) sculpture.[27]

A dancing girl, found on the obverse of some Bronze coins of Agathocles are believed to be representations of Subhadra.[27]

Nickel coins

Agathokles nickel coin with Dionysos and panther with Greek legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ.

Also, Agathocles and Pantaleon, along with their contemporary Euthydemus II, are unique in the ancient world, in that they were the first in the world to issue copper-nickel (75/25 ratio) coins, an alloy technology only known by the Chinese at the time (some weapons from the Warring States period were in copper-nickel alloy).[29][30][31] These coins used the symbolism of Dionysos with a thyrsus over his left shoulder and his panther, which were his type for smaller coinage.[32][33]

It has long been suggested that the nickel contained in the coins of Agathocles was ultimately of Chinese origin (Chinese Baitong, 白铜, "white copper"), and that they were indicative of the existence of trade links with China around that time.[34][29] However, a recent archaeometallurgical study of trace elements has shown that nickel in these coins actually came from natural nickeliferous copper ore.[35]

Decipherment of the Brahmi script

Identical regnal names Agathuklayesa (Brahmi: 𑀅𑀕𑀣𑀼𑀼𑀓𑁆𑀮𑁂𑀬𑁂𑀲) and Agathokles (Greek: ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ) on a bilingual coin of Agathocles, used by Christian Lassen to decipher securely the first Brahmi letters.[21]

From 1834, some attempts were made to decipher the Brahmi script, the main script used in old Indian inscriptions such as the Edicts of Ashoka, and which had become extinct since the 5th century CE. Some attempts by Rev. J. Stevenson were made to identify characters from the Karla Caves (c. 1st century CE) based on their similarities with the Gupta script of the Samudragupta inscription of the Allahabad pillar (4th century CE) which had just been deciphered, but this led to a mix of good (about 1/3) and bad guesses, which did not permit proper decipherment of the Brahmi.[36][37]

The first successful attempts at deciphering the ancient Brahmi script of the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE were made in 1836 by Norwegian scholar Christian Lassen, who used the bilingual Greek-Brahmi coins of Indo-Greek kings Agathocles and Pantaleon to correctly and securely identify several Brahmi letters.[21] The task was then completed by James Prinsep, an archaeologist, philologist, and official of the East India Company, who was able to identify the rest of the Brahmi characters, with the help of Major Cunningham.[21][38] In a series of results that he published in March 1838 Prinsep was able to translate the inscriptions on a large number of rock edicts found around India, and provide, according to Richard Salomon, a "virtually perfect" rendering of the full Brahmi alphabet.[39][40]

See also



  1. ^ The precise spans of rule for these kings are uncertain. Bopearachchi (1991) dates Agathocles to 185-175 BC.
  2. ^ The intricacies of Bactrian Kingship remain understudied.
  3. ^ Droysen had construed the participle ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΟΝΤΟΣ to refer to a subordinate position. Barthélemy was not convinced and issued a line-by-line rebut.
  4. ^ Diodotus I apparently had two daughters (and a son Diodotus II) who were married off to Agathocles and Antimachus. Thus, they served as "lieutenant kings".
  5. ^ Frank L. Holt emphasizes how not only the discoveries but their chronological order dictated the scholarly opinion.[4]
  6. ^ These coins also served as Rosetta-stone equivalents for the deciphering of Brahmi script by colonial scholars.[21]
  7. ^ Bopearachchi notes that the attributes are contemporaneous to depictions in Indian literary canon.


  1. ^ Widemann, François (2007). "Civil Wars and Alliances in Bactria and North-Western India after the Usurpation of King Eucratides". East and West. 57 (1/4): 9–28. ISSN 0012-8376. JSTOR 29757721.
  2. ^ a b c d e Holt, Frank Lee (1981). "The Euthydemid Coinage of Bactria: Further Hoard Evidence from Aï Khanoum". Revue Numismatique. 6 (23): 7–44. doi:10.3406/numi.1981.1811.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Stoneman, Richard (2019-02-05). "13. The Trojan Elephant: Two Hundred Years of Co-existence from the Death of Alexander to the Death of Menander, 323 to 135 BCE". The Greek Experience of India. Princeton University Press. pp. 375–404. doi:10.1515/9780691185385-017. ISBN 978-0-691-18538-5. S2CID 243646486.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Holt, Frank L. (2012-10-18). "2. A Dangerous Game: Framework Numismatics". Lost World of the Golden King. University of California Press. pp. 27–49. doi:10.1525/9780520953741-005. ISBN 978-0-520-95374-1. S2CID 226727136.
  5. ^ Foreign Influence on Ancient India, Krishna Chandra Sagar, Northern Book Centre, 1992 [1]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Jakobsson, Jens (2009). "Who Founded the Indo-Greek Era of 186/5 B.C.E.?". The Classical Quarterly. 59 (2): 505–510. doi:10.1017/S0009838809990140. ISSN 0009-8388. JSTOR 20616702. S2CID 170794074.
  7. ^ a b Widemann, François (2000). "Scarcity of Precious Metals and Relative Chronology of Indo-Greek and Related Coinages (1st Century B.C.-1st Century A.D.)". East and West. 50 (1/4): 227–258. ISSN 0012-8376. JSTOR 29757455.
  8. ^ Cheng, C. F.; Schwitter, C. M. (1957). "Nickel in Ancient Bronzes". American Journal of Archaeology. 61 (4): 351–365. doi:10.2307/500603. ISSN 0002-9114. JSTOR 500603. S2CID 191289195.
  9. ^ Holt, Frank Lee (1988). Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia. Brill Archive. ISBN 9004086129.
  10. ^ Osmund Bopearachchi "Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques" Bibliothèque Nationale 1991, p. 172-180
  11. ^ a b Osmund Bopearachchi, Catalogue raisonné, p. 172-175
  12. ^ High definition image in "Bronze Double Unit of Agathocles, Uncertain, 185 BC - 170 BC. 1976.215.7". numismatics.org.
  13. ^ a b P. Bernard, Revue Numismatique 1974 p. 7-41 Archived 2018-06-02 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ P. Bernard, Revue Numismatique 1974 p. 23 Archived 2018-06-02 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b Holt, Frank L. (2012-10-18). "Conclusion: The Lost World of the Golden King". Lost World of the Golden King. University of California Press. pp. 211–220. doi:10.1525/9780520953741-013. ISBN 978-0-520-95374-1. S2CID 226753981.
  16. ^ Holt, Frank L. (2012-10-18). "4. Telling Tales: Narrative Numismatics". Lost World of the Golden King. University of California Press. pp. 67–88. doi:10.1525/9780520953741-007. ISBN 978-0-520-95374-1. S2CID 226676419.
  17. ^ a b Holt, frank L. (January 1984). "The So-Called" Pedigree Coins" of the Bactrian Greeks". Ancient Coins of the Graeco-Roman World. The Nickle ...
  18. ^ Holt, Frank L. (2020-09-30). "Illustrations". Thundering Zeus. University of California Press. pp. XI–XII. doi:10.1525/9780520920095-001. ISBN 978-0-520-92009-5.
  19. ^ Holt, Frank L. (2019-12-16). "Macedonians, Seleucids, Bactrians, Greeks: Histrionics as History on the Hellenistic Fringe". New Perspectives in Seleucid History, Archaeology and Numismatics. De Gruyter. p. 464. doi:10.1515/9783110283846-025. ISBN 978-3-11-028384-6. S2CID 213386163.
  20. ^ a b Holt, Frank Lee (1988). Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia. Brill Archive. p. 2. ISBN 9004086129.
  21. ^ a b c d Ray, Himanshu Prabha (2017). Buddhism and Gandhara: An Archaeology of Museum Collections. Taylor & Francis. p. 181. ISBN 9781351252744.
  22. ^ a b c Vassiliades, Demetrios Th. (2004). "Greeks and Buddhism: Historical Contacts in the Development of a Universal Religion". The Eastern Buddhist. 36 (1/2): 134–183. ISSN 0012-8708. JSTOR 44362383.
  23. ^ Chakrabarty, Dilip K. (26 August 2009). India: An Archaeological History: Palaeolithic Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations. Oxford University Press. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-19-908814-0.
  24. ^ Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Bopearachchi, p.176
  25. ^ Krishan, Yuvraj; Tadikonda, Kalpana K. (1996). The Buddha Image: Its Origin and Development. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 22. ISBN 978-81-215-0565-9.
  26. ^ Audouin, Rémy; Bernard, Paul (1974). "Trésor de monnaies indiennes et indo-grecques d'Aï Khanoum (Afghanistan). [II. Les monnaies indo-grecques.]: II. Les monnaies indo-grecques". Revue numismatique (in French). 6 (16): 6–41. doi:10.3406/numi.1974.1062. ISSN 0484-8942.
  27. ^ a b c d e Osmund Bopearachchi, 2016, Emergence of Viṣṇu and Śiva Images in India: Numismatic and Sculptural Evidence Archived 2017-11-23 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ a b Bopearachchi, Osmund (1993). "On the so-called earliest representation of Ganesa". Topoi. Orient-Occident. 3 (2): 425–453. doi:10.3406/topoi.1993.1479.
  29. ^ a b Needham, Joseph; Bray, Francesca (19 April 1984). Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 2, Agriculture. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-25076-4.
  30. ^ Publishing, Bloomsbury (11 March 2021). A Cultural History of Money in Antiquity. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-350-25346-9.
  31. ^ Aruz, Joan; Fino, Elisabetta Valtz (2012). Afghanistan: Forging Civilizations Along the Silk Road. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-58839-452-1.
  32. ^ Holt, Frank Lee (1988). Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier in Central Asia. Brill Archive. p. 2. ISBN 9004086129.
  33. ^ Kim, Hyun Jin; Vervaet, Frederik Juliaan; Adali, Selim Ferruh (2017). Eurasian Empires in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages: Contact and Exchange between the Graeco-Roman World, Inner Asia and China. Cambridge University Press. p. 267. ISBN 9781108121316.
  34. ^ Cammann, Schuyler V. R. (1958). "The "Bactrian Nickel Theory"". American Journal of Archaeology. 62 (4): 409–414. doi:10.2307/502065. ISSN 0002-9114. JSTOR 502065. S2CID 193052764.
  35. ^ Reden, Sitta (2 December 2019). Handbook of Ancient Afro-Eurasian Economies: Volume 1: Contexts. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 505. ISBN 978-3-11-060494-8.
  36. ^ Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Calcutta : Printed at the Baptist Mission Press [etc.] 1834. pp. 495–499.
  37. ^ Salomon, Richard (1998). Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press. p. 206. ISBN 9780195356663.
  38. ^ More details about Buddhist monuments at Sanchi Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine, Archaeological Survey of India, 1989.
  39. ^ Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Calcutta : Printed at the Baptist Mission Press [etc.] 1838. pp. 219–285.
  40. ^ Salomon, Richard (1998). Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the other Indo-Aryan Languages. Oxford University Press. p. 208. ISBN 9780195356663.
Preceded by Greco-Bactrian king
(in Paropamisade)

190-180 BCE
Succeeded by