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11 - The Greeks of Bactria and India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

A. K. Narain
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

No history of the Greeks can be considered complete without an account of their shared experience in the ancient east. In the Achaemenid period, when the Persian empire extended from Greece to Gandhara, a meeting between the east and the west had taken place. Indian soldiers in the Persian army fought on Greek soil, and Greeks such as Scylax made explorations in India for the Persians. Babylonian documents record that in the fifth century B.C. there was an Indian settlement in Nippur and its inhabitants were warriors who had served in the army and had received land; they could lease their plots but had to pay state taxes and perform state duties. An Indian woman, Busasa, kept a tavern in the town of Kish. There were also some Greeks settled in the far eastern parts of the Persian empire: some had been allowed to dwell there as a reward for their assistance to the Achaemenids, while others were exiled as a punishment for their recalcitrance. Because the Ionians were either the first or the most dominant group among the Greeks with whom people in the east came in contact, the Persians called all of them Yauna, and the Indians used Yona and Yavana for them. Pānini of Gandhara, in the fifth century B.C., knew their script as Yavanāni. The imperial money economy of the Persians showed mixed circulation of their own darics and sigloi with the Athenian Owls and the Indian Bent-Bar coins. Doubtless the settlers must have earned their living by craft and commerce, and participated in the exchange of goods, services and ideas taking place in the Persian empire.

In the course of his campaign in the eastern parts of what remained of the Persian empire Alexander had met with some of these first settlers. They ‘had not ceased to follow the customs of their native land, but they were already bilingual, having gradually degenerated from their original language through the influence of a foreign tongue’.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1989

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