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Hellenistic Bactria: Features of the independent political development on the eastern outskirts of the Greco-Macedonian world

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Column: Studies, by Gusakov Vladimir published in Weblog Articles, first submitted in Feb 16, 2010 | CiteULike | Google Scholar Entry | Related Entry | Items Citing this Article | Articles by Gusakov Vladimir | Bookmark and Share


Traditionally, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom attracts the interest of researchers as a whimsical phenomenon of century-old Greco-Macedonian statehood, located thousand kilometers far from Mediterranean, as the most eastern forward position of Hellenistic community. At the same time, the scarcity and very often unreality of ancient Greek authors’ evidences about the life of “Greek” Bactria, virtual nonparticipation of its kings in the conflicts of epigones — imitators, which pervaded the system of international relations of Hellenistic era, prove an exceptional position of Bactria against the specified system. And the rough development of Greek culture in the region began to be observed only then, when it has turned into politically neutral (after the break with Seleucids’ empire). In spite of undoubtedly Hellenic origin, Bactrian rulers identified themselves not as a Greco-Macedonian province, but as an independent regional centre of power.

Greco-Bactria has become the first in the history great empire which was Central Asian by origin and remained like that during its whole history. Developed from the attempt of banal Greco-Macedonian militarist encroachment within one separated province, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom for the first time has united all civilized (as of that moment) areas of Central Asian macro region in the structure of one state and has turned into one of the largest empires of the antiquity. Actually, the Greco-Bactrian great-power integration project has become the first significant demonstration of Central Asian identity for the peoples of region.

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom appeared on the world’s map owing to the Macedonian conquest of Central Asian provinces of Ariya, Margiana, Bactria, Sogdiana by Alexander the Great and their following intensive Hellenic colonization, emphatically carried out by his successors

The conquering of Bactria and Sogdiana has given a lot of troubles to victorious Alexander. And after the death of the great conqueror the situation here remained extremely unstable. Proximity of warlike and independent Saka tribes, disloyalty of local elites, territorial claims on the part of Indian empire of Maurya strongly slackened the power, inherited by the Seleucids’ Syrian empire of Seleucids’ dynasty, in the region. Seleucos and his successors considered the Greco-Macedonian colonization of annexed territories as the main and most effective tool for strengthening their military-political presence in the region.

Colonization was accompanied by the establishment of a great number of Greek fortified urban settlements, which had a status of semi-autonomous city-states. By their behavioural stereotypes the ancient Greeks were mainly the city-dwellers. A city (city-state) played the most important role in their life. Antique, and later on Hellenistic city-state was not only administrative, craft and commercial centre, it was a major part of ancient Greek social structures. In the city there were the autonomous public authorities of the Greek community (folk-moot, council, elective officials), including those who lived in the urban area and those who resided in rural neighborhood. The community of the Greek city-state was consolidated by such important for Hellenes concepts as equality of citizens’ rights, communal-private (communal-individual) land tenure, etc.

These city-states coexisted with Hellenistic monarchs on the principles of symmachia (union), being kleruchias (military settlements) itself. The land given by a king to such city-state, did not become the complete property of the collective of citizens, but was in their conditional possession. The city-state in return for received land was obliged to send its citizens to a military service (Altheim, 1970, 162-165).

The increased concentration of Greco-Macedonian military settlements in Central Asian part of the empire was mentioned by ancient Roman historian Justinus, who named the Seleucid governor Diodotus (later on — the first independent Bactrian ruler) a deputy of “thousand Bactrian cities” — “Theodotus, mille urbium bactrianorum praefectus” (Justin, XLI, 4, 5).

Based on numerous local contingents of Greek military professionals, Diodotus (256-230 B.C.) and his successors Diodotus II (230-220 B.C.) and Euthydemus (220-190 B.C.) have established their own independent power in former Central Asian possessions of Seleucids. And further they showed successful armed resistance to the most powerful empire of diadochi, which attempted to restore its power in the region. In 206 B.C., having concluded the peace allied treaty with Euthydemus, Syrian king Antiochus III legally and on oath recognized him to be a legitimate ruler and not a military dictator-usurper. Independence of Euthydemus’ possessions and their borders were recognized as well.

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, having got rid of the constant Syrian threat, has passed to active, but diversified military policy. Restrictions, imposed on Bactria from the east by the highest, almost impassable mountain systems, and from the west — by powerful neighboring Parthian kingdom, left only two directions free for expansion — the southern and the northern ones.

Bactrian rulers, having successfully passed Hindu Kush, started seizing in Northwest India one province after another. But if Greco-Bactrian strategy to the south from Hindu Kush was determined by the necessity of inflicting a military defeat on a dynasty of Mauryas — the major obstacle to the scaled territorial takeovers, the operative conditions in Central Asia dictated other approaches. After resolute victories of Parthian king Mitridat I (171-138 B.C.) over Macedonian kings of Syria and transferring of a centre of his empire to the west to Mesopotamia, Parthia has never tried to expand its eastern borders anymore. Due to the absence of a serious enemy-rival in the region, Bactrian Greeks have quickly got their hands on all other possessions in the region. At least, when in 209 B.C. Antiochus III tried to return the lost territories by force, he met Bactrian army already on Herirud river, which flows on the territory of Central Asian province Ariya, neighbouring with Bactria.


This is a free full article of the Weblog Articles.

Articles by Gusakov Vladimir:

Political strategy of the Seleucid Empire in the region of Central Asia

 

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