The conquest of the easternmost satrapies of the Persian Empire (Bactria, Sogdiana, Paropamisadae, Arachosia, Seistan, Gandhāra) by Alexander the Great between 329 and 326 BCE drastically changed the geopolitics of these regions with far-reaching consequences. During the eight centuries that follow the conquest of the Macedonian king, these territories were occupied by Greeks (Seleucids, Graeco-Bactrians and Indo-Greeks), Parthians, Scythians, and Kuṣāṇs. The reconstruction of the history of the Greeks in Bactria and India and their nomadic successors depends mainly on coins and inscriptions. The ancient texts dealing with the early history of these kingdoms are rare: we are left with short passages from a few Greek and Latin authors, and some Indian and Chinese texts. Greek and Latin historians were not interested in the destiny of the Greeks in Bactria and India, and the names of local authorities are mentioned only when they have direct or indirect connection with Seleucids or Parthians. As for the numismatic evidence, it is thanks to the coins that we know today about the existence of about forty-five Greek kings who ruled in Bactria and India, although the written sources mention only eight. The coins are crucial in understanding the role of these kings: their stylistic features suggest broad chronological periods; overstrikes of one king on the coins of another indicate the succession of reigns; and minting techniques, metrology, iconography, and monograms associated with find spots aid evaluation of the geographical localization of different kingdoms. Apart from coin hoards, new inscriptions have surfaced during the last twenty years, giving new insights into the economic activities, modes of production, and artistic tastes of this region. Most of the sovereigns of the independent Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms legitimized their kingship by identifying themselves with Alexander the Great and using monetary types evoking his persona. This lecture also addresses the issue that although representations of Greek gods and goddesses attest to the prevalence of a Hellenistic culture in the region, the emergence of Bhāgavata imagery as early as the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, as revealed by numismatic evidence, can no longer be ignored. The bilingual silver drachms issued by the Indo-Greek king, Agathocles, depicting Balarāma-Saṃkarṣaṇa and Vāsudeva-Kṛṣṇa, give us a perfectly clear and explicit illustration of the first forms of Vaiṣṇavaism in India.
OSMUND BOPEARACHCHI is a numismatist, art historian and archaeologist. Currently, he is Adjunct Professor of Central and South Asian Art, Archaeology, and Numismatics, University of California, Berkeley; Emeritus Director of Research of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.-E.N.S. Paris); and former Visiting Professor and Member of the Doctoral School of the Paris-Sorbonne University. He received his B.A. from the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka); a B.A. Honours, M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the Paris 1 Sorbonne University; and a Higher Doctorate (Habilitation) from the Paris 4 Sorbonne University. He has presented papers at international colloquia and conferences at universities and museums around the world, and has carried out archaeological missions in 29 different countries. He is author of 16 books, 6 Exhibition Catalogues, 148 research articles and two databases and editor of 6 volumes. The French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres bestowed awards on five of his books, including the George Perrot Medal for his two-volume work, ‘From Bactria to Taprobane’ (2015). He was raised to the Order of Academic Palms by the French Government and the Order of Constantine the Great by the Greek Government. The French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres awarded him the Prix Hirayama for distinguished contributions to scholarship on Asia for one of his most recent book: When West Met East: Gandhāran Art Revisited (Manohar, Delhi, 2021).