Too often, in recounting the life and conquests of Alexander the Great, we fail to remember the men who followed him into battle. Alexander’s fate is well documented, but what of the men who bled for the young general’s conquests?
When Alexander died unexpectedly, the Macedonians didn’t just head home. Instead, their generals fought one another for supremacy before carving up the empire among those left standing. Seleucus I Nicator made out pretty well, taking for himself pretty much everything from the Mediterrraean in the west to what is now Pakistan in the east. However even the Seleucid empire is fairly well known compared to the splinter state of Greco-Bactria.
In the third century B.C., the province of Bactria (in what is now Afghanistan and Tajikistan) became so powerful that it declared independence. Sources describe a wealthy land “of a thousand cities,” and the large amount of surviving coinage attests to an unbroken succession of Greek kings spanning centuries. Greco-Bactria’s location made it a center of fusion for a litany of cultures: Persians, Indians, Scythians and a number of nomadic groups all contributed to the development of a wholly unique kingdom. Of course, Greco-Bactria’s location and wealth also attracted unwanted attention and, by the early second century B.C., pressure from nomads to their north had forced the Greeks south into India.
At Alexandria on the Oxus, or Ai Khanoum as it is known now, fascinating evidence for this radical combination of Greek and Eastern culture was unearthed, before fighting during the Soviet-Afghan War destroyed the site in 1978. During the period of excavation, Indian coins, Iranian altars, and Buddhist statuary were found among the ruins of this decidedly Greek city, which was complete with Corinthian columns, a gymnasium, an amphitheater, and a temple combining Greek and Zoroastrian elements.