Agathocles of Bactria
Coin of Agathocles.
|Titles||Δίκαιος ("the Just")|
Agathocles Dikaios (Greek: Ἀγαθοκλῆς ὁ Δίκαιος; epithet meaning: "the Just") was a Buddhist Indo-Greek king, who reigned between around 190 and 180 BC. He might have been a son of Demetrius and one of his sub-kings in charge of the Paropamisade between Bactria and India. In that case, he was a grandson of Euthydemus whom he qualified on his coins as Βασιλεὺς Θεός, Basileus Theos (Greek for "God-King").
Agathocles was contemporary with or a successor of king Pantaleon. He seems to have been attacked and killed by the usurper Eucratides, who took control of the Greco-Bactrian territory. Little is known about him, apart from his extensive coinage.
Agathocles issued a series of "pedigree" dynastic coins, probably with the intent to advertise his lineage and legitimize his rule, linking him to Alexander the Great, a king Antiochus Nikator (Greek: "Νικάτωρ" "Victorious", probably intended is Antiochus III), the founder of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom Diodotus and his son Diodotus II, Euthydemus, Pantaleon, and Demetrius.
Dynast or usurper?
The pedigree coinage has been seen as a token of his ancestry, but a critical view might be considered. All the associations provide a contradictory image. The Euthydemid kings (Demetrius and Euthydemus) are not known to be related to Diodotus – in fact, Euthydemus I overthrew Diodotus II! The Seleucids were enemies of the Euthydemids as well – in fact king Antiochus III had besieged Bactra for almost three years before claiming victory over Euthydemus I. Nevertheless, Antiochus III is known to have used the epithet "Nikator" ("Νικάτωρ" Greek for "Victorious")
All in all, the coins might well support the view of a usurper, or more probable a member of a minor branch of a dynasty, anxious to gather support from all quarters with his various memorial coins. However, the similarities between his coinage and that of Pantaleon make it probable that Agathocles was indeed a relative of the latter, who in that case might have been a usurper as well.
- I) Pedigree coin of Agathocles with Alexander the Great.
- II) Pedigree coin of Agathocles with Diodotus the Saviour.
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) coins1, an alloy technology only known by the Chinese at the time (some weapons from the Warring States period were in copper-nickel alloy2). These coins are indicative of the existence of trade links with China around that time (see Greco-Bactrian kingdom). Copper-nickel would not be used again in coinage until the 19th century in the United States.
At the same time, Agathocles issued an intriguing range of bilingual coinage, displaying what seems to be Buddhist as well as Hinduist symbolism. The coins, manufactured according to the Indian standard, using either Brahmi, Greek or Kharoshthi (a first in the Greek world), and displaying symbols of the various faiths in India, tend to indicate a considerable willingness to accommodate local languages and beliefs, to an extent unseen in subsequent Indo-Greek kings. They may be indicative of the considerable efforts of the first Indo-Greek kings to secure support from Indian populations and avoid being perceived as invaders, efforts which may have subsided once the Indo-Greek kingdoms were more securely in place.
The Buddhist coinage of Agathocles is in the Indian standard (square or round copper coins) and depicts Buddhist symbols such as the stupa, the "tree in railing", or the lion. These coins sometimes use Brahmi, and sometimes Kharoshthi, whereas later Indo-Greek kings only used Kharoshthi.
Buddhist coin of Agathocles, with Stupa, and tree in railing.
Buddhist coin of Agathocles, with stupa surmounted by a star, and possibly Trisula symbol.
|INDO-GREEK KINGS AND THEIR TERRITORIES
Based on Bopearachchi (1991)
||ARACHOSIA||GANDHARA||WESTERN PUNJAB||EASTERN PUNJAB|
|200–190 BCE||Demetrius I|
|185–170 BCE||Antimachus I|
|180–160 BCE||Apollodotus I|
|175–170 BCE||Demetrius II|
|160–155 BCE||Antimachus II|
|155–130 BCE||Menander I|
|130–120 BCE||Zoilos I||Agathokleia|
|120–110 BCE||Lysias||Strato I|
|110–100 BCE||Antialcidas||Heliokles II|
|100 BCE||Polyxenos||Demetrius III|
|90–85 BCE||Nicias||Menander II||Artemidoros|
|Yuezhi tribes||Maues (Indo-Scythian)|
|75–70 BCE||Telephos||Apollodotus II|
|55–35 BCE||Azes I (Indo-Scythian)||Zoilos II|
|25 BCE – 10 CE||Strato II & III|
- Chronographia, John of Malalas
|History of Afghanistan|
- "The Greeks in Bactria and India", W. W. Tarn, Cambridge University Press
- "Bactria – the history of a forgotten empire", H. G. Rawlinson, Probhstain & co, London (1912)
- Coins of Agatocles
- More coins of Agathocles
- Catalogue of the coins of Agathocles
- Copper-Nickel coinage in Greco-Bactria
- Ancient Chinese weapons
- A halberd of copper-nickel alloy, from the Warring States Period