Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The most important interaction of Indian civilisation in the Mauryan and post-Mauryan era was with the Seleucid Empire whose founder Seleucus Nikator (r. 305 B.C. - 281 B.C.) was a general (Diadochi) under Alexander the Great. He took over large parts of Alexander's domains after the latter's death and founded his own vast empire covering the Eastern parts of the Macedonian Empire in 305 B.C.
Seleucus also came in conflict with the first Indian Emperor, Chandragupta Maurya in the North-Western part of the Indian sub-continent when he was defeated by the young Indian emperor who had to be appeased with a Greek bride.
The Seleucid Empire covered a vast area stretching over the Near East and regions of the Asian part of the earlier Achaemenid Persian Empire. At the height of its power, it included central Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, today's Turkmenistan, Pamir and parts of Pakistan.
However, the Seleucids were reduced to a minor role by the rise of the Romans in Europe and the Parthians in the East under Mithridates I when they were reduced to a small area around modern Syria.
The Seleucids continued the Hellenistic traditions of coinage which featured the image of the king on the obverse with the image of Greek deities on the reverse. I came across this coin in the Todywalla Auctions' collection which was initially attributed to Alexander the Great with the legend 'BASILEUS ALEXANDROU' in Greek script.
However the reverse image of the deities was very unique with the Toddywalla coin having the image of Zeus holding Nike, the God of Victory in contrast to Alexander of Macedon's coins with the image of Hercules holding an eagle.
Hence, I deduced that the coin had to be Seleucid which led me to consult Ms. Amelia of the British Museum who opined that it was a tetradrachm issued by Alexander II Zabinas II of the Seleucid Empire.
Zabinas was a false Seleucid who claimed to be an adoptive son of Antiochus VII Sidetes, but in fact seems to have been the son of an Egyptian merchant named Protarchus. Antioch, Apamea, and several other cities, disgusted with the tyranny of Demetrius, acknowledged the authority of Alexander. He was used as a pawn by the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII Tryphon, who introduced Zabinas as a means of getting to the legitimate Seleucid king Demetrius II, who supported his sister Cleopatra II against him in the complicated dynastic feuds of the latter Hellenistic dynasties.
Zabinas managed to defeat Demetrius II, who fled to Tyre and was killed there, and thereafter ruled parts of Syria (128 BC-123 BC), but soon ran out of Egyptian support and was in his turn was defeated by Demetrius' son Antiochus VIII Grypus.
Zabinas fled to the Seleucid capital Antiochia, where he plundered several temples. Interestingly, he is said to have joked about melting down a statuette of the goddess of victory Nike which was held in the hand of a Zeus statue, saying "Zeus has given me Victory". Enraged by his impiety the Antiochenes cast Zabinas out of the city. He soon fell into the hands of robbers, who delivered him up to Antiochus, by whom he was put to death, in 122 BC.
The name 'Zabinas' means "the purchased slave", and was applied to him, deprecatingly, in response to a report that he had been bought by Ptolemy as a slave.
The Indian link to Seleucids was through Diodotus I who revolted against the Seleucids and found the kingdom of Bactria in Central Asia in 250 B.C. which soon grew into the Indo-Greek kingdom stretching from Central Asia to modern Punjab between two clans of Indo-Greek dynasties.
Featured: Right Top Silver Tetradrachm of Alexander of Macedon with image of Hercules and the eagle Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
Centre Bottom: Silver Tetradrachm of Alexander II Zabinas with image of Zeus holding Nike on the reverse Image Courtesy: Todywalla Auctions