Ancient History & Civilisation


Greeks and their arts in India

‘India’ for our purposes includes modern Pakistan, all the Indus Valley up to the mountain barrier before China, as well as much that is now east Afghanistan. Here we meet Buddhism, the most conspicuous religion considered in this book, apart from the ‘classical’ where our interest has been mainly iconographic.

Alexander had to face, and defeat, an Indian king, Poros, and there have been occasions already to notice Indian connexions – as at Aï Khanoum, while even in the Bronze Age there had been clear contacts between the Indus Valley civilizations and the Oxus, even with Mesopotamia.255 After Alexander, the first major indications of Greek influence and presence involve firstly the Mauryan dynasty (321–180 BC) and developing Buddhism, largely in the north, and secondly the Sunga dynasty (185–75 BC), which succeeds the Mauryan, and demonstrates a quite different character, mainly in north India itself (the Ganges Valley and farther south). Thirdly we revert farther to the north, from the Mauryans on, notably in Gandhara, with the continuing Greek presence, as at the city of Taxila, resulting in a strong classical influence on Buddhist art which continued uninterrupted into centuries AD under the Kushans.

The evidence will prove largely archaeological but here it is appropriate to discuss the few literary sources.256 For our period there is little of historical importance in India, beyond the record in the Milindapahna of the Greek King Menander’s discussions with the Buddhist sage Nagasena. But there are several Greek sources, even apart from the historians whose interest was largely in Alexander. In the early 3rd century BC Seleukos I sent to the court of Chandragupta, whom we shall soon meet, the Greek Megasthenes, on the first of several missions, resulting in a history (Indika) in four volumes.257 He spent most of his time in Pataliputra, far to the east, and describes the country and its people as an ethnographer rather than a historian, with no little interest in mythography and its connections with the Hellenic, notably Herakles (= Shiva) and Dionysos (= Krishna or Indra). Of his text too little is preserved but he spent most of his time in the east, quite far from areas most pervaded by Greeks and Greekness, though not altogether immune to them, especially in architecture, as we shall see.

In the 1st century AD Apollonios of Tyana (in Cappadocia), a wandering philosopher/sage, visited India and Taxila and spoke with their wise men, according to his biographer Philostratos (two centuries later).258 India was always going to be a great resource for tales of the mysterious: such as the giant Indian ants (really marmots) who dug for gold and might be related to the fossil dragons of north India recorded by later Greeks.259 Later, the neo-Platonists and early Christians, notably those from Syria and Alexandria, were to take an interest in the Brahmans and the Buddha. But India had never been a total mystery to Greeks, from early classical times on.260

In this chapter we shall also be addressing Buddhist art, mainly for the contribution made to it by classicizing subjects and style – but it developed its own styles and narrative which owed less to the west.261

The Mauryans and Buddhism

Although the Mauryan dynasty had centred on the Ganges Valley, its rule and activity extended well to the north, into Gandhara and areas permeated by Greeks. Its first king was well known to the Greeks as Sandracotta (Chandragupta) – and according to Indian sources he had been assisted to power by Greeks (‘Yavana’). Its third king Asoka (reigned 268–232 BC) converted to Buddhism and this occasioned the creation of new monuments of architectural and sculptural importance. The ‘stupas’ are a major source: domed structures meant to house relics of the Buddha and surrounded by a walkway with monumental gates and steps lavishly adorned with relief sculpture, highly colourful originally. We shall learn more about the Buddhist stupa shrines with the Sunga dynasty, but Asoka especially celebrated his reign by the erection of single stone pillars on which his edicts were inscribed, placed all across north India; his maxims, some hold, were not without the influence of those of Greek origin, such as were displayed at Aï Khanoum.262We have already noted his bilingual rock inscription at Kandahar. The pillars are crowned by baluster capitals which may look somewhat Achaemenid (like Persian bases) but are more probably a translation into stone of wooden pillars with cushion tops designed to support tentage, and they are well endowed with varieties of Greek floral friezes.263 But they are also crowned by sculptures of a type without Indian precedent. A zebu bull is an eastern creature but here (on the Rampurva pillar) carved realistically [68].264 The Sarnath pillar top (now the Indian national symbol) [PL. XXXVII]265 is crowned by three seated lions whose semi-realism and box-like muzzles have more Hellenistic/Persian about them than anything in preceding local art, and the relief animals in panels beneath them are pure Greek in style, while the relief friezes of lotus and flame-palmettes could hardly be more Hellenistic. It was perhaps these pillars that Strabo (3.5.6) or Apollodoros (3.5.2) found attributed to Dionysos or Herakles, and allegedly inscribed with their deeds.

68 Stone capital from Rampurva. A zebu bull; lotus and palmette on the plinth. 3rd cent. BC. (After DCAA)

The Sunga dynasty

The Sunga dynasty (185–75 BC) was centred more in north India proper, along the Ganges Valley and to the south, although it was essentially also the successor to the Mauryans. However, the Greek elements of the Mauryan heritage in the arts are best pursued in the north, in Gandhara, into centuries AD, and are considered below, while under the Sunga quite different influences from the same quarter produced quite different results. These are more architectural in content, while in sculpture they resemble most the Achaemenid response to Greek arts, by being selective of motifs and patterns. In these respects they presage less the ‘Gandhara style’ than does the record in the north.

The principal sites are major stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut, with a sculptural school also at Mathura, and far to the east at Pataliputra, a site that has yielded important architectural elements. We may recall that Indo-Greek kings, like Demetrios and perhaps Menander, were bold enough to penetrate that far east with force of arms but to no significant effect that we can detect.

Precedent styles of figure art in north India had been varied, more often in terracotta, often rather fussily decorative and their treatment of the human, especially female, form had always expressed that distinctive appreciation of the rotund, which was less evident in the hellenizing arts though certainly not absent. Now it is expressed in new postures and compositions which are broadly classical, with contrapposto and back views, and a new interest in free-standing figures. On the stupas the small reliefs betray the west more in simple iconographic details, like the flying figures with garlands, which are the eastern kin of classical Victories, or groups like a frontal chariot of the sun god. For single monumental figures the influence is more selective and strongly resembles the approach of Achaemenid sculptors some four centuries earlier, introducing overlapping folds of dress on to what was otherwise foldless: in Greek terms almost more archaic than classical. An exaggerated example of the motif appears on a figure from Bharhut [69], for what looks like an Indian rendering of a foreign figure with a long Asian sword.266 It seems more natural on a free-standing figure from Vidisa.267 On reliefs the hovering apsaras in pairs, with flying dress, take the form of a Greek Nike/Victory, as seen in many an arch corner, and as on our PL. XXXI. In India too they may carry wreathes [70],268 and the motif will have a very long history in eastern Asia.269 Following this comes a more realistic treatment of the otherwise lush body forms so familiar in Indian art for centuries to come, a manner which begins in Sanchi with figures more voluptuous even than the Hellenistic, if sometimes less anatomically plausible (a trivial point in the circumstances). The whole development of Sunga sculpture is best regarded as a parallel rather than consecutive phenomenon to that of Gandhara.

69 Relief of a warrior with long sword and archaizing classical dress, from Bharhut. 1st cent. BC. (Calcutta Museum. After DCAA)

70 In this relief from Bharhut, winged apsaras attend a stupa. 1st cent. BC. (Calcutta Museum.)

For architecture, Pataliputra offers a stone capital in the form of a Greek anta capital and with Greek decoration – flame-palmettes, rosettes, tongues and bead-and-reel [71].270 The same form appears elsewhere, better disguised.271 It all seems logically to follow on from what was becoming apparent on the Mauryan columns. The early story that has Greek Saint (‘Doubting’) Thomas travel east and build a palace for the Indo-Parthian King Gondophernes, may conceal more prosaic contacts with Mediterranean practice that were encouraged by eastern kings. Monumentality was no novelty for Indians. The Arthasastra of Kautilya of the late 4th century BC already prescribed processional ways, colonnaded streets, arches, etc.272

Bodh Gaya was where the Buddha received enlightenment and was to be well provided with temples. The early one, from the Sunga period, has many classical features – the new styles of folded drapery, and a variety of subjects for roundels including a mermaid, centaur and winged elephant [72].273

Mathura was a Kushan capital and home to a vigorous sculptural school creating free-standing figures and reliefs. The bucolic scenes, of drunkenness and wild dancing, are as redolent of their Hellenistic ancestry as of much that we recognize readily in later Indian sculpture. The works are in their way more monumental than what we shall see in Gandhara, but there is certainly a connection.274 A relief [73] perhaps indicates well enough the monumentality of the figure style and the character of the subject matter.275Wine is a constantly recurring theme in our story and this may be as good a place as any to reflect upon it. In early days the Greek god Dionysos’ role was portrayed as that of a world-conqueror who spread the word about the importance of wine, and who found especial favour in India. Thus it was easy for a conqueror in the east like Alexander to become assimilated to him. It was said that, in celebratory games which Alexander held for an Indian philospher, Calanus, he included a contest in drinking unmixed wine, from the effects of which all the contestants eventually died, including the victor (a Greek, Promachos).276 We have noted anecdotes relating to Greeks, wine and Alexander’s progress – on Nisa, Meros, etc. There seems to have been at some level a real rapport in this respect at least between the Mediterranean world and the Indian.277 Both Indian and Chinese sources praise the wines of the northwest, and, in Gandharan times, those of Kapisa (Begram). Of all the Indian gods Siva has most to do with Dionysos in behaviour but direct assimilation probably takes the matter too far: enough to observe that Greek Dionysiac worship and practices found a ready echo in northwest India.278 And there are other echoes of the Hellenistic world, as in the relief of an animal-eared man, naked, with serpent legs [74].279 A tympanum bears a centaur-like monster with lion forepart and wings [75],280 a good Hellenistic blend and here before a very Indian makara which will mate with the Greek ketos. The isolated appearance of the Roman carnyx trumpet at Sanchi may be a relic of Alexander’s Gaulish mercenaries.281

71 Anta capital of classical type from Pataliputra. 2nd cent. BC. (After BAI)

72 A centaur on a relief roundel from Bodh Gaya. 2nd cent. BC. (After Coomaraswamy)

73 Relief from Mathura. 2nd cent. BC. (Delhi Museum)

74 Lintel relief: an animal-eared man with snake legs, from Mathura. 2nd cent. BC. (Mathura Museum. Drawing, author)

75 Tympanum from a doorway with two centauresses. From Mathura. 2nd cent. BC. (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts)

Taxila and Gandhara

Chronologically we retrace here events already alluded to in discussion of the Greek record in Asia, but the site at Taxila is the perfect introduction to any account of later Greek fortunes in the east and their relationship to Buddhism and India, other than the earlier history of conflict, largely with Macedonians. The early associations of Taxila and similar sites with India to the south have also to be borne in mind.282

The history of the city of Taxila far predates what we recognize as Buddhist art but its finds and record are an essential introduction to it, and to what is recognized as Gandharan art. Its location between the upper reaches of the Indus and Jhelum rivers set it at a crossroads of several major routes, from northeastern India, from the west and Bactria, and from the steppe north.283 The sprawling town included three city-sites, the Bhir Mound, which is the oldest, Sirkap where the Greeks built, and Sirsukh, of the Kushan period. It was already a major city when Alexander arrived and he is thought to have conversed with Brahmans there.284 On Bhir Mound was, no doubt, the capital of Persia’s richest satrapy, the Indian, and it was from the Aramaic script of the Persian Empire that Indian Kharoshti script was derived, as well as absorbing in time no little from the Greek alphabet.285 Alexander spent time there, sacrificing and planning his progress farther east. Only after the move of the Bactrian Indo-Greeks southward are there excavated remains of Greek building – in what seems to be a deliberate bid to build a Greek city as substantial as Aï Khanoum (recently abandoned) had been, but at a time when Taxila was still a major Buddhist centre, having been established as such by Asoka himself in the mid-3rd century. Of the Greeks moving south it was Demetrios, then Eukratides, who promoted Taxila as a Greek capital for rather less than a century. King Menander was sufficiently acclimatized as to acquire some reputation as a Buddhist scholar, and called himself soter (saviour) on his coins. In his reign Greek rule probably reached its greatest extent. A successor, Antialkidas, is named by his ambassador Heliodoros on a column he dedicated at Besnagar in honour of Vishnu, inscribed ‘Three are the steps to immortality which … followed lead to heaven: self-control, self-denial and watchfulness’. The Greeks were clearly closely involved in the politics and ethos of Buddhism and north India. On coinage this is revealed in the use of Kharoshti beside Greek [50] and even the appearance of square coins, an Indian preference, but now for Greek kings.

The site at Sirkap suited Greek taste – a large, fairly flat area with an isolated ‘acropolis’, and defined by hills and streams. It was surrounded by a stone fortification wall some 3 miles (5 km) in length, and must have been an almost ideal version of those ‘walled cities’ in which the Greeks were said to live in Asia, even more so than Aï Khanoum. It had a broad Main Street running north–south for three-quarters of a mile (over a kilometre), to beside a major fortified gateway in the north, its Greek buildings replacing what amounted to a small suburb of the earlier non-Greek occupancy of the Bhir Mound. Later occupation has somewhat obscured details of the buildings of the Greek period but it is clear that they followed the expected pattern – symmetrical insulae of houses designed in the usual Greek manner with rooms set around an open courtyard. But the plans become less regular with time and the approach of the new Scythian/Parthian settlement, since the city was not abandoned once the Greeks had moved on. Not surprisingly, the Buddhist areas of Sirkap reveal much that is classical – a stupa whose body is simply a large Corinthian capital [76], and another where it is covered by an enormous acanthus leaf [77].286

Some 700 yards (650 m) north of the Sirkap city gate (at Jandial) lie the foundations of a temple of broadly Greek type, but it lacks the usual peripteral columns and instead has thick walls pierced by many windows. But there are the expected pairs of Ionic columns at the entrance [78] and, just within, at the door to the main oikos, it is divided into the expected pronaos and naos, behind which the mass of masonry suggests some towering superstructure, which is very difficult to envisage on an otherwise Greek building. The columns are well constructed, canonical Ionic but not fluted, the walls mainly coursed rubble, the upperworks no doubt wooden. The plan suggests a somewhat different sort of compromise with local practice from that of the temple with niches at Aï Khanoum. Philostratos, writing about Apollonios of Tyana who visited India in the 1st century AD (see below), tells of a 100-ft (30-m) temple before the wall at Taxila, of shell-like stone (so, calcareous limestone or stuccoed?), with a small sanctuary and containing plaques illustrating the deeds of Alexander and the Indian King Poros. It is not wholly clear whether this is the Jandial temple. But the probability is that the building as we know it does not belong to the Greek period at Taxila but to a slightly later one, when Scythian/Saka or Parthian influence was strong, and that this may even be the source of its ‘Greek’ features.287 As we have seen, in the 3rd century AD Saint Thomas supposedly built a palace there for an Indo-Parthian king, when also Apollonios visited the city and saw (he alleged) the altars to the Twelve Gods set up by Alexander on the River Beas.288

76 Model stupa at Taxila with a Corinthian capital supporting the dome. 2nd century BC (?). (After Taxila)

77 Model stupa decorated with classical acanthus leaves, from Taxila. 2nd century BC (?). (After Taxila)

78 Ionic column capital and base from the Jandial Temple, Taxila. 1st century AD (?). (After Taxila)

Among other sites of the region Charsada (Pushkalavati) should be mentioned as a mini-Taxila, yielding some rather less distinguished classicizing sculpture, but also a sealing from a gem with a classical Athena.289

The end of Greek rule at Taxila, or at least the end of the dominance of the Taxila site, comes with the spread of Parthian rule to the east, followed by the arrival of nomads from the north, part of the general southwards movement generated by the Yuehzhi, but in this case involving the Saka (Scythians). Yet their first king there in the mid-1st century BC, Maues, mints coins of Greek type on which he calls himself basileus in Greek and maharaja in Indian Kharoshti, and it is clear that the culture of Taxila long remained dominated by, first, its occupancy before the Greeks by Asokan Buddhism, and then by the Greeks themselves.290 The Saka penetrated far into north India, before being replaced by the Parthians (Pahlavas). Maues was followed by the Saka dynasty of Azes, which ruled in the Indus Valley and Punjab down to AD 30. Of nomad peoples only the Yuehzhi seemed capable of developing a strong non-nomad society, even empire. Throughout this period Greekness was everywhere apparent, the language was spoken and written, the arts understood and practised, by Greeks and others.

The story, in the terms in which we are telling it, is demonstrated by the finds, and we can start from Taxila. Greek ‘classical’ style on objects of Greek type is the least common phenomenon, except on coinage, which has required separate treatment here in terms of both art and of Greek presence. What we find more often is Greek style and subjects translated in various degrees for objects or purposes not essentially Greek at all, not merely imitative of what might be regarded as imported goods but rather inspired by a contemporary and Greek view of what the customer required and understood. ‘Gandhara’ and its arts loom large enough here for the locality to give its name to many of the relevant arts and artifacts. One word of caution. The overall appearance of Gandharan stone sculptures is determined by the material, usually a relatively soft sandstone of a reddish-brown aspect – frankly dull. We must remember that many if not all were gilt, of which there are clear traces on numerous specimens, and there must have been much other colour as well. As with ‘classical’ art our eyes and so our judgment are easily misled by the monochrome appearance of works which originally were bright with colour and gold.

Stone palettes

A prime example of this lack of original decoration, and perhaps the earliest Gandharan manifestation of it, is provided by the little stone palettes, well represented at Taxila and on many other sites, and a common feature of museum collections worldwide. Trivial objects they may be, but they are worth some detailed attention here since they best demonstrate the range of Hellenistic figure devices copied in the east and the way they were adjusted, or not, for a different climate and religion. They are like small saucers with a decorative border and usually a plain underside. The shallow bowl is decorated with figures in relief, commonly over an open area below, which may feature a Greek palmette or eastern lotus, and in time the figures are set in smaller segments of the circle. We might assume that the cavities could serve as a repository for oil or unguents, a view reinforced by the minority which also admit separate small compartments. There is even a possible picture of their use, man to woman.291 But their decoration does not reflect their use at all, and they are in this respect more like decorative miniature phialai with classical subjects in the tondos. They are made of relatively soft stone – steatite and schist – but the best are carefully turned to give a regular section. The general type was known in Ptolemaic Egypt, with relief busts of gods as decoration, and in Anatolia, while versions are met farther east, although nowhere as plentiful as in Gandhara. It is not clear whether the western examples start at all or much earlier than the Gandharan, but this hardly means that they were invented in the east. It is quite likely that their original practical function, no doubt for cosmetics, was forgotten in favour of their appeal as small decorative objects, which is all they are, especially if we think away the dull stony surface and add the gilding which is still apparent on a few, and colour. We may think also of the many plaster-cast medallions found at Begram, taken from Greek metalware, highly decorative and apparently prized for themselves (see below). It is not an uncommon phenomenon in ancient art that the practical soon becomes purely decorative.

The earliest palettes roughly correspond with the foundation of Greek Taxila. There are none at Aï Khanoum, where there are bigger compartmented bowls which might have contributed to the development of the palette types.292 The palettes were still being made in the 1st centuries AD, parallel with early Gandharan sculpture and serving the same market.293 A very Greek series, carefully made and ‘turned’ in the soft schist, is followed by others in which more Parthian traits can be discerned, then Indian, but with Greek subjects and style still clearly apparent. The whole series was very carefully analyzed by Henri-Paul Francfort in 1979 but many more have since become known, not seriously affecting his views but adding a great deal to the iconographic record,294 rich enough for us to dwell upon.

We look at the purely Greek subjects first, and will find them treated in a manner not always closely paralleled in the west, but often demonstrating close knowledge of the appropriate iconography, and in a style that only slightly betrays its distance from the homeland. Thus, one [79] shows in a single scene two successive episodes in the Artemis/Actaeon story.295 At the left and above, the naked bathing goddess is being spied on by the hunter; at the right she (now dressed) supervises his punishment of being torn by his dogs. Another [80] carries an expressive and welcome Dionysiac scene.296 At the top centre the god sits beside a largely naked Ariadne who plies him with wine; a woman harpist and a piping satyr are at the left, another satyr at the right. Below to the right two men are treading grapes in a vat while a third attends with a jug, and at the left two look to a wine crater, one of them tasting the brew; below them two drunkards sleep. There could be no more evocative demonstration of the power of Dionysos and his role in the east, expressed in a purely Greek idiom, though as a whole composition not to be closely paralleled at home. Yet more evocative of both east and west is a palette with a sacrifice scene including a Dionysos-like figure at an altar attended by a Greek Tyche (Fortuna = Hariti in India), an Indian girl with an eastern horn cup, a boy with a goat, and another pouring wine [81].297

79 Stone palette showing Actaeon spying on Artemis and being punished. 1st cent. BC (?). (London, British Museum 1936.12-23)

80 Stone palette showing a Dionysiac assembly. 1st cent. BC. (Delhi Museum 200/1932-3. After Francfort)

Some simpler groups are apparently Greek mythological. A man assaulting a woman between trees is quite likely to be Apollo with Daphne, who will take refuge by turning into a tree [82].298 He is dressed as a Greek and has short curly hair. A man wearing a mantle and a pointed cap approaching a naked kneeling or seated girl in a rocky setting might be related (two examples) if the girl is a Daphne exhausted from being chased, but the man’s dress seems distinctive of someone else (but whom?).299 A burly satyr with a naked nymph is almost traditional in Greek terms.300 In ill. 83, an Indian Aphrodite is attended by Eros, it seems; he holds a bow and a stick (a club? – so Herakles?).301 Two horsemen could well be the Dioskouroi, known in the east, but might be generic; they seem naked and could pass as Greek.302 Another horseman draws his bow at a rampant lion and is accompanied by a dog.303 He seems an easterner, with tunic and trousers, but the scene is familiar west to east in this period. Aphrodite chastising Eros [84] is a familiar although rare western motif.304 More obvious is a Europa on a Zeus-bull, holding a thunderbolt.305

81 Stone palette showing a sacrifice scene for Dionysos. 1st cent. BC. (Private coll.)

82 Stone palette: Apollo attacking Daphne. 1st cent. BC. (New York, Metropolitan Museum 1987.142.108. W. 10 cm)

83 Stone palette: Aphrodite and Eros. 1st cent. BC. (Peshawar Museum. After Francfort. W. 12.6 cm)

84 Stone palette: Aphrodite chastises Eros; from Narai. 1st cent. BC. (London, British Museum 1973.6-18. W. 12 cm)

85 Stone palette: Herakles and Auge. 1st cent. BC. (London, Victoria & Albert Museum IS1218)

We have seen, and shall see again, that Herakles had a good career in the east. On the palette in ill. 85 it looks like him at the right, cowering beside his bow, and then the attendant woman might be Auge, not too unlike western renderings.306 He figures also as a drunkard supported by two women and attended by a lion.307 And similarly, busts only, on a fragmentary rectangular palette.308 The scene in ill. 86 would pose questions of identification wherever found. A near-naked youth lies prostrate, perhaps dead, over the body of a boar and being attended by satyrs – perhaps he is Meleager but his undress suggests Attis, the emasculated consort of Kybele, famously killed by a boar.309 A snake-legged giant wielding boulders [87] is directly in the tradition of the Great Altar at Pergamum, but has a female version too.310 A Poseidon with trident appears attended by women,311 and there is even Eros riding a swan.312

86 Stone palette: the death of Attis (?). From Taxila. 1st cent. BC. (Kansas City. Nelson Gallery. W. 12 cm)

Some subjects seem certainly of Greek inspiration but defy closer identity. The figure in ill. 88 should be Herakles since his quiver, club (below) and lionskin (head seen from above at the right) would make this so.313 But he is unexpectedly, and very oddly, dressed, perhaps even wearing a pointed cap like that worn by the countryside aggressor already noted.314 The victim looks queenly and might be Omphale, but she was attacked in her palace not a woodland. One wonders whether the creator had an easy explanation – he is master of a style, part Greek (the man’s head), part eastern, of a type not easily paralleled.

87 Stone palette: a giant. 1st cent. BC (Private, Colmar. After Francfort. W. 10 cm)

88 Stone palette: Herakles and Omphale? 1st cent. BC. (Bull Collection. After Francfort)

Greek subjects especially adjusted to local interests form a larger class. Of these the most notable is the ketos sea monster, which was invented in Greece in the 5th century BC. There it had a long fishy body, two flippers or forelegs (more or less feline), a head with a long muzzle, tall ears, a louring forehead, and was in due course given the option of horns and a beard. The body can boast seaweed or acanthus-like frills. We have met one already on a probably Bactrian phalera [53] and it proves to have a distinguished history elsewhere as well as on our current concern, the palettes. It, and its Nereid companion, are common subjects for the tondi of Hellenistic plate (for example, a group found in South Russia, neighbouring Central Asia).315 In Greece the ketos often serves as the mount for a Nereid who may carry new armour for Achilles or a cup. She may appear dressed, rather formal, or near-naked, often sprawled on the beast as commonly in later Hellenistic art. Both types appear in the east, as well as other riders. Most like the Nereid is a woman in Greek dress, usually holding a cup like a phiale [89].316 She once seems to feed the monster from the phiale, which is something a Nereid might do.317 On others there are two groups. But the other more exotic naked nymphs also appear, generally showing their backs and dressed only with the crossed ribbons derived from Hellenistic Greek jewelry and much favoured in Gandharan/Indian art. There are fine statuettes of such (un)dressed figures from Taxila, as well as many reliefs which we shall come to shortly, and one palette has the bare lady, back to us, seated beside two musicians, one of whom leans on a Greek lyre.318 But first the ketea. On other palettes the girl is clambering on to the beast from the side, as in PL. XL319 – a very imaginative pose, and on a piece where the gilding has been comparatively well preserved; on another she is comfortably settled [90].320 But both are attended by an Eros, showing that the measure of Greek identity has not been forgotten.321 The nude back view could easily have beensuggested by the common Greek motif of a naked Nereid, seen from the back, clambering on to or clutching the side of a hippocamp. One variant palette has her alone on a hippocamp, not a ketos,322 and on others the ketos has acquired a bull’s head,323 or a winged lion forepart,324 or a panther’s head with the girl holding a snake (or dress?).325 On one she is accompanied by a real Triton [91].326 What is most remarkable here is that the Triton, who seems almost to carry her, is holding a dolphin on his arm, a motif we have already met in ill. 63 and one with possible associations with the River Oxus. Once the Nereid is winged,327 and on one fragment she formed part of a group.328 The popularity of the motif on the palettes is difficult to fathom, unless, for the more formal one, a local identity had been devised (like the Triton/Oxus); the nakedness of the others is in keeping with much from north India of this date, such as the ivories from Begram [103] and a number of somewhat bucolic reliefs [111]. We shall see that the ketositself will find its kin in the Indian makara.

89 Stone palette: a Nereid on a ketos. (Alsdorf Collection. After Czuma 1985)

90 Stone palette: a Nereid mounting a ketos, greeted by Cupid. From Taxila. 1st cent. BC. (Taxila Museum 175/1932-3. After Francfort. W. 8 cm)

91 Stone palette: a two-tailed Triton holding a dolphin embraces a naked Nereid. 1st cent. BC. (New York, Metropolitan Museum 1987.142.4. W. 11.43 cm)

There are later ‘Parthian’ palettes, still very Greek in spirit and many retaining Greek subjects, where the Nereid may be replaced by Eros or a youth, and once there are two youths on ketea holding cups [PL. XXXVIII],329 or where the monster’s head has become leonine and lost its special ketoid character.330 A more typical subject for the ‘Parthian’ is a drinking couple, such as is found on other Parthian works (buckles, etc.),331 with the remote possibility of being an echo of paired Dionysos and Ariadne, as onPL. XXXI of much the same date.

The whole class starts with an iconography of pure Greek inspiration, deriving immediately from Indo-Greek Bactria and sometimes quite novel. It comes to accept more and more the subjects and even the style of later rulers in Gandhara – Parthians, Indians. It gives a vivid demonstration of the ease with which Greek subjects could be copied, adapted and acclimatized in non-Greek environments, and apparently become accepted as ‘native’.

It is tempting to associate with the palette form some roundels in silver with Greek ovolo borders, figuring a goddess with a child on her lap on a bird-topped throne but in a more ‘Indian’ style of the early years AD [PL. XXXIX] – she is the local version of a mother-goddess type whose general appearance and history ranges from the Mediterranean to the China Seas.332

Gems and seals

Tantalizingly, much of what we might reasonably regard as Greek production in the Gandhara area has no excavated context. This is commonly the case with seal stones, yet they are an important source of evidence for the diffusion of types. We have already considered the ‘Greco-Persian gems’ of the period of Persian domination [11–13]. The type did not die with the Persian Empire, and although new ‘Hellenistic’ styles soon found their way east, there was a very strong survival of the Greco-Persian, in what I have called the Bern Group.333 These retain the scaraboid shape, rarely the tabloid, and their style tends to exaggerate the bulbous carving (a globolo) of some of the earlier series. Subjects include fewer with human figures although there are glimpses still of the Macedonian. One has a pure Greco-Persian cavalry duel [92].334 The Persian seated ladies persist, but there are also a few seals with scenes of sexual activity that seem almost a Greek comment on superficial Persian respectability. Most subjects are animal and they soon begin to include types such as the eastern zebu bull [93].335 There are also finger rings in the style, commonly with the seated-lady motif. They are well diffused in the east, even to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), but it is hard to tell just how late they might run. Some are certainly contemporary with the Taxilan [95] (see below), and their immediate successors, so they seem to represent a quite vigorous production which chose to cling still to old Greco-Persian manners rather than the new Hellenistic. And they are not confined to the east of the old empire. Far to the west there is a cylinder showing Celtic mercenary troops and inscribed in Aramaic.336

92, 93 Impressions of seals: a jasper scaraboid from Ephesus showing a Persian horseman attacking a Greek, and a chalcedony scaraboid showing a zebu bull. 2nd/1st cent. BC. (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum 1892.1596. W. 27 mm; St Petersburg, Hermitage Museum. W. 15 mm.)

The more elaborate and heavy Hellenistic finger rings were also being produced with subjects of mixed origin and style. One gold ring, still of the old oval shape, carries a dressed woman with a wreath and a version of a satyr holding grapes, a slightly distorted rendition of a purely Greek subject. Some are all-metal like one with seated and standing figures that seem broadly Greek in style but Indian in subject [94].337 Others have elaborately decorated hoops with relief figures, such as one where the sides of the hoop bear low-relief groups of the big Garuda bird carrying a figure,338 a scene which might derive from the Greek group of Zeus’ eagle carrying Ganymede. In this case the bezel features a stone intaglio with a countrified version of a Greek Aphrodite and a half-finished figure (?), such as was a frequent subject for these eastern stones well into centuries AD and to as far away as Ceylon.

94 Silver finger ring: a woman offers a jug to another, seated. Inscribed in Kharoshti (Eilenberg Coll., Metropolitan Museum. H. 29 mm.)

But there is more of better Greek, but eastern pedigree. The most notable example is a brilliant portrait of Alexander proclaimed as of eastern manufacture both by its very rare material (elbaite, a variety of tourmaline) and the presence of a tiny inscription in the Indian Kharoshti script at the neckline [PL. VIII]. A sardonyx bought in Peshawar has a Hellenistic Aphrodite and is inscribed ‘of Diodoros’.339 A seal-engraver at Taxila left three specimens of his work which relate to the Greco-Roman in style and subject but not material [95].340 At Tillya Tepe (1st century AD) there are classical subjects worked in turquoise, the local material (notably from Chorasmia), as well as gold finger rings, with Athenas and inscribed in a rather provincial Greek script [PL. XLIII].341 A turquoise cameo of Herakles’ head (probably copied from a coin) combines the new local material with the new hero for the east [96].342 The head of his lover Omphale wearing his lionskin cap appears on a cameo from Akra, Pakistan [PL. XLIV].343 From the same regions is a fine intaglio with a plump indianized Tyche [97].344 Later comes a fine frontal Buddha head in a ruby-like corundum.345

95 Three seals from Taxila featuring stags, two attacked by lions. 2nd/1st cent. BC. (After GGFR)

96 Turquoise cameo head of Herakles. 2nd cent. BC. (Missouri University)

97 Intaglio impression from northwest Pakistan showing Tyche, with cornucopia. 2nd cent. BC. (Victoria & Albert Museum 14.1948.408A. Photo, author)

Given the Greek penchant for seal-engraving with figures and small groups, rather than the more hieratic styles of Mesopotamia, we should not be surprised that the genre was well received in Gandhara and north India. The Greco-Persian style dies hard, often embellished with the Indian/oriental swastika or taurine (bull-head) sign. There is a plethora of classical subjects in shapes of classical type in our area, serving, it seems, both Indo-Greeks and Indians, who modestly adjust the style for sometimes more flamboyant figures.346 Many intaglios, notably in glass, present local renderings of the most popular classical subjects – such as Herakles and the Lion, Pegasus,347 or Nike. A seal impression in Oxford bears a long Kushan inscription, dating it to the 2nd/3rd century AD, and bears an unmistakable Herakles fighting one of the horses of Diomedes, in the familiar Greek group and in a broadly classical style [98].348 Among the intaglios we are as likely to find a Greek Pegasus as an Indian zebu bull, and, as in sculpture, a Hariti masquerading as a Greco-Roman Tyche/Fortuna.349 The classical subjects are only slightly adjusted, even those also bearing a Kharoshti inscription; we have, for example, a chalcedony with an enthroned Tyche/Hariti with cornucopia attended by an Eros-like child [99].350 There are no few collections of such seals and sealings betraying a mixture of Greek, Greco-Persian and simply Indian styles and choices of subject.351

98 Seal impression. Herakles with one of the horses of Diomedes. 1st cent. AD. (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum AN 1953.131)

99 Chalcedony seal impression showing Tyche/Hariti with a child. 1st cent. AD (After Callieri. Drawing, author)


Jewelry was no less affected by Greek types, it seems. Bactrian-Greek arts included the jeweller’s, and many basic types recur or are copied. There are gold spiral bracelets of Greek type, tipped with the head of a snake, sea monster (ketos) or crocodile, and others with the Greek artist’s signature and a Greek weight record.352

There is considerable similarity west and east, sometimes in details such as earrings – Erotes as earrings had a long currency east of the Mediterranean, as in Parthian Nimrud353 – and there is more than a superficial similarity between the undress of Greek figures and the Gandhara ladies seated at a drinking party [111] as well as the nymphs we have seen clambering on to sea monsters on palettes. The near-nude look for women came naturally in a climate such as that of north India and with the importance of fertility goddesses, just as it did in Greece where wealthy women were would-be Aphrodites, and, at least for the courtesan market, dress of hardly more than chains of gold linking ornate buckles, pectorals and the like, clearly occupied the time and invention of goldsmiths. This elegant style of undress seems well represented especially in western Asia Minor but is common to the whole Hellenistic world and very closely copied in the undress afforded women at Sanchi, on Begram ivories and on palettes.

One purely Indian jewelry type is the necklet with matching terminals centre front, with some central jewel or other decoration. PL. XXXVI (also ill. 1) seems to be one such, a little winged figure, rather like a sphinx, wearing body jewelry of Greek/Indian type. But this is a reading sphinx, such as Oedipus encountered, and on the scroll she holds we read, in Greek letters – ΘEA – ‘goddess’ – an Indian devi. She is related to gold earrings found in the east, local versions of the Hellenistic.354 In a similar position on a Gandhara Bodhisattva appear the familiar ketos heads, while a classical bust, perhaps Herakles, sits at the centre of the same figure’s collar.355 Commoner are small figures or groups of classical subjects in gold, barely if at all adjusted for the east: at Taxila, a boy and girl group that recall Eros and Psyche, and later at Tillya Tepe the Aphrodite sporting wings and an Asian caste mark on her forehead [PL. XXXV], and another with butterfly wings (as worn by Psyche in the west) and holding an Eros [PL. XXXIV].356A more completely in-the-round gold Aphrodite has Eros clambering up her leg [100].357 A naked, dancing, kissing couple accompanied by Eros are wholly Hellenistic, in relief on a blue glass roundel.358

100 Gold statuette of Aphrodite and Eros, from Gandhara. 1st cent. BC/AD. (London, British Museum 1962.11-12.1. H. 3.8 mm)


A notable feature of finds of silver plate in the east has been the number of late Hellenistic drinking vessels with elaborate figure decoration and a rich repertoire of classical subjects – and we may bear in mind also the casts of such material found at Begram in later years (see below). The common shape, kantharoid, has its effect too. One in a hoard has a fine Dionysiac and theatrical worship scene [101],359 and from the same hoard are cups with centaurs, an old Heraklean/Dionysiac lyre-player seated on a lion, the rending of Pentheus by three maenads, a party of Erotes and rustic scenes. Cups with horizontal fluting recall the Persian.360 Greek, Persian, Scythian and Indian names appear on them, and weights are given in various standards, Greek to Indian.361 These give an important clue to one of the sources of unusual and up-to-date Hellenistic motifs to inspire Greek and local artists.

101 The decoration on a silver cup showing a scene of the worship of Dionysos. 1st cent. BC. (Kreitman Collection. After Crossroads. Drawing, Marion Cox)

102 Silver cup from Buddhigharra featuring a drinking scene. 2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1937.3-19.1. Diam. 25.1 cm)

A phiale (western shape) from Buddhigharra (Punjab) [102] offers what amounts to an Indian Dionysos and Ariadne drinking in a vineyard,362 and with the wavy fluting we see on western plate. The style of the figures is in marked contrast with that in ill. 101, which is pure Greek.

The ordinary pottery of the Kushan world owes much to the tradition of Greco-Bactrian.363 To the north, it is remarkable how, even earlier, Greek potters in the east seem to have kept in step with developments in the west, even in the common wares.364


Before looking more closely at the ‘Gandhara style’, there is a site which is as important as Taxila and which illustrates the distant connections of the area over much the same period, the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. It is Begram, a palace site in which two rooms were found walled up and full of objects that seem to present a good cross section of the trading interests of Gandhara in this period.365 A few are purely western of the early Roman period.366 More revealing are eastern works that betray strongly the effect of Greek arts. The many ivory reliefs from furniture are broadly in the style of the Sunga stupas and their successors in north India. A splendid ivory plaque with incised figures of Indian women, largely naked, is bordered by a pattern of rinceaux with birds which is purely Hellenistic, while at the corners are compositions of combined animal heads just like the so-called grylli of contemporary western gem-engraving [103],367 and some of the whole figures of women copy western subjects more closely – one wringing her wet hair like any Aphrodite.368 Free-standing ivory figures of women manage to combine western drapery conventions with a marked degree of the Indian voluptuous treatment of the female form, and broadly resemble a figure found in Pompeii, which is far stiffer in its pose.369

103 Ivory plaque from Begram depicting women at leisure, with a floral border. 2nd cent. AD. (Kabul Museum)

An unusual group of objects in the rooms is of plaster casts made from metal vases and figurines, displaying a very good range of relief figure styles of late Hellenistic type and of western origin.370 It is not easy to understand their purpose but the practice of making casts from important relief plate seems widespread and was remarked by Pliny (Nat. Hist. 33. 157, apropos of pieces too valuable to cast in metal). They might have served as models for local metal-smiths but what we can distinguish of such work obviously made in the east is never quite so ambitious. Moreover, it would not explain why, among the relief casts, there is a cast of a life-size human foot. It is more as though a set of casts in use by some western artist had been carried east as curious works of art, or simply for their potential as decoration. A very few similar casts have been found elsewhere in the east. We should probably not overvalue them as evidence for sources of classicism in the east.

Otherwise Begram offers a fine range of good early Roman (or Alexandrian) glass, much of it painted and one piece showing in relief the Pharos (Lighthouse of Alexandria) [104],371 which may be a clue to the source of much of the rest; and there are small western bust bronzes for perfume, even a Roman type of folding chair (curule) on which a later Kushan king may be shown seated.372

Greek and/or Roman – a memo

Inevitably, for our western comparanda, we turn to the Roman world, which by now encompassed all of Greece and much of the Near East. For Mesopotamia and parts of Persia the most impressive monuments are the great cities modelled on a Roman imperial style with triumphal arches, massive forums and temples and colonnaded streets. But we might remember that this is an area which had been used to monumental architecture from long before Rome was founded, and, even given that ‘classical’ architecture began with Greece, that this is no good reason to associate Greeks especially with the new building. Moreover, closer inspection reveals how much of the east is still expressed in both the detail and use of the buildings. A temple of Jupiter is also one of Baal, and often it is local religious practice rather than anything specifically Roman (let alone Greek) that determined the layout, use and fortunes of such buildings.373

104 Painted glass model of the Lighthouse (Pharos) at Alexandria, from Begram. (Kabul Museum. H. 16.8 cm)

Beyond Persia it is a different matter. Real Greek presence is obvious, and for the most part what we observe copies most closely the work of those parts of the eastern Roman Empire which were still Greek in language and tradition – more of Alexandria and Aphrodisias than of Italy, and stylistically there is a certain divide still between east and west in the arts of the Mediterranean. Contrast the effects of Roman metropolitan (in Italy) art in Roman Britain or Gaul. In Asia Minor particularly the Romans were very active in the early centuries AD and on non-military matters. Great new temples and civic structures were built, especially under Hadrian, who himself visited Asia Minor twice. This activity certainly may have involved some degree of Roman presence, tempered by a Greek population with skills in architecture. But it was the Hellenistic tradition which survived and was influential to the east,374 where Hadrian’s successors were more preoccupied with Parthia. Intellectually the Greeks of Asia Minor were if anything more ambitious than the scholars of their homeland – philosophers (Dio Chrysostom, Epictetus), historians (Strabo, Pausanias, Arrian), doctors (Galen), all born in Asia Minor.375 On the ground, Latin inscriptions are very rare indeed.

When it comes to details in the representational arts, early Roman art certainly developed the notion of continuous narrative, the same figure appearing in successive scenes, a style which the physical disposition of Greek art seldom encouraged except on some series of temple metopes. It well suited series of narrative scenes of the life of the Buddha, but these are generally more naively composed. There is certainly some reason to look for direct inspiration from the arts of imperial Rome even beyond what was developed in the Greek world, although there is little if any evidence of such ‘Roman’ transmission so far to the east. In fact Indian types of narrative art can be even more sophisticated than the Roman.376 In matters of dress the distinctive style of wearing the Roman toga is not adopted rather than variations of the usual Hellenistic Greek himation.377

In general there is a great deal ‘classical’ of the early centuries AD in the east which, in Mediterranean terms, one could judge as much graecized Roman as Greek – notably the many bronze statuettes of gods.378 However, the overwhelmingly Greek character of all the coinage of this period, and well into the centuries AD, and the absence of Roman coins or Latin, speaks decisively for the principal source of classicism in the area beyond Persia.379

Yet Augustan art in particular is picked out by some scholars as the inspiration for Gandharan arts. In its way it exemplifies what Greek artists brought to Rome, to be developed for quite different purposes. Almost all the artists’ names on monumental art of the period in Italy are Greek and what they brought west was practised still at home in developing Hellenistic/Roman styles. It would not be easy to say of any Gandharan motif that there was more of Rome than Greece in it, nor does it much matter, and Roman motifs, such as the wolf with Romulus and Remus, were current throughout the Roman Empire. The immediate access to the east was via Egypt and Greek lands, where the Roman too could promote Greek arts at a high level (for example, the emperor Hadrian) rather than overland through Mesopotamia and Persia. But even allowing for the strong Greek tradition in architecture there are certainly some signs of knowledge of Roman architectural practice.380

For India a new route was opened through the Red Sea and across to the Indian Ocean (which the Greeks called the Red Sea), by open sea rather than along the Persian Gulf, aiming for Barygaza (Bharuch). Its starting point was among the ‘Greek Egyptians’ of Alexandria, and it moved a Greek to write a sailor’s guide to the Ocean – in Greek.381 This will have stimulated further trade from India, notably in precious stones, which suddenly become more varied in their range in the Mediterranean world. Some Roman pottery and coins arrive in the east too, but most conspicuously in the south (including Ceylon) rather than the north, where connections seem mainly with the east Roman/Greek world. Pliny says that India received at least five million silver sesterces annually, selling back at a hundredfold profit.382 Alexandria (which the writer Lawrence Durrell called ‘the capital of Asiatic Europe’), remained a key factor in all this commerce, and a 2nd-century AD papyrus deals with loans made there to finance trade with the Ganges Valley – spices, ivory, textiles.383 And the Greco-Egyptian link is nicely illustrated by a classical bronze 1st-century BC/AD figure of Harpocrates, found at Taxila [105].384

The story of the Greek Eudoxos is illuminating (Strabo 2.3.4), whether or not, as alleged, he ever circumnavigated Africa. He worked in Egypt for the Ptolemaic court (which also robbed him of precious stones and spices) on the India run, and his cargoes out included craftsmen, dancing girls and doctors. The Indians called their Greek (and probably any western) visitors Yavanas (Yona, Yonaka) using a version of the old term (Yauna) employed first for them by the Assyrians in Syria a millennium before.385 The evidence for trade links in the early centuries AD is strong, with envoys passing west and east to 1st-and 2nd-century Roman emperors.386 But Greek, not Latin, scripts are in use, notably by the Kushans, and one of the earliest Kushan coins showing the Buddha as a figure (and in the Greek manner) rather than a symbol, names him in Greek letters, BODDO [106].387 Strangely, the Greek alphabet continued in occasional use for non-Greek languages; it (and Aramaic, which had largely disappeared) may have seemed in its way more easy to use and understand than some local scripts, and it seems to have been spoken even as an official language in the Kushan Empire.388 An inscription in Greek letters records a predecessor of Kanishka setting up temples and the installation of figures of gods and kings.389 Aelian (12.48) said that the Indians transcribe the poems of Homer into their own language and recite them. Whether this practice could be a source for artistic invention also is another matter; I am sceptical.390

105 Bronze figure of Harpocrates from Taxila. 1st cent. AD. (Taxila Museum. After Harle)

106 Gold Kushan coin showing the Buddha. (London, British Museum. W. 20 mm)

Overall, Warwick Ball’s account of the problem391 is exemplary and he allows me to quote his last paragraph: ‘Most of all it must be pointed out that the controversies over Greco-Bactrian versus direct Roman versus Irano-Hellenistic origins for Gandharan art are not in conflict: all hypotheses must be substantially correct. None of the hypotheses so far argued can by themselves account for the unquestionable western character of the style. But the combination of all forces and influences is the only possible explanation for perhaps the most extraordinary syncretism in art history. To argue for one hypothesis over the others is to miss the point.’

The ‘Gandhara style’ in sculpture

The Gandhara style is generally applied to the relief sculpture from the stupas of Gandhara,392 and to a range of statuettes and reliefs with comparable figures. Exploration of it has become a fashionable pursuit for both classicists and scholars of Asia. It is taken to exemplify the effect of Greek sculptural forms on Buddhist art of the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, in the period of Kushan rule, and this, indeed, it does very well. It may be regarded as a Kushan-Indian invention based on the pervasive classical ambience, and distinct from Kushan dynastic arts, which are more closely dependent on northern and even Parthian practices.393 Immediate predecessors must be sought in works discussed already, even the earlier palettes, and even far to the north at a site like Khalchayan, north of the Oxus, which has produced classicizing works displaying a surprising range of naturalism and expression, mainly in clay, even a helmeted goddess.394 These are perhaps more Parthian than earliest Gandhara/Kushan, but we do not know what by way of major sculpture might have graced the home of the prince of the Tillya Tepe graves in the 1st century AD.

The phenomenon is worth a moment’s thought. Classical art, its realistic poses, compositions and sometimes adjusted identities, are being used to demonstrate a different religion and mythological world in a vastly different environment. Something of the same sort was to happen again, but without the environmental change, when classical art was discovered by Renaissance artists and used to illustrate the Bible and Christian traditions. A major difference is that the emotional power of classicism, rather than its compositions and narrative, was not as deeply exploited in the east as it was to be in Christian Europe, although much of the power of calm figure groups is captured in some of the earlier reliefs, as also the techniques of narrative.

The main series of the Gandharan reliefs are generally small and come from stairways on stupas, whence there are also some triangular corner-pieces, or from pillars, but there are more monumental works too. The stone is dull and often dark, uninspiring (mainly phyllite). We have to remember again that, as for most parts of the ancient world, what we see is not what antiquity saw. All classical and Indian sculpture was highly coloured, the classical realistically, the Indian probably more lividly and much like the highly painted Hindu temples of the modern world. Gilding too was widely employed. The Gandhara stone sculpture rarely shows signs of the gilding, even less of the colour, but we should judge it in terms which allow for an appearance very different indeed from what we see today. The copying by Renaissance artists of classical works from which time had removed all colour has generated an expectation in the west, and wherever western art has penetrated, that sculpture, in the round or relief, should be blank – whence the appearance of all classicizing architectural sculpture, monuments and memorials, which accounts for most of what is seen publicly in the west today. This gives us such a false view of antiquity, which was a bright and colourful place, in Athens as much as India.

107 Relief of a man assaulting a woman, from Butkara. 2nd cent. AD. (After ACSS)

One of the earliest sources is Butkara in the Swat Valley.395 The erotic relief in ill. 107 is very Greek in spirit and detail of dress (notice the female figleaf).396 Some of the earliest reliefs from the Buddhist monuments present subjects in which it is indeed difficult to detect Buddhism at all, rather than a Greek ceremonial of some sort involving prince and consort. Such is seen in ill. 108, where the dress is wholly Greek and a man and woman are attended by others, one bearing a large cup.397 There are several similar reliefs centring on a senior male and with, it seems, a woman being presented. Where dress is concerned the treatment of drapery can sometimes look even like ‘sub-archaic’ Greek, with the zigzag folds which had also attracted Achaemenid artists. A striking example is a piece from Mathura.398 The feature may indeed be derived from Persian graecizing practice but it is more probably a reflection of the renewed interest in such archaic patterning in the Greek world itself – the ‘neo-Attic’ archaizing styles of the 1st century BC, which exaggerated such patterning. Another feature of such reliefs and much else Gandharan is their commitment to frontality where, in the classical world, most figures would be presented in profile. This may be due in part to earlier Indian traditions and in part to the preference for frontality by now found throughout the Parthian world.

What we might judge to be Dionysiac themes were especially popular, affecting style and content.399 A festive group, with music, includes a male with a cup and very bare body and a woman carrying a Greek wine amphora, none too accurately copied [109].400A Dionysiac group closely based on western models has a typical drunken Silenus on his donkey, offered wine by a dressed Indian maenad [110], a commonplace of the Mediterranean world in the Hellenistic and later corpus of such scenes, notably in the Triumph of Dionysos, celebrating the god’s victories in the east.401 The ‘Stacy Silenus’ and Palikhera block feature corpulent drinking Sileni accompanied by figures in Indian dress holding grapes and offering appropriate support, the former from the Mathura area demonstrating a link already noted.402 These were pedestal blocks designed to support large bowls, and they show how the themes could be adapted to an only slightly different environment. The bare-backed ladies and their bibulous companions have been remarked already apropos of their appearance on the Gandhara palettes.403 A relief in Lahore offers the near-naked ladies at feast again [111] on a relief of interesting shape, the sides taking the form of lion legs. This is simply a copy of the side of a classical footstool, and the Indian versions do not always bother to show the leonine details as here.404

108 Relief of couples in Greek style from Takht-I Bahi. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1900.4-14.13. W. 33 cm)

109 Relief with drinkers and musicians, from Hadda. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (Paris, Guimet Museum)

110 Relief with a drunken Indian Silenos on a mule. 2nd cent. AD. (Private coll. After Boardman, Nostalgia)

111 Relief in the shape of a stool side and showing drinking couples. 2nd cent. AD. (Lahore Museum 1914)

Groups of marine heroes appear, posing like Greek athletes but with exaggerated physique and acanthoid frills at the waist which seem a Greek addition to the human and monstrous in the east.405 Other reliefs are simply new renderings of the putti and garlands which decorated Roman-period sarcophagi of the Greek world,406 or versions of the architectural rinceaux of the west407 such as we have seen already decorating an Indian ivory at Begram [103]. The putti with garlands persist even on to the Kanishka casket-reliquary [112].408

112 Replica of the Kanishka casket (1st cent. AD), copper; original from Shah-jik-i-Dheri, Peshawar. (London, British Museum OA 1880-270. H. 18 cm)

113 Relief of children (Cupids) with swags. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1940.7.-13.1)

The way the garlands often have swags of flowers or fruit hanging from them [113]409 is a feature of sarcophagi from Asia Minor from the mid-2nd century AD on, rather than Italy. The hellenized figure groups seem almost a logical succession to the ivory rhyta of Nisa [42–45]. And when, exceptionally, we find a rendering of the Trojan horse being pushed towards the gates of Troy [114], we have an iconographic scheme of purely western inspiration, even if not very closely matched there, enhanced by a thoroughly oriental Cassandra trying to bar the way into the city.410 And equally distanced from the original is another representation of the same scene where there is just a Cassandra holding a cup (?) and the horse with a warrior emerging from its neck, owing nothing to the west beyond the story.411

114 Relief showing the Trojan Horse before the gates of Troy, barred by Cassandra. From Mardan. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1990.10-13.1. W. 25.4 cm)

Corner-pieces for the stupa steps are decorated sometimes with classical figures of Tritons and the like, whose tailed bodies fit the angular frame well [115].412 Somewhat larger reliefs in the same style concentrate on the Buddha and his adventures, and also his entourage, often including an attendant Herakles as Parthian Vajrapani, with thunderbolt (ex-club), as attendant.413 A far odder Herakles/Vajrapani figure appears on a relief in an architectural setting, cloaked, booted and hooded.414 Vajrapani’s iconographic derivation from Herakles is as striking as his frequent attendance on the Buddha in art.415 There is also a far more classical young Herakles with diminished lionskin from Swat [116].416

A recurrent subject is noted also elsewhere here (p. 154): a great eagle lifting a human figure. In the Greek world this is the Zeus-eagle carrying off Ganymede. In the east the figure is female, and may be an Anahita.417 This practice of borrowing a classical scheme or group for a different cast is carried further in relief groups which show a pillar being lifted (to measure or crush the Buddha, it is not clear which) and are based on classical groups of satyrs lifting a Dionysos herm, or Cupids with Herakles’ club, or raising a trophy.418

115 Stair-corner relief with a winged Triton, from Peshawar. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1889.10-16.2. H. 28.5 cm)

116 Relief showing a young Herakles, his head with a halo. From Swat. 2nd cent. AD. (After Fest. Fischer)

Many of the small reliefs are flanked by boxed columns which are versions of the classical Corinthian. They may be inspired by the corner columns of some classical sarcophagi. In the east their capitals are less basket-like (an exception being the stupa-capital in ill. 76), and have their leaves flatter and spread, the whole subdivided horizontally rather than vertically. Larger versions appear in the round and these may entertain figures seated among the leaves, even the Buddha [117],419 or a splendid version of the reclining Herakles/Verethagna with his cup, as he had appeared long before at Bisitun [38], on a capital from Karatepe on the Oxus [118].420 There are several at Butkara.421 From the market and somewhat later in date is a set of three with the Buddha and attendants.422And then there is the love affair between the orientalizing Greek leaf-and-dart pattern, with pointed leaves, and the eastern lotus with rounded leaves. Hellenistic rinceaux of spirals and waves of foliage appeared on the Begram ivories but also on Gandharan reliefs, including even the small Eros-like familiars.423

117 Corinthian capital with the figure of the Buddha. From Jamalgarhi. 2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1880.357)

118 Corinthian capital with the figure of reclining Herakles. From Karatepe. 2nd cent. AD. (After ACSS)

XXXI Gold and turquoise plaque from Tillya Tepe. Dionysos and Ariadne, crowned by a Victory, ride a lion. A satyr gleans drops from the god’s cup. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. 7 × 6.5 cm)

XXXII Gold plaques. A fully armed warrior stands in an arbour, with lions, from Tillya Tepe. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. 9 × 6.3 cm)

XXXIII Gold hairpin tops, of acanthus and lotus leaves, from Tillya Tepe. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. Diam. 7.5 cm)

XXXIV Gold plaque. Winged Aphrodite with Eros, standing between pillars. From Tillya Tepe. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. 4.5 × 2.5 cm)

XXXV Gold plaque. Winged Aphrodite leaning on a column. From Tillya Tepe. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. H. 5.0 cm)

XXXVI Gold finial from a necklet. A siren holds a scroll inscribed ΘEA (‘goddess’). See also ill. 1. (Kreitman Coll. After Crossroads. H. 3.8 cm)

XXXVII Stone pillar capital from Sarnath. Lions on a plinth decorated with rosettes, a horse and zebu, over a bell-shaped member. 3rd century BC. (Calcutta, India Museum H. 2.15 m)

XXXVIII Stone palette showing two youths riding ketea. 2nd century AD. (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum EA 1996.82. Photo, Museum)

XXXIX Silver roundel showing an enthroned goddess with a child on her lap, in an ovolo border. (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum EA 1977.22. Photo, Museum)

XL Stone palette showing a woman climbing onto the flank of a ketos and greeted by Cupid. Traces of gilding. (Unknown whereabouts)

XLI Stone head of a Bodhisattva from an acrolithic statue. 2nd century AD. (Ortiz Collection. H. 58 cm)

XLII Clay head of a Bodhisattva, from Tapa Shutor. 2nd century AD. (New York, Metropolitan Muuseum 1986.2. Photo, author)

XLIII Two gold ring bezels (one with silver centre) showing the goddess Athena and inscribed with her name, from Tillya Tepe. 1st century AD. (Kabul Museum. 1.6 × 1.2, 3 × 2.2 cm)

XLIV Onyx cameo showing the head of Omphale wearing Herakles’ lion skin cap, from Akra. (London, British Museum 1893.0502.1)

XLV Sasanian gilt silver cup showing Herakles tipping the boar onto Eurystheus who hides in a pot. 5th/6th cent. AD. (Ortiz Collection. Diam. 19.9 cm)

XLVI Sardonyx cameo showing a Sasanian king defeating a Roman. 5th cent. BC. (Paris, Bibl. Nat. Babelon no. 360)

For figures in the round there is the Buddha himself, posed now in classical contrapposto, dressed in his Indian robe rendered as a Greek himation, and with his distinctive topknot adjusted to Hellenistic modes of hairdressing [119].424 A striking example is the Ortiz head [PL. XLI], probably 2nd-century in date, which offers even something of early Roman imperial portraiture. It is from near Peshawar, and parts of its body have been identified which show that it was probably an ‘acrolith’, with dressed parts of the figure rendered in wood.425 It is of a Bodhisattva, a Buddhist saint. A comparable younger head, in clay, is from Tapa Shutor [PL. XLII].426 Earlier, from Mathura, a cross-legged figure seems also to boast something approximating to a classical portrait head.427Most Kushan royal sculpture is rendered in a strictly frontal manner that owes most to styles such as the Parthian, and partly to the steppes, but there is much also which is classicizing.

119 Statue of the Buddha. From Mardan. 2nd cent. AD. (After DCAA)

120 Relief of Hariti and Panchika under a tree. 2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1939.1-19.18. H. 19 cm)

More common are smaller groups in high relief or virtually in the round, depicting deities. Figures generally identified as Panchika and Hariti, guardians of wealth and fertility, seem popular. In ill. 120 they are posed under a tree with Panchika like a near-naked Herakles, and Hariti any Greek goddess wearing a low crown, and with the whole group reminiscent of a classical scene of Herakles with one of the Hesperides beside the Tree of Life.428 In ill. 121, in different classical poses, the god is presented more like a Dionysos and Hariti as Tyche/Fortuna with her cornucopia.429 The classical repertoire of figures, dress and attributes, could, it seems, readily be adjusted to suit the presentation of Indian deities, without always one type being monopolized.430 There are also many bronze statuettes of classical deities which offer no clue as to their Indian identity, although we must assume that many had one,431 as well as some very obvious classical origins and style.432 Rectangular stone weights, for the use of athletes, are another Kushan genre on which classicizing motifs often appear in low relief [124].433

121 Relief of Hariti and Panchika, seated. From Takht-I Bahi. 3rd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1950.7-26.2. H. 27.3 cm)

122, 123 Figures of Herakles/Vajrapani with thunderbolt, and Tyche/Hariti with cornucopia, flanking a Buddha at Hadda. 2nd cent. AD. (In situ)

124 Stone weight depicting Herakles and the lion. (New York, Metropolitan Museum.)

In a more monumental setting the clearest example of iconography-borrowing is probably the group at Hadda, where the Buddha is flanked by a Hellenistic Herakles [122, 123], typical for his features and pose but holding a thunderbolt, not club, so Vajrapani, and at the other side another Hariti derived directly from a classical Tyche.434 Comparable figures and groups regularly figure Herakles (with the lion in ill. 125)435, but can run to a reclining river-god (like the Nile) [126],436 and kneeling figures copying classical Atlas but deprived of his burden and sometimes winged [127],437 the latter suiting friezes in which they seem to support steps or an entablature. There is even a centauress [128],438 from a popular family of mixed creatures in western arts, which had intruded long before in Central Asia.439 Hadda especially offers much of strong Hellenistic inspiration, from physical realism to near-portraiture, sometimes recalling Alexander [PL. VII] – a potent image still. And in high relief, the relaxed figure in ill. 129could pass as provincial Greek of superior quality with little dissent.440

125 Group of Herakles with the lion upright. (Calcutta Museum)

126 A river god. (Karachi Museum. After Ingholt)

127 Winged Atlas from Jamalgarhi. (London, British Museum OA 1880.182. H. 23 cm)

One Greek image – that of the sea monster (ketos) – has attracted attention already, and it finds a special role in Indian reliefs, where it appears in its full classical form and even ridden by an Eros [130].441 In India it meets its Indian counterpart, the makara, which has a serpentine body but commonly only two legs and a crocodilian head which grows more grotesque with time, even elephantine.

Dionysos has been mentioned often already, but there is a less bucolic aspect of the god’s function which also deserves consideration, outside art. In the classical world he was also the god of the theatre. In the east there is a Greek theatre at Aï Khanoum, where fragments of the text of a Greek play were found, and theatrical masks are not uncommon among the various classicizing subjects for artists. We do not know what plays were performed in the Greek towns – no doubt the traditional Greek repertoire, not the Roman. Alexander had with him the poet Python whom he commissioned to write a satyr play, Agen, satirizing Harpalos and the Athenians, and staged on the banks of the River Hydaspes, which could have been a precedent for major and original local Greek productions. In India the Buddha was the subject for theatrical events, and the first known Sanskrit playwright came from Gandhara and seems to have worked for the Kushan King Kanishka. There is certainly the possibility that the narrative of the Buddha’s life in the reliefs was echoed by stage presentation and perhaps even the existence of theatrical guilds on the classical model.442 So it seems that Greek classical iconography and theatrical practice, whether clearly reidentified or not, became a commonplace of Kushan Buddhism, and contributed both in content and style to the future development of both the major and the purely decorative Buddhist arts in India, perhaps even their literary and theatrical presentation.

128 A centauress from Dera Ismail Khan. 1st/2nd cent. AD. (London, British Museum OA 1888.11-5.1. H. 14 cm)

129 A male figure beside a pillar. (After UNESCO)

130 Relief lintel with a makara and a Cupid riding a ketos. (Calcutta Museum. Drawing, author)

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