Indo-Greek coins: the Hellenistic influence

Coins minted during the reign of Demetrius. Notice the cap which represents the head of an elephant.

Coins minted during the reign of Demetrius. Notice the cap which represents the head of an elephant.

The next important milestone in the numismatic history of India was the arrival of the Greeks on the scene. Alexander III of Macedonia (popularly known as Alexander the Great) who was taught by the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle ascended the throne in BC 336 when he was just 20 years old. By the time he was thirty he had carved out for himself one of the largest empires in the ancient world, which extended up to the Himalayas. He invaded India in BC 326 and made rapid progress which resulted in the famous battle of Hydaspes river in Northern Punjab against Porus.

Silver coins minted during the reign of Menander 1, whose empire is believed to have stretched from Bactria (northern Afghanistan) to Pataliputra (Patna).

Silver coins minted during the reign of Menander 1, whose empire is believed to have stretched from Bactria (northern Afghanistan) to Pataliputra (Patna).

Even though Alexander managed to defeat Porus, he was greatly impressed with his bravery and decided to make him an ally. Alexander wanted to continue marching across the river Beas, but his soldiers who had been away from home and tired out, mutinied forcing him to return. He did not strike coins or leave  behind any successors in India, but Demetrius, (BC190-171) led a second invasion across the Hindukush mountains and established  his rule in Gandhara and Taxila (Punjab).

Copper coins of Apollodotus 1, whose empire stretched from Taxila in the north (Pakistan Punjab) to Sindh and Gujarat in the south.

Copper coins of Apollodotus 1, whose empire stretched from Taxila in the north (Pakistan Punjab) to Sindh and Gujarat in the south.

The Indo-Greek rulers, who numbered about 37 issued coins in silver and copper in India , which were both round and square in shape, struck from exquisitely crafted dies, which usually bore the bust of the ruler on one side along with the Bactrian legend and on the other a Greek god with Kharoshti (local) legend. More important rulers include Eucratides, Demetrius, Apollodotus I&II and Menander.The coins are thus bilingual, artistic, of a neat execution and fabric.

- Andrew Liddle

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