Recent Archaeological and Numismatic Discoveries from Afghanistan and Pakistan: Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian History Revisited

UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies Colloquium with Osmund Bopearachchi

Tuesday, October 12, 2004
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Royce 243
Los Angeles, CA 90095

The prime importance of numismatic evidence in reconstructing the history of the Greeks and the nomadic tribes who reigned over Central Asia and India after the death of Alexander the Great, has rightly been emphasized by many historians. It is because of the scarcity of ancient texts and of available archaeological data that the numismatic evidence constitutes the main source for the reconstruction of their history. Few as they may be and as difficult to interpret, the fragments of Greek and Latin sources enable us to establish a few chronological markers which form the framework for the reconstruction of the history of the Greeks in India. The numismatic data, such as overstrikes, monograms, stylistic aspects, minting techniques, die-adjustments, flans, die-studies and hoard evidence are of great importance to propose a relative chronology to the kings who reigned in Central Asia and North-West India, from the IV century BC to Ist century AD. It is hoped that such a study would lead to a greater appreciation of the very real difficulties a numismatist has to face in reconstructing the history of one of the most enigmatic periods of India’s past.

About 25 pre-kushan coin hoards were found in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the period between 1990 and 2004. A good number of overstrikes surfaced during the last decade, giving a clear picture of the overlapping of the last Indo-Greeks and first Indo-Scythians in West and East Punjab, including some parts of Gandhara. The Institut de Recherche sur les Archéomatériaux, Centre Ernest-Babelon of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Orleans) a series of Graeco-Bactrian, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Kushan coins were analysed by neutron activation. These results enable us to  propose  some chronological markers based on the debasement of both gold and silver issues.

In spite of the absence of legal excavations in the areas of our interest, new epigraphic documents came into light during the last two decades, containing new data on eras and regnal years. No doubt, certain documents have enabled us to solve some questions once and for all. However, now we have got new evidence for the use of a Greek era in the Indian territories of the Greeks., thanks to the discovery of a new inscription engraved on the inside of a reliquary referring to the regnal year 27 of Vijayamitra, the year 73 of ‘the year called ‘of Azes’ and the year 201 of the Greeks (yonana), studied by Richard Salomon. Once again the attribution of the first year to an Indo-Greek king remains uncertain. In this paper, I wish to make an attempt to expose the problems concerning its interpretation and propose, few thoughts based on new numismatic evidence which may lead us to a better understanding of the chronological problems.

Osmund Bopearachchi, Director of Research of the French National centre for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.) Paris and Professor of Central Asian and Indian Archaeology and numismatics of the Paris IV Sorbonne University, is one of the authorities on Central Asian, Indian and Sri Lankan archaeology and history. He holds B.A. (General) from the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka) and Licence (B.A.), Maîtrise (M.A.), D.E.A. (M. Phil.) and Doctorate (Ph.D.) from the Paris I Sorbonne University and "Habilitation à diriger des recherches" (Higher Doctorate) from the Paris IV Sorbonne University. He has published seven books, contributed to three exhibition catalogues, co-edited three volumes and written 105 research articles in reputed international journals. His first major publication Monnaies gréco-bactriennes et indo-grecques, Catalogue raisonné, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1991, won the "Gustave Mendel Award" attributed by the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres. The Pre-Kushana Coins in Pakistan, Islamabad, 1995 that he jointly published with Aman ur Rahman won the "Allier De Hauteroche Award" attributed by the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres on march 27 1997. The Hellenic Numismatic Society (Athens) attributed him "Silver Medal" on the 9th of February 1996, for the substantial contribution to Greek numismatics. On the 22nd of February 2002, the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettre awarded the "Prix Drouin - best publication on Oriental Numismatics" to his recent book: Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek Coins. The Collection of the American Numismatic Society, Part 9, New York, 1998. He was the Director of French Mission of Archaeological Co-operation in Sri Lanka, Corresponding member of the American Numismatic Society, Life Member of the Polish Numismatic Society, Life Member of the Hellenic Numismatic Society (Athens), Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society (London) and the President of the Indian Society for Greek and Roman Studies.

This event is free and open to the public. Parking is available at UCLA for $7. For a detailed map of the campus, including parking lots and kiosks, please visit:

Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Asia Institute

Center for Buddhist Studies • 11385 Bunche Hall • Box 951487 • Los Angeles, CA 90095-1487
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