Agathocles of Bactria

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Agathocles "the Just" (Δίκαιος)
Agathokles portrait.jpg
Portrait of Agathocles
Indo-Greek king
Reign 190–180 BC
Predecessor Pantaleon
Successor Apollodotus I or Antimachus I
Dynasty Euthydemid
Father Demetrius I
Silver coin of Agathocles.
Obverse: Diademed bust of young king Agathocles.
Reverse: Zeus holding Greek goddess Hecate in his hand.[1] Legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ, ("King Agathocles")
Agathokles middle-aged.

Agathocles Dikaios (Greek: Ἀγαθοκλῆς ὁ Δίκαιος; epithet meaning: "the Just") was a Greco-Bactrian/ 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.

Pedigree 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 referred to as Antiochus Nikator (Greek: "Νικάτωρ" "Victorious", probably intended to be Antiochus III), the founder of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom Diodotus and his son Diodotus II, Euthydemus, Demetrius and Pantaleon. On these coins, Agathocles labels himself ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ, "The Just".

Dynast or usurper?

Pedigree coin of Agathocles with Demetrius I.
Obv:Greek inscription reads: ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ΑΝΙΚΗΤΟΥ i.e. "of Demetrius the Invincible".

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 – king Antiochus III had besieged Bactra for almost three years before claiming victory over Euthydemus I. However, Antiochus III did not take the territory and after Euthydemus I sent his son Demetrius in an envoy to him, he recognized them as the rightful kings in Bactria. Antiochus III is known to have used the epithet "Nikator" ("Νικάτωρ" Greek for "Victorious").[2]

Finally, the association with Alexander was a standard move for usurpers in the Hellenistic world, such as the pseudo-Seleucids Alexander Balas and the Syrian general Diodotus Tryphon.

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.

ObverseGreek inscription reads: ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ i.e. "of Alexander son of Philip".
ReverseGreek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΟΝΤΟΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ i.e. "of Reign Agathocles the Just".

  • II) Pedigree coin of Agathocles with Diodotus the Saviour.

ObverseGreek inscription reads: ΔΙΟΔΟΤΟΥ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ i.e. "of Diodotus the Saviour".
ReverseGreek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΟΝΤΟΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ i.e. "of Reign Agathocles the Just".

Nickel coins

Agathokles nickel coin with Dionysos and panther.

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.

Bilingual coinage

Indian coinage of Agathocles.
Obv Lion with Greek legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ.
Rev Lakshmi, a Goddess of abundance and fortune for Hindus & Buddhists, with Brahmi legend Rajane Agathukleyasasa "King Agathocles".

At the same time, Agathocles issued an intriguing range of bilingual coinage, displaying what seems to be Buddhist as well as Hindu 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[citation needed].

Buddhist coinage

An six-arched hill symbol surmounted by a star. Kharoshthi legend Akathukreyasa "Agathocles". Tree-in-railing, Kharoshthi legend Hirañasame.[3]

The Buddhist coinage of Agathocles is in the Indian standard (square or round copper coins) and depicts Buddhist symbols such as the stupa (or arched-hill symbol), the "tree in railing", or the lion. These coins sometimes use Brahmi, and sometimes Kharoshthi, whereas later Indo-Greek kings only used Kharoshthi.

Hinduist coinage

Coin of Agathocles with Hindu deities.
'Obv Balarama-Samkarshana with Greek legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΓΑΘΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ.
Rev Vasudeva-Krishna with Brahmi legend Rajane Agathukleyasasa "King Agathocles".
This statue of a Bodhisattva displays the same shaft with parasol as seen on the coins.

The Hinduist coins of Agathocles are few but spectacular. Six Indian-standard silver drachmas were discovered at Ai-Khanoum in 1970, which depict Hindu deities.[4] These coins, discovered on 3 October 1970 hidden in a pilgrim’s water-vessel in a room of the administrative quarter of the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai-Khanoum, are key to the understanding of the evolution of Vaisnava imagery in India.[5]

Early representation of Balarama at the lower right of a Mauryan empire punch-marked coin, holding a mace and conch; 3rd BC, British Museum.

These seem to be the first known representations of Vedic deities on coins, and they display early Avatars of Vishnu: Balarama-Sankarshana with attributes consisting of the Gada mace and the plow, and Vasudeva-Krishna with the Vishnu attributes of the Shankha (a pear-shaped case or conch) and the Sudarshana Chakra wheel.[6][5] According to Bopearachchi, the headdress is actually a misrepresentation of a shaft with a half-moon parasol on top (chattra), as seen in later statues of Bodhisattvas in Mathura. It is therefore thought that sculptures or images, predating the coins but now lost, served as models to the engravers.[5]

The frontal pose of these deities is totally uncharacteristic of the general depiction of Gods on Greek coins, who are generally shown in three-quarter postures. The sideways disposition of the feet is also characteristic of early India sculptures, as seen in the stupas of Bharhut or Sanci. This leads specialists to think that these images are the work of Indian engravers, who were familiar with the style and conventions of archaic Indian art.[5]

The dancing girls on some of the coins of Agathocles and Pantaleon are also sometimes considered as representations of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, but also a Goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, or Subhadra, the sister of Krishna and Balarama. She is also seen in the Post-Mauryan coinage of Gandhara, on a Taxilan coin which is thought to have been minted by Demetrius I following his invasion.[5]

These coins from Ai-Khanoum are a precious indication of the forms taken by the Bhagavata cult and Vaishnavism in early India, and shows that this cult was already popular in the area of Gandhara around the 2nd century BCE. The first known inscription related to the Bhagavata cult was also made by an Indo-Greek, an ambassador of king Antialcidas, who wrote a dedication on the Besnagar pillar in the 2nd century CE.[5]

This popularity suffered a drastic decline when the Kushan Emperor Vima Kadphises proclaimed on his coins in the 1st century AD his worship of Shiva.[5]

Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kings, territories and chronology
Based on Bopearachchi (1991)[7]
Greco-Bactrian kings Indo-Greek kings
West Bactria East Bactria Paropamisade
Arachosia Gandhara Western Punjab Eastern Punjab Mathura[8]
326-325 BCE Campaigns of Alexander the Great in India Nanda Empire
312 BCE Creation of the Seleucid Empire Creation of the Maurya Empire
305 BCE Seleucid Empire after Mauryan war Maurya Empire
280 BCE Foundation of Ai-Khanoum
255–239 BCE Independence of the
Greco-Bactrian kingdom
Diodotus I
Emperor Ashoka (268-232)
239–223 BCE Diodotus II
230–200 BCE Euthydemus I
200–190 BCE Demetrius I Sunga Empire
190-185 BCE Euthydemus II
190–180 BCE Agathocles Pantaleon
185–170 BCE Antimachus I
180–160 BCE Apollodotus I
175–170 BCE Demetrius II
160–155 BCE Antimachus II
170–145 BCE Eucratides I
155–130 BCE Yuezhi occupation,
loss of Ai-Khanoum
Eucratides II
Heliocles I
Menander I
130–120 BCE Yuezhi occupation Zoilos I Agathokleia Yavanarajya
120–110 BCE Lysias Strato I
110–100 BCE Antialcidas Heliokles II
100 BCE Polyxenos Demetrius III
100–95 BCE Philoxenus
95–90 BCE Diomedes Amyntas Epander
90 BCE Theophilos Peukolaos Thraso
90–85 BCE Nicias Menander II Artemidoros
90–70 BCE Hermaeus Archebius
Yuezhi occupation Maues (Indo-Scythian)
75–70 BCE Vonones Telephos Apollodotus II
65–55 BCE Spalirises Hippostratos Dionysios
55–35 BCE Azes I (Indo-Scythians) Zoilos II
55–35 BCE Vijayamitra/ Azilises Apollophanes
25 BCE – 10 CE Gondophares Zeionises Kharahostes Strato II
Strato III
Gondophares (Indo-Parthian) Rajuvula (Indo-Scythian)
Kujula Kadphises (Kushan Empire) Bhadayasa

See also


  1. ^ Foreign Influence on Ancient India, Krishna Chandra Sagar, Northern Book Centre, 1992 [1]
  2. ^ Chronographia, John of Malalas
  3. ^ Monnaies Gréco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Bopearachchi, p.176
  4. ^ Iconography of Balarāma, Nilakanth Purushottam Joshi, Abhinav Publications, 1979, p.22 [2]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Osmund Bopearachchi, 2016, Emergence of Viṣṇu and Śiva Images in India: Numismatic and Sculptural Evidence
  6. ^ Iconography of Balarāma, Nilakanth Purushottam Joshi, Abhinav Publications, 1979, p.22 [3]
  7. ^ O. Bopearachchi, "Monnaies gréco-bactriennes et indo-grecques, Catalogue raisonné", Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1991, p.453
  8. ^ History of Early Stone Sculpture at Mathura: Ca. 150 BCE - 100 CE, Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, BRILL, 2007, p.9 [4]


  • 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) (Internet Archive)

External links

  • 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
Preceded by:
Demetrius I
Indo-Greek Ruler
190–180 BC
Succeeded by:
Apollodotus I
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