The Outlying Provinces

B.C. 231 TO A.D. 45

A growing tide as it nears the springs claims more and more of the

shore at each rise and fall. So it was with the tide which on Asoka's

death set in around his throne.

On the north-western frontier, that battle-ground of India, there had

been peace since Chandra-gupta wrested half Ariana from the grip of

Seleukos Nikator. But the country itself had remained
more or less

under Hellenist influence. Antiochus, Demetrios Eukratides, such are

the names of the passing rulers of whose existence we know by the

multitude of coins which form almost their only history.

Indeed, as in some museum we gaze with keen yet clouded interest at

some case of coins labelled "Indo-Greek, Indo-Parthian civ: B.C.

250, A.D. 50," we are really gaining at a glance an impressionist

picture of the strange welter of principalities and powers, of sudden

diminutions and almost causeless exacerbations of influence, which

marked the passage of these few centuries upon the borderland of

India. Here a big gold plaque arrests our eye, just as the name of

Arsakes or Menander heaves into sight out of the confused medley of

their more insignificant surroundings; or some quaint half-Aryan,

half-Parthian inscription leaves us wondering of the why and the

wherefore, just as some trivial incident which has survived Time in

the pages of obscure Greek writers makes us pause to wish for more.

Strange, ghost-like personalities are those which live rudely hammered

out on a rough ingot of bronze, or silver, or gold, telling their tale

truly,--succinctly at times however, as when the name and portrait of

one prince forms at first the obverse of another, then the name alone

remains, and finally Hermaios disappears, and Kadphises rules supreme.

[Map: India to B.C. 231]

Who are they all? Historians peer and ponder; they add date to date,

and divide the total by their own desires--for in no branch of

knowledge is the personal equation more powerful than in history--yet

still that glance at the case of coins gives to the uninitiated the

best impression of the period.

One thing which militates against a concise pigeon-holing of such

information as we can gather into this brief review of Indian history,

is the fact that much of it has really nothing to do with India at

all. The Hindoo Kush range of mountains may be taken as the western

boundary of Asoka's empire, and the powers which encroached on that

empire matured their plans, conquered and governed such provinces as

they gained from beyond that boundary. The Bactrians, for instance,

who appeared on the banks of the Indus, came from the valleys

and fertile plains about the Oxus. They were a semi-civilised,

semi-Hellenised race, who boasted the possession of a thousand cities.

The Parthians, on the other hand, hailed from the wide steppes about

the Caspian Sea, and were barbarian utterly in the sense of not caring

for either luxury or culture. Mounted shepherds, mere moss-troopers,

they were a hardy race, and under the leadership of Arsakes, gripped

at the crown of Central Asia, and so, inevitably, after a time reached

out to the fat lands about the Indus; for the most part leaving the

princelings who parcelled out the land in possession, as feudatories

to the foreign power.

It will be remembered that Seleukos Nikator's attempt to recover India

for Greece in Chandra-gupta's time failed. Thenceforward for a hundred

years no other attempt was made. In B.C. 206, however, Antiochus the

Bactrian made a sweep on Kandahar, and Demetrios, his son, in B.C.

190, following his example, captured both the Punjab and Sinde. To his

own cost, however; for, weakened by these distant wars, he had to

yield his throne to one Eukratides, and be content for a time with the

title of "King of the Indians." Not for long, however, for Eukratides,

being bad to beat, eventually got a grip even on these eastern


Justin the historian gives a few personal details of this Eukratides.

How he and three hundred held a fort for five months against Demetrios

and sixty thousand; and how he was killed in cold blood by his son and

colleague, who drove his chariot wheels over his father's dead body

and refused it burial. A poor return for trust, and honour, and

devoted love! It is satisfactory to know that the monstrous crime

brought its own punishment The dead hero's hold once gone, the

successes he had gained drifted from the murderer's hands, and

thereinafter ensued one of those confused welters of conflicting

names, powers, principalities, which send us back to our outlook on

the case of coins. Menander's name rises out of the obscure in B.C.

155, when he attempted to follow Alexander's footsteps. With a large

army he marched on India, and crossing the Beas, which had defied his

predecessor, actually threatened the capital of Paliputra itself. At

that time, however, the sovereignty of Magadha lay with a strong man;

the man who, ousting the degenerate Mauryas, had shown himself to have

the qualities of both a soldier and general. So the Greek king had to

beat a hasty retreat, thus ending the last attempt of Europe upon

India until Vasco de Gama's, in A.D. 1502.

About this time two nomad tribes from the wide Roof-of-the-World began

a march southward, which, like a flood, was eventually to sweep

everything before it. The first were the Sakas, who, driven from

behind by the following tribe, the Yuehchi, overwhelmed Bactria,

forced their way into the Punjab, and penetrated as far south as

Mathura, while another section founded a Sika dynasty at Kathiawar.

They seem to have owned allegiance to the Arsakian or Parthian kings

of Persia, and bore the Persian title of satrap.

Thus, from the pell-mell of petty princelings and wild, nomadic

chieftains another name springs to notice. On the coins it runs:

"Maues basileus basileon."

This king of kings, as he proudly calls himself, was Maues, the first,

or nearly the first, of an Indo-Parthian dynasty replacing the

Indo-Greek and Indo-Bactrian ones. As our eye runs over the coins--the

only relics of dead kings--it is arrested by the name of Gondophares.

Now who was Gondophares? The question clamours vainly for answer,

until a faint recollection of the early fathers brings Origen and the

Acts of St Thomas back to memory. Yes! Gondophares was the King of

India in the days when

"the twelve Apostles, having divided the countries of the world

amongst themselves by lot, India fell to the share of Judas, surnamed

Thomas or the Twin, who showed unwillingness to start on his mission."

Poor St Thomas! It was a far cry, but Habban, the Indian merchant,

conveyed his saintly purchase (for the Lord sold the unwilling

missioner to him in a vision for twenty pieces of silver) to King

Gundephar in safety. And the king bade the apostle, who was an

architect, build him a palace in six months.

"And St Thomas, commanded therefore by the Lord, promised to build him

the palace within the six months, but spent all the monies in

almsgiving. So when the time came, he explained that he was building

the king a palace, not on earth, but in heaven, not made with

hands--and multitudes of the people embraced the faith."

So runs the old Monkish story. Is it true? Who knows! Gondophares was

a real man, he was a real Indian king, he is associated in legend with

a Christian mission, and the claim that St Thomas was the missioner is

not at variance with known facts or chronology. With that we must be


And now the coins tell another tale. In their turn the Indo-Parthian

princes were being driven southward. Their names disappear before

those of the horde of Turki nomads called the Yuehchi, who about the

middle of the second century B.C. followed the path taken years before

by the Sakas, and with two hundred thousand bowmen and a million

persons of all ages and sexes poured themselves into India in search

of pastures new.

So much for the north-western frontier. In the south-west, while Greek

prince after Greek prince in the north was minting coins that were to

carry his name idly, ineffectively, through the centuries, an

aboriginal Dravidian people, driven, no doubt, thousands of years

before from the fertile fields of the Gangetic plain by the steady

advance of the Aryan immigrants, were as steadily regaining their hold

upon Central India. The Andhra race was not slow to seize opportunity.

The death of Asoka gave them the chance of casting off their

allegiance to the Maury a empire, and they took it. A few years later

the King of the Andhras, self-styled the "Lord of the West," was able

to send an army to the eastern sea-coast, and so help Kalinga to

revolt also. The capital of the Andhra kingdom appears to have been an

unidentified city called Sri-Kakulum, on the banks of the Krishna

River; and the area of Andhra rule gradually increasing, crept closer

and closer to that of Magadha. The memory of Hala, the seventeenth

king, lives still by virtue of an anthology of love-songs called "The

Seven Centuries," which he is said to have composed. That, a

collection entitled "The Great Storybook," and a Sanskrit Grammar all

belong by repute to the reign of this king. Finally, the inevitable

collision occurred between the powerful Andhra dynasty and the

degenerate, dissolute monarchy at Magadha, which resulted in the

annihilation of the latter. But before turning to this, the course of

the years since the Maurya kings disappeared from sheer inanition

must be traced briefly. It was in B.C. 194 that Pus[^y]a-mitra,

commander-in-chief to the last of the Mauryas, lost patience with his

weak master, assassinated him, and founded the Sunga line. A strong,

unscrupulous man evidently, he held his own, succeeded in stemming

the steady tide of disintegration on both the south-east and the

north-west, and drove back the Greek invasion of Menander.

Still unsatisfied, he revived, in order to strengthen his rule, the

old traditional Horse-sacrifice, of which we read in the Vedas.

A quaint old ceremony without doubt. Imagine a grey horse, approved by

lucky marks, sanctified by priests, turned loose to wander at its

will. And behind it, following it from field to field as it ranges, a

complete army ready to claim pasturage for it from all and sundry

during the space of one whole year. Hey presto! by beat of drum the

fiat goes forth, as it grazes, that proprietors, principalities,

powers, must submit or fight. So, if an unconquered army returned when

the trial was ended, he who sent it forth had right to claim

suzerainty, to call himself Lord-Paramount of all the others.

This particular "Asva-medha," as it is called, has a peculiar

significance, in that it proves a determined return from Buddhism to

Brahmanism on the part of the holders of the Magadha throne. It is

said, indeed, that Push[^y]a-mitra, like so many bloody usurpers, was

devote, and that his piety included persecution of the new faith.

One thing seems certain: his ten successors in the Sunga dynasty were

all more or less in the hands of the Brahmans, who managed the state

while the titular monarchs amused themselves in various discreditable

ways, until in B.C. 75, one Vasu-deva, Brahman prime minister, lost

patience with his hereditary master, killed him while engaged in a

dishonourable intrigue, and started a new dynasty--the Kanva--by

mounting the throne himself! an idle proceeding, since it was soon to

pass from the hands of his ineffectual successors to those of an

Andhra prince.

But by this time--B.C. 75--another advancing flood--the Yuehchi

migration--had appeared in the north-west, and for the first two

centuries or so of our era was to claim equal share with the Dravidian

kings in the Government of India.

And what of Vikramaditya? Vikramaditya the hero, the demigod, the king

par excellence of the Indian populace of to-day? The monarch whose

victory over some Scythian invaders in B.C. 57 was celebrated by the

introduction of the Samvat era, which dates from that year? Are all

the stories of him that are told about the smoke-palled winter fires

in the Punjab fields, the hundred and one tales of his munificence,

his courage and his goodness--are all these mere legends?

So far as this early date is concerned, historians tell us that they

are. More than five hundred years later one of the Gupta kings bore

the name, and answers in some way to the description.

But how came he to be connected with the Samvat era which undoubtedly

dates from B.C. 57? Who can say! Vikramaditya is a terrible loss to

India. How can we bear to part with the king whose swans sang always:

"Glory be to Vikramajeet,

He gave us pearls to eat!"

The king whose puppets of stone that bore aloft his throne refused to

bear the weight of his successor, and wandered out into the wide

world, each telling a tale of departed glory!

No! Vikramaditya, the beloved of every Indian school-boy for his

valour, of every little Indian maiden for his gentleness, cannot be

given up without a protest.

"The fiction which resembles truth is better than the truth which is

dissevered from the imagination." Let us hark back to those words of

wisdom, and search round for some faint foothold for blessed belief.

Let us turn to our case of coins in hope. Stay! What is this?

A nameless one. The date is close to the era we are seeking; the only

inscription runs thus, "Soter Megas."

The "Great Saviour!" Is not that enough for the imagination? So let us

pass by the cogitations of the historian as to what nameless king

minted the coin, and listen with renewed confidence to the tale told

by a childish voice of how King Vikramaditya slew the foul fiend.

What does it matter whether he was Vikramaditya or another? Foul

fiends must always be killed; as well by a nameless king, provided he

be a "Great Saviour."

But one point more requires a few words ere we pass on--the extent to

which Greek culture influenced India.

Curiously little. A glance at the Graeco-Buddhist carvings which still,

in some places on the frontier, are to be had for the mere picking up

as they lie littered about among the rough-hewn stones which once were

fort or palace, temple or shrine, shows that while India accepted

Greek art, she did not oust her own, but grafted the new skill on the

old stock.

And though it fires the imagination to think of Greek customs, Greek

philosophy, Greek valour and intellect making its home for hundreds of

years among the young green wheat-fields by the bed of the Indus, we

must not blind our eyes to the fact that the broad yellow flood of the

river seems to have been an impassable barrier to the whole theory of

life which was the root-stuff of such custom, such philosophy, such

valour, such intellect.

India went on her way, as she has gone always, almost untouched by

outside influences. Despite the brilliancy of the Macedonian cavalry,

her own retained its ancient traditions; despite the intellectual

keenness of European theorists, India has dreamt--as she dreams

still--her old dreams.

There is a little temple near the supposed site of Taxila. Or perhaps

it was not a temple at all: it may have been anything else. But two or

three of the broken pillars have Ionic capitals.

That is about the extent of Greek influence in India.