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
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
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.