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Hellenistic Information in China

Citation with persistent identifier:

Yang, Juping. “Hellenistic Information in China.” CHS Research Bulletin 2, no. 2 (2014). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:YangJ.Hellenistic_Information_in_China.2014


1§1 This paper is one of the series of research results for my program “Hellenistic Civilization and the Silk Road.”[1]

1§2 Hellenistic Civilization originated and developed in a new world established by Alexander the Great and his successors and was the result of mutual contacts, exchanges, and fusion between Greek and other eastern civilizations. Without doubt the Greek element played the leading and positive role in the formation of this new civilization. Greek-styled cities, coins, theaters, gymnasiums, Greek statues, inscriptions, myths, especially the story of Troy and the gods on Olympus, and even Greek ideas of philosophy and religion all more or less appeared or reappeared in this so-called Hellenistic World. (Plate 1) Even if the kingdoms of Greeks or Indo-Greeks had disappeared the influences of Hellenistic Civilization still existed and remained for a long time. Of course Hellenistic culture was only created and enjoyed by the upper-class societies of the Hellenistic cities. Those local people who lived in the remote and extensive countryside and mountains might have still kept their indigenous cultural tradition.

1§3 The emergence of the Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean was linked with the legendary trip of a Chinese envoy, Zhang Qian (張騫), in the Western Regions (Xiyu, 西域[2]) outside of the domain of China by that time. He was sent by the Emperor Han Wudi (漢武帝) to search for the Dayuezhi people (大月氏[3]) in order to unite them against a common enemy, Xiongnu (匈奴). He departed from the capital of Han China, Chang An (長安) in 139 BC, and returned in 126 BC. Unfortunately he could not fulfill his mission because the Dayuezhi had lost interest in revenge on the Xiongnu. However, he entered into Central Asia as far as Bactria and first brought back information on the areas and countries he visited or heard of. The related records in the “DayuanLiezhuan” (“大宛列傳,” “Collective Biographies of Dayuan”) of Shiji (史記, The Records of the Grand Scribe) by Sima Qian(司馬遷) were just copied from his report to the Emperor. Because most of these lands were or had been controlled by Hellenistic kingdoms, whom he met and what he knew in large part must have been the legacies of Hellenistic Civilization. From then on, the political and commercial relations between China and the Western Regions began to be established, and the famous Silk Road was finally opened, which largely covered or passed through the previous Hellenistic world.[4] So with the extending and continuation of the Silk Road, Hellenistic cultural remains were naturally brought into China by those travelers on the road such as envoys, merchants, and monks, and they probably left some clues and marks in the historical documents and extant cultural relics in China.

1§4 It is based on this presupposition that I began my research in this field. I think in these records and relics, Hellenistic information has been mirrored mainly in six aspects: (1) cities founded or rebuilt by Alexander and his successors; (2) coins once current in the Hellenistic world and imitated or transformed by other later rulers or dynasties; (3) common language (Koine) and writing; (4) the spread and change of Ghandaran art; (5) the Sino-Kharoasthi coins; (6) other works of art discovered in China. Generally, the former three aspects were hidden or expressed in the Chinese historical documents, and the other three could be discerned in the Buddhist temples and museums.

Part One: Hellenistic Information in Chinese Documents

2§1 Most of all the documentary information on the Hellenistic Civilization comes from the chapters about the Western Regions in the “Early Four Historical Books (“前四史”[5]). They reflect the various relations between China and the western peoples and countries and Chinese knowledge of the Western Regions in the Han Dynasty, and even beyond. The periods from the second century BC to the early third century AD roughly coincide with the Hellenistic age and the coexistence of Parthian and Kushan Roman empires in Eurasia. All the latter three could be assumed to be the successors of or influenced by Hellenistic Civilization in different degrees. The long and frequent contact between China and them naturally helped to further the understanding of Chinese people of the Western Regions, the former Hellenistic world.

1. Hellenistic Cities or Settlements

2§2 Cities or walled cities in the countries of the Western Regions often are specially mentioned in these records.

Dayuan (大宛, located in Sogdiana, exactly modern Fergana) has cities and houses. More than seventy large and small cites or towns and several hundred thousand people are in the domain of it.

Cities and towns in Anxi (安息, generally identified with Parthia) are similar with Dayuan and all large and small cities amount to several hundreds … And it has markets.

Daxia (大夏, Bactria) has cities … All have their small rulers … Its capital is named as Lanshi Cheng (藍市城, the City of Lanshi).[6]

2§3 Sima Qian also mentions several names of cities of Dayuan, one as Ershi (貳師, modern Osh in Kyrgyzstan) known for its sweat-blood horses, another as Wangcheng (王城, the City of King), the capital of Dayuan. As for the city of Yucheng (郁成) on the way to the Yuan Cheng (宛城, i.e. Wang Cheng mentioned above, another name for the capital of Dayuan),[7] I cannot be sure whether it was a city of Dayuan or not because it had a king itself. It might have been a vassal of Dayuan.

2§4 Daxia is the last country Zhang Qian visited in his first trip to the Western Regions. By that time it had been subdued by the Dayuezhi but still existed as a dependent state. The Dayuezhi had settled in the north of Wei Shui (媯水, the Oxus River) after a long-distance migration, where the seat of a king or a capital city was located.[8]

2§5 Hanshu mainly includes the history of the former Han Dynasty (漢代) and was compiled in the second half of the first century AD. Then Daxia had been annexed by Dayuezhi, and all the lands of Dayuezhi were divided into five principalities or Xihou (翖侯). Each one had its own capital, and five cities are listed. Then the capital of Dayuezhi was Jianshi Cheng (監氏城) which should be the former Lanshi city of Daxia.[9] As for the cities of Anxi (安息) and Dayuan, the overall number is the same as recorded in Shiji. The names of capitals of Anxi and Dayuan, Fandou (番兜) and Guishan (贵山), are respectively first mentioned.[10] The domain of Kangju (康居) crossed the Syr Darya. At least eight cities are mentioned, three belonging to the king and other five to the principalities (also called Xihou).[11] The city of the capital, Xunxian (循鲜), of Jibin (罽宾) also is first referred to.[12] Wuyishanli (烏弋山離) is regarded as the terminal of the south way of the Silk Road.[13]

2§6 The records of Houhanshu for cities and towns in the Western Regions are more detailed than before, especially for the capitals of Tiaozhi (條支) and Anxi:

The city of Tiaozhi (條支) country is on a hill and more than 40 li (ca. 16.6 km.) in its circumference. It borders on the Western Sea and the seawater rounds it on the south, east, and north. Thus, access is blocked from three sides. It is only from the northwest that it can have contacts with the outside through the road on land.[14]

The capital city of Anxi is Hedu (和櫝) twenty-five thousand li (里) from Luoyang (洛阳, the capital of the later Han) … Its land extended several thousand li and there are several hundred small cities in it … The city of Mulu (木鹿) is located in its eastern frontier twenty thousand li from Luoyang.[15]

2§7 Daqin-Lijian (大秦-犁鞬) is described in detail but its location (the country in the west of sea) has since been disputed. If Lijian were identified with Alexandria in Egypt, Daqin could be regarded as a country or city in the Hellenistic world. But the Daqin is hard to identify with Egypt, which was a part of Roman Empire by that time. In the “Xirong Zhuan of Sanguozhi, Alexandria seems to be mentioned again but no new and credible information has been added except the three different names for Alexandria.[16]

2§8 Tianzhu (天竺, namely Shendu, 身毒) had several hundred cities.[17] However, Tianzhu was located beyond the Indus River to the east, so no more cities should be in the domains of the former Indo-Greeks. We know some Indo-Greek kings once lived in cities such as Sagale, Taxila, and other cities that have so far not been located. Since these Indo-Greeks stayed in the northwest of India for nearly two centuries, they must have founded some new cities; however, we do not have reliable information about them. We only know of one city named Demetrias that might have been founded or rebuilt by the Indo-Greek king Demetrius (ca. 200–190/180 BC) at the delta of the Indus.[18]

2§9 Without doubt these descriptions of the cities in the previous Hellenistic world should be very useful for their identifications with those founded or rebuilt by Alexander and his successors. But the numbers, locations, names, and identities of the latter were a controversial and complicated problem even in ancient times.

1) The cities founded by or attributed to Alexander.

2§10 According to Plutarch, he established over seventy Alexandrias.[19] According to Arrian, he at least built three Alexandrias and another three probably with the same name.[20] According to Strabo and Justin, respectively, he founded eight cities[21] or twelve cities in Bactria and Sogdiana. Meanwhile he founded a city on the river Tanais (the Jaxartes).[22] Pliny mentions the city founded by Alexander in Margiane and Heraclea in the vicinity. He also refers to the Alexandria in the farthest confines of Sogdiana.[23] Curtius says Alexander had founded 6 towns around the city of Margiana, two facing the south and four the east.[24] But modern scholars are cautious about these records. Tarn argues that the overall number founded by Alexander should be thirteen, among which there are six cities that are extant and recognizable and another seven that are hard to be oriented.[25] The viewpoint of Fraser is more extreme. He thinks Alexander only founded six Alexandrias and the others could not be justified and should be considered as a strained interpretation.[26] According to the conclusion of Getzel Cohen, thirteen Alexandrias from southern Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf to Central Asia and India were attributed to Alexander the Great by the ancient sources. Another thirteen Alexandrias may be attributed to him. Most of all these so-called cities of Alexandria were in the east of the Iranian plateau: thirteen in Central Asia and seven in India. Of course these numbers are only from the ancient records. Whether they actually were founded or existed is another problem.[27]

2) The cities or settlements and colonies founded or rebuilt by the Hellenistic kings and other Greek rulers.

2§11 As to these cities, we do not have detailed and exact information, but many new cities and towns indeed appeared or some previous cities or towns were transformed or rebuilt and even were given new names. The early three kings of the Seleucid dynasty could be regarded as the greatest founders of Greek cities in the Hellenistic world. Seleucus I alone personally founded thirty-four cities named after his father, his mother, his queen, and himself.[28] Moreover, he also founded or rebuilt about another twenty-five cities named “from Greece or Macedonia, or from his own exploits, or in honor of Alexander.”[29] These cities were mainly scattered in Syria, upper Asia, Parthia, and even India.[30] Although, compared to other parts of the Seleucid kingdom, the cities or settlements founded or rebuilt by Seleucid kings in Central Asia were much fewer in number, some of them later became the metropolises or crossroads along the Silk Road and played an extreme important role in the exchange of ideas and material culture between the different civilizations in Eurasia. As for the alleged “one thousand cities” once controlled by the Bactrian kings mentioned by Strabo or Justin,[31] some of them might have existed indeed and could be on the Silk Road such as Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria of the Caucasus (Begram), Alexandria (Kandahar?) in Arachchocia and Alexandria /Antioch in Margiana (Merv), Marakanda (Samarkand), and so on.

2§12 Although modern technology and methods of archaeology have developed greatly, and field investigation in Central Asia and Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan has been so extensive and deep that more and more sites have been and are being discovered, the cities and numbers mentioned by Classical authors have not completely been confirmed. However, it is evidently not coincidental that both Chinese historians and classical authors refer to a similar phenomenon nearly in the same places and same periods. We cannot know how many such Greek-styled cities still existed and were seen by Chinese envoys, but the information left in Chinese historical documents could get mutual corroboration from the Classical tradition. Archaeological discovery has also proved the existence of such cities.

2§13 That Ai Khanoum was a Greek city has been verified by what was unearthed there.[32] Zhang Qian might have passed by this city when he returned to China from Bactria along the southern mountains around the Tarim Basin. But unfortunately he does not mention it in his report to the Emperor Han Wudi. One scholar argues that this city should still have existed in the middle of the first century BC.[33]

2§14 Merv is one of the cities that could be confirmed by classical authors, Chinese documents, and archaeological discoveries. Pliny mentions that Alexander had founded a city in Margiana, and that later this city was destroyed by barbarians and rebuilt by Seleucus, son of Antiochus.[34] But the real founder of Merv most probably was Antiochus Soter (ruled about 292–281 BC as a co-ruler in the east and 281–261 BC as king). It is said that he admired the fertility of Merv, then “enclosed a circuit of fifteen hundred stadia with a wall and founded a city Antiocheia.”[35] There are many transliterations for the name of this city in Chinese. “Mulu” (木鹿) was the earliest one. It was one of the pivotal cities of the Silk Road and also the western limit of the spread of Buddhism in Central Asia. Whoever was the founder of Merv, originally it was a Greek city with the similar wall and grid planning of other Hellenistic cities. As mentioned above, it existed in the Parthian period and continued to be an important city in the periods of Sassanian Persia and Islam. One Chinese visitor who arrived in this city in the middle of the eighth century AD was astonished by the grandeur of the city: “the capital city of Molu (末祿國, another name for Merv in Chinese) is 15 li (ca. 7 kilometers) in its circumference and has gates made of iron. There are a saltwater pool and two Buddhist temples in it … The walls of the city are high and thick, and the streets and markets are tidy and well-arranged.”[36] The description is confirmed by the current finds in the site of Gyaur Tepe. “The wall was nearly 8 kilometers in length and stood ca. 10 meters above a platform that was at least 3.5 meters high.” The top of the wall was 1.1 m and the base 8.80 meters in width, later the base even was thickened to ca. 13 or 15 meters in the Parthian period. The city was quadrangular and two main roads crossed at right angles and divided the city into four parts. The form of this wall is similar to other Hellenistic cities in Asia Minor.[37]

2§15 No classical authors seem to mention Termez. But it appears in the houhanshu as Dumi (都密), the capital of one of the five Xihou of Kushan.[38] Later it was called Dami (呾蜜). And the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (玄奘) of the Tang Dynasty (唐代) once visited the city in the 630s.[39] Recent excavations here have verified that it originally was founded by the Greeks as a garrison on the rocky height in the right bank of the Oxus River. Greek-styled bricks, ceramics, and sherds have been discovered. In the Kushan Period, it might have become one of the capitals. Buddhism was popular and prosperous in this city. The bases of a stupa and a Corinthian order have been unearthed. The capital with only two faces means it was one part of a pilaster. “This type of capital with a human among the acanthus leaves probably has a Mesopotamian Hellenistic origin (Seleucid).”[40] Notably on the right bank of the Oxus above the old Termez, a Hellenistic site was discovered in the Kampyr Tepe. Here some Greek graffiti or letters, coins (at least twenty), and a plaque with the figure of heavy-armed soldiers equipped in Hellenistic fashion in a citadel were unearthed. Some archeologists think it was probably Alexandria on the Oxus.[41]

2§16 Some cities mentioned by Chinese historians have been identified with modern or ancient toponymys. Wuyishanli might be the Alexandria in Arachocia, namely modern Kandahar. Although the founder and date of this city are uncertain, the Greek and bilingual (Greek and Aramaic) inscriptions of Asoka (ca. 273–232 BC), a dedication (ca. 275 BC), and a funerary epigram (the late second century BC) both in Greek, discovered in Kandahar confirm the existence of a Greek city. Given the Greek-styled coins described in Hanshu (they will be discussed below), Kandahar should be the Alexandria in Arachocia.[42] Wuyishanli most probably could be the transliteration of Alexandria in Chinese even if the pronunciation had been somewhat changed.

2§17 The location of Jibin (罽宾) has not been confirmed but no doubt it should be in the northwest of ancient India. Which city is its capital, Xunxian (循鮮), Pushkalavati (Peshawar), Taxila, or Kabul, even Begram (Kapisa)? We cannot know. But it is possible for each city to have been the capital. According to the archaeological finds, all of them were active in the periods of Indo-Greeks and Kushans since the second century BC. Gaofu (高附) can probably be identified with Kabul. If so Kabul should be the capital of Gaofu. Begram (Kapisa) was identified with Alexandria in the Caucasus by Tarn in 1938.[43] Although his assumption has been challenged since then,[44] even Tarn himself seems to abandon his hypothesis of the double city of Alexandria-Kapisa,[45] it should be acceptable generally that this city was situated largely in the area with modern Begram as the center.

2§18 As to the Jianshi City or Lanshi City south of the Oxus it should be Bactra (modern Balkh), the capital of the kingdom of Bactria. But unfortunately the excavations conducted by the French archaeologist Alfred Foucher in the site of old Bactra got nothing valuable for the kingdom of Greco-Bactrians so that he created the disappointing term “Bactrian Mirage.”[46] However, the discovery of the Ai Khanoum site thoroughly overthrew his pessimistic prediction. In recent years Corinthian and Ionic capitals were discovered at the site of Tepe Zargaran in Balkh, which finally confirmed the existence of Bactra as a “Greek city.”[47]

2§19 In Dayuan and Kangju, how many cities could be identified with those founded by Alexander and his successors? We again cannot be sure. But some cities like Marakanda, Alexandria Eschate (“Alexandria the Furthest”) have been regarded respectively as former sites of Samarqand in Uzbekistan and modern Khujand in Tajikistan.[48]

2§20 As for the two capitals Fandou and Hedu to which Hanshu and Houhanshu refer, although their locations and relationship with the cities of Alexander and his successors could not be confirmed so far now we could find out some information about them.

2§21 Some Chinese scholars think the transliteration of “Fandou” probably came from “Parθava” (Parthia), the name of Parthia in the Inscription of Behistun.[49] But in my opinion the “city of Parthaunisa” with the royal tombs[50] is most likely the capital of Parthia: Fandou. Greeks called this city Nisaea and the pronunciation sounds to be similar with “Nisa,” a site of Parthian royal city in Turkmenistan. Although it was not a Greek city, it contained many elements of Hellenic culture such as imitated Corinthian and Ionian capitals, rhytons with Greek mythological figures, and statues of classical style, some of which look like the Greek goddess Aphrodite, Heracles’ club, a Seleucid anchor depicted in the metope tiles, and so on.[51] We can imagine when Chinese envoys and merchants visited this city, they must have been so astonished by what they saw that they would want to share their experiences with their countrymen after their return to China.

2§22 The city of Hedu has been regarded generally as the transliteration of Hekatompylos (the city with one hundred gates, near the Caspian Gate). Its site has been discovered in Semnan Province of Iran.[52] Hekatompylos was one of the cities founded by Seleucus I.[53]

2§23 Tiaozhi is first referred to as a country by Shiji and Hanshu and was located in the west of Anxi. Generally it was identified with the Seleucid Kingdom. The similarity of Tiaozhi and Antioch in pronunciations seems to be accepted generally by scholars. But as mentioned above, Tiaozhi is introduced in details as a city of the country of Tiaozhi in Houhanshu rather than as a country in Shiji and Hanshu.

2§24 In following introduction about Anxi, the author describes a story of the Chinese envoy Gan Ying (甘英) who had been sent by the Protector-General Ban Chao (班超) to Daqin (大秦) in the west of the sea. When he arrived at Tiaozhi and tried to cross the sea to Daqin, he was persuaded not to go further by the sailors at the western boundary of Anxi with warnings about a horrible and boring life at sea. Tiaozhi was the farthest area Chinese envoys could reach during the Han dynasty.

2§25 Taking the name of the capital as the name of the country is a regular practice in Chinese records about the countries of the Western Regions. Therefore, if the identity of Tiaozhi-Antioch is reasonable and acceptable, Tiaozhi should be meant as the Seleucid Kingdom. But Gan Ying’s arrival at Tiaozhi was in AD 97. By this time the Seleucid Kingdom had been annexed by the Romans for 161 years. Evidently the record of Tiaozhi as a city is exact. Antioch then was just a large city and the capital of the province of Syria in the Roman Empire.

2§26 But there were two known cities named Antioch in Western Asia, one on the Orontes River in Syria mentioned above, another one in the Persian Gulf. Thus, which Antioch is the city of Tiaozhi that Gan Ying visited becomes a disputed problem. The basic reason for the option of the latter is that Mesopotamia or the Euphrates was the Western frontier of Parthia (Anxi) Empire, so the city of Tiaozhi should be Antioch in the Persian Gulf. The hypothesis of “Antioch in Syria” mainly depends on its location neighboring the west sea and its position once as a capital of the Seleucid kingdom and then Syria as a province of Roman Empire. And the Daqin that Gan Ying wanted to reach was just in the west of the sea. This sea should be the Mediterranean if the Daqin could be identified with Rome in Italy.[54]

2§27 After comparing the Chinese record about this city to the source of the classical authors and the achievements of modern archaeology, the “Antioch” in Syria seems more likely to be the “City of Tiaozhi.”

2§28 According to the record of Strabo about Antioch on the Orontes in Syria, there were outer walls around the whole city and inner walls around the Tetrapolis separately. The city was 120 stadia (equal to 22.21 kilometers) away from the Mediterranean. It took only one day to travel from the sea to the inner land.[55] Modern archaeology and research have basically confirmed his description. It was a city located on the slope of mount Silpius (506 meters high). The Orontes River flowed from northeast to southwest passing by the city. The ancient Antioch was built almost entirely on the left bank of the river and on a small island in the river at the northern part of the city. Down the river, the seaport of Antioch, Seleucia Pieria, could be reached and from there the river empties into the Mediterranean. Here the climate is Mediterranean. The weather is humid all year, and the average annual temperature is between 15–20 degrees Centigrade. In the right bank of the river, there is a fertile Amuk plain where barley and wheat can be grown. Olives, olive oil, and wine are abundant. Two land roads from the north and northwest met and crossed in the city. Here there were also lions, tigers, ostriches, and humped oxen.[56] In the early time, the city included two divisions: one for various Europeans, another for the natives. Its circumference would be 7.5 kilometers. But up to the time of Strabo, the city “consists of four parts” so it “is likewise a Tetrapolis.” The island in the river and the areas of the north and south originally outside the city now were included in the city or had become parts of the city.[57] Such conclusions evidently approximate the Chinese record in Shiji, Hanshu, and Houhanshu in different degrees.[58] The Chinese scholar Yu Taishan even wonders if the harbor of Antioch, Seleucia Pieria, could just be the city of Tiaozhi mentioned in Houhanshu.[59]

2§29 Certainly, the hypothesis of Tiaozhi in the Persian Gulf is, to some extent, not unreasonable, because the Persian Gulf could be considered on the western boundary of Anxi around the first century AD. If one set off from the Persian Gulf by ship, turned round the Arabian Peninsula, passed through the Red Sea, and landed in Egypt, one could get to Alexandria in Egypt or Li Jian (犂鞬), another name for Daqin or one part of Daqin. But evidently the trip on sea would be much longer than the one from Syria via the Mediterranean to Egypt.

2§30 According to Pliny, Charax on the Persian Gulf at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates was founded on an artificial platform two miles wide (about 3.2 kilometers). The city had been rebuilt by Antiochus III (223–187 BC) and renamed Antioch after himself,[60] from which the Chinese transliteration of Tiaozhi seems to come. Later the city was destroyed once again and rebuilt by its neighbor, the Arabian king Spaosines. He constructed bulwarks for the city and raised adjacent lands. The new rectangular city had a length of 6 miles a little longer than its width. If so this city is too large to be identified with the city of Tiaozhi with a circumference of 40 li. Moreover, at that time the city had been renamed after the Arabian king. And this Antioch had never been made as a capital as the one in Syria by Seleucid kings. Therefore, the evidence for “Charax/Tiaozhi” is somewhat insufficient.

2§31 However, how can we understand “the west frontier of Anxi”? First, before the trip of Gan Ying, Parthians twice invaded Syria, which was then ruled by Romans. One invasion was in 51 BC in which they conducted a siege of Antioch but failed to take it, and another took place in 40–39 BC, in which they occupied the city but were driven out later.[61] These events were possibly transmitted into China and at least reached Chinese generals positioned in the Tarim Basin. Therefore they might have thought that the city of Tiaozhi would be on the western frontier of Anxi and controlled by Anxi people. Second, according to another record in Houhanshu, that “having passing through Anxi, Gan Ying got to Tiaozhi, and facing to the West Sea, Gan Ying was hopeful to see Daqin,” it was actually via Anxi that he arrived at Tiaozhi in the seaside. This “West Sea” should be nothing but the Mediterranean. Third, it is possible that Gan Ying might have encountered some sailors of Anxi who were employed by others in the city of Tiaozhi. So, I prefer the option of the Tiaozhi-Antioch in Syria.

2§32 In conclusion, then, the records preserved by Chinese historians about the number and names of cities have been rendered credible by extant classical evidence. This means that in this period (from the first century BC to the second century BC) the Silk Road had begun to play its important role in facilitating the exchange of information between China and the former Hellenistic world.

2. Hellenistic Coins

2§33 Information about Hellenistic coins also was brought into China first by Zhang Qian. In his report to Emperor Han Wudi, he mentions markets and trade in Daxia and Anxi and that the local peoples from Dayuan to Anxi were very skillful at trade and haggled over very tiny fractions of money (“善市賈, 爭分銖”).[62] He especially described the coins of Anxi: “made of silver with the face of the reigning king on the obverse. When the king died, the coin had to be changed immediately, and the face of the new king would appear on the new coin.”[63] (Plate 2) The similarities between these coins and those of Hellenistic kingdoms are noteworthy: first, the coins were mainly made of silver; second, they had the head portrait of the king on it; third, every king issued his own coins. A head portrait of a king was normal in the Hellenistic coins.[64] These coins circulated not only in the areas under Greek control but also in neighboring countries, such as Parthia (Anxi), Dayuan and Kangju (both in Sogdiana), even Dayuezhi and Daxia (both in Bactria), and later the Kushan Empire (Central Asia and India). But these countries also imitated Greek-styled coins depending on their need and tradition.

2§34 “The Tradition of the Western Regions” (“西域傳) in the Hanshu also refers to similar coins in Jibin and Wuyishanli. The main features of the coins of Jibin were as follows: “they are made of gold and silver, on the obverse with a man riding on a horse and on the reverse with a man’s face”(“以金銀為錢,文為騎馬,幕為人面”) . Conversely the coins of Wuyishanli were such: “on the obverse with a man’s head and on the reverse with a man riding on a horse”(“文為人頭,幕為騎馬”). Without doubt both of them are Greek-styled coins, but the coins of Jibin are more similar to those of the Indo-Scythian Kings (Plate 3), and the ones of Wuyishanli look like the coins of the Nameless king of Kushan, known by the epithet Soter Megas (Plate 4). Of course, there are some differences between the coins of Jibin and the Indo-Scythians. When comparing two kinds of coins, it is found that the obverses of both, with a man on horseback, are identical, but on the reverses of the latter are mostly Greek deities standing rather than a man’s face. Although the coins of Wuyishanli and Soter Megas look similar, there is one anachronism between them because the reign of this “Nameless King” was assumed around the first century AD,[65] but the latest historical event recorded by Hanshu took place before AD 25. So Ban Gu might have confused the coins of Wuyishanli with those of Soter Megas. It happens that another kind of Hellenistic coins resemble the coins of Wuyishanli, i.e. those of the king Eucratides (ca. 171–145 BC) of Bactria. He once issued coins with a bust or a head of the king/Dioscuri on horseback with spears in their hands. (Plate 5) It looks reasonable but its issue is too earlier, and there are two men not one riding horses on the reverse. However, the spreading of the information about the coins of these two countries into China evidently indicated the opening of the southern way of the Silk Road which departed from the Tarim Basin, passed over the Pamir, through Jibin, and ended in Wuyishanli.

2§35 Moreover, the ratio of silver and gold coins in the Hellenistic world is also indirectly mentioned in the introductions about Daqin in Houhanshu and Sanguozhi. Daqin “issued golden and silver coins and ten silver coins equaled one golden coin,”[66] which indicates that the Chinese knew the relative value of gold and silver coins: 1 to 10 in the former Hellenistic world. In the Roman Empire, a golden aureus was valued at 25 silver denarii. Although the weight of gold and silver diminished gradually (the weight of a golden aureus was between 8 to 6.5 grams and a silver denarius was between 3 and 3.9 grams), the ratio was still maintained at 1 to 10 or a little higher. It means that the relative value of gold versus silver in Roman Empire was largely the same as in the Hellenistic period.

3. The Koine and the Materials for Writing

2§36 Zhang Qian was impressed by the understandable language popular in the Western regions and the very different style and materials for writing there.

2§37 “From Dayuan westward to Anxi, the languages, and dialects of the countries are different but their customs are similar and the peoples there can understand each other.”[67] Besides Iranian, another language commonly used (at least in the upper class of the Hellenistic cities) was Koine (κοινή, the “common tongue”), the standard Attic dialect.[68] Zhang Qian certainly had heard that language spoken by the local people when he was in Central Asia. So it is possible that he transliterated the Greek βότρυς (botrus, a “bunch of grapes”) into Chinese “蒲陶” (“Putao”) which appeared first in his report to the Emperor Han Wudi.[69] The Greek inscriptions on all Hellenistic coins also confirmed the long popularity of Koine in the former Hellenistic world.

2§38 About the style of writing and material for it in Anxi, Zhang Qian says that people there wrote horizontally from left to right on sheets of leather (畫革旁行,以為書記).[70] Leather paper indicates the parchment produced in Pergamum, another Hellenistic kingdom.[71] At the site of Ai Khanoum, French archaeologists discovered the remains of a sheet of parchment on which a Greek poem had been written.[72] At other places in Bactria, a few Greek parchments containing a tax receipt and records of payments were discovered.[73] This makes it certain that indeed parchment was known in Daxia when Zhang Qian stayed there. Most probably, Zhang Qian saw such parchment as well as the Greek texts on it. This must have caught his attention, because the Chinese still used bamboo slips for writing and wrote vertically from the top down.

2§39 Noteworthy is that the Koine was particularly popular among the Parthians. Besides the Greek legends that were used on their coins until the end of their dynasty,[74] their kings and nobles could speak Greek well.[75] Some of the official documents were written in standard Greek at least until the early first century AD.[76] All of this verifies that the records (書記) on parchments in Parthia, mentioned by Zhang Qian, should be in Koine. Later in the period of the Kushan Empire, the script of the Koine was adapted to spell their language. The famous Rabatak inscription erected by Kushan king Kaniska I was just carved with Greek letters. About five hundred years later when the Chinese pilgrim Xuan Zang (玄奘) came to the “former land of Tuhuoluo kingdom (覩货逻国, Tochari, former Bactria),” he observed not only that “gold and silver coins alike are current in commercial transaction,” but also the peculiar language and letters: “They are different somewhat from that of other countries. The number of radical letters in their language is twenty-five; by spelling they could express any objects and matters they want to. The writing is horizontal and can be read from left to right.”[77] In fact, the twenty-five letters meant twenty-four Greek letters plus a symbol “Þ” (pronounced “shi” as in Chinese Pinyin) created by Kushans, which was made use of spelling the Bactrian language. The rules of writing were the  same as those of Greeks and also identical with what Sima Qian (司馬遷) says about the writing in Anxi.

Part Two: Hellenistic Relics in China

3§1 Another way by which Hellenistic information was introduced to China is the various historical legacies such as the Buddhist sculptures with Gandharan style, the coins with Hellenistic elements, and other works of art with Greek motifs. As far as the main stream of Chinese cultural tradition is concerned, their influence is not too deep and extensive but actually long and significant.

1. The spread and changes of Gandharan Buddhist Art in China

3§2 When Gandharan Buddhist art emerged has been a disputed problem for long. The most argued point is when the Buddha image appeared first in India. According to new research results of archaeology, the first century BC is much more likely. An Indo-Scythian king Maues (ca. 85–60 BC) had issued a kind of coin with a man seated, his legs crossed, which looks like the image of Buddha.[78] (Plate 6) If such an identification with Buddha could be problematic, the image of Buddha on the relic casket found in a stupa in Afghanistan (Plate 7) could confirm the appearance of the image of Buddha at latest in the reign of Scythian King Azes II (ca. 35–12 BC) for his coins were also unearthed at the same site. Though scholars have not arrived at a unanimous conclusion about whether or not these coins were issued by Azes II himself or were minted posthumously, the images of Buddha appeared no later than the first century AD.[79] According to “The Tradition of the Western Regions” in Houhanshu and “The Treatise on Buddhism and Taoism” (釋老志) in Weishu (魏書, [The History of Wei Dyansty]), Emperor Mingdi of the Han Dynasty (漢明帝) dreamed that he saw a tall golden man and then sent an envoy to Tianzhu (天竺, India) to learn the Buddha’s doctrine in AD 65. After three years the envoy brought back the statue of standing Buddha. Thus, the emperor built the first Buddhist temple in China, the “White Horse Temple” (白馬寺), in order to worship the statue.[80] This celebrated event was known as “the inquiring Dhama of Buddha in the Yongping Period” (永平, an era title for Emperor Mingdi’s reign from AD 58–75). Since the image of Buddha had been already introduced into China in AD 68, it should have appeared earlier in India. Thus, it is extremely possible that the image of Buddha had appeared in the first century BC. Although the arguments still continue, one basic common idea has been reached that the emergence of Buddha’s image was related to the influences of the Greeks in India. When Alexander entered India in 327 BC, Buddhism had not yet spread to Northwest India. Thus, the Greco-Macedonians could not have encountered Buddhism at that time. It was in the reign of King Asoka (270/269–232 BC or 260–218 BC) of the Mauryan Dynasty that those Greeks remaining in India began to have real contact with Buddhism. Asoka was a celebrated Dharmaraja (a king who was the protector of Buddhism and its worshippers) in the history of Buddhism. He tried to introduce Buddhism to the Greeks in the northwest of India (including present Kandahar in Afghanistan) with his Rock Edicts in Greek.[81] In the second century BC, Bactrian Greeks intruded into India and became the masters of Northwest India. Because the Sunga Dynasty of India conducted a policy of persecuting Buddhists, the kingdoms founded by the Greeks from Bactria became the asylums of Buddhists.[82]

3§3 As we know, in the early period of Buddhism there was no image of Buddha himself to be worshipped. He was represented by the Dharmacakra (“Wheel of Dharma” or “Wheel of Law”), the Bodhi tree, simha (the Asiatic lion), Airavata (the white elephant), the footprints, stupa, and so on. With the spread of Buddhism in northwest India, some Greeks, even the Indo-Greek kings like Menander, converted to Buddhism.[83] On the one hand directed by the anthropomorphism of Greek religion, on the other hand inspired by their god Apollo, those Indo-Greek engravers who were Buddhists or hired by Buddhists created the image of Buddha with the statues of Greek mythological figures as the models. So the Greek god Apollo was transformed into the Buddha of Buddhism. Besides, the Greek hero Heracles was adopted by Buddhism and was transformed into Vajrapani (the protector and guide of the Buddha). The style of Greek clothing, the transformed Corinthian capitals, the acanthus ornament, the honeysuckle motif, the bead-linked decorations, and the grape motif were absorbed into Gandharan art. There might have been a Hellenistic art school in Bactria, which not only influenced the shape of Bactrian coins (the finest coins in the Hellenistic Age) but also motivated the creation of Gandharan art. The finds in Ai Khanoum provide powerful evidence for it. The vivid images on the coins were the precursors of the Buddhist figures in Gandharan art, and the peculiar stucco sculpture was the origin of the later Buddhist clay sculpture. Thus, the eastward spread of Buddhist art facilitated the spread of Hellenistic elements contained within it into China. From the Tarim Basin, the Gandharan Buddhist art started its course of sinicization. Nowadays we can still see and discern the transformation of the image of Buddha eastward from Kizil Grottos in Qiuci (龟兹) of Xinjiang Province, Dunhuang(敦煌), and Maijishan (麦积山) Grottos in Gansu Province, Yungang (云冈) Grottos in Shan-xi (山西) Province to Longmen (龙门) Grottos in Henan (河南) Province.

3§4 The introduction into China of the image of Heracles experienced a long process. His image had been brought to central Asia and India by the Greeks. An inscription honoring him and his bronze statue has been discovered in the Gymnasium of Ai Khanoum.[84] In the sculptures of Gandharan art, he is generally naked, and has a vajra pestle instead of a wood club. (Plate 8) In some samples, he wears a lion-head helmet, one of his iconological features. Such an image was transmitted to China. On a piece of fresco of Qiuci dated to AD 500, he is confused with the cowman Ananda with his original club. (Plate 9) In Maijishan Grottos, his image appears as one of the Heavenly Kings or a Vajrapani (the protector and guide of the Buddha, 护法金刚). He wears armor from head to foot, one foot standing on a little daemon, with a club in his left hand. (Plate 10)[85] From some tombs of the Sui and Tang Dynasty, he seems to become a terra-cotta or tri-colored glazed pottery warrior guarding the dead.[86] (Plate 11) Some scholars have done systematic and deep research on this subject.[87]

3§5 The clay statues of Buddhism can be seen in the monasteries and temples, but few know they originated from the Bactrian Greek artisans.[88] The clay sculpture is wrought on the basis of a lead or wooden skeleton, and then coated with mud or stucco. Later a more advanced technique of clay sculpture was developed in China especially in the area where it is hard to find stones suitable for engraving. Actually, the technology of clay sculpture also was adopted or used by the Parthians[89] and reappeared in Ghandaran Buddhist art. The broken clay statues of the Maijishan Grottos have some features in common with the clay statues of Ai Khanoum. It is not so much a coincidence as an inheritance.

3§6 Other Buddhist sculptures also probably show Hellenistic influences, such as the naked figures in the frescos of Qiuci Grottos, the images of Ritian (日天, Aditya) and Yuetian (月天, Chandra) which look like the Greek Helios and Artemis,[90] the Feitian (飛天) (apsaras, flying celestial figures) probably inspired to some extent by the flying Nike appearing in the Hellenistic age.[91] (Plates 12–14) It is especially worth noting that the Ionic and Doric column orders have been found in the Dunhuang Grottos[92] (Plates 15–16).

2. The Sino-Kharosthi Coins

3§7 According to current materials, it is hard to attest whether Zhang Qian and other Chinese envoys or those Chinese and foreign merchants brought any Hellenistic coins into central China from the Western Regions.[93] However, they actually brought back some information on these coins to China, as mentioned above, in spite of being inexact sometimes. The discovery of the Sino-Kharosthi Coin (also called “Hetian Ma Qian”, “和阗马钱”,  “the Coin with image of horse in Khotan”) confirms the direct influence of Hellenistic coinage in China. This kind of coinage could be regarded as the combination of three elements from Greek, Indian, and Chinese cultures. Nearly three hundred have been discovered in China.[94] They were mainly circulated in the ancient Hetian area (in present Xinjiang Province). The formation of them is on the whole round in shape, made of bronze, with a horse or camel encircled by the royal name in Kharosthi on the obverse, and Chinese characters “六銖銭 (coin with weight of 6 zhu) or “重廿四銖銅銭” (bronze coin with weight of 24 zhu) indicating the denominations on the reverse.[95] (Plate 17) The coins were obviously related to the Hellenistic coins issued by the Kushans. The round form and the ratio of 1 to 4 as drachma to tetradrachm are the basic features of Hellenistic coinage. Chinese coins from the Qin (秦) and Han (漢) dynasty were also round but they had a square hole in the middle point of the coin. This tradition might be related to the Chinese idea that “the heaven is round and the earth is square.” This is one of the particular differences between the two types of coins. Generally the weights of the drachma and tetradrachm were 4.24 grams and 16–17 grams, respectively. According to the ideas of the Chinese archaeologist Xia Nai, Sino-Kharosthi coins had two denominations, weighing 3.264 grams and 13.05 grams respectively, also with a ratio of 1 to 4.[96] British numismatist Joe Cribb thinks the standards of the two denominations should respectively be ca. 15.5 grams and ca. 3.9 grams in spite of the different weights for every piece or type.[97] The Chinese legends: 6 zhu and 24 zhu were just the mirror of this ratio. The Hellenistic coins usually were with a head portrait of the kings on the obverse and one or more patron deities on the reverse. The figures of Sino-Kharosthi coins are different: a horse or a camel on the obverse and no image or figure of a man or animal on the reverse. The coins issued by Greeks in Bactria and India had Greek legends or Greek-Kharosthi bilingual legends. The Kushan coins followed this bilingual tradition. So did the “Hetian Ma Qian.” But the Greek scripts were displaced by Chinese characters. Hellenistic coins were punched out through a mold and so were the Hetian Ma Qian. However, Chinese coins were manufactured by casting. This mixture of the three different elements was the natural result of the interaction of the three cultures. Thus, some scholars believe that the Sino-Kharosthi coins should be dated from the decline of Chinese political control over the Western Regions with the fall of the Later Han Dynasty.[98] However, the cultural influence still existed, and the people of Khotan also needed to trade with Kushan and central China. Having been deeply influenced by both Chinese and Kushan cultures for long time, they naturally created the kind of coins with the combination of three cultures and meanwhile added the images of local typical animals to it. Noteworthy is that the name “Sino-Kharosthi Bilingual Coin” given by Xia Nai, may reflect its basic features, but can not reveal Hellenistic information contained in the coins.

3§8 The other alien coins with Hellenistic style, such as Sogdian coins which were later circulated in the Turfan region of Xinjiang Province, Sasanian silver coins and Byzantine gold coins discovered in China, though not being discussed here, also transmitted some Hellenistic information to China.

3. Other Works of Art

3§9 In recent years, an amount of cultural relics with exotic features were unearthed in China. Most of them were from the tombs of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (南北朝, AD 420–589), and some of the masters of these tombs were Zoroastrians who came from the Western Regions or Chinese high officials. Some of these relics might contain a little Hellenistic and classical information. However, it is not apparent because the dates of these relics were long after the Hellenistic period, and they were produced mainly in the Western Regions, which were ruled by the Sasanian Empire (AD 224–651).

3§10 A typical example is the gilded silver ewer from the tomb of Lixian (李贤) in the Guyuan district (固原), Ningxia (宁夏) Province.[99] Lixian was born in AD 502 and died in AD 569. He had served three dynasties (the North Wei, 北魏, West Wei,  西魏, and North Zhou, 北周). Depending on the style of the ewer, it might date from the period of the Sasanian Empire. What interests us most is the motif on the belly of the ewer. What can be sure at first sight is that the three pairs of figures of young handsome men and beautiful women look like Greeks who display classical features including clothing like peploi, chitons, and chlamys, dynamic poses, Greek-like straight noses, and naked or half naked bodies. (Plates 18–19) However, it is hard to be certain of their identities. The Chinese scholar Luo Feng quoted in his article the idea of the celebrated Russian archaeologist B. L. Marshak that the three scenes consisting of the three pairs of figures represented the story of Troy. One of them shows Paris, the prince of Troy, handing something like a golden apple to Aphrodite; another, Helen’s seduction by Paris and the scene of their boarding; the last, Helen reencountering her former husband, Menelaus, king of Sparta after the war.[100] The explanation sounds a bit reasonable. For the story of Troy had already spread into Central Asia and India previously. Plutarch mentions that Homer was commonly read in Asia.[101] Additionally, a scene from the story of the Trojan horse also appears on a carved stone plaque from the Gandhara region.[102] The Sasanian Empire was founded in the former lands of the Parthian Empire. Most of the Parthian kings liked to call themselves philhellene (“the friends of Greeks”), and they received almost all the Hellenistic legacy in their lands.[103] The Sasanian Empire bordered on the Eastern Roman Empire in its west and was probably influenced by the Roman art style although politically they were enemies for a long time. Thus the explanation of Marshak could be acceptable in light of such cultural background.[104] However, the Chinese scholar Wu Chao argues that the main characters on the ewer should be Romans, and the group of pictures shows the scenes of deep-in-love youths who had spent a lovely night, and said farewell to each other in the early morning, then the young man departed. He states that it was the Romans who inherited the Greek tradition that the mothers saw their sons off and so did the wives their husbands.[105] It can also be regarded as another explanation for it.

3§11 The rhyton is an ancient drink container widespread in ancient Greece and Near East. The conical and bull-head rhytons appeared early in the period of the Cretan civilization. These horn-shaped rhytons were widely used in the Hellenistic Age. About 40 rhytons have been found at the site of Old Nisa. Surprisingly, drink containers like the rhyton and the scenes of making wine and grape vines also appear on the stone plates in a tomb of Sui Dynasty (隋朝, AD 581–618) in Taiyuan (太原), Shanxi Province. Around the large relief-plates of the sarcophagus are a series of honeysuckle motifs.[106] (Plates 20–21) All these seem to be the indirect reflections of Hellenistic elements.

3§12 Religious identification is a universal phenomenon. When the Greeks, who believed in polytheism and pantheism, came to the east, they naturally identified their gods with the local gods based on their similar functions. One of the most typical examples is Artemis, the goddess of the moon and hunting, who was firstly identified with the Mesopotamian moon goddess Ishtar and Nana, and then, as Artemis-Nana, was identified with the Zoroastrian goddess Anahita. Finally, influenced by Indian culture, Nana became a four-armed goddess and was brought into central China. The four-armed deity of the Shijun (史君) Tomb discovered in Xian (西安), Shannxi (陕西) Province may be related to her. However, she was transformed into a masculine deity.[107]

3§13 As for the images of Athena, Zeus, Eros, and Heracles as well as other Hellenistic figures or motifs which appear on the seal impressions of the wooden-tablet documents or the fragments of decorative wood carvings found in Tarim Basin by Aurel Stein, all have been introduced and discussed extensively in his known books about his explorations there.[108] However, it is worth noticing that in those places of China that were nearer to the former Hellenistic world, the relics discovered there bore more Hellenistic elements. The Greek mythological images maybe were introduced with the Kharosthi by the Indo-Greeks or by the Kushans largely at the same time.


4§1 It was through the Silk Road that Hellenistic information spread into China. Although the clues in the documents and the cultural elements in the historical relics are not easily recognized, it is certain that the contacts, exchanges, and fusions between Chinese and Hellenistic civilizations actually took place and developed even long after the disappearance of the latter. Of course, most of my ideas may be just tentative hypotheses. I hope I can modify my paper in the future with the discoveries of new materials.

[1] First of all I should pay my heartfelt thanks to Director of the CHS, Professor Gregory Nagy and to Professor Oswyn Murray of Oxford University, Professor Kurt Raaflaub of Brown University, and Professor Richard Talbert of the University of North Carolina. Without their recommendations and directions, I could not have had such an opportunity to be a joint fellow of the CHS of Harvard University and the DAI in Berlin, and could not have completed my paper smoothly. I am also grateful to Professor Douglas Frame of the CHS who gave me many useful suggestions and comments. I am very thankful for the other colleagues and fellows of the CHS and DAI, especially Dr. Jill Robbins, Noel Spencer, Managing Editor Lanah Koelle of the CHS who patiently adjusted the text and plates, all of whom have given me great encouragement and support.

[2] Xiyu (西域), literally the Western Regions, has two meanings. In a narrow sense, it means modern Xinjiang (新疆) Province from the west of Gansu (甘肃) Province to the Pamir. In a wide sense, it should include all lands and areas from the west outside China to the Mediterranean and ancient India. Basically, my research field is the Xiyu in the wide meaning, namely the Great Xiyu.

[3] Originally the Dayuezhi was a nomadic tribe wandering in the northwest of China. In ca. 176 BC, they were forced to move towards to the west by the Xiongnu, another powerful confederation of nomads in the north of China. The latter invaded the central China for many times from the Qin Dynasty (秦代, 221–206 BC) and were the biggest threat to Han China.

[4] As to the relation between the Hellenistic World and the Silk Road, cf. Yang 2007b.

[5] Namely: 1. Shi Ji (史記), [The Records of the Grand Scribe] by Sima Qian (司馬遷); 2. Han Shu (漢書), [The Han Histories or The History of the Former Han Dynasty] by Ban Gu (班固); 3. Houhanshu (後漢書), [The History of the Later Han Dynasty] by Fan Ye (範曄); 4. San Guo Zhi (三國志), [The Records of the Three Kingdoms] by Chen Shou (陳壽) to which was attached “Xirong Zhuan (“西戎傳”, “The Peoples of the West” or “The Tradition of the Western Barbarians”)” in Wei Lue (魏略), [The Brief History of Wei Kingdom] by Yu Huan (魚豢).

[6] Sima 1959:3160, 3162, 3164.

[7] Sima 1959:3174–3177.

[8] Sima 1959:3164.

[9] Ban 1962:3890-3891.

[10] Ban 1962:3889, 3894.

[11] Ban 1962:38933894.

[12] Ban 1962:3884.

[13] Ban 1962:3889.

[14] Fan 1965:2918.

[15] Fan 1965:2918.

[16] Chen 1959:860.

[17] Fan 1965:2921.

[18] Tran 1938:142, map 2.

[19] Plutarch, Moralia 328E.

[20] They are Alexandria in Egypt, Alexandria in the Caucasus, and Alexandria Eschate. He also founded Nicaea on the bank of the Hydaspes to commemorate his victory over the Indians and Bucephala in memory of his horse Bucephalas that died there. Another city at the junction of the Acesines and the Indus should be one of those Alexandrias attributed to him. See Arrian 3.1.5–2.1, 3.28.4; 4.1.3, 4.4.1; 5.1.5, 5.19.4; 6.15.2.

[21] Strabo 11.11.4.

[22] Justin 12.5.1213.

[23] Pliny 6.18.4749.

[24] Curtius Rufus 7.10.1516.

[25] Tarn 1948:232–259.

[26] They are “Alexandria in Egypt , Alexandria in Aria, Alexandria Eschate, Alexandria in Susiana, Alexandria-Bucephala and Alexandria among the Oreitai (Rambakia).” Fraser 1996:201, maps 1–2, Table of Alexander-foundations. However, his conclusion has been doubted and contested by some scholars. See the comments on it in Erdosy 1998, Austin 1999, and Thompson 1998.

[27] Cohen 2013:335–338.

[28] Appian 11.57. Some scholars think the number seems too much and might be overstated. Maybe the author attributed to him all the cities with the same names. See Sherwin-White & Kuhrt 1993:20.

[29] As to the details and the toponymys of these cities founded or rebuilt by the Seleucid dynasty, see Cohen 2013:335–338, 349–359.

[30] They are Berrhoea, Edessa, Perinthus, Maronea, Callipolis, Achaia, Pella, Orophus, Amphipolis, Arethusa, Astacus, Tegea, Chalcis, Larissa, Heræa, and Apollonia (in Syria and upper Asia); Sotera, Calliope, Charis, Hecatompylos, and Achaia (in Parthia);Alexandropolis (in India); Alexandreschata(in Scythia); Nicephorium (in Mesopotamia) and Nicopolis (in Armenia). Appian 11.57.

[31] Strabo 15.1.3; Justin: 41.1.8. The “one thousand cities” is only an approximate number and evidently was an

exaggeration. However, if the poleis included the villages or towns in the lands under the control of the Bactrian kings, this number is roughly credible.

[32] Bernard 1967; 1980. cf. Yang 2007a.

[33] Lerner 2012:79–86.

[34] Pliny 6.18.47. As mentioned above, according to Curtius, Alexander founded six cities around about the city of Margiana. But all these were situated on high hills (7.10.15; 7.11.29). Evidently it is hard to identify any one with Merv.

[35] Strabo 11.10.2.

[36] His name is Du Huan (杜環), once a prisoner of the Arabs who defeated the Chinese army in the battle of Talas (怛邏斯) in 751 AD. Later he was taken to Merv and enrolled into the army of Arabs. After ten years he returned to China by sea and wrote a memoir (Jingxingji經行記) about the foreign countries he knew. 13 countries are introduced in the extant work by him, one of which one was Merv.

[37] Zavyalov 2007:313–329; Cohen 2013:246.

[38] The records about the fifth Xihou of Kushan are different between Hanshu and Houhanshu. In the former Gaofu is one of the five Xihou but in the latter Dumi was substituted for Gaofu.

[39] Ji Xianlin 1985:103.

[40] Leriche & Pidaev 2007:179–211 and Figure 1.

[41] Leriche 2007:133; Cohen 2013:277–278.

[42] See Cohen 2013:255–260. Also see Wheeler 1968:65–70; Sherwin-White & Kuhrt 1993:101–102. Isidore of Charax (the first century AD) also mentions “Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia,” see Isidore 1914:18.

[43] Tarn 1938:460–462.

[44] See Cohen 2013:267–269.

[45] Tarn 1951:540 (“Addenda”).

[46] Bernard 1982:148; Holt 1987:3; Holt 1999:16.

[47] Mairs 2011:29–30. Also see Bernard 1982; 1967; Frye 1984:203.

[48] Cohen, 2013:279–282; 252–253.

[49] Tolman 1908:2, 5 (Col. 1. 6); Yu 2005:115.

[50] Isidore 1914:12.

[51] Yarshater 2000:1037–1041(pl. 63). About the attribution of the Greek mythological characters on the rhytons, see Masson 2008; Pappalardo 2008.

[52] For the related discussion, see Hill 2009:233–238.

[53] Appian 11.57.

[54] Yu 2005:270–273n162, 173.

[55] Strabo 16.2.4–7.

[56] Downey 1961:15–23.

[57] Downey 1961:77–80, Figure 11.

[58] See in Shiji: “Tiaozhi is located in the west of Anxi (Parthia) for several thousand li. It is near the West Sea. The climate is humid; rice is grown in its land. And there are big birds with eggs as large as jars.” (Sima 1959:3163) In Hanshu the record about Tiaozhi is as same as in Shij, see Ban 1962:3888.

[59] Yu 2005:271.

[60] Pliny 6.31.139.

[61] Downey 1961:150, 158–160.

[62] Sima 1959:3174.

[63] Sima 1959:3162.

[64] As to the basic features and evolution of Hellenistic coins, cf. Yang 2007c.

[65] There are two main arguments about the position of Soter Megas in the chronology of the early Kushan royal family. According to the first, Vima Taktu and Soter Megas were the same person, whose reign was possibly in the middle and late first century AD or even at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. The span is between 20–55 years. This has been accepted by most scholars. According to the second argument, Soter Megas was one of the kings of the early Kushan Dynasty, whose reign was from AD 97/92–110 (Bopearachchi 2007:50). However, in my opinion Soter Megas was a satrap who had been sent to India by the Kushan king Yan Gaozhen (阎膏珍) who was the second king of the Kushan mentioned by Fan Ye in the Houahnshu (Fan 1965:2922). He became so powerful that he called himself “Soter Megas” on his coins. His reign should be approximately in the later years of the first century AD. See Yang 2009.

[66] Fan 1965:2919.

[67] Sima 1959:3174

[68] Tarn 1902:278 recognizes the prevalence of Iranian but assumes that Greek was also used in the cities, although he has no evidence to support his assumption. Since then, however, Greek legends in coins, inscriptions, pieces of parchment and papyri have been discovered in the region.

[69] Sima 1959:3160, 3162, 3173, 3174; Pelliot 1962:5.82–83.

[70] Sima 1959:3162.

[71] The word “parchment” (pergamena in Latin) is derived from the name of Pergamum. Its king Eumenes II (197–160/59 BC) was said to have invented high-quality parchment in order to break an Egyptian embargo on papyrus; cf. Pliny 13.21.

[72] Wiesehofer 1996:114; Holt 2005:160.

[73] Holt 1999:176; Holt 2012:118–120.

[74] http://www.parthia.com/parthia_inscriptions.htm.

[75] cf. Plutarch “Crassus” 33; Philostratus I 31–32.

[76] Tada 2008:43–45; Wells 1934:299–301.

[77] Hiuen Tsiang 1884:38; Ji Xianlin 1985:100.

[78] Cf. Tarn 1951:399–404. Some scholars believe that the figure on the coins of Maues is the king, but admit that it is the prototype of Buddha’s image (Errington, et al. 1992:47, 63. Cf. Khan 1997:96–98). However, Marshall completely denies this idea and insists that there was no image of Buddha on the coins issued by Maues. See Marshall 1951:79–80.

[79] Errington et al. 1992:186–192.

[80] Fan 1965:2922; Wei 1974:3025–3026.

[81] The edict found in 1964 (or 1963) was written in Greek, being an excerpt of the 13th edict, while the edict found in 1958 was inscribed in both Greek and Aramaic, which were introduced in the period of the Persian Empire. See Burstein 1985:67–68; Sherwin-White & Kuhrt 1993:101–102.

[82] Cf. Marshall 1951:42.

[83] Cf. Yang 2011.

[84] Holt 1999:177; cf. Holt 2005:162.

[85] I visited Maiji Shan Grottos in the summer of 2007 and took a lot of photos including the clay relief of Vajrapani in the front corridor of cave no.4.

[86] Wang 1990; The Administration committee of Cultural Relics of Shanxi Province and Institute of Shanxi Archaeology 1962:63–68, pl. 8. In fact, besides in Shanxi and Hebei, the warrior figures wearing lion-skin headdresses or tiger-skin helmets, with or without wooden clubs, had been found in Shaanxi and Henan, mainly from the tombs of the Tang Dynasty. Evidently they were protecting-tomb warrior figures. This custom was popular in central China of Tang Dynasty.

[87] Two articles show a lot of pictures and illustrations, for more details, see Xie 1997; Xing 2003:15–48.

[88] See Bernard 1982.

[89] Kuhrt & Sherwin-White 1987:153, Plate VIII.

[90] For the Hellenistic cultural information contained possibly in the frescos of Qiuci Grottos, see Han & Zhu, 1990:206–208, 334–341, “The List of Plates” and Plates after p.511; Wu 1982.

[91] I have searched out some related materials from the Hellenistic coins and Buddhist sculptures and frescoes. However, the origin of Chinese Feitian (Apsara) is a very complicated problem. I will have to discuss it in another article. Here I only describe my basic hypothesis.

[92] Fan et al 2011:96; pl. 30, 31, 38; fig. 34; Dunhaung Institute of Cultural Relics 1982: plate 26..

[93] I have observed some coins of Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Parthians, and Kushans in the Numismatic Museum of Gansu Province and the Museum of Duanhuang City in China. Most of them are coins of Kushans. Only one coin of the Indo-Greek king Lysias (ca. 120–110 BC) is extant in China. Unfortunately we don’t know where they have been collected.

[94] As to the collections of this kind of coins, according to my knowledge, eleven are preserved in Dalian Luishun Museum, one in the National Museum of Beijing (Wang 1987), three in the Numismatic Museum of Gansu Province, at least two in the Museum of Dunhuang City, and five in Xinjiang Numismatic Museum. I have seen all of them myself in a field investigation in the summer of 2013. The collection in the British Museum is most abundant, amounting to 256.

[95] For a detailed introduction, illustrations, and discussion of them, see Cribb 1984.

[96] Xia 1962.

[97] Cribb 1984:149–150n83.

[98] See Xia 1962; Yuezhi 1987. But Cribb argued these coins should be issued in the first century AD, even to 132 AD. Cribb 1984; 1985:138.

[99] As to the preliminary report, see Ningxia Museum 1985.

[100] Luo 2000.

[101] Plutarch Moralia 328D.

[102] The scene is that a priestess of Troy in front of the city gate was stopping the wood-horse pulled into the city. Now it is at the British Museum..

[103] Yang 2013.

[104] As to the meaning of the figures and scenes I have asked the opinion of Professor Gregory Nagy. He is apt to receive the explanation of Marshak. I would like to thank him here.

[105] Wu 1985.

[106] Institute of Shanxi Archaeology et al 2005: (rhyton) 131, fig. 178: 4, 184:1, 185, pl. 69, 71, 75–76; (wine-making and grape vines) 101–103, fig. 137,139, pl.25–28; (honeysuckle motif) 96–117, fig. 133–146,149–156, pl. 20, 25, 30, 33, 35, 46–48, 50, 52.

[107] For more detail see Yang 2010.

[108] See Stein 1904:356, 365, 374, 376–377; Stein 1921: (Vol. I.) 216, 230–231, 235, 485–487, 494–495, 498–499, 501–511, 514–516, 523–529, 530–531; Fig. 63–64, 120, 133–134, 140; (Vol. IV) Plate XVII–XXIV, XXVII, XXXI–XXXII, XXXIV, XL–XLII, XLV–XLVII; See Stein 1933:84, illus. 41; 89, 99, 104, illus. 43–44; 117–124, illus.54–57; 142–143, illus.61–62; 153, illus. 65.


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Plate 1: The Hellenistic World and the Early Silk Road

Plate 1: The Hellenistic World and the Early Silk Road. This sketch is based on the other maps about Hellenistic World and the Silk Road, especially the one in Hiebert, et al 2008: 43. The countries, areas, cities, and towns along the early Silk Road in this sketch are oriented on the ancient Chinese historical books about the Western Regions and the records from the Classical authors as well as the archaeological sites discovered recent years. There are many unresolved and disputable issues in it.

Plate 2: Mithradatesi

Plate 2: The coin of Parthian King Mithradates I (ca. 171-138 BC). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 3: Scythian King Azes II

Plate 3: The coin of Indo-Scythian king Azes II (ca. 35–12 BC). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 4: Soter Megas

Plate 4: The coin of Soter Megas ( ca. 80-100 AD). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 5: Eucratides Tetradrachm

Plate 5: The coin of Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides (ca. 171-145 BC). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 6: Maues Buddha Coin

Plate 6: The coin of Indo-scythian king Maues ( ca. 85–60 BC). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 7: Bimaran Casket

Plate 7: The Buddha on the Bimaran Casket (ca. the 1st century BC to 1st century AD). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 8: Heracles-Vajrapani

Plate 8: Heracles-Vajrapani in Ghandara Art (the 2nd century AD). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Plate 9: Cowman Ananda

Plate 9: Cowman Ananda with club like Heracles in the one piece of frescoes of Qiuci Grottes, China. AD 406-425. By courtesy of the Museum of Asian Art, Berlin. Source: author’s photo

Plate 10: Heracles-Vajrapani in Maijishan Grottoes

Plate 10: Heracles-Vajrapani in Maijishan Grottoes, China. Bei Zhou (北周, AD 557-581). Source: author’s photo

Plate 11: Tri-color Warrior Pottery

Plate 11: Tri-color Warrior Pottery, Tang Dynasty (唐代, AD 618-907). By courtesy of Shannxi Historical Museum, China. Source: author’s photo

Plate 12: Feitian

Plate 12: Feitian(飛天)(apsara) flying over Buddha, from Cave no 272, Bei Liang Period (北凉, AD 397-439), Dunhuang Grottoes, China. Source: Fan et al 2011: Pl. 132.

Plate 13: Feitian, flying celestial figures holding palmettes

Plate 13: Feitian, flying celestial figures holding palmettes, Bei Qi Period (AD 551-577). By courtesy of Musee Cernuschi, Paris. Source: author’s photo.

Plate 14: the Flying Nike hands a wreath to Zeus

Plate 14: The Flying Nike hands a wreath to Zeus on the coin of Seleucus I. Source: Iran Chamber Society

Plate 15: The Corinthian order

Plate 15: The Corinthian Order in cave no.268, Bei Liang Period (北凉, AD 397-439), Dunhuang Grottoes, China. Source: Fan et al 2011: 96; pl.30;Dunhuang Institute of Cultural Relics 1982: pl.6.

Plate 16: The Doric order

Plate 16: The Doric Order in cave no.254, Bei Wei Period (北魏, AD 386-534),Dunhuang Grottoes, China. Source: Dunhaung Institute of Cultural Relics 1982: pl.26.

Plate 17: The Sino-Kharosthi Coin

Plate 17: The Sino-Kharosthi Coin, Ca. the 1st-3rd century AD. By courtesy of Luishun Museum, China. Source: author’s photo.

Plate 18: Gilded Silver Ewer

Plate 18: Gilded Silver Ewer, the sixth century. By courtesy of Guyuan Museum, China. Source: author’s photo.

Plate 19: The figures and scenes

Plate 19: The figures and scenes on the belly of the Ewer. By courtesy of Guyuan Museum, China. Source: author’s photo

Plate 20: Rynton

Plate 20: Rynton on the relief of Yuhong Tomb, the 6th century AD, Shanxi, China.
Source: Institute of Shanxi Archaeology et al 2005: pl. 71.

Plate 21: The scene of making wine

Plate 21: The scene of making wine and branches of grapes on the relief of Yuhong Tomb, the 6th century AD, Shanxi, China. Source: Institute of Shanxi Archaeology et al 2005: pl. 25.


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