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Volume 45, Number 3May/June 1994

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A History in Silver and Gold

"Son, seek out a kingdom worthy of yourself for Macedonia is much too small."

Written by Frank L. Holt
Photographed by Luke Powell
Additional photographs by Carla M. Dole and The British Museum

Thus, said Plutarch, did King Philip inspire his famous son, Alexander the Great, to a life of conquest. Marching out of northern Greece at the age of 22, Alexander boldly transformed the world in his quest for a worthy kingdom.

Four short years later, the young conqueror had covered more than 6400 kilometers (4000 miles) and captured much of the area of the modern Middle East. He had already won three brilliant battles, triumphed in one of history's greatest sieges, toppled the King of Kings from the Persian throne, received god-like honors as pharaoh of Egypt and plundered more wealth on a single day than his native Macedonia had ever seen. From his royal tomb, Philip must have marveled at his son's good fortune, but for Alexander it was not yet enough.

In 330 BC, Alexander and his Macedonian army moved on in the direction of India, setting only the ends of the earth as the limits of his own ambitions.

But these next four years were to bring the young hero more troubles than triumphs: After his glorious advance from Pella to Persepolis came the grueling campaigns which nearly failed to capture Bactria.

Located in the area of modern-day Afghanistan and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, ancient Bactria was a rugged and remote region which stretched from the Hindu Kush to the Oxus River (the modern Amu Darya); Sogdiana, the northern extension of this old Persian province, reached across the Oxus and the Pamir Mountains to the banks of the Jaxartes River (the modern Syr Darya). Here Alexander, like so many great leaders before and after him, faltered in his pursuit of glory.

His army suffered horribly in these campaigns—in the mountains, his men froze to death or survived only by eating their own baggage animals; in the deserts, his troops died b the thousands of exhaustion and thirst. As if nature were not enemy enough Alexander's army also faced a very hostile population. In Bactria and Sogdiana, some of Alexander's worst military setbacks were forced on him by hit-and-run guerrilla tactics not unlike those used so effectively by the modern mujahidin of Afghanistan. When one area seemed under control, another erupted into battle; if the major cities seemed safe and subdued, the roads and countryside between them remained in the hands of the native resistance. The many toils of Alexander in Bactria and Sogdiana, said Plutarch, resembled a war against a hydra, whose vicious heads grew back as fast as they were severed.

Finally, after years of bitter fighting on this far-off frontier, Alexander the Great sought a way out. He made some concessions to the native peoples, married the daughter of a local aristocrat and marched away to India, leaving behind over 13,000 Greek soldiers to colonize and try to control this difficult territory. None of these Greek mercenaries liked it, and not all of them stayed. But those who did stay were the start of something extraordinary in world history—the creation of a multinational kingdom in Central Asia which eventually bridged the disparate cultures of India, Iran, Greece and China.

There is still a romance about Hellenistic Bactria all but impossible to resist. The celebrated British historian Sir William W. Tarn felt it when he called this "a unique chapter in the dealings of Greeks with the peoples of Asia," and "the story of a very great adventure." But the exciting and extraordinary story of Bactria is also exasperating and sad, for time has erased almost every trace of what happened there after Alexander was gone. The narrative histories of Bactria written by ancient authors have all been lost, except where they have been quoted—or misquoted—by later writers. Lifted out of context and often terribly confusing, these citations amount to barely 400 words, telling the story of 200 years of history. Elsewhere, in all of Greek and Latin literature, there is but one incidental description of a specific event in Bactrian history—an account by Polybius of a brief war between a Bactrian king and a Seleucid emperor, Antiochus the Great. From all these scattered sources we can glean only the names of a few Bactrian towns, the names of seven Bactrian rulers and a few other general remarks. Our loss is immeasurable: Imagine the task of reconstructing the entire history of the United States if we knew only the names of seven presidents and of a few—as yet undiscovered—cities.

Even by the time of the Roman Empire, the West had forgotten much about Alexander's successors in Central Asia. For Propertius and other Roman writers, Bactria had become no more than a shorthand term for the unknown ends of the earth. The Middle Ages in Europe merely prolonged the silence, until, in the 14th century, Boccaccio included the Bactrian king Eucratides in his work On the Downfall of Famous Men, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales included the rich and romantic figure of King Demetrius in "The Knight's Tale."

And so matters stood for centuries more. Bactria's rich history was locked in the deep, dark coffers of war, neglect and time. Its kings were forgotten except in fable; its place in the histories of Afghanistan, Greece, India, China and Pakistan was almost irrevocably lost.

But in more recent years, thanks to the patient labors of experts and amateurs from around the world, we have begun to bring ancient Bactria back to life; we are now literally buying back her lost legacy in the very coin of the Bactrian kings themselves. For here, stamped upon ancient silver and gold, are the names and portraits of nearly 40 monarchs who ruled Bactria and India in the aftermath of Alexander the Great—most of them names that have not been known or spoken for over two millennia.

These precious coins are a king's ransom indeed; without them, monarchs such as Antimachus, called "the God," and Agathocles "the Just" would remain totally unknown to us, their extraordinary reigns forever lost for want of a single clue. In ancient Bactria, more than anyplace else I know, money does talk, for coins can break through the silence of centuries to tell us tales of the past in the alluring language of numismatics.

The rediscovery of the ancient Greek kings of Bactria is one of the finest triumphs of modern numismatic science, that branch of scholarship which uses coins as its primary evidence. We are fortunate that Bactrian coins are more than beautiful masterworks of the engraver's art; they are also expressive testimonials to the political, economic, military and religious life of the people who made and used them. Stamped in metal are the names and titles of the Bactrian rulers, the regalia of kingship and military command, the images of Greek and non-Greek gods and goddesses, the symbols of conquest, the ties of kinship and the marks of mintage control. Coins' weights and designs tell us about values and exchange rates; the findspots of single coins or large hoards reveal patterns of circulation and trade. Bilingual issues help us to draw linguistic maps of ancient Central and South Asia—in fact, Bactrian coins first made intelligible the cursive Kharoshthi script of early India. To the numismatist, every coin is a text and every hoard an archive of invaluable new information.

The archive was first opened in 1738, when Theophilus Bayer published a Latin treatise entitled Historia Regni Graecorum Bactriani . This work was based on the discovery of only two Bactrian coins, but it set in motion a great scramble by others to find and to publish more and more of these impressive artifacts. Coins were eventually collected by the tens of thousands from Samarkand to Patna, and, from them, numismatists were able to identify the names of more and more new kings to add to the history of the Bactrian realm. For example, the lost King Antimachus was first discovered in 1822, and Agathocles was found about a decade later. New coin types by known kings, and even new kings, are still being discovered today, and the considerable task of sorting these out into a proper historical picture is as challenging as ever.

Some of the discoveries made over the past two and a half centuries have been especially dramatic. Beginning in 1843, for example, it was learned that Agathocles and Antimachus also struck, in addition to their other types, an extraordinary series of commemorative coins in honor of earlier Bactrian kings. These special issues, sometimes called "pedigree coins," help us to set the reigns of the kings in proper order, from Alexander the Great to the ephemeral reign of a king named Pantaleon "the Savior." Three coins in the series are still unique, including two (honoring King Diodotus "the God" and King Pantaleon) only recently discovered; the list may yet grow longer. These rare coins have no numismatic parallel anywhere else, and they present to us the unexpected treat of an "official photo album" of the first monarchs of Bactria.

Even the discovery of coins of those few Bactrian kings known to us already from Western literature has opened our eyes in rather dramatic ways. Take, for example, King Euthydemus—one of the rulers commemorated by Agathocles and Antimachus. More information is recorded about Euthydemus than about any other king of Bactria, largely because we happen to have a 564-word description of a war he fought against the Seleucid emperor Antiochus the Great from 208 to 206 BC. Thus, we know that Euthydemus's family was originally from Magnesia in modern Turkey, that he usurped the throne by overthrowing the Diodotids, the first dynasty of Bactrian kings, and that he used his talented son Demetrius as an envoy to negotiate a truce with Antiochus. But how long did this upstart Euthydemus really last in rough-and-tumble Bactria?

Only his coins testify to the length of his reign. The portrait on some of his tetradrachms suggests that Euthydemus was quite old when they were minted, a wise if weary king. But did he come to Bactria late in life, using his years of experience to seize the throne shortly before leaving the kingdom to his son Demetrius? The coin portraits speak eloquently on this matter, telling the tale of a young Euthydemus who became king in his teens or early twenties, and who kept the crown until he had lost his teeth and some of his hair over the course of a very long reign.

Another Bactrian king about whom we know a little from ancient literature is a man named Eucratides. A brief description of his reign is given by a later Roman writer, based upon a lost Greek original. The Latin summary tells us that Eucratides was a great warrior-king of Bactria who defeated King Demetrius of India, as recalled in the works of Boccaccio and Chaucer. Eucratides's victory was short-lived, however. We are told his wars drained Bactria of vital manpower, and eventually led to a great decline when Eucratides himself was assassinated by his own son; to compound the tragedy, the king's body was defiled by his murderous son, who drove over it with a chariot and cast it away unburied.

Though brief, there is great drama and pathos in this account. But as it stands, the story tells us all too little. When did Eucratides reign? How did he come to power? How great was his triumph in India? Who was the insolent and murderous son? Clearly, Eucratides was considered one of the most important of all the Bactrian kings, but we cannot begin to reconstruct his reign without direct recourse to our major informant—the silver and gold coinage which bears his name.

It was a tetradrachm of Eucratides which prompted Bayer to publish that first modern book about Bactria in 1738. He took that coin, and the Latin passage summarized above, as the starting point of his work. We are still at it today, only with a lot more numismatic evidence to guide us. In 1838, for instance, James Prinsep first published a new and unusual coin type. It shows Eucratides on the obverse—the "heads" side of the coin—with the title "Great King," but in the nominative case, unusual in ancient Greek coinages. On the reverse—the "tails" side—we find two portraits, male and female, with their names in the normal possessive case: "of Heliocles and Laodice," but without titles of any kind. This extraordinary coin is another kind of Bactrian commemorative issue: It apparently honors Eucratides's parents, the only reasonable explanation for the use of nominative and genitive cases in this way: "The Great King Eucratides, son of Heliocles and Laodice." On some examples of this coin, Eucratides strikes a daring pose as he hurls a spear, symbolizing the conquest of what the Greeks called "spear-won territory."

Also of interest is an important feature on the reverse of these coins: Laodice, Eucratides's mother, wears a royal diadem, while his father Heliocles does not. These coins speak volumes about the origins and ambitions of Eucratides the Great. His father was not a king, but his mother was of royal blood. Whereas Antimachus and Agathocles had commemorated earlier kings like Euthydemus and Demetrius, and set themselves in that lineage, Eucratides honored a different heritage. He clearly rose to power at about the same time, but in opposition to Agathocles and Antimachus.

And then there is King Heliocles "the Just," whose coins were first discovered in 1786. He cannot be the same Heliocles who was Eucratides's father, since the latter wore no diadem and was never a king at all. But because of the ancient Greek custom of naming sons after their grandfathers, King Heliocles must be a son of Eucratides, and a successor to the Bactrian throne. Was it he who killed Eucratides? I think, upon the testimony of other coins, that the verdict is "not guilty." The killer was probably a younger son, named Plato of all things, the only Bactrian king of this period who decorated his coins with a chariot scene that seems to boast of the desecration of Eucratides's body.

These commemorative coins of Eucratides are not his only types to excite the numismatic community. In fact, no single Bactrian coin has ever caused such a stir as his great gold masterpiece. This massive 20-stater coin is of the standard Eucratides type, with portrait of the king on the obverse wearing a commander's cloak, a royal diadem and a great plumed helmet decorated with the ears and horns of a bull. The reverse offers the king's usual type, two mounted horsemen—the heavenly twins, the Dioscuri of Greek legend—charging to the right. Eucratides's usual titles appear on the coin as well. It is not the style, exceptionally fine though it is, which makes this, in the words of one expert, "the rarest coin in the world"; it is the extraordinary size. At 63 millimeters in diameter (2½ inches) and more than 169 grams (six ounces) of Bactrian gold, it is the largest such coin ever minted in the ancient world, apparently to celebrate the king's conquest of Demetrius of India. There is only one specimen known in the world today—but that such a huge coin could escape the melting pot at all is amazing luck for us.

The unusual story of this coin's discovery can be tracked down through various newspaper accounts from over a century ago. In June of 1867, a French numismatist associated with the British Museum was dining with a group of collectors in London. One of the guests told about a strange encounter he had had that day with a shabby beggar trying to sell an ancient coin. He described a gold piece so large that all at the table agreed it must be a forgery. Yet, as the conversation drifted to other numismatic topics, the French expert could not get the gold coin out of his mind. Finally, in what he called "a fit of numismatic fever," he excused himself and set out to follow the trail of the beggar. When the two finally met late one night in a ramshackle London flat, the expert demanded to see the coin at once. The beggar explained that he had come all the way from Bukhara, where he and six others had found the coin. In a matter of minutes, he said, daggers were drawn and five of the men were dead. The two survivors agreed to smuggle the prize to Europe and share whatever price it brought. Then, his story told, the mysterious fellow took off his old coat, his shirt and his undershirt; he lifted his arm and pulled from his armpit a filthy, sweaty leather case with the gold coin sewn inside.

With an "electric shock," the numismatist held the coin and convinced himself that it was no forgery—but he knew that he must conceal his enthusiasm as he bargained down the price. The traveler from Bukhara insisted upon £5000 for the giant coin; the expert handed it back and wrote a check ... for £1000, adding coolly that this was his offer for the next 20 minutes. After that, he said, "I'll give you only £800, and so on until I get to £500. If you don't close the deal tonight, tomorrow I will not take the coin at any price."

They stared at each other for more than 19 minutes. Then the beggar snatched the check for £1000, and handed over the coin.' "This," reported the numismatist to the new papers, "is the rarest coin in the world, and the one for which the highest price has been paid. Since it cost the lives of five men, I do not think anything more was paid for it than it was really worth. It ought to have been saved for the delectation of numismatic amateurs in all times to come, even had fifty or one hundred lives been sacrificed."

If you have in mind some numismatic delectation of your own, however, do not ask to see the coin at the British Museum. Though associated with that great institution, the buyer was a Frenchman first of all. Through the special attentions of Emperor Louis-Napoléon, the 20-stater gold piece of Eucratides was immediately purchased by the Bibliothèque Impériale, now the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris.

To see any number of copies of this great masterpiece, simply look though the forgery trays of the major public collections in the world. Imitation, Eucratides would know, is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, it is an ancient look-alike of Eucratides's coins which tells us something very important: the approximate date of his reign. Compare, for example, the standard coin type of Great King Eucratides with a coin very much like it minted by "Great King Timarchus." The coins of this Timarchus are exceedingly rare—only four tetradrachms are known—but they are very precisely dated by Babylonian clay tablets, which set his ephemeral reign between January 11 and May 14, 161 BC. Obviously, the coins show that one king had been copying the designs of the other; but which was the numismatic plagiarist?

The coins of Eucratides are often found in regions controlled by Timarchus, whereas we have never found the coins of Timarchus outside his own realm in Media and Babylonia— modern-day Iraq and western Iran. In addition, we can trace the evolution of Eucratides's coins from a simple style, without helmet and elaborate titles, to their grandiose, final form. The same is not true for Timarchus, who began his reign with the fully-developed types in question. So, which king was copying from the dies of the other? Timarchus, surely, who liked what he saw on the fully developed Eucratides coins circulating in his area, and copied the style outright for himself. In this way, the coins tell on Timarchus, and tell us that Eucratides must have become king of Bactria, and developed his grand coin types, before 161 BC.

You cannot study these coins very long without wanting to learn all that is possible about the kings who minted them. Watching them grow old from coin to coin, witnessing their clever efforts to commemorate their forebears or celebrate great victories, reading in silver and gold their stories of cultural contacts with other peoples—all of this is a numismatic marvel, and it makes you want to know more. What, for example, were the cities like where these kings lived and issued their coins?

Until recently, we could not know. For all the fables about Eucratides's "kingdom of a thousand cities," not one Greek town could be found in Afghanistan. Yet, for 250 years, the coins have been convincing proof that there must be ancient Greek cities under the dust of this distant region. Guided by the work of numismatists, our colleagues the archeologists set out long ago to find a Bactrian city to excavate. They looked hardest at Balkh, an old walled fortress thought to be ancient Bactra, the legendary "Mother of All Cities" and capital of the Bactrian kingdom. Archeological pioneers, such as Alfred Foucher of France, dug into this heap with the highest hopes and were sorely disappointed. No Greek level was found, and finally Foucher himself dismissed the whole idea as a "Graeco-Bactrian mirage." Despite the coins, most archeologists had given up the search by 1925.

Perhaps to find royal cities you must rely upon royal help; that, at least, is how it turned out in Afghanistan. In 1961, while hunting along the barren northern frontier of his country, King Muhammad Zahir Shah of Afghanistan chanced upon an unusual sight near the village of Ai Khanoum. Looking down from a hillside, he recognized between himself and the Amu Darya, which separates Afghanistan from the former Soviet Union, the outlines of an ancient city. Others had seen it before; in March of 1838, British explorer Captain John Wood had stood on this same spot and seen the outlines of the city barely inches beneath the dry soil. He later wrote: "The appearance of the place ... does indicate the truth of [Tajik] tradition, that an ancient city once stood here. On the site of the town was an Uzbek encampment; but from its inmates we could glean no information, and to all our inquiries about coins and relics, they only vouchsafed a vacant stare or an idiotic laugh." So the soil kept its secrets until King Zahir chanced upon the site again. The monarch investigated more closely, and the Bactrian mirage became concrete at last.

The archeological excavations at Ai Khanoum were entrusted by the king to a team of French experts led by Dr. Paul Bernard. Until their important work was interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, these archeologists devoted many difficult years to excavating this now barren and remote stretch of ground. They uncovered a huge triangular city with sides a mile long; inside it were many typical Greek monuments, including a gymnasium, a theater seating 6000, various temples and shrines—some of them more Persian than Greek—excellent plumbing and a palace so large that the entire acropolis of Athens could fit inside it with room to spare.

And next to the palace, in the last years of digging, the archeologists found a royal treasury. The storerooms had been looted in ancient times; indeed, the whole city had been ransacked and torn apart. But in the rubble of these treasure rooms were found a number of precious and semi-precious stones, some unstruck bronze flans—the metal disks from which coins are made—suggesting the presence of an ancient mint, and smashed earthen jars labeled as containing tens of thousands of captured Indian silver coins. Yet from the entire excavated city barely a thousand coins were actually recovered by the patient archeologists, and most of those corroded little bronze pieces were simply the lost "pocket change" of the ancient inhabitants.

Fortunately, one hoard of 677 Indian-style silver coins was uncovered near the treasury, no doubt loot taken from one of the smashed treasury jars and quickly hidden by the plunderer. That hoard included the only known specimens of an extraordinary type of silver coin minted by Agathocles. Rectangular in shape, the coin bears images of the Hindu gods Samkarshana and Vasudeva/Krishna; the royal inscription appears in both Greek and Brahmi scripts.

In the kitchen of a Greek house unearthed just outside the city wall, archeologists discovered another hoard containing 63 Bactrian Greek tetradrachms.

One other hoard of about 142 Greek coins was found nearby by an Afghan farmer in the winter of 1973. Naturally, those coins found their way to the bazaars of Kabul, and quickly passed onto the international coin market—the fate of most Bactrian coins, which normally fetch high prices because of their beauty and exotic provenance. The more valuable pieces, including some "pedigree coins" of Agathocles, were sold separately and reached the auction houses of Europe. The remainder, plus a few stray additions tossed into the pile by one dealer or another, circulated together around Europe and the United States for several years. Coins traceable to this Ai Khanoum hoard still show up regularly in major auctions, and only a few have found safe scholarly haven in the trays of public museums.

Two other famous Bactrian hoards illustrate well the divergent paths that coins may take; on their way from ancient mint to modern museum. In 1877, princely cache of ancient coins a works of art was found in northern Afghanistan; over the next few years more objects were found, allegedly the same spot, and added to the discovery. Eventually, the objects were sold to three merchants traveling from Bukhara to Kabul. After perhaps selling some of the goods in Kabul, these Muslim merchants continued on to Peshawar. Three days into their journey, they were attacked and captured by bandits. To divide their spoils evenly, the robbers simply melted down some of this treasure; other items of jewelry and statuary were cut into equal pieces. Fortunately, a British captain rescued the merchants and part of their treasure. The surviving coins and art objects were sold to various buyers in Rawalpindi, and later about 1500 coins from the hoard reached European dealers and collectors. Many objects from the Oxus Hoard, as it came to be called, now reside in the British Museum. Unfortunately, most of the hoard was dispersed before it could be studied properly, and some of the coins proved to be modern forgeries.

The world had better luck on August 23, 1946. On that day, a vase containing over 600 silver coins was discovered at Khisht-Tepe, in the Afghan province of Kunduz. Found and protected by border guards who were digging the foundation for a new stable, the Kunduz Hoard made its way safely to the Ministry of the Interior at Kabul. Among the surprises of this discovery were five huge silver coins minted by a King Amyntas; these are the largest silver coins ever issued by an ancient Greek king, and remind us of Eucratides's unrivaled issue in gold.

The Kunduz Hoard also contained 221 important coins of King Heliocles, the son of Eucratides. As a group, they now reveal a fact of special importance to the excavations at Ai Khanoum. We can see that the coins of Heliocles circulated actively in the Oxus Valley, because they comprised over a third of the coinage available to the unknown hoarder at Khisht-Tepe. Yet not one Heliocles coin was recovered from the Greek city at Ai Khanoum, which was therefore certainly destroyed before Heliocles became king of Bactria. The coins of Eucratides the Great are the latest to be found at Ai Khanoum, so the city must have fallen during his reign—in fact, in about 145 BC, if the regnal year inked on one of the treasury jars has been properly interpreted. We know, too, from Chinese sources, that in about 129 BC the envoy Chan K'ien found Bactria overrun by the nomadic Yüeh-chi, generally identified with the Tocharians. Thus, the Greek adventure in northern Afghanistan ended sometime between 145 and 130 BC, although Greek culture continued to influence the newcomers to a remarkable extent.

Thus Bactria's history in the tumultuous world of the Hellenistic Greeks can be read in silver and gold from beginning to end. Those of Alexander's soldiers who remained at their posts in Central Asia passed under the command of a new Macedonian lord, Seleucus I Nikator. Within a few generations, the Greeks in Bactria grew resentful of this Macedonian dynasty, and declared their independence from Nikator's successors. Thus, in the middle of the third century BC, Bactria became a separate state—a wealthy and powerful kingdom governed by two kings, father and son, both named Diodotus. It was against this dynasty that Euthydemus, in turn, rebelled toward the end of the century. We have seen how long Euthydemus lived and prospered before handing over the state to his son Demetrius.

King Demetrius opened a new era in Bactrian history by extending his dominion south across the Hindu Kush toward the Khyber Pass and India. Wearing the scalp of an Indian elephant to symbolize his success, Demetrius became king of both Bactria and northwest India. The coins also tell us that Eucratides, son of a non-royal father, rose to power and challenged Demetrius and other regal descendants of Euthydemus. Known to us only through numismatics, these defeated kings include little Euthydemus II, Pantaleon "the Savior" and the innovative coiners Antimachus and Agathocles. The commemorative coins have shown us how these last two kings tried to maintain their royal and religious claims to the Bactrian throne, but to no avail. The warrior-king Eucratides triumphed over his rivals, published his own pedigree and took the bold new title "Great King." To celebrate his victory, he struck the grand victory coin, and relaxed his guard just long enough to fall victim to a murderous son.

With the assassination of Eucratides, the eastern Greek cities of Bactria began to fall to the nomadic tribes of the Russian steppes. They plundered the treasuries newly filled with the booty of Eucratides's wars in India, and eventually they drove out his successors altogether. In the last decades of the second century bc, after the demise of Heliocles, Chinese envoys who passed through Bactria or Sogdiana found no Greek kings there.

Yet it seems possible that some of those intrepid Greeks remained in Bactria. Legends abound to this day of lineal descendants of Alexander's soldiers alive in the remote valleys of Afghanistan. As reported by one 19th-century explorer, some Afghans claim a more noble heritage: "The exploits of Alexander ... in this region have been preserved by legend, and are known to every inhabitant. Many of the petty princes in the mountain countries of the Upper Oxus claim to be descended from him." Their folktales remain filled with "Iskender," whose golden dam on the Zerafshan River accounted for the precious flecks which washed downstream to Samarkand, and whose war-horse Bucephalus sired the special breed of "Heavenly Horses" prized by the emperors of China.

As a continuing surprise, some part of that great adventure begun by Philip's dare and Alexander's daring continues into our own time. What Alexander and his successors tried to achieve in Central Asia can still be traced in the designs stamped upon ancient silver and gold, and the pulse of that remote past can still be felt in the lifeblood and legends of those—especially those in the lands of Bactria and Sogdiana—who never forgot at all.

Dr. Frank L. Holt , professor of history at the University of Houston, has a special interest in numismatic research.

Sifting the Ashes, Again

As this article goes to press, I must add a tragic postscript on the future of Afghanistan's past. Reports and photographs indicate that the Kabul National Museum has been shelled and some of its antiquities lootedor destroyed. Rumors about the plundering of the numismatic collection abound, but no absolute confirmation has yet been possible.

Other Afghan antiquities have already been reported in the bazaars of neighboring countries, and one rare coin has allegedly been offered for sale to a European dealer. The country's patrimony, which has survived so much for so long, is not likely ever to be assembled again in one safe place as our witness to the past. The "library" of ancient Bactria has been burned, leaving us to mourn, and sift the ashes.F.L.H.

This article appeared on pages 2-13 of the May/June 1994 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


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