In the history of the ancient world, Bactria is somewhat of an anomaly: a Greek kingdom located in modern Afghanistan. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, he acquired all its outlying provinces including Bactria. Greek forces then established and maintained control in Bactria. After Alexander’s death, his kingdom was divided among his generals and Bactria became part of the eastern section, ruled by the Seleucid Dynasty. There was extensive immigration of Greeks who found several cities based on the Greek model complete with gymnasiums and amphitheatres. Later, the Greco-Bactria Kingdom asserted its independence and quickly expanded its holdings to the upper reaches of the Indus River Valley. The Greek Kingdom in Bactria lasted for another two centuries, until it was finally overwhelmed by nomadic tribesmen invading from the central Asian steppes.
Unfortunately, few traces of the Bactrian Kingdom remain. Unlike other ancient civilization who left behind monumental ruins, our knowledge of the Bactrian Kingdom is based upon ancient historical texts reinforced by the few archaeological artifacts that have survived. Yet while we cannot stroll down colonnaded avenues or climb mountainous pyramids and envision what life might have been like, this silver vessel gives us a tantalizing taste of the opulence of this ancient Kingdom. Holding this delicately hammered bowl, we are transported back in time to a royal banquet where a salad or soup might have been served out of this vessel. The inherent wealth of this bowl suggests that it was a treasure reserved for the possession of the ruling elite. This bowl was likely forged by either a Greek immigrant silversmith working the region or a local metalworker who absorbed the stylistic lesson of Greek examples. Greek initials have been delicately inscribed onto the bottom of the bowl, presumably the monogram of the owner or perhaps the proud artist. While modern day tourists flock to the ruins of more celebrated ancient cultures, perhaps no other ancient kingdom is quite so intriguing and yet so little understood as Bactria. In this land where kings once ruled over two thousand years ago, the East and West merged together, combining the best aspects of both cultures in luxurious splendor that is Bactria.