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
Unfortunately, few traces of the Bactrian
Kingdom remain. Unlike other ancient
civilizations that 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 and envision what life might have been
like, this gilt silver bowl gives us a tantalizing
taste of the opulence of this ancient Kingdom.
Holding this delicate bowl, we are transported
back in time to a royal household where this
vessel would have been a proud centerpiece.
The inherent wealth of the materials alone, as
well as the intricacy of the relief carvings,
suggests that this bowl a treasured possession
of the ruling elite. The gilt relief decorations
adorning the inner center of the bowl and the
outer sides of the body depict scenes of
merriment that could easily be found painted
onto an Attic amphora. Dancing revelers and
musicians are juxtaposed to scenes of wrestlers
and a satyr. The interior decoration portrays two
disrobed women flanked by two men (possibly
soldiers) in a composition that recalls the
“Judgment of Paris.” This bowl was likely forged
by either a Greek immigrant silversmith working
the region or a local metalworker who absorbed
the stylistic lesson of Hellenistic examples.
Perhaps no other ancient kingdom is quite so
intriguing and yet so little understood as Bactria.
In this land 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.