Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bactria

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BACTRIA, or Bactriana, an ancient country of Central Asia, lying to the south of the River Oxus, and reaching to the western part of the Paropamisan range, or Hindu Kush. It was sometimes regarded as including the district of Margiana, or Merv, which was more frequently considered as distinct. The character of the country is very various, and has been well described by Curtius, whose account is confirmed by the few modern travellers who have passed through it. Some portions are remarkable for the beauty of their scenery, or the fertility of the soil, evidenced by a rich and varied vegetation, while other parts are stretches of barren and drifting sands. In early history Bactria is connected with some of the most important movements of the Indo-European races, and has no small claims to be regarded as the cradle of our present civilisation. According to Persian tradition, it became the seat of the Iranian wanderers, who established the religion of Zoroaster, and expelled the Vedic inhabitants of the country. In the 7th century B.C. it passed under the dominion of the Medes, and not long after formed part of the conquests of Cyrus. In the reign of Darius it ranked as the twelfth satrapy of the empire, and furnished valuable contingents to the imperial army; these are described at a later date by Herodotus as wearing the Median head-dress, and making use of their native bows and short spears. Like the rest of Western Asia, Bactria was subjugated by Alexander, and formed part of the empire of the Seleucids; but in the 3d century B.C. it was raised to the rank of an independent kingdom by the successful revolt of Diodotus, the Greek satrap. There thus arose a remarkable dynasty—if dynasty it can be called—of Græco-Bactrian kings, who have been the object of much modern investigation, but are not as yet arranged in any satisfactory order. The names of seven or eight of them are known from the Greek and Roman historians, and upwards of forty are preserved on their coins. The great problem to be solved by numismatists is how to dispose of so many claimants in the comparatively narrow space of time at their disposal. It is highly probable that many of them held contemporaneous sway in different parts of the Bactrian region, sometimes with a distinct preponderance on the part of one, and sometimes with practical equilibrium of power; but their geographical distribution can only be conjectured from what are understood to be mint-marks on their coins. The period of the final disintegration of the Græco-Bactrian power is not definitely ascertained; but as early as the time of Eucratides (160 B.C.) there appears on the coinage the so-called Bactrian Pali, a language cognate with Sanskrit but written in characters of seemingly Phœnician origin. Besides these monetary legends, several Bactrian inscriptions have been recently discovered, among the most important of which are the "Taxila" copperplate, which has furnished the key to the Bactrian numeral system, the Peshawur vase, the Manikyala cylinder, the Bimaran vase, and the Wardak urn, but none of them are of very much historical value. Bactria seems to have passed successively under the power of various Saca and Parthian and so-called Indo-Scythian rulers, and during the first six or seven centuries of the Christian era it became one of the most important centres of Buddhistic monasticism. (See Balkh.) Its modern history is of but little importance, as it has never formed an independent kingdom of any power or stability.

See Bayer, Hist. Reg. Græco-Badr., Petrop., 1738; Kohler, Mid. grecques des Rois de la B., St Pet., 1822–3; Tychsen, Comm. Recen. Götting., v. vi.; Tod, in Roy. Asiat. Soc. Trans., 1824; Schlegel, in Journ. Asiat., 1828; Prinsep, in J. of Asiat. Soc. Bengal, 1833–38; Raoul-Rochette, in Jour. des Savants, 1834–39 and 1844; Jacquet, in J. Asiat., 1836; Masson, in J. of Asiat. Soc. Bengal, 1836; K. O. Müller, in Göttingen Anzeigen, 1835 and 1838; Mionnet, in Supplément viii. to his Description, &c., 1837; Lassen, Zur Gesch. der Griech. u. Indoskyth. Kön., Bonn, 1838; Grotefend, Die Münzen der Kön. v. Bactr., Hanover, 1839; Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, 1841; Cunningham, Numism. Chron., viii. 1843; Lassen, Indische Alterthumskunde, vol. ii., 1852; Babu Rajendra Lal, in J. Asiat. Soc. of Bengal, 1861; E. Thomas, "Bactrian Coins," in Roy. Asiat. Soc. Gr. Brit. and I., 1873; Dowson, "B. Pali Inscr.," ibidem.