Guide to Historic Taxila

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Taxila of the Greeks, Seythians and Parthians and the Beginning of Gandhara Art

The Mauryan rule in was finished by those later Greeks who were settled in section by Alexander the Great and who had declared independence in about 250 B.C. The earliest Greek coin found in Bhir mound belongs to the ruler Demetrius I on of Euthydemus(225-190 B.C.). His descendants, Agathocles, Pantaleon, and Menander built a new city of the north of Hathial Range, known today as Sirkap(correctly Srikap of Sri Kasyapa the old inhabitants of Uttararama monastery on Hathial Range). Another branch of the Greeks, who advanced from Heart and Kandahar, are descended from Eucratides I, whose coins have been found in Srikap. Eucratides was followed by Plato, Heliocles, Apollodotus and Antialcidas(140-130 B.C.). The latter’s ambassador Helioder calls himself as a "Greek from x Taxila." However, it is Menander who consolidated Greek rule in Gandhara and who is well known in Buddhist literature. His son Strato, along with the queen mother Agathocleia, ruled in Taxila until his old age. The last Greek King was Hermaeus.

It is these Greek king who introduced minted coins with royal portraits in Taxila. Greek sculptural art came with them from Bactria, and they themselves copied the local Khasoshthi writing and local gods and goddesses along with Greek ones on their coins. After them we find here Greek gods and goddess's, toilet trays, columns with Greek capitals, drinking and dancing scenes, love stories, cupid, musicians, wavy garlands, terracotta and stucco figurines, pottery and seals of various kinds, so well represented in Taxila Museum.

The Greek were followed by Scythians and still later by Parthians, who continued to role in Sirkap city of Taxila. Of the Scythians the most important ruler was Maues, from whose time stone Sculptures are seen in Taxila Museum. Of the Parthians Condophares is well known as he is associated with the Christian story of St.Thomas.

It is the Parthians city that is described by Apollonius of Tyana:

"Taxila was about the size of Nineveh, walled like a Greek city, and was the residence of a sovereign……….. Just outside the walls was a temple………. In this temple they wait until the the King can be apprised of their arrival……….they are taken to the palace. They found the city divided by narrow streets, well-arranged and reminding them of Athens. From the streets, the houses seemed of only one story but they all had an underground floor. They saw the temple of the sun, and in it statues of Alexander and porus, the one of the gold and the other of bronze, its wall were of red marble, but glittering with gold, the image of the god was of pearls, having, as is usual with barbarians in sacred things, a symbolical meaning. The palace was distinguished by no extraordinary magnificence, and was just like the house of any citizen of the better class. There were on sentinels or bodyguards and but few servants about, and perhaps three or four persons who were waiting to talk with the King. The same simplicity was observable in the courts, halls, waiting and inner rooms; and it pleased Apollonius more than all the pomp of Babylon. When admitted to the king’s presence, Apollonius through the interpreter, addressed the king as a philosopher, and complimented him on his moderation. The king, phraotes, in answer, said that he was moderate because his wants were few, and that as he was wealthy, he employed his wealthy in doing good to his friends and in subsidizing the barbarians, his neighbors, to prevent them from themselves ravaging, or allowing other barbarians to ravage his territories. Here, one of his courtiers offered to crown him with a jeweled , but he refused it, as well because all pomp was hateful to him because of Appolonius presence."

Bhir to Sirkap

In Bhir mound the earliest Greek construction belongs to the time of Demetrius I. This can be recognized in the long stone-built covered drain, discovered in the new excavations. From Bhir the new city was shifted to Sirkap, whose limits are defined by Tamara-Nala on the west and Geri rivulet on the east and north beyond Kachcna Kot but now dried up. Sirkap is a planned city with a fortification wall, the foundation of which was laid by the Greeks. The fortification wall descends from Hathial Range and has its main gateway on the north. The northern wall also shows square bastions at intervals. The interior presents an example of a pre-planned city with a layout of a regular straight streets, and houses are arranged in block system a derived from the west. However, the individual houses were planned in the eastern style with a central open courtyard in the middle, the exposed stone walls seen today belong to the Parthian period, when the city was reconstructed after the earth-quake of 20-30 A.D. but following the old plan. Hence today the city blocks present houses planned in the oriental style and they are interspersed with Buddhist stupas and other shrines. The city is dominated by the main street along, which are small rooms meant for shops. As we enter the gateway, we see the refuse the walls just inside, and than the passage bends and we have the inner guard rooms before we reach the main street. After the poor houses of the first block A on the right side is a residential complex, as also the next blocks B and B, on both the left and the right side. The next block C’ on the right again has in the corner a stupa within the quadrangle, with the double steps leading from the main street. The next block D on the left is occupied wholly by an apsidal temple in a large raised quadrangle, approached double steps by from the main stupa. The next block E on the left shows the solid drum of a round stupa. On the right is a sun-temple , by the side of which was found a statue of the god Sun, new in Taxila Museum. In block F on the left we see the double headed Eagle stupa within a courtyard, displaying a mixture of architectural features. This is followed by a block G, which again has a stupa within a courtyard. Three more blocks intervene before we come to the palace remains. There is still much more to be excavated on the western side. Where the does not follow straight line because of the Tamra-nala on the side.

Deep digging was done in a limited area on the right where scanty structural remains of rubble wall were found, it is here that pre-Greek level was noted, presenting punch-marked coins and Earth-goddess of the oldest type, also found from Bhir Mound. From the Greek level a sacred shrine has been identified, which has produced objects of Greek or west Asiatic origin.


General view of Sirkap.

Double-headed Eagle Temple.

Aramaic inscription.



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