Ai-Khanoum (Aï Khānum, also Ay Khanum, lit. “Lady Moon” in
Uzbek), possibly the historical
Alexandria on the Oxus, also
possibly later named اروکرتیه or Eucratidia) was one of the
primary cities of the
Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Previous scholars have
argued that Ai Khanoum was founded in the late 4th century BC,
following the conquests of Alexander the Great. Recent analysis now
strongly suggests that the city was founded c. 280 BC by the Seleucid
king Antiochus I. The city is located in Takhar Province,
northern Afghanistan, at the confluence of the
Oxus river (today's Amu
Darya) and the
Kokcha river, and at the doorstep of the Indian
Ai-Khanoum was one of the focal points of Hellenism in
the East for nearly two centuries, until its annihilation by nomadic
invaders around 145 BC about the time of the death of
The site was excavated through archaeological work by a French
Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (fr; es) (DAFA) mission
under Paul Bernard (fr) between 1964 and 1978, as well as Russian
scientists. The work had to be abandoned with the onset of the Soviet
war in Afghanistan, during which the site was looted and used as a
battleground, leaving very little of the original material.
1 Strategic location
2 Greek city in Bactria
2.2 Sculptural remains
2.3 Epigraphic remains
3 Trade with the Mediterranean
4 Contacts with India
4.1 Influence on Indian art
6 Nomadic invasions
8 See also
11 External links
Ai-Khanoum was located at the extreme east of Bactria, at the doorstep
Maurya Empire in India.
The choice of this site for the foundation of a city was probably
guided by several factors. The region, irrigated by the Oxus, had a
rich agricultural potential. Mineral resources were abundant in the
back country towards the Hindu Kush, especially the famous so-called
"rubies" (actually, spinel) from Badakshan, and gold. Its location at
the junction between Bactrian territory and nomad territories to the
north, ultimately allowed access to commerce with the Chinese empire.
Ai-Khanoum was located at the very doorstep of Ancient India,
allowing it interact directly with the Indian subcontinent.
Greek city in Bactria
Plan of Ai-Khanoum
Numerous artefacts and structures were found, pointing to a high
Hellenistic culture, combined with Eastern influences. "It has all the
hallmarks of a Hellenistic city, with a Greek theatre, gymnasium and
some Greek houses with colonnaded courtyards" (Boardman). Overall,
Aï-Khanoum was an extremely important Greek city (1.5 sq kilometer),
characteristic of the
Seleucid Empire and then the Greco-Bactrian
Kingdom. It seems the city was destroyed, never to be rebuilt, about
the time of the death of the
Ai-Khanoum may have been the city in which
Eucratides was besieged by
Demetrius, before he successfully managed to escape to ultimately
Corinthian capital, found at
Ai-Khanoum in the citadel by the troops
of Commander Massoud, 2nd century BC.
Ai- Khanoum mosaic (central detail in color).
The mission unearthed various structures, some of them perfectly
Hellenistic, some other integrating elements of Persian architecture:
Two-miles long ramparts, circling the city
A citadel with powerful towers (20 × 11 metres at the base,
10 meters in height) and ramparts, established on top of the
60 meters-high hill in the middle of the city
A Classical theater, 84 meters in diameter with 35 rows of seats,
that could sit 4,000-6,000 people, equipped with three loges for the
rulers of the city. Its size was considerable by Classical standards,
larger than the theater at Babylon, but slightly smaller than the
theater at Epidaurus.
A huge palace in
Greco-Bactrian architecture, somehow reminiscent of
formal Persian palatial architecture
A gymnasium (100 × 100m), one of the largest of Antiquity. A
dedication in Greek to
Herakles was found engraved on one
of the pillars. The dedication was made by two men with Greek names
(Triballos and Strato, son of Strato).
Various temples, in and outside the city. The largest temple in the
city apparently contained a monumental statue of a seated Zeus, but
was built on the Zoroastrian model (massive, closed walls instead of
the open column-circled structure of Greek temples).
A mosaic representing the Macedonian sun, acanthus leaves and various
animals (crabs, dolphins etc...)
Numerous remains of Classical Corinthian columns
Architectural antefixae with Hellenistic "Flame palmette" design,
Sun dial within two sculpted lion feet.
Winged antefix, a type only known from Ai-Khanoum.
Stucco face, Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC
Various sculptural fragments were also found, in a rather
conventional, classical style, rather impervious to the Hellenizing
innovations occurring at the same time in the
Of special notice, a huge foot fragment in excellent Hellenistic style
was recovered, which is estimated to have belonged to a 5-6 meter
tall statue (which had to be seated to fit within the height of the
columns supporting the Temple). Since the sandal of the foot fragment
bears the symbolic depiction of Zeus' thunderbolt, the statue is
thought to have been a smaller version of the Statue of
Also found among the sculptural remains were:
A statue of a standing female in a rather archaic chiton
The face of a man, sculpted in stucco
An unfinished statue of a young naked man with wreath
A gargoyle head representing the Greek cook-slave
A frieze of a naked man, possibly the god Hermes, wearing a chlamys
A hermaic sculpture of an old man thought to be a master of the
gymnasium, where it was found. He used to hold a long stick in his
left hand, symbol of his function.
Due to the lack of proper stones for sculptural work in the area of
Ai-Khanoum, unbaked clay and stucco modeled on a wooden frame were
often used, a technique which would become widespread in Central Asia
and the East, especially in
Buddhist art. In some cases, only the
hands and feet would be made in marble.
Sculpture of an old man. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Bust of the same man.
Frieze of a naked man wearing a chlamys. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Same frieze, seen from the side.
Hellenistic gargoyle. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Various inscriptions in Classical, non-barbarized, Greek have been
found in Ai-Khanoum.
Herõon (funerary monument), identified in Greek as the tomb of
Kineas (also described as the oikistes (founder) of the Greek
settlement) and dated to 300-250 BC, an inscription has been
found describing Delphic precepts:
Stone block with the inscriptions of Kineas. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century
παῖς ὢν κόσμιος γίνου,
'"Païs ôn kosmios ginou (As children, learn good manners)
hèbôn enkratès, (as young men, learn to control the passions)
mesos dikaios (in middle age, be just)
presbutès euboulos (in old age, give good advice)
teleutôn alupos. (then die, without regret.)"
The precepts were placed by a Greek named Clearchos, who may or may
not have been
Clearchus of Soli the disciple of Aristotle, who,
according to the same inscription, had copied them from Delphi:
ἀνδρῶν τοι σοφὰ ταῦτα παλαιοτέρων
ῥήματα ἀριγνώτων Πυθοὶ ἐν ἠγαθέαι·
ἔνθεν ταῦτ[α] Κλέαρχος ἐπιφραδέως
εἵσατο τηλαυγῆ Κινέου ἐν τεμένει.
"These wise commandments of men of old
- Words of well-known thinkers - stand dedicated
In the most holy Pythian shrine
From there Klearchos, having copied them carefully, set them up,
shining from afar, in the sanctuary of Kineas"
Remains of some papyrus manuscripts, the imprint of which were left in
the thin earth of brick walls, containing unknown philosophical
dialogues on the theory of ideas, thought to be the only surviving
remain of an Aristotelian dialogue, possibly the Sophist, where
Xenocrates, another philosopher, present his theory of ideas.
Various Greek inscriptions were also found in the Treasury of the
palace, indicating the contents (money, imported olive oil...) of
various vases, and names of the administrators in charge of them. The
hierarchy of these administrators appears to be nearly identical to
that in the
Mediterranean Greek areas. From the names mentioned in
these inscriptions, it appears that the directors of the Treasury were
Greek, but that lower administrators had Bactrian names. Three
signatories had Greek names (Kosmos, Isidora, Nikeratos), one a
Macedonian or Thracian name (Lysanias), and two Bactrian names
One of these economic inscriptions relates in Greek the deposit of
olive oil jars in the treasury:
"In the year 24, on ....;
an olive oil (content);
the partially empty (vase) A (contains) oil transferred from
two jars by Hippias
the hemiolios; and did seal:
Molossos (?) for jar A, and Strato (?) for jar B (?)"
The last of the dates on these jars has been computed to 147 BC,
Ai-Khanoum was destroyed soon after that date.
Cybele pulled by lions, a votive sacrifice and the Sun
God. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Greco-Bactrian coins were found, down to Eucratides, but none
of them later.
Ai-Khanoum also yielded unique
Greco-Bactrian coins of
Agathocles, consisting of six Indian-standard silver drachms depicting
Hindu deities. These are the first known representations of Vedic
deities on coins, and they display early Avatars of Vishnu:
Samkarshana and Vasudeva-Krishna, and are thought to
correspond to the first
Greco-Bactrian attempts at creating an
Indian-standard coinage as they invaded northern India.
Among other finds:
A round medallion plate describing the goddess
Cybele on a chariot, in
front of a fire altar, and under a depiction of Helios
A fully preserved bronze statue of Herakles
Various golden serpentine arm jewellery and earrings
Some Indian artefacts, found in the treasure room of the city,
probably brought back by
Eucratides from his campaigns
A toilet tray representing a seated Aphrodite
A mold representing a bearded and diademed middle-aged man
Various artefacts of daily life are also clearly Hellenistic:
sundials, ink wells, tableware. An almost life-sized dark green glass
phallus with a small owl on the back side and other treasures are said
to have been discovered at Ai-Khanoum, possibly along with a stone
with an inscription, which was not recovered. The artefacts have now
been returned to the
Kabul Museum after several years in Switzerland
by Paul Bucherer-Dietschi, Director of the Swiss Afghanistan
Herakles statuette. Ai-Khanoum. 2nd century BC.
Bracelet with horned female busts. Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Stone recipients from Ai-Khanoum. 3rd-2nd century BC.
Imprint from a mold found in Ai-Khanoum. 3rd-2nd century BC.
Trade with the Mediterranean
The presence of olive oil jars at
Ai-Khanoum indicates that this oil
was imported from the Mediterranean, as its only possible source would
have been the Aegean Basin or Syria. This suggests important trade
contacts with the Mediterranean, through long and expensive land
Contacts with India
The Indian plate found in Ai-Khanoum, thought to represent the myth of
Greco-Bactrian king Agathocles with Indian deities.
Several Indian artefacts were found among the archaeological remains
of Ai-Khanoum, especially a narrative plate made of shell inlaid with
various materials and colors, thought to represent the Indian myth of
Kuntala. Also, numerous Indian punch-marked coins were found.
The equatorial sun dial adjusted to the latitude of Ujjain,
Ai-Khanoum, 3rd-2nd century BC.
Ai-Khanoum remarkable Greek coins were also found, of one of the
Greco-Bactrian kings, Agathocles of
Bactria (ruled 190-180 BCE).
They are Indian-standard square coins bearing the representations of
Indian deities, which have been variously interpreted as Vishnu,
Buddha or Balarama. Altogether, six such
Indian-standard silver drachmas in the name of Agathocles were
Ai-Khanoum in 1970. Some other coins by
Agathocles are also thought to represent the
Buddhist lion and the
Indian goddess Lakshmi.
Influence on Indian art
One of the Hellenistic-inspired "flame palmettes" and lotus designs,
which may have been transmitted through Ai-Khanoum.
capital, India, circa 250 BCE.
Main article: Hellenistic influence on Indian art
According to John Boardman,
Ai-Khanoum may have been one of the
conduits for some art influence into ancient India, though these
influences and their sources are "not always properly identified or
yet identifiable". There are three competing scholarly views: one
originated by early scholars such as Percy Brown where Indian
architecture was due to immigration of western craftsmen, second by
later scholars such as John Irwin who favor mostly indigenous
inspiration and third such as S.P. Gupta who favor a combination.
Persia, states Boardman, did not have a stone tradition of its own
that can be traced, but there is evidence that "Persian bases of a
plain half round torus" combined with Corinthian capitals existed
there, and there is evidence that
India had an intricate wooden
architecture tradition about the same time. It is possible that
Ai-Khanoum, a Greek city of
Bactria in 3rd-century BCE, could have
provided the conduit to connect the Hellenistic and Indian artists.
However, Persepolis fell about 80 years before the first Buddhist
stone architecture appeared, which leaves the question whether
knowledge was preserved over the generations between Persepolis to the
Ai-Khanoum and the Mauryans to its east.
Gold stater of the
Antiochus I Soter minted at
Ai-Khanoum, c. 275 BCE. Obverse: Diademed head of Antiochus.
Apollo seated on omphalos, leaning on bow and holding
two arrows. Greek legend: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ (of King
Antiochos). Δ monogram of
Ai-Khanoum in left field.
The symbol found on a brick in Ai-Khanoum.
Seleucid and Bactrian coins were found at Ai-Khanoum, as were ten
blank planchets, indicating that there was a mint in the city.
Ai-Khanoum apparently had a city symbol (a triangle within a circle,
with various variations), which was found imprinted on bricks coming
from the oldest buildings of the city.
The same symbol was used on various
Seleucid eastern coins, suggesting
that they were probably minted in Ai-Khanoum. Numerous
were thus reattributed to the
Ai-Khanoum mint rather recently, with
the conclusion that
Ai-Khanoum was probably a larger minting center
than even Bactra.
The coins found in
Ai-Khanoum start with those of Seleucus, but end
abruptly with those of Eucratides, suggesting that the city was
conquered at the end of his rule.
The invading Indo-European nomads from the north (the Scythians and
then the Yuezhi) crossed the
Oxus and subdued
135 BC. It seems the city was totally abandoned between 140 and
120 BC following the
Yuezhi invasion. There is evidence of huge
fires in all the major buildings of the city.
Ai-Khanoum was likely
affected as many nomadic invasions passed through across through the
Hindu Kush passes. In 1838 a Lieutenant Wood heard local people refer
to the site as "Barbarrah". As with other archaeological sites
Begram or Hadda, the
Ai-Khanoum site has been pillaged during
the long phase of war in
Afghanistan since the fall of the Communist
Ai-Khanoum was located at the very doorstep of India.
Ashoka addressed the
Greeks of the region circa 258 BC
Kandahar Edict of Ashoka, a bilingual inscription in Greek and
Aramaic. Kabul Museum.
The findings are of considerable importance, as no remains of the
Indo-Greek civilizations had been uncovered in the
East (beyond the abundant coinage) until this discovery, which led
some to speak of a "Bactrian mirage."
Ai-Khanoum was a center of Hellenistic culture at the doorstep of
India, and there was a strong reciprocal awareness between the two
areas. A few years after the foundation of the city, around 258 BC,
the Indian Emperor
Ashoka was carving a rock inscription in Greek and
Aramaic addressed to the
Greeks in the region, the
Kandahar Edict of
Ashoka, in the nearby city of Kandahar.
The discovery of
Ai-Khanoum also gives a new perspective on the
influence of Greek culture in the East, and reaffirms the influence of
Greeks on the development of Greco-
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ai-Khanoum.
^ Bell, George. "Journal of the Royal Society of Arts". Royal Society
of Arts, 1970. p. 445
^ Lyonnet, Bertille. "Questions on the Date of the Hellenistic Pottery
from Central Asia (Ai Khanoum, Marakanda and Koktepe)". Ancient
Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia". vol. 18. 2012. pp. 143-173.
^ Martinez-Seve, Laurianne. "The Spatial Organization of Ai Khanoum, a
Greek City in Afghanistan". American Journal of Archaeology 118.2.
2014. pp 267-283.
^ Bernard, P. (1994): "The Greek Kingdoms of Central Asia." In:
History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume II. The development
of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250.
Harmatta, János, ed., 1994. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
ISBN 92-3-102846-4, p. 103.
^ a b Greek Culture in
Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New
Discoveries, Shane Wallace, 2016, p.215
^ Greek Culture in
Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New
Discoveries, Shane Wallace, 2016, p.217
^ a b c Claude Rapin, "De l'Indus à l'Oxus", p375. Also full
description of the papyrii (French)original text and French
^ Source, BBC News, Another article. German story with photographs
here (translation here).
^ Frölich, p.10
^ "Afghanistan, tresors retrouves", p150
^ Joe Cribb, Investigating the introduction of coinage in India,
Journal of the Numismatic Society of
India xlv Varanasi 1983 pp.89
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great and Bactria: The Formation of a Greek Frontier
in Central Asia, Frank Lee Holt, Brill Archive, 1988, p.2
^ Iconography of Balarāma, Nilakanth Purushottam Joshi, Abhinav
Publications, 1979, p.22
^ a b The Hellenistic World: Using Coins as Sources, Peter Thonemann,
Cambridge University Press, 2016, p.101
^ a b c John Boardman (1998), "The Origins of Indian Stone
Architecture", Bulletin of the Asia Institute, p.13-22
^ Brian Kritt:
Seleucid Coins of Bactria, p. 22.
Seleucid coins of Bactria", Brian Kritt
^ Llewelyn Morgan, "
Greeks on the Edge" (review of Rachel Mairs, The
Hellenistic Far East: archaeology, language and identity in Greek
Central Asia), Times Literary Supplement 11 September 2015 page 25.
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Tarn, W. W. (1984). The
Bactria and India. Chicago: Ares.
Bopearachchi, Osmund (2003). De l'Indus à l'Oxus, Archéologie de
l'Asie Centrale (in French). Lattes: Association imago-musée de
Lattes. ISBN 2-9516679-2-2.
Frölich, Pierre (2004). Les Grecs en Orient. L'heritage d'Alexandre.
La Documentation photographique, n.8040 (in French). Paris: La
Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul (2008).
Eds., Friedrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon. National Geographic,
Washington, D.C. ISBN 978-1-4262-0374-9.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Ai-Khanoum.
Ai-Khanum, the Capital of
Eucratides on Ancient History Encyclopedia
Ai-Khanoum archaeological site photographs
Ai-Khanoum and vandalization during the Afghan war page not found
The Hellenistic Age
3-D reconstruction of Ai-Khanoum
Alexandria on Oxus
Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World Surviving treasures from
the National Museum of Afghanistan, at The British Museum, 3 March –
17 July 2011
Alexandria on the Caucasus
Alexandria on the Indus
Alexandria on the Oxus