Afghan Treasures

The Bactrian Gold which is speculated to be burried by Bactrian nomads in the first century CE was discovered in 1978. It survived the Soviet invasion, the warring mujahadeen factions and the Taliban rule and was found again in 2003. Recently an inventory was conducted and everything was found to be intact.

In ancient times, Bactrian civilization rivaled that of Mesopotamia. It was a fertile agricultural oasis and a thoroughfare on the Silk Road. Iranian, Indian, Central Asian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, and nomadic cultures encountered one another on the plains and in the capital of Balkh, which the Arabs called “the Mother of Towns.” Artistic and cultural styles fused. Zoroaster first preached monotheism there and King Kanishka commissioned the first human representations of the Buddha there. The poet known as Rumi wrote verses there, and Marco Polo traversed the city on his path to China.

The region was colonized repeatedly. Alexander the Great came to conquer this easternmost outpost of his empire, the last Persian province to fall, and made it his base; his inheritor later traded it to the Indian Mauryan dynasty for five hundred elephants and a princess. Genghis Khan destroyed it with his horde of ten thousand men in the early thirteenth century. “With one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate,” the chronicler Juvaini wrote three decades later. And Babur, the founder of the Moguls and a descendent of Genghis Khan, seized the region before he moved on to conquer India.

The treasure may eventually reveal new information about the mysterious span of time between the decline of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the rise of the great Kushan Empire. The trove contains many unusual objects. One gold coin resembles no numismatic collection in the world: it depicts a man resting on the Wheel of Dharma, and on the reverse, a lion with a raised paw. Sarianidi hypothesizes that it was minted by the Greco-Bactrian King Agathocles during the interval between Greek and Kushan control.

Another gold coin is stamped with the profile of the Roman emperor Tiberius, minted in Lugdunum in Gaul between 16 and 21 C.E.–the first coin of its kind found in all of Central Asia. Other provocative objects prompt questions about the mingling and syncretism of artistic styles: brooches and figurines depicting Aphrodite show a Kushan interpretation of the goddess’s features–small-breasted, round-bellied, and more serious than her Greek counterpart–but she stands with one arm resting on a column, as was the Hellenistic fashion. [ An Ancient Afghan Treasure is Recovered]

The Los Angeles Times has an article on the Bactrian Gold with some pictures of the treasure. This month’s National Geographic too has an article on Afghan Culture. (links via India Archaeology)

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