154. A Hellenistic Agate Bowl and Dish

Inscribed with the title and name of
Menander I Soter
Signed by the Greek lapidary Androkles
Indo-Greek Bactria, 165–135 BC
Size: Bowl 6.8 cm diameter, 3.5 cm high
Dish 8.6 cm diameter, 1.6 cm high

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Menander I Soter was an Indo-Greek king who succeeded the viceroy Apollodotus in 165 BC. The inscription around the outside, ‘of saviour king Menander’, is identical to that found on his coins. The foundations for Indo-Greek kingdoms were laid by Demetrios I (195–170 BC), who recovered the Greek colonies lost at the end of the 4th century BC. He was the first and last ruler of both sides of the Hindu Kush. His extension of Greco-Bactrian rule south of the Hindu Kush marked the beginning of the Yavana Era, the Indo-Greek reckoning of time, counted from 186–5 BC. Thirty-seven Greek rulers are known in all, recorded by their coinage. Apollodotus (?–165 BC) brought the western Punjab under his rule, along with the Kabul Valley and Arachosia (Kandahar). Menander consolidated the independence of Indo-Greek rule from Greco-Bactria north of the Hindu Kush, and incorporated eastern Punjab and part of the Ganges Valley into his kingdom. His capital was at Sialkot on the Indo-Pakistani border. He was above all interested in, and knowledgeable about, philosophy, and enjoyed conversing with representatives of different religions. It was the arrival of the sage Nagasena at Sialkot that led to his conversion to Buddhism, which flourished in his kingdom as a result. Many Greeks joined the monastic orders, and the visual expression of Buddhism in Hellenistic forms known as ‘Gandhara’ was created.

Engraved gems signed by their makers are known in the Greek world, but this hardstone vessel with a signature is apparently unique. The lapidary Androkles must have been a Greek working in Bactria. A gold finger ring in the Babar-Content Collection has a ruby intaglio engraved with the monogram of Menander I Soter.

A scientific report by the Striptwist Laboratory is available.