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Half-defaced relief of partly-nude man in classical position.
High-relief of a naked man in contrapposto wearing a chlamys, found in Ai-Khanoum.
Alexandria-Oxus lies in the north of Afghanistan, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Alexandria-Oxus lies in the north of Afghanistan, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Shown within West and Central Asia
Alexandria-Oxus lies in the north of Afghanistan, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Alexandria-Oxus lies in the north of Afghanistan, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan.
Ai-Khanoum (Afghanistan)
LocationTakhar Province, Afghanistan
Coordinates37°09′53″N 69°24′31″E / 37.16472°N 69.40861°E / 37.16472; 69.40861Coordinates: 37°09′53″N 69°24′31″E / 37.16472°N 69.40861°E / 37.16472; 69.40861
MaterialMud brick
Founded3rd century BC
Abandoned145-120 BC
Site notes
Excavation datesBetween 1964 and 1978
ArchaeologistsPaul Bernard
ConditionRuined and near-completely looted

Ai-Khanoum (Uzbek: / ˈhɑːnjm/; meaning Lady Moon[1]) is the archaeological site of a Hellenistic city in Takhar Province, Afghanistan. The city, whose original name is unknown,[a] was probably founded by an early king of the Seleucid Empire and served as a military and economic centre for the rulers of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom from the time of Diodotus I. Many of the present ruins date from the time of Eucratides I, who substantially redeveloped the city and who may have renamed it Eucratideia, after himself. However, soon after his death in around 145 BC, the Greco-Bactrian kingdom collapsed—Ai-Khanoum was captured by Indo-Scythian invaders, and its inhabitants abandoned the city.

Ai-Khanoum was located at the confluence of the Amu (a.k.a. Oxus) and Kokcha rivers, surrounded by well-irrigated farmland. The city itself was divided between a lower town and a 60 metres (200 ft) high acropolis, which may have been garrisoned by the Achaemenid Empire because of its natural defensibility. Although not situated on a major trade route, Ai-Khanoum controlled access to both mining in the Hindu Kush and strategically important choke points. Extensive fortifications surrounded the entire city, including the acropolis.

While on a hunting trip in 1961, the King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, rediscovered the city. An archaeological delegation, led by Paul Bernard, subsequently investigated the site. Bernard and his team unearthed the remains of a huge palace in the lower town, along with a large gymnasium, a theatre capable of holding 6,000 spectators, an arsenal, and two sanctuaries. Several inscriptions were found, along with coins, artefacts, and ceramics. The outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan War in the late 1970s halted scholarly progress, and during the following conflicts in Afghanistan, the site was extensively looted.



The precise date of Ai-Khanoum's founding is unknown. The northernmost outpost of the Indus Valley Civilization had been established at Shortugai, around 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Ai-Khanoum, during the late third millennium BC; Shortugai traded with its southern neighbours and constructed the first irrigation systems in the area.[4] A thousand years later, the area would fall under the control of the Persian Achaemenids, who established a satrapy centered on Bactra (present-day Balkh). To assert control over the local region, they founded a fort named Kohna Qala on a ford of the Oxus, around 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) north of the later city.[5] Although scholars have speculated that a small Achaemenid garrison may have been placed at the confluence, there is a consensus that the establishment of a settlement at Ai-Khanoum was carried out by the Graeco-Macedonians.[6][7]

Historians have disputed who ordered the transformation of this small settlement into the major city it became. Initially, Ai-Khanoum was identified as Alexandria Oxiana, one of the cities founded by Alexander the Great. However, there are considerable difficulties with identifying these cities, as the sources disagree and authors may have inadvertently referred to the same Alexandria as two different cities. In addition to Ai-Khanoum, Alexandria Oxiana has been variously interpreted as being Alexandria in Sogdiana, Alexandria near Bactra, or Termez.[b][9] As there is a lack of distinct identifying features (such as artwork, sculpture, or inscriptions) associating Alexander with the city, it remains unlikely that he did more than replace the Achaemenid garrison on the site with a Greek one.[10]

Gold stater minted at Ai-Khanoum c. 275 BC, displaying the head of the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter and Apollo; the identifying Δ mark is visible to the god's left.
Gold stater minted at Ai-Khanoum c. 275 BC, displaying the head of the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter and Apollo; the identifying Δ mark is visible to the god's left.

It is more likely, based on ceramic data gathered at the site, that Ai-Khanoum was expanded in stages.[11] The first stage would have begun under one of the first rulers of the Seleucid Empire — either the empire's founder Seleucus I Nicator or his son and successor Antiochus I Soter. Seleucus established a cohesive Central Asian policy, which "went beyond the limited, ad hoc military and political aims of Alexander", according to historian Frank Holt.[12] After the Seleucid–Mauryan war, Seleucus ceded the Indus Valley to Chandragupta Maurya, in return for a pact of friendship and 500 war elephants; he thus sought the sustained economic and military development of Bactria, which was now the headquarters of the Seleucids in the East.[13]

Antiochus, whose mother, Apama, was the daughter of the Sogdian warlord Spitamenes, continued the policies of his father. Several integral buildings, including the heroön, the northern fortifications, and a shrine, were constructed under his reign.[14] One theory claims that a mint was opened in Ai-Khanoum in around 285 BC, both because of the metal deposits near the city and a growing Seleucid interest in eastern Bactria; this suggests that this mint spurred the development of the city as a royal foundation.[15][16] Around one-third of the bronze coins found in the city were issued in the period following Antiochus' accession in 281 BC, an indication of his unceasing outlay.[17] Under his successor Antiochus II, who came to the throne in 261 BC, the mint continued to strike valuable coins, and the ramparts were bolstered with a buttress and brick linings.[18][19]

However, the city's development was greatly slowed when Diodotus I, governor of the eastern provinces, seceded from the Seleucids and founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Although the temple and sanctuary were reconstructed, possibly to enhance religious legitimacy, most Seleucid construction programs were not continued.[20] Bertille Lyonnet theorises that during this time Ai-Khanoum was merely "a military stronghold with administrative functions".[21] The Seleucid emperor Antiochus III invaded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in 209 BC, defeating the Greco-Bactrian ruler Euthydemus I at the Battle of the Arius and unsuccessfully besieging Bactra, Euthydemus' capital.[22] Although there is no evidence Ai-Khanoum was itself attacked by the invaders, Antiochus may have conducted operations near the city, or even minted his own currency there.[23][24] He may have also brought new settlers, who would have contributed to the innovations in pottery visible in the archaeological record. The later conquests of Euthydemus and his successor Demetrius I were also beneficial for the city, as the population increased and many public buildings were reconstructed.[25][26]

The city's zenith came during the rule of Eucratides I, who probably made it his capital, named Eucratideia. During his reign, the palace and gymnasium were constructed, the main sanctuary and heroön were rebuilt, and the theatre was certainly active.[25] The treasury was found to house substantial quantities of the loot from his campaigns in India against the Indo-Greek King Menander. His patronage of artists and philosophers in Ai-Khanoum is likely to have placed him on a par with other major Hellenistic kings, with the status of the city itself being comparable to that of Alexandria, Antioch, or Pergamum.[27] However, the end of Eucratides' reign was marked by sudden chaos: it is likely that Ai-Khanoum was already under attack when its monarch was assassinated by a vengeful son.[28][29] The treasury complex shows signs of having been looted twice – once during the city's first fall in around 144 BC, and then again fifteen years later, around 130 BC. the first invasion was probably carried out by Saka tribes driven south by the Yuezhi peoples, who in turn formed a second wave of invaders.[30]

While the first assault led to the end of Hellenistic rule in the city, Ai-Khanoum continued to be inhabited until at least the second invasion.[31] During this time, public buildings such as the palace and sanctuary were repurposed as residential dwellings, and the city maintained some semblance of normality: some sort of authority, possibly cultish in origin, encouraged the inhabitants to reuse the raw building materials now freely available in the city for their own ends, whether for construction or trade.[32] A silver ingot engraved with runic letters and buried in a treasury room provides support for the theory that the Saka occupied the city.[33] Tombs containing typical nomadic grave goods were also dug into the acropolis and the gymnasium, but this period of reoccupation seems to have ended with a devastating fire.[34] By the time Zhang Qian, a Han dynasty official, visited the area in 126 BC, the Yuezhi had occupied Bactria, with the city of Bactra continuing to function as a population center.[35] It is unknown when the final occupants of Ai-Khanoum abandoned the city, with the final signs of any habitation dating from the 2nd century AD; by this time, over 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) of earth had accumulated in the palace.[36]


King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who first drew international attention to Ai-Khanoum
King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who first drew international attention to Ai-Khanoum

In March 1838, a British soldier-explorer named John Wood was travelling in Badakshan as a representative of the East India Company. He was informed by his guides of the existence of an ancient city in the area, which the natives called Babarrah.[37] However, all his inquiries were rebuffed by the local inhabitants and the chance of rediscovery was lost, as Wood wrote in an account:[38]

The appearance of the place, however, does indicate the truth of [Tajik] tradition, that an ancient city once stood here. On the site of the town was an Uzbek encampment; but from its inmates, we could glean no information, and to all our inquiries about coins and relics, they only vouchsafed a vacant stare or an idiotic laugh.

In 1961, the King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, was on a hunting expedition when he noticed the still-visible outline of the city from a hillside. Investigating more closely than Wood, he called in the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA), who had been excavating various sites in the country since 1923.[39] The excavation was led first by Daniel Schlumberger, and then by Paul Bernard. As the city had never been resettled after its abandonment, the ruins lay close to the surface of the ground and were easy to excavate.[40] At other sites in the region, successive generations built upon the foundations of their predecessors, leaving the Hellenistic construction layer as much as 15 metres (49 ft) below the ground.[41]

The excavation of Ai-Khanoum nevertheless proved to be problematic and complex, from the outset. The immense size of the city meant that DAFA's small team had to focus their attention on key areas, especially when the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs decreased its funding in the mid-1970s.[42] The inaccessibility of the city's acropolis and the roughness of its terrain meant that any excavation there was much more difficult than on the lower level, leading to it being studied much less than the lower city.[43][42] Despite these and other constraints, DAFA did not compromise on scientific rigour or procedure.[41] In 1974, the remit of the mission was expanded to include paleogeographical and archaeological surveys of the surrounding areas; building upon these successful surveys, further fieldwork was also planned.[44]

However, all archaeological work stopped in 1978, when the Saur Revolution sparked the Soviet-Afghan War and triggered the still-ongoing political instability in Afghanistan.[44] During the warfare, the site was comprehensively looted, with several important artefacts being sold on the antiquities market to private collectors.[41][45] The systematic looting of the northern part of the lower city appears to have been carried out through the digging of hundreds of holes. Although this suggests that the looters expected to find artefacts in an area DAFA had not excavated, the archaeological integrity of the site has been compromised.[46] While similar holes were found in the gymnasium complex, the palace complex perhaps suffered the greatest damage: the walls were used as a quarry for building materials (in some places even the deepest foundations were gutted), while the small quantities of limestone at the site, primarily found as decoration or capitals, were consumed in lime kilns.[47] In addition, the Northern Alliance built a gun battery atop the acropolis, further destabilising the site.[48]


Plan of Ai-Khanoum
Map of Hellenistic sites in Bactria
Ai-Khanoum, situated on a triangular peninsula at the junction of two rivers, was a centre of Hellenistic Bactria.


The city of Ai-Khanoum was founded at the southwest corner of a plain in the region of Bactria, at the confluence of the Oxus (modern Amu Darya) and Kokcha rivers. The plain, which covered an area of around 300 square kilometres (74,000 acres), was triangular, being bounded by the rivers on two sides and the mountains of the eastern Hindu Kush on the third.[49] The loess soil of the plain was naturally suitable for agriculture, and the proximity to the rivers also allowed for the construction of irrigation canals, while the nearby highlands provided herders with large areas of summer pasturage.[50] The area was also rich in minerals: mines on the upper Kokcha in Badakshan were the only sources of lapis lazuli in the world, in addition to producing copper, iron, lead, and rubies.[c][52][53] The city was 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) downstream from the confluence of the Oxus and Qizilsu, a tributary whose valley provided access to the mineral-rich Western Pamirs and Chinese Turkestan, but which also formed a natural corridor for any potential northern invaders.[d] Ai-Khanoum therefore served as a strategically important bulwark, despite not controlling a major crossing of the Oxus or any other large trade route.[49][55]

Layout and architecture

Reflecting the city's strategic importance, its founders built Ai-Khanoum to a high defensive standard. To the south and west lay the Kokcha and Oxus, respectively — both riverbanks were steep cliffs over 20 metres (66 ft) high, which presented a challenge for any amphibious assault.[56] Meanwhile, any eastward approach was protected by a natural acropolis, around 60 metres (200 ft) in height, which stretched about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north from the Kokcha.[50] This plateau also included a small citadel at its southeast corner — protected by the 80 metres (260 ft) cliffs on two sides, and a small moat on the third; this 150 by 100 metres (490 by 330 ft) fort served as the defensive headquarters of Ai-Khanoum.[50][57]

These natural defences were reinforced by walls that completely enclosed Ai-Khanoum's city and acropolis. The northern ramparts, which were not assisted by any natural features, were built to be particularly strong:[58] the 10 metres (33 ft) high and 6 metres (20 ft) thick walls were built out of solid mud bricks and protected by large towers and a steep ditch.[50] The size of these ramparts allowed a modest number of defending soldiers to nullify siege engines and engage an attacking force with minimal casualties; the large scale also reflects the low confidence of the Greek architects in the strength of mud-brick walls.[59] The main gate for the city was set in the northern rampart, which also guarded the canal that supplied water to the city's centre.[60]

From the main gate, a street ran southwards in a straight line along the base of the acropolis and continued through the lower city to the southern riverbank—a distance of about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi).[61] Aside from the southern zone, which housed large dwellings organized in three blocks, the lower town was unplanned; this distinguishes Ai-Khanoum from other Hellenistic foundations of the Near East, such as Seleucia on the Tigris, which tended to be built according to the Hippodamian grid plan.[55][57] It was also the subject of a major redevelopment during the early second century BC, which resulted in slight disunity of the orientations of some major buildings (the palace, for example, is at an angle to the older main street).[62] Ai-Khanoum was built predominantly using unbaked bricks, with baked bricks and stone used much less often.[62]

Palace complex

The palace complex was large, measuring about 350 by 250 metres (1,150 ft × 820 ft), and occupying around a third of the lower town.[63][64] Built by order of Eucratides I, the size and intricacy of the complex would have served as a demonstration of his power and wealth;[64] Paul Bernard commented that it "simultaneously served three functions: it was a state structure, a residence, and a treasury."[65] A huge plaza, 27,000 square metres (2.7 ha) in area, lay to the south of the palace and may have been used for military parades, drills, or simply as garrison quarters.[66] The palace itself was accessed through a gateway known as the 'Main Propylaea', which opened on the west side of the main street; the propylaea itself had been built by an earlier ruler and was reconstructed under Eucratides.[67] Encompassing a wide portico in between two adjoining porches, the roof of the structure was noted for its palmette antefixes. It allowed access to a curved road which ran first west, and then southwards towards the palace's courtyard.[68]

Corinthian capital of a column in the palace of Ai-Khanoum
Corinthian capital of a column in the palace of Ai-Khanoum

This rectangular courtyard, which measured 137 by 108 metres (449 ft × 354 ft) and served as the main entrance for the palace, was entered from the curved road through a propylaeum. The courtyard was bordered on all four sides by columns, Corinthian in style and 118 in number.[69] The columns of the north, east, and west colonnades were 5.7 metres (19 ft) high, while those of the south colonnade were almost 10 metres (33 ft) tall, forming a Rhodian peristyle. The palace was entered through a hypostyle behind the southern portico; this vestibule, similar in style to a Persian iwan, was supported by eighteen columns, ornamented slightly differently from those in the courtyard.[70][71] On the southern side of the hypostyle, a door opened onto a large reception room ornamented with various decorations, including wooden sconces, painted protomes of lions, and geometrical art; this room was probably enclosed, as it had no drainage system, and allowed access to the other areas of the palace through doors on every side.[72][73]

The palace was divided into three zones, each serving different functions, and linked by a network of courtyards and long corridors, which were carefully placed, allowing both seclusion and easy access for royalty and highly ranked officials.[69][74] South of the reception area lay a suite of rooms which would have served as the administrative quarters, consisting of a quadrangular block of two pairs of units separated from each other by corridors meeting at right angles; the eastern pair were used as audience halls, while the western pair possibly functioned as chancelleries.[69][75] The entrances to the chambers from the encircling corridors were offset, meaning that, in theory, two separate groups could have entered the complex, been allowed an audience, received a decision, and left, without seeing each other.[76]

West of the administrative quarter, on the southwestern side of the palace, lay two units which were identified, by the presence of bathrooms, as residential in purpose.[77] In layout, the structures were similar to other residences excavated in the city, with a small courtyard to the north and living quarters to the south.[78] The larger of the units, which contained additional features such as a small iwan behind the courtyard, lay to the west and was separated from its smaller neighbour by an isolating corridor.[79] The three-room bathrooms lay to the rear of the units and were tiled with limestone slabs and pebble mosaics of palmettes and marine animals, continuing an existing tradition of Hellenistic art. [78] Based on the more private nature of the western unit, scholars have speculated that it was intended for the sovereign's family, as contrasted to the eastern unit, which was probably intended for the monarch himself and his intimate companions.[80] North of the residential units lay a small courtyard, which was connected to a small library.[78]


Broken ostracon from the Ai-Khanoum treasury, displaying inscription.
Disk depicting scene from Hindu mythology, probably taken as loot.
The Ai-Khanoum treasury contained items such as vases labelled with inscriptions, and Indian artwork looted by Eucratides I.

The treasury building, on the western side of the palace courtyard, from which it could be entered, constituted the third zone. This building was of late construction, and the treasury itself was likely previously located in buildings east of the courtyard.[79] In its latest form, the treasury building was composed of twenty-one rooms grouped around a square courtyard of around 30 metres (98 ft) on a side. The thirteen rooms on the southern, eastern, and western sides opened directly onto this courtyard, while the eight storage rooms to the north were accessed from doors on an east-west corridor.[81] The complex housed the inventory of the palace in Greek-labelled vases, including gemstones and lapis lazuli from the Badakshan mines, ivory, olive oil, incense, a cash reserve, and other valuables.[78]

Many of the labels, which were either written with ink or inscribed post-firing, describe monetary transactions: for example, one attests that an official named Zenon had transferred 500 drachmas to two employees named Oxèboakès and Oxybazos, who were responsible for depositing the sum in the vase and sealing it.[82][83] Some of the other vases indicate transportation of luxury goods, such as incense from the Middle East, or olive oil from the Mediterranean. Because of the perishable nature of the oil inside it, one of these vases is inscribed with the regnal year (Year 24) of the monarch; combined with other inscriptions in the treasury, and the identification of the ruling monarch as Eucratides I, the date of Ai-Khanoum's fall has been fairly certainly dated to around 145 BC. Several items in the treasury are likely to have been loot brought back by Eucratides from his Indian conquests: these include Indian agates and jewellery, offerings from Buddhist stupas, and a disk of mother of pearl plates depicting a scene from Hindu mythology (most probably the meeting of Dushyanta and Shakuntala).[84][85]

The library near the residential quarters was identified as such through the discovery of two literary fragments, one on papyrus and the other on parchment; the organic writing material had decomposed, but through a process similar to decalcomania, the letters had been engraved on fine earth formed from mudbrick decomposition.[86][30] The parchment constituted an unknown theatrical work, most probably a trimetrical tragedy, possibly involving Dionysus, a figure known for travelling to India and the East.[87] On the other hand, the papyrus was a philosophical dialogue discussing the theory of forms of Plato, which some have considered a lost work by Aristotle.[86][30]

Religious structures

The excavators discovered three temples at Ai-Khanoum—a large sanctuary on the main street near the palace, a smaller temple in a similar style outside the northern wall, and an open-air podium on the acropolis.[88] The large sanctuary, often called the 'Temple with Indented Niches',[e] was located prominently in the lower city, between the main street and the palace, and consisted of a square edifice upon a 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) high podium, surrounded by a courtyard.[90] The temple showed signs of five distinct architectural phases, the earliest of which was very shortly after the founding of the city.[91] This earlier, Seleucid temple was completely dismantled and replaced with the current structure during the reigns of the early Diodotids.[92] The eponymous indented niches were situated on the 6 metres (20 ft) high temple walls—one was on each side of the front entrance, while four more were located on each of the other sides.[93] The courtyard was closed on three sides by buildings. To the southwest, there was a wooden colonnade with oriental pedestals; to the southeast was a series of small rooms and porticoes adjoining a porch with columns of the distyle in antis style, which formed the entrance from the main street; and an altar was situated on the northeast wall.[93]

Plaque depicting a votive offering to the Greek goddess Cybele and a Bactrian sun god, from the Ai-Khanoum sanctuary
Plaque depicting a votive offering to the Greek goddess Cybele and a Bactrian sun god, from the Ai-Khanoum sanctuary

From the beginning of the excavation, the Persian and Achaemenid elements of the temple's architecture was remarked upon.[90] The identifying 'indented niches', along with the building's stepped platform, were both common features of Mesopotamian architecture and successor styles.[94] In addition, many artefacts were found at the temple, including libation vessels (common to both Greek and Central Asian religious practices), ivory furniture and figurines, terracottas, and a very singular medallion depicting both the Greek goddess Cybele and a Bactrian sun god.[95] The small fragments which remain of the cult statue, which would have stood at the centre of the temple, show that it was sculpted according to the Greek tradition; a small portion of the left foot has survived and displays a thunderbolt, a common motif for Zeus. Based on the apparent dissonance between the Greek statue and the oriental temple it was located in, scholars have posited the syncretism of Zeus and a Bactrian deity such as Ahura Mazda, Mithra or a deity representing the Oxus.[92][96]

The DAFA archaeologists were only able to perform superficial studies on the other two religious structures. The temple outside the northern wall, which had succeeded a simpler and smaller structure on the site, somewhat resembled the grand central sanctuary in architecture with niches in the walls, but featured instead of a cult image three chapels for worship.[97][98] The podium on the acropolis was oriented towards the east, provoking suggestions that it was used as a sacrificial platform for worship of the rising sun, as similar platforms have been found in the local region.[f][100] As the acropolis was primarily militarily-oriented, with only a few small residences, scholars have suggested that it was used as a ghetto quarter for native Bactrian soldiers; the validity of this hypothesis, which echoes modern policies of segregation and colonialism, continues to be debated.[101][102]

Heroön of Kineas

One of the most-studied monuments in the city is a small heroön, located just north of the palace in the lower town. This shrine, which was constructed on a three-stepped platform, consisted of a distyle in antis pronaos and a narrow cella.[103][104] Four coffins—two wooden and two stone—were found underneath the platform. Burials were in general not allowed within the walls of Greek cities—hence Ai-Khanoum's necropolis being located outside the northern ramparts—but special exemptions were made for prominent citizens, especially city founders.[104] Since the shrine predated every other structure in the lower city, it can reasonably be supposed that the person the heroön was built to honour was either the city's founder or an extremely notable early citizen.[105] The most prominent of the coffins, which was also the earliest, was linked to the upper temple by an opening and conduit down which offerings could be poured.[103] Since the builders had not endowed any of the other sarcophagi with such a feature, this coffin would likely have housed the remains of that eminent citizen, while the others were reserved for family members.[106] The general scholarly consensus is thus that Kineas was the Seleucid epistates or oikistes who governed the first settlers of Ai-Khanoum.[107][55][108]

The stele found in the heroön of Kineas, inscribed with Delphic maxims and a dedicatory epigram
The stele found in the heroön of Kineas, inscribed with Delphic maxims and a dedicatory epigram

The archaeologists unearthed the base of a stele placed in a prominent position in the pronaos. Engraved upon it were the last five lines of a series of maxims, originally displayed at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi—only small and barely legible fragments of the upright portion of the stele, which would have been inscribed with the first 145 maxims, survive.[109][110] An epigram was inscribed adjacent to the maxims, commemorating a man named Klearchos, who had copied the maxims from the Delphic sanctuary:

ἀνδρῶν τοι σοφὰ ταῦτα παλαιοτέρων ἀνάκει[τα]ι
ῥήματα ἀριγνώτων Πυθοὶ ἐν ἠγαθέαι
ἔνθεν ταῦτ[α] Κλέαρχος ἐπιφραδέως ἀναγράψας
εἵσατο τηλαυγῆ Κινέου ἐν τεμένει.

παῖς ὢν κόσμιος γίνου
ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής
μέσος δίκαιος
πρεσβύτης εὔβουλος
τελευτῶν ἄλυπος

These wise sayings of men of old,
The words of famous men, are consecrated
At holy Delphi, where Klearchos copied them from carefully
To set them up, shining from afar, in the sanctuary of Kineas.

As a child, be well behaved;
As a young man, self-controlled;
In middle age, be just;
As an elder, be of good counsel;
And when you come to the end, be without grief.

—Rachel Mairs (maxims)[110] and Shane Wallace (dedication)[111]

In 1968, Louis Robert, a French historian, proposed that the Klearchos named in the inscription was the philosopher Clearchus of Soli. This identification was founded upon the fact that the philosopher Clearchus had written extensively on the morals and cultures of barbarian and Oriental cultures; Robert proposed that on a journey to research his literary subjects in more detail, Clearchus had stopped at Ai-Khanoum and set up his stele there.[112][113] This theory was accepted as fact, and was often cited as an example of the purely Greek nature of Ai-Khanoum, and of the interconnected nature of the Hellenistic world.[114] Later historians have dismissed Robert's hypothesis: Jeffrey Lerner noted that there is no evidence to support the assumption that Clearchus travelled to the eastern regions for research, as opposed to simply using a reference source;[115] following Lerner, Rachel Mairs observed, knowing the philosopher's approximate date of death, that the placement of the stele in the sanctuary would have been a generation after the presumed journey;[116] Shane Wallace, meanwhile, has noted that Klearchus was not an uncommon name, and so Robert's identification was improbable at best.[114] All three instead propose that Klearchus was a resident of Ai-Khanoum.[117]

Despite the refutation of Robert's theory, the stele still maintains its importance in modern analyses. The text of the epigram is poetic in its composition and vocabulary, echoing well-known Greek works such as Homer's Odyssey, Pindar's odes, and possibly even Apollonius' Argonautica;[118] the poem itself also shares thematic elements with the Buddhist Edicts of Ashoka.[119] Mairs and Wallace have attributed the inscription and placing of the stele to 'the first Bactrian-born generation' in the middle or late second-century BC; they propose that this generation sought to define themselves as part of the wider Greek world by giving Ai-Khanoum legitimacy in the eyes of Delphi, itself a symbol of Hellenic unity.[120][121]

Other structures

The arsenal, which was not fully excavated, lay on the eastern side of the southern main street, against the base of the acropolis. Substantial quantities of slag found in the building's courtyard suggest that the building housed the workshops of blacksmiths.[122] Although the recovered weapons were diverse, they were few in number, leading to speculation that the main army was in the field when the city was taken; this theory was supported by brick blockages in the arsenal's passages, suggesting a limited number of defenders. Of the pieces found, which included arrowheads, spears, javelins, a trapdoor intended to stop mounted animals, and uniform ornaments, the most interest was paid to iron cataphract armour—the earliest example yet found.[123] The theater was also built into the side of the acropolis, on the northern part of the main street. It was 85 metres (279 ft) in diameter, and could seat between five and six thousand spectators—considerably more than would have lived in the city.[124][125] It also contained three loggia, which were probably used for dignitaries, just below the diazoma.[126] It is clear that the audience was expected to come from the surrounding districts as well as the city itself, possibly for religious festivals.[124][127] The excavators found the bones of around 120 individuals in the orchestra, probably dating from the fall of the city in 145 BC.[128]


The discovery of Ai-Khanoum was of fundamental importance to the study of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Before its discovery, archaeologists such as Alfred Foucher had devoted careers to trying to find any physical confirmation for the existence of Hellenistic culture in Central Asia, but had continually failed.[129] Aside from textual fragments in classical texts and a variety of coins with Greek inscriptions found throughout the region, there was a near-complete absence of evidence to support the theory.[130] Foucher, who had found nothing during a difficult 18-month excavation in Balkh, gradually lost all hope, famously dismissing the hypothesis as the 'Greco-Bactrian mirage'.[129][131] The discovery of Ai-Khanoum re-energized the discipline, and subsequently, numerous Hellenistic sites have been found throughout Central Asia; the historian Rachel Mairs has noted that the discovery of Ai-Khanoum did represent a sort of 'turning point' in the study of the Hellenistic Far East, even if the primary pre-discovery questions were still asked after the excavations had finished.[132][133]

Notes, citations and sources


  1. ^ Some scholars have suggested that the site's original name was *Oskobara, an indigenous toponym with the meaning of "high bank".[2] Ptolemy mentions a similar name, transcribed variously as Ostobara or Estobara, in the relevant part of his Geographia.[2][3]
  2. ^ In 2019, having excavated a gate complex at Kampir Tepe in Uzbekistan, which was identical to one earlier conquered by Alexander at Sillyon, in Pamphylia, the archaeologist Edvard Rtveladze announced yet another Alexandria Oxiana candidate.[8]
  3. ^ Gemstone mining on the Kokcha has remained productive into the 21st century, despite 6,500 years of near-continuous extraction.[51]
  4. ^ The Qizilsu valley served as a strategically important corridor as recently as the Afghan Civil War when international humanitarian aid for the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud was routed through it.[54]
  5. ^ French: "temple à niches indentées"; alternatively called the 'Stepped Temple' ("temple à redans").[89]
  6. ^ Additionally, the Greek historians Herodotus and Strabo described Persian practices of open-air religious worship.[99]


  1. ^ Lecuyot 2020, p. 540.
  2. ^ a b Rapin 2007, p. 41.
  3. ^ Ptolemy c. 150, 6.11.9.
  4. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 21.
  5. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 33.
  6. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 22.
  7. ^ Mairs 2015, p. 109.
  8. ^ Ibbotson, Sophie (13 September 2019). "Inside the 'Pompeii of Uzbekistan', Alexander the Great's forgotten city". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 September 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  9. ^ Cohen 2013, pp. 35–38.
  10. ^ Mairs 2015, pp. 109–11.
  11. ^ Lerner 2003a, pp. 378–80.
  12. ^ Holt 1999, p. 28.
  13. ^ Holt 1999, pp. 28–9.
  14. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 28.
  15. ^ Kritt 1996, pp. 31–34.
  16. ^ Holt 1999, p. 114.
  17. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 31.
  18. ^ Kritt 1996, p. 26.
  19. ^ Leriche 1986, pp. 44–54.
  20. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 35.
  21. ^ Lyonnet 2012, p. 158.
  22. ^ Polybius, 10.48-49, 11.34.
  23. ^ Holt 1999, p. 125.
  24. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 36.
  25. ^ a b Martinez-Sève 2014, p. 271.
  26. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, pp. 36–7.
  27. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, pp. 38–40.
  28. ^ Justin 1853, 41.6.5.
  29. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 41.
  30. ^ a b c Francfort et al. 2014, p. 49.
  31. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 172.
  32. ^ Martinez-Sève 2018, pp. 409–410.
  33. ^ Martinez-Sève 2018, pp. 406–407.
  34. ^ Mairs 2014, pp. 171–172.
  35. ^ Mairs 2014, pp. 154–155.
  36. ^ Martinez-Sève 2018, pp. 413–414.
  37. ^ Wood 1841, pp. 394–95.
  38. ^ Holt 1994, p. 9.
  39. ^ Bernard 2001, pp. 971–972.
  40. ^ Bernard 1996, pp. 101–2.
  41. ^ a b c Martinez-Sève 2014, p. 269.
  42. ^ a b Mairs 2014, p. 62.
  43. ^ Leriche 1986, preface, i.
  44. ^ a b Martinez-Sève 2020, p. 220.
  45. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 26.
  46. ^ Lecuyot 2007, p. 160.
  47. ^ Bernard 2001, pp. 991–993.
  48. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 90.
  49. ^ a b Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 20.
  50. ^ a b c d Bernard 1982, p. 148.
  51. ^ Renaud 2014, pp. 4–5.
  52. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 29.
  53. ^ Holt 2012a, p. 101.
  54. ^ Bernard 2001, pp. 976, 994.
  55. ^ a b c Cohen 2013, p. 225.
  56. ^ Leriche 2007, pp. 140–141.
  57. ^ a b Leriche 2007, p. 141.
  58. ^ Bernard 1996, p. 106.
  59. ^ Leriche 2007, p. 142.
  60. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 27.
  61. ^ Lecuyot 2007, p. 156.
  62. ^ a b Mairs 2014, p. 63.
  63. ^ Cohen 2013, p. 226.
  64. ^ a b Martinez-Sève 2015, p. 39.
  65. ^ Bernard 1982, p. 151.
  66. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 38.
  67. ^ Martinez-Sève 2014, p. 270, 271.
  68. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 34.
  69. ^ a b c Rapin 1990, p. 333.
  70. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 39.
  71. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 69.
  72. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 40.
  73. ^ Mairs 2014, pp. 69–70.
  74. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 66.
  75. ^ Mairs 2014, pp. 70–71.
  76. ^ Mairs 2014, p. 71.
  77. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 43.
  78. ^ a b c d Rapin 1990, p. 334.
  79. ^ a b Mairs 2014, p. 72.
  80. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, pp. 43–44.
  81. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 47.
  82. ^ Mairs 2014, pp. 47–49.
  83. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 50.
  84. ^ Rapin 1990, pp. 334–336.
  85. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, pp. 51–54.
  86. ^ a b Hollis 2011, p. 107.
  87. ^ Hollis 2011, pp. 108–109.
  88. ^ Bernard 1982, pp. 158–9.
  89. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 92, note 29.
  90. ^ a b Bernard 1982, p. 159.
  91. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 93.
  92. ^ a b Francfort et al. 2014, p. 57.
  93. ^ a b Francfort et al. 2014, p. 56.
  94. ^ Mairs 2013b, pp. 97–8.
  95. ^ Mairs 2013b, pp. 94–5.
  96. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 94.
  97. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 60.
  98. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 92.
  99. ^ Cohen 2013, p. 227.
  100. ^ Mairs 2013b, pp. 92–3.
  101. ^ Holt 1999, p. 45.
  102. ^ Mairs 2013b, p. 110.
  103. ^ a b Wallace 2016, p. 216.
  104. ^ a b Martinez-Sève 2014, p. 274.
  105. ^ Mairs 2015, p. 112-14.
  106. ^ Mairs 2015, p. 112.
  107. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 37.
  108. ^ Martinez-Sève 2015, pp. 30–31.
  109. ^ Bernard 1982, p. 157.
  110. ^ a b Mairs 2014, p. 73.
  111. ^ Wallace 2016, p. 215.
  112. ^ Robert 1968, pp. 443–454.
  113. ^ Lerner 2003a, p. 393.
  114. ^ a b Wallace 2016, p. 217.
  115. ^ Lerner 2003a, pp. 393–4.
  116. ^ Mairs 2015, pp. 115–116.
  117. ^ Wallace 2016, pp. 217–218.
  118. ^ Hollis 2011, p. 109.
  119. ^ Yailenko 1990, pp. 239–242.
  120. ^ Mairs 2015, pp. 120–122.
  121. ^ Wallace 2016, pp. 216–219.
  122. ^ Mairs 2015, p. 89.
  123. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 67.
  124. ^ a b Mairs 2015, p. 92.
  125. ^ Martinez-Sève 2014, p. 276.
  126. ^ Martinez-Sève 2014, pp. 278–279.
  127. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, pp. 65–66.
  128. ^ Francfort et al. 2014, p. 66.
  129. ^ a b Mairs 2011, p. 14.
  130. ^ Holt 1994, pp. 4–5.
  131. ^ Holt 1994, pp. 8–9.
  132. ^ Mairs 2011, pp. 14–15.
  133. ^ Bernard 1996, pp. 101–102.




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