The Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley refers to the Achaemenid military conquest and occupation of the territories of the North-western regions of the Indian subcontinent, from the 6th to 4th centuries BC. The conquest of the areas as far as the Indus river is often dated to the time of Cyrus the Great, in the period between 550-539 BCE. The first secure epigraphic evidence, given by the Behistun Inscription, gives a date before or about 518 BCE. Achaemenid penetration into the area of the Indian subcontinent occurred in stages, starting from northern parts of the River Indus and moving southward. These areas of the Indus valley became formal Achaemenid satrapies as mentioned in several Achaemenid inscriptions. The Achaemenid occupation of the Indus Valley ended with the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great circa 323 BCE. The Achaemenid occupation, although less successful than that of the later Greeks, Sakas or Kushans, had the effect of acquainting India to the outer world.


Background and invasion :


India appears to the east of the inhabited world according to Herodotus, 500 BCE


Ruins at Bhir Mound representing the city of Taxila during the Achaemenid period

For millennia, the northwestern part of India had maintained some level of trade relations with the Near East. Finally, the Achaemenid Empire underwent a considerable expansion, both east and west, during the reign of Cyrus the Great (c.600–530 BC), leading the dynasty to take a direct interest into the region of northwestern India.


Cyrus the Great :

The conquest is often thought to have started circa 535 BCE, during the time of Cyrus the Great (600-530 BCE). Cyrus probably went as far as the banks of the Indus river and organized the conquered territories under the Satrapy of Gandara (Old Persian cuneiform: Gadara, also transliterated as Gandara since the nasal "n" before consonants was omitted in the Old Persian script, and simplified as Gandara) according to the Behistun Inscription. The Province was also referred to as Paruparaesanna (Greek: Parapamisadae) in the Babylonian and Elamite versions of the Behistun inscription. The geographical extent of this province was wider than the Indian Gandhara. Various accounts, such as those of Xenophon or Ctesias, who wrote Indica, also suggest that Cyrus conquered parts of India. Another Indian Province was conquered named Sattagydia (Thataguš) in the Behistun inscription. It was probably contiguous to Gandhar, but its actual location is uncertain. Fleming locates it between Arachosia and the middle Indus. Fleming also mentions Maka, in the area of Gedrosia, as one of the Indian satrapies.


Darius I :

A successor of Cyrus the Great, Darius I was back in 518 BCE. The date of 518 BCE is given by the Behistun inscription, and is also often the one given for the secure occupation of Gandhara in Punjab. Darius I later conquered an additional province that he calls "Hiduš" in his inscriptions (Old Persian cuneiform: H-i-du-u-š, also transliterated as Hinduš since the nasal "n" before consonants was omitted in the Old Persian script, and simplified as Hindush), corresponding to the Indus Valley. The Hamadan Gold and Silver Tablet inscription of Darius I also refers to his conquests in India.


Darius I on his tomb

The exact area of the Province of Hindush is uncertain. Some scholars have described it as the middle and lower Indus Valley and the approximate region of modern Sindh, but there is no known evidence of Achaemenid presence in this region, and deposits of gold, which Herodotus says was produced in vast quantities by this Province, are also unknown in the Indus delta region. Alternatively, Hindush may have been the region of Taxila and Western Punjab, where there are indications that a Persian satrapy may have existed. There are few remains of Achaemenid presence in the east, but, according to Fleming, the archaeological site of Bhir Mound in Taxila remains the "most plausible candidate for the capital of Achaemenid India", based on the fact that numerous pottery styles similar to those of the Achaemenids in the East have been found there, and that "there are no other sites in the region with Bhir Mound's potential".


According to Herodotus, Darius I sent the Greek explorer Scylax of Caryanda to sail down the Indus river, heading a team of spies, in order to explore the course of the Indus river. After a periplus of 30 months, Scylax is said to have returned to Egypt near the Red Sea, and the seas between the Near East and India were made use of by Darius.


Also according to Herodotus, the territories of Gandhara, Sattagydia, Dadicae and Aparytae formed the 7th province of the Achaemenid Empire for tax-payment purposes, while Indus (called "Indos" in Greek sources) formed the 20th tax region.


Achaemenid army :


Greek Ionian (Yavanas), Scythian (Sakas) and Persian (Parasikas) soldiers of the Achaemenid army, as described on Achaemenid royal tombs from circa 500 to 338 BCE.

The Achaemenid army was not uniquely Persian. Rather it was composed of many different ethnicities that were part of the vast Achaemenid Empire. The army included Bactrians, Sakas (Scythians), Parthians, Sogdians. Herodotus gives a full list of the ethnicities of the Achaemenid army, in which are included Ionians (Greeks), and even Ethiopians. These ethnicities are likely to have been included in the Achaemenid army which invaded India.


The Persians may have later participated, together with Sakas and Greeks, in the campaigns of Chandragupta Maurya to gain the throne of Magadh circa 320 BCE. The Mudrarakshasa states that after Alexander's death, an alliance of "Shak - Yavan - Kamboj - Parasik - Bahlik" was used by Chandragupta Maurya in his campaign to take the throne in Magadh and found the Mauryan Empire. The Sakas were the Scythians, the Yavanas were the Greeks, and the Parasikas were the Persians. David Brainard Spooner observed of Chandragupta Maurya that "it was with largely the Persian army that he won the throne of India."


Inscriptions and accounts

Indian satrapies on the Statue of Darius I :


Hindush ("India")





These events were recorded in the imperial inscriptions of the Achaemenids (the Behistun inscription and the Naqsh-i-Rustam inscription, as well as the accounts of Herodotus (483–431 BCE), and of the Hellenistic accounts of the Greek conquests in India (circa 320 BCE). The Greek Scylax of Caryanda, who had been appointed by Darius I to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez left an account, the Periplous, of which fragments from secondary sources have survived. Hecataeus of Miletus (circa 500 BCE) also wrote about the "Indus Satrapies" of the Achaemenids.


Behistun inscription :

The 'DB' Behistun inscription of Darius I (circa 510 BCE) mentions Gandar (Gandhar, Gadara) and the adjacent territory of Sattagydia (Thataguš) as part of the Achaemenid Empire :


King Darius says :

These are the countries which are subject unto me, and by the grace of Ahuramazda I became king of them: Persia [Pârsa], Elam [Ûvja], Babylonia [Bâbiruš], Assyria [Athurâ], Arabia [Arabâya], Egypt [Mudrâya], the countries by the Sea, Lydia [Sparda], the Greeks [Yauna (Ionia)], Media [Mâda], Armenia [Armina], Cappadocia [Katpatuka], Parthia [Parthava], Drangiana [Zraka], Aria [Haraiva], Chorasmia [Uvârazmîy], Bactria [Bâxtriš], Sogdia [Suguda], Gandara [Gadara], Scythia [Saka], Sattagydia [Thataguš], Arachosia [Harauvatiš] and Maka [Maka]; twenty-three lands in all.


— Behistun Inscription of Darius I.

From the dating of the Behistun inscription, it is possible to infer that the Achaemenids first conquered the areas of Gandara and Sattagydia circa 518 BCE.


Statue of Darius inscriptions :

Hinduš is also mentioned as one of 24 subject countries of the Achaemenid Empire, illustrated with the drawing of a kneeling subject and a hieroglyphic cartridge reading (h-n-d-w?-y), on the Egyptian Statue of Darius I, now in the National Museum of Iran. Sattagydia also appears (Sattagydia), and probably Gandara ( h-rw-?-d-y, although this could be Arachosia), with their own illustrations.


Apadana Palace foundation tablets :


Gold foundation plate of Darius I in the Apadana Palace in Persepolis with the word Hidauv, locative of "Hiduš"

Four identical foundation tablets of gold and silver, found in two deposition boxes in the foundations of the Apadana Palace, also contained an inscription by Darius I in Old Persian cuneiform, which describes the extent of his Empire in broad geographical terms, from the Indus valley in the east to Lydia in the west, and from the Scythians beyond Sogdia in the north, to the African Kingdom of Kush in the south. This is known as the DPh inscription. The deposition of these foundation tablets and the Apadana coin hoard found under them, is dated to circa 515 BCE.


Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid. King Darius says: This is the kingdom which I hold, from the Sacae who are beyond Sogdia to Kush, and from Sind (Old Persian: "Hidauv", locative of "Hiduš", i.e. "Indus valley") to Lydia (Old Persian: "Spardâ") - [this is] what Ahuramazda, the greatest of gods, bestowed upon me. May Ahuramazda protect me and my royal house!


— DPh inscription of Darius I in the foundations of the Apadana Palace

Naqsh-e Rustam inscription :


The Naqsh-e Rustam DNa inscription, on the tomb of Darius I, mentioning all three Indian territories: Sattagydia (Thataguš), Gandara (Gandhar, Gadara) and India (Hiduš) as part of the Achaemenid Empire.

The DSe inscription and DSm inscription of Darius in Susa gives Thataguš (Sattagydia), Gadara (Gandara) and Hiduš (Sind) among the nations that he rules.


Hiduš (in Old Persian cuneiform) also appears later as a Satrapy in the Naqsh-i-Rustam inscription at the end of the reign of Darius, who died in 486 BCE. The DNa inscription on Darius' tomb at Naqsh-i-Rustam near Persepolis records Gadara (Gandara) along with Hiduš and Thataguš (Sattagydia) in the list of satrapies.


King Darius says : By the favor of Ahuramazda these are the countries which I seized outside of Persia; I ruled over them; they bore tribute to me; they did what was said to them by me; they held my law firmly; Media, Elam, Parthia, Aria, Bactria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gandara (Gadara), India (Hiduš), the haoma-drinking Scythians, the Scythians with pointed caps, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Lydia, the Greeks (Yauna), the Scythians across the sea (Sakâ), Thrace, the petasos-wearing Greeks [Yaunâ], the Libyans, the Nubians, the men of Maka and the Carians.


— Naqsh-e Rustam inscription of Darius I (circa 490 BCE)

Achaemenid administration :


Eastern territories of the Achaemenid Empire


The names of the three Ancient Indian provinces still appear in trilingual cuneiform labels above their respective figures on the tomb of Artaxerxes II (c.358 BCE)

The nature of the administration under the Achaemenids is uncertain. Even though the Indian provinces are called "satrapies" by convention, there is no evidence of there being any satraps in these provinces. When Alexander invaded the region, he did not encounter Achaemenid satraps in the Indian provinces, but local Indian rulers referred to as hyparchs ("Vice-Regents"), a term that connotes subordination to the Achaemenid rulers. The local rulers may have reported to the satraps of Bactria and Arachosia.


Achaemenid lists of Provinces :

Darius I listed three Indian provinces: Thataguš (Sattagydia), Gandâra (Gandhara) and Hiduš (Sind), in which "Sind" should be understood as "Indus Valley". The three regions remained represented among Achaemenid Provinces on all the tombs of the Achaemenid rulers after Darius, except for the last ruler Darius III who was vanquished by Alexander at Gaugamela, suggesting that the Indians were under Achaemenid dominion at least until 338 BCE, date of the end of the reign of Artaxerxes III, before the accession of Darius III, that is, less than 10 years before the campaigns of Alexander in the East and his victory at Gaugamela. The last known appearance of Gandhara in name as an Achaemenid province is on the list of the tomb of Artaxerxes II, circa 358 BCE, date of his burial.

List of Herodotus :

Herodotus (III-91 and III-94), gives a list with a slightly different structure, as some province which are presented separately in the Achaemenid inscriptions are grouped together by Herodotus when he described the tribute paid by each territory. Herodotus presents Indos as "the 20th province", while "the Sattagydae, Gandarii, Dadicae, and Aparytae" together form "the 7th Province". According to historian A. T. Olmstead, the fact that some Achaemenid regions are grouped together in this list may have represented some loss of territory.


The Hinduš province, remained loyal till Alexander's invasion. Circa 400 BC, Ctesias of Cnidus related that the Persian king was receiving numerous gifts from the kings of "India" (Hinduš). Ctesias also reported Indian elephants and Indian mahouts making demonstrations of the elephant's strength at the Achaemenid court.


By about 380 BC, the Persian hold on the region was weakening, but the area continued to be a part of the Achaemenid Empire until Alexander's invasion.


Darius III (c. 380 – July 330 BC) still had Indian units in his army. In particular he had 15 war elephants at the Battle of Gaugamela for his fight against Alexander the Great.


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Darius I (c.500 BCE)


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Xerxes I (c.480 BCE)


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Artaxerxes I (c.430 BCE)


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Darius II (c.410 BCE)


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Artaxerxes II (c.370 BCE)


Indian soldiers on the tomb of Artaxerxes III (c.340 BCE)

Indian tributes

Apadana Palace :


Hindush Tribute Bearers on the Apadana Staircase 8, circa 500 BCE


A small but heavy load: Indian tribute bearer at Apadana, probably carrying gold dust. 1 liter of gold weighs 19.3 kg

The reliefs at the Apadana Palace in Persepolis describe tribute bearers from 23 satrapies visiting the Achaemenid court. These are located at the southern end of the Apadana Staircase. Among the foreigners the Arabs, the Thracians, the Bactrians, the Indians (from the Indus valley area), the Parthians, the Cappadocians, the Elamites or the Medians. The Indians from the Indus valley are bare-chested, except for their leader, and barefooted and wear the dhoti. They bring baskets with vases inside, carry axes, and drive along a donkey. One man in the Indian procession carries a small but visibly heavy load of four jars on a yoke, suggesting that he was carrying some of the gold dust paid by the Indians as tribute to the Achaemenid court.


According to the Naqsh-e Rustam inscription of Darius I (circa 490 BCE), there were three Achaemenid Satrapies in the subcontinent: Sattagydia, Gandara, Hiduš.


Tribute payments :


Volume of annual tribute per district, in the Achaemenid Empire, according to Herodotus

The conquered area was the most fertile and populous region of the Achaemenid Empire. An amount of tribute was fixed according to the richness of each territory. India was already famous for its gold.


Herodotus (who makes several comments on India) published a list of tribute-paying nations, classifying them in 20 Provinces. The Province of Indos (the Indus valley) formed the 20th Province, and was the richest and most populous of the Achaemenid Provinces.


The Indians made up the twentieth province. These are more in number than any nation known to me, and they paid a greater tribute than any other province, namely three hundred and sixty talents of gold dust.


— Herodotus, III 94.

According to Herodotus, the "Indians" (Indoi), as separate from the Gandarei and the Sattagydians, formed the 20th taxation Province, and were required to supply gold dust in tribute to the Achaemenid central government for an amount of 360 Euboean talents (equivalent to about 8300 kg or 8.3 tons of gold annually, a volume of gold that would fit in a cube of side 75 cm). The exchange rate between gold and silver at the time of Herodotus being 13 to 1, this was equal in value to the very large amount of 4680 Euboean talents of silver, equivalent to 3600 Babylonian talents of silver (equivalent in value to about 108 tons of silver annually). The country of the "Indians" (Indoi) was the Achaemenid district paying the largest tribute, and alone represented 32% of the total tribute revenues of the whole Achaemenid Empire. It also means that Indos was the richest Achaemenid region in the subcontinent, much richer than Gandara or Sattagydia. However the amount of gold in question is quite enormous, so there is a possibility that Herodotus was mistaken and that his own sources actually only meant something like the gold equivalent of 360 Babylonian talents of silver.


Gandaran delegation at Apadana Palace

The territories of Gandara, Sattagydia, Dadicae (north-west of the Kashmir Valley) and the Aparytae (Afridis) are named separately, and were aggregated together for taxation purposes, forming the 7th Achaemenid Province, and paying overall a much lower tribute of 170 talents together (about 5151 kg, or 5.1 tons of silver), hence only about 1.5% of the total revenues of the Achaemenid Empire :


The Sattagydae, Gandarii, Dadicae and Aparytae paid together a hundred and seventy talents; this was the seventh province


— Herodotus, III 91.


Ancient Indian soldiers of the three territories of Sattagydia, Gandhara and Hindush respectively, supporting the throne of Xerxes I on his tomb at Naqsh-e Rostam. See also complete relief. c. 480 BCE


Indian soldiers of the Achaemenid army participated to the Second Persian invasion of Greece (480-479 BCE)

The Indians also supplied Yaka wood (teak) for the construction of Achaemenid palaces, as well as war elephants such as those used at Gaugamela. The Susa inscriptions of Darius explain that Indian ivory and teak were sold on Persian markets, and used in the construction of his palace.


Contribution to Achaemenid war efforts

Second Persian invasion of Greece (480-479 BCE) :

Indians were employed in the Achaemenid army of Xerxes in the Second Persian invasion of Greece (480-479 BCE). All troops were stationned in Sardis, Lydia, during the winter of 481-480 BCE to prepare for the invasion. In the spring of 480 BCE "Indian troops marched with Xerxes's army across the Hellespont". It was the "first-ever force from India to fight on the continent of Europe", storming Greek troops at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, and fighting as one of the main nations until the final Battle of Platea in 479 BCE.


Herodotus, in his description of the multi-ethnic Achaemenid army invading Greece, described the equipment of the Indians :


The Indians wore garments of tree-wool, and carried bows of reed and iron-tipped arrows of the same. Such was their equipment; they were appointed to march under the command of Pharnazathres son of Artabates.


— Herodotus VII 65


Probable Spartan hoplite (Vix crater, c. 500 BCE), and a Hindush warrior of the Achaemenid army (tomb of Xerxes I, c. 480 BCE), at the time of the Second Persian invasion of Greece (480–479 BCE)

Herodotus also explains that the Indian cavalry under the Achaemenids had an equipment similar that of their foot soldiers :


The Indians were armed in like manner as their foot; they rode swift horses and drove chariots drawn by horses and wild asses.


— Herodotus VII 86

The Gandharis had a different equipment, akin to that of the Bactrians :


The Bactrians in the army wore a headgear most like to the Median, carrying their native bows of reed, and short spears. The Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdians, Gandarians, and Dadicae in the army had the same equipment as the Bactrians. The Parthians and Chorasmians had for their commander Artabazus son of Pharnaces, the Sogdians Azanes son of Artaeus, the Gandarians and Dadicae Artyphius son of Artabanus.


— Herodotus VII 64-66

Destruction of Athens and Battle of Plataea (479 BCE)

After the first part of the campaign directly under the orders Xerxes I, the Indian troops are reported to have stayed in Greece as one of the 5 main nations among the 300,000 elite troops of General Mardonius. They fought in the last stages of the war, took part in the Destruction of Athens, but were finally vanquished at the Battle of Platea :


Indian corps at the Battle of Plataea, 479 BCE

Mardonius there chose out first all the Persians called Immortals, save only Hydarnes their general, who said that he would not quit the king's person; and next, the Persian cuirassiers, and the thousand horse, and the Medes and Sacae and Bactrians and Indians, alike their footmen and the rest of the horsemen. He chose these nations entire; of the rest of his allies he picked out a few from each people, the goodliest men and those that he knew to have done some good service... Thereby the whole number, with the horsemen, grew to three hundred thousand men.


— Herodotus VIII, 113.

At the final Battle of Platea in 479 BCE, Indians formed one of the main corps of Achaemenid troops (one of "the greatest of the nations"). They were one of the main battle corps, positioned near the center of the Achaemenid battle line, between the Bactrians and the Sakae, facing against the enemy Greek troops of "Hermione and Eretria and Styra and Chalcis". According to modern estimates, the Bactrians, Indians and Sakae probably numbered about 20,000 men altogether, whereas the Persian troops on their left amounted to about 40,000. There were also Greek allies of the Persians, positioned on the right, whom Herodotus numbers at 50,000, a number which however might be "extravagant", and is nowadays estimated to around 20,000. Indians also supplied part of the cavalry, the total of which was about 5,000.


Depictions :

Indian soldiers of the three territories of Gandar, Sattagydia (Tathagatus) and Hindush are shown, together with soldiers of all the other nations, supporting the throne of their Achaemenid ruler, at Naqsh-e Rostam on the tombs of Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II, and at Persepolis on the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. The last Achaemenid ruler Darius III never had time to finish his own tomb due to his hasty defeat by Alexander the Great, and therefore does not have such depictions. The soldiers from India are characterized by their particular clothing, only composed of a loin cloth and sandals, with bare upper body, in contrast to all the other ethnicities of the Achaemenid army, who are fully clothed, and in contrast also to the neighbouring provinces of Bactria or Arachosia, who are also fully clothed.


The three types of Indian soldiers still appear (upper right corner) among the soldiers of the Achaemenid Empire on the tomb of Artaxerxes III (who died in 338 BCE)

The presence of the three ethnicities of Indian soldiers on the all the tombs of the Achaemenid rulers after Darius, except for the last ruler Darius III who was vanquished by Alexander at Gaugamela, suggest that the Indians were under Achaemenid dominion at least until 338 BCE, date of the end of the reign of Artaxerxes III, before the accession of Darius III, that is, less than 10 years before the campaigns of Alexander in the East and his victory at Gaugamela.


Indians at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE) :

According to Arrian, Indian troops were still deployed under Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE). He explains that Darius III "obtained the help of those Indians who bordered on the Bactrians, together with the Bactrians and Sogdianians themselves, all under the command of Bessus, the Satrap of Bactria". The Indians in questions were probably from the area of Gandara. Indian "hill-men" are also said by Arrian to have joined the Arachotians under Satrap Barsentes, and are thought to have been either the Sattagydians or the Hindush.


Fifteen Indian war elephants were also part of the army of Darius III at Gaugamela. They had specifically been brought from India. Still, it seems they did not participate to the final battle, probably because of fatigue. This was a relief for the armies of Alexander, who had no previous experience of combat against war elephants. The elephants were captured with the baggage train by the Greeks after the engagement.


Gandaran soldier of the Achaemenid army, circa 480 BCE. Xerxes I tomb


Gandaran soldier (enhanced detail)


Sattagydian soldier of the Achaemenid army, circa 480 BCE. Xerxes I tomb


Sattagydian soldier (enhanced detail)


Hindush soldier of the Achaemenid army, circa 480 BCE. Xerxes I tomb


Hindush soldier (enhanced detail)

Greek and Achaemenid coinage :

Strike of an Achaemenid siglos, Kabul, Afghanistan, circa 5th century BCE. Archer king type. Coins of this type were also found in the Bhir Mound hoard in Taxila


Achaemenid Empire coin minted in the Kabul Valley. Circa 500-380 BCE


"Bent bar" minted under Achaemenid administration, of the type found in large quantities in the Chaman Hazouri hoard and the Bhir Mound hoard in Taxila

Coin finds in the Chaman Hazouri hoard in Kabul, or the Shaikhan Dehri hoard in Pushkalavati in Gandhara, near Charsadda, as well as in the Bhir Mound hoard in Taxila, have revealed numerous Achaemenid coins as well as many Greek coins from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE which circulated in the area, at least as far as the Indus during the reign of the Achaemenids, who were in control of the areas as far as Gandhar.


Kabul and Bhir Mound hoards :

The Kabul hoard, also called the Chaman Hazouri, Chaman Hazouri or Tchamani-i Hazouri hoard, is a coin hoard discovered in the vicinity of Kabul, Afghanistan. The hoard, discovered in 1933, contained numerous Achaemenid coins as well as many Greek coins from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Approximately one thousand coins were in the hoard. The hoard is dated to approximately 380 BCE as no coins in the hoard were later than that date.


This numismatic discovery has been very important in studying and dating the history of coinage of India, since it is one of the very rare instances when punch-marked coins can actually be dated, due to their association with known and dated Greek and Achaemenid coins in the hoard. The hoard supports the view that punch-marked coins existed in 360 BCE, as suggested by literary evidence.


Daniel Schlumberger also considers that punch-marked bars, similar to the many punch-marked bars found in north-western India, initially originated in the Achaemenid Empire, rather than in the Indian heartland :


“The punch-marked bars were up to now considered to be Indian (...) However the weight standard is considered by some expert to be Persian, and now that we see them also being uncovered in the soil of Afghanistan, we must take into account the possibility that their country of origin should not be sought beyond the Indus, but rather in the oriental provinces of the Achaemenid Empire"

— Daniel Schlumberger, quoted from Trésors Monétaires, p.42.

Modern numismatists now tend to consider the Achaemenid punch-marked coins as the precursors of the Indian punch-marked coins.


Pushkalavati hoard :

In 2007, a small coin hoard was discovered at the site of ancient Pushkalavati (the Shaikhan Dehri hoard) near Charsada in Pakistan. The hoard contained a tetradrachm minted in Athens circa 500/490-485/0 BCE, together with a number of local types as well as silver cast ingots. The hoard contained a tetradrachm minted in Athens circa 500/490-485/0 BCE, typically used as a currency for trade in the Achaemenid Empire, together with a number of local types as well as silver cast ingots. The Athens coin is the earliest known example of its type to be found so far to the east.


According to Joe Cribb, these early Greek coins were at the origin of Indian punch-marked coins, the earliest coins developed in India, which used minting technology derived from Greek coinage.


Influence of Achaemenid culture in the Indian subcontinent

Cultural exchanges: Taxila :

Taxila (site of Bhir Mound), the "most plausible candidate for the capital of Achaemenid India", was at the crossroad of the main trade roads of Asia, was probably populated by Persians, Greeks and other people from throughout the Achaemenid Empire. The renowned University of Taxila became the greatest learning centre in the region, and allowed for exchanges between people from various cultures.


Followers of the Buddh :

Several contemporaries, and close followers, of the Buddh are said to have studied in Achaemenid Taxila: King Pasenadi of Kosal, a close friend of the Buddh, Bandhul, the commander of Pasedani's army, Angulimal, a close follower of the Buddh, and Jivak, court doctor at Rajagrih and personal doctor of the Buddh. According to Stephen Batchelor, the Buddh may have been influenced by the experiences and knowledge acquired by some of his closest followers in Taxila (Takshashila).


Panini :

The 5th century BCE grammarian Panini lived in an Achaemenid environment. He is said to have been born in the north-west, in Shalatula near Attock, not far from Taxila, in what was then a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley, which technically made him a Persian subject.


Kautilya and Chandragupta Maurya :

Kautilya, the influential Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya, is also said to have been a professor teaching in Taxila. According to Buddhist legend, Kautilya brought Chandragupta Maurya, the future founder of the Mauryan Empire to Taxila as a child, and had him educated there in "all the sciences and arts" of the period, including military sciences, for a period of 7 to 8 years. These legends match Plutarch's assertion that Alexander the Great met with the young Chandragupta while campaigning in the Punjab.


Astronomical and astrological knowledge was also probably transmitted to India from Babylon during the 5th century BCE as a consequence of the Achaemenid presence in the sub-continent.


Palatial art and architecture: Pataliputra :


The Masarh lion. The sculptural style is "unquestionably Achaemenid"

Various Indian artefacts tend to suggest some Perso-Hellenistic artistic influence in India, mainly felt during the time of the Mauryan Empire. The sculpture of the Masarh lion, found near the Maurya capital of Pataliputra, raises the question of the Achaemenid and Greek influence on the art of the Maurya Empire, and on the western origins of stone carving in India. The lion is carved in Chunar sandstone, like the Pillars of Ashok, and its finish is polished, a feature of the Maurya sculpture. According to S.P. Gupta, the sculptural style is unquestionably Achaemenid. This is particularly the case for the well-ordered tubular representation of whiskers (vibrissas) and the geometrical representation of inflated veins flush with the entire face. The mane, on the other hand, with tufts of hair represented in wavelets, is rather naturalistic. Very similar examples are however known in Greece and Persepolis. It is possible that this sculpture was made by an Achaemenid or Greek sculptor in India and either remained without effect, or was the Indian imitation of a Greek or Achaemenid model, somewhere between the fifth century B.C. and the first century B.C., although it is generally dated from the time of the Maurya Empire, around the 3rd century B.C.


The Pataliputra palace with its pillared hall shows decorative influences of the Achaemenid palaces and Persepolis and may have used the help of foreign craftsmen. Mauryan rulers may have even imported craftsmen from abroad to build royal monuments. This may be the result of the formative influence of craftsmen employed from Persia following the disintegration of the Achaemenid Empire after the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Pataliputra capital, or also the Hellenistic friezes of the Rampurva capitals, Sankissa, and the diamond throne of Bodh Gaya are other examples.


The renowned Mauryan polish, especially used in the Pillars of Ashok, may also have been a technique imported from the Achaemenid Empire.

Ruins of pillared hall at Kumrahar site at Pataliputra


Plan of the 80-column pillared hall in Pataliputra


The Pataliputra capital, generally described as "Perso-Hellenistic"


Griffin of Pataliputra


Lotus motifs in Pataliputra

Rock-cut architecture :


Lycian Tomb of Payava (dated 375-360 BCE) and Lomas Rishi cave entrance (dated circa 250 BCE)


Ajanta Cave 9 (dated 1st century BCE)

The similarity of the 4th century BCE Lycian barrel-vaulted tombs, such as the tomb of Payava, in the western part of the Achaemenid Empire, with the Indian architectural design of the Chaitya (starting at least a century later from circa 250 BCE, with the Lomas Rishi caves in the Barabar caves group), suggests that the designs of the Lycian rock-cut tombs travelled to India along the trade routes across the Achaemenid Empire.


Early on, James Fergusson, in his " Illustrated Handbook of Architecture", while describing the very progressive evolution from wooden architecture to stone architecture in various ancient civilizations, has commented that "In India, the form and construction of the older Buddhist temples resemble so singularly these examples in Lycia". The structural similarities, down to many architectural details, with the Chaitya-type Indian Buddhist temple designs, such as the "same pointed form of roof, with a ridge", are further developed in The cave temples of India. The Lycian tombs, dated to the 4th century BCE, are either free-standing or rock-cut barrel-vaulted sarcophagi, placed on a high base, with architectural features carved in stone to imitate wooden structures. There are numerous rock-cut equivalents to the free-standing structures and decorated with reliefs. Fergusson went on to suggest an "Indian connection", and some form of cultural transfer across the Achaemenid Empire. The ancient transfer of Lycian designs for rock-cut monuments to India is considered as "quite probable".


Art historian David Napier has also proposed a reverse relationship, claiming that the Payava tomb was a descendant of an ancient South Asian style, and that Payava may actually have been a Graeco-Indian named "Pallav".


Monumental columns: the Pillars of Ashok :


Highly polished Achaemenid load-bearing column with lotus capital and animals, Persepolis, c. 5th-4th BCE


Lion Capital of Ashok from Sarnath

Regarding the Pillars of Ashok, there has been much discussion of the extent of influence from Achaemenid Persia, since the column capitals supporting the roofs at Persepolis have similarities, and the "rather cold, hieratic style" of the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashok especially shows "obvious Achaemenid and Sargonid influence".


Hellenistic influence has also been suggested. In particular the abaci of some of the pillars (especially the Rampurva bull, the Sankissa elephant and the Allahabad pillar capital) use bands of motifs, like the bead and reel pattern, the ovolo, the flame palmettes, lotuses, which likely originated from Greek and Near-Eastern arts. Such examples can also be seen in the remains of the Mauryan capital city of Pataliputra.

Frieze of Rampurva capitals, alternating palmettes and lotus

Frieze of Sankissa


Frieze of the diamond throne of Bodh Gaya

Aramaic language and script :


The Aramaic Inscription of Taxila

The Aramaic language, official language of the Achaemenid Empire, started to be used in the Indian territories. Some of the Edicts of Ashok in the north-western areas of Ashok's territory, in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, used Aramaic (the official language of the former Achaemenid Empire), together with Prakrit and Greek (the language of the neighbouring Greco-Bactrian kingdom and the Greek communities in Ashok's realm).


The Indian Kharosthi script shows a clear dependency on the Aramaic alphabet but with extensive modifications to support the sounds found in Indic languages. One model is that the Aramaic script arrived with the Achaemenid Empire's conquest of the Indus River (modern Pakistan) in 500 BCE and evolved over the next 200+ years, reaching its final form by the 3rd century BCE where it appears in some of the Edicts of Ashok.


Edicts of Ashok :

The Edicts of Ashok (circa 250 BCE) may show Achaemenid influences, including formulaic parallels with Achaemenid inscriptions, presence of Iranian loanwords (in Aramaic inscriptions), and the very act of engraving edicts on rocks and mountains (compare for example Behistun inscription). To describe his own edicts, Ashok used the word Lipi (now generally simply translated as "writing" or "inscription". It is thought the word "lipi", which is also orthographed "dipi" (in the two Kharosthi versions of the rock edicts,[b] comes from an Old Persian prototype dipî also meaning "inscription", which is used for example by Darius I in his Behistun inscription,[c] suggesting borrowing and diffusion. There are other borrowings of Old Persian terms for writing-related words in the Edicts of Ashok, such as nipista or nipesita ("written" and "made to be written") in the Kharoshthi version of Major Rock Edict No.4, which can be related to the word nipišta ("written") from the daiva inscription of Xerxes at Persepolis.


Several of the Edicts of Ashok, such as the Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription or the Taxila inscription were written in Aramaic, one of the official languages of the former Achaemenid Empire.


The word Dipi ("Edict") in the Edicts of Ashok, identical with the Achaemenid word for "writing"


The Kharoshthi script is generally considered as a development from Aramaic


The Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription of Ashok (circa 256 BCE) in Greek and Aramaic

Figurines of foreigners in Mathura :


"Ethnic head", Mathura, c. 2nd century BCE. Mathura Museum


"Persian Nobleman clad in coat dupatta trouser and turban", Mathura, c. 2nd Century BCE. Mathura Museum

Figurines of Persian foreigners in Mathura (4th-2nd century CE) :


Some relatively high quality terracotta statuettes have been recovered from the Mauryan Empire strata in the excavations of Mathura in northern India. Most of these terracottas show what appears to be female deities or mother goddesses. However, several figures of foreigners also appear in the terracottas from the 4th to the 2nd century BCE, which are either described simply as "foreigners" or Persian or Iranian because of their foreign features. These figurines might reflect the increased contacts of Indians with Iranian people during this period. Several of these seem to represent foreign soldiers who visited India during the Mauryan period and influenced modellers in Mathura with their peculiar ethnic features and uniforms. One of the terracotta statuettes, a man nicknamed the "Persian nobleman" and dated to the 2nd century BCE, can be seen wearing a coat, scarf, trousers and a turban.


Religion :

According to Ammianus Marcellinus, a 4th-century CE Roman author, Hystaspes, the father of Darius I, studied under the Brahmins in India, thus contributing to the development of the religion of the Magi (Zoroastrianism) :


"Hystaspes, a very wise monarch, the father of Darius. Who while boldly penetrating into the remoter districts of upper India, came to a certain woody retreat, of which with its tranquil silence the Brahmans, men of sublime genius, were the possessors. From their teaching he learnt the principles of the motion of the world and of the stars, and the pure rites of sacrifice, as far as he could; and of what he learnt he infused some portion into the minds of the Magi, which they have handed down by tradition to later ages, each instructing his own children, and adding to it their own system of divination".


— Ammianus Marcellinus, XXIII. 6.

In ancient sources, Hystapes is sometimes considered as identical with Vishtasp (the Avestan and Old Persian name for Hystapes), an early patron of Zoroaster.


Historically, the life of the Buddh also coincided with the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. The Achaemenid occupation of the areas of Gandara and Hinduš, which was to last for about two centuries, was accompanied by Achaemenid religions, reformed Mazdaism or early Zoroastrianism, to which Buddhism might also have in part reacted. In particular, the ideas of the Buddh may have partly consisted in a rejection of the "absolutist" or "perfectionist" ideas contained in these Achaemenid religions.


Still, according to Christopher I. Beckwith, commenting on the content of the Edicts of Ashok, the early Buddhist concepts of karma, rebirth, and affirming that good deeds with be rewarded in this life and the next, in Heaven, probably find their origin in Achaemenid Mazdaism, which had been introduced in India from the time of the Achaemenid conquest of Gandara.


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