Entangled Histories between East and West: Sources and Interpretations for the Development of Buddhism in Hellenistic Central Asia

Principle investigator (PI): Dr. Georgios T. Halkias
End date: 2016 Jul
Fund source: UGC fund
Research Output:
“The Self-immolation of Kalanos and other Luminous Encounters among Greeks and Indian Buddhists in the Hellenistic world.” Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Vol. VIII, 163–186.
Link: https://www.academia.edu/12679460/The_Self_immolation_of_Kalanos_and_other_Luminous_Encounters_Among_Greeks_and_Indian_Buddhists_in_the_Hellenistic_World


There have been many cross-civilizational exchanges between East and West resulting in meaningful and innovative transfers of knowledge in the domains of science, medicine, religion, and culture. The research project will focus on unraveling an intricate and unprecedented series of historical cross-cultural encounters and fusions that took place in Hellenistic Central Asia from the 4th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. It concerns the meeting between agents and missionaries of Buddhist traditions and the peoples of Central Asian, Greek, Persian, and Indian stock. International trading centres and routes substantially enhanced the frequency and intensity of cultural exchanges between settlers and Buddhist travellers in the Hellenistic Far East creating a cosmopolitan climate that gave birth to the Greco-Buddhist tradition of art in Gandhara (Halkias 2014). The influence of such encounters can be discerned today in representations of the Buddha figure across the Silk Routes in Indian, Chinese and Japanese Buddhism.

In order to understand and interpret the intellectual and material exchanges that transpired during the formation and spread of Buddhism in Hellenistic Central Asia, the aim of this project is to sort through and assess a large body of available and disparate data. These data will be collected from distinct disciplines that take into account geography, trade, cultural compatibilities, and wider political developments in the region. The objectives of this project are both a) exploratory and b) interpretive and will focus on identifying, cataloguing and collating historical, philological and artistic data from across disciplines and languages (see Section VII). Material and textual sources will be examined during three historical periods: 1. The Alexandrian conquests; during and after the arrival of Alexander the III (356-323 B.C.E.) in Bactria in 330 BCE. 2. The Greco-Bactrian (250 B.C.E.-125 B.C.E.) and Indo-Greek (180 B.C.E.-10 C.E.) ruling phases; and 3. The Kuṣāṇa Empire (ca 30 C.E. – 230 C.E.). Although Hellenistic rule in western Central Asia is usually said to end with the last Indo-Greek King Strato II, the enduring prestige of Hellenistic culture is attested by the adoption of Greek currency, iconography and reproduction of elite symbols and structures by the Śakas, the Parthians and the Kuṣāṇas who succeeded as rulers of the Greeks in Central Asia and NW India.

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