BMCR 2014.02.46

Greek Gods in the East: Hellenistic Iconographic Schemes in the Central Asia

, Greek Gods in the East: Hellenistic Iconographic Schemes in the Central Asia. Prague: Karolinum Press, 2012. 261. ISBN 9788024620459 $35.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The work is comprised of four sections. The first is an introduction in which Stančo explains that the purpose is to present “a sort of catalogue of everything that was produced in the Gandharan school, as well as in the broader framework of the art of the Kushan empire, above all in Bactria and Paropamisade, and which at the same time has some allusion to the art of the ancient Mediterranean in the sense of the icon, the image itself, and of its intentionally-created symbolic components, the iconographic symbols” (p. 9). The catalogue consists of imports of an assumed Mediterranean origin along with items produced locally by Greek and indigenous artists. The chronological emphasis is on the first two centuries C.E., although he begins with the eastern campaigns of Alexander the Great and looks as far as the fifth century C.E. Surprisingly, this section ends with Stančo explaining why he has been unable to include all the material that falls within the categories that he has just described. The result is that the work is “more of a sample, a cross-section” of the material under examination (p. 10). His focus is on presenting those iconographic models that he has determined were “transferred” to the east without explaining from where the original was produced and how each was then “transformed” without explaining how this change differed from the original version. A brief historical survey of the Hellenistic period then follows (pp. 12-18) on which he disproportionately relies on Tarn and Narain whose works have largely been superseded by information that has come to light in the intervening five decades since their work was published.1 Likewise, the two paragraphs devoted to Kushan chronology do not refer to publications dated after 2001.

The second and largest portion of the book consists of four divisions in which he discusses what he terms over twenty “Greek mythological figures in the east.” Although his purpose is not to discuss style, he nevertheless includes a number of generalities. One example is in his discussion of the Winged Aphrodite from Tillya Tepe, grave 6 (fig. 3.5.5), wherein he claims that the “work is relatively close to Western tradition. It maintains a high standard of artistic execution, maintains the proportions and preserves a Hellenistic facies.” The implication is that had the statuette been created by a local non-Greek artist the piece would have been executed in a lower standard, it would not have retained the proper proportions, and it would not have preserved a Hellenistic facies. But he nowhere offers an explanation as to how he formulated this analysis, such as offering a definition of “a Hellenistic facies ” as he presupposes the reader will know what he means.

Some entries lack references to the figures represented, e.g., Adonis, while in other cases, such as in the discussion of Eros, not all the figures referenced are represented. Each entry is provided with a brief analysis, but quite often, as in the discussion of “Erotes-putti-garlandholders,” nineteen figures are listed, but only four are discussed. Each figure is accompanied by a bibliography, although the criteria used in creating the citations are far from clear. As a result, the bibliography for a number of objects is not as complete as one might otherwise anticipate. For example, in the case of the famous sandaled foot of Aï Khanoum, identified as that of an enthroned Zeus (fig. 25 [353], p. 211), there is no reference to its initial publication and hence identification by Bernard.2 In the section, “Greek deities identified with Iranian or Indian ones” (pp. 227-235), Stančo focuses his discussion on Tyche, Heracles, Hermes, but does not explain why he does not include others as part of the analysis.

The conclusion is marred by a series of general assertions that lack evidence. For example, we are told that the reason that Apollo is always depicted with his bow and arrow(s) and not “as a poet with a lyre” is due to the fact that in the Hellenistic Far East society, “in particular the narrow ruling class…was continuously subjected to heavy pressure…and forced to wage a permanent battle to maintain its internal power and external borders. Neither in Bactria nor in India did the Greeks and Macedonians enjoy much peace time” (p. 238). Evidently, he feels that the depictions of Apollo with his lyre created in the eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic epoch was a period marked by peace. In other words, according to Stančo the eastern brand of Apollo with bow and arrow(s) was a bellicose god. What he does not understand is that the depiction of a ruler in similar attitude formed part of a long iconographic tradition of representing divine kingship which dates back at least as far as Naram-Sîn. It was precisely this practice that Antiochos I embraced as the reverse type on his coins. In this regard, Apollo—along with Helios—was part of a larger synthesis of Graeco-Iranian syncretism in which both gods represented the Iranian sun god, Mithras.3

Although he frames the book around the catalogue, each representation designated by a number, he nowhere makes references to particular items, but speaks only in terms of objects classed by the name of a deity. Thus, Stančo emphasizes the distinction between objects imported from the west and those produced locally in the east, but without explaining how he has been able to discern the place of their creation. He assumes that the distinction is real without offering proof as to the validity of the assertion. As a result, the charts indicating the amount of local and imported objects based on the items presented in the catalogue (243 fig. 385, 247-248 figs. 388-390) are suspect. The fourth section of the book is the bibliography.

Early on, Stančo explains why he dismissed any need to include a separate index of illustrations (p. 21). Unfortunately, this omission detracts from the work, since as a reference work one expects to find items and topics discussed in the text. Moreover, the illustrations in the text consist of simple line drawings by Polina Kazakova who was responsible for some 200 items. For the reader already familiar with the objects rendered their identifications pose no problem, but for those unfamiliar with their depictions they can be somewhat misleading, as they tend to lack many details.

The book would have benefited mightily from more stringent editing and proofreading. One looks forward to the second revised edition.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Definition of the subject
1.2 Political continuity
1.3 A note on Kushan chronology

2 An iconographic analysis of the art of Gandhara, Bactria and the adjoining areas of the Kushan Empire
2.1 General remarks
2.2 Greek mythological figures in the east
2.2.1 Adonis
2.2.2 Aphrodite
2.2.3 Apollo
2.2.4 Ares
2.2.5 Artemis
2.2.6 Athena
2.2.7 Atlantes
2.2.8 Centaur
2.2.9 Cybele
2.2.10 Demeter

2.2.11 Dionysus
2.2.12 Dioscuri
2.2.13 Eros/Cupids
2.2.14 Harpocrates
2.2.15 Helios
2.2.16 Heracles
2.2.17 Hermes
2.2.18 Nereids
2.2.19 Nike
2.2.20 Poseidon
2.2.21 River gods
2.2.22 Sarapis
2.2.23 Tyche / City goddess
2.2.24 Zeus

2.3 Other schemes of Greek origin
2.3.1 Various themes
2.3.2 Drinking, dancing and erotic scenes
2.4 Greek deities identified with Iranian or Indian ones
2.4.1 Tyche-Hariti-Ardokhsho-Lakshmi
2.4.2 Heracles-Vajrapani
2.4.3 Pharro / Panchika / Hermes
2.4.4 Shiva – Vesho – Veshparkar with attributes of Poseidon, Zeus and Heracles
4 Conclusions
5 Bibliography


1. Tarn, W.W. 1966. The Greeks in Bactria and India (2nd ed. Cambridge); Narain, A.K. 1957. The Indo-Greeks (Oxford).

2. Bernard, P. 1969. Quatrième campagne de fouilles à Aï Khanoum (Bactriene), Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 113/3, 329-340, figs. 15-16; Bernard, P. 1970. Communication. Campagne de fouilles 1969 à Aï Khanoum en Afghanistan, Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 114/2, 319.

3. E.g., Iossif, P.P. and Lober, C.C. 2009. The cult of Helios in the Seleucid East, Topoi 16, 19-25; Erickson, K. and Wright, N.L. 2011. The ‘royal archer’ and Apollo in the East: Graeco-Persian iconography in the Seleukid empire, Proceedings of the XIVth International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009, 163-167. Most recently, Iossif, P.P. and Lober, C.C. 2011. Apollo Toxotes and the Seleukids: comme un air de famille, More than men, less than gods. Studies on royal cult and imperial worship. Proceedings of the International Colloquium organized by the Belgian School at Athens (November 1-2, 2007), P.P. Iossif, A.S. Chankowskii, and C.C. Lorber eds. Studia Hellenistica 51, 251-252.