Eucratides I was a monarch of the Hellenistic period who ruled the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, located in present-day Afghanistan, between 172 and 145 B.C. Coming from the Diodotid dynasty, which had been overthrown by Euthydemus I, he managed to regain the throne from Demetrius I while the latter was attempting to conquer the northwest of India. Demetrius achieved his goal and founded the Indo-Greek kingdom, the easternmost of all Hellenistic kingdoms, which lasted until 10 A.D.

The Greco-Bactrian kingdom had been founded in 250 B.C. when it gained independence from the Seleucid Empire of Antiochus II. Eucratides significantly expanded his territory through successful military campaigns against other Hellenistic and Hindu kingdoms, extending his borders to the Indus River. His reign marked the peak of cultural and economic splendor in Bactria.

According to the Roman historian Justin, who wrote in the 2nd century A.D., Eucratides, born in the city of Ai-Khanoum, ascended to the throne around the same time as Mithridates I of Parthia, around 171 B.C.

During his reign, Eucratides minted an impressive quantity of coins, mostly in silver, copper, and bronze, featuring his portrait and those of his parents Heliocles and Laodice. His advancements in India are evidenced by numerous findings of bilingual coins minted by Eucratides throughout northern India and Pakistan.

The most notable of these was discovered in the region of Bukhara, in Uzbekistan, in the early 19th century. It is a pure gold coin of 20 staters (equivalent to about 400 drachmas) and is today the largest known gold coin of Antiquity.

The monumental coin weighs 169.2 grams and has a diameter of 58 millimeters. The obverse depicts Eucratides wearing a helmet, while the reverse portrays the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, on horseback with spears and palms. The inscription reads “ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ” (of the great king Eucratides).

Weighing as much as a hockey puck and with a diameter ten times larger than regular gold coins, this piece was entirely impractical for everyday transactions.

Its enormous size and value made it unmanageable and excessive even for the elite, suggesting that its purpose wasn’t to serve as legal tender but to represent the immeasurable purchasing power and luxury of its issuer, the all-powerful King Eucratides I.

To grasp the exceptional nature of this coin, consider that an average citizen of the time could live modestly on a daily wage equivalent to half a drachma. With just one of these coins, one could comfortably survive for 80 to 160 days.

Napoleon III acquired the coin shortly after its discovery, and it became part of the collection at the Museum of Medals in Paris, now housed in the National Library.

As for Eucratides, during his reign, he faced attacks and invasions from Mithridates I of Parthia and even from Demetrius I from the new Indo-Greek kingdom, as recounted by Justin:

Eucratides led many wars with great valor, and although weakened by them, he was besieged by Demetrius, the king of the Indians. He made numerous sorties, managed to defeat 60,000 enemies with 300 soldiers, and, after being liberated four months later, brought India under his dominion.

Justin XLI, 612

Upon his return from India, he was assassinated, according to Justin, by his own son, although it is unlikely. This son, Heliocles I, was the last Greek king to reign in Bactria, between 145 and 130 B.C., before the Yuezhi tribes took control and power, eventually being conquered by the Parthians.

The Bactrians, entangled in various wars, lost not only their dominion but also their freedom. Exhausted by their wars against the Sogdians, Arachotians, Drangians, Arii, and Indians, they were finally crushed, as if all their blood had been drained, by an enemy weaker than them, the Parthians.

Justin, XLI, 6

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on January 17, 2024. Puedes leer la versión en español en Eucrátides I, el rey greco-bactriano que acuñó la mayor moneda de oro de la Antigüedad


Justino, Epítome de las Historias Filípicas de Pompeyo Trogo | Jeff Starck, Rare gold stater of Eucratides I features powerful image of ruler | The Coin Galleries: Bactria (Coin India) | Wikipedia

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