Greco-Buddhism, sometimes spelled Graeco-Buddhism, refers to the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE in the Indian sub-continent, especially in modern AfghanistanPakistan and north-western border regions of modern India. It was a cultural consequence of a long chain of interactions begun by Greek forays into India from the time of Alexander the Great, carried further by the establishment of Indo-Greek rule in the area for some centuries, and extended during flourishing of the Hellenized empire of theKushans.  Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic, and perhaps the spiritual development of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, which represents one of the two main branches of Buddhism. The Buddhist religious system was then adopted in Central and Northeastern Asia, from the 1st century CE, ultimately spreading to ChinaKoreaJapan and Vietnam.

Historical outline

The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started when Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Empire and further regions of Central Asia in 334 BCE, crossing the Indus and Jhelum rivers, and going as far as the Beas, thus establishing direct contact with India.
Alexander founded several cities in his new territories in the areas of the Oxus and Bactria, and Greek settlements further extended to the Khyber PassGandhara (see Taxila), and the Punjab. These regions correspond to a unique geographical passageway between the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountains through which most of the interaction between India and Central Asia took place, generating intense cultural exchange and trade.
Following Alexander's death on June 10, 323 BCE, the Diadochoi (successors) founded their own kingdoms in Asia Minor and Central Asia. GeneralSeleucus set up the Seleucid Kingdom, which extended as far as India. Later, the Eastern part of the Seleucid Kingdom broke away to form theGreco-Bactrian Kingdom (3rd–2nd century BCE), followed by the Indo-Greek Kingdom (2nd–1st century BCE), and later the Kushan Empire (1st–3rd century CE).
The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century CE with the invasions of the White Huns, and later the expansion of Islam.
Religious interactions
The length of the Greek presence in Central Asia and northern India provided opportunities for interaction, not only on the artistic, but also on the religious plane.
Alexander the Great in Bactria and India (331–325 BCE)In 326 BCE, Alexander conquered Northern region of India. King Ambhi, ruler of Taxila, surrendered his city, a notable center of Buddhist faith, to Alexander. Alexander fought an epic battle against Porus, a ruler of a region in the Punjab in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BCE.
When Alexander invaded the Bactrian and Gandharan regions, these areas may already have been under Buddhist or Jain influence. According to a legend preserved in Pali, the language of the Theravada canon, two merchant brothers from Bactria, named Tapassu and Bhallika, visited the Buddha and became his disciples. The legend states that they then returned to Bactria and spread the Buddha's teaching. 
Several philosophers, such as PyrrhoAnaxarchus and Onesicritus, are said to have been selected by Alexander to accompany him in his eastern campaigns. During the 18 months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics, generally described as Gymnosophists ("naked philosophers"). Pyrrho (360-270 BCE) returned to Greece and became the first Skeptic and the founder of the school named Pyrrhonism. The Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius explained that Pyrrho's equanimity and detachment from the world were acquired in India.  Few of his sayings are directly known, but they are clearly reminiscent of eastern, possibly Buddhist, thought:
"Nothing really exists, but human life is governed by convention"
"Nothing is in itself more this than that" (Diogenes Laertius IX.61)
Another of these philosophers, Onesicritus, a Cynic, is said by Strabo to have learnt in India the following precepts:
"That nothing that happens to a man is bad or good, opinions being merely dreams"
"That the best philosophy [is] that which liberates the mind from [both] pleasure and grief" (Strabo, XV.I.65 )
Sir William Tarn wrote that the Brahmans who were the party opposed to the Buddhists always fought with Alexander.
These contacts were the first clearly established interactions between Greek and Indian philosophy, and would continue and expand for several more centuries.

The Mauryan empire (322–183 BCE)

The Indian emperor Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty, re-conquered around 322 BCE the northwest Indian territory that had been lost toAlexander the Great. However, contacts were kept with his Greco-Iranian neighbours in the Seleucid EmpireSeleucid king Seleucus I came to a marital agreement as part of a peace treaty, and several Greeks, such as the historian Megasthenes, resided at the Mauryan court.
"Chandragupta marched on Magadha with a largely Persian army to win the throne and having overthrown his kinsmen, the last Nanda, with this Persian host of his, he then proceeds to build himself palaces directly modelled on Persepolis. He fills these palaces with images of foreign types and decorates them with Persian fashion. He organizes the court along purely Persian lines, and pays regard to Persian ceremonial down to the washing of his royal hair. the script he introduces is of Achemenid origin; the inscriptions of his grandson still imitate Darius's. His very masons are imported Persians for whom the monarch has such marked regard that he ordains a special set of penalties for all who injure them, while they link the name of Ahura Mazda with the Mauryan palaces that it still echoes down the ages to our day as the Asura Maya." from D.B. Spooner (Director-General of Archeology in India), p. 417. The Zoroasterian Period of Indian History.

According to the Edicts of Ashoka, set in stone, some of them written in Greek and some in Achemenid script, he sent Buddhist emissaries to the Greek lands in Asia and as far as the Mediterranean. The edicts name each of the rulers of the Hellenic world at the time:
Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka embraced the Buddhist faith and became a great proselytizer in the line of the traditional Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, insisting on non-violence to humans and animals (ahimsa), and general precepts regulating the life of lay people.
"The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (4,000 miles) away, where the Greek kingAntiochos (Antiyoga) rules, and beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy (Turamaya), Antigonos (Antikini), Magas (Maka) andAlexander (Alikasu[n]dara) rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni." (Rock Edict Nb.13 ).
Ashoka also claims he converted to Buddhism Greek populations within his realm:
"Here in the king's domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods' instructions in Dharma." Rock Edict Nb13 (S. Dhammika).
Finally, some of the emissaries of Ashoka, such as the famous Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek ("Yona") Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (the Mahavamsa, XII ).
The Greek presence in Bactria (325 to 125 BCE) "Megasthenes makes a different division of the philosophers, saying that they are of two kinds, one of which he calls the Brachmanes, and the other the Sarmanes..." Strabo XV. 1. 58-60 
Alexander had established in Bactria several cities (Ai-KhanoumBegram) and an administration that were to last more than two centuries under theSeleucids and the Greco-Bactrians, all the time in direct contact with Indian territory. The Greeks sent ambassadors to the court of the Mauryan empire, such as the historian Megasthenes under Chandragupta Maurya, and later Deimakos under his son Bindusara, who reported extensively on the civilization of the Indians. Megasthenes sent detailed reports on Indian religions, which were circulated and quoted throughout the Classical world for centuries: 
The Greco-Bactrians maintained a strong Hellenistic culture at the door of India during the rule of the Mauryan empire in India, as exemplified by the archaeological site of Ai-Khanoum. When the Mauryan empire was toppled by the Sungas around 180 BCE, the Greco-Bactrians expanded into India, where they established the Indo-Greek kingdom, under which Buddhism was able to flourish.
The Indo-Greek kingdom and Buddhism (180 BCE –10 CE)
The Greco-Bactrians conquered parts of northern India from 180 BCE, whence they are known as the Indo-Greeks. They controlled various areas of the northern Indian territory until 10 CE.
Buddhism prospered under the Indo-Greek kings, and it has been suggested that their invasion of India was intended to protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the new Indian dynasty of the Sungas (185–73 BCE) which had overthrown the Mauryans.

The coins of the Indo-Greek king Menander (reigned 160 to 135 BCE), found from Afghanistan to central India, bear the inscription "Saviour King Menander" in Greek on the front. Several Indo-Greek kings after Menander, such as Zoilos IStrato I,Heliokles IITheophilosPeukolaosMenander II and Archebios display on their coins the title of "Maharajasa Dharmika" (lit. "King of the Dharma") in the Prakrit language and in the Kharoshthi script.
Some of the coins of Menander I and Menander II incorporate the Buddhist symbol of the eight-spoked wheel, associated with the Greek symbols of victory, either the palm of victory, or the victory wreath handed over by the goddess Nike. According to the Milinda Pañha, at the end of his reign Menander I became a Buddhist arhat,[8] a fact also echoed by Plutarch, who explains that his relics were shared and enshrined. 

The ubiquitous symbol of the elephant in Indo-Greek coinage may also have been associated with Buddhism, as suggested by the parallel between coins of Antialcidas and Menander II, where the elephant in the coins of Antialcidas holds the same relationship to Zeus and Nike as the Buddhist wheel on the coins of Menander II. When the zoroastrian Indo-Parthiansinvaded northern India in the 1st century CE, they adopted a large part of the symbolism of Indo-Greek coinage, but refrained from ever using the elephant, suggesting that its meaning was not merely geographical.
Finally, after the reign of Menander I, several Indo-Greek rulers, such as AmyntasKing NiciasPeukolaosHermaeusHippostratos and Menander II, depicted themselves or their Greek deities forming with the right hand a benediction gesture identical to the Buddhist vitarkamudra (thumb and index joined together, with other fingers extended), which in Buddhism signifies the transmission of Buddha's teaching.


According to Ptolemy, Greek cities were founded by the Greco-Bactrians in northern India. Menander established his capital in Sagala, today's Sialkot in Punjab, one of the centers of the blossoming Buddhist culture (Milinda Panha, Chap. I). A large Greek city built by Demetrius and rebuilt by Menander has been excavated at thearchaeological site of Sirkap near Taxila, where Buddhist stupas were standing side-by-side with Hindu and Greek temples, indicating religious tolerance and syncretism.


Evidence of direct religious interaction between Greek and Buddhist thought during the period include the Milinda Panha, a Buddhist discourse in the platonic style, held between king Menander and the Buddhist monk Nagasena.

Several Buddhist dedications by Greeks in India are recorded, such as that of the Greek meridarch (civil governor of a province) named Theodorus, describing in Kharoshthi how he enshrined relics of the Buddha. The inscriptions were found on a vase inside a stupa, dated to the reign of Menander or one his successors in the 1st century BCE (Tarn, p391):
Also the Mahavamsa (Chap. XXIX ) records that during Menander's reign, "a Greek ("Yona") Buddhist head monk" named Mahadharmaraksita (literally translated as 'Great Teacher/Preserver of the Dharma') led 30,000 Buddhist monks from "the Greek city of Alexandria" (possibly Alexandria-of-the-Caucasus, around 150 km north of today's Kabul in Afghanistan), to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa, indicating that Buddhism flourished in Menander's territory and that Greeks took a very active part in it.
"Theudorena meridarkhena pratithavida ime sarira sakamunisa bhagavato bahu-jana-stitiye":
"The meridarch Theodorus has enshrined relics of Lord Shakyamuni, for the welfare of the mass of the people"
(Swāt relic vase inscription of the Meridarkh Theodoros )
Finally, Buddhist tradition recognizes Menander as one of the great benefactors of the faith, together with Asoka and Kanishka.
Buddhist manuscripts in cursive Greek have been found in Afghanistan, praising various Buddhas and including mentions of the MahayanaLokesvara-raja Buddha (λωγοασφαροραζοβοδδο). These manuscripts have been dated later than the 2nd century CE. (Nicholas Sims-Williams, "A Bactrian Buddhist Manuscript").
Some elements of the Mahayana movement may have begun around the 1st century BCE in northwestern India, at the time and place of these interactions. According to most scholars, the main sutras of Mahayana were written after 100 BCE, when sectarian conflicts arose among Nikaya Buddhist sects regarding the humanity or super-humanity of the Buddha and questions of metaphysical essentialism, on which Greek thought may have had some influence: "It may have been a Greek-influenced and Greek-carried form of Buddhism that passed north and east along the Silk Road". 

Sirsukh &Mohra Muradu

Sirsukh   is the name of an archaeological site near the city of TaxilaPunjabPakistan.


The city of Sirsukh was founded by the Kushan king Kanishka after 80 CE, and is the last of the great ancient cities of Taxila. The invaders decided to abandon the older city of Sirkap and build a newer city on the other side of the Lundi-nala. The wall of the city is about 5 kilometers long and about 5.4 meters thick. The city wall covers an area of around 2300 x 1000 meters seen along the east-west direction, and is laid out in a typical Central Asian style, complete with suburbs. Sirsukh was left uninhabited when the White Huns invaded the Punjab at the end of the fifth century CE. To the north-east of the city flows the Harro river whereas to the south the Lundi-ravine is present.
The ancient city was excavated only on a very small scale in 1915-16 CE, and further excavation work has been impeded by a high water table which threatens the integrity of ancient structures. It was included in the World Heritage List of the UNO in 1980 as part of Taxila. 

The wall of the city is made of large stone bricks with smaller stone bricks in-between the larger ones. It is remarkably smooth on the outer side. Circular bastions are present in the wall at small distances for defence. These bastions contain holes for archers who could shoot arrows at the enemy outside.

Mohra Muradu   is the place of an ancient Buddhist stupa and monastery near the ruins of Taxila, in the Punjab province ofPakistan. The ancient monastery is located in a valley and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The monks could meditate in all stillness at this place but were near enough to the city of Sirsukh to go for begging as it is only around 1.5 km away.
The city was built in the 2nd century CE and renovated in the 5th century. Thus it belongs to the Kushan age.
The ruins consist of three distinct parts, which include the main stupa, a votive stupa and the monastery and have been included in the world heritage list of the UNESCO since 1980 under Taxila.


The ruins of Mohra Muradu were excavated under the supervision of Sir John Marshall by Abdul Qadir in 1914-1915. They consist of a buddhistic monastery and two stupas. The main stupa is built on a foundation more than 4.75 meters high. The smaller, votive, stupa lies behind the bigger one.

The monastery

The monastery consists of 27 rooms for the students and the teachers built around a courtyard with a pool. The large, square shaped pool contained water for ritual washings and was about half a metre deep. Stairs to the pool were present on all sides. The monastery also contained a kitchen and a well for water that still functions today. The rain water was collected into the pool from the roof of the monastery over wooden extensions. Statues of Buddha are found abundantly in the courtyard and the rooms for the students. An assembly hall is also present in one corner of the monastery.
The monastery was a double story building. Stairs to the upper story went through one of the rooms. There was additional connection through wooden constructions from the courtyard. The strength of the walls has, however, led to the idea that there might have existed even a third story.

The monument

The monument is found in one of the rooms of the monastery. It was probably dedicated to the memory of one of the teachers who used to live in the room where it is located. The umbrellas were once colored. The monument is about 4 meters high.


Sirkap   is the name of an archaeological site on the bank opposite to the city of TaxilaPunjabPakistan.
The city of Sirkap was built by the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius after he invaded ancient India around 180 BC. Demetrius founded in the northern and northwestern Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan) an Indo-Greek kingdom that was to last until around 10 BC. Sirkap is also said to have been rebuilt by king Menander I.
The excavation of the old city was carried out under the supervision of Sir John Marshall by Hergrew from 1912-1930. In 1944 and 1945 further parts were excavated by Mortimer Wheeler and his colleagues.

The site of Sirkap was built according to the "Hippodamian" grid-plan characteristic of Greek cities. It is organized around one main avenue and fifteen perpendicular streets, covering a surface of around 1200x400 meters, with a surrounding wall 5–7 meters wide and 4.8 kilometers long. The ruins are Greek in character, similar to those of Olynthus in Macedonia.

Following its construction by the Greeks, the city was further rebuilt during the incursions of theIndo-Scythians, and later by the Indo-Parthians after an earthquake in 30 AD. Gondophares, the first king of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom, built parts of the city including the double headed eagle stupa and the temple of the sun god. The city was overtaken by the Kushan kings who abandoned it and built a new city at Sirsukh, about 1.5 km to the north-east.
Numerous Hellenistic artifacts have been found, in particular coins of Greco-Bactrian kings and stone palettes representing Greek mythological scenes. Some of them are purely Hellenistic, others indicate an evolution of the Greco-Bactrian styles found at Ai-Khanoum towards more indianized styles. For example, accessories such as Indian ankle bracelets can be found on some representations of Greek mythological figures such as Artemis.

Religious buildings

Buddhist stupas with strong Hellenistic decorative elements can be found throughout the Sirkap site (Stupa of the two eagles  , a Jain temple, as well as a Hindu temple, indicating a close interaction of religious cultures. A Greek religious temple of the Ionic order is also visible at the nearby site of Jandial (650 meters from Sirkap), but there is a possibility that it may have been dedicated to a Zoroastrian cult.
The site of Sirkap bears witness to the city-building activity of the Indo-Greeks during their occupation of the Indian territory for close to two centuries, as well as their integration of other faiths, especially Buddhism.
Round stupa
One round Stupa is present at Sirkap. It is one of the oldest Stupas in the Indian-Subcontinent. It is assumed that this Stupa was uprooted and thrown to its present location by a strong earthquake in the 1st century AD. When the new city was built later, the Stupa was kept by building a protecting wall around it.

The building that is known as the Apsidal Temple is the largest sanctuary of Sirkap, measuring about 70 by 40 meters (by contrast: the Parthenon in Athens is 70 by 31 meters). The Apsidal Temple consists of a square nave with several rooms, used by the Buddhist monks, and a circular room, which gives the building its apsidal shape. After the earthquake that destroyed the city in c. 30 AD, the Buddhist shrine was built in a spacious courtyard. The round part was probably in use for a small stupa, but no traces of it remain. Some carvings were probably done by an artist from Greece.
Apsidal Temple
A special Stupa at Sirkap is the so-called 'Double-Headed Eagle Stupa'. The pilasters here are of a Greek design, "Corinthian columns". In the middle arch, a Greek temple is shown; in the outer, a shrine of a Hindu design can be seen. On top of these sanctuaries, a double-headed eagle is seated from which the name of the Stupa has been derived. This motive is rather odd, to say the least, as it is originally Babylonian. It seems to have spread to Scythia, and introduced in the Punjab by the Saca rulers.
Double-Headed Eagle Stupa.

Visit by Apollonius of Tyana
The Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana is related to have visited ancient Pakistan, and specifically the city of Taxila in the 1st century AD. He describes constructions of the Greek type, probably referring to Sirkap:
"Taxila, they tell us, is about as big as Nineveh, and was fortified fairly well after the manner of Greek cities". 
"I have already described the way in which the city is walled, but they say that it was divided up into narrow streets in the same irregular manner as in Athens, and that the houses were built in such a way that if you look at them from outside they had only one story, while if you went into one of them, you at once found subterranean chambers extending as far below the level of the earth as did the chambers above." 

Dharmarajika &Jaulian

The Dharmarajika is a large Buddhist stupa in the area of TaxilaPakistan. It is thought that it was established by the Maurya emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE around relics of the Buddha.The stupa is also popularly called as 'Chir Tope.'The site of divided into two parts: the stupa area in the south and his monastic area in the north.
The stupa of Dharmarajika is about 3 kilometers from the Taxila museum on a metalled road .Its importance lies in the fact that one of Buddha’s body-relics was buried there . The name Dharmarajika comes from Dharmaraja, a name given to Buddha who was the true Dharma Raja [Lord of Law ], according to Marshall. It is also believed that ‘Dharmarajika’ is derieved from the word ‘Dhararaja’, a title used by Maurya emperor Ashoka. The stupa (15 meters high and 50 meters in diameter) is a circular structure with a raised terrace around its base. Around it is a passage for pradakshina and a circle of small chapels surround the great stupa. Three distinctive types of masonry in the buildings around the main stupa suggest the contributions of different periods to the building activity. A silver scroll inscription in Kharoshti and a small gold casket containing some minute bone relics, probably of Buddha were found here during excavation during British rule.
These structures were reinforced in the following centuries, by building rings of smaller stupas and constructions around the original ones. Several coins of the Indo-Greek king Zoilos II were found under the foundation of such a 1st century BCE stupa. 

Jaulian  are the ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery near TaxilaPunjab (Pakistan)Pakistan.


The ruins at Jaulian date from the fifth century CE and consist of two main parts. These are 1) the main stupa and 2) the monastery and university of Jaulian. The ruins are situated on a mountain top. The form and building of the university at Jaulian is similar to that of Mohra Muradu, about 1 kilometre away.
Main stupa
The main stupa at Jaulian is badly damaged. It is surrounded by 21 votive stupas. Some experts think that a few of the votive stupas are actually tombs of revered monks. The statues at the stupas are mostly preserved. A number of these have been removed for exhibitions at museums. The original structure of the building of the Stupa along with the plaster is preserved at some places.
A statue of buddha with a hole in the navel is an odd artifact. It is called the "healing buddha". Pilgrims would put their fings in the navel hole and pray for the ailment of the patients. The inscription preserved under the statue shows that it was gifted by a friar "Budhamitra Dharmanandin".  This inscription and a couple of others at this site show that the script was still used at Taxila in the fifth century CE.
The monastery contained a number of rooms for the students in addition to a large pool for washings. There are 28 such rooms. The monastery consisted of a second floor with another 28 rooms. Stairs of stone to the upper floor are still preserved. Statues of Buddha are present in front of some of the rooms.
Each room had a window for supply of fresh air and as a source of some light and a niche to hold the lamp of the student. The windows are small at the outer end of the wall and become enlarged at the inner end to keep wild animals out. The rooms were plastered and decorated with painting. The outer wall of the monastery is well preserved, which is very smooth and straight.
The monastery included a kitchen. A stone for grinding spices for the food is well preserved as well as two stone mills that were used to grind different types of grains. A hole in one of the brickstones of the kitchen wall was used for placing large spoons.
The monastery was burnt in 455 CE by the White Huns and thus destroyed.

Bhir Mound

The Bhir Mound   is the oldest of the ruins of Taxila in the Punjab province of Pakistan.


The ruins of Bhir Mound were excavated from 1913-1925 by Sir John Marshall. The work was continued by Sir Mortimer Wheelerin 1944-1945 and by Dr. Mohammad Sharif in 1966-1967. Further excavations were performed in 1998-2000 by Bahadur Khan and in 2002 by Dr. Ashraf and Mahmud-al-Hassan.
The ruins of the town form an irregular shape measuring around 1 km from north to south and about 600 meters from east to west. The oldest part or layer of these ruins is from the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The second layer is from the fourth century BC and existed at the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great. The third layer is from the time of the Maurya kings of India (third century BC). The fourth and topmost stratum contains the constructions from time after the Mauryan period.
The streets of the city show that they were narrow and the house plans were very irregular. There is little evidence of planning - most of the streets are very haphazard. The houses had no windows to the outside. They opened towards inner courtyards.  The courtyard was open and 15 to 20 rooms were arranged around it. 
Darius I conquered Bhir in 518 BCE. However, this assumption is based only upon textual evidence. In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great came and conquered the area. Raja Ambhi, it is recorded, entertained the Greek king here. He surrendered to Alexander and offered him a body of soldiers mounted on elephants. In 316 BCE, Chandragupta of Magadha, the founder of the Mauryandynasty, conquered Panjab. Taxila lost its independence and became a mere provincial capital. Still, the city remained extremely important as centre of administration, education and trade. During the reign of Chandragupta's grandson AshokaBuddhism became important and the first monks settled in Taxila. Ashoka is said to have resided here as the vice-king of his father. In 184 BCE, the Greeks, who had maintained a kingdom in Bactria, invaded Gandhara and Panjab again. From now on, a Greek king resided in Taxila, Demetrius.