Menander I

Coin of Menander. Greek legend, BASILEOS SOTHROS MENANDROY lit. "Saviour King Menander".

Obv: Diademed bust of king Polyxenios. Greek legend: BASILEOS EPIFANOIS SOTIROS POLYXENOY "Saviour King Polyxenios, Manifestation of God on Earth"
Rev: Athena with buckler and throwing a thunderbolt. Kharoshthi legend: MAHARAJASA PRACACHASA TRATARASA PALASINASA "Saviour King Polyxenios, Manifestation of God on Earth".

Menander I (known as Milinda in Sanskrit and Pali) was one of the rulers of the Indo-Greek Kingdom in northern India from 155 or 150 to 130 BC.

A renowned Indo-Greek king

Tetradrachm of Menander I in Greco-Bactrian style (Alexandria-Kapisa mint) []
Obv: Greek legend, BASILEOS SOTEROS MENANDROY lit. "Saviour King Menander" with eight-spoked wheel.
Rev: Kharosthi legend MAHARAJA TRATASA MENADRASA "Saviour King Menander", with palm of victory.

According to tradition, Menander embraced the Buddhist faith, as described in the Milinda Pañha, a classical Pali Buddhist text on the discussions between Milinda and the Buddhist sage Nāgasena. He is described as constantly accompanied by a guard of 500 Greek ("Yonaka") soldiers, and two of his counsellors are named Demetrius and Antiochus.

In the Milindanpanha, Menander is introduced as

"King of the city of Sâgala in India, Milinda by name, learned, eloquent, wise, and able; and a faithful observer, and that at the right time, of all the various acts of devotion and ceremony enjoined by his own sacred hymns concerning things past, present, and to come. Many were the arts and sciences he knew--holy tradition and secular law; the Sânkhya, Yoga, Nyâya, and Vaisheshika systems of philosophy; arithmetic; music; medicine; the four Vedas, the Purânas, and the Itihâsas; astronomy, magic, causation, and magic spells; the art of war; poetry; conveyancing in a word, the whole nineteen. As a disputant he was hard to equal, harder still to overcome; the acknowledged superior of all the founders of the various schools of thought. And as in wisdom so in strength of body, swiftness, and valour there was found none equal to Milinda in all India. He was rich too, mighty in wealth and prosperity, and the number of his armed hosts knew no end." (The Questions of King Milinda, Translation by T. W. Rhys Davids, 1890).

Buddhist tradition relates that, following his discussions with Nāgasena, Menander adopted the Buddhist faith:

"May the venerable Nâgasena accept me as a supporter of the faith, as a true convert from to-day onwards as long as life shall last!" (The Questions of King Milinda, Translation by T. W. Rhys Davids, 1890).

He then handed over his kingdom to his son and retired from the world:

"And afterwards, taking delight in the wisdom of the Elder, he handed over his kingdom to his son, and abandoning the household life for the houseless state, grew great in insight, and himself attained to Arahatship!" (The Questions of King Milinda, Translation by T. W. Rhys Davids, 1890)

There is however little besides this testament to indicate that Menander in fact abdicated his throne in favor of his son. Based on numismatic evidence, Sir Tarn believes that he in fact died, leaving his wife Agathocleia to rule as a regent, until his son Strato could rule properly in his stead. Despite the success of his reign, it is clear that after his death, his "loosely hung" empire splintered into a variety of Indo-Greek successor kingdoms, of various size and stability.

Other Indian accounts

  • A 2nd century BC relief from a Buddhist stupa in Bharhut, in eastern Madhya Pradesh (today at the Indian Museum in Calcutta), represents a foreign soldier with the curly hair of a Greek and the royal headband with flowing ends of a Greek king, and may be a depiction of Menander. In his left hand, he hold a branch of ivy, symbol of Dionysos. Also parts of his dress, with rows of geometrical folds, are characteristically Hellenistic in style. On his sword appears the Buddhist symbol of the three jewels, or Triratana.
  • A Buddhist reliquary found in Bajaur bears a dedicatory inscription referring to "the 14th day of the month of Kārttika" of a certain year in the reign of "Mahārāja Minadra" ("Great King Menander"):
    "Minadrasa maharajasa Katiassa divasa 4 4 4 11 pra[na]-[sa]me[da]... (prati)[thavi]ta pranasame[da]... Sakamunisa"
    "On the 14th day of Kārttika, in the reign of Mahārāja Minadra, (in the year ...), (the corporeal relic) of Sakyamuni, which is endowed with life... has been established" [2]
  • According to an ancient Indian source, the Mahavamsa, Greek monks seem to have been active proselytizers of Buddhism during the time of Menander: the Yona (Greek) Mahadhammarakkhita (Sanskrit: Mahadharmaraksita) is said to have come from “Alasandra” (thought to be
  • ^ "Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian coins in the Smithsonian institution", Smithsonian Institution, Bopearachchi, p19, quoting the analysis of N.G. Majumdar, D.C. Sicar, S.Konow
  • ^ Chapter XXIX of the Mahavamsa:
  • ^ Altogether ten coins types (Bopearachchi 22A/B 26A 28A 28B (for two mint marks -Bopearachchi mint marks 227 and 244-, the same as those shared by Agathokleia) are shared by Strato I with Menander II, especially two coin types in which Strato I is very young, almost adolescent, and still uses Athena peacefully holding Nike on her forward arm (22A/B).
  • ^ Bopearachchi mintmark 244, present on coins of Menander II, is considered by most numismats as characteristic of Taxila.
  • ^ A hoard of 96 coins of Strato I was found in Mathura, together with coins of Menander (S.P. Noe, A bibliography of Greek coin-hoards, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, 1925, p126., quoted by W.W. Tarn, p. 228)
  • ^ "Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian coins in the Smithsonian institution", Smithsonian Institution, Bopearachchi, p33
  • ^ A passage in the "Mahā-parinibbâna sutta" of the "Dighanikaya" relates the dispute of Indian kings over the ashes of the Buddha, which they finally shared between themselves and enshrined in a series of stupas.
  • ^ Plutarch "Political precepts", p147-148
  • The Debate of King Milinda (pdf)

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