Menander I

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Tetradrachm of Menander I in Greco-Bactrian style (Alexandria-Kapisa mint).
Obv: King Menander throwing a spear.
Rev: Athena with thunderbolt. Greek legend: BASILEOS SOTIROS MENANDROY "King Menander, the Saviour".

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


A renowned Indo-Greek king

His territories covered the eastern dominions of the divided Greek empire of Bactria(from the areas of the Panjshir and Kapisa) and extended to the modern Pakistani province of Punjab with diffuse tributaries to the south and east, probably as far as Mathura.

Silver  of Menander I (155-130 BC).Obv:  legend, BASILEOS SOTHROS MENANDROY lit. "Saviour King Menander". Rev:  legend: MAHARAJA TRATASA MENADRASA "Saviour King Menander".  advancing right, with thunderbolt and shield.  mint mark.
Silver drachm of Menander I (155-130 BC).
Obv: Greek legend, BASILEOS SOTHROS MENANDROY lit. "Saviour King Menander".
Rev: Kharosthi legend: MAHARAJA TRATASA MENADRASA "Saviour King Menander". Athena advancing right, with thunderbolt and shield. Taxila mint mark.

His capital is supposed to have been Sagala, a very properous city in northern Punjab (modern Sialkot).

He is one of the few Bactrian kings mentioned by Greek authors, among them Apollodotus of Artemita, who claim that he was an even greater conqueror than Alexander the Great. Strabo (XI.II.I) says Menander was one of the two Bactrian kings who extended their power farthest into India, possibly as far as Pataliputra, which at least had been put under siege by the Indo-Greeks according to Indian sources.

In the West, Menander seems to have repelled the invasion of the Greco-Bactrian usurper Eucratides, and pushed him back as far as the Paropamisadae, thereby consilidating the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent.

His reign was long and successful. Generous findings of coins testify to the prosperity and extension of his empire, but the boundaries of his reign are vague; between 155 BC and 80 BC.

Guesses among historians are that he was either a nephew or a former general of the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius, but his predecessor in Bactria seems to have been the king Apollodotus.

Menander and Buddhism

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Dharma wheel

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The Milinda Pańha

Menander was the first Bactrian king to strike coins with legends in both Greek and Sanskrit; according to tradition he also embraced the Buddhist faith, as described in the Milinda Pańha, a classical Pali Buddhist text on the discussions between Milinda and the Buddhist sage Nāgasena.

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 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).
Missing image
A coin of Menander with an eight-spoked wheel.
Obv: Greek legend, BASILEOS SOTHROS MENANDROY lit. "Saviour King Menander" with eight-spoked wheel.
Rev: Kharosthi legend MAHARAJA TRATASA MENADRASA "Saviour King Menander", with palm of victory.

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)

Greco-Buddhist proselytism

According to an ancient Indian source, the Mahavamsa, Greek monks seem to have been active prozelitisers of Buddhism during the time of Menander: the Yona (Greek) Mahadhammarakkhita (Sanskrit: Mahadharmaraksita) is said to have come from “Alasandra” (thought to be Alexandria-of-the-Caucasus, the city founded by Alexander the Great, near today’s Kabul) with 30,000 monks for the foundation ceremony of the Maha Thupa ("Great stupa") at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, during the 2nd century BCE:

"From Alasanda the city of the Yonas came the thera Yona Mahadhammarakkhita with thirty thousand bhikkhus." (Mahavamsa, XXIX)

These elements tend to indicate the importance of Buddhism within Greek communities in northwestern India, and the prominent role Greek Buddhist monks played in them, probably under the sponsorship of Menander.

Menander's death

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Detail of Asia in the Ptolemy world map. The "Menander Mons" are in the center of the map, at the east of the Indian subcontinent, right above the Malaysian Peninsula.

Plutarch (Praec. reip. ger. 28, 6) reports that Menander died in camp while on campaign, thereby differing with the version of the Milindapanha. He describes however that all his subject towns disputed about the honour of his burial, ultimately sharing his ashes among them and placing them in stuppas, in a manner reminescent of the funerals of the Buddha.

Menander's empire survived him in a fragmented manner until the last Greek king Hermaeus disappeared around 10 AD.

In Antiquity, from at least the 1st century CE, the "Menander Mons", or "Mountains of Menander", came to designate the mountain chain at the extreme east of the Indian subcontinent, today's Arakan, as indicated in the Ptolemy world map of the 1st century CE geographer Ptolemy.

Preceded by:
Demetrius II of India
Indo-Greek Ruler
(Paropamisadae, Arachosia, Gandhara, Punjab)
(155/150-130 BCE)
Succeeded by:
(In Paropamisadae, Arachosia)
Zoilos I

(In Gandhara, Punjab)

See also

Indo-Greek Kingdom

External links:


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