Museum number: 1888,1208.265
Purchased from Alexander Cunningham
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Silver Indian Tetradrachm issued in the names of Agathocleia and Strato
Gandhara (modern Pakistan), 130 BC - AD 100
A silver coin of the Greek Queen Agathocleia, who ruled in Gandhara.
This small silver coin shows the head of a woman facing the right with her hair plaited. The Greek legend identifies her as ‘Agathocleia, the God-like Queen’. This coin was purchased from Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893) a pioneer in Indian archaeology and it was probably found somewhere in the borders of the modern state of Pakistan.
A Greek queen in ancient Pakistan was a surprise to early explorers, though the region was ruled for centuries by Greek speaking people – successors of Alexander the Great. Agathocleia does not appear in any ancient documents and historians have speculated who she might have been and why she was important enough to feature on this coin.
On the other side of the coin, the space usually reserved for a god, stands a figure in armour with shield and spear. Around the edge is a legend in Kharoshti, a local script, which reads ‘The Great King Strato, the Saviour, the Just’. Strato ruled in the last part of the second century BC. Whenever Agathocleia appears on coins she is linked to Strato.
Were they husband and wife? Was Strato celebrating his marriage or displaying his particularly able partner? The most popular theory, originally developed by E.J. Rapson while he was curator of Oriental Coins in the British Museum, was that Agathocleia was Strato’s mother. She may have acted as regent because he was too young to rule in his own right and steered the kingdom through dangerous times. He thought the coins depicted a gradual transition of power from Agathocleia to Strato.
Recent studies have undermined some elements of Rapson’s reconstruction and historians remain puzzled as to what she did that made her important enough to include on the coins. But though much remains unknown about the Greek rulers of Northern India nothing at all would be known if not for their coins.
E.J. Rapson, "The Græco-Indian Kings Strato I Soter and Strato II Philopator" in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol. 37, 1905, No.1: 164-7
E.J. Rapson, "Coins of the Graeco-India Sovereigns. Agathocleia, Strato I Soter, and Strato II Philopater" Corolla Numismatica, Oxford, 1906: 254-255