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Lapis Lazuli, Homer and
the Buddha
Material and ideological exchange
in West Asia (c.250 bce 200 ce)

Rachel Mairs

Timanthes engraved this starry lapis lazuli, a gold-speckled Persian semi-precious stone, for
Demylus, as a gift for dark-haired Nikaia, from Kos, in return for a tender kiss.
(Poseidippos, Lithika, trans. R. Mairs)

Poseidippos of Pella was a Greek poet resident in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century bce.
In 2001, a papyrus containing 112 previously lost poems was recovered from the wrappings of
an Egyptian mummy in Milan (Gutzwiller 2005). Among these, we find an epigram about a
piece of lapis lazuli, worked and offered as a lovers gift to a dark-haired girl from Kos, in return
for a kiss. Whether Nikaia is a courtesan or the girl next door, lapis is a commodity, part of a
transaction involving two things from distant places, both of which are precious to the giver.
She has come to dwell in a world where royal women, non-royal women, and the beautiful
gems they own reflect one another as equivalent aesthetic objects (Kuttner 2005: 301).
To the poet, lapis lazuli was an exotic commodity, which he describes as Persian in origin.
As it happens, we are able to trace the path of this very piece of lapis back to its source in the
mountains of Badakshan, eastern Bactria, the only exploited source of the mineral in the ancient
world (Bernard and Francfort 1978: 4951). Bactrian lapis had been moved between Central
Asia and the Mediterranean as early as the Egyptian Predynastic period, in the midlate fourth
millennium bce (Bavay 1997). By the early Hellenistic period, the time of Poseidippos, migr
Greeks were involved in its large-scale extraction and transportation. At the Hellenistic city of
Ai Khanoum, in eastern Bactria, the citys treasury was, at the time of its abandonment in the
140s bce, the storage place of around 75 kg of unworked lapis from the mines in the mountains
upstream (Bernard and Francfort 1978: 9; Rapin 1992: 50, pl. 100.2).
In 2006, a collection of objects from the National Museum in Kabul, including pieces
from Ai Khanoum, began a lengthy journey through the museums of western Europe, North
America and Australia (Cambon and Jarrige 2006; Hiebert and Cambon 2008). Afghanistan
was marketed as the Crossroads of the Ancient World, and much was made of the central

Rachel Mairs

Figure 9.5.1Lapis lazuli intaglio depicting Harpocrates The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
accession number 10.130.1389

geopolitical position of the region in antiquity and the present day (Hiebert and Cambon 2011).
In gift-shops such as that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, visitors to the
exhibition could buy their own pieces of modern lapis reworked in the ancient forms of replica
jewelry. On their way to the gift-shop, they might examine other pieces of ancient Bactrian
lapis in the Metropolitans permanent collections, such as an intaglio of the second century ce,
from Roman Egypt, representing the syncretic GreekEgyptian god Harpocrates in a papyrus
boat (Bonner 1950: 286, no. 199, pl. 9; Figure 9.5.1).
The purchaser (or recipient) of a reproduction bracelet from the Afghanistan: Hidden
Treasures collection might, unknowingly, wear on her wrist lapis from the very same mines as
the original pieces in the museum display case. In 2007, the English service of the Qatar-based
international news network Al Jazeera produced an article on The lure of Lazuli (www.aljazeera.
com/news/asia/2007/10/, accessed 30 April 2014). An accompanying video on the Al Jazeera
YouTube channel revealed the perils faced by miners at Sar-i-Sang, site of the ancient lapis works
(www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwyc5uRxvYE, accessed 30 April 2014). The Al Jazeera report
uses lapis to tell a different story of global connectivity, that of war, economic problems and
terrorism in modern Afghanistan, and the repercussions for a wider, globalized world.
I offer this series of vignettes on the movement and commoditization of lapis lazuli in the
ancient and modern worlds to show not just that distant regions of the ancient world were inter-
connected, but that present-day interconnections may reproduce the same routes and objects
of transfer. Poseidippos knew lapis as an exotic Persian stone. Bactria had, indeed, not many
decades before, been a province of the Persian empire, the Greek worlds eastern, foreign
neighbour, its traditional antithesis and rival. Lapis is introduced (and exoticized) to the modern
museum visitor as part of a narrative about ancient connections between Afghanistan and the
Mediterranean. The finds at Ai Khanoum have illuminated the important role of lapis in the
economy of a colonial Greek city foundation. At the mines of Sar-i-Sang, workers in the infor-
mal sector risk their lives to extract lapis, which in the 1980s had been used to fund the war of
the mujahideen against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan. In Poseidippos epigrams on lapis,
and other stones, a Greek poet, in Greek, addresses fellow Greeks in Egypt. In the Al Jazeera

Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha

report, an English journalist addresses an international audience, in English, through a Qatari

broadcaster, uploaded onto perhaps the greatest facilitator of global connectivity, the World
Wide Web. In all of these cases, the global is bound up with the local. Long-distance connec-
tions and communication have local repercussions, and may drive and direct local economies
(Robertson this volume).

The local and the global

Lapis, a brightly-coloured material of no actual utilitarian value, with its glinting pyrite (fools
gold) inclusions, circulates as an object of and means of expressing human desire. This
chapter is not principally about lapis, but I have taken it as a rhetorical starting point because
its movement and commodification may be traced so clearly in the archaeological and liter-
ary records. It also shows how ideas and cultural associations can travel alongside objects. My
focus is on the circulation of less tangible things, whether ideas and ideologies, or commodities
which have not survived well in the archaeological record, and how these like lapis lazuli
indicate complex interactions between the global and the local. My geographical remit is
Hellenistic and Roman-period West Asia with its connections to the eastern Mediterranean,
north-east Africa, Arabia, Central Asia and India. Within this vast area I have had to be selec-
tive, and draw my case studies from a few important nodal points along the maritime and
overland routes that linked the whole of this region together. There are many others that I could
have chosen, but the ones I have selected are the Buddhist religion, Indian textiles and the story
of the Trojan War.
Some have claimed that globalization is an exclusively modern phenomenon. Tomlinson,
for example, argues that the capacity of ancient political structures to dominate large territories
was not matched by their ability to integrate populations, culturally or politically (Tomlinson
1999: 3637). Archaeologists and ancient historians have been inclined to disagree, and to argue
instead that human connectivity across broad spatial domains has a deep history (Feinman this
volume). The trope of globalization has also attracted the over-enthusiastic (for example Liebert
2011), and it is important, as Jennings reminds us in his chapter in this volume, not to assume
globalization as a universal phenomenon in past societies. The term globalization must be used
with care.
Much of the material I discuss here has already been viewed through several successive
theoretical prisms. So a case must be made for why globalization provides a more productive
framework within which to explore ancient interactions. A number of recent studies have seen
globalization as a potentially useful successor to problematic tropes such as Romanization (a
term which, despite its many deficiencies, refuses to die: see the discussion in Archaeological
Dialogues 21.1, 2014), in examining the movement of people, objects and commodities (Hodos
2010: Sicily; Sweetman 2007: Knossos; Panagopoulou 2007: 32729, on Objects in motion).
Other studies seek to demonstrate that the tension between global integration and regional
cultural diversity in the ancient world provides a meaningful comparison for modern global net-
works and the local reinventions of global products and traits that they produce (Hingley 2005:
2, 41, 111; Miller 1998). It is this feature of glocalization (Holton 1998: 16), in particular, that
I would like to pursue through my case studies. In these, I sketch the directions and mechanisms
of long-distance contact around the Mediterranean, north-east Africa, West Asia, Central Asia
and South Asia. These networks extended across seas, deserts and mountains, and had numer-
ous points of transshipment. An item and its original meaning even knowledge of its context
of production or extraction did not always travel together from one node of a network to
another (e.g. Gosden and Marshall 1999). Where goods from diverse points of origin are found

Rachel Mairs

in a single archaeological context, we also have the opportunity to consider the creation of what
we might call a global culture (Jennings 2011: 2833), one characterized by the receipt of
products and influences from across wide networks, and the reception and reinvention of these
in local cultural contexts.

Buddhism, silk and Trojan horses

The period contemporary with Hellenistic and Roman domination in the eastern Mediterranean
and West Asia was one of intensive and extensive cultural and economic exchange. The notions
of interconnectivity and innovation associated with globalization provide a more productive
angle of approach to this interaction than do, for example, models of centreperiphery rela-
tions. In the networks that I shall go on to explore, there is no centre, and no periphery. There
are also no transit points that are not themselves intimately involved as producers, consumers
and reinventors of things and ideas. In these, we may see the cultural entanglements created by
constant mobility and connectivity (Knappett this volume).
Long-distance connections in the ancient world are conceptualized in the popular imagina-
tion as routes, with a start and an end point. One might think, for example, of the Silk Road,
or the Indian Ocean maritime routes (reconceptualized as parts of global networks by Boivin
etal. 2012; Ball 2000: 13339). Indeed, our ancient sources often encourage us to think in terms
of people and goods undertaking a single, one-way journey along a fixed trajectory. We even
have the name of an ancient Marco Polo. A Macedonian named Maes Titianus was said to have
travelled as a merchant as far as the Lithinos Purgos Stone Tower (Tashkurgan, in the Pamir
mountains) at a period unknown (Claudius Ptolemy, Geography 1.11.7). He did not himself
travel to the land of the Seres (Chinese), but sent others. We do not know the story of Maes in
any greater detail than this Ptolemy is interested only in the distance to the Stone Tower, not
the person who measured it but this name among the many nameless travellers of the ancient
world has proven intriguing to commentators (Cary 1956; Bernard 2005a).
Another textual source offers a more appropriate context for the history (such as it is) of
the merchant Maes Titianus. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (first century ce) is a practical
manual to travel and trade in the north-western Indian Ocean, from the Red Sea and Persian
Gulf, to the coasts of Arabia, Africa and India (Casson 1989). The anonymous author, writing in
Greek, provides information about the types of goods exchanged at different entrepts along the
way, and the land connections that intersect with the network of maritime routes. The world
conceptualized by the author of the Periplus is close to what we might think of as a globalized
one. People, goods and ideas move along multiple, intersecting trajectories. A piece of metal
which began its life as ore in a Roman silver mine in Cyprus or Gaul, extracted by indigenous
miners under Roman management, might be struck as a coin depicting a Roman emperor, and
shipped to India, via Egypt, where its value was as bullion (Sidebotham 1986: 28). In the follow-
ing discussion, I shall explore three commodities (in the broadest possible sense) which moved
through networks such as these: the Buddhist religion, Indian textiles and the story of the
Trojan War. These examples show how historical, epigraphic and archaeological evidence can
come together to reveal more about long-distance connectivity than any one genre of evidence
could on its own. My discussions of these commodities are intended to give only a flavour of the
types of things which might move across long distances in the ancient world. The main course,
in the following section, is a more detailed analysis of one specific assemblage, from Begram in
Afghanistan, which contained goods from the Roman Empire, India and China.
Much discussion of religious interaction in the Hellenistic world focuses on the reception and
reinvention of gods in new environments, whether these gods be Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian,

Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha

or of whatever origin. The concept of active religious proselytization is one which many would
associate with one syncretic Graeco-Roman cult in particular: early Christianity. Buddhism
provides another example, but of an attempt at proselytization that never quite succeeded.
Attempts were made in the third century bce to spread Buddhist teachings to Greek communi-
ties and Greek courts, targeting these constituencies directly and specifically. This missionary
activity took place within the same context of population movement and diplomatic contact
that encouraged the contemporary movement of commodities and cultural practices. It is of
particular interest in the present context because the evidence for Buddhist proselytism shows
the reception of Greek language and ideas in India, and their adaptation by Indians to commu-
nicate Indian ideas back to Greeks. Those who doubt the existence of globalization phenomena
in the ancient world might find their conviction shaken by a long-distance, complex, intercultural,
multidirectional ebb and flow of information such as this.
Alexander the Greats new foundation of an Alexandria at Kandahar in 330329 bce was,
as typically of his efforts in this direction, nothing of the sort. There had been a city at the site
of Alexandria in Arachosia for several hundred years (on the archaeological literature, see Mairs
2011: 35). Alexanders conquest did, however, bring one important addition to the cultural
mix at Kandahar: a Greek immigrant population (Bernard 2005b; Fraser 1996: 13240). In
302 bce, the region of Arachosia passed out of Greek political control, after being ceded by
Seleukos I to the Indian emperor Chandragupta Maurya (Strabo 15.2.9; Appian 9.55; Plutarch,
Alexander 62.4).
The third-century strata at Old Kandahar have not been thoroughly investigated (McNicoll
and Ball 1996; Helms 1997), but inscriptions attest both the continued presence of a Greek-
literate community, and the impact of Mauryan control. Two Greek inscriptions (one a
GreekAramaic bilingual) belong to the great corpus of inscriptions left by the emperor Aoka
throughout his empire, from southern India to the north-west. These edicts proclaim his per-
sonal conversion to Buddhism, and his intention to convert his diverse subjects to Buddhist val-
ues and practices. He uses the analogy of military conquest to describe his hoped-for conquest
of the hearts and minds of his subjects.
The early spread of Buddhism and Asokas deliberate act of proselytization took place
in a wider political and commercial context (Neelis 2011). In Aokas Thirteenth Major Rock
Edict, he proclaims that his ethical conquest has extended to southern India and Sri Lanka, as
well as to the lands where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings
named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule (trans. Dhammika 1993). We find here
a snapshot of the political status quo in western Asia in the late 260s and early 250s bce. The
kings of whom Aoka was aware were Antiochos II Theos of Syria, Ptolemy II Philadelphos of
Egypt, Antigonos II Gonatas of Macedonian, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander II of Epirus. The
Seleucid king Antiochos was his only direct neighbour, but he was aware of the names, at least,
of four additional Hellenistic monarchs. The placement of Aokas edicts throughout his empire
means that these names will have been read by many with no direct experience of Greeks, or
the other foreign peoples the king claims to have converted.
The two Greek Aokan inscriptions at Old Kandahar reproduce texts in circulation in the
form of other, Prkrit inscriptions throughout the empire (Rougemont 2012: nos 8283). The
longest Greek inscription is fragmentary, but contains portions of the Twelfth and Thirteenth
Major Rock Edicts. The section mentioning the Hellenistic kings is, unfortunately, missing.
The translations into Greek render Buddhist vocabulary into terms more familiar to Greeks (e.g.
dharma into eusebeia). In communicating Buddhist ethical values, however, they also commu-
nicate something about the wider (Indian) world of which the Greek community at Kandahar
was now part. The beginning of the Thirteenth Rock Edict describes Aokas bloody conquest

Rachel Mairs

of Kalinga, in eastern India. In the briefer of the two Greek Kandahar inscriptions, which is
not a direct translation of an Indian original, the king claims that everything is well throughout
the whole world (panta euthnai kata pasan gn). The population of third-century Kandahar was
therefore exposed to a worldview which encompassed its neighbours in the Hellenistic king-
doms to the west, but also lands and peoples in the southern and eastern reaches of the Indian
Like Buddhist teachings, the movement of textiles may be traced through written sources.
The Periplus, as I have already noted, provides a practical guide to networks of maritime and
overland trade. In the writings of Roman historians and philosophers, it can also be seen that
the movement of textiles and other goods from foreign lands to the east was loaded with ethical
and ideological significance. Florus (c.74130 ce) mentions, somewhat fancifully, the bringing
of gifts by Scythians, Sarmatians, Seres and Indians as part of a successful Roman campaign of
subjugation against the whole known world (Epitomae 2.34). Pliny (2379 ce) emphasizes the
drain of India, China and Arabia on Roman finances, the labour involved in producing silk and
the vast distances travelled by the finished textiles, and contrasts the frivolous and licentious
uses to which such imported luxuries are put (Natural History 6.54, 12.84). Seneca the Elder
(54 bce39 ce), too, equates the wearing of figure-revealing foreign silks with moral degeneracy
(Controversiae 2.7). Martial (40104 ce) thinks that lavishing gifts of fine silks can buy him a
better quality of mistress than his friends (Epigrams 11.27). (A time, perhaps, to recall Nikaias
lapis lazuli.) In the view of some Romans, long-distance connections led to the adoption of
unsavoury foreign ways of dressing and behaving, which transgressed traditional Roman values.
It is not hard to think of modern examples of the same phenomenon.
Tracing the movement of textiles in the archaeological record is more difficult, given their
vulnerability to decay. Roman silk fragments are rare (some pieces are noted by Wild 1970:
1213). Cotton is marginally less scarce, and is a commodity that we can trace in the Periplus
and on the ground (on later periods, see Ray 2005). At the Roman port of Berenike, on the
Red Sea coast of Egypt, fragments of cotton have been found dating to the first century ce
and fourthfifth centuries ce (Wild and Wild 2005). According to analysis of spinning tech-
niques, some of the cotton arrived at Berenike from or via Egypt, and some from India. As
well as a commodity to be traded, cotton played a role in facilitating long-distance contact and
trade though Indian Ocean networks. Some fragments of Indian cotton of the first century ce
belonged to a ships sail (Wild and Wild 2001).
Barygaza, modern Broach in Gujarat, was another point in the network that brought cotton
to Egypt and the Mediterranean. The Periplus (49) describes the transportation of goods such
as silk, cotton and ivory from smaller markets around Barygaza, to the port. Local demand for
wine, metal and gold and silver coins fuelled this exchange. Silk and cotton were also among the
goods exchanged for Roman coin at Muziris, in southern India (possibly Pattanam in Kerala).
Southern India has yielded many discoveries of Indian coins (Tomber 2008 on the Roman
Indian trade as a whole; Barnes 2005 on Indian Ocean textile trade).
My final taster of a commodity that travelled through long-distance networks and was received
and reinterpreted by diverse populations along the way is the story of the Trojan War. Plutarch
praised Alexander the Great for spreading the works of Homer, as a vehicle for Greek culture,
throughout the eastern lands he conquered, and other authors also claim that Homer was known
in India (Plutarch, On the fortune or virtue of Alexander I 328 D; Dio Chrysostom, Orations 53.68;
Aelian, Varia Historia 12.4). Such statements tell us more about Greek and Roman imperialism
and notions of cultural superiority than they do about the reading habits of any actual Indians.
Yet there is a considerable body of evidence that supports the notion that stories of the Trojan
War achieved a wide circulation in the Mediterranean world, Egypt, West Asia and even India.

Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha

Figure 9.5.2 Relief from Gandhra depicting the Trojan Horse The British Museum

The evidence that Homer was read overlaps only in part with evidence that stories of the
Trojan War were known. Homer is by far the most common author encountered among Greek
literary papyri from Hellenistic Egypt, and in school texts, and within the Homeric corpus the
Iliad was the most popular work (Cribiore 2001: 19596). Literacy in Greek was not, how-
ever, the only medium through which a person might experience tales of the Trojan War, or
through which they might spread. In Gandhra, the mountainous region north-west of modern
Islamabad, in Pakistan, a schist relief depicting the wooden horse full of Greeks being brought
into Troy was found at the site of a Buddhist monastery (Allan 1946; Figure 9.5.2). The scene
gives an unequivocal presentation of the story of the Trojan horse. Men with spears test the
horse and drag it towards city walls where a female figure (Cassandra) stands with her arms raised
in warning, blocking the gate. Whether or not anyone was reading Homer in Gandhra at this
period (the secondthird century ce) or even speaking Greek the tale of the fall of Troy was
part of the local visual language. I shall return to the Gandhran Trojan Horse below.

Begram: hidden treasures

The site of Begram, north of present-day Kabul, lay at the intersection of maritime and
overland routes from the Mediterranean, India and China (Mairs 2012; Mehendale 1996). In
the first and second centuries ce, it was one of the major metropolises of the Kushan empire.
Our knowledge of long-distance connections at Begram derives principally from material

Rachel Mairs

excavated between 1936 and 1940 by the Dlgation archologique Franaise en Afghanistan
(DAFA). These excavations have their own global context. The DAFA was founded in 1922 by
the French Ministre des Affaires trangres. In Third Afghan War in 1919 the Afghan Amir,
Amanullah, had fought the British to a stalemate, and asserted Afghanistans full autonomy.
Keen to avoid dependence on the two neighbouring powers, the British and Russian empires,
Amanullah sought closer connections with France. The arrival of French archaeologists in the
country was part of a much wider programme of Franco-Afghan co-operation (Olivier-Utard
1997; Bernard 2002; Fenet 2010). The excavators of Begram, Joseph and Ria Hackin, joined de
Gaulles Free French resistance movement in London in 1940, and were killed when their ship
was torpedoed in 1941 off the north-west coast of Spain.
Between 1989 and 2003, the finds from Begram, along with material from other sites, lay
hidden in vaults in Kabul, to escape a new war. After their rediscovery, in 2006, the trsors
retrouvs were sent to be exhibited at the Muse national des arts asiatiques-Guimet in Paris,
permanent home of other items excavated by the DAFA mission in Afghanistan (Cambon and
Jarrige 2006). On the exhibitions website, schoolchildren could complete a quiz which taught
them, among other things, that Afghanistan is situated in the heart of Central Asia, the Silk
Route is a network of commercial routes between Asia and Europe and global heritage belongs
to all the people of the world, wherever they live (www.guimet.fr/sites/tresorsafghans/index.
html). The context in which the material from Begram was excavated, cached and exhibited
was certainly a global one. The presentation of this material also made points about the global
nature of the ancient world from which it came.
Begram was connected to the Indian Ocean along the Indus and Kabul rivers. When the
Periplus (47) refers to goods from the territory inland from Barygaza, this includes Begram and its
hinterland. The luxury goods excavated within the palace complex at Begram date to the first to
second centuries ce. The treasure was deposited in two rooms with thick walls and blocked-up
doors: it is uncertain whether it should be regarded as a royal treasury or commercial depot. It
included goods from three main geographical areas: the Roman eastern Mediterranean (glass-
ware, plaster casts, bronzes, stoneware); India (ivories); and China (lacquerware). These objects
were at the luxury end of the long-distance market in commodities. Their points of origin are
unmistakeable. Some of the glassware bears coloured decorations, of scenes such as the date
harvest in Egypt or the lighthouse of Alexandria, or is in fancy shapes, such as fish (Whitehouse
2001). We may trace glassware of this sort back to the Roman Mediterranean through the
ports of India, Arabia and Egypt, in the archaeological record and in the account of the Periplus
(Meyer 1992; Stern 1991; Whitehouse 1998). The plaster casts and bronzes, which reproduce
mythological scenes, provide a portable source of Greek and Roman artistic imagery, which
may have inspired local craftspeople. They are one of the means by which the motif of the
Trojan horse, discussed in the previous section, may have been transmitted to the region. We
do them a disservice, however, by considering them solely as objets dart. The plaster casts were
designed to be used in the manufacture of new metal ware vessels, permitting the exact repro-
duction of identical images across vast distances (Mairs 2014). The Indian ivories depicted scenes
of nude female figures, animals and plants with a typically Indian artistic flavour (Mehendale
2001; Simpson 2011). Ivory was one of the commodities mentioned in the Periplus, and Begram
was just one node in a network that included markets for ivory as far afield as Pompeii (During
Caspers 1981). The Chinese laquerware represents another distant region which Begram itself,
as a node, connected to West Asian and Indian Ocean networks (Zhang 2011).
Without further archaeological context, the Begram hoard cannot be used to assess the
impact of connectivity on local culture at a level below that of the elite. At Begram, as in the
Hellenistic and Roman worlds, many commodities from far away fell into the category of

Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha

luxury goods. This is the case with Indian cottons and silks in Rome, where they were used to
send signals about wealth and refinement, but were also brought into debates about morality in
Roman society. How might Begram feed into similar narratives of elite glocalization?
I reiterate my point about these items as sources of imagery and models for reproduction.
The Gandhran Trojan Horse was part of a much more widespread visual language in Gandhra
and neighbouring regions (such as Begram) in the early centuries ce, which drew upon Graeco-
Roman styles and motifs, reinventing and developing them to create a dynamic local Buddhist
artistic register (on Gandhran art, see Brancaccio and Behrendt 2006). This art does not have
to have been produced by artisans who had any clear knowledge of its ultimate source. Greek
and Roman goods and styles had been in circulation in the region since at least the late fourth
century bce, from the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria, and later through the Indian Ocean trade
from Egypt. The images on the Begram plaster casts, glassware and bronzes were, by the period
they were deposited in the palace cache, already familiar as part of a local cultural koine (a term
to which I return below).
At Begram, the global became the local: the long-term interaction of peoples, cultures
and artistic styles in the region between Iran and India in the Hellenistic and Roman periods
produced its own idiosyncratic local forms and practices. I have argued elsewhere for a more
limited zone where a common cultural language was creolized from diverse influences, in
Hellenistic Bactria (Mairs 2013: 28083). The forces at work in the movement and recep-
tion of religions, commodities, artistic forms and even stories in western Eurasia, in the period
contemporary with the Hellenistic and Roman empires, are not dissimilar from those at work
in a small kingdom such as Bactria, which existed for less than 200 years. To the vendor or
purchaser of the luxury goods from the Begram cache, the middleman who brought them from
a Roman ship at an Indian port to a city in the Hindu Kush, or the craftsman who worked
for a wealthy local patron reproducing imagery from a land he had never visited, or perhaps
heard of, global influences were received, commoditized and put to work in local systems of
cultural and economic value.

Global languages
Poseidippos wrote about Nikaias gift in Greek. The poet was an immigrant to Egypt, from
Pella, in Macedonia. Some of his poems show that he was sensitive to the nuances of Greek
dialect, and the images which dialectal code-switching might conjure up for his readership
(Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 37576; Sens 2004). By the time of Cleopatra VII (6930 bce),
knowledge of Macedonian had become so uncommon that Plutarch describes the last Ptolemaic
queens facility in the dialect alongside her talents in speaking languages such as Parthian,
Ethiopian and Troglodyte (Antony 27.4). The interconnected Hellenistic world, with its con-
stant movements of people, goods and ideas, required a new, global language. This language
was Koine Common Greek, a term which I have already appropriated to refer to a com-
mon language of cultural features, derived from many sources. Koine Greek is the language
of the documentary papyri of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (Evans and Obbink 2010), and the
language in which the foundational texts of a new, global religion the books of the Greek
New Testament were composed in the period of the early Roman Empire. It was the ancient
worlds language of cultural and religious diffusion par excellence, and a powerful weapon in the
arsenal of Greek and Roman (cultural) imperialism.
By the time of Poseidippos, a process of dialect-levelling was underway in the hellenophone
eastern Mediterranean (Colvin 2009). Koine, as the name suggests, was a linguistic form born
from interaction between the diverse immigrant populations of the Hellenistic world. It served

Rachel Mairs

as a common vehicle of exchange between people whose own native dialects and languages
might have been so distinct as to impede effective communication. It facilitated the exchange
of goods and ideas.
Koine Greek has much in common with the global languages, in particular the global Englishes,
of the modern globalized world (globalization and language: Fairclough 2006; Coupland 2010;
Blommaert 2010; global Englishes: Crystal 1997, Kachru et al. 2006). Like global Englishes,
the Koine and its speakers have often been misunderstood. To scholars of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, the papyri of Egypt were full of bad Greek, and this linguistic deficiency
was often understood as the result of imperfect, non-native command of the language. One
should not, however, assume that writers and speakers of Greek in the eastern Mediterranean
were aspiring to Classical Attic prose, of the kind generations of Euro-American scholars were
taught to regard as the only acceptable standard. Similarly, British and American views of global
varieties of English tend to focus on perceived deficiencies, against a standardized, westernized
model. An example is the widespread online mockery of Hinglish or Chinglish.
The bad Greek model of papyrological Greek has given way to a perspective more appre-
ciative of the power and flexibility of the Koine, and the insights which even bad grammar and
spelling give into the way in which Greek was actually spoken in places such as Egypt (Evans
2010; Clarysse 1993; Evans 2012; Mairs and Martin 2008/2009). The Koine was a language
in its own right, with its own rules, not simply a deficient form of some standard language. It
became a standard of its own, and one with a far greater number of speakers and more extensive
geographical spread than that ever enjoyed by any of the earlier Greek dialects.
Global English has, in the same way, become its own linguistic standard, for all of its innova-
tions from its parent language(s) (Phillipson 2008). A 2013 report by the European Commission
gives guidelines to staff on how to use institutional language that has developed a vocabu-
lary that differs from that of any recognized form of English (European Court of Auditors:
Secretariat General Translation Directorate 2013: 4).
If we approach Koine Greek in a similar vein, we may generate some new ideas for look-
ing at globalization and material culture in the ancient world. Global languages may emerge
from a small number of metropolitan centres that once generated and facilitated long-distance
communication. Through population movements, education and patterns of exchange, they
become adopted as auxiliary languages, and eventually even primary languages, by large num-
bers of people in regions beyond their original homeland. These new forms develop their own
sets of rules. They become languages of communication, not just with the old, colonial metro-
politan centre, but with other regions with their own, distinct languages. Similarly, the Aegean
world, the ultimate source of the Koine, and elements of the culture and social organization of
the Hellenistic communities, can often seem left out of the party in the wider hellenophone
worlds of the east. In inscriptions such as the Kandahar edicts of Aoka, Greek speakers not
necessarily native speakers communicate with one another in areas with tenuous connections
to Greece, or none at all. In Koine Greek, as in global English, the original speech community
no longer defines the standard.

Nikaias gift
From the foundation of the Hellenistic kingdoms the late fourth century bce, the inhabitants of
the lands from Macedonia to Bactria, from Egypt to Gujarat, lived in a world transformed by
colonization, immigration and commercial expansion. Descriptions of our modern, globalized
world, taken out of context, could often be applied equally well to the ancient world. Both are
worlds which are:

Lapis Lazuli, Homer and the Buddha

fundamentally characterized by objects in motion. These objects include ideas and ideolo-
gies, people and goods, images and message, technologies and techniques. This is a world of
flows. It is also, of course, a world of structures, organizations, and other stable social forms.
(Appadurai 2000: 5)

These objects in motion include ideas such as Buddhism, goods such as silk, images such as the
Trojan Horse, and techniques such as reproducing images from moulds. I have also explored
how these were received within the stable social forms of empires, cities and communities.
There were some cases in which the political context, for example territorial configuration
through war or diplomacy, provided only a catalyst for the development of new connections.
The Koine, for example, came about because the conquests of Alexander the Great scattered
Greek settlers from Egypt to Bactria. It evolved thereafter on its own terms. Although poets
such as Poseidippos wrote elegant verse at royal courts, the Greek spoken in the streets of
Kandahar was not policed by the Library of Alexandria.
As they moved through networks, things and ideas received new meanings in new cultural
contexts. Pliny saw Indian fabrics as a symbol of Roman moral corruption. In India, Roman
coins were valued as bullion. Buddhist ideas were translated into Greek. Gandhran monaster-
ies were decorated with Buddhist (and some Greek) tales, rendered in adapted Graeco-Roman
artistic styles.
To what extent did Nikaia, with her shiny new piece of lapis lazuli jewellery, understand
herself as living in a globalized world? Do what extent did the well-travelled poet, or the girls
lover who may have been annoyed at how much the fancy imported lapis cost, hoping the
kiss would be worth it? The engraver who worked the gem may have known something of
the journey of lapis from Bactria to Egypt, or at least have been able to trace his supply chain
a certain distance. It is possible, through the archaeological, epigraphic and literary record, to
trace the movement and meeting of people, ideas and things in the ancient world. It is equally
important to question the extent to which contemporary agents saw themselves as participating
in connected systems. At the most fundamental level (something is rare and expensive because it
comes from far away), Nikaia certainly did. She was also an immigrant from the island of Kos, to
a new multicultural metropolis on the coast of Egypt, where new linguistic and cultural koines
were in the process of evolving a city where, as a much later immigrant, Lawrence Durrell,
would describe it, the races ... seethe ... like must in a vat (Clea 63). The question might
be phrased a different way: would an inhabitant of any of the Hellenistic kingdoms or Roman
provinces have recognized their own community without immigrants or imported goods (or
gods)? The answer is almost certainly not. Global mobility had local repercussions, in the Greek
gifts of exotic stones, or the Trojan Horse.

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