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edited by

Richard Alston, Onno M. van Nijf & Christina G. Williamson


List of Illustrations .................................................................................... vii

Preface ....................................................................................................... ix
Contributors .............................................................................................. xi

Introduction: The Greek city and its religions after the Classical age 1
Onno van Nijf, Richard Alston and Christina Williamson

Chapter 1. Processions in Hellenistic cities. Contemporary discour-

ses and ritual dynamics ........................................................................... 21
Angelos Chaniotis
Chapter 2. Destined to rule. The Near Eastern origins of Hellenistic
ruler cult .................................................................................................... 49
Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides
Chapter 3. The Temple with Indented Niches at Ai Khanoum.
Ethnic and civic identity in Hellenistic Bactria ................................... 85
Rachel Mairs
Chapter 4. As God is my witness. Civic oaths in ritual space as a
means towards rational cooperation in the Hellenistic polis............. 119
Christina Williamson
Chapter 5. Oracles and civic identity in Roman Asia Minor ........... 175
Aude Busine
Chapter 6. Officials as dedicators in post-classical poleis ................. 197
Gnther Schrner
Chapter 7. Greek tradition and Roman innovation. Adapting
cults and local identities in Pausanias Greece .................................... 215
Maria Pretzler
Chapter 8. Many mansions. Jews in the Greek cities of Roman
Syria and Palestine ................................................................................... 241
Susan Sorek and David Noy
VI contents

Chapter 9. Rhetorical competition within the Christian com-

munity at Corinth. Paul and the Sophists ............................................ 261
George van Kooten
Chapter 10. The present and future worlds are enemies to each
other. Early Christian aloofness and participation in the pagan
world .......................................................................................................... 289
Despina Iosif
Chapter 11. Transformation of a city. The Christianization of
Jerusalem in the fourth century ............................................................. 309
Jan Willem Drijvers
Chapter 12. Religion on the ground. Rome and Constantinople:
a comparative topographical study........................................................ 331
Michael Mulryan
Chapter 13. Urban and religious changes at Gerasa .......................... 353
Charlie March

Index Locorum .......................................................................................... 381

Index ........................................................................................................... 394


Rachel Mairs


The site of Ai Khanoum is, at present, the only major settlement of the
Hellenistic Greek kingdom of Bactria to have been subject to extensive
excavation. As such, it provides an invaluable, if problematic, source of
information on this most remote and little-investigated of the Hellenistic
states. This paper will consider the citys major religious institution, the
Temple with Indented Niches, in the context of wider questions on the
ethnic and civic identity of the citys inhabitants. The topic is a conten-
tious one: the Mesopotamian style of the temple and the question of its
relation to other civic institutions have provoked considerable debate, and
the cultural dynamics of the city remain, to a great extent, obscure. Nev-
ertheless, there are approaches which may not only lead to a better under-
standing of Ai Khanoum itself, but may also prove of wider applicability
to other regions of the Hellenistic world.
What I seek to demonstrate in the present study is the potential of the
archaeological record for gleaning useful material on the construction and
articulation of ethnicity, and on the dynamics of Greek culture and iden-
tity in a Hellenistic colonial environment. As will be discussed below, the
concept that the urban layout of Ai Khanoum, the style and pattern of use
of its civic institutions, reflects some underlying social reality is not a
novel one. My argument is rather that this approach is one which we may
productively use to ground our understanding of the site as a whole.
The following discussion commences with some background informa-
tion on Hellenistic Bactria and the site of Ai Khanoum, before introduc-
ing the temple and its various problematic features. It then moves on to
consider how we might resolve some of our questions about this temple,
by reference to its wider urban context, and concludes by seeing what
basis this might give us for drawing up some hypotheses about the ethnic
and civic identities of the population of Ai Khanoum.
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From mirage bactrien to Bactrian paradigm

The Hellenistic state of Bactria is perhaps best-known for the spec-

tacular archaeological finds made in the region during the 1960s and
1970s. These include the city of Ai Khanoum, in northern Afghanistan,
but also sites on the other side of the river Oxus in the former Soviet
republics of Central Asia (Figure 1). Archaeological survey has contrib-
uted much towards our understanding of the wider region in the Hel-
lenistic period. More recently, a large amount of material has emerged
onto the antiquities market, including Greek inscriptions and Greek and
Aramaic administrative documents, as well as a number of major coin
Without such finds, our knowledge of this Hellenistic Far East would
be extremely limited. The history of the region has long been notorious
for its obscurity.2 Such are the deficiencies of the Greek and Latin liter-
ary sources that reconstruction of a traditional narrative history is all
but impossible, except in the barest outlines.3 Bactria and adjacent
regions were settled with Greeks and Macedonians under Alexander the
Great. In the mid third century BC, Bactria achieved autonomy from
the Seleukid empire, under Diodotos I.4 In the second century, the
Greek kings of Bactria expanded into northern India, where the coins
of the last Greek king, Strato II, in the Panjab, appear as late as the first
century AD.5 The Greek kingdom of Bactria itself, however, fell to
nomadic invasions in the mid second century BC.6 The first two major
modern works on the subject, Tarns The Greeks in Bactria and India
(1st ed. 1938), and Narains The Indo-Greeks (1957) were heavily reliant
on the abundant numismatic and sparse literary evidence. Their
reconstructions of the history of the region, and the dynastic succession
of Greek kings of Bactria and India, diverged widely, as did their

1 This paper derives, in part, from a PhD thesis (University of Cambridge, Mairs 2006b)
written under the supervision of Dr. Dorothy J. Thompson, whom I thank for her advice
and support. A briefer account of my views on ethnic identity and the urban landscape of
Ai Khanoum has since been published in Mairs 2008.
Bernard et al. 2004; Shaked 2004; Flandrin and Bopearachchi 2005; and Clarysse and
Thompson 2007.
2 See e.g. Strabo 15.1.3. On the curious appearance of Graeco-Bactrian kings in medi-
aeval tradition, see Bivar 1950.
3 For critical discussion of the dynastic history of the Hellenistic Far East, see, in gen-
eral, Holt 1999, who also supplies a useful compendium of the relevant Classical sources.
4 On Bactria under Alexander and the Diodotids, see Holt 1988.
5 According to the analysis of Bopearachchi 1991.
6 Attested in Classical and Chinese sources, and by archaeological evidence from Ai
Khanoum and elsewhere in Bactria: Bernard 1985; Lyonnet 1991.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 87

interpretations of the cultural identity of the populations of these east-

ernmost Greek-ruled states.7
It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that the archae-
ology of Bactria became better known. As late as the 1940s, Alfred
Foucher, founder of the Dlgation archologique franaise en Afghanistan,
was forced, with some regret, to dismiss the notion of a strong Greek
culture in Hellenistic period Bactria as nothing more than a mirage.
Fouchers excavations at Balkh, ancient Bactra, had failed to reveal any
Greek monuments. The abundant Greek coinage of the region, he sug-
gested, gave a misleading impression of the actual cultural dynamics of
the Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek states.8 In his discussion of Classical
influence in the later art and architecture of the region, however, Schlum-
berger argued that this influence can only have arisen from a local tradi-
tion of Greek art and craftsmanship. In contrast to Foucher, he claimed
that la Bactriane nest pas un mythe, elle est seulement inexplore.9
Schlumberger was vindicated by the discovery of the city of Ai Khanoum,
which finally gave material substance to the mirage bactrien. The series
which Foucher had inaugurated went on to publish dramatic finds of
Greek architecture, artefacts and inscriptions from these excavations.10
The wealth of new archaeological material which emerged from Central
Asia during the 1960s and 1970s rapidly began to pose problems of its
own. The complicated intersections of artistic and architectural styles at
Ai Khanoum reveal no straightforward Greek-Oriental dichotomy.11 Hel-
lenistic Bactria, Holt suggests, is no longer a mirage but a paradigm, a
case-study where the diverse and problematic forms of evidence allow us
to apply and test our ideas about the Hellenistic world.12 One of the key
questions which emerges from any such analysis is that of how the mate-
rial culture of the Hellenistic Far East relates to the society which created
it. Much has been written about the contact or hybridisation of different
cultural traditions in the architecture of sites such as Ai Khanoum, but,
on a more fundamental level, such processes of cultural encounter can
only have been orchestrated through the agency of the population who

7 On the historiography of the Greeks in Bactria and India, see Mairs 2006a.
8 Foucher 1942-47, 73-75, 310. On Foucher and the establishment of the Dlgation
archologique franaise en Afghanistan (DAFA), see Olivier-Utard 1997, Part 1; note, how-
ever, Grenets 1999 critical review of the latter part of this work. For another history of the
DAFA, see Bernard 2002.
9 Schlumberger 1960, 152.
10 On the Bactrian mirage and the archaeological reality, see Kuzmina 1976 and Holt
11 Francfort 1984, 4.
12 Holt 1999, 9-20.
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built and inhabited these sites.13 The next stage in the investigative process
must be to examine how the evidence currently at our disposal may be
used to look at the people and processes behind the material Mischkultur
of the Hellenistic Far East.14 In this, both as our most abundant source of
archaeological material and as a site which now possesses a substantial
bibliographical and historiographic tradition of its own, Ai Khanoum is
a fitting case study.

Ai Khanoum

If Bactria may be exploited as a paradigm for the evidence from the

Hellenistic world and the complex methodological and historiographic
issues surrounding it, Ai Khanoum (Figure 2) may serve as a paradigm, in
microcosm, for the problems involved in approaching the Hellenistic Far
East.15 Some preliminary remarks on the sites excavation and publication
history are in order. Ai Khanoum remains the most extensively excavated
site of the Hellenistic Far East, although it should be emphasised that its
publication is neither comprehensive nor systematic. The citys hinterland
has also been subject to a series of thorough studies, devoted to exploiting
the potential of archaeological survey to place the site in its geographical
and chronological context.16 Yet, despite its initial celebrity and novelty, Ai
Khanoum has not attracted much in the way of further detailed study, in
the Anglo-American world at any rate. It is, of course, frequently cited as
an example of the fusion of Greek and Oriental architecture, as a remote
outpost of Hellenism but there has been little intensive analysis of its
archaeological remains by the wider scholarly community, nor has it been
integrated into many broader studies of the Hellenistic world in a more
than cursory way. A small number of individuals, from among the sites
original excavators, have produced a high percentage of the relevant pub-
lications: keeping up with Paul Bernards prodigious rate and quantity of
publication is a scholarly feat in itself. Given the dangerous potential for
over-reliance on a few publications and secondary discussions, some of the
problems in approaching this material should be stated at the outset.

13 For a critical discussion of the use of the concept of hybridity in the archaeology
of the Hellenistic Far East, see Mairs 2011a.
14 Droysens Mischkultur and its problems are discussed by Momigliano 1970, Praux
1978, 7ff, and Ritner 1992, inter alia.
15 Mairs 2011b provides an introductory overview, with further bibliographical refer-
ences, of the archaeology of the Hellenistic Far East as a whole.
16 Gentelle 1989; Lyonnet 1997; Gardin 1998.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 89

The sites chronology varies from publication to publication, as does the

system of numbering of different architectural phases.17 Although perhaps
inevitable in the (admirably detailed and quickly-produced) preliminary
publications of the site, this can be extremely frustrating for the reader;
where necessary, I have indicated such chronological and terminological
variation in the original publications in my own presentation of the evi-
dence. Little has been published in the way of aerial views or general
survey of the site.18 Approximately two-thirds of the city itself remains
unexplored. Only two houses have been excavated, and only one tomb
from the necropolis outside the city walls. This does not allow us to argue
anything about typicality from the remains at Ai Khanoum, still less to
support the citation of the site as a model for Hellenistic colonial urban-
ism in Bactria.19 Just as importantly, it may impede understanding of the
zoning and dynamics of the site itself: where and how people lived, traded
and related to the various public buildings of the city.20 Ai Khanoum has
given us a wealth of artistic and architectural material, crucial for under-
standing the relationship of this city to the Mediterranean world, and the
place of the Greek kingdom of Bactria in the development of later, local
artistic traditions, especially that of Gandhra. But, as emphasised by
Fussman, there is more we could ask of it, in terms of understanding the
citys social and economic history: The A Khanum excavations demon-
strate the truth of the old adage: you only find what you search for.21
My emphasis, in the following sections, will be on trying to access
something of how the site worked; how people lived in it and used the
space; how they may have perceived certain aspects of it; and what this
tells us about their social and ethnic identity. In several places, the excava-
tors of the site have already answered this need. Bernard (1981), for exam-
ple, addresses the question of urbanism, and takes the reader on a tour of
Ai Khanoum from the point of view of an ancient visitor to the city.22 A
subtle yet critical shift in rhetorical emphasis would be to try to look at
Ai Khanoum from the point of view of a resident. This not only helps us
some way towards escaping from the perspective which insists on viewing
this city and its culture from the standpoint of an ancient or modern
Western outsider, but may also aid in developing a little more scholarly
empathy, providing a better way of understanding the citys dynamics.

17 Fussman 1996, 247; cf. Rapin 1992a, 10 n.32.

18 See the plates in Leriche 1986.
19 E.g. Liger 1979, 101.
20 Fussman 1996, 246.
21 Fussman 1996, 247.
22 Bernard 1981, 111ff.
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Ai Khanoum lies at the junction of the Oxus and Kokcha rivers on the
northern border of modern Afghanistan. The ancient name of the city and
the precise circumstances of its foundation are unknown. The city com-
manded a large agricultural hinterland, and its military and economic
importance can be seen from its position on the routes south to the mines
of Badakshan, the only major source of lapis lazuli in the ancient world,
and north into Central Asia. The site itself was well-defended, with a large
natural acropolis and heavy fortifications. Even so, the city was sacked in
the mid second century BC, around the time that the Greek kingdom of
Bactria as a whole fell to nomadic invasions from the north. Many of the
citys buildings were burnt or quarried for building material in the after-
math of the conquest, and later inhabitants disrupted or moved around
artefacts an issue which will be of some importance when we come to
consider the Temple with Indented Niches. More recent warfare has also
had its impact on the site: the Northern Alliance built a gun battery on
the acropolis, and extensive looting has taken place.23 The odds of survival
of the material excavated during the 1960s and 70s and taken to the
National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul are, incidentally, better than
might have been expected. A large amount of material escaped the
destruction of the museum in storage,24 and during the present authors
visit in August 2005 one inscription from Ai Khanoum was even on dis-
play. Many items from Ai Khanoum were included in the major exhibi-
tion Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul,
which toured various European and North American cities from 2006.25
Although the site has revealed some strikingly Greek architectural fea-
tures, such as a gymnasium and theatre, the hybrid Graeco-Oriental style
of other institutions has also provoked much comment. The palace or
administrative quarter (the terminology employed for this structure var-
ies from publication to publication), for example, is laid out on a plan
reminiscent of Persian palaces, but its colonnades were lined with Greek-
style columns, and Greek administrative texts, and even imprints of liter-
ary and philosophical works, were recovered from its treasury. But what
does such apparent cultural fusion in the art and architecture of this city
tell us about the identity of its inhabitants?
Anyone acquainted with the Hellenistic or Roman period in the Near
East is familiar with the methodological problems underlying such a

23 For the history of the site since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, see Bernard 2001.
24 Personal communication, Omara Khan Masoudi (Director of the National Museum),
August 2005.
25 French catalogue: Cambon and Jarrige 2006; English catalogue: Hiebert and Cam-
bon 2008.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 91

question. The issue of culture and identity in the Hellenistic world, in

particular, has undergone a number of notable paradigm shifts, from an
emphasis on fusion even with implicit ideas of the bastardisation of
Classical Greek culture to more recent trends, which explore the very
specific points of contact which might exist. In Hellenistic Egypt, for
example, the papyrological material provides especially good evidence for
intermarriage and acculturation on an individual level, where some peo-
ple might exhibit situational variation in their use of Greek or Egyptian
languages, legal systems, or even names.26 What this stress on specific
points of contact also serves to emphasise, however, is the extent to which
the different cultures and populations of the Hellenistic world retained a
degree of separateness. When approaching the archaeological material
from a site such as Ai Khanoum, we should therefore be hesitant in
assuming that architecture which displays Greek and non-Greek influ-
ences equates to a population with an equally hybridised or ambiguous
cultural identity.
One theoretical framework which allows us to develop constructive
lines of approach to such material is that of recent work on ethnic identity.
Ethnicity is a much-contested term, and it is worth clarifying the particu-
lar force with which I use it here. An ethnic identity does not refer to the
particular cultural or genetic attributes an individual or a group may pos-
sess such as language use, artistic style or descent but rather to the way
in which that group uses these basic attributes in the construction of their
projected identity. The actual cultural or genetic bases of this ethnic iden-
tity, crucially, may be open to challenge.27 A number of studies have
adopted this framework of ethnic identity and its operation as a useful
way of viewing the evidence from the Hellenistic world, where claimed
identity and actual behaviour may sometimes appear to be in conflict.28
In dealing with material culture, as opposed to the documentary record,
we have, however, one obvious problem. Ethnicity does not correlate
directly with cultural behaviour, but may be explored through the ways
in which people related to and used their basic cultural toolkit. An arte-
fact type on its own therefore tells us little about the identity of the person
who made or used it. What is helpful is to look at the wider context, and
try to gain a sense of the ways in which people may vary their cultural

26 For numerous examples, see Lewis 1986.

27 The fundamental study is Barth 1969; for the archaeological implications, see Jones
28 E.g. Goudriaan 1988; Malkin 2001; see also the studies of Hall 1997 and 2002 on
Archaic and Classical Greece, Smith 2003 on New Kingdom Nubia, and on Mesopotamia
the collection of papers in van Soldt et al. 2005.
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behaviour in different circumstances, or the arenas in which they may

choose to assert their ethnic identity particularly strongly.

The Temple with Indented Niches

The particular institution from Ai Khanoum which I intend to use to

explore this idea is not, perhaps, the most obvious one. As already noted,
some of the citys buildings are especially Greek in style, while others
display a complex interplay of Greek and non-Greek artistic motifs. The
citys main temple, however, the so-called Temple with Indented Niches,
has little about it which strikes the modern analyst as Greek at all.29
The Temple was situated prominently in the middle of the lower city,
in a walled sanctuary which was accessed from the main street (Figure 3).
The full publication of the small finds from the sanctuary, with important
discussions on their function and context, is to be found in Francfort
(1984). For the architecture, the original reports must still be consulted.30
Several other important institutions surrounded the Temple. Just to the
north, a set of monumental propylaia led off the main street into the citys
chief administrative quarter, with its palace complex and two mausolea.31
The reason I emphasise the temples prominent location and proximity to
key civic institutions is to make it clear from the outset that the issues I
will go on to discuss concerning the temples non-Greek architectural
character and the diversity of cult practice within it cannot be resolved
by dismissing this temple as an anomaly within Ai Khanoum. Aside from
the evidence of cult at the two mausolea one of which I will return to
later in my argument there are only two other temple sites, broadly
defined, at Ai Khanoum. One, outside the citys northern walls, follows a
similar architectural plan to the Temple with Indented Niches, but, unfor-
tunately, very little archaeological material has actually been recovered
from it.32 The other cult site is a raised podium on the acropolis.33 Again,
this is poorly known, and has not been thoroughly published. It appears,
however, to be an altar oriented for sacrifice towards the rising sun, a

29 The Temple with Indented Niches goes by two names in the original publications
of the site: temple niches indentes and temple redans. In adopting Temple with
Indented Niches here, I follow Francforts 1984 usage in the series Fouilles dA Khanoum.
It should be noted, however, that terminological variation persists.
30 Bernard 1969; 1970; 1972; 1974; Bernard and Francfort in Bernard 1971.
31 Guillaume 1983.
32 Bernard 1974, 287-289; Bernard 1976a, 303-306; Bernard 1976b, 272.
33 Described briefly in Bernard 1976a, 306-307; Downey 1988, 75; and Bernard 1990,
54. Boyce and Grenet 1991, 181-183, draw on unpublished material.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 93

practice for which there are Iranian and local Bactrian parallels. The Tem-
ple with Indented Niches is therefore the only major temple known at Ai
Khanoum. The city possessed nothing which we would recognise as a
typical Greek-style temple.
The non-Greek character of the temple and many of the artefacts
recovered from it is striking, and raises numerous questions about the
cultural identity of the people who used it. I intend to focus on two par-
ticularly problematic issues. First, the nature and diversity of cult practice
within the temple and its sanctuary. Is there a more productive approach
which we might seek to take to this, than the conventional identification
of a Greek/non-Greek dichotomy?
Secondly, there is the basic architectural plan of the temple, which is
commonly referred to as Mesopotamian in inspiration, and has been
compared to the later temples of Dura Europos. What does this actually
signify, what might it have meant to the people who used this temple, and
can we find a way of reconciling it to the temples local Bactrian context?
Finally, I will consider the Temple with Indented Niches in its urban
setting at Ai Khanoum, and ask how it related to the citys other struc-
tures, where displays of Greek identity might be more overt. Does it com-
promise our picture of a strong Greek enclave at Ai Khanoum, or is there
a way in which we might attempt to view the operation of the city and the
cultural and religious lives of its inhabitants on a more organic level? How
did the citys population use their urban environment in the construction
and assertion of their identities?

The Temple and its Cult

The temple building itself was roughly square, with sides of around 20
metres, and stood on top of a stepped, raised platform. At all periods, it
appears to have comprised a vestibule or pronaos, reached by a set of
stairs, and a cella, which in later periods was flanked by two smaller sac-
risties. The temples distinctive indented niches, from which it derives its
modern appellation, lay along its exterior walls.34 The excavators identi-
fied five architectural phases, dating the earliest to the late fourth or early
third century BC.35 The chronology of the structure can only be sketched

34 Bernard 1969, 327, 333; Bernard 1970, 319.

35 In the preliminary publications, there is of necessity some re-organisation of this
scheme. The position in each particular publication may be clarified by reference to Ber-
nard 1970, 319 n.1, and Bernard 1971, 414, in which the phasing reaches its final form,
maintained in subsequent publications such as Downey 1988.
94 rachel mairs

somewhat broadly; it has been established mostly on the basis of ceramics,

and on coins (only three of which were significant by their context).36
No inscriptions were discovered at the temple, so the precise identity
of the deities worshipped there must remain a matter of conjecture. Only
fragments remain of the main cult statue, which was in Greek style and
stood in the central portion of the cella.37 The fragments preserved are
from the hands and feet, suggesting that it was modelled in clay on a
wooden framework, with only the visible extremities in stone. The sandal
of the statues left foot bears a thunderbolt motif, which has formed the
basis for its identification as a Zeus.38 Some syncretism with an Iranian
deity has been posited, with the most popular candidates being Ahura
Mazda, like the Zeus-Oromazdes of Nemrud-Dag, or Mithra.39 It should
be noted, however, that this identification is hypothetical, and the sug-
gested syncretism rests, for the most part, on the simple fact that this
Greek-style statue stood in a temple which does not conform to a Greek
architectural model.
The function or identity of the divinities worshipped in the two lateral
sacristies to the central image-shrine is uncertain. As with many areas of
the temple complex, the material in the sacristies had been much dis-
rupted by later occupants, although some of it (fragments of ivory and
carbonised wooden furniture) may belong to the period of the temples
active life.40 In the southern sacristy was found one of the most remark-
able items from the temple, a gilt silver medallion with the image of
Kybele.41 Although the tripartite layout of the cella is highly suggestive of
some divine triad, for which various identifications have been proposed,
the material from the sacristies is really insufficient to enable us to iden-
tify the deities to which they were dedicated, and the relationship of these
to the main cult.42
At the rear of the temple, thirty-two vases, all of local non-Greek
ceramic types, were set into the base or first step of the temple platform.

36 Bernard 1971, 429-430.

37 Bernard 1969, 329; Bernard 1970, 319; Downey 1988, 72.
38 Bernard 1969, 338, 340-341; Holt 1999. For a ring with a similar thunderbolt motif
supposedly discovered at Ai Khanoum, see Flandrin and Bopearachchi 2005, 111-112.
39 Ahura Mazda: Bernard 1970, 327; 1974, 298; Nemrud Dag: Sanders 1996; Mithra:
Boyce and Grenet 1991, 169; cf. Bernard 1990, 53.
40 Bernard 1970, 319-322.
41 Bernard 1970, 339-341; full discussion in Francfort 1984, 93-104. This medallion,
among other items from Ai Khanoum, survived the war in the National Museum of
Afghanistan in Kabul, and was displayed as part of the Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures
exhibition (see n.25, above).
42 Francfort 1984, 124-125.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 95

The vases were upturned, and designed to receive libations poured directly
onto the earth: residues of liquid remained inside them. In later phases,
extensive renovations were made in the temple platform; the practice of
chthonic libations, however, continued.43 Chthonic libations of this sort
fit into a long-standing Central Asian tradition, from the late Bronze Age
onwards.44 Although this practice was evidently accepted at the Temple
with Indented Niches it persisted over a long period of time, and involved
physical engagement with the structure of the temples platform we may
perhaps see it as an example of the ways in which official cult and reli-
gious architecture could be adapted to the needs and practices of the peo-
ple who used it. In terms of the relationship between this local practice
and the main cult in the temple building, we should note that the libations
were made at the back of the temple, outside the line of approach to the
main cult which took place inside, but still providing a close point of
physical proximity to the sacred site, perhaps without having to negotiate
the schemata of behaviour and cult practice associated with entering the
temple itself.
There were two subsidiary chapels within the sanctuary. Both are on a
plan which we might view as more recognisably Greek, with columned
vestibules. The basic plan is, however, so simple that we cannot use it to
draw any major comparisons. No cult images or evidence of cult activity
were recovered from the chapels.45
Outside these main foci of activity the temple building, the libation
jars at the rear of the platform and the two smaller subsidiary chapels the
wider sanctuary reveals evidence of further forms of cult practice. Brick
altars stood on the upper exterior steps of the temple platform, and small
limestone pedestals were found throughout the site, whether inside the
temple itself, or in the sanctuary courtyard and the rooms surrounding
it.46 The most commonly accepted suggestion is that they supported metal
burners designed to receive offerings.47
A number of different artistic styles occur in the equipment from the
temple, ranging from ivory furniture in a Greek or Hellenistic style, to
objects in which Persian or Central Asian motifs are present. Although it

43 Bernard 1970, 329-330; Bernard 1971, 427-429.

44 Boyce and Grenet 1991, 169-171, although it is perhaps also worth noting the exist-
ence of chthonic cults and earth-libations in the Greek world, esp. the Nekyomanteion of
Ephyra: Hammond 1967, 65ff; cf. Odyssey 10.508ff.
45 Bernard 1972, 625; Bernard 1974, 295; Bernard 1976b, 273.
46 Bernard 1971, 430-431; Bernard 1972, 625; Bernard 1970, 332-334, 337-339; Ber-
nard 1974, 298; Downey 1988, 73; Boyce and Grenet 1991, 167.
47 Francfort 1984, 81-84; Downey 1988, 73; Boyce and Grenet 1991, 167-168.
96 rachel mairs

is worth noting that all of the necessary raw materials would have been
available to local craftsman, two examples of plaster mouldings demon-
strate one mechanism by which motifs might be propagated over a long
distance in the Hellenistic world: a rare point of access to the ways in
which ideas and artistic forms might physically be transmitted.48
Potentially more eloquent are the ivory figurines and terracottas. Only
a relatively small number of terracottas were recovered from the sanctu-
ary; these include male and female human figures, and roughly-modelled
animals. They form part of a more varied corpus of similar objects found
throughout the city and the region. Ivory fertility goddess figures also
occur.49 These too are representative of a much more widespread network
of practices. In terms of their context at the Temple with Indented Niches,
they do not enable us to say anything about the formal cult practised in
the main temple building, but may be used to add to our picture of the
spectrum of less formal religious practices for which this cult site could
become a focus.50
Having surveyed the evidence for religious practice in different areas
of the Temple with Indented Niches and its sanctuary, we may now return
to the question of how this complex functioned as a whole. Although I do
not propose any regulated internal coherence among the religious prac-
tices attested, we cannot afford to segregate our analysis of them the site
was clearly used for a variety of practices: formal and informal, ceremo-
nial and more everyday. Whether or not an individual engaged in more
than one form of religious activity in the course of a visit to the temple
or whether they might perform more than one form of religious activity,
but for different purposes on different occasions they cannot have been
unaware of the other uses to which the temple complex was put. Although
access to the main temple building, and further to its cella and sacristies,
may well have been restricted, the sanctuary courtyard was an open space,
with the potential for religious activity to be performed openly. A certain
amount of tunnel vision may have been in order, with the possibility of
ignoring activities in which one was not actively engaged, but it would
have required an unreasonable degree of denial and deliberate obtuseness
for an individual to mentally appropriate the temple as purely a temple
of Zeus, or anything else. Whether we suppose that anyone in fact did so

48 Francfort 1984, 31-37.

49 Francfort 1984, 14-17.
50 Figurines: Francfort 1984, 39-41; Rapin 1990, 340. Terracottas: Boyce and Grenet
1991, 184ff. See Smith 2003, 131-135, on the occurrence of fertility, and other, figurines in
domestic contexts in New Kingdom Nubia, and the possible implications in terms of gen-
der and ethnicity.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 97

is intimately linked to our perception of how individuals in the city nego-

tiated their own ethnic identity. If, as I will go on to argue, it was possible
for individuals to adopt a wide range of ethnic indicia and the arenas in
which identity was publicly expressed thereby became charged with polit-
ical and social significance then we may imagine that the performance
of religious activity in the temple sanctuary was a selective business, not
wholly promiscuous, but subject to manipulation and variation depend-
ing upon the individual or the occasion.
What is considered socially-appropriate religious practice may vary
quite dramatically depending upon specific circumstances, or the nature
and the degree of the problem for which help is sought. Could a citizen
of Ai Khanoum, for example, who might set up an inscription to the
Greek gods Hermes and Herakles in the gymnasium,51 in a time of per-
sonal distress turn to dedicating a fertility figure to a local Bactrian deity?
A broad range of personal behaviour may underlie the subtle cultural
contradictions we see in the activities practised at the Temple with
Indented Niches. Boyce and Grenets recognition of the heterogeneity of
the population of worshippers attracted by the temple52 can therefore be
slightly modified: there may have been considerable crossover between
these groups.
The Temple with Indented Niches was clearly a site to which people
could make recourse to fulfil a range of religious needs or duties from
personal appeals to the divine, to dedications with a more public or civic
flavour. Although not a focus for specifically Greek sets of public behav-
iour, in the manner of some of the citys other institutions, it was never-
theless a prominent arena for the performance of ritual activity and, as
the major temple of the city, we would expect it to have had a wide con-

Mesopotamian analogies

The similarity of the Temple with Indented Niches to traditional Meso-

potamian temple forms was noted in the earliest publications of the site.53
The niched decoration on the exterior walls of the temple is a common
feature of Mesopotamian religious architecture of all periods,54 as is the

51 For this inscription, see Robert 1968, with further commentary in Veuve 1987.
52 Obviously the temple was a meeting-place for local worshippers, Greek colonists,
and officials from the neighbouring palace, Boyce and Grenet 1991, 169.
53 Bernard 1969, 336-337.
54 See e.g. the temples at Assur and Uruk: Downey 1988, Figs. 5 and 66.
98 rachel mairs

stepped platform on which the temple sat (Figure 4). In addition, the basic
schema of a cella with lateral sacristies, preceded by a pronaos, closely
approximates that of the Parthian period temples at Dura Europos.55 In
Bactria, comparisons have also been drawn with Dilberdzhin and Takht-
i Sangin;56 similar motifs and layout recur at the second temple of Ai
Khanoum, outside the city walls. This apparent export of a Mesopotamian
temple type to Hellenistic Bactria is striking, and has provoked consider-
able debate. The question of the mechanism by which this form was trans-
mitted, and of what ethnic and cultural implications it holds, however,
requires some further consideration. My argument, to be outlined in
greater depth below, is that the origin of the Mesopotamian form of the
Temple with Indented Niches is to be sought in Achaemenid Bactria, and
that, whilst the choice of this form cannot be used to make assumptions
about the ethnic identity of the population of Ai Khanoum, it can be used,
in comparison with other institutions within the city, to make some pre-
liminary arguments about the particular locations which served as a focus
for the expression of (Greek) ethnic identity.
Maximalist interpretations of the evidence would hold that the Temple
with Indented Niches is the product of a deliberate policy of architectural
and, implicitly, cultural fusion, orchestrated by a central power.57 Downey
states that this combination of forms in the architecture of a distant col-
ony argues for a considered attempt to create new styles of architecture
based on an amalgamation of varied traditions.58 The fact that the Temple
with Indented Niches existed in much the same form from very early in

55 Dura Europos recurs as a frequent point of comparison: Bernard 1969, 334; Downey
1988, 85; Bernard 1990, 51; Rapin 1992b, 114-115. The problems of this otherwise neat
analogy are that: 1) although there are clear basic similarities in form, there are also numer-
ous differences; and 2) there is too wide a chronological and geographical gap between
Dura and Ai Khanoum to posit any direct relationship between the two; Downey 1988, 85;
Bernard 1990, 52. As I will argue below, reference to the common Achaemenid/Near East-
ern background explains many of these similarities, making the temples of the two cities
distant cousins rather than part of the same direct line. Analogies are also occasionally
drawn with the Parthian period at Bard-e Nechandeh and Masjid-i Solaiman, but these are
highly problematic: see e.g. Bernard 1990 in contrast to Bernard 1976b; Hannestad and
Potts 1990, 115; Boyce and Grenet 1991, 44-48; Rapin 1992b, 106-107.
56 Rapin 1992b, 112-113. There are several good surveys of the Hellenistic Bactrian
temples known from archaeological excavation, notably: Bernard 1990; Boyce and Grenet
1991, 165179; Hannestad and Potts 1990; and, in conjunction with the Seleukid evidence,
Downey 1988. Litvinskii and Pichikyan 2000, 283-293, explicitly consider the Temple of
the Oxus at Takht-i Sangin alongside Ai Khanoum and Dilberdzhin.
57 The suggestion (Bernard 1976b, 270) that the Mesopotamian form of the temple may
be due to a sizeable Mesopotamian contingent in the settler population of Ai Khanoum
must, in the absence of any corroborating evidence, be held to be something of an inter-
pretative deus ex machina.
58 Downey 1988, 3.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 99

the life of the city might indeed appear to suggest this kind of deliberate
implantation, rather than a process of architectural and religious hybrid-
isation of longer gestation. In the absence of any earlier regional architec-
tural context, the form of the Temple with Indented Niches highly rem-
iniscent of Mesopotamian types, but with elements such as Greek columns
and statuary, and subsidiary chapels on a more recognisably Greek plan
is striking, and the argument that its form and style represent an artificial
construct is an attractive one. The heterogeneous nature of cult practice
within the temple and its sanctuary might also suggest that a deliberately
non-Greek or hybrid architectural form would be appropriate,59 although,
as I have argued above, this multiple dedication or use of a sanctuary
should in fact present no such conflict.
We should, however, be resistant to making the Temple with Indented
Niches and its origins any more synthetic or artificial than they need be.
Just because the interplay of artistic motifs and architectural forms is com-
plicated, this does not mean that this complexity must be deliberate.60
Given the early date of the temples foundation we have essentially two
choices in how we assess its architectural form and diversity of cult prac-
tices: either it represents a deliberate policy of fusion (which would still
have to be imposed in practice), or it is something, already at this early
stage, that its constituency would have found appropriate or at least accept-
able. This does not have to imply any great open-mindedness towards cul-
tural or ethnic fusion on the parts of either first-generation Greek settlers
or native Bactrians, simply that the bounds of the alien, and perhaps with
this the spectrum of ethnic indicia, had already been subtly reset:
il y a dabord ces modles orientaux que les constructeurs grco-bactriens
nont pas pu ou nont pas voulu ignorer et qui ont nourri et stimul leur
inspiration: modles qu la faveur de lunit politique ralise par la royaut
sleucide ils ont pu connatre dans tout lOrient non-mditerranen, du
Proche-Orient iranis, hritier des traditions msopotamiennes, jusqu
lAsie Centrale dont nous entrevoyons quelle dut exercer sur eux une pro-
fonde influence.61

The starting point of our discussion of the temple ought to be the more
minimalist approach of noting simply that similarities in form exist. I am
inclined, in general, to treat the drawing of architectural comparisons
with some scepticism. The Temple with Indented Niches is, perhaps, a
special case, with its particular layout, and such distinctive features as the

59 Bernard 1969, 336-337.

60 Pace Downey 1988, 64.
61 Bernard 1976b, 274.
100 rachel mairs

stepped platform and brick niches. Even for a Hellenistic city, this is no
ordinary temple, and its lack of any counterpart in more Classical Greek
style means that we must find a way of analysing its form which takes into
account the important role it must have played in the life of the city of Ai
Khanoum, with its Greek public inscriptions and institutions such as the
theatre and gymnasium. My question is two-fold: how did Ai Khanoum
come to have a Mesopotamian temple; and what cultural messages did
this building send out to the people who used it?
The most plausible explanation of the Temple with Indented Niches
form is, as with so many other aspects of the Hellenistic world, to see it
in an Achaemenid context.62 This recognition of the Achaemenid blue-
print underlying many of the forms and structures of the Hellenistic
world bureaucracy, administration, aspects of society and culture has
been particularly in evidence in the work of Pierre Briant,63 and provides
the basis for an approach which has the potential to give us a valuable
longer chronological perspective, as well as highlighting the strength and
importance of the various non-Greek cultures of the Hellenistic world.
Our response to something such as the Temple with Indented Niches, in
other words, ought to be less Classical and more Hellenistic, and implicit
in Hellenistic is Achaemenid.
Although Ai Khanoum, in its excavated form, is very much a Greek
colonial foundation, the history of occupation of the site and its hinter-
land is much longer.64 Archaeological evidence from Achaemenid Bac-
tria in general is, unfortunately, extremely scanty, although the 2005
excavations at Balkh (ancient Bactra) have yielded some material from
Achaemenid-period strata.65 The newly-discovered Aramaic documents
from Bactria provide an extremely valuable source of information on the
administration of the region under the Persians, and may also add some-
thing to our picture of religious life in Bactria at that period: the pres-
ence of theophoric names, and references to specific cults, suggest the

62 Bernard 1990, 52, rightly notes that the most likely solution to the problem of the
Temple with Indented Niches is to posit local antecedents in Achaemenid Bactria, which
have yet to be recovered archaeologically. My inclination here is to push this Achaemenid
angle still further.
63 For an ego-histoire, see Briant 1996, 9-11.
64 Synopsis of finds from periods from the Chalcolithic to the Islamic: Gardin 1998,
105-124. The strong evidence for Achaemenid period settlement at Ai Khanoum itself
(although no architecture remains) is noted by Leriche 1986, 71-72. On pre-Hellenistic
fortified sites in eastern Bactria, see Gardin 1995.
65 Personal communication, Roland Besenval, August 2005. See also now the publica-
tions of the recent DAFA work at Bactra in Bernard, Besenval and Marquis 2006 and
Besenval and Marquis 2007. Updates on the Balkh excavations available on the DAFA
website at (accessed 27.10.2010).
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 101

co-existence of local forms of religious practice with cults introduced by

the Achaemenid imperial power. 66
The extent and nature of Achaemenid control over the affairs of the
provinces the areas in which there was intervention by the central
authority and those in which there was little or none has been a focus of
some debate.67 In religious affairs, Briant argues that while there was some
central imperial control or regimentation of religious practice among eth-
nic Persians (the ethno-classe dominante), including the Persian diaspora
in the provinces, non-Persians were often left more or less to their own
devices.68 It might, in fact, prove prudent to support the local cults of
conquered lands.69 If it is possible to speak of Achaemenid religious leg-
islation, then it is only in the case of specifically Persian cults, an impor-
tant focus for common identity among the ruling class.70
In the case of Bactria, there is evidence for continuity in local reli-
gious practices, as well as an element of the introduction of official
Achaemenid cults, probably intended for Persians. If we posit the intro-
duction of Near Eastern styles of temple architecture along with these
cults, then this gives us the necessary local context to explain the other-
wise unusual form of the Temple with Indented Niches at Ai Khanoum:
it would be built within the tradition of Bactrian official religious archi-
tecture, and would be a form with some association with the Achaeme-
nid imperial lite. In fact, the Temple with Indented Niches, as the major
temple of Ai Khanoum, is precisely where we might expect to see such
influences manifesting themselves, as well as in the Persian palace-style
architecture of the citys administrative quarter. The continuity of the use
of earlier forms of religious architecture under Alexander the Great and
the Seleukids, the heirs of the Achaemenids, and the considerable flex-
ibility of religious practice which might take place within such temple
complexes, may be seen at any number of Near Eastern sites.71 The evi-
dence for earlier Achaemenid connections at the Temple with Indented
Niches is limited, but significant. In the style of some of the artefacts
from the temple, we may observe Persian traits, or evidence of a local
tradition of craftsmanship which perpetuated motifs from the Persian

66 Preliminary report in Shaked 2004; full edition Naveh and Shaked (forthcoming). I
am grateful to Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS) for allowing me to read a manu-
script of the forthcoming full publication of these texts.
67 In general, Briant 1987; Egypt: Ray 1987; Bactria: Briant 1985.
68 Briant 1986.
69 On the notorious (but ambiguous) case of the Egyptian cult of the Apis bull, see
Herodotos 3.27-30; Posener 1936, 171-175, Plate 2.
70 Briant 1986, 438.
71 For case studies and discussion, see Downey 1988.
102 rachel mairs

empire;72 an ostrakon in Aramaic script, for example, was recovered

from the temple sanctuary.73
Even if the architectural style and administrative organisation of the
temple appears different from that of the rest of the city, I would suggest
that the architectural form of the temple, along with the non-Greek reli-
gious practices which took place within its sanctuary, could have been
easily ethnically neutralised. The nature of religious practice and the way
in which this may have been described (e.g. offerings to Zeus) could
have been sufficient to satisfy a worshipper that they were not engaging
in any practice which was particularly non-Greek. Or, to look at things
in a less sectarian and more flexible manner, people may have exercised
different aspects of their identity, ignoring anything which they did not
wish to actively use in the assertion of their identity outside the limits of
the sanctuary.
The essential question, to my mind, is whether an architectural element
such as indented-niche decoration would have immediately struck a con-
temporary local observer as Mesopotamian, and further, as something
jarring and foreign. My suspicion is that it would not. We cannot suppose
any great familiarity with Mesopotamian architecture on the part of the
bulk of the population of Ai Khanoum, even though the earliest settlers,
soldiers from Alexanders army, will have been extremely well-travelled
by the time they reached Bactria. If, as I have argued, the Mesopotamian
elements of the Temple with Indented Niches derive from local Achaeme-
nid official architecture, then such elements will rather have been per-
ceived by the local Bactrian or Bactrian-born population as part of the
stylistic repertoire of familiar, local forms.74 The source of their ultimate
derivation will most probably have meant little to those who used the

72 Francfort 1984, 17-18, 122. On local pre-Hellenistic traditions of craftsmanship,

from the materials at Ai Khanoum, see Guillaume 1985.
73 Text: Rapin 1992a, 105ff. Because of the lack of grammatical indicators, it is not
possible to determine the language of this ostrakon with any certainty: it may be an early
attempt to write a local Iranian language in the Aramaic script.
74 Although there is, at present, even less archaeological material from Achaemenid
Bactria than from Hellenistic Bactria, it is clear that the Hellenistic settlement of the region
was built in both socio-economic and architectural terms on the foundations of the
Achaemenid. The Aramaic administrative documents (Shaked 2004) move seamlessly from
dating by Darius to dating by Alexander. Irrigation works in the plain around Ai Khanoum
date as far back as the Bronze Age (see the discussion of the survey evidence, above). And
there is compelling evidence for an Achaemenid period occupation of the site of Ai Kha-
noum itself, although any architectural remains of this occupation appear to have been
more-or-less obliterated with the construction of the Hellenistic city: see especially the
discussion in Lerner 2003-2004 of the chronology of the site of Ai Khanoum. See also
Shenkars (2007) extremely useful survey of temple architecture in the Iranian world before
the Macedonian conquest.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 103

temple, just as it is perfectly possible for a worshipper in a modern Chris-

tian church to ignore or be altogether ignorant of the development of
church architecture in antiquity and the Middle Ages. It is, of course,
quite probable that to groups such as the first Greek settlers at Ai Kha-
noum, this form of temple architecture will have been perceived as some-
thing foreign and unfamiliar. The essential point remains, however, that,
while Mesopotamian is one of the first adjectives a modern scholar may
apply to the Temple with Indented Niches, a Hellenistic-period worship-
per at this temple may well have ranged through a lengthy descriptive
vocabulary of religious, cultural and more mundane, everyday attributes
before the term Mesopotamian would even have occurred to them. From
an art-historical perspective, the Mesopotamian form of the Temple with
Indented Niches is subject to one form of analysis. We should be cautious,
however, in the ethnic characteristics we seek to impute in the course of
this investigation. The ethnic implications of the form of the Temple with
Indented Niches are, in fact, largely negative ones, and become clear only
when we consider it in its wider urban context.

The Temple in its urban context

Throughout my discussion of the layout and functioning of the Temple

with Indented Niches, I have suggested that the most productive approach
to understanding this structure is to consider it in its wider urban context
within Ai Khanoum. Thus far the temple has been discussed more or less
in isolation, but there are a number of other institutions which should, at
this point, be introduced. As already noted, the city possessed a theatre
and a gymnasium, characteristically Greek institutions. The theatre, which
was unfortunately not extensively excavated or published, was set into the
slope of the acropolis. This is the only Greek theatre known east of Baby-
lon, and its capacity seems excessive, given the information available on
the population size of Ai Khanoum. The excavators suggest that the thea-
tre was built on such a scale because it was intended to serve not just the
inhabitants of Ai Khanoum, but also Greek settlers from the citys hinter-
land.75 In connection with the theatre, we should also note a fountain
spout in the form of a comic mask,76 and a dramatic work on parchment
which was recovered from the treasury.77 The citys gymnasium was also

75 Bernard 1981, 113.

76 Leriche 1987.
77 On the literary texts from the treasury, see Rapin 1992a, 115-130.
104 rachel mairs

built on a monumental scale.78 From its inner courtyard was recovered

one of the relatively few Greek inscriptions from Ai Khanoum, a dedica-
tion to Hermes and Herakles by two brothers, Triballos and Straton, sons
of Straton.79 The presence of these traditional gods of the gymnasium
further reinforces the Greek cultural aura of the structure. A remarkable
sun-dial reveals the range of pursuits for which the gymnasium was a
centre.80 In conjunction, the theatre and the gymnasium provide impor-
tant testimony to the presence of Greek culture and intellectual activities
at Ai Khanoum.
A number of previous studies have identified institutions such as the
theatre and gymnasium as important venues for expressions of communal
Greek cultural identity within Ai Khanoum, with a more complex picture
prevailing elsewhere.81 To cite the central question, as posed by Han-
nestad and Potts, Does the existence of a gymnasium and a theatre in the
same period as the two temples of non-Greek plan suggest that the Greek
identity of the inhabitants was rather more dependent on the customs
connected with these two types of buildings than with religious
buildings?82 This is precisely what we might expect to be the case, both
from analysis of the remains at Ai Khanoum themselves, and by com-
parison with other regions of the Hellenistic world. As Bernard notes, in
his study of Graeco-Bactrian architecture:
Si lon excepte, rptons-le, quelques types de btiments propres au monde
grec, comme le gymnase et le thtre ou les cours portiques et certaines
techniques de construction, les difices que nous venons de passer en revue
manifestent une conception essentiellement non-grecque dans la forme des
espaces habitables, de leur agencement, de leur rythme, de leur coordination.
Seul lhabillage extrieur du dcor donne le change et cherche recrer
lillusion dune ambiance grecque.83

This idea of a Greek rhythm or lack thereof in the domestic and

public spaces of Ai Khanoum is an evocative one. Greekness was actively
asserted in certain specific circumstances, and this has left its imprint on
elements of the urban structure. Individuals who had the potential to
display various aspects of their identity elsewhere, within the confines of
the gymnasium might actively seek to assert their identity as a Greek lite.

78 Preliminary reports: Bernard 1967, 317-319; 1968, 276-279; 1976a, 293-302; Veuve
and Liger in Bernard et al. 1973, 40-45; full publication: Veuve 1987.
79 Editio princeps: Robert 1968, 417-241, now IK Estremo Oriente 381; further com-
mentary in Veuve 1987.
80 Veuve 1982.
81 Bernard 1976b, 274; Rapin 1992a, 115.
82 Hannestad and Potts 1990, 98.
83 Bernard 1976b, 274.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 105

Intermarriage and interaction with their Bactrian neighbours will have

given the Greek settlers the potential to draw on a range of forms of cul-
tural behaviour. The settlement of Bactria under Alexander the Great was
a military one, and for the most part involuntary. As with many other
areas of the Hellenistic world, we cannot assume a significant Greek
female element to the early settlement, and so intermarriage must have
become commonplace. In addition, many of Alexanders foundations in
Bactria and neighbouring Arachosia were specifically created as mixed
settlements of demobilised Greek and Macedonian soldiers with local
populations. At Ai Khanoum itself, the Greek administrative documents
from the treasury record a number of individuals with local Iranian
names and in particular, theophoric names derived from the deified
River Oxus, such as also occur in the Achaemenid Aramaic documents
as participants in transactions.84
The most important piece of evidence for what Greek identity actually
meant to the inhabitants of Ai Khanoum, however, comes from another
complex in the centre of the lower city, the temenos of Kineas.85 This was
the location of the only other Greek inscription found inside the city itself,
and was a relatively modest shrine within an enclosure, situated behind the
Temple with Indented Niches, alongside the road which led to the main
administrative quarter. The inscription is in two parts.86 On one side, a
man named Klearchos states that he copied down the famous sayings of
wise men from Delphi, and set them up here in the temenos of Kineas it
is unfortunate that he does not also give us the ancient name of the city.
On the other side, we have a few lines from these sayings, probably the end
of a longer inscription. The shrine stood over a tomb, and one of the bur-
ials had a conduit to receive libations poured directly into it from the room
above. This provision of cult offerings at a tomb inside the city is highly
suggestive of a cult of the citys founder. The Delphic inscription supports
this, given the connection between Delphi and Greek colonisation.87

84 The difficult question of the degree of intermarriage in the Greek settlements of the
Hellenistic Far East is here, of necessity, only briefly explored; for a more detailed discus-
sion, see Mairs 2006b, Ch.2.
85 Bernard et al. 1973; Grenet 1984, H8, provides a brief but convenient summary.
86 Editio princeps and commentary: Robert 1968, n.421-431; now IK Estremo Oriente
87 A discussion of the inscription of Kineas, the Delphic connection to Greek colonisa-
tion and Ai Khanoum is under preparation in Mairs forthcoming. The general substance
of my argument there is that the Delphic maxims are an attempt to forge a connection
between Ai Khanoum and the centre of the Greek world, whose oracle gave divine man-
date for Archaic and Classical Greek colonies. But this connection is never stated to be
direct Ai Khanoum was not founded in the same way as a Classical Greek colony in the
Mediterranean and the date of the inscription, in the second or third generation of the
106 rachel mairs

Klearchos has been identified although not, to my mind, decisively as

the philosopher Klearchos of Soloi, known to have travelled in the East,
and the wording of his section of the inscription is perhaps significant. The
fact that he copied the Delphic maxims conscientiously epiphradeos is
emphasised; it was evidently something of a coup for the citizens of Ai
Khanoum to have this accurate copy of the maxims, a direct link between
this remote Greek foundation and the symbolic centre of the Greek world.
Like the Temple with Indented Niches, the temenos of Kineas is situated
right in the centre of the city, but it is a focus for very different sets of
behaviour and expressions of identity.88 As I have already discussed, how-
ever, we cannot assume that these two institutions served radically differ-
ent constituencies. Even though the Temple with Indented Niches is strik-
ingly non-Greek in architectural form, and in the nature of some of the
cult practices which took place within its precincts, it was still the citys
only major temple. We must conclude that the same individuals who may
have asserted their Greekness at the temenos of Kineas, or the gymnasium
and theatre, also frequented this apparently non-Greek temple. We cannot
assume that they simply changed their identity at the gates of the sanctu-
ary, although they may have chosen to play upon different aspects of it.
This same pattern occurs at other cities in the Hellenistic world. At
Seleukeia on the Tigris, there is no temple of Greek form, but there is a
heroon on Greek plan with Greek epigraphic evidence of Seleukid ruler
cult.89 Hellenistic Babylon has yet to reveal a Greek temple, suggesting
that the temple of Bl, with its Babylonian temple authorities and absence
of any Greek ritual, may also have served a Greek constituency.90 For
the purposes of the maintenance of a Greek identity, it mattered that this
was asserted in certain key civic contexts, such as the gymnasium and in
founder or ruler cult. Elsewhere, boundaries were less distinct. It may
simply be that personal religious practice was not something which was
thought to bear incontrovertibly ethnic connotations, nor any danger of
an individual compromising their status and identity through particular
This does not, of course, imply that Ai Khanoum was some great mul-
ticultural utopia. Rather, what I would argue that the evidence does reveal
is a city where public assertions of civic identity took place within a very

Hellenistic city of Ai Khanoum, suggests a desire on the part of the citys population to
re-state their ethnic and cultural belonging to the wider Greek world at a time when their
Greek identity may have been felt to be under threat.
88 Mairs 2007.
89 Downey 1988, 53-55, 62.
90 Van der Spek 2005, 398-399.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 107

Greek framework, but individuals might exhibit variation in their behav-

iour in other spheres. Because Greek identity was asserted so strongly in
areas such as the gymnasium or at the temenos of Kineas, any ethnic
resonance in activities such as dedications at the temple might easily be
neutralised. It is possible, of course, to read a measure of cultural insecu-
rity into this, but it is important to recognise that our sensitivity to things
such as artistic style or religious practice may introduce a conflict between
culture, political status and ethnic identity where the agents themselves
may not have perceived any.

Access and its restriction at Ai Khanoum

The Temple with Indented Niches is a striking example of an apparent

archaeological anomaly which, upon further examination, can be shown
to make perfect sense in its contemporary local context. The character of
many of the artefacts and practices attested within the temple sanctuary
does not have to present any contradiction to the different practices
engaged in elsewhere in the city. Rather, ethnic, cultural and civic identity
was negotiated through the urban landscape itself. Fuller excavation of
residential quarters and the necropolis at Ai Khanoum might have ena-
bled us to form a more holistic assessment of these processes at the site;
with the material available, it is nevertheless possible to relate many of the
citys structures to each other in a meaningful way.
Issues of access and visibility are key in examining the dynamics of an
urban site. The potential ethnic implications of this are evident (e.g. was
there Greek versus Bactrian residential segregation? who had access to the
citys public buildings?), and have previously been the focus of some dis-
cussion with regard to Ai Khanoum.91 An important step towards reach-
ing a synthesis of this material is taken by Jean-Claude Ligers, unfortu-
nately unpublished, Matrise thesis, La physionomie urbaine dune cit
hellnistique en Asie Centrale (1979), which emphasises the contrast
between public and private space, and traces routes of access to and
within particular buildings and complexes.92 This restriction or at least
channelling of movement within the city may be linked to the roles
played by different ethnic groups, and the socio-political connotations of

91 Notably Guillaume 1983 on the propylaia and Rapin 1992a on the treasury and
palace/administrative quarter.
92 I was able to consult this work in the library of DAFA in Kabul, for which I am
grateful to the Director of DAFA, Roland Besenval, and the library staff.
108 rachel mairs

the articulation of ethnic identity. Although it would be over-literal to

suggest that this phenomenon represents the physical manifestation of
ethnic boundary maintenance, it is nevertheless highly suggestive of the
means by which people controlled their public activity, and the separation
of the different public arenas in which they might make conscious or
unconscious statements about their status and identity.
The internal street plan of Ai Khanoum is known in broad lines. The
major buildings, and apparently also the main zone of habitation, lay in
the Lower City, the wide plain between the rivers Oxus (Amu Darya) and
Kokcha. The Upper City (acropolis) was more sparsely occupied, with
smaller houses, the stepped solar altar, and, at the far south-eastern cor-
ner, the fortified citadel. The main street entered the Lower City by the
northern gate, and along this street are ranged the theatre, Temple with
Indented Niches, and the lesser-known buildings to the south (including
the Arsenal). The Extramural Temple sits just to one side of the continu-
ation of this road beyond the northern city walls. A second grouping of
public buildings was accessed via the monumental propylaia leading off
the main street.93 These include the administrative quarter, the temenos
of Kineas, a second mausoleum and the gymnasium, with the wide area
to the south of the latter with its piscine.94 This zone beyond the propylaia
is therefore occupied by institutions with key civic functions or associa-
tions. Secondary access routes are less clear. It seems that a road linked
the southern residential quarter (dominated by large houses) with the area
of the gymnasium, providing a direct connection, a back door, which
by-passed the propylaia.95 Liger posits the existence of a second official
entrance to the citys central quarter to the south of the Temple with
Indented Niches, similarly marked by propylaia.96
Within the administrative quarter, we may note further restrictions in
access.97 Two residential units lay back from the main courtyard, and the
excavations of the treasury revealed details of its order and method of
construction which are of potential significance. Probably originally
located to the east of the main court, the treasury was moved to a suite of
buildings on its western side. To the south, leading into the interior of the
administrative complex, the treasury was relatively open. An additional
entrance on the east side, leading from the corridor surrounding the main

93 Guillaumes 1983, 1, publication of the propylaia considers the significance of their

implantationdans le tissu urbain.
94 Rapin 1992a, 9.
95 Liger 1979, 40; Rapin 1992a, 9.
96 Liger 1979, 38.
97 Rapin 1992a, 10-11, 20-22.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 109

court, could be closed off. Finally, a bricked-up opening in the western

wall, which communicated directly with the road outside the complex, is
apparently that by which building materials were brought in during the
treasurys construction. The implications of this are, to Rapin, that there
were two tiers of access to the treasury, comprising those (Greeks) with
privileged access to the inner administration of the city, and (non-Greek)
subaltern employees or artisans, who entered from the main court. My
own impression would be that, whilst these issues of access are potentially
of great significance, we should be extremely careful in the ethnic char-
acter which we impute to them.
Similarly, we might suggest that the possibility of a direct route from
the southern residential quarter (which was occupied by large, apparently
lite residences) to the area around the gymnasium, by-passing the pro-
pylaia, privileged access to this zone for those of high socio-economic
status. On the other hand, the exact role played by the propylaia in
restricting access should be examined further. The gateway construction
itself would not fulfil the purpose of selecting those individuals with the
ethnic or civic right to enter the administrative quarter. If, for example,
it were to be argued that Greeks might enter this zone, whereas non-
Greeks might not, we would have to posit additional methods of control,
whether by monitoring of the gateway, or by self-regulation (people
knowing their place with regard to whether it was appropriate for them
to enter this district or not). The role of the propylaia was probably some-
what different to this. To begin with, the nature of the complexes in the
area beyond the propylaia is such that some degree of self-regulation may
well have been in operation: only those with business in this area would
have had occasion to enter. Even if we decide that this distinction was
made for the most part along ethnic lines (with the Iranian-named
employees of the treasury, if they entered it, as an exception to this, or on
a different level from Greeks), there are other groups, such as women,
who would similarly have had no business in the gymnasium or treasury.
This automatically leads us to see a more complicated set of divisions in
the population at Ai Khanoum, in which issues of social status and gender
role are also important. The question, of course, is to what extent socio-
economic status corresponded to an ethnic hierarchy. As I have argued
throughout the present study, however, it was certainly possible for some
groups or individuals to vary their assertions of ethnic identity in par-
ticular locations and circumstances. In light of this, my inclination would
be to see the propylaia not as a physical restriction-point marked with a
metaphorical No Bactrians sign but rather as a tangible statement of the
zoning of the urban landscape of which an inhabitant would already have
110 rachel mairs

been socially aware. The propylaia are marking a threshold, a transition

from one sphere of public life and expression to another of markedly dif-
ferent character.
There are areas of the city in which access is not apparently restricted
in this way. The theatre is a potentially interesting case study, situated on
the main street, but the practicality of its location built into the side of the
acropolis might advise against imputing any great social or political sig-
nificance to this. The Temple with Indented Niches, on the other hand,
whilst clearly delineated as a separate, sacred space by its sanctuary wall,
is accessed directly from the main street, not set back in the zone behind
the propylaia. The character, too, of the buildings in the Upper City the
location, it should be noted, of the local Bactrian-style sun altar is very
different from those in the Lower City. The Upper City does not appear
to have been heavily populated.98 It was principally given over to military
installations and fortifications. Near the eastern rampart is a group of
houses of more modest dimensions than those of the southern residential
quarter of the lower city. It has been suggested that the acropolis repre-
sents a native quarter, and that the Stepped Podium was plus spciale-
ment destin aux troupes indignes de la garnison.99 The colonialist
resonances of such suggestions are clear. Holt, for example, imagines that
huddled in single-room houses looking down upon the tiled roofs of
Greek mansions in the elite lower section of the city, these people may
have acquired some measure of Greekness but not an equality with Seleu-
koss settlers.100 This division in socio-economic as well as spatial terms
between indigenous subalterns and a Greek lite is, perhaps, very broadly
what we might expect in a Greek colonial settlement such as Ai Kha-
noum, even if we should be more careful in the extent to which we evoke
modern colonial analogies. I do not argue here that there was no ethnic
hierarchisation in the city. Rather, in examining primarily formal institu-
tions such as temples and administrative buildings, my focus has inevita-
bly been on relatively elevated socio-economic groups, and it is my con-
tention that, within these, we can observe the relationship between ethnic
identity and acceptable public modes of expression varying according to
It is, I would argue, principally forms of public behaviour which are
restricted by the urban plan of Ai Khanoum, rather than expressly the
movement of people themselves. The case of the Temple with Indented

98 Bernard 1981, 111.

99 Bernard 1981, 119.
100 Holt 1999, 45.
the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 111

Niches makes it clear that we cannot assume a direct correspondence

between cultural practice and ethnic identity, or at least that asserting
Greek identity was important only in certain contexts. How far those
who did not have the ability to adopt the trappings of Greek identity
such as language were excluded from public life is a question for further

Department of Classics
University of Reading


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116 rachel mairs

Figure 1. Hellenistic Bactria (after Holt 1999).

Figure 2. Ai Khanoum (after Leriche 1986).

the temple with indented niches at ai khanoum 117

Figure 3. The Temple with Indented Niches and its sanctuary (after Francfort 1984).

Figure 4. The Temple with Indented Niches (after Francfort 1984).