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  • Looking to the West: Stone Molds and Foreign Visual Models in Satavahana Material Culture (First–Second Century ce)
  • Pia Brancaccio (bio)

Multiculturalism in ancient South Asia is a complex topic. Non-Indic elements in the art and material culture of the Deccan Plateau at the beginning of the Common Era are attributed to Indo-Mediterranean trade, as the main force behind many cultural transfers. In recent years a clearer picture has emerged about the nature of Indian Ocean trade, its agents and itineraries, and the ships used in antiquity;1 we have also begun to understand the dynamics of selective appropriation and recontextualization of foreign visual models on the Deccan Plateau.2 However, we still are not sure how non-Indic models may have circulated within the Satavahana region, feeding a fashion for Western things that is attested in many craft traditions and which reached very diverse audiences.

Focusing on a group of unpublished molds in the holdings of the Lamture Museum and Balasaheeb Patil collections in Ter and Paithan (Maharashtra, India), this essay aims to trace the mechanisms of diffusion of imported visual forms in the western Deccan during the first and second centuries ce. It seems that small steatite molds used as templates in different craft productions were responsible for the dissemination of new artistic models, while imported objects may have played only a marginal role in this process. A comparative study of molds and terracotta objects reveals that, in addition to Indo-Roman trade, another major cross-cultural corridor open at the time connected the Deccan Plateau to the Kushan regions of the northwest of the subcontinent. This became an additional channel for the introduction of a new visual lexicon in the Satavahana world.

The steatite molds discussed in this paper come from the sites of Ter and Paithan, about 200 miles inland from the Maharashtra coast. These two centers acquired great relevance in the Satavahana period between the first century bce and the second century ce; Paithan, located in the Aurangabad district, was mentioned in a variety of ancient literary sources as the city of Pratisthana and was described by Ptolemy as being the capital of the Satavahana king Simuka. Ter, in the Osmanabad district, was also described by Ptolemy as an important urban settlement, and along with Paithan was recorded in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.3 This first-century Greek manual on Indian Ocean trade describes Paithan as a center supplying large quantities of onyx, likely used for intaglios in the Greco-Roman world, and Ter as an outstanding textile manufacturing center providing “large quantities of cloth of ordinary quality, all kinds of cotton garments, garments of molochinon” to the international trade.4

We also have evidence that around the beginning of the Common Era members of foreign communities, likely involved in commercial enterprises, were established in the western Deccan. In the Buddhist caves at Karle, Junnar, and Pitalkhora, strategically located along the trading routes connecting the coast to the hinterland, inscriptions mention non-Indic donors called Yavanas. Originally derived from the old Persian word Yauna, the term Yavana etymologically alluded to Greeks from Ionia; although based on an ethnic distinction, this word came to be used as a general designation for people associated with the Mediterranean world or the Hellenized “West.”5

Despite the presence of Yavanas and frequent transoceanic contacts, relatively few artistic imports from the Mediterranean have been uncovered in India from the Satavahana sites of Paithan, Bhokardan, Ter, and Kholapur in Maharashtra (Fig. 1).6 Most relevant are the finds of Mediterranean bronzes in the Brahmapuri hoard of Kolhapur, as they epitomize the Indic appreciation of Greco-Roman visual forms in the western Deccan.7 The Brahmapuri artifacts were obviously treasured because of their valuable material, yet their artistic and technical qualities must have enhanced their worth in the new Indic context. Molds were used to fabricate such imported bronzes, and it seems that this particular technology was shared by most artifacts related to Greco-Roman models uncovered at Satavahana sites, whether imported from the Mediterranean or locally manufactured in clay. Historically, metal and terracotta industries were closely related, as they both depended on the use of molds and...


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