- The Hellenistic Far East: Archaeology, Language, and Identity in Greek Central Asia by Rachel Mairs
War and the difficulties of travel have not stopped archaeologists and historians from being very busy with Central Asia. The French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, led by Paul Bernard (recently deceased), has been exceptionally busy, both on the ground and with publication, and this book can be taken in part as a tribute to Bernard and his work. Much of the book deals with the site at Ai Khanoum in northeast Afghanistan (dug before “the troubles”), although not so much its appearance as the organization of the area from Achaemenid Persian times, through Alexander the Great’s invasion, on to “Indo-Greek” control. All of these matters are presented largely through consideration of inscriptions (it is a pity that Rougemont’s great Corpus of 2011 could not be used), and the Ai Khanoum site is well described but without plans or photographs of remains or reconstructions (another pity). The focus then shifts, with less detail and with [End Page 108] reliance more on texts than on objects, to the fall of Greek Bactria and to the newcomers from the east—Yueh-chi and Chinese.
This is a scholarly book, and only scholars will allow for what is not cited or is barely mentioned (for instance, the city at Taxila and the early Indian kings), but where it focuses the book is thorough. It is not an easy read, with small print and with very few and poor illustrations that do not excite. It somehow omits Warwick Ball’s major contributions to study of the area, along with other standard and original studies. But scholars should be well satisfied with what is offered, and for any classicist the phenomenon of Indians or Central Asians writing good Greek verse with acrostic trimmings should be an incentive to read further around the subject.
Sir John Boardman is Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology emeritus at Oxford University and a fellow of the British Academy, which awarded him the Kenyon Medal in 1995. Editor of the Oxford History of Classical Art, his other books include The Greeks in Asia; The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity; The Greeks Overseas; The Triumph of Dionysos; The History of Greek Vases; and The Relief Plaques of Eastern Eurasia and China. He received the inaugural Onassis International Prize for Humanities in 2009.