The supremely accessible culmination of decades of research on the influence of the Greeks beyond their home territory from an eminent scholar
From Britain’s most distinguished historian of ancient Greek art comes this account of the influence of Greek communities and their culture through Central Asia, India, and Western China, from the Bronze Age to the rise of Islam.
John Boardman examines a wealth of art and artifacts as well as literary sources to reveal the remarkable influence of Greek culture on peoples—Anatolians, Levantines, Persians, Asiatics, Indians, and Chinese—whose civilizations were far older, with their own strong traditions in government, the arts, and daily life.
The Greeks were not empire builders. They did not seek to conquer or rule. However, they were highly literate and adept at trade; they spread a monetary economy through Eurasia; their religion was easily adapted to that of others; their art developed a narrative form that was to be dominant for centuries to come; and their poets and philosophers were widely respected outside their homeland. As Boardman notes, “They are an odd phenomenon in world history. Through their travels they came to leave a very distinctive imprint on the lives and arts of many distant peoples.”
In spite of Alexander the Great's conquests in the Mediterranean and beyond, the Greeks were not empire builders, claims art historian Boardman (The Greeks Overseas). Rather, as he elegantly demonstrates in this richly illustrated chronicle, the Greeks left their cultural, literary, religious, and artistic marks on every culture with which they came into contact. Examples abound. Greek engravers in Persia developed a new "scaraboid" shape for seals, which came close to being portraits of the heads of various figures, and Persian buildings also displayed Greek style "egg-and-dart" moldings even as Greek art itself moved from away from this style. Coins in Greek kingdoms in the east often featured the head of the emperor and the figure of Zeus on its reverse; the legends on Greek coins often featured the word "savior," while Indian coins referred to their kings as "maharaja." Greek influence also extended to the Indian theater, where theatrical masks and fragments of a Greek play have been found. According to Boardman, there is a good chance that depictions of the life of Buddha in reliefs and on stage were influenced by the classical Greek model of theater. Boardman draws on art, architecture, and archaeology to offer a fascinating, if not entirely innovative, glimpse into the interaction of Greek and Asian culture.