Review of Frank Holt, 'The Lost World of the Golden King. In Search of Ancient Afghanistan', Hellenistic Culture and Society 53 (Berkeley, 2012)

Review of Frank Holt, 'The Lost World of the Golden King. In Search of Ancient Afghanistan', Hellenistic Culture and Society 53 (Berkeley, 2012)
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   ReviewAuthor(s): Shane WallaceReview by: Shane WallaceSource: Hermathena  , No. 191, Philosophy and Mathematics II (Winter 2011), pp. 120-126Published by: Trinity College DublinStable URL: 26-05-2016 19:19 UTC   Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusteddigital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information aboutJSTOR, please contact Trinity College Dublin  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Hermathena  This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 May 2016 19:19:15 UTCAll use subject to   12 Reviews  ultimately on insight into the form of the good, a subject on which he  disavows knowledge and is able to convey his beliefs only by way of  suggestive images {Republic 506b-e).  A final area in which Peterson's account of Socrates fails to satisfy is the  supposed benefit to the reader of dialogues such as the Theaetetus, Phaedo, and Republic . On her account, the lengthy and involved argumentation of  these dialogues serves to reveal the characters of such interlocutors as  Theodorus, Simmias, and Glaucon. This revelation is a benefit to us, Plato's  readers, because it allows us to ask ourselves whether we are like those  interlocutors. But if Peterson is correct in her discussion of these dialogues,  the answer to our question will be simple and straightforward: we are not like  these interlocutors. She tells us that the ideal of assimilation to the divine  which attracts Theodorus is, in her view, the worst idea ever to arise in the  history of philosophy (p. 82), she sees no special reason to affirm the concern  of Simmias with what happens to his soul after he dies, and the large-scale  theory-construction in metaphysics and political which attracts Glaucon  holds no interest to her. To whatever extent we agree with Peterson that these  beliefs and concerns of Socrates' interlocutors do not stand up to  independent examination and thus are not likely to have been shared by  Socrates, to that extent the revelation of the character of the interlocutors is  of limited interest to us. Because we are convinced by Peterson's discussion of  these issues, we are not like Theodorus, Simmias, and Glaucon. And to  whatever extent we do sympathize with the commitments of a Theodorus or  a Glaucon, to that extent we will distrust Peterson's claim that the arguments which convince them could not also convince Socrates.  Andrew Payne  Saint Joseph's University, PA  Lost World of the Golden King: In Search of Ancient Afghanistan.  Frank L. Holt.  University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 2012.  Pp. xxii + 343 + 3 maps + 29 black & white figures +10 colour plates.  Price: $39.95. ISBN 978-0-520-27342-9.  In his latest book Frank Holt covers what is for him familiar ground. But he  covers it with conviction and passion, the result of a lifetime's research and a storyteller's skill. Holt's focus is the frequendy overlooked - worse, forgotten  - Greco-Macedonian kingdom of Bactria (modern Afghanistan, Pakistan,  and at times parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) which arose  from and expanded on Alexander's conquests in central Asia in 330-325 BC.  Hellenistic Bactria can be seen, in William Woodthorpe Tarn's memorable This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 May 2016 19:19:15 UTCAll use subject to   Reviews 121  words, as 4 the fifth Hellenistic state' whose zenith roughly covered the years  250-150 BC. Though never having received the same degree of attention in  antiquity or modernity as other Hellenistic empires (Seleukid, Ptolemaic, Attalid, Antigonid), Hellenistic Bactria has been the subject of numerous  recent book-length studies (seven, by this reviewer's count, since 2000 alone)  in English, French, and Italian. Holt's work comes, therefore, at an  opportune moment and offers the potential to distil recent academic work  and, through a more accessible account of Hellenistic Bactria, open the  history and achievements of this lost Greek kingdom to a wider audience.  Holt actively eschews a narrative history of Hellenistic Bactria in the mould of Rawlinson, Tarn, or Narain. He argues that such an exercise is  counter-productive since the fragmentary nature of our sources means that  we do not have enough 'facts' to construct a coherent narrative without  relying on undue speculation and the subjective reconstructions of modern historians. Instead, Holt traces the history of the modern re-discovery and  study of Hellenistic Bactria from the 17th century onwards while  simultaneously offering a methodological treatise on the principles and  application of numismatic analysis in the writing of ancient history. One of  the most interesting features of this book is the way in which Holt  continually places the study of Hellenistic Bactria within shifting  contemporary political contexts, from the 'Great Game' of the 19th century,  to the development of the Kingdom of Afghanistan, and the more recent  Soviet, Taliban, and American-British invasions and periods of rule. In  keeping with his own expertise, Holt's focus throughout is primarily -  perhaps overly - numismatic; seven chapters concentrate on coins with one  apiece on archaeology and epigraphy. There are reasons for this. The study of  Hellenistic Bactria (and India) has always been largely dependent on coins.  To this reviewer's knowledge, forty-five kings are known: eight from literary sources and inscriptions, thirty-seven from coins. Further, the largest ancient  coin hoard ever found - Mir Zakah II, consisting of over 550,000 coins - as  well as the largest gold and silver coins ever minted in antiquity - the 169.2g  gold 20-stater of Eukratides I and double-decadrachm of Amyntas - all come  from Hellenistic Bactria. The kingdom has become synonymous with such numismatic anomalies. Indeed, Holt's book is named after their subject,  Eukratides I, a sort of Bactrian El Dorado, and much of the book's attention  is devoted to Eukratides and his period of rule.  Chapter 1, 'Checklist Numismatics', traces the srcins and development  of western interest in Hellenistic Bactria in the 17th and 18th centuries. Holt explores, in particular, how scholars and collectors sought coins that belonged  to kings already known from the literary sources, thus using coinage to  supplement literature. Holt's narrative throughout is engaging and  informative and sets the tone for the rest of the book. He has an eye for detail  and characterisation and the vignettes he creates of early collectors, such as This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 May 2016 19:19:15 UTCAll use subject to   122 Reviews  Jean-Bapiste Colbert, finance minster of the Sun King Louis XIV, are vivid  and entertaining. His survey of early works on ancient Bactria will be of particular interest to those unfamiliar with the 18th and 19th century  scholarship Chapter 2, 'Framework Numismatics', moves into the 19th century and  the 'Great Game' It recounts the beginnings of the discipline of numismatics and the use of coins as sources for ancient history rather than as appendages  to literary sources. The potential for coins to illuminate events and  individuals hitherto unknown is realised as coins of previously unknown  kings are continually found. King lists are developed, emended, and rewritten  as coins bring new monarchs to light and a relative chronology is soon being  developed, thus providing a rough framework for Bactrian history.  Chapter 3, 'Novelty Numismatics', takes as its subject the Eukratidion, the truly monstrous I69.2g gold 20-stater coin minted by Eukratides I and housed since July 1867 in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris. In a gripping narrative of death and deceit, with some nice detective work, Holt clarifies  the known history of the coin. Found in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) by seven men  - five of whom were quickly murdered - it was smuggled to London in  summer 1867 by one of the ostensible finders, a Jewish merchant named Aba  Zebalun Bokhari who then sold it to the French numismatist Gaston L.  Feuardent for £1000. Chapter 4, 'Narrative Numismatics', looks at the different ways in which  coins have been used by historians and numismatists to write narrative histories of Hellenistic Bactria. Cautioning against such an approach - he  feels, quite rightly, that there are not as yet enough known 'facts' to warrant a  coherent narrative - Holt highlights in particular the approaches taken by  William Tarn and Edward Newell, both of whom used the portraiture found  on coins to construct elaborately detailed personas of individual kings - the 'psychoanalysis of the portraits' (p. 81) - which they then used as the basis  for highly speculative reconstructions of a king's reign and actions.  Chapter 5, 'Archaeology', examines the material remains of Hellenistic  Bactria. Holt touches upon numerous excavated sites - Balkh, Taxila,  Butkara - but the centrepiece of this chapter is the city of Ai Khanoum, excavated by the French between 1965 and 1978. The author stresses the  site's military and economic importance and devotes some attention to the  context of its abandonment and collapse - the heavily fortified and recently  renovated city seems to have been abandoned without a fight in the mid-2nd  century BC. As an introduction to the city of Ai Khanoum, whose French excavation reports are not easily accessible, this chapter will be especially  useful to students and non-specialists. Depressingly, but fittingly, the chapter  ends with a account of the recent widespread looting and destruction of Ai  Khanoum and many other pre-Islamic archaeological sites, most notably citing the example of a looter named Mahbuhbullah who claimed to have This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 May 2016 19:19:15 UTCAll use subject to   Reviews 123  decorated his house with 136kg of jewellery and coins looted from Ai  Khanoum.  Chapter 6, 'Epigraphy', turns to the epigraphic evidence. Remarkably, for a kingdom alleged to have held 1,000 cities (Strabo 15.1.3; Justin 41.1.8,  4.5), the first Greek inscription from Bactria was not found until 1946 Taking a broad definition, Holt looks at inscriptions on stone and metal, painted letters on potsherds, ox-hide texts, and even a baked mud-brick  impression of a papyrus. Beyond Greek documents, this chapter also touches  on Aramaic, Bactrian, and Indian texts and stresses the multi-cultural and polyglottal character of Hellenistic Bactria. Holt also examines what these  documents can tell us about administration, identity, and cultural interaction  in the period. His translations of these texts will be particularly useful to  those without Greek.  Chapter 7, 'Rescue and Revisionist Numismatics', takes as its focus the  ever-increasing black-market trade in coins. As most finds do not come from  scientific excavations and many hoards are routinely broken up and dispersed  - with large portions of the finds often melted down - Holt examines how  numismatists such as Osmund Bopearachchi must work from catalogues, images, and reports of sales, piecing together a hoard from its individual  remnants found on the open market. Holt also makes a case for 'revisionist numismatics', the continued in-depth analysis of coinage and the avoidance  of more recent attempts - which Holt strongly criticises - to use coinage to  write narrative histories.  Chapters 8 and 9, 'Cognitive Numismatics I' and 'II', continue the  argument against the recent production of narrative histories and propose  instead the continued relevance of numismatics against what Holt sees as its  increasing isolation by 'a proliferation of subfields ranging from women's history, ethnohistory ... hybridity, urbanization, and colonialism' (pp. 161- 2). Focusing on die- types, Holt detects a continued knowledge of Greek but  an increasing sloppiness in production, leading to more mass-produced,  lower-quality coins. Holt attributes such increased production and decreased  quality to internal and external socio-economic pressures felt within Bactria  before the fall of Ai Khanoum and the invasion of the Yuezhi and Kushans.  Most notably, Holt suggests that these nomadic invasions may have been the  consequence rather than the cause of Bactria's decline. Holt's focus throughout is very much numismatic. This reflects his own  expertise and the key role played by coinage in the discovery and study of  Hellenistic Bactria, but it also means that his work is largely a history of the  study of Bactrian coinage. In consequence, one can justly question whether it  actually fulfils its goal as 'a solid introduction to this complex phase of  ancient history' (p. xix). A fairer balance between numismatics, archaeology,  and epigraphy might have been preferred. Holt complains that 'Bactrian  studies remain partly mated to the old methodologies of narrative This content downloaded from on Thu, 26 May 2016 19:19:15 UTCAll use subject to
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