New Greek Inscriptions from Takhti Sangin and the Problem of the Origin of Bactrian Script

Ivantchik Askold I.

During the excavations at Takht-i Sangin (temple of Oxos) in 2004–2007 a bronze casting workshop was discovered, its materials including several moulds for casting cauldrons. Some of the moulds bear Greek dedicatory inscriptions, one of which is preserved in full. Its author had an Iranian name and held a post which presumably means «seal keeper». Multiple irregularities in its Greek language must be due to the Bactrian-speaking environment. The material of the workshop, including the moulds with inscriptions, is dated to the second half of the 2nd century or, less probably, to the first half of the 1st century BC. The script of the inscriptions is very unusual («square» characters together with cursive ones, «rho» with open loop), but it has close parallels in early inscriptions of the Kushan period (the late 1st century AD). Thus, the form of Greek script which served as a basis for Bactrian script began to be used in Bactria as early as the second half of the 2nd century BC, in the later period of Greco-Bactrian Kingdom or shortly after its fall. Another inscription from Takht-i Sangin was made on a stone bowl and may be dated to the 2nd century BC. The bowl was inscribed with the name of Oxos in its usual Greek form and in the form which is explained as rendering of its Bactrian pronunciation in Greek letters. Probably, this is the earliest known attempt of written fixation of the Bactrian language, an experiment in bilingual Greco-Bactrian society, where the importance of the Greek language was gradually decreasing.

Keywords: Bactria, temple of Oxos, Takht-i Sangin, Greek inscriptions, Bactrian inscriptions, Bactrian language