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Menander (reigned c. 165 –135 BC) [1] was a Greco-Bactrian and later Indo-Greek King who administered a large territory in the Northwestern regions of the Indian Subcontinent from his capital at Sagala. He is believed to have been a patron of the Buddhist religion and the subject of an important Buddhist work, the Milinda-panha (“The Questions of Milinda”).



Menander is noted for having become a patron and convert to Greco-Buddhism and he is widely regarded as the greatest of the Indo-Greek kings.[2]

Menander might have initially been a king of Bactria. After re-conquering the Punjab[3] he established an empire which stretched from the Kabul River valley in the west to the Ravi River in the east, and from the Swat River valley in the north to Arachosia (the Helmand Province). Ancient Indian writers indicate that he launched expeditions southward into Rajasthan and as far east down the Ganges River Valley as Pataliputra (Patna), and the Greek geographer Strabo wrote that he "conquered more tribes than Alexander the Great."

Large numbers of Menander’s coins have been unearthed, attesting to both the flourishing commerce and longevity of his realm.


Menander was born into a Greek family[4] in a village called Kalasi adjacent to Alexandria of the Caucasus (present day Bagram, Afghanistan),[5] although another source says he was born near Sagala (modern Sialkot in the Punjab, Pakistan).[6]

His territories covered Bactria (modern-day Balkh Province) and extended to India (modern-day regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Greater Punjab.

His capital is supposed to have been Sagala, a prosperous city in northern Punjab (believed to be modern Sialkot, Pakistan).

The Greeks who caused Bactria to revolt grew so powerful on account of the fertility of the country that they became masters, not only of Ariana, but also of India, as Apollodorus of Artemita says: and more tribes were subdued by them than by Alexander-- by Menander in particular (at least if he actually crossed the Hypanis towards the east and advanced as far as the Imaüs), for some were subdued by him personally and others by Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus the king of the Bactrians; and they took possession, not only of Patalena, but also, on the rest of the coast, of what is called the kingdom of Saraostus and Sigerdis. In short, Apollodorus says that Bactriana is the ornament of Ariana as a whole; and, more than that, they extended their empire even as far as the Seres and the Phryni......— Strabo, Geographica[7]

Accounts describe Indo-Greek campaigns to Mathura, Panchala, Saketa, and potentially Pataliputra. The sage Patanjali around 150 BC, describes Menander campaigning as far as Mathura. The Hathigumpha inscription inscribed by Kharavela the King of Kalinga also places the Yavanas, or Indo-Greeks, in Mathura. Kharavela states to have forced the demoralized Yavana army to retreat back to Mathura:

"Then in the eighth year, (Kharavela) with a large army having sacked Goradhagiri causes pressure on Rajagaha (Rajagriha). On account of the loud report of this act of valour, the Yavana (Greek) King [ta] retreated to Mathura having extricated his demoralized army.".....— Hathigumpha inscription, lines 7-8, probably in the 1st century BCE-1st century CE. The original text is in Brahmi script.

Menander may have campaigned as far as the Shunga capital Pataliputra resulting in a conflict. The religious scripture Yuga Purana, which describes events in the form of a prophecy, states:

After having conquered Saketa, the country of the Panchala and the Mathuras, the Yavanas (Greeks), wicked and valiant, will reach Kusumadhvaja. The thick mud-fortifications at Pataliputra being reached, all the provinces will be in disorder, without a doubt. Ultimately, a great battle will follow, with tree-like engines (siege engines).

......— Gargi-Samhita, Yuga Purana, ch. 5

Strabo also suggests that Indo-Greek conquests went up to the Shunga capital Pataliputra in northeastern India (today Patna):

Those who came after Alexander went to the Ganges and Pataliputra.....— Strabo, 15.698

The events and results of these campaigns are unknown. Surviving epigraphical inscriptions during this time such as the Hathigumpha inscription states that Kharavela sacked Pataliputra. Furthermore, numismatics from the Mitra dynasty are concurrently placed in Mathura during the time of Menander. Their relationship is unclear, but the Mithra may potentially be vassals.

In the West, Menander seems to have repelled the invasion of the dynasty of Greco-Bactrian usurper Eucratides, and pushed them back as far as the Paropamisadae, thereby consolidating the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in the northwestern part of the Indian Subcontinent.

Generous findings of coins testify to the prosperity and extent of his empire: (with finds as far as Britain) the finds of his coins are the most numerous and the most widespread of all the Indo-Greek kings. Precise dates of his reign, as well as his origin, remain elusive, however. Guesses among historians have been that Menander was either a nephew or a former general of the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I, but the two kings are now thought to be separated by at least thirty years. Menander's predecessor in Punjab seems to have been the king Apollodotus I.

Menander's empire survived him in a fragmented manner until the last Greek king Strato II disappeared around 10 AD.

The 1st-2nd century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea further testifies to the reign of Menander and the influence of the Indo-Greeks in India:

To the present day ancient drachmae are current in Barygaza, coming from this country, bearing inscriptions in Greek letters, and the devices of those who reigned after Alexander, Apollodorus [sic] and Menander. .....— Periplus, ch. 47.[9]

Menander and Buddhism

Menander was also a patron of Buddhism, and his conversations with the Buddhist sage Nagasena are recorded in the important Buddhist work, the Milinda Panha ("The Questions of King Milinda"; panha meaning "question" in Pali). After his death in 130 BC, he was succeeded by his wife Agathocleia, perhaps the daughter of Agathocles, who ruled as regent for his son Strato I.[8]

Buddhist tradition relates that he handed over his kingdom to his son and retired from the world, but Plutarch says that he died in camp while on a military campaign, and that his remains were divided equally between the cities to be enshrined in monuments, probably stupas, across his realm.


  1. "Menander | Indo-Greek king". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. "Menander | Indo-Greek king". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. Hazel, John (2013). Who's Who in the Greek World. Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 9781134802241. Menander king in India, known locally as Milinda, born at a village named Kalasi near Alasanda (Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus), and who was himself the son of a king. After conquering the Punjab, where he made Sagala his capital, he made an expedition across northern India and visited Patna, the capital of the Mauraya empire, though he did not succeed in conquering this land as he appears to have been overtaken by wars on the north-west frontier with Eucratides.
  4. Noble, Thomas F. X.; Strauss, Barry; Osheim, Duane; Neuschel, Kristen; Accampo, Elinor (2013). Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries. Cengage Learning. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-285-50020-1.
  5. . Routledge. p. 155. ISBN 9781134802241.
  6. Magill, Frank Northen (2003). Dictionary of World Biography, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 717. ISBN 9781579580407. MENANDER Born: c. 210 B.C.; probably Kalasi, Afghanistan Died: c. 135 B.C.; probably in northwest India Areas of Achievement: Government and religion Contribution: Menander extended the Greco-Bactrian domains in India more than any other ruler. He became a legendary figure as a great patron of Buddhism in the Pali book the Milindapanha. Early Life – Menander (not to be confused with the more famous Greek dramatist of the same name) was born somewhere in the fertile area to the south of the Paropamisadae or the present Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. The only reference to this location is in the semi-legendary Milindapanha (first or second century A.D.), which says that he was born in a village called Kalasi near Alasanda, some two hundred yojanas (about eighteen miles) from the town of Sagala (probably Sialkot in Punjab). The Alasanda refers to the Alexandria in Afghanistan and not the one in Egypt.
  7. (in Greek) Strabo (1877). "11.11.1". In Meineke, A. (ed.). Geographica (in Greek). Leipzig: Teubner. Jones, H. L., ed. (1924). "11.11.1". Strabo, Geography, Book 11, chapter 11, section 1. Jones, H. L., ed. (1903). "11.11.1". Strabo, Geography, BOOK XI., CHAPTER XI., section 1. At the Perseus Project.
  8. The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press. 1970. p. 406. ISBN 978-0-521-23448-1.