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The Ancient Greeks from Crete Who Founded a City in South Asia

Long ago, a substantial ancient Greek population from the island of Crete lived in the ancient city of Daedala, located in south Asia. Credits: Dosseman / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Located in a strategically and geopolitically important region, in the modern nation state of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, is a place called Bajaur, once part of the Paropamisadae region ruled by the ancient Greeks of India. A substantial ancient Greek population from the island of Crete lived there, in the ancient city of Daedala.

According to Stephanus of Byzantium, the name Daedala came from near Lycia, an ancient region on the Teke Peninsula in today’s Turkey’s Mediterranean region, where a city named Daedala was founded named after Daedalus, the mythical ancient Greek architect and sculptor.

Daedalus had offended Minos, the King of Crete, who threw him and his son Icarus into prison. Icarus’ mother was Nausicrate, one of King Minos’ servants. Daedalus made wings of wax and feathers, which he and Icarus used in a bid to fly to Sicily and freedom. A district was named Daedala in the Rhodian Peraea bordering upon Lycia, and nearby in Lycia, a mountain was also named Daedala; a curious repetition of this is found in the Paropamisadae, in the Indian subcontinent. The Greek historian Curtius mentioned the Daedala in the Indian subcontinent, and Justin mentioned the Daedalian mountains.

Daedala: the city of Ancient Greeks from Crete

Greek Corinthian capital with the Buddha in the center, from Jarmal Garhi
Figure of the Buddha, within a Corinthian capital, Gandhara. Credit: Craddock James/ Public Domain

With a population of about 600,000, Bajaur borders Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which is a hotbed of Taliban forces, infamous for its Islamic fundamentalism which included destroying the Hellenistic Greek art, Bamiyan Buddhas. Bajaur is inhabited by several tribes, the foremost being the Tarkani and the Utman Khel.

Greek king of India Menander I Soter
Emperor Menander I Soter. Credits: CNG Coins / Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

This region of the the frontier belt (North West Frontier Province of Pakistan) was once the  home of Hellenism. Greeks settled here and moved further east towards the fertile plains of the Ganges river in India, hoping to one day reach Palibothra, the capital of the powerful kingdom of Magadha, ruled by Xandrames.

They achieved this under the military command of Menander I Soter, whose city, according to Stephanus of Byzantium, was Daedela in the Indian subcontinent. The only inscription referring to Menander has been found in Bajaur. Large numismatic treasures of extraordinary historic significance have also been found there.

Indo-Cretan City in Ancient India

Fresco depicting the ladies of the court from the Palace of Knossos
Fresco depicting the ladies of the court from the Palace of Knossos can be found at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete. Credit:Tony Hammond / CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0/Flickr

In 1519, during the medieval period of Indian history, Babur, the Central Asian Turko-Mongol conquerer and founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, made his first attack on Bajaur. With 2000 horsemen, he defeated a prince who claimed descent from the daughter of Alexander the Great. The earliest reference to this is to be found in the Ain-e-Akbari, a work by Abu-Fazl, the main historian at the court of the Moghul emperor Akbar, the grandson of Babur. The reference was noticed by some of the very early British historians,  who already quote it in their writings in the 18th century.

Knossos palace Minoan Crete
Knossos Palace, Crete, Greece. Credit: Gary Bembridge/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

This region, as mentioned before, had a number of Greek emigrant settlers. Cretan mercenary slingers & archers were highly esteemed, and participated in such conflicts as the Peloponnesian War. Menander I Soter, the ancient Greek king of India, also used the talent of Cretan mercenaries; in fact his city Daedala was a settlement of Cretan mercenaries. Crete at this time supplied more mercenaries than any other Greek people. 

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