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Alexander the Great in the Hephthalite Empire: “Bactrian” Vases, the Jewish Alexander Romance, and the Invention of Paradise

Abstract : The revival of Alexander the Great’s prestige in the Roman Empire of the 3rd–5th centuries has an Eastern counterpart: the post-Sassanian, Kidarite, and especially Hephtalite elites of Central Asia used the so-called “Bactrian” silverware decorated with Greco-Roman motives, through which they praised their glory as much as sometimes that of Alexander, heir of the Achaemenids and conqueror of India. At the same time, Sogdians of Samarkand honored Alexander as founder (of their city and of Nana’s temple). The Jews, who saw Alexander as their forerunner on these eastern edges of the world, reinforced his fame, presenting him as the first guide towards the nearby Earthly Paradise. According to our interpretation, the “Greek bowl” from Lhasa is a “Bactrian” silver bowl from the late 5th-6th century, which provides the earliest image of a Jewish version of the Alexander Romance: Alexander plucking the incense tree and drinking the water of life in a paradeisos on the extremities of India. The bowl confirms the importance of Jewish communities in Central Asia before the Islamic conquest and shows the contribution of Judaism to the transcultural invention of the Earthly Paradise, between the Greco-Roman and the Indo-Iranian worlds.
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Contributor : Anca Dan Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, December 28, 2021 - 11:30:42 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 28, 2022 - 4:20:11 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Tuesday, March 29, 2022 - 6:37:02 PM


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  • HAL Id : hal-03334673, version 1



Anca Dan, Frantz Grenet. Alexander the Great in the Hephthalite Empire: “Bactrian” Vases, the Jewish Alexander Romance, and the Invention of Paradise. Bulletin of the Asia institute / Asia institute (Detroit, Mich.), 2021, 2020-2021 (30), pp.143-194. ⟨hal-03334673⟩



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