Society Lecture, 22 May: Sophytes: Reappraisal of an enigmatic ruler and the Sophytes coins

The final lecture of the Society series this year, before the summer party and the President’s annual lecture, will take place at 6pm at the Warburg Institute on Tuesday 22nd May. Dr Sushma Jansari of the British Museum will present on the title Sophytes: Reappraisal of an enigmatic ruler and the Sophytes coins. Society lectures are open to all and information about the full current lecture programme can be found here.


Paper Abstract:

A hemidrachm bearing the name ‘Sophytes’, linked through from Wikimedia Commons.

Classical sources mention Alexander the Great’s dealings with local rulers in the Punjab including one named Sophytes. Intriguingly, Greek coins minted with the non-Greek name ‘Sophytes’ are found in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. These coins belong to the period between Alexander’s departure from the Punjab in c.325 BC, and Seleucus’ arrival in the East and transfer of territory to Chandragupta following their encounter and treaty in c.305 BC. 19th and early 20th century scholars argued they were minted by the Sophytes associated with Alexander; while recent scholars seek to break this link and argue for a Bactrian provenance.

Yet all these numismatists share a common methodology: they study or publish individual Sophytes coins or small groups of them, meaning that such studies are inherently limited. Nor is a clear methodology employed to research the coins and the literary sources together: e.g., some scholars infer Sophytes’ age when some of the Sophytes coins were minted based purely on the appearance of the portrait on the coins.

My approach is different. I compile the largest group of Sophytes coins that has hitherto been brought together thereby enabling me to study them in detail and in comparison to other contemporary coins found in the northwest of the subcontinent through, for example: iconography; signatures on the coins; weight standards; and die analysis. The resulting identification of the Sophytes named on the coins is not conclusive, but it is based on a holistic and more methodologically sound approach to the source material and, therefore, yields a stronger conclusion than has been put together thus far.