Greek Kings in Asoka's Inscriptions

Dear Community,
the question as to the date of the Buddha’s nibbāna was often tried to be answered with the help of the anchor date of king Asoka’s coronation, which was amended against Sinhalese tradition to around 268 B.C., in favor of the Greek sources, which show a certain synchronism with the Greek kings mentioned in Asoka’s edicts. Accordingly the mentioned date was moved to around 60 years later. I just got the impression that these Greek sources were trusted perhaps too easily.

Can you recommend and/or reference to any research material (books, articles, essays, reviews, online discussions etc.) regarding the reliability of the dating of these Greek kings mentioned by Asoka and their identification? Did you ever undertake some research in that direction yourself? Any conclusions reached? Thank you very much.



I wonder if “radiocarbon” dating techniques on any relevant physical documents associated with this inquiry, have ever been made? Depending on the object, they can give quite accurate dates.

Carbon dating was used for the “shrine” discovered at Lumbini. However, this research is of dubious value, and there’s nothing in what was uncovered to connect it with the Buddha’s birth.

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Rock Edict 13 has

And it (conquest by Dhamma) has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni. (transl. Dhammika)

A bit closer to the original orthography is Siracar’s edition:

And such a conquest has been achieved by the “Beloved of the Gods” not only here in his own dominions but also in the territories bordering on his dominions, as far away as at the distance of six hundred Yojanas, where the Yavana king named Antiyoka is ruling and where, beyond the kingdom of the said Antiyoka, four other kings named Tulamaya, Antikeni, Maka and Alikasundara are also ruling, and towards the south, where the Codas and Pandyas are living, as far as Tamraparni.

“Yavana” is an old name for Greece, even today “Yavan” means Greece in Hebrew and similarly in other languages (link)

Oskar von Hinüber footnotes in his 2010 paper “Did Hellenistic Kings Send Letters to Aśoka?”:

The names of these Greek kings were discovered and identified as early as 1838 by James Prinsep (Hultzsch, Inscriptions, per p. xxxi). This famous and well-known passage is used to date Asoka to that time when the reigns of the Seleucid Antiochus II Theos (261—246) of Syria, Ptolemaeus II Philadelphos of Egypt (283-247), Antigonus Gonatas of Makedonia (277-239), Alexander of Epirus (272-256/255) or of Korinth (252-244), and Magas of Cyrene (dead before 250) overlap.

In his paper “The Diverse Degrees of Authenticity of Asokan Texts” Harry Falk doesn’t mention RE 13 as in any way doubtful.

Also Guruge in his chapter of Seneviratna’s 1994 “King Aśoka and Buddhism” has no doubt about the kings’ identity:

They have been identified and dated with a fair degree of accuracy as follows:
Antiyoka (also mentioned in RE II): Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid dynasty in Syria and West Asia (i.e. the immediate western neighbour of Aśoka’s empire): 261 – 246 B.C.
Turamāya (Tulamaya): Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt: 285 – 247 B.C.
Antikini (Antekina): Antigonus Gonatas in Macedonia: 277 – 239 B.C.
Makā (Magā): Magas of Cyrene in North Africa: 282 – 258 B.C.
Alikasundara: Alexander of Epirus: 272 – 255 B.C.

Even though he has a subchapter on “Historical Reliability of Rock Edict XIII” he doesn’t conclude any doubt int its authenticity.

Gombrich in the same volume also relies on the names and dates. He writes

The kings, all of whom ruled in the Hellenistic world, the Near East, have been identified; from their dates we can deduce that the inscription was dictated in 256 or 255 B.C., and this gave modern scholarship the key to dating not merely Aśoka but the whole of ancient Indian history.

A Greek version of RE 13 was found at Kandahar in 1963. Unfortunately only its beginning (without the kings’ names) survived.

So all in all there seems to be no doubt in the edict, the identification of Greek kings (with the exception of which Alexander is meant), or the dates.


Dear Gabriel,
thank you very much for your valuable and interesting survey, and a special thanks for the resources I was completely unaware of, some are on my list now. Maybe they contain already the answers to the following remaining doubts or curiosities, but maybe you have the answers as well:

Is there any discussion as to the methodology in identification? Also: To what extant are the Greek sources more reliable than the Sinhalese? I was reading in passing that the classical sources bear similar problematic hallmarks regarding accuracy as the Sinhalese chronicles do. What I also would be interested in, is the stance of the Greek historians, to contrast it with the Buddhist field.


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That unfortunately surpasses my scope. But in general I would trust the scholarship in Greek history. The Greeks have their own writing tradition starting from the 7th century BCE, with a lot of material and sources. Hinüber e.g. mentions 450 inscriptions of royal Hellenistic correspondence.

So my guess, without being really able to answer your question, is that the identification of the kings and the according dates are solid, and much more solid so than any Sinhalese references.

Thanks Gabriel.

Just in case you might be interested also. I got hand at another interesting recent paper (2006), doubting even the validity of ascribing the mentioned inscriptions to Asoka himself:

Very complicated all … :sweat:

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Thanks, the paper is interesting. But for my taste Tieken is pushing a bit too hard to bend all eventualities to fit his theory of early Pillar Edicts and late Rock Edicts. To say it with Goethe “One notices the intention, and is annoyed”. Anyway, for normal readers like me it’s difficult to judge the validity of his linguistic arguments and it would be nice to read an assessment of these theories by Harry Falk or Bryan Levman.

You might be interested in the 2012 volume “Reimagining Asoka”, the latest collection of solid scientific papers on Asoka to my knowledge. Here is a sober review by Guruge of the book.


Very nice – yes, can happen. For me it was at least also indicating the fact, that once long cherished and allegedly established facts might collapse or at least be questioned, but in the present case I got a impression not unlike yours.

Yes, I am interested, very much so. Thank you very much for these new references, you have directed me in general in this area now for the next weeks, maybe even months. I have never heard about Bryan Levman, but his works bear promising titles. :ok_hand:


As someone who grew up in a Christian background, in which historical justification for religious faith was important (such as belief in the empty tomb of Jesus), I am thankful for these discussions about the historical evidence for Buddhism.

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