BAKTRIA, Greco-Baktrian Kingdom. Demetrios I, circa 200-185 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 34 mm, 17.00 g, 12 h), Baktra. Diademed and draped bust of Demetrios I to right, wearing elephant skin headdress. Rev. BAΣIΛEΩΣ - ΔHMHTPIOY Youthful Herakles, nude, standing facing, crowning himself with a wreath with his right hand and holding club and lion skin his left; in inner left field, monogram. Bopearachchi 1F. HGC 12, 63. MIG 103c. A nicely toned and beautifully struck example of this prestigious issue. Very minor doubling, otherwise, about extremely fine.
What makes the silver coinage of Demetrios I particularly remarkable is that it shows the king wearing an elephant headdress on the obverse: this is clearly a reference to his Indian victories and to Alexander the Great, the great conqueror of the East, whom the king had not only emulated, but, in the view of his contemporaries, even surpassed. Sources are sparse, but we learn from Indian texts that Demetrios led an offensive against the Mauryan Empire, in the course of which the Mauryan capital Pataliputra on the Ganges was besieged by the Greeks. Another campaign followed the Indus valley south and brought Sindh and the city of Patalena under control, once again areas not even Alexander had reached. In the North, Demetrios I crossed the Oxus and founded the city of Demetrias in Sogdiana, which still carries his name today (Termez in Uzbekistan).
The king's resounding military successes left a long-lasting impression on his contemporaries, and Demetrios was hence one of the few Greco-Baktrian rulers to be mentioned both in western Greek and Indian literature. During a time where the western Greeks were increasingly under pressure from the new superpower Rome, the military successes of a Greek king far in the East, a new Alexander, who reached India and conquered territories unknown to his famous predecessor, bore a touch of romance similar to the medieval tales of Prester John. Citing Apollodoros of Artemita, a late 2nd or early 1st century historian, the Augustean historian Strabo reports that 'more peoples were subjected by them than by Alexander, [...], some [...] by Menander himself, others by Demetrios, son of Euthydemos, the King of Baktria' (Strab. XI 11.1). It is worth noting that the explicit referral to Demetrios as the 'son of Euthydemos, King of Baktria' corresponds well with an inscription found in Aï Khanoum, in which a certain Heliodotos refers to 'the greatest of all kings Euthydemos, as well as his son, the glorious, victorious and remarkable Demetrios' (SEG 54.1569). This suggests that Demetrios acted as a co-ruler in the later years of his father's reign and may already have achieved some of his military successes at a young age. His important role at the Royal court is also emphasized by Polybios, who reports that King Euthydemos sent his son to the camp of the Seleukid King Antiochos III 'the Great' during the siege of Baktra in 208-206 BC to negotiate peace, who then married one of his daughters off to the prince (Polyb. XI, 34.8-9) - this was one of the few direct interactions of the Greco-Baktrian kings with the western Diadochi.