Taxila, Bhir


Taxila (Old Indian Takshaçila, Greek Ταξίλα): the ancient capital of the eastern Punjab, the country between the rivers Indus and Hydaspes. The site consists of several parts, which belong to the Achaemenid, Greek, and Kushan periods.

Map of Taxila
Map of Taxila

The oldest part of Taxila is Bhir, which consists of several building phases:

  1. the oldest stratum, usually dated to the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, although literary sources suggest that the city is a bit older;
  2. the fourth century, in which raja Ambhi entertained Alexander the Great in 326;
  3. the stratum of the Mauryan empire, third century;
  4. and the uppermost stratum, which is everything after the Mauryan period.

The division between the first and second strata is a bit artificial. Even worse, the common identification of the oldest part of the city with the presence of the Achaemenid king Darius the Great in India in ca. 518 BCE is not based on archaeological finds. In his own texts, Darius claims to have conquered the Indus country, but until now, there is no archaeological confirmation. It would help if we found a Persian cuneiform tablet. So far, only one Persian coin has been reported.

Bhir, excavation
Bhir, excavation

There is some continuity from the oldest to the youngest levels. The main street has been found on the same place in every stratum. The rest of the town changed considerably in the course of the centuries. It consisted of irregular, zigzag, small streets and housing blocks made of mud bricks, stones and timber. There was a building that is usually interpreted as a temple ("the pillared hall") and it is said that in the palace, the Mahabharata was recited for the very first time. note

In 316, the Mauryan king Chandragupta of Magadha (321-297), the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, conquered the Punjab, which had become destabilized after the Macedonian invasion. Taxila lost its independence and became a mere provincial capital. Still, the city remained extremely important as center of administration, education and trade.

Bhir Mound
Bhir Mound

During the reign of Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka, Buddhism became important and the first monks settled in Taxila. They built the stupa called Dharmarajika, "the tomb of the real law lord", i.e., the Buddha, because Ashoka had sent relics to several places in his empire. At the same time, Taxila was rebuilt.

In c.184, the Greeks, who had maintained a kingdom in Bactria, invaded Gandara and the Punjab again. From now on, there was a Greek king living in Taxila, Demetrius. He seems to have ordered the rebuilding of the town on the plains north of Bhir mound. This second second city is called the Sirkap.

The greatest monument of Bhir mound, however, cannot be shown: the scholars. Panini, the author of a famous book on Sanskrit grammar, lived in Taxila; Caraka, a famous master of medicine had a house on Bhir mound too; and Kautilya, the Brahman adviser of Chandragupta Maurya and author of a guide to statecraft, the Arthasastra, was a resident of Taxila as well.