Originally, Buddhist art rejected human representations. He was what is known as aniconic, avoiding even images of the Buddha himself. But everything changed around the first century AD in a region called Ghandara, which included most of Kashmir.
This area located between what would now be northwestern India, central and northern Pakistan, and southeastern Afghanistan was conquered by Alexander the Great and remained Hellenistic with its Greco-Hindu rulers. So strong was the bond that they even influenced the entire Indian subcontinent, mingling with the Buddhist culture.
This new mestizo society changed its opinion regarding the representations of the Buddha. It was then, five hundred years after the death of Siddhārtha Gautama (563-483 BC), that representations of the Buddha began to be produced. And since no one knew what face he had, they used King Demetrius I as a model.
The images also used other stylistic elements of Greek influence such as the toga or short curly hair. Details that can be seen in a recently recovered Buddha statuette… in the middle of Egypt, as reported by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The sculpture, which was made around 1,900 years ago, when Egypt was under Roman control, was discovered by a team of Polish and American archaeologists while excavating a temple at Berenice, an ancient seaport located on the western shore of the Red Sea.
The expedition has been working on the site since 1994, according to Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. But it has been this latest campaign that has revealed the existence of commercial links between Egypt and India, within the route that connected the Roman Empire with many parts of the ancient world.
“During Roman times there were many ports on the Red Sea involved in this trade, the most important of which was Berenice, where ships arrived from India laden with goods such as pepper, semi-precious stones, textiles, and ivory. Camel caravans carried the goods across the desert to the Nile, where other ships carried the goods to Alexandria and from there to the rest of the Empire,” Waziri said in a statement.
The discovered Buddha statue measures about 70 centimeters and is made of stone that may have been quarried from an area south of Istanbul or may even have been carved in Berenice by people from Southeast Asia. Researchers believe that one or more wealthy citizens used it as an offering at the temple.
The depiction shows Siddhārtha Gautama standing up with part of his clothing held by his left hand. A lotus flower also appears and there is a halo around his head with the sun’s rays represented, indicating his radiant mind, say Dr. Mariusz Goyazda.
Archaeologists discovered an inscription in the Hindi (Sanskrit) language dating to the time of the Roman Emperor Philip the Arab (244-249 AD). The inscription, early analyzes indicate, is not of the same date as the statue, which is probably much older, as other texts in the same temple were in Greek and dated to the early 1st century AD. Two 2nd century AD coins from the Indian kingdom of Satavahana were also found.