The Greek archaeologist who discovered the city of Alexander of Bactria

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Greco-Russian archaeologist from Bactria Victor Sarigiannidis
Greco-Russian archaeologist Victor Sarigiannidis in the Margiana expedition. Credit: Wikipedia / hceebee CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The eminent Russian archaeologist of Greco-Pontic origin Victor Sarigiannidis is the man who discovered the ancient city of Bactria.

Sarigiannidis has been described as a “poet of archeology”, “the man who followed in the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Central Asia” and a “hero of Pontian Hellenism”.

The Greek archaeologist spent decades in the deserts of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, where he unearthed entire cities with wonderful culture and wealth.

Discovery of Bactria

With the discovery of Bactria and the findings of the necropolis of Gonur Tepe, Victor Sarigiannidis proved that Hellenism spread to the region 1600 years before the campaign of Alexander the Great.

The evidence supports the theory of the connection of the Oxus River culture with the Minoan-Mycenaean culture.

At the same time, he developed the theory that Zoroastrianism first appeared in this region in palaces and altars accompanied by signs of fire worship.

Life and work of Victor Sarigiannidis

Victor Sarigiannidis was born on September 23, 1929 in Tashkent – then the Soviet Union, now Uzbekistan – to Greek parents.

In 1952 he graduated from the Central Asian State University (Tashkent), and in 1961 he obtained a master’s degree in Near and Middle Eastern archeology at the Moscow Archaeological Institute.

From 1949 he played an active role in archaeological excavations in Central Asia and Afghanistan. There he unearthed the royal necropolis of Tilia Tepe (1st century AD).

In Tilia Tepe, more than 20,000 gold objects have been found. It was considered the “find of the century”. The finds have been kept at the State Museum of Afghanistan.

However, during the wars in the region, all finds were stolen between 1991 and 1993 and since then it is not known where they are.

The findings in the “Golden Tomb” have proven the existence of cultural influences from various regions such as Greece, Iran, India, Egypt, China and Siberia.

For example, Aphrodite with wings and a dot on the forehead is one of the elements that revealed a wide encounter of cultures, such as Greek, Indian and local who worshiped winged deities.

The Hellenistic Kingdom of Bactria – or Greco-Bactrian Kingdom as historians call it – flourished in the region for two centuries after the death of Alexander the Great.

During the last 30 years of his life, Victor Sarigiannidis carried out the largest archaeological excavations in the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan.

There he discovered the Margian Kingdom (end of the 3rd millennium BC) totally unknown to the international scientific world.

The Greek archaeologist introduced a new theory about the formation of the early Hellenistic culture in Central Asia and the existence of a culture identical to that of Bactria, which is also associated with the Minoan-Mycenaean culture.

Overall, Sarigiannidis made a decisive contribution to the emergence of elements of Greek culture in the Greater Black Sea region and also to the discovery of Greek roots in present-day Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. .

With his discoveries, Victor Sarigiannidis proved that Hellenism spread to East and Central Asia 1600 years before the campaign of Alexander the Great.

Honors and disappointment with the Greek state

For his work, Sarigiannidis was awarded the title of Doctor of Historical Sciences from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1975.

He was an honorary member of the Hellenic Anthropological Society, a member of the American Society of Sciences, and a member of the Federation of Russian Journalists.

In Greece, Victor Sarigiannidis obtained Greek nationality in 1997 and was awarded the Golden Cross of the Order of Honor of the Hellenic Republic in January 2002.

He also received honorary citizenship of Turkmenistan in 2000, received the
International Makhtumkuli Prize in Turkmenistan in 2001 and the Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani Prize, Afghanistan’s highest cultural honor.

His writing was particularly rich, with 20 books in Russian, which have been translated into English, German, Japanese and Greek. More than 200 of his articles have been published in prestigious international scientific journals.

Arriving in Greece in the mid-1990s, he received numerous promises from the Greek state of financial support in order to continue his work, but he was disappointed by the behavior and indifference of officials.

Later, the promises of then Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis (2004-2009) were never kept. In 2005, after years of effort, he received a meager pension from the Greek state, amounting to 192 euros per month.

Victor Sarigiannidis died in Moscow on December 23, 2013, at the age of 84.


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