Sagala is an ancient name for the modern city of Sialkot in northern Punjab, Pakistan. In ancient times Sagala was the capital of the Indo-Greek King Menander during his reign from 160 to 135 BCE. Literary accounts suggest that Greek and local Indian populations in cities like Sagala lived in relative harmony, with some of the local residents adopting the responsibilities of Greek citizenship, while many Greeks converted to Buddhism and adopted local traditions.
The Greeks were known as the yonaka in Pali. One of the best descriptions of Sagala comes from the Pali text Milinda Panha (Questions of Milinda), a dialogue between King Menander and the Buddhist monk Nagasena. The Milinda Panha dates from approximately 100 BCE and is included in the Burmese edition of the Pali Canon as a book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, although it does not appear in the Thai or Sri Lankan versions.
The Milinda Panha describes the city of Sagala in it’s heyday as a centre of Graeco-Indian buddhist culture as follows:
There is in the country of the Yonakas a great centre of trade, a city that is called Sâgala, situate in a delightful country well watered and hilly, abounding in parks and gardens and groves and lakes and tanks, a paradise of rivers and mountains and woods. Wise architects have laid it out, and its people know of no oppression, since all their enemies and adversaries have been put down. Brave is its defence, with many and various strong towers and ramparts, with superb gates and entrance archways; and with the royal citadel in its midst, white walled and deeply moated. Well laid out are its streets, squares, cross roads, and market places. Well displayed are the innumerable sorts of costly merchandise with which its shops are filled. It is richly adorned with hundreds of alms-halls of various kinds; and splendid with hundreds of thousands of magnificent mansions, which rise aloft like the mountain peaks of the Himalayas. Its streets are filled with elephants, horses, carriages, and foot-passengers, frequented by groups of handsome men and beautiful women, and crowded by men of all sorts and conditions, Brahmans, nobles, artificers, and servants. They resound with cries of welcome to the teachers of every creed, and the city is the resort of the leading men of each of the differing sects. Shops are there for the sale of Benares muslin, of Kotumbara stuffs, and of other cloths of various kinds; and sweet odours are exhaled from the bazaars, where all sorts of flowers and perfumes are tastefully set out. Jewels are there in plenty, such as men’s hearts desire, and guilds of traders in all sorts of finery display their goods in the bazaars that face all quarters of the sky. So full is the city of money, and of gold and silver ware, of copper and stone ware, that it is a very mine of dazzling treasures. And there is laid up there much store of property and corn and things of value in warehouses – foods and drinks of every sort, syrups and sweetmeats of every kind. In wealth it rivals Uttara-kuru, and in glory it is as Âlakamandâ, the city of the gods.
(The Questions of King Milinda, Translation by T. W. Rhys Davids, 1890 pp 2-3)
The accompanying image details a coin from the era of King Menander, quite possibly minted and circulated in the city of Sagala: