Eucratides I (Greek: Εὐκρατίδης Α΄; reigned c. 171–145 BC), sometimes called Eucratides the Great, was one of the most important Greco-Bactrian kings, descendants of dignitaries of Alexander the Great. He uprooted the Euthydemid dynasty of Greco-Bactrian kings and replaced it with his own lineage. He fought against the Indo-Greek kings, the easternmost Hellenistic rulers in northwestern India, temporarily holding territory as far as the Indus, until he was finally defeated and pushed back to Bactria. Eucratides had a vast and prestigious coinage, suggesting a rule of considerable importance.
Eucratides came to the throne by overthrowing the dynasty of Euthydemus I in Bactria, whose son Demetrius was conquering northwestern India. The king whom Eucratides dethroned in Bactria was probably Antimachus I.
It is unclear whether Eucratides was a Bactrian official who raised a rebellion, or, according to some scholars, a cousin of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was trying to regain the Bactrian territory. Justin explains that Eucratides acceded to the throne at about the same time as Mithridates, whose rule is accurately known to have started in 171 BC, thereby giving an approximate date for the accession of Eucratides:
Some of the coins of Eucratides probably represent his parents, where his father is named Heliocles, and his mother, who is thought to be Laodice, is wearing a royal diadem. Laodice may have been a member of the Seleucid imperial house.
Having become master of Bactria, Eucratides also conquered the western parts of the Indo-Greek kingdom. According to the single remaining source, Roman historian Justin, Eucratides defeated Demetrius of India, but the identity of this king is uncertain: he could be either Demetrius I, or Demetrius II.
Numismatic evidence suggests that Eucratides I was a contemporary of the Indo-Greek kings Apollodotus I, Antimachus II and Menander I. In any case, Eucratides' advances into India are proved by his abundant bilingual coinage.
In the west the Parthian king Mithradates I began to enlarge his kingdom and attacked Eucratides; the city of Herat fell in 167 BC and the Parthians succeeded in conquering two provinces between Bactria and Parthia, called by Strabo the country of Aspiones and Turiua.
Justin ends his account of Eucratides' life by claiming that the warlike king was murdered on his way back from India by his own son (either Eucratides II or Heliocles I, although there are speculations that it could be his enemy's son Demetrius II), who hated his father so much that he dragged his dead body after his chariot:
The murder of Eucratides probably brought about a civil war amongst the members of the dynasty. The successors to Eucratides were Eucratides II and Heliocles I (145–130 BC), who was the last Greek king to reign in Bactria. Once the Yuezhi tribes overpowered Heliocles, the Greco-Bactrians lost control of the provinces north of the Hindu Kush.
The rule of the Greco-Bactrians soon crumbled following these numerous wars:
However, the rule of the Indo-Greeks over territories south of the Hindu Kush lasted for a further 150 years, ultimately collapsing under the pressure of the Yüeh-chih and Scythian (Saka) invasions in around 10 BC, with the last Indo-Greek ruler Strato II.
Almost at the same time that Mithridates ascended the throne among the Parthians, Eucratides began to reign among the Bactrians; both of them being great men. But the fortune of the Parthians, being the more successful, raised them, under this prince, to the highest degree of power; while the Bactrians, harassed with various wars, lost not only their dominions, but their liberty; for having suffered from contentions with the Sogdians, the Drangians, and the Indians, they were at last overcome, as if exhausted, by the weaker Parthians. Eucratides, however, carried on several wars with great spirit, and though much reduced by his losses in them, yet, when he was besieged by Demetrius king of the Indians, with a garrison of only three hundred soldiers, he repulsed, by continual sallies, a force of sixty thousand enemies. Having accordingly escaped, after a five months’ siege, he reduced India under his power. But as he was returning from the country, he was killed on his march by his son, with whom he had shared his throne, and who was so far from concealing the murder, that, as if he had killed an enemy, and not his father, he drove his chariot through his blood, and ordered his body to be cast out unburied.