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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia

 

 

 

Bactria

A Bronze Age culture emerged in Central Asia in about 2200-1700 BC, at the same time as city states were beginning to flourish in Anatolia. It was known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus civilisation, and Indo-European tribes soon integrated into it. Probably these very same people were very shortly to be found entering India, and those who remained behind appear to enter the historical record in around the sixth century BC, when they came up against the rapidly expanding Persian empire.

The ancient province of Bactria was located to the far north-east of Persia. Prior to its late sixth century BC domination by the Achaemenid Persians, Bactria seems to have formed part of a much larger and more poorly-defined region known as Ariana, of which the later province of Aria was the heartland. Barely recorded by written history, its precise boundaries are impossible to pin down. It may have encompassed much or all of Transoxiana, the region around the River Oxus (the Amu Darya), and could have reached as far south as the coastline of the Arabian Sea.

Known as Bhalika in Arabic and Indian languages, the territory which formed it lay between the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the south-east and the River Oxus in the north, and at times formed part of the later Islamic region of Khorasan. Bactria was neighboured to the south by Paropamisadae, to the west by Aria and Margiana, and to the north by Sogdiana and Ferghana, with Pamir lying between it and the north-western edge of the Himalayas. Today its territory forms parts of northern Afghanistan, western Tajikistan, southern Uzbekistan, and eastern Turkmenistan, and the name survives in the Afghan province of Balkh. In its time it became famous for its warriors and for being the birthplace of Zarathusta, the founder of Zoroastrianism.

(Additional information from The Marshals of Alexander's Empire, Waldemar Heckel, and from Alexander the Great and Hernn Corts: Ambiguous Legacies of Leadership, Justin D Lyons.)

c.2200 - 2000 BC

An indigenous Bronze Age culture emerges in Central Asia between modern Turkmenistan and down towards the Oxus, the somewhat nebulous region known as Transoxiana. It is known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation (centred on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana). Indo-European tribes who have not taken part in the exodus to the west or south soon integrate themselves into it.

The Karakum burial with a valuable horse sacrifice added
This king's tomb in the Indo-European settlement in the Karakum (modern Turkmenistan) contains a valuable horse to accompany him into the afterlife

2000 - 1700 BC

Climate change from around 2000 BC onwards greatly affects this civilisation, denuding it of water as the rains decline. The people are forced to migrate outwards, to the east and west. Some enter Iran to found states such as that of the Mannaeans, the Median empire, and early Persia. Others cross the rivers of modern Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains and enter India between 1700-1500 BC. They eventually form their own kingdoms there such as Magadha, plus Kalinga and the Kaurava state.

Kingdom of Turan (Indo-Iranian)

Later myth ascribed a dynasty of Indo-Iranian rulers to this period, as described in the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a poetic opus which was written about AD 1000 but which accessed older works (such as the semi-official seventh century AD book called the Ḵwadāy-nāmag), and perhaps elements of an oral tradition. The Kayanian dynasty of kings of the Persians were also the heroes of the Avesta, which forms the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. This faith itself had been founded along the banks of the River Oxus, the great river which had probably also formed part of the migratory route used by the Indo-European Persians as they entered Iran.

The earliest of these mythical Indo-Iranian rulers was Fereydun, king of a 'world empire'. His subjects were the Indo-Iranian tribes of the region while his kingdom was apparently in the land of Tūr (or Turaj, sometimes also shown without the accented 'u' as Tur). This can be equated to territory in the heartland of Indo-Iranian southern Central Asia and South Asia, focused mainly on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana, along with the Kopet Dag region (a mountain range which serves to separate modern Turkmenistan and Iran), the Atrek valley (which supplies an easy route into eastern Iran and is a weak point in the country's defensive line), and the eastern Alborz Mountains (stretching from modern Azerbaijan, along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, and into Hyrcania and the edges of eastern Iran). Judging by those borders, the land of Tūr stretched from Samarkand to Tehran, although the kingdom of Turan was probably a good deal smaller and more eastern-based (note the similarly between 'Turan' and Tehran'). The Persians themselves may still have controlled a good deal of the western section as they began to settle in southern Iran. Curiously (and probably not coincidentally), these borders would have placed it on the northern border of another ancient region, that of Ariana.

Fereydun became the father of three sons; Tūr, Salm, and Iraj. Tūr murdered Iraj, thereby triggering an unending feud between the two lines of their descendants. One of Tūr's descendants (possibly a seven-times grandson) was Afrasaib, who ruled the kingdom of Turan during the lifetime of the Persian Kai Kavoos of the seventh century. The stories regarding Turan show it to be in competition with the Persians for mastery of the eastern lands, with many battles being fought. Ultimately it is the Persians who emerge victorious, although the Shahnameh may be showing some bias - history is written by the victorious, after all. Turan's kings are shown with a shaded pink background to denote their legendary status.

(Additional information from Central Asia: A Historical Overview, Edward A Allworth (Duke University Press, 1994), from The Paths of History, I M Diakonoff (Cambridge University Press, 1999), from Islamic Reference Desk, Emeri 'van' Donzel (Brill Academic Publishers, 1994), from Farāmarz, the Sistāni Hero: Texts and Traditions of the Farāmarznāme and the Persian Epic Cycle, Marjolijn van Zutphen, and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Iranians & Turanians in the Avesta.)

Fereydun / Faridun / Fareidun

Ruled a 'world empire'. Abdicated in favour of Manuchehr.

Tūr

Son of Fereydun. Gifted Central Asia. Killed Iraj of Persia.

Thanks to the murder of Iraj by Tūr and Salm, the Persians retaliate under the command of Iraj's grandson, Manuchehr. One of the leading warriors under his command may be Garshāsp (possibly also known as Karāsp), a figure of the Shahnameh or Shahnama, the Book of Kings and a possible descendant of the mythical Indo-Iranian King Jamshid. Tūr and Salm cross the Oxus to face Manuchehr's army on the border between Iran and Turan. The ensuing battle results in heavy casualties for the Turanians, and Tūr is afterwards ambushed and beheaded. Salm is later captured and also beheaded.

Pashang

Grandson. Continued the war against the Persians.

7th cent BC

Afrasiab

Son. Defeated and died.

The story of Afrasiab's eventual defeat and death comes largely from the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings). He is repeatedly defeated by Kai Khosrow (his own grandson via his daughter, Farangis). Forced out of his own lands he wanders wretchedly, taking refuge in a cave known as the Hang-e Afrasiab (meaning the 'dying place of Afrasiab'), on a mountain in Azerbaijan. Ultimately, he is killed by the divine plant of Zoroastrianism, Haoma, near the Čīčhast (location uncertain, but proposed as Lake Hamun in Sistan, which contradicts his location in Azerbaijan). He meets his death in the cave.

7th cent BC

Sijavus / Siyavash

Son of Kai Kavoos of Persia, and son-in-law of Afrasiab.

Sijavus is a legendary Persian prince and the son-in-law of the mythical Afrasiab, the hero and king of Turan. Due to the treachery of his stepmother, Sudabeh, Sijavus exiles himself to Turan (presumably well before the defeat and death of Afrasiab). There, he marries Farangis, Afrasiab's daughter, but the king later orders Sijavus to be killed. His death is avenged by his son, the very same Kai Khosrow mentioned above, who inherits the early Persian throne.

c.546 - 540 BC

The defeat of the Medes opens the floodgates for Cyrus the Great with a wave of conquests, beginning in the west from 549 BC but focussing towards the east of the Persians from about 546 BC. Eastern Iran falls during a more drawn-out campaign between about 546-540 BC, which may be when Maka is taken (presumed to be the southern coastal strip of the Arabian Sea). Further eastern regions now fall, namely Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, Carmania, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Gandhara, Gedrosia, Hyrcania, Margiana, Parthia, Saka (at least part of the broad tribal lands of the Sakas), Sogdiana (with Ferghana), and Thatagush - all added to the empire, although records for these campaigns are characteristically sparse. The inference is very clear - whatever control of Turan the Persians had enjoyed following the death of Afrasiab, it did not last and the lands now have to be conquered properly.

Index of Persian SatrapiesPersian Satraps of Bakhtrish (Bactria)

Conquered in the mid-sixth century BC by Cyrus the Great, the region of Bactria was added to the Persian empire. Before that it was populated by Indo-Iranian tribal groups. Under the Persians, it was formed into an official great satrapy or province which, according to the Behistun inscription of Darius the Great, was called Bakhtrish (Bactria is a Greek mangling of the name).

These eastern regions of the new-found empire were ancestral homelands for the Persians. They formed the Indo-Iranian melting pot from which the Parsua had migrated west in the first place to reach Persis. There would have been no language barriers for Cyrus' forces and few cultural differences. Although details of his conquests are relatively poor, he seemingly experienced few problems in uniting the various tribes under his governance. He was the first to exert any form of imperial control here, although his campaign may have been driven partially by a desire to recreate the semi-mythical kingdom of Turan in the land of Tūr, but now under Persian control. Curiously the Persians had little knowledge of what lay to the north of their eastern empire, with the result that Alexander the Great was less well-informed about the region than earlier Ionian settlers on the Black Sea coast had been.

The great satrapy of Bakhtrish (Bāxtri) had its capital at Bactra, otherwise known as Zariaspa, on the site of modern Balkh. The appointed satraps were usually Achaemenid princes or members of the highest social elite, with Bessus being the best-known example. Information about the satrapy's administration comes predominantly from the time of Alexander's campaign. The minor satrapy of Mergu was also under the oversight of the satrap of Bakhtrish, as apparently was much of the Central Asian region, as proven by the Behistun inscription. The southern border with the province of Gadara was formed by the Hindu Kush, which today still marks the frontier of numerous Afghan provinces. To the north the River Oxus (Amu Darya) marked the frontier with Suguda (Sogdiana), but the borders can only roughly be estimated where they met Haraiva to the south-west, Mergu to the west, and the minor satrapy of the Dyrbaeans to the east.

(Additional information from From Democrats to Kings: The Brutal Dawn of a New World from the Downfall of Athens to the Rise of Alexander the Great, Michael Scott, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), and from External Link: Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

c.546 - 540 BC

During his campaigns in the east, Cyrus the Great initially takes the northern route from Persis towards Bakhtrish and Suguda to reassure or subdue the provinces. This route probably involves the 'militaris via' by Rhagai to Parthawa. At some point Cyrus builds a line of seven forts to defend his frontier in Suguda against the tribal Massagetae to the north, the strongest of these being Kyra or Kyreskhata (Cyropilis - the Greek form of its name). Then he takes the more difficult southern route, destroying Capisa along the way (possibly Kapisa on the Koh Daman plain to the north of Kabul - which is possibly also the Kapishakanish named at Behistun as a fortress in Harahuwatish).

On a fresh leg of the campaign, Cyrus enters the Dasht-i-Lut desert (the modern Dasht-e Loot) on the eastern route out of Karmana towards Harahuwatish. His army faces crippling loses but for the assistance provided by the Ariaspae on the River Helmand. They are named 'the Benefactors' (Greek 'Euergetai') by Cyrus in thanks. This route appears to have been poorly reconnoitred, hinting at a lack of Persian knowledge of this region and therefore a lack of preceding Median occupation here in its eastern empire.

520s - 510s BC

Dadarshish / Dādari

Satrap.

522/521 BC

Upon the execution of the Persian usurper, Smerdis, the Cyaxarid, Fravarti, tries to restore Median independence. He is defeated by Persian generals and is executed. The same happens in Armina, Parthawa, and Verkna whose inhabitants, as Darius the Great reports, had also joined Fravarti. The quashing of the insurrections from Armina to Parthawa is chronologically coordinated in Persian records and occurs between May and June 521 BC.

Another major rebellion takes place in Mergu (referred to as Margush in this instance) towards the end of 522 or 521 BC (scholars disagree over the year, although it is agreed that the rebellion is put down in December). Darius sends against him Dadarshish, satrap of Bakhtrish, and the rebellion is duly crushed.

516 - 515 BC

Achaemenid ruler Darius embarks on a military campaign into the lands east of the empire. He marches through Haraiva and Bakhtrish, and then to Gandhara and Taxila. By 515 BC he is conquering lands around the Indus Valley to incorporate into the new satrapy of Hindush before returning via Harahuwatish and Zranka. Along the way the Sakas are largely defeated and conquered.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history and was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times - but during this period it flowed right through the heart of the region that was known as Bactria

fl 500 BC

Artabanos

Brother of Darius I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

fl 480 BC

Masistes

Brother of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?).

? - 464 BC

Hystaspes

Son of Xerxes I. Satrap of Bakhtrish (& Suguda?). Killed?

465 - 464 BC

Artabanus the Hyrcanian kills Xerxes in collusion with the eunuch of the bedside and subsequently takes control of the empire, ostensibly as a regent for Xerxes' three sons. Artabanus has the murder pinned on the eldest of these, Darius, and has him killed by the youngest son, Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes accedes to the throne before Artabanus attempts to murder him too. In the end, it is Artabanus who dies, but Artaxerxes is forced to defeat the second of Xerxes' sons, Hystaspes, satrap of Bakhtrish and his own brother. This brief civil war is ended when Artaxerxes defeats the forces of Hystaspes in battle during a sandstorm.

360s/350s BC

Artaxerxes II is occupied fighting the 'revolt of the satraps' in the western part of the empire. Nothing is known of events in the eastern half of the Persian empire at this time, but no word of unrest is mentioned by Greek writers, however briefly. Given the newsworthiness for Greeks of any rebellion against the Persian king, this should be enough to show that the east remains solidly behind the king. It seems that all of the empire's troubles hinge on the Greeks during this period.

? - 329 BC

Bessus / Artaxerxes V

Satrap of Bakhtrish & Suguda. Murdered Achaemenid Darius III.

330 - 328 BC

In 330 BC Suguda becomes part of the Greek empire despite the efforts of Bessus, self-styled 'king of Asia', to retain at least some of the Persian territories. His claim is legal, since Bakhtrish is traditionally commanded by the next-in-line to the throne and he has already murdered the former holder, Darius, but Persia has already been lost and his loose collection of eastern allies - which includes the other two most senior officials, Barsaentes of Harahuwatish and Satibarzanes of Haraiva - provides nothing more than a sideshow to the main event - the fall of Achaemenid Persia. Still, it takes Alexander the Great two more years to fully conquer the region.

In Bakhtrish, Bessus returns to his capital to organise the resistance by the eastern satrapies. Alexander enters Bakhtrish in 329 BC via the Hindu Kush, which has been left undefended. After burning the crops, Bessus flees east, crossing the River Oxus. By now his own mounted levies are deserting en masse, and he is seized by several of his chieftains and handed over to the Macedonians. At Hamadan, the traditional Persian punishment for rebels and regicides is carried out on him, with his nose and earlobes being removed. After this he is executed, possibly by crucifixion, decapitation, or by being torn apart by two recoiling trees (sources differ). From here, Alexander proceeds into Suguda.

Index of Greek SatrapsIndex of Greek SatrapiesArgead Dynasty in Bactria

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-328 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and during the course of several wars, Bactria was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 305 BC.

330 - 323 BC

Alexander III the Great

King of Macedonia. Conquered Persia.

323 - 317 BC

Philip III Arrhidaeus

Feeble-minded half-brother of Alexander the Great.

317 - 310 BC

Alexander IV of Macedonia

Infant son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

329 - 328 BC

Artabazus

Phrygian satrap of Bactria. Resigned his position.

328 BC

Clitus / Cleitus the Black

Satrap. Killed by Alexander the Great in a drunken quarrel.

328 BC

Following the resignation of Artabazus, Clitus is given the post of satrap of Bactria along with command of 16,000 Greeks who had formerly fought under the Persians as mercenaries. He sees this posting as a reduction of his influence and position with Alexander and, at a banquet in the satrap's palace at Maracanda (the capital of the satrapy of Sogdiana, modern Samarkand), the two get into a drunken quarrel. Enduring gross insults from Clitus, in his rage Alexander runs him through with a spear. Almost immediately he deeply regrets the death of his former friend (the scene is well depicted in the feature film, Alexander (2004), although the location is transferred to India).

328 - 321 BC

Amyntas Nikolaos

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

328 - 321 BC

Scythaeus

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

323 - 321? BC

Philip / Philippus

Greek satrap of Chorasmia, Bactria, & Sogdiana.

321 BC

Stasanor the Solian, former satrap of Aria and Drangiana now becomes satrap of Bactria and Chorasmia, perhaps with more of a focus towards the Indo-Greek territories than the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea. His territory extends as far north as Ferghana, which contains the city of Alexandria Eschate ('the Furthest').

321 - 312 BC

Stasanor the Solian

Greek satrap of Indo-Greek territory & Chorasmia (316 BC).

320s BC

In the 320s BC, the Greeks under Alexander, like the Persians before them, place the Amyrgian Sakas beyond Sogdiana, across the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Iaxartes, Jaxartes, or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia). This is thanks to their having encountered them after crossing Sogdiana and the Syr Darya in the approximate region of Alexandria Eschate ('the Furthest', possibly modern Khojend, but see the Ferghana introduction for more details). It is generally accepted that they control all of Farghana (immediately to the east of Sogdiana) and the Alai Valley. Indeed, they may have been relocated onto the plain following their conquest by the Persians.

312 - 306 BC

The Wars of the Diadochi decide how Alexander the Great's empire is carved up between his generals, but the period is very confused, especially in the east. Bactria is taken by the Seleucids in around 312 BC. In some sources, the assassination of Philippus is placed at 325 BC, during Chandragupta Maurya's conquest of northern India and his takeover of the Macedonian vassal states there.

Index of Greek SatrapsIndex of Greek SatrapiesMacedonian Bactria

Once safely under Seleucid control after the conclusion of the Greek Wars of the Diadochi, Bactria (or Bactriana) was governed by Macedonian satraps. The descendants of these became independent kings, after Bactria had been cut off from the Seleucids by Parthian incursion into central Persia. The kingdom consisted of the core provinces of Bactria and Sogdiana (to the north, reaching up to the southern shore of the Aral Sea, mostly within modern Turkmenistan). The latter of these two provinces also included Ferghana and the city of Alexandria Eschate. Located in one of the richest and most urbanised of regions, Macedonian Bactria quickly blossomed into a large eastern Greek empire, but continual internal discord and usurpations saw it progressively fragmented and vulnerable to outside conquest. The eastern section was almost permanently separated from Bactria and came to be known as the Indo-Greek kingdom.

The chronology of the Indo-Bactrian rulers is based largely on numismatic evidence (coinage). There are few written accounts, and other records are relatively sparse, while frequent internecine conflicts makes the facts even harder to pin down, so dates are rarely reliable. Some possible kings are known only from a few coins, and the interpretation of these can sometimes be very uncertain. The Chinese explorer, Zhang Qian, recorded Bactria as Daxia to further complicate matters.

(Where information conflicts regarding the Indo-Greek territories, Osmund Bopearachchi's Monnaies Grco-Bactriennes et Indo-Grecques, Catalogue Raisonn (1991) has been followed. Additional information by David Kelleher, from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, and from External Links: the Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and Encyclopdia Britannica.)

306 - 256 BC

Bactria is governed by Seleucid satraps as one of the easternmost sections of the empire. During a period in which the Arsacids (Parthians) rise to prominence in central Iran, Seleucid control is cut, and Diodotus I declares independence around 256/255 BC, seemingly soon after the satrap of Parthia has already done the same thing.

305 BC

Following the failure of Seleucus Nicator to reconquer India, the regions of Paropamisadae (immediately east of Bactria proper, modern Kabul), Arachosia (modern southern Afghanistan and northern and central Pakistan, and perhaps extending as far as the Indus), northern Indus, and southern Indus are handed to the Mauryan empire in India by the Seleucids as part of an alliance agreement. Arachosia's capital is Alexandria in Arachosia (the modern form of which is Kandahar).

c.294 - 293 BC

Demodamas

Seleucid satrap (governor-general) of Bactria & Sogdiana.

A former general under Seleucid rulers Seleucus I Nicator and Antiochus I Soter, Demodamas later serves twice as satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana. During this time he undertakes military expeditions across the Syr Darya (otherwise known as the River Tanais) to explore the lands of the Indo-Scythians, repopulating Alexandria Eschate ('the furthest', modern Khojend) in the process following its earlier destruction by barbarians.

c.281 - 280 BC

Demodamas

Seleucid satrap for the second time.

256 - 248 BC

Diodotus I Soter

Satrap (governor-general). Declared the kingdom.

256 BC

Diodotus declares independence from Seleucid Greek rule at the same time as the satrap of Parthia. He rules the former provinces of Bactria, Sogdiana (to the north of Bactria), Ferghana (modern eastern Uzbekistan), and Arachosia (modern Kandahar).

248 - 235 BC

Diodotus II

Son. Deposed by Euthydemus.

Antiochus Nikator

Possible brother mentioned on coins but otherwise unknown.

c.235/230 BC

Diodotus is overthrown by Euthydemus, possibly the satrap of Sogdiana. The date is uncertain and Strabo puts forward 223/221 BC as an alternative, placing it within a period of internal Seleucid discord.

235 - 200/195 BC

Euthydemus I Theos

Satrap of Sogdiana? Founder of the Euthydemids.

c.220 BC

Euthydemus' realm is a large one, including Sogdiana and Ferghana to the north, and Margiana and Aria to the west. There are indications that from Alexandria Eschate in Ferghana the Greco-Bactrians may lead expeditions as far as Kashgar (a little under three hundred and twenty kilometres (two hundred miles) due east of Ferghana), and Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan. There they would be able to establish the first known contacts between China and the West around 220 BC.

Even more remarkably, recent examinations of the terracotta army have established a startling new concept - the terracotta army may be the product of western art forms and technology. An entire terracotta army plus imperial court are manufactured using five workshops and a form of human representation in sculpture that has never before been seen in China. Archaeologists today continue the process of discovering new pits and even a fan of roads leading out from the emperor's burial mound, one of which, heading west, may be a sort of proto-Silk Road along which Greek craftsmen may be travelling.

208 - 206 BC

Euthydemus repulses an effort at the re-conquest of Bactria by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III. Following defeat at the Battle of the Arius, Euthydemus successfully resists a two year siege in the fortified city of Bactra before Antiochus finally decides to recognise his rule in 206 BC. He offers one of his daughters in marriage to Euthydemus' son, Demetrius.

Antiochus subsequently marches across the Hindu Kush into the Kabul Valley and renews ties of friendship with an Indian king by the name of Sophagasenos. This king is otherwise completely unknown and cannot be matched with any more certain Indian rulers. Instead, given the location it seems that he may be a local ruler, perhaps in post-Mauryan Paropamisadae before it is seized by the Indo-Greek kingdom.

c.200 - 195 BC

FeatureThe last years of Euthydemus' reign probably sees him and his son cross the Hindu Kush and begin the conquest of what is now northern Afghanistan and the Indus valley. A great Indo-Greek empire rises far in the east.

Map of Bactria and India 200 BC
The kingdom of Bactria (shown in white) was at the height of its power around 200-180 BC, with fresh conquests being made in the south-east, encroaching into India just as the Mauryan empire was on the verge of collapse, while around the northern and eastern borders dwelt various tribes that would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Tocharians (click on map to show full sized)

200/195 - c.180 BC

Demetrius I

Son. In Bactria & Indo-Greek territories.

185 BC

The Mauryan empire falls apart. Demetrius annexes the western half of the empire, possibly as a show of support for the former allies, and possibly in part to protect Greek populations there. The territory gained includes Paropamisadae (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), all of Arachosia (southern Afghanistan), and modern Punjab and Kashmir, areas which could be included in the former satrapy of northern Indus. He advances as far as the Ganges and Pataliputra (modern Patna), although this advance is usually ascribed to the later king, Menander I.

c.180 BC

Placing Demetrius' death (of unknown causes) on this date is generally accepted but far from certain. It is used in an attempt to fit in his death with the subsequent appearance of many successors in several regions of the enlargened kingdom. At some point, Demetrius invades the Sunga kingdom of Magadha from the west as Kharavela of Kalinga is attacking from the south. Rather than press home his own attack, Kharavela turns on the Bactrian king and forces him to retreat. This event must be towards the very end of Demetrius' reign and at the beginning of Kharavela's for them to be ruling simultaneously.

Some of Demetrius' successors may be co-regents, but civil wars and territorial divisions are very likely. Pantaleon, Antimachus I, Agathocles, and possibly Euthydemus II are all theoretically linked as relatives to Demetrius. In Bactria, Euthydemus II rules, while in the Indo-Greek territories, Agathocles rules in Paropamisadae while Pantaleon rules in Arachosia.

190 - 185/180 BC

Euthydemus II

Son. Either ruled afterwards or as a sub-king to him.

180? - 165? BC

Antimachus I Theos

Son or brother. In Bactria & Indo-Greek territories.

170? BC

Antimachus is apparently defeated by the able newcomer and former general, Eucratides (an alternative is that his territory is absorbed by Eucratides upon his death). Eucratides is opposed by Demetrius II from the Indo-Greek territories. who apparently returns to Bactria with 60,000 men to oust the usurper, but he is defeated and killed in the encounter. Antimachus I also fights against Eucratides, but ultimately loses in around 160 BC and Eucratides seems to occupy territory as far as the Indus. The Euthydemids are pushed out of Bactria, retaining only the Indo-Greek territories.

171 - c.145 BC

Eucratides I / Eukratides I

Bactrian. In Paropamisadae, Arachosia, & W Indus.

c.165 BC

Defeated by the Xiongnu, the Yeuh Chi/Yuezhi are forced to evacuate their lands on the borders of the Chinese kingdoms. They begin a migration westwards that triggers a slow domino effect of barbarian movement.

c.155 BC

In the east, the Indo-Greek king, Menander, seems to repel the invasion by Eucratides, and pushes him back as far as Paropamisadae, thereby consolidating the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in northern India. After this, the Indo-Greek kingdom is permanently divided from Bactria.

c.150 - 145 BC

Plato

Brother? In Bactria or Paropamisadae.

c.145 BC

Under pressure in their established homeland thanks to the migration of the Tocharians, the Indo-Scythians enter the territory of Bactria around this time. They burn to the ground the city of Alexandria on the Oxus.

c.145 - 140 BC

Eucratides II

Son of Eucratides I?

c.140 BC

Eucratides II is dethroned in a dynastic civil war which is sparked by the murder of Eucratides I.

c.140 - 130 BC

Heliocles I

Probably killed during the Kushan invasion.

c.140 - 130 BC

Indo-Scythians have long been pressing against Bactria's borders. Now, following a long migration from the borders of the Chinese kingdoms, the Tocharians/Yuezhi start to invade Bactria from Sogdiana to the north. Initially, Indo-Scythian elements who are already in Bactria become vassals to the Tocharians.

At around the time of the death of Indo-Greek King Menander in 130 BC, the Tocharians overrun Bactria and end Greek rule. Heliocles may possibly invade the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom, as there are strong suggestions that the Eucratids continue to rule there, especially in Heliocles' presumed son, Lysias.

In Bactria, Hellenic cities appear to survive for some time, as does the well-organised agricultural system. The general area of Bactria comes to be called Tokharistan before one of the Tocharian tribes unites all of them under one banner to create the Kushan empire. Areas of Bactria later form parts of Afghanistan and most of eastern Turkmenistan.

115 - 100 BC

MapWith Parthian territory having been harried for years by the Indo-Scythians, King Mithridates II is finally able to take control of the situation. First he defeats the Yuezhi (Tocharians) in Sogdiana in 115 BC, and then he defeats the Scythians in Parthia and Seistan (in Drangiana) around 100 BC. After their defeat, the Yuezhi tribes concentrate on consolidation in Bactria while the Indo-Scythians are diverted into Indo-Greek Gandhara. Drangiana and Aria would appear to remain Parthian dependencies.

Kushan Empire

FeatureThe Kushan held power in the north and west of India and into Central Asia. They were said to be a branch of the Indo-European Yueh Chi tribe following their mass exodus from Chinese lands around 165 BC. The Yeuh Chi became the Tocharians or Yuezhi to Central and South Asians, but it is hard to tell if the two peoples were one and the same or whether they were simply closely allied. The former is certainly accepted by the majority of scholars and commentators.

According to J P Mallory, the native name of the historical Tocharians of the sixth to eighth centuries was possibly kuśie, meaning 'kuchean' in Tocharian B, 'of the kingdom of Kucha and Agni'. One of the Tocharian A texts refers to ārśi-kntwā, supposedly meaning 'in the tongue of Arsi'. The word 'ārśi' has been suggested as being cognate to 'argenteus', meaning 'shining, brilliant', but this is ridiculous. It is much more likely to refer to the verb 'to be', personified as 'truth'. Akni is simply the deity of fire, Agni. Kucha is suspected of being a tribal name which later became better known as 'kushan'. If 'arsi' is indeed 'to be' then this links the Kushan Tocharians to the Germanic Indo-Europeans and their asura (Os, Aesir) called Istvae. Examining more speculatively, could 'kuśie' have on the end of it the Celtic and Germanic plural suffix in yet another form, '-ie'? In British (Belgic?) this was '-aun', in ancient German and common Celtic it was '-on', in modern German it is '-en', and in modern Welsh is it '-ion'. This could be another marker to identify the Kushan (and therefore Tocharians) as West Indo-Europeans.

The Kushan may not have represented all Tocharians, but they certainly emerged as a powerful Tocharian component. They entered Transoxiana and then started to invade Bactria by about 140 BC. At around the time of the death of Indo-Greek king Menander about 130 BC, they ended Greek rule in Bactria. Then they settled their conquered territory and the region became known as Tokharistan. The five tribes which made up the Yuezhi are known in Chinese history as Xiūm, Guishuang (Kushan), Shuangmi, Xidun, and Dūm.

A little over a century later, the clan of the Kushans, one of the aforementioned five Tocharian tribes, began to unite the tribes together under one banner. Kujula Kadphises (or Kadphises I), the leader of this new confederation, then secured the area from the rival Scythian tribes, and expanded his territory to include Gandhara (Indo-Greek Paropamisadae). Next he pushed on into central India, extending his borders as far as the Indus. The empire's borders later reached China, where it was known as the Guishuang kingdom.

Dating for the Kushan empire is approximate, considerably uncertain (especially in its later years), and has been interpreted quite differently by some scholars. For example, some place its greatest ruler, Kanishka at AD 78-101 while others give him a much later starting date of AD 127.

(Additional information by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha and Edward Dawson, from Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar, from The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, J P Mallory & Victor H Mair (2008), from Osservazione sulla monetazione Indo-Partica. Sanabares I e Sanabares II incertezze ed ipotesie, F Chiesa (1982), and from External Link: Talessman's Atlas (World History Maps).)

c.50? BC

The Kushans capture the territory of the Indo-Scythians in what will one day become Afghanistan, and have probably already caused the downfall of Indo-Greek King Hermaeus, conquering Paropamisadae in the process.

c.AD 1 - 30

Heraios / Heraus / Miaos

Kushan clan chief.

c.AD 1

Heraios is the first recognisable Kushan ruler, gaining mastery within the Yuezhi confederation and minting his own coins. However, it is his successor who really unifies the confederation and leads it to conquest.

c.30 - 80

Kujula Kadphises / Kadphises I

Descendant of Heraios or perhaps even the same person?

Kadphises I may be a descendant of Heraios or perhaps even the same person, and is apparently confused by some with one of the later Indo-Greek kings, Hermaeus Soter, but he also shares his name with some of the last Indo-Scythian rulers, suggesting a possible family connection there. During his reign, Kadphises subdues the Indo-Scythians and establishes his kingdom in Bactria and the valley of the River Oxus (the Amu Darya), defeating the Indo-Parthians. Then he captures Paropamisadae.

Kadphises I coin from Tokharistan
This picture illustrates a Kadphises I coin from Tokharistan with a corrupt Greek legend

c.80 - 90

Vima Takto

Son. Aided his father on his campaigns.

c.90 - 112

Wema Kadphises/ Kadphises II

Son, or nephew (and son of Sadakshana).

Kadphises II is a great conqueror and a great Buddhist. He expands the borders of his kingdom to the bordering provinces of China and Persia, and later ventures into India, where he establishes his borders as far as Punjab and parts of modern Uttar Pradesh, and is the first to introduce gold coinage there. However, he apparently dies without an heir, and the kingdom is thrown into confusion as his kshatrapas (governors) fight amongst themselves. Kanishka, the kshatrapa of the kingdom's eastern province, wins the struggle and declares himself the successor.

c.100

The Kushans capture former Indo-Greek Arachosia from the Indo-Parthians.

c.112 - 132

Kanishka I

Former governor and possible grandson of Kadphises I.

Kanishka expands the empire even further. He annexes the various regions of India; Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kashmir, Malwa, Rajputana, Saurashtra, and extends his rule as far as Khotan (southern India). He also captures Transoxiana (now Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan). He makes Purushpura (present day Peshawar in Pakistan) his capital and appoints kshatrapas to rule his vast territories, including in the former Indo-Scythian territory of the Sakas (Saka officials remain in office in Mathura). He may also use Greek script on his earlier coins, inherited from influences in former Bactria which may still be evident in his day.

c.132

Kanishka is apparently killed by his own soldiers during one of his military expeditions to China. The Saka Western Kshatrapas in India begin to re-establish their independence.

c.132 - 136

Vashishka

Son? Little-known ruler with a very short reign.

c.136 - 168

Huvishka

c.168 - 207

Vasudeva I

Last great Kushan king. Sent tribute to China.

A Chinese chronicle known as Sanguozhi records that Vasudeva sends a tribute to the Chinese emperor, Cao Rui of Wei. The vacuum created by the Chinese retreat in Central Asia is apparently filled by Vasudeva. He may also be the Indian king who transfers the relics of the apostle St Thomas from India to Mesopotamia. However, it is during this late second century period (or early in the third century) that the Kushan empire captures the province of Aria from the Parthians.

c.207 - 221

Kanishka II

c.221 - 231

Vashishka

c.230 - 250

The end of Vasudeva's reign in AD 207 apparently coincides with the beginning of the Sassanid invasion of north-western India, although the dating for the main invasion fits with Vashiska and his successor around 230-250. Perhaps there is a first, preliminary invasion followed by a much greater second.

The Kushans are toppled in former Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria (more recently better known as Tokharistan) and are forced to accept Sassanid suzerainty, being replaced by Sassanid vassals known as the Kushanshahs or Indo-Sassanids. There is a split in Kushan rule, so that a separate, eastern section rules independent of the Sassanids, while some of the nobility remain in the west as Sassanid vassals. Even so, Kushan power still gradually wanes in India. If the Western Kshatrapas have remained under Kushan domination to this point then they are almost certainly released from it now.

c.231 - 241

Kanishka II

Eastern king in Punjab.

c.241 - 261

Vasudeva II

Eastern king in Punjab.

c.261

Very little is known of Vasudeva II, and his successors are even more uncertain, making it clear that Kushan authority and influence is fast diminishing, even in the limited parts of India which they still govern. The very last Kushans who claim to rule seem to do so further to the west, according to numismatic evidence, in Arachosia and Gandhara, where they probably fall under the overlordship of the Kushanshahs.

c.261 - ?

Vasudeva III?

Son?

Vasudeva IV?

Son? Possibly governing in Gandhara.

Vasudeva of Kabul

Son? Possibly ruling in Kabul.

c.310 - 325

Chhu

c.321

Kushan control over the northern plains of India is definitively ended when the Guptas rise to power.

c.325 - 345

Shaka I

c.350 - 375

Kipunada

c.375

There is no evidence of any Kushans after Kipunada. The rump eastern state is subjugated by the Gupta king, and then conquered by the invading Red Huns. Any possible survivors in the west are probably displaced by the Hephthalites, who invade the territory of the Kushanshahs and conquer former Bactria and Gandhara and form the Hephthalite kingdom.

Hephthalite Empire (White Huns)
AD 408 - 670

A confederation of nomadic tribes.

(Additional information from External Link: The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, Vol 7: The Sassanian or New Persian Empire, George Rawlinson (1875, now available via Project Gutenberg).)

c.410

Despite being bordered by the powerful Guptas to the east and the Sassanids to the west. Kushanshah vassal rule of the region is displaced from the north, as the Hephthalites invade and conquer Bactria and Gandhara.

c.410 - 413

After finishing his campaigns both in the east and west of India, Gupta king, Chandragupta, proceeds northwards to subjugate the Hephthalites and the Kamboja tribes which are located in the west and east Oxus valleys respectively.

455 - c.467

The early years of the reign of Gupta king, Skandagupta, are marked by violent civil war between the sons of Kumaragupta. Skandagupta manages to defeat his rivals and ascend the throne. However, continual threats arise, first from the Pushyamitras, whom he defeats, and then from the Hephthalites who invade from the north-west. They are repulsed around AD 467, but the empire is sapped of resources and begins to decline.

c.470

Narasimhagupta of the Guptas drives the Hephthalites from the plains of northern India, but the Red Huns sense an opportunity in the increasing fragility of the empire and begin menacing its borders.

Toramana

480s - 500

Toramana breaks through the Gupta defences in the north-west, and much of the empire is overrun by the Hephthalites by 500. The empire disintegrates under Toramana's attacks, and those of his successor, Mihirakula. The Hephthalites conquer several provinces of the former empire, including Malwa, while Gujarat, and Thaneshwar break away under local dynasties. The surviving Guptas are forced south and east, to Jabbalpur (in modern Madhya Pradesh) and North Bengal, where they establish minor Gupta holdings.

484

The Sassanids in Persia are temporarily overrun by Hephthalites who maintain puppet rulers on the throne. The eastern empire is largely occupied by the Hephthalites until their final fall - this includes regions such as Margiana.

Mihirakula

c.510

Some Turk tribes arrive from Asia and aid the Sassanids in the overthrow of the Hephthalites.

565 - 652

The Hephthalites are defeated by an alliance of Gktrks and the Sassanids, and a level of Indo-Sassanid authority is re-established in the region for the next century. The Western Gktrks set up rival states in Bamiyan, Kabul, and Kapisa, strengthening their hold on the Silk Road.

631 - 651

Sassanid Mesopotamia is lost to the Arabs in 637. The Sassanids are defeated at the Battle of Nahāvand by Caliph Umar in 642. Persia is overrun by Islam by 651. Retreating into Margiana, Sassanid King Yazdagird finds few allies and is forced to retreat again. Organising a hurried alliance with the Hephthalites, he advances back towards Margiana, only to be defeated at the Battle of the Oxus. Yazdagird takes refuge in a mill, where the owner kills him while his family flee to Turkistan. The Sassanid empire has fallen.

588 - 589

The Gktrk khagan, ur Bagha, leads his Hephthalite vassals into the First Perso-Turkic War by invading Sassanid territory. The invasion has been threatening for several years as these former allies vied for regional power in the hinterland between their two empires. A senior Sassanid army commander by the name of Bahram Chobin (later to be enthroned as Bahram VI) leads an army of hand-picked Savaran elite troops to ambush a large army of Turks and Hephthalites in April 588, at the Battle of Hyrcanian Rock. Another attack in 589 captures Balkh. Then he crosses Oxus and repulses the Turkic Invasion, capturing Hephthalite territory which had been occupied by the Turks. ur Bagha is killed during this fight.