History Files
 

 

Far East Kingdoms

South Asia

 

 

 

Kushan Empire

FeatureThe Kushans 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. 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 Xiūmě, Guishuang (Kushan), Shuangmi, Xidun, and Dūmě.

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 from Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar, and 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 cause 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 illusrtates 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.

c.207 - 221

Kanishka II

c.221 - 231

Vashishka

c.230 - 250

The end of Vasudeva's reign 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. Perhaps there is a first, preliminary invasion followed by a much greater second. The Kushans are toppled in Bactria and Arachosia 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 White Huns, who invade the territory of the Kushanshahs and conquer former Bactria and Gandhara and form the Hephthalite kingdom.