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Sakas / Indo-Scythians
Incorporating the Amyrgians, Haumavarga, Homodotes, Orthocorybantes, Paradraya, & Tigraxauda

FeatureThe Indo-Scythian Sakas were nomadic Central Asian tribes which inhabited the region around the River Jaxartes and Lake Issykkul (or Issyk Kul - located in the Tian Shan Mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan). They seem to have been Indo-European in terms of their ancestry, part of a large group of peoples who had formerly lived around the north shores of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Migration between the fourth and second millennia BC had sent them far and wide, mostly into Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, but also into Iran and India, and even Han dynasty China.

The Sakas eventually found themselves situated to the north and east of the Indo-European Oxus Civilisation of late-third millennium BC Transoxiana, although it is impossible to say whether they were involved at all. They could instead have been part of the Kazakhstan steppe-living 'spiral city' builders who may have traded with the Oxus dwellers but who did not achieve quite the same level of sophistication. Their subsequent fate between around 1700-550 BC can only be guessed at, but it probably involved a return to a typical Indo-European nomadic existence, which is supported by their adventures with the Yeuh Chi, Achaemenids, and others. They may also have influenced or provided elements of the later Göktürks, who have been linked by some scholars with an Indo-European ancestry.

The Amyrgian subset of Sakas in particular were fairly well attested, after coming into contact with both the Achaemenids (who called them Sakaibish) and the Greeks under Alexander. They were apparently centred on the Amyrgian plain which equates to all of Farghana and also the Alai valley - well to the east of most of the Sakas. They accompanied Alexander on campaign, under their 'King Omarg' and entered India along with the Kambojas. After being forced southwards by the Kushan tribe of Yeuh Chi at the start of the first century BC, the Sakas founded a kingdom in Gandhara (modern Kandahar in Afghanistan), displacing the ailing Indo-Greek kings. Along with the Indo-Parthians (Pahlavas), they dominated India from present day Afghanistan and Pakistan right over to parts of Maharashtra and Kathiawar (modern Gujarat).

(Information co-authored by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, and additional information by Edward Dawson, and from Ancient India, R C Majumdar, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987, from Studies in Indian History, L Prasad, Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000, from the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies in a theory proposed by Guive Mirfendereski, from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, from Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar, from Indian Numismatic Studies, K D Bajpai, from A Comprehensive History Of Ancient India, P N Chopra & B N Puri, and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and The Ethnic [Background] of [the] Sakas (Scythians), I P'iankov, presented by the Iran Chamber Society, and the Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and Zoroastrian Heritage, K E Eduljee, and Talessman's Atlas (World History Maps).)

653 BC

The Cimmerian king, Tugdamme, begins to threaten the borders of the powerful Assyrian empire during the reign of Ashurbanipal. Assyrian inscriptions record him as being 'King of the Saka and Qutium'. This is very telling, because it suggests that he rules not only over his own Cimmerian people (which is so obvious that it need not be mentioned), but also the Scythians (identifying them as 'Saka', a form of the name that very soon becomes prominent amongst Scythian groups to the east of the Caspian Sea, in Transoxiana).

516 - 515 BC

Achaemenid ruler Darius embarks on a military campaign into the lands east of the empire. He marches through Aria and Bactria, and then to Gandhara and Taxila. By 515 BC he is conquering lands around the Indus Valley before returning via Arachosia (modern southern Afghanistan and northern and central Pakistan, and perhaps extending as far as the Indus) and Drangiana.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' who in this case can be more precisely identified as Sakas) depicted on a frieze at Persepolis in Achaemenid Persia, which would have been the greatest military power in the region at this time

A subsequent cuneiform inscription set up by Darius lists the nations that comprise the Persian empire. They include three nations using 'Saka' as a prefix to their names: Saka Haumavarga, Saka Tigrakhauda, and Saka Paradraya. The Saka Tigrakhauda (commonly translated as 'pointed caps' thanks to their headdress) appear to be the nearest, and they flee from Darius' advance. Then Darius crosses a river (probably the Syr Darya - the Jaxartes - after crossing Sugada), and 'smote the Saka exceedingly', slaying their chief. This would be the Saka Haumavarga. The origin of their name is taken to mean that they practice haoma-drinking. Haoma is a medicinal and health-giving extract from plants which is associated with ancient Zoroastrian healing practices.

? - 515 BC

Skunkha

Saka Haumavarga chief. Executed by Darius.

515 - ? BC

?

Unnamed Saka Haumavarga vassal chief.

515 BC

The third Saka 'nation' is that of the Saka Paradraya. This name breaks down into 'para' and 'draya', the first part meaning 'across' and the latter almost certainly being 'darya' or 'river'. When Darius boasts of the limits of his empire he gives as the north-eastern corner the 'Sakaibish tyaiy para Sugdam' - the Sakas across/beyond Sugdam (Sogdiana), on the other side of the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Sogdiana and Scythia).

The Saka Tigrakhauda occupy open grasslands around the Aral Sea, in modern south-western Kazakhstan. Their aforementioned pointed caps would be sized according to seniority, with the tallest being reserved for the chieftain. It is this group of Sakas that is most likely to be the Massagetae of Strabo. Strabo also identifies the Attasii and the Chorasmii of the Greek-named region of Chorasmia (later part of Khwarazm) as Massagetae, making them a sub-group of the main Massagetae, otherwise known to the Achaemenids as Saka Tigrakhauda.

c.320s BC

Two centuries later, the Sakas appear to reside midway between modern Iran and India, or at least the Amyrgian group or tribe does. Achaemenid records identify two main divisions of 'Sakas' (an altered form of 'Scythians'), these being the Saka Haumavarga and Saka Tigraxauda, with the latter inhabiting territory between Hyrcania and Chorasmia in modern Turkmenistan (pretty close to their territory in 515 BC).

The Amyrgian plain which forms the centre of their territory had previously been part of, or close to, the lands of the Indo-European Massagetae, with the Saka Haumavarga neighbouring the Massagetae (and the Saka Tigraxauda). Again this has led some scholars both modern and ancient to link the two together as the same people. Guive Mirfendereski at the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies also equates the Massagetae with the Saka Haumavarga (but not the Tigraxauda?), suggesting that Herodotus had produced 'Massagetae' as his own Greek pronunciation of Saka Haumavarga and Amyrgian to describe a specific group of Haumavarga, while the Saka Tigraxauda become the Orthocorybantes.

The Amyrgian group of Sakas has already served in the army of Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century BC (mentioned by Herodotus, thanks to whom 'Amyrgian' may mean 'eastern' Sakas). Their name is either a reflection of the Amyrgian plain that they occupy, or they have given their name to the plain as the 'eastern Sakas', and it does seem likely that they are the very same group as the Saka Haumavarga, but with a Greek interpretation of their name instead of a Persian one. Phonetically, the two versions are very close.

The late Achaemenid Persians and the Greeks under Alexander place the Amyrgian Sakas beyond Sogdiana, across the River Tanais (Syr Darya). This is thanks to their having encountered the Sakas after crossing Sogdiana and the Syr Darya in the approximate region of Alexandria Eschate ('the furthest', modern Khojend) - and it puts them precisely where the Saka Paradraya had been in 515 BC. It is generally accepted that they control all of Farghana (immediately to the east of Transoxiana) and the Alai valley. Indeed, they may have been relocated onto the plain following their conquest by the Persians.

Chares of Mytilene travels with the Greek army of Alexander the Great, chronicling the journey with reliable geography. He places the headquarters of 'King Omarg' at some 800 stadia (150km) from the crossing at the Tanais, thereby not limiting them to the right bank of the Tanais.

c.320s BC

'Omarg' / 'Amorg'

Amyrgian Saka. Served with Greek general Alexander the Great.

290s/280s BC

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 to explore the lands of the Sakas, repopulating Alexandria Eschate (modern Khojend) in the process following its earlier destruction by barbarians.

The accounts of these expeditions are recorded by Demodamas (which later form source material via other writers for Roman authors). From his material, and that recorded by Megasthenes around a generation before, it can be deduced that yet another group of Sakas are called the Homodotes (Pliny's Homodoti, which is based originally on Demodamas, and who are one of a list of regionally neighbouring tribes called the Astacae, Rumnici, and Pestici). The Homodotes are located in the Emod and at the headwaters of the Oxus (the Amu Darya). The Mount Emod here is not the well-attested one that separates India in the north from 'Scythia inhabited by the Scythians known as Sakas' (Megasthenes). Instead, Megasthenes appears to have confused or combined two different Emods, the other being close to the headwaters of the Oxus.

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)

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.

fl c.150s BC

?

Unnamed Amyrgian Saka. Expelled from Farghana.

c.150s BC

The Sakas (in the form of the Amyrgian branch) are displaced from Farghana by the Great Yuezhi (Tocharians). This is an event that is connected with the migration of the Yuezhi across Da Yuan (the Chinese term for Farghana), following another defeat, this time by an alliance of the Wusun and the Xiongnu. The Tocharians are forced to move again, causing other tribes also to be bumped out of position.

These mass migrations of the second century BC are confused and somewhat lacking in Greek and Chinese sources because the territory concerned is beyond any detailed understanding of theirs. Whatever the reason, the Saka king transfers his headquarters to the south, across the Hanging Passage that leads to Jibin. This is part of a southwards trend for the Sakas, and by approximately the mid-first century BC, Saka kings appear in India.

Greco-Roman writer Ptolemy later records the [Sakas of the] Kaspirs (meaning Jibin) as occupying a vast territory from the River Bidaspes (Jhelum, in Punjab) to the mountain of Quindion (Vindhya), and including in this the town of Modura (Mathura). This evidently reflects the situation during the early period of Saka dominion in India when Kashmir is still regarded as the centre of the kingdom.

c.140 - 130 BC

Elements of the Sakas 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, Sakas who are already in Bactria become vassals to the Tocharians but, within a decade, the Tocharians manage to force the collapse of Bactria. They occupy its territory on a permanent basis and the Sakas are largely forced southwards, although they also spend this period trying to force a way westwards into Parthian territory.

c.138 - 124 BC

In the core Parthian homeland, King Phraates comes into conflict with western elements of the Sakas. The Parthians are defeated in several battles, one of which ends with the death of Phraates himself around 126 BC. The Sakas continue to press Parthian borders for territory, subsequently killing King Artabanus. They may occupy areas of Parthian territory for a time, relieving the Tocharian pressure on them.

115 - 100 BC

With Parthian territory having been harried for years by the Sakas, 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 around 100 BC. After their defeat, the Yuezhi tribes concentrate on consolidation in Bactria while the Sakas are diverted into Indo-Greek Paropamisadae (Gandhara).

c.90 - 80 BC

The Yeuh Chi (Tocharians) continue to drive the Sakas southwards from Central Asia, forcing them further into Indo-Greek territory. One Maues of the Sakas takes control around Gandhara, creating a capital at Taxila in Punjab. Gandhara falls within modern southern Afghanistan, part of a region stretching into Persia that remains known as Sakastan or Sistan even today. Taxila is in today's Pakistan. Maues is known in Chinese records as Yinmofu of Jibin, suggesting that the Sakas have been driven from there during the leadership of Maues and that therefore he is already king well before the arrival of the Sakas in Gandhara.

c.90 - 60 BC

Maues / Moga / Yinmofu

'Great king of kings'. Scythian general or Indo-Greek?

c.80 BC

There is the possibility that Maues is a hired Scythian general who wishes to absorb Greek culture rather than conquer it, as evidenced by his coins (while the coins show his name as Maues, epigraphic evidence provides 'Moga' which is very similar to the Omarg or Amorg of the 320s BC and would seem more to be a title, given how similar it is to 'Amyrgian')

Hermaios coin from Gandhara
A Hermaeus coin from Gandhara at the beginning of the first century AD, which type was copied far and wide, especially by Sakas, Yuezhi, and Kushans - could Hermaeus be the same man as Maues of the Sakas?

He issues some coins jointly with a Queen Machene, who may be an Indo-Greek ruler, and the Indo-Greek king, Artemidoros (c.90-85 BC), describes himself as 'son of Maues'. Curiously, the contemporary of Artemidoros in Indo-Greek Paropamisadae (western Indo-Greek territory) is Hermaeus Soter. The name is surprisingly close to that of Maues, and Hermaeus holds a level of importance with nomad rulers during and after his reign, with his coins being copied far and wide, especially by the Yuezhi, Sakas, and Kushans.

c.75 - 65 BC

Vonones

(Not to be confused with the Parthian Vonones.)

c.75 - 65 BC

Spalahores

Brother, satrap, and successor to the throne around 65 BC.

c.75 BC

Following the death of Maues, the Indo-Greeks regain control of Paropamisadae (under Artemidoros) and Punjab (under Apollodotus II). Vonones is confined to the north-west of India. However, the Indo-Greeks progressively lose ground to the Sakas, Tocharians/Yuezhi, and Parthians in the west.

c.72 BC

The Sakas appear to capture Modura around this time (Mathura in Utter Pradesh, northern India). Benefiting from their earlier interaction with the Greeks, they have been employing the Greek system of rule and appointing kshatrapas (satraps, or governors) to manage each region, with one being placed in charge of Mathura. The Taxila 'Copper-Plate Inscription of Patika, the year 78' records a brief event during the office of Liaka Kusuluka, possibly the very first Western Satrap of Mathura. His son, Patika, establishes a new relic of the Lord Sakyamuni, and a sangharama through Rohinimitra, overseer of the work in this sangharama, 'for the worship of all Buddhas'.

c.70 BC

The Sakas expel the Indo-Greeks from Arachosia but subsequently lose it to the Parthians. Parthian rule seems to be limited and perhaps doesn't include the entire region. By now, Saka rule covers a vast area of what is now southern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-west India, and the term Indo-Scythian can truly be applied to the Sakas from this approximate point onwards. The Saka satraps of the north and east still enter the historical record through their coins and interaction with surrounding powers, but Western Satraps live a much more obscure life in the Saka Indian territories.

c.65 - 60? BC

Spalahores

Former satrap (c.75-65 BC).

c.60 - 57 BC

Spalirises

Brother (or the same person), and definite brother of Vonones.

c.57 - 35 BC

Azes I

Neighbouring (rival?) king who consolidated Saka territory.

c.57 BC

Azes consolidates Saka territory by absorbing that of Spalirises into his own, presumably when the death of the latter king leaves his territory unguarded. However, in the same year the Indo-Scythians are repelled from the area of Ujjain (Ozene) by King Vikramaditya of Malwa after occupying it for perhaps two decades or more. To commemorate the event Vikramaditya establishes the Vikrama era, a specific Indian calendar that uses 57 BC as its starting date.

Map of Central Asia & India c.50 BC
By the period between 100-50 BC the Greek kingdom of Bactria had fallen and the remaining Indo-Greek territories (shown in white) had been squeezed towards Eastern Punjab. India was partially fragmented, and the once tribal Sakas were coming to the end of a period of domination of a large swathe of territory in modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India. The dates within their lands (shown in yellow) show their defeats of the Greeks that had gained them those lands, but they were very soon to be overthrown in the north by the Kushans while still battling for survival against the Satvahanas of India (click on map to show full sized)

To the north and east of Azes' now enlargened territory, King Hippostratus is one of the most successful late Indo-Greek kings, until he loses to Azes in a battle which probably takes place at the River Jhelum. Azes establishes his own dynasty in Western Punjab. An alliance between Azes and the Indo-Greeks may be agreed after this, as the latter continue to rule Eastern Punjab.

c.57 - 35 BC

Azilises

Ruled in Gandhara as a joint king with Azes.

fl c.50 BC

Spalagadames

Son of Spalahores, and a satrap.

c.50 BC?

The Kushans capture the territory of the Sakas in modern Afghanistan. They probably also cause the downfall of Indo-Greek king Hermaeus, as they conquer Paropamisadae in the process. The Sakas consolidate their rule in northern India as compensation for the loss of Gandhara. They also fight the Satvahanas in India, and later enter into matrimonial alliances with them.

Mathura has quickly become an important Saka holding, with its kshatrapas issuing their own coins. A series of kshatrapas are known for a period that could stretch anywhere between 70 BC and the mid-first century AD. No two numismatic experts seem to agree on dating. It is also possible that they should not be grouped together in a single block. The first two, Hagamasha and Hagana, are usually placed before Kharahostes and Rajuvala, so they remain here. The later ones bear Indian names, showing a degree of integration with the locals and suggesting that they at least should be given dates in the first century AD, after the Rajuvula-Sodasa block (below).

c.50s-10s BC?

Hagamasha

Kshatrapa (satrap) in Mathura. Dates very uncertain here.

c.50s-10s BC?

Hagana

Elder brother? Kshatrapa in Mathura.

c.35 - 12 BC

Azes II

Possibly the same person as Azes I, thanks to a coin overstrike.

c.10 BC

The death of Azes II coincides with the rise of the Kushans in the west, but they remain rulers throughout the north-west frontier and in Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa (although not again in Ujjain (Ozene) until AD 78), and the North Konkan belt of Maharashtra.

Following the reign of Azes, the Sakas appear to fragment to an extent, with no overall ruler (mahakshatrapa). Instead, local satraps (kshatrapas) probably hold a level of independence and continually vie for supremacy, with control of Taxila being the ultimate prize. Three main satrapies are prominent now, with that of Kashmir shown in red and Mathura shown in green (the latter satraps are sometimes termed 'northern satraps' to differentiate them from the third group, the Western Satraps in Gujarat and Malwa). Other, more minor satraps are shown in light grey, while those kshatrapas who became dominant over their peers often adopt the title Mahakshatrapa.

fl c.10s BC?

Granavhryaka

Kshatrapa in Kapisa? Dates estimated based on those of his son.

c.10 BC - AD 10

Zeionises / Jihonika

Son of 'Manigula'. Kshatrapa in Kashmir & Chuksa.

Zeionises is kshatrapa of Kashmir, which title seems to be passed onto Kharahostes before being lost to the Indo-Parthians. He is also claimed as satrap of Chuksa (which would make him one of the Western Satraps) thanks to a silver jug that is later discovered at Taxila, and 'son of Manigula, brother of the great king'. The great king in question is unknown, but Azes would be the most likely candidate.

c.10 BC - AD 10

Kharahostes / Kharaostasa

Son of Arta. Kshatrapa in Mathura (former satrap under Azes II).

c.10 BC

Kharahostes is the son of Arta, who had been the elder brother of Maues. A recently discovered inscribed silver Buddhist reliquary which is found in Shinkot in Bajaur (modern Pakistan) refers to a King 'Kharayosta' who is believed by Richard Salomon of the Journal of the American Oriental Society to belong to the final quarter of the first century BC. This Kharayosta has been identified with the 'Yuvaraja Kharosta' of the Mathura lion capital inscriptions and the Kharahostes or Kharaostasa shown on coins. Kharahostes has inherited Kashmir from Zeionises, but this prized possession is almost instantly lost to the Indo-Parthians.

Mathura lion capital
Carved from sandstone, the Mathura lion capital was raised by the Sakas in first century AD Mathura, and carries Pakrit inscriptions that mention several of the 'northern satraps' of this region

fl c. AD 10

Rajuvula / Ranjula

Son-in-law of Kharahostes. Kshatrapa in Mathura.

c.AD 10

Rajuvula succeeds as kshatrapa of Mathura, and it is now that the office becomes much more powerful, with the absence of Saka central authority. His chief wife is reputedly Aiyasi Kambojaka, who is also referred to as Kambojika, and who is a member of the Kambojas tribe. Verses of the Mahabharata are believed to be composed around this period, and they include the Kambojas.

It is now that the Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Indo-Scythian pressure. It seems to be Rajuvula who invades what is virtually the last free Indo-Greek territory in the eastern Punjab, and kills Strato II and his son. Pockets of Greek population probably remain for some centuries under the subsequent rule of the Kushans and Indo-Parthians. Subsequent Saka rulers are known largely through numismatic evidence and inscriptions.

Indravarman

Successor to Rajuvula in Mathura?

c. 10 - ?

Hajatria

Son of Kharahostes. Kshatrapa in Mathura.

fl c.23

?

Son of Kshatrapa Granavhryaka. Kshatrapa in Kapisa.

fl c.23

Tiravharna?

Kshatrapa in Puspapura. Exact name unclear.

c.AD 30-80

During his reign, Kushan Emperor Kadphises I subdues the Sakas and establishes his kingdom in Bactria and the valley of the River Oxus (the Amu Darya), defeating the Indo-Parthians. Then he captures Gandhara. Kadphises may be a descendant of the Kushan leader 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 later minor Indo-Scythian rulers, suggesting a possible family connection there.

fl c.30 - 80?

Sodasa

Son of Rajuvula. Kshatrapa in Mathura. Kushan vassal?

c.80s

The Sakas have been eclipsed, although it is apparent that they retain at least one of their former offices, in Mathura. This seems to be under the brief suzerainty of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares, for at least the early part of Sodasa's 'reign' (the office is at least partially inherited by this time rather than being an appointment). But Sodasa is also claimed as being a contemporary of the Western Kshatrapa, Nahapana, which must give Sodasa a long reign between about AD 50 and AD 80 or even later. Sodasa's fate is unknown, but the office appears to remain in Saka hands (see c.50s-10s BC, above, for other kshatrapas in Mathura who could possibly be placed here).

To repeat an entry above for c.50 BC, Mathura has long been an important Saka holding, with its kshatrapas issuing their own coins. A series of kshatrapas are known for a period that could stretch anywhere between 70 BC and the mid-first century AD. No two numismatic experts seem to agree on dating. It is also possible that they should not be grouped together in a single block. The first two, Hagamasha and Hagana, are usually placed before Kharahostes and Rajuvala (see above), but the later ones bear Indian names, showing a degree of integration with the locals and suggesting that they at least should be given dates in the first century AD, after the Rajuvula-Sodasa block (suggested by A Comprehensive History Of Ancient India).

c.80s-90s?

Sivadatta

Kshatrapa in Mathura. Bears an Indian name.

c.80s-90s?

Sivaghosha

Kshatrapa in Mathura. Bears an Indian name.

119 - 124

Following the Kushan decline, the Western Kshatrapas (satraps) seem to be the only major branch of Saka power that has survived in office now that Mathura is merely part of the Kushan empire. It is they who now rise in prominence, especially under Nahapana. He occupies large swathes of Satvahana territory in western and central India and creates a new Saka centre of power far to the south of the original lands.

fl c.130

Kharapallana

Mahakshatrapa ('great satrap') in Mathura. Kushan vassal.

fl c.130

Vanaspara

Kshatrapa in Mathura. Kushan vassal.

c.130

Both Kharapallana and Vanaspara are mentioned by an inscription that is later discovered in Sarnath. They are both paying allegiance to the Kushans, showing that Mathura is still firmly under their control. Eventually the Kushans appoint their own kshatrapas in Mathura and the surviving Saka population merges into the background.

Saka (Western) Kshatrapas (Kshaharata Dynasty)

While 'kshatrapas' (or the alternative 'kshaharatas' or 'kṣatrapas'), is generally given as the title for this particular period of Saka power, it does not reflect the title in its purest form. After being subdued by the Kushans in the first century AD, the Sakas accepted their suzerainty, and local kshatra'p'as (literally satraps, the former Persian title for a governor) continued to hold regional power. While the more easterly-based Saka satraps had been quashed by the Kushan takeover (see above), the western satraps governed a large 'box' of territory that lay immediately to the south of the former Indo-Scythian kingdom, eventually growing even further southwards to cover the western coastline from Pune up to the modern Pakistan border and east to Ujjain (Ozene) and Bandhara.

Liaka Kusuluka seems to have been the first of the western satraps (founding what is sometimes referred to as the Kshaharata dynasty). This suggests that the region around Chuksa had only recently been gained by the Sakas around the seventies BC. Subsequent Kushan control of the western satraps proved to be relatively transitory. The Sakas here were gradually able to increase the levels of their independence over the subsequent century and lead a resurgence in Saka power. They appear to have given a nod to nominal Kushan overlordship, even during the great days of the mid-second century AD, but they were independent in all but name by then.

(Information co-authored by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, and additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, and from A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization, Niharranjan Ray, and Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar.)

fl c.72 BC

Liaka Kusuluka

Kshatrapa (satrap) of Chhahara & Chuksa.

c.72 BC

The Taxila 'Copper-Plate Inscription of Patika, the year 78' (ie. 72 BC) records a brief event during the satrapy of Liaka Kusuluka. His son, Patika, establishes a new relic of the Lord Sakyamuni, and a sangharama through Rohinimitra, overseer of the work in this sangharama, 'for the worship of all Buddhas'. Chuksa (or Cukhsa) is located fairly close to the core Saka lands, lying as it does in modern northern Pakistan, but a southwards drift can be detected, with coins of the third of these satraps, Abhiraka, appearing in southern Pakistan.

c.70 BC

To the north, the Sakas expel the Indo-Greeks from Arachosia but subsequently lose it to the Parthians. Parthian rule seems to be limited and perhaps doesn't include the entire region. By now, Saka rule covers a vast area of what is now southern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-west India, and the term Indo-Scythian can truly be applied to the Sakas from this approximate point onwards. But while the Saka satraps of the north and east still enter the historical record through their coins and interaction with surrounding powers, the western satraps seem to live a calmer, more obscure life in the Saka Indian territories.

c.57 BC

The 'great king', Azes, consolidates Saka territory by absorbing that of his rival king into his own, presumably when the death of the latter king leaves his territory unguarded. The Sakas also capture Modura around this time (Mathura in Utter Pradesh, northern India). Benefiting from their earlier interaction with the Greeks, the Sakas employ the Greek system of rule and appoint kshatrapas (satraps, or governors) to manage this new region.

However, in the same year the Indo-Scythians are repelled from the area of Ujjain (Ozene) by King Vikramaditya of Malwa after occupying it for perhaps two decades or more. To commemorate the event Vikramaditya establishes the Vikrama era, a specific Indian calendar that used 57 BC as its starting date.

Map of Central Asia & India c.50 BC
By the period between 100-50 BC the Greek kingdom of Bactria had fallen and the remaining Indo-Greek territories (shown in white) had been squeezed towards Eastern Punjab. India was partially fragmented, and the once tribal Sakas were coming to the end of a period of domination of a large swathe of territory in modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India. The dates within their lands (shown in yellow) show their defeats of the Greeks that had gained them those lands, but they were very soon to be overthrown in the north by the Kushans while still battling for survival against the Satvahanas of India (click on map to show full sized)

To the north and east of Azes' now enlargened territory, King Hippostratus is one of the most successful late Indo-Greek kings, until he loses to Azes in a battle which probably takes place at the River Jhelum. Azes establishes his own dynasty in Western Punjab. An alliance between Azes and the Indo-Greeks may be agreed after this, as the latter continue to rule Eastern Punjab.

c.50? BC

The Kushans capture the territory of the Sakas in modern Afghanistan. They probably also cause the downfall of Indo-Greek king Hermaeus, as they conquer Paropamisadae in the process. The Sakas consolidate their rule in northern India as compensation for the loss of Gandhara. They also fight the Satvahanas in India, and later enter into matrimonial alliances with them.

fl c.30 BC

Kusulaka Patika

Son. Kshatrapa of Chhahara & Chuksa.

c.10 BC

The death of Saka 'great king' Azes II coincides with the rise of the Kushans in the west, but they remain rulers throughout the north-west frontier and in Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa (although not again in Ujjain (Ozene) until AD 78), and the North Konkan belt of Maharashtra.

Following the reign of Azes, the Sakas appear to fragment to an extent, with no overall ruler (mahakshatrapa). Instead, local satraps (kshatrapas) probably hold a level of independence and continually vie for supremacy, with control of Taxila being the ultimate prize. The western satraps aside, two main satrapies vie for supremacy, those of Kashmir and Mathura (the latter are sometimes termed 'northern satraps' to differentiate them from the western satraps in Gujarat and Malwa).

c.10 BC - ?

Zeionises / Jihonika

Kshatrapa of Kashmir (until c.AD 10) & Chuksa.

Zeionises is the Saka kshatrapa of Kashmir, which title seems to be passed onto Kharahostes before being lost to the Indo-Parthians. He is also claimed as satrap of Chuksa (which would make him one of the Western Satraps), thanks to a silver jug that is later discovered at Taxila, and 'son of Manigula, brother of the great king'. The great king in question is unknown, but Azes would be the most likely candidate.

c.AD 10

In the north, Rajuvula succeeds Hagamasha and Hagana as kshatrapa of Mathura. It is only during Rajuvula's time that the office becomes much more powerful, with the absence of Saka central authority. His chief wife is reputedly Aiyasi Kambojaka, who is also referred to as Kambojika, and who is a member of the Kambojas tribe. Verses of the Mahabharata are believed to be composed around this period, and they include the Kambojas.

It is now that the Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Indo-Scythian pressure. It seems to be Rajuvula who invades what is virtually the last free Indo-Greek territory in the eastern Punjab, and kills Strato II and his son. Pockets of Greek population probably remain for some centuries under the subsequent rule of the Kushans and Indo-Parthians. Rajuvula's predecessor, Kharahostes, has inherited Kashmir from Zeionises, but this prized possession is almost instantly lost to the Indo-Parthians. Subsequent northern and eastern Saka rulers are known largely through numismatic evidence and inscriptions, notably the Mathura lion capital.

Mathura lion capital
Carved from sandstone, the Mathura lion capital was raised by the Sakas in first century AD Mathura, and carries Pakrit inscriptions that mention several of the 'northern satraps' of this region

fl c.AD 20?

Higaraka

Kshatrapa of Chhahara & Chuksa. Numismatic evidence.

fl c.30?

Abhiraka / Aubhirakes

Kshatrapa of Chhahara & Chuksa. Numismatic evidence.

c.30-80

During his reign, Kushan Emperor Kadphises I subdues the Sakas and establishes his kingdom in Bactria and the valley of the River Oxus (the Amu Darya), defeating the Indo-Parthians. Then he captures Gandhara. Kadphises may be a descendant of the Kushan leader 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 later minor Indo-Scythian rulers, suggesting a possible family connection there. The Sakas are eclipsed.

fl c.60

Bhumaka

Son. Kshatrapa. Confirmed by numismatic evidence.

79? - 124

Nahapana / Nambanus

Son. Under nominal Kushan suzerainty until 119.

c.80s?

The Sakas have been eclipsed, although it is apparent that they retain at least one of their former offices, in Mathura (see above). This seems to be under the suzerainty of the Indo-Parthian king, Gondophares, for at least the early part of Kshatrapa Sodasa's 'reign' (the office is at least partially inherited by this time rather than being an appointment). But Sodasa is also claimed as being a contemporary of 'Kshaharata' (for kshatrapa) Nahapana, which must give Sodasa a long reign between about AD 50 and AD 80 or even later. It is Nahapana at this time who signals the gradual resurgence of Saka power by capturing the important prize of Ujjain (Ozene) in the sixth year of his reign.

119

Nahapana shrugs off weakening Kushan supremacy and achieves the virtual independence of the western satraps. He goes on to occupy large swathes of Satvahana territory in western and central India and creates a new Saka centre of power far to the south of the original lands.

124

Nahapana is defeated by the resurgent Satvahana king, Gautamiputra Satkarni. As a result the Sakas lose Malwa and western Maharashtra and are forced to concentrate on Gujarat. He is apparently succeeded by Chastana, who is mentioned by Greco-Roman writer Ptolemy as 'Tiasthenes' or 'Testenes', and who rules a large area of western India, especially the area of Ujjain (Ozene), during the reign of the Satvahana king, Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi.

Saka (Western) Kshatrapas (Kardamaka Dynasty)

Chastana or Castana was the founder of a fresh dynasty due to the fact that his father was Ghsamotika rather than his predecessor, Nahapana. This kshatrapa is better known by Greek authors as Tiasthenes or Testenes. Both of the latter are much closer to an Indo-Greek version of his name and suggests that he actually did bear a Greek or Greek-inspired name rather than an Indian one. Chastana's father is given as Ghsamotika, Ysaneotika, and even Zamotika - all the same name rendered in different forms by different writers.

Despite the location of Ujjain ('Ozene') deep within India, the Sakas had clearly not yet become entirely naturalised. They also seem not to have become entirely independent, still apparently paying homage to the Indo-Parthian and then Kushan rulers to the north. Usefully, Chastana's reign can be firmly fixed around AD 130 by the Andhau (Cutch) inscription, providing an anchor for the somewhat vague dating of other rulers of this period.

(Information co-authored by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, and additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, and from A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization, Niharranjan Ray, from Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar, and from Ancient Indian History and Civilization, Sailendra Nath Sen.)

fl c.130

Chastana / Tiasthenes / Testenes

Son of Ghsamotika. Kshatrapa of Ujjain (Ozene).

fl c.130

Jayadaman

Son and co-ruler. May have predeceased his father.

c.130 - c.170

Rudradaman I

Son. Initially a co-ruler with his grandfather. Mahakshatrapa.

Maintaining the capital at Ujjain, Rudradaman I enjoys a long reign and successfully wages various wars against the Satvahanas. He is also the father-in-law of the Satvahana king, Vashishtaputra Satkarni, whom he defeats twice in battle, leading to the decline of the Satvahanas. His kingdom extends over Malwa, Rajputana, Gujarat, and Maharashtra (except Pune and Nasik).

Indo-Scythians
Typical Indo-Scythians in India, still the notable horse-borne warriors of their Indo-European heritage but by now greatly imbued with Indian cultural influences

By this period, if not before, the last Indo-Parthians are conquered by the Kushans while Mathura is still under the control of the Kushans and governed by Saka satraps. Indo-Parthians also remain in some of the areas that they have conquered in the past. After consolidating his newly-created empire, and having converted to Hinduism, Rudradaman divides it into provinces so that it is easier to administer. The Girnar records show that an Indo-Parthian amatya (governor) by the name of Suvisakha is placed in charge of the administration of Ananta-Surastra. One Kuplaipa is made viceroy of Gujarat, 'Mahadandanayaka' (actually a title meaning 'great general') becomes governor of Malwa, and Rupiamaa is kshatrapa of Bhandara, the easternmost extension of Saka power.

fl c.150

Rupiamaa

Kshatrapa in Bhandara based on pillar inscriptions.

c.170 - 175

Damajadasri / Damaghsada I

Son of Rudradaman. Mahakshatrapa.

Damajadasri's reign is recorded as seeing a decline in the power of the western kshatrapas following conquest by the Satvahanas. The rise of the Malavas in the north also threatens them. With his son's accession, dates start to be added to coins, making it easier to construct a coherent list during this increasingly troubled time.

fl c.181

Rudrasimha I

Brother. Kshatrapa.

175

Jivadaman

Son of Damajadasri. Deposed by Rudrasimha. Died AD 199.

175 - 188

Rudrasimha I

Uncle, and former kshatrapa (c.170). Deposed. Died AD 197.

188 - 191

Isvaradatta

Usurper, but also claimed as such for AD 242.

191 - 197

Isvaradatta's place here as a usurper is uncertain, but if correct then he is responsible for deposing the previous usurper, Rudrasimha I. In turn, he is removed by a resurgent Rudrasimha who soon dies in office to be succeeded by the original deposee and rightful ruler, Jivadaman.

191 - 197

Rudrasimha I

Restored. Died.

197 - 199

Jivadaman

Restored upon the death of his uncle. Died without heir.

200 - 222

Rudrasena I

Cousin.

early-3rd century

By the middle of the century the Satavahana kingdom has fragmented into many parts, each having a ruler of its own who claims to be the true Satvahana descendant. Their perennial enemy, the Sakas, assume overlordship of Goa, and already control Malwa, Gujarat, Kathiawar, and parts of western Rajputana, but have lost North Konkan to the Satvahanas (probably during the reign of Damajadasri).

222 - 223

Samghadaman

Brother.

223 - 232

Damasena

Brother.

c.230 - 250

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.

Kushanshah letter addressed to Varhran
A Kushanshah letter addressed to their mid-fourth century AD ruler, Varhran, from the daughter of a princess named Dukht-anosh, a Middle Persian name

232 - 239

Damajadasri II

Son of Rudrasena I.

234 - 238

Viradaman

Son of Damasena. Joint ruler or kshatrapa?

239

Yasodaman I

Brother.

239 - 250

Vijayasena

Brother. Lost the throne temporarily?

242

Vijayasena apparently finds his throne usurped in this year. Isvaradatta is mentioned in connection with this but he is a usurper of 188-191, and if he has survived this long it seems unlikely that he would be able to commit the very same act again. Whomever the usurper is this time around, it takes Vijayasena around eighteen months to regain his throne.

251 - 255

Damajadasri III

Brother.

255 - 277

Rudrasena II

Nephew, and son of Viradaman.

277 - 282

Visvasimha

Son.

278 - 282

Bhratadarman / Bhartrdaman

Brother. Kshatrapa under Visvasimha.

282 - 295

Bhratadarman / Bhartrdaman

Former kshatrapa, now mahakshatrapa.

293 - 304

Visvasena / Vishwasen

Brother. Joint ruler (293-295)? Killed without heir?

296

In the west the Sassanids regain Harran and make it a permanent possession. Around this time they seemingly 'overthrow' the Sakas too, although this seems to be more of a check of Saka power which is already beginning to fade.

Saka (Western) Kshatrapas (Rudrasimha Dynasty)

The rise of Rudrasimha III meant a new dynasty for the western kshatrapas. The fate of his predecessor, Visvasena, seems to be unknown. Did he die without producing an heir, or was he killed and his throne usurped? The replacement dynasty as such seems to be unnamed in records, so Rudrasimha's name is used here, but Rudrasimha himself may not have been of kingly status. His father is named as Swarmi Jivadaman - a swarmi or svari being a mere lord (perhaps a distant relative of the ruling family) - and his accession seems to have begun immediately following the end of Visvasena's reign - his coinage suggesting that he was not a kshatrapa beforehand.

Some modern sources give a starting date of 226 for Rudrasimha II, but this is clearly incorrect as a proper date as his short-lived dynasty fell foul of Chandragupta II, who only became king himself in AD 375. Instead it refers to a specific Indian-based dating era for the Sakas themselves which should be shown with equivalent anno domini dates. The dynasty may have amounted to a restoration of Saka power following the fall or eclipse of the previous rulers. By this time Saka power was beginning to fade and not much is known of their rulers except through numismatic evidence. Having been damaged by the Sassanids in the late third century AD, their distant provinces now began to drift away from their control. A brief revival was engineered under Rudrasimha II, but it proved transitory. The Guptas soon put an end to their rule entirely.

(Information co-authored by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, and additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, and from A Sourcebook of Indian Civilization, Niharranjan Ray, from Foreign Impact on Indian Life and Culture (c.326 BC to c.300 AD), Satyendra Nath Naskar, from Ancient Indian History and Civilization, Sailendra Nath Sen, and from Literary and Historical Studies in Indology, Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi.)

304 - 348

Rudrasimha II

Son of Lord (Svami) Jivadaman. Kshatrapa.

317 - 332

Yasodaman II

Son. Joint ruler? Predeceased his father?

332 - 348

Rudradaman II

Son? Joint ruler?

348 - 380

Rudrasena III

Brother of Rudrasimha II. Killed by Gupta Chandragupta II.

380

Following the reign of Samudragupta of the Guptas, there is the possibility that his eldest son, Ramagupta, succeeds him. While his very existence is sometimes doubted, it seems to be Ramagupta who embarks on an ill-planned campaign against the Sakas in Gujarat and is trapped along with his army, only to be rescued by his brother, the future Gupta king, Chandragupta II.

Rudrasena III silver drachm
Two sides of a silver drachm issued by Rudrasena III, brother and possible co-author of a brief revival in Saka fortunes, although the precise events have been lost to history

380 - ?

Simhasena

Possibly ruling until 384/5?

382 - 388

Rudrasena IV

388 - 395

Rudrasimha III

Killed by Chandragupta II of the Guptas.

395

The Sakas are finally finished off as a regional power by the Guptas of Magadha, under the leadership of the formidable Chandragupta II. Saka territory is incorporated into the growing Gupta empire. In time the remnants of the Sakas, now without any political power, mix into Indian society. Some scholars believe that they re-emerge in the fifth century as the Indo-Aryan Jats who, from around the seventeenth century dominate the regions of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.