History Files

Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Sakas (Indo-Iranians)
Incorporating the Amyrgians, Astacae, Dahae, Haumavarga, Homodotes, Orthocorybantes, Paradraya, Pestici, Pissuri, Rumnici, Tigraxauda, & Xanthii

The Sakas were formed of a seemingly vast range of Central Asian nomadic tribes and groups which inhabited the region around the River Jaxartes and Lake Issykkul (or Issyk Kul - located in the Tian Shan Mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan). Indo-European in terms of their ancestry, they were part of a broad range of Indo-Iranians and the closely-related Indo-Aryans who formed the eastern division of Indo-Europeans, having expanded outwards from their original home on the north shores of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Migration between the fourth and second millennia BC had sent western groups of Indo-Europeans far and wide, mostly into Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, while the eastern groups took longer to migrate, later reaching Iran and India, and even Han dynasty China. The closely-related Scythians may not have migrated at all.

The ancestors of the Sakas eventually found themselves situated to the north and east of the Oxus Civilisation of late-third millennium BC Transoxiana, although it is impossible to say whether they were involved at all in this civilisation. They could instead have been part of the Kazakhstan steppe-living 'spiral city' builder culture which may have traded with the Oxus dwellers but which did not achieve quite the same level of sophistication.

Possibly (but not definitely) related to the Massagetae who occupied very similar territory, the subsequent development of the Sakas between around 1700-550 BC can only be guessed at. It probably involved the continuation of a typical Indo-European nomadic existence, something which is supported by their adventures with the later Yeuh Chi, the early Achaemenids, and others. They may also have influenced or provided elements to the sixth century AD Göktürks, who have been linked by some scholars with an Indo-European ancestry (along with most early Turkic tribes).

FeatureSaka names were recorded in a variety of way by a variety of classic writers. It was not until the arrival in the region of the Achaemenids under Cyrus the Great and then the Greeks in the form of Alexander the Great that the Sakas entered the historical record and at least some of their groups or tribes were documented - albeit not always clearly (see feature link for a full breakdown).

FeatureThe Amyrgian subset of Sakas were fairly well attested, accompanying Alexander on campaign under their 'King Omarg', They later entered India along with the Kambojas to found a kingdom in Gandhara (now in northern Pakistan), at the same time displacing the ailing Indo-Greek kings (see feature link for more on Sakas in India). The Tigraxauda name is commonly translated as 'pointed caps'. Darius the Great passed through Suguda to 'smote the Saka exceedingly', slaying their chief. This would be the Haumavarga. The third of the early Saka 'nations' was that of the Paradraya.

FeatureLater groups were noted by Xerxes and others: the region known as Daha or Dahae would appear to sit on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Tigraxauda to the north. This contained a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii. The latter had a name which had a formation similar to that of the region name 'Skudra' (for an examination of the Saka/Scythian name itself, see the feature link).

In the 320s BC, the Amyrgian plain saw the Saka Haumavarga neighbouring the Saka Tigraxauda. The Tigraxauda by this time seem to have become the Orthocorybantes. In the 280s BC, Demodamas crossed the Syr Darya after repopulating Alexandria Eschate (possibly modern Khojend) following its earlier destruction by barbarians. From his material, and that of Megasthenes around a generation before, another group of Sakas could be perceived at this time, known as the Homodotes (Pliny's Homodoti, one of a list of regionally-neighbouring tribes called the Astacae, Rumnici, and Pestici). The Homodotes were located in the (northern) Emod and at the headwaters of the Oxus (the Amu Darya).

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler and Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, René Grousset (1970), from Persica, Ctesias of Cnidus (original work lost but a section is repeated by Photius in ninth century AD Constantinople), 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 (dead link), 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 which very soon becomes prominent amongst Scythian groups to the east of the Caspian Sea, in Transoxiana).

Map of Central Asia & India c.700 BC
Following the climate-change-induced collapse of indigenous civilisations and cultures in Iran and Central Asia between about 2200-1700 BC, Indo-Iranian groups gradually migrated southwards to form two regions - Tūr (yellow) and Ariana (white), with westward migrants forming the early Parsua kingdom (lime green), and Indo-Aryans entering India (green) (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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.

Cyrus the Great attacks the Sakas and takes prisoner their king, Amorges. His wife, Sparethra, collects together an army of 300,000 men and 200,000 women and attacks the forces of Cyrus, defeating them according to Ctesias. Important Saka prisoners are exchanged for Amorges and the two sides agree terms of friendship.

fl 530 BC

Amorges / Homarges

Saka chief. Served with Persian King Cyrus the Great.

530 BC

The end of the reign of Cyrus the Great reign is spent in military activity in Central Asia where, according to Herodotus, he dies in battle in 530 BC. Intent on taming the Massagetae, he advances across the River Axartes which is not only broad but which contains many large islands. Ctesias relates that he is aided by Saka chief Amorges, although Ctesias is highly unreliable as a chronicler.

The River Syr Darya
The 'pearly waters' of the River Syr Darya which empties into the Aral Sea, and which in the sixth century BC formed the south-western boundary of the territory of the Massagetae

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 Gadara 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.

A subsequent cuneiform inscription set up by Darius lists the nations which comprise the Persian empire - the Behistun inscription. It includes 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 Suguda), 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.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis
Saka Tikrakhauda (otherwise known as 'Scythians' but, in this case, 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

? - 515 BC


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 (Suguda), on the other side of the River Tanais (otherwise known as the Jaxartes/Iaxartes or Syr Darya, which forms the boundary between Suguda 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 which is most likely to be the Massagetae of Strabo. Strabo also identifies the Attasii and the Chorasmii of the region of Chorasmia as Massagetae, making them a sub-group of the main Massagetae collective, otherwise known to the Achaemenids as Saka Tigrakhauda.

479 - 465 BC

Xerxes apparently adds two new regions to the Persian empire during his reign, neither of which are very descriptive or clear in their location. The first is Daha, from 'daai' or 'daae', meaning 'men', perhaps in the sense of brigands. Daha or Dahae would appear to be the region on the eastern flank of the Caspian Sea, bordered by the Saka Tigraxauda to the north, and the satrapies of Mergu, Uwarazmiy, and Verkâna to the north-east, south-east, and south respectively.

Map of Scythian Lands around 500 BC
This map shows the Scythian lands at their greatest extent, primarily before they came to the notice of Classical authors (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Dahae contains a confederation of three tribes, the Parni, the Pissuri, and the Xanthii. With the latter, the 'x' in Xanthii has a 'ks' sound which is interchangeable with 'sk' in place of the 'x', possibly providing 'skanth'. The Xanthii may be a branch of the Sakas and Scythians.

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': 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 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.

Scythian warriors
The appearance of ferocious mounted Scythian warriors on the Pontic steppe must have instilled a sense of worry and fear in many local groups (although armour such as that pictured here certainly did not appear so early)

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 which 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', possibly 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 Ferghana (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.

Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Mountains on Ferghana's eastern border (now in the east of modern Tajikistan) became the final home of the Wusun as they turned to a permanent settled status and farming to replace pastoral nomadism

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 the Greek 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 (possibly 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 the work of 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 which 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 which would eventually contribute to the downfall of the Greeks - the Sakas and Greater Yuezhi (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.165 - 160 BC

Defeated by the Xiongnu, the Greater Yuezhi are forced to evacuate their lands on the borders of the Chinese kingdom. They begin a migration westwards which triggers a slow domino effect of barbarian movement. By about 160 BC the Greater Yuezhi have encountered the outlying Saka groups on the eastern Kazakh Steppe, primarily in the Ili river valley immediately to the south of Lake Balqash, which they now occupy.

Seemingly, these Saka groups are easily dominated by the Greater Yuezhi, probably due to the sheer weight of numbers on the latter side, while the Saka are at the eastern edge of their vast swathe of steppe territory which stretches all the way back to the shoreline of the Caspian Sea.

fl c.150s BC


Unnamed Amyrgian Saka. Expelled from Ferghana.

c.155 BC

The Sakas (in the form of the Amyrgian branch) are displaced from Ferghana by the Greater Yuezhi. They are undoubtedly pushed towards neighbouring Sogdiana, where they are dominant enough to take control of the region, either displacing whichever regional tyrants may have arisen or becoming their overlords.

This is an event which is connected with the migration of the Greater Yuezhi across Da Yuan (the Chinese term for Ferghana). Following another defeat, this time by an alliance of the Wusun and the Xiongnu, the Greater Yuezhi are forced to move again. This causes other tribes also to be bumped out of position.

Altai Mountains
The Altai Mountains link together the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and Xinjiang, providing the source for the rivers Irtysh and Ob and also, it would seem, the source region for the early Turkic tribes

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 which 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 their regional powerbase.

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 Greater Yuezhi start to invade Bactria from Sogdiana to the north.

Initially, Sakas who are already in Bactria become vassals to the Greater Yuezhi but, within a decade, the Greater Yuezhi 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.

Map of the Yuezhi lands and exodus route
This map shows the estimated migratory route of the Greater Yuezhi in the second century BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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, their ruler, around 126 BC.

The Sakas (partially displaced by the Greater Yuezhi) continue to press Parthian borders for territory, subsequently killing King Artabanus. They may occupy areas of Parthian territory for a time, relieving the Greater Yuezhi pressure on them.

The modern writer, René Grousset, instead attributes the death of Artabanus II to the Greater Yuezhi who are now settled in Bactria. The answer could lie in the fact that Saka groups have been dominated by the Greater Yuezhi since the latter's arrival thirty or forty years beforehand, so the Greater Yuezhi could be the driving force behind the fighting against the Parthians, while a Saka could still be responsible for the wound which kills Artabanus II.

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 Greater Yuezhi in Sogdiana in 115 BC, and then he defeats the Sakas in Parthia and around Seistan (in Drangiana) around 100 BC.

After their defeat, the Greater Yuezhi tribes concentrate on consolidation in Bactria-Tokharistan while the Sakas are diverted into Indo-Greek Gandhara. The western territories of Aria, Drangiana, and Margiana would appear to remain Parthian dependencies.

Ancient Bactra/Balkh city walls
The landscape around the walls of the ancient city of Bactra, capital of Bactria (shown here - now known as Balkh in northern Afghanistan, close to the border along the Amu Darya), was and still is very diverse, offering both challenges and rewards to any settlers there, including the newly arrived Sakas

c.90 - 80 BC

The Greater Yuezhi 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 (formerly in Northern Indus, now in northern Pakistan).

Gandhara falls within a region stretching into Parthian lands which remains known as Sakastan or Sistan even today. Taxila is also 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, Greater 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. 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 Greater Yuezhi, Sakas, and Kushans.

c.75 - 65 BC


(Not to be confused with the Parthian Vonones.)

c.75 - 65 BC


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 Northern Indus (Punjab) under Apollodotus II. Vonones is confined to the north-west of India. However, the Indo-Greeks progressively lose ground to the Sakas, Greater 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'.

A coin of Mithradates II the Great of Parthia
Indo-Greek coins of very recent issue would have been easy to find during this period, including this silver tetradrachm showing Mithradates the Great of Parthia

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


Former satrap (c.75-65 BC).

c.60 - 57 BC


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 which 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, while India was partially fragmented (click or tap on map to view 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 Indus (Punjab). An alliance between Azes and the Indo-Greeks may be agreed after this, as the latter continue to rule eastern Indus (Punjab).

c.57 - 35 BC


Ruled in Gandhara as a joint king with Azes.

fl c.50 BC


Son of Spalahores, and a satrap.

c.50 BC?

The Kushans capture the territory of the Sakas in what is now Afghanistan but which at this time includes the former region of Arachosia and neighbouring territories. 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 which 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).

Naganika, the wife of second century BC king of the Satvahanas, Shathakarni, commissioned the cave inscriptions in the Naneghat, or 'coin pass', an important toll for travellers passing though this Western Ghats trade route

c.50s-10s BC?


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

c.50s-10s BC?


Elder brother? Kshatrapa in Mathura.

c.35 - 12 BC

Azes II

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

fl c.35 BC?


Kshatrapa (satrap) in Eastern Punjab. Dated by coins alone.


Kshatrapa (satrap - coin evidence). Dating entirely unknown.

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 Northern Indus (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 rulers in Kashmir shown below in red and those of Mathura shown in green (the latter 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.

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

fl c.10s BC?


Kshatrapa in Kapisa? Dates estimated based on his son's.

after 10 BC?

Arsakes Dikaios

Kshatrapa. Dated post-Azes II by coinage. District unknown.

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 which 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 (formerly 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 which 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 Indus (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.


Successor to Rajuvula in Mathura?

c. 10 - ?


Son of Kharahostes. Kshatrapa in Mathura.

fl c.23


Son of Kshatrapa Granavhryaka. Kshatrapa in Kapisa.

fl c.23


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 the Greater Yuezhi-conquered lands of Bactria and the valley of the River Oxus (the Amu Darya). The Indo-Parthians have to be defeated along the way.

Kadphises I coin from Tokharistan
This photo illustrates a Kadphises I Kushan coin which was discovered in the Bactria-Tokharistan region and which has on it a corrupt Greek legend

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?


Son of Rajuvula. Kshatrapa in Mathura. Kushan vassal?


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 which could stretch anywhere between 70 BC and the mid-first century AD.

Gondophares Pahlava coin
This photo illustrates both sides of a coin issued by Gondophares showing the Greek goddess Nike, and legends in both Greek and Kharoshthi, clearly demonstrating the powerful influence of Greek culture in the region even after the collapse of the last Greek kingdom

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).



Kshatrapa in Mathura. Bears an Indian name.



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 which 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.

Satvahana coins
Shown here are two sides of a Satvahana coin which is typical of the type produced during the period of empire, even though a good deal of territory had only recently been lost to Nahapana of the Sakas

fl c.130


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

fl c.130


Kshatrapa in Mathura. Kushan vassal.


Both Kharapallana and Vanaspara are mentioned by an inscription which 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, with only the Western Kshatrapas as visible descendants of the Sakas.