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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Tokharistan / Tushara Kingdom (Bactria)

Following the decline of Greek power in the region, Bactria became easy pickings for every successive nomadic invader who took a fancy to it. Takeovers by warrior elites of a subject population after any conquest are characteristic of steppe nomads of every flavour, and it is not surprising that the region witnessed various masters over the next seven centuries. The instability of dynasties here was very characteristic of nomads who came from open plains with no fixed borders, with their organisation consisting of mobile clans with their own leaders. Such a background demanded ruthless aggression, and alliances which were understood to be temporary in nature, this being the only way to survive.

When the Greater Yuezhi suffered yet another defeat at the hands of the Xiongu, this time with the latter allied to the previously subservient Wusun, they had no choice but to follow a migratory route away from their enemies. This route delivered them onto the Saka plains of the Ili river valley to the immediate south of Lake Balqash (the modern Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan). From there they were forced to move again, entering Transoxiana from the direction of Da Yuan (the Chinese term for Ferghana). They penetrated Sogdiana from its northern reaches, initially dominating the Sakas who were already there.

FeatureSoon afterwards they followed the Sakas in invading the former Greek empire region of Bactria (Ta-hia or Ta-Hsia in Chinese records), by around 140 BC. This is where Chinese and western Classical records converge, allowing the Greater Yuezhi to be identified as Tocharians and for confusion to be created for modern scholars. At about the time of the death of the Indo-Greek King Menander around 130 BC they managed to terminate Greek rule in Bactria. Hellenic cities there appear to have survived for some time, as did the well-organised agricultural system, but the general area of Bactria soon came to be referred to as Tokharistan after its new masters. As a recognisable entity by that name, Tokharistan survived at least as far as the sixth century AD (the problem regarding confusion between the use of 'Tocharian' and 'Greater Yuezhi' is covered on that page, and see also the feature link, right).

Tokharistan could also be equated with the Tushara kingdom of Indian literature which includes the Mahabharata. Tushara lies beyond north-western India itself, and is populated by mlechchas - barbarians - but more than enough time had passed since the great Indo-European migratory period that the Vedic Hindus would have no idea about the origins of these barbarians. Puranic texts equate them with the Sakas (Shakas), clearly seeing little difference between the dominating Greater Yuezhi and the dominated Sakas to the north of the Hindu Kush. In fact, such texts tend to find it hard to differentiate between any of the peoples to the north of the Hindu Kush. The Tibetan chronicle, Dpag-bsam-ljon-bzah (The Excellent Kalpa-Vrksa) references the Greater Yuezhi as the Tho-gar (seemingly another reference to Tokharians).

Tocharian sculpture

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus: Books 11-12, Volume 1, Marcus Junianus Justinus, John Yardley, & Waldemar Heckel, from Migration and Settlement of the Yuezhi-Kushan. Interaction and Interdependence of Nomadic and Sedentary Societies, Xinru Liu (Journal of World History 12, 2001), from The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West, J P Mallory & Victor H Mair (2000), from Sogdiana, its Christians, and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (Indiana University, 2001), and from External Links: Peering at the Tocharians through Language, and The United Sites of Indo-Europeans, and Studies in the History and Language of the Sarmatians, and Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (J Pokorny), and the Ancient History Encyclopaedia (dead link), and Tocharian Online: Series Introduction, Todd B Krause & Jonathan Slocum (University of Texas at Austin), and Silk Road Seattle, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, and Afghan Gold, Treasures from the East (World Archaeology).)

126 BC

The Chinese envoy, Chang-kien or Zhang Qian, visits the newly-established Greater Yuezhi capital of Kian-she in Ta-Hsia (otherwise shown as Daxia to the Chinese, and Bactria to western writers) and the rich and fertile country of the Bukhara region of Sogdiana. His mission is to obtain help for the Chinese emperor against the Xiongnu, but the Greater Yuezhi leader - the son of their leader who had been killed about 166 BC - refuses the request. Kian-she can reasonably be equated with Lan-shih or Lanshi, but the question of whether this is the Bactrian capital of Bactra (modern Balkh) seems to be much more controversial. It does seem to be likely though, despite scholarly objections.

However, although some modern scholars label the Bactra of this period as the Greater Yuezhi 'capital', Zhang Qian's own contemporary account makes it quite clear that the country is not ruled by a single king who is based in Bactra. Nor does the city contain a central administration. He carefully notes that: 'It [Bactria] has no great ruler but only a number of petty chiefs ruling the various cities'. The Chinese word used to describe the status of Lanshi can refer either to the capital (of a country) or, preferably here, a large town, city, or metropolis. The sense in which it is used clearly edges towards the latter sense.

Instead the Greater Yuezhi territory has been divided into five principalities, one for each of the main five Greater Yuezhi tribes (although there is the possibility that one or more may instead be formed of Sakas who had been there before the Greater Yuezhi and have now been absorbed into their ranks). These are the Xiūmž (Hieu-mi), Guishuang (Kuei-shung or Kushan), Shuangmi (Shuang-mi), Xidun (Hi-tun), and Dūmž (Tumi). Although they are independently governed by their own allied prince or xihou, they act together as a confederation. It is also during this period that the Greater Yuezhi become literate, quickly progressing to become able administrators, traders, and scholars.

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 which 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 or tap on map to view full sized)

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 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. Although Carmania doesn't seem to be mentioned directly, its position between Drangiana and Persia would make it likely that this too is still in Parthian hands.

c.50? BC

The Kushan tribe of Greater Yuezhi captures the territory of the Sakas in what will one day become Afghanistan, and have probably already caused the downfall of Indo-Greek King Hermaeus, conquering Paropamisadae in the process. The Kushans are becoming the dominant tribe of the Greater Yuezhi confederation, soon beginning the process of uniting the tribes under a single ruler in the process of creating the Kushan empire.

It is in the west of Bactria in this century that the 'Bactrian Gold' horde of Tillia Tepe is buried, in the graves of 'princely nomads'. At the heart of the horde is a glorious selection of objects from six richly-furnished graves (five women and one man) which are later excavated by an Afghan-Soviet team in 1978. A notable level of Greek influence can be felt in some of the finds, revealing the fact that Greek culture has had a lasting impact on the region, nearly three centuries after the death of Alexander the Great.

Hermaios coin from Gandhara
A Hermaeus coin from Paropamisadae at the beginning of the first century AD. The rear of the coin shows Zeus enthroned and facing three quarters to the left, right hand extended, and holding a sceptre in his left hand, with a monogram in the field to the left

1st century AD

A few coins have been found which are minted (probably) in the first century AD by one Phseigaharis. The coins all come from the prosperous Kashka-Darya valley of the western Pamir mountain range immediately south of Marakanda (Samarkand, with the valley now being in the region of Qashqadaryo in eastern Uzbekistan). Otherwise unknown except for these coin finds, Phseigaharis can be classed as a local ruler in Sogdiana, possibly a member of the Greater Yuezhi or one of their regional vassals.

Kushan Empire / Guishang Kingdom
Incorporating the Dūmž, Guishuang, Shuangmi, Xidun, & Xiūmž

FeatureThe Kushan (or Kushans) founded an empire across southern areas of Central Asia and northern South Asia (reaching into north and west of India) at the very end of the first century BC. As a tribal people who were only just becoming infused with the prevailing local Indo-Greek culture and writing, their origins are somewhat murky and the foundation of their empire is just as indistinct. Contemporary records (mostly written by ethnic Greeks and Indians) show that they were a branch of the Indo-European Yueh Chi or Greater Yuezhi tribes following the mass exodus of that group from Chinese lands around 165 BC (see feature link for a broad overview of the Kushans).

FeatureAccording to J P Mallory, the native name for the historical Greater Yuezhi of Central Asia in the sixth to eighth centuries AD was possibly 'kuśiññe', meaning 'kuchean' in Tocharian B, 'of the kingdom of Kucha and Agni'. One of the Tocharian A texts refers to ārśi-käntwā, 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 Kushans and Greater Yuezhi to the Germanic Indo-Europeans and their asura (Os, Aesir - see feature link, right, for more information) who were called Istvae. If nothing else, this would serve to further confirm the Greater Yuezhi as satem-speaking Indo-Iranians, something which is already fully evident in their regard. Examining more speculatively, could 'kuśiññe' have on the end of it the Celtic and Germanic plural suffix in yet another form, '-iññe'? 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 would provide another link to other Indo-Europeans.

The Kushans may not have represented all Greater Yuezhi, but they certainly emerged as a powerful component of the confederation. The Greater Yuezhi 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. There were five tribes which made up the Greater Yuezhi - although there is the possibility that one or more may instead have been formed of Sakas, a sister-group who had been there before the Greater Yuezhi arrival and who were now easily absorbed into their ranks. These five tribes are known in Chinese history as Xiūmž (Hieu-mi), Guishuang (Kuei-shung or Kushan), Shuangmi (Shuang-mi), Xidun (Hi-tun), and Dūmž (Tumi). Each of these seem to have settled their own territory around the start of the first century BC, although some uncertainty is including when assigning these, with the Xiūmž possibly taking Wakhan between the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush (on the eastern edge of what can be termed 'eastern Iran'), the Shuangmi taking Chitral, to the south of Wakhan and the Hindu Kush, the Guishuang creating a principality between Chitral and the Panjshir region, the Xidun taking Parwan on the Panjshir, and the Dūmž in Kabul.

A little over a century later, the Guishuang tribe - or Kushans as they are better known to western scholars - began to unite the other tribes together under one banner. The identification of Kujula Kadphises, the leader of this new confederation, with the Kieou-tsieu-kio, ruler of Kuei-shung, of Chinese records is pretty certain (also referred to as Kadphises I in English texts). Following the unification of the tribes, he secured the area from the rival Saka tribes, and then expanded his territory to include Gandhara (Indo-Greek Paropamisadae). Next he pushed on into central India, extending his borders as far as the Indus, with Indian sources referring to his kingdom as Kuśana. The empire's borders later reached China, whose scholars had raised what they knew as the Guishuang tribe to 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 starting date of AD 127, easily two generations later. The Chinese chronicle, Sanguozhi, can be used to date a late Kushan event to AD 229 while the Kushan king mentioned is shown by the prevailing chronology as having died in AD 207. If the Chinese dating is correct then the reign of this king, Vasudeva I, should clearly be put back by at least two decades.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with 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), from Ancient Indian History and Civilization, Sailendra Nath Sen, from Sogdiana, its Christians, and Byzantium, Aleksandr Naymark (Indiana University, 2001), from Life of Apollonius Tyana, Philostratus, from A New Bactrian Inscription of Kanishka the Great, J Cribb & N Sims-Williams (Silk Road Art and Archaeology 4: 75-142, 1995), from The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans, J M Rosenfield (University of California Press, 1967), from King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE), Khodadad Rezakhani (Touraj Daryaee, Ed, Ancient Iran Series Vol IV, 2017), from King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE), Khodadad Rezakhani (Touraj Daryaee, Ed, Ancient Iran Series Vol IV, 2017), from The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire, R C Blockley (Francis Cairns, Oxford, 1983), and from External Links: Talessman's Atlas (World History Maps), and Bactrian Chronology (SOAS, University of London), and The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, George Coedès (Walter F Vella (Ed), Susan Brown Cowing (Trans), University of Hawaii Press, 1968, and available online via the Internet Archive).)

c.AD 1 - 30

Heraios / Heraus / Miaos

Kushan clan chief. Of (partial?) Indo-Greek descent?

c.AD 1

Heraios is the first recognisable Kushan ruler, gaining mastery within the Greater Yuezhi confederation and minting his own coins. His precise identity is open to some interpretation, with some scholars promoting the theory that he is a father or grandfather of Kujula Kadphises, the man who really unifies the confederation and leads it to conquest. Heraios is apparently confused by some scholars with one of the later Indo-Greek kings, Hermaeus Soter, and it is always possible that in the century and-a-half since their arrival in the region that the Kushan elite have already intermarried with the surviving Indo-Greek nobility and have adopted and adapted Indo-Greek names.

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)


The Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Saka pressure. It seems to be Rajuvula, the Saka kshatrapa of Mathura, who invades what is virtually the last free Indo-Greek territory in eastern Indus (Punjab), and kills the Greek ruler, Strato II, and his son. Pockets of Greek population probably remain for some centuries under the subsequent rule of the Kushans and Indo-Parthians. By now the Parthians already seem to have captured Kashmir from the Sakas, relieving them of an important prize.

c.30 - 80

Kujula Kadphises / Kadphises I

Descendant of Heraios or perhaps even the same person?

Kujula Kadphises is the first Kushan chieftain to refer to himself as Kushan, and is therefore considered the first Kushan king. He may be a descendant of Heraios but he may instead be the same person. He also shares his name with some of the last Saka rulers, suggesting a possible family connection there.

During his reign, Kadphises subdues the Sakas and establishes his kingdom in Bactria-Tokharistan and the valley of the River Oxus (the Amu Darya), defeating the Indo-Parthians. Then he captures Paropamisadae, although its capital of Taxila may still remain in Indo-Parthian hands for a time. An Indo-Greek ruler by the name of Phraotes is noted as ruling there around AD 46.

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

c.30 - 50

At the founding of the Kushan empire, a long corridor of territory is seized by the Kushans between Bactria-Tokharistan and the middle course of the Amu Darya. This serves to create a Kushan barrier along the entire southern and western Sogdian border. The inference which can be drawn from the lack of Kushan empire coinage in Sogdiana (extremely rare), and the lack of any other apparent benefits of empire, is that Sogdiana is isolated deliberately or otherwise by this barrier, cut off from the Parthian empire and the west. A Kushan fortification wall which shuts the Iron Gates, a narrow path in the Baba-tag Mountains which is a popular connecting route, would suggest that the barrier is deliberate.

c.80 - 90

Vima / Wima Takto

Son. Aided his father on his campaigns.

Wima Takto, the son of Kujula Kadphises, is for a long time known only to scholars by the Greek legends on his coins - Soter Megas ('the Great Saviour'). However, the translation of an inscription by Kanishka I in Rabatak leads to the discovery that his name is in fact Wima Takto (the 'w' is pronounced in English as a 'v'). His other inscriptions and statues are known from further south and east in India, confirming his control of Gandhara and north-western India.

c.90 - 112

Wema Kadphises/ Kadphises II

Son (or nephew, and son of Sadakshana). No heir.

Kadphises II is another conquering Kushan, like his grandfather. He expands Kushan territory to the bordering provinces of China by following and controlling the Silk Road, and later ventures into India where he establishes holdings as far as Punjab and parts of modern Uttar Pradesh, being the first to introduce gold coinage there. By this time, the Kushans have also fully adopted the local Bactrian language, and its cursive Greek script, as the language and script of their empire. The empire itself, however, is large and fully multi-cultural and multilingual.

Marco Polo on the Silk Road
Marco Polo's journey into China along the Silk Road made use of a network of east-west trade routes which had been developed since the time of Greek control of Bactria

A staunch supporter of Buddhism without seemingly becoming one himself, Wema Kadphises apparently dies without an heir, and the kingdom is thrown into confusion as his kshatrapas (governors - the Indian form of 'satrap') fight amongst themselves. Kanishka, the kshatrapa of the kingdom's eastern province, wins the struggle and declares himself the successor.


The Kushans capture former Indo-Greek Arachosia from the Indo-Parthians and expand their borders right up to the edge of the Parthian empire. With pretenders to the Parthian throne regularly basing themselves in eastern Parthia, King Pacorus is unable to do anything about it.

c.112 - 132

Kanishka I 'the Great'

Former governor and possible grandson of Kadphises I.

Kanishka expands the empire even further, gaining himself the epithet of 'the Great'. He annexes various regions of India; Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kashmir, Malwa, Rajputana, and Saurashtra, and extends his rule as far as Khotan (southern India). He also campaigns northwards to capture Transoxiana (now Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan) and apparently dominates the Tocharians of the Tarim Basin on the route towards China. He makes Purushpura his capital (modern Peshawar in Pakistan) and appoints kshatrapas to rule his vast territories including in the former 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.


Despite being a successful king and general, Kanishka is apparently killed by his own soldiers during one of his military expeditions to China. The Saka Western Kshatrapas in what is now Pakistan take advantage of the empire's momentary weakness and begin to re-establish their independence.

River Indus
The various territories which made up the Southern Indus (Sindh) had long been fought over as a form of gateway into India 'proper'

c.132 - 136


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

c.136 - 168


Son or brother of Kanishka.


Having secured the throne, Huvishka continues to issue gold coins, greatly expanding the variety of coin designs and producing more gold coins than all other Kushan authorities combined. These are produced mainly in Bactra (Balkh), to the north of the Hindu Kush, and Purushapura (Peshawar) to the south in Gandhara, as well as in smaller centres in Kashmir and Mathura. The reign of Huvishka appears in general to be largely peaceful, spent on consolidating Kushan control over northern India and largely moving the centre of power to the southern capital of Mathura.

c.168 - 207

Vasudeva I / Bodiao

Last great ruler. 'King of the Da Yuezhi Intimate with Wei'.

A Chinese chronicle known as Sanguozhi records that Vasudeva sends tribute to the Chinese emperor, Cao Rui of Wei. Chinese records know Vasudeva better as as Bodiao, while they still refer to the Kushans as Da Yuezhi, their name for Greater Yuezhi who earlier lived along the borders of the Chinese kingdom. The date recorded for the arrival of the Kushan envoy in China is on Guimao of the twelfth month, in the third year of Taihe which has been equated to AD 229, clearly a little late for the chronology used here. This could be used as confirmation that the later dating for all Kushan rulers is more viable (see the introduction).

Cao Wei coin
Cao Wei coinage is comparatively rare - unsurprisingly for a dynasty which replaced itself after less than half a century - and surviving issuances show a decline in quality during that period

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. 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

Lost Bactria/Tokharistan to Sassanids.

c.221 - 231



The results of the SOAS's Bactrian chronology project are announced in 2008. The project has determined that the starting point of what is known in ancient documents as the 'Bactrian era', which has its own dating, is the foundation of the Sassanid dynasty in AD 223. In many cases, it is now possible to calculate the exact year of a Bactrian era document, even down to the exact day on which a document was written (simply add 223 to the Bactrian era date).

c.230 - 250

The end of Vasudeva's reign in AD 207 apparently coincides with the rise of the Sassanids and the commencement of their 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, or perhaps again the later Kushan dating fits better with external events.

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 III

Eastern king in Punjab. Stamped coins with 'kaisaro' (Caesar).

c.241 - 261

Vasudeva II

Eastern king in Punjab.


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.

Coin issued by Vasudeva II
Two sides of a coin issued by the Kushan ruler, Vasudeva II, a gold stater showing the king standing at the altar (on the left), while honouring the Central Asian (Indo-Iranian) goddess, Ardoksho who is seated facing outwards (on the right)


Around this year, Shapur I devolves direct Sassanid rule in what is now Afghanistan by creating a buffer state which is governed by the Kushanshahs. They replace the Kushan nobility as the holders of power in the east. Kushanshah coins, initially issued mainly to the north of the Hindu Kush, are also soon to be found to the south in the Begram/Kapiśa area alongside issues by Kushan King Vasishka, suggesting a period of competition between the two sides in this region. With the next Kushanshah, Pēroz I, the Kushanshahs start to displace the later Kushans from Gandhara, confining them to Mathura in northern India, where they are reduced to local princes.


This could be the point at which Shapur seizes Sogdiana and makes it part of the Sassanid empire. Much of it is occupied for a time (Marakanda, for instance (modern Samarkand), while part is occupied for a longer period (Bukhara especially). It seems that the new masters of Iran have, at the same time as Kushan power is on the wane, broken through a Kushan barrier which has until now isolated Sogdiana. If the Kushans had indeed still been holding onto Bactria-Tokharistan, they have now certainly lost it.

c.261 - ?

Vasudeva III?


Vasudeva IV?

Son? Possibly governing in Gandhara.

Vasudeva of Kabul

Son? Possibly ruling in Kabul.


The Guptas have established themselves in Bihar in northern India and rule a few small Hindu kingdoms within the territory of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. One Chandragupta succeeds his father as a local chief within Magadha (covering parts of the modern Bihar state). He increases his power and territory through marriage, gradually incorporating more and more of northern India under his control.

c.310 - 325


Governor in Taxila region (Northern Indus) under the Guptas.


By now the Guptas have confirmed their control over the northern plains of India. Kushan rule is definitely ended, with what remains of their later core territory - around Purushapura (Peshawar) to the south in Gandhara, and Taxila - being governed by Kushan figures who may well represent the tail end of the former ruling nobility. However, they do maintain the Kushan coinage style in greatly reduced values.

Coins issued by Chandragupta I
The now-dominant Guptas of northern India issued a large number of gold coins, the two sides of this example being of a 'King & Queen on Couch / Vaikuntha' type from the reign of Chandragupta I

c.325 - 345


Governor in Taxila region (Northern Indus) under the Guptas.

c.350 - 375

Kipunada / Kipunandha

Governor in Taxila region (Northern Indus) under the Guptas.


For reasons unknown Funan falls under the domination of a foreigner. In the first month of this year, according to (Former) Qin and Liang dynastic histories, 'T'ien Chu Chan-t'an, king of Funan, offers tamed elephants as tribute'.

T'ien Chu is the Chinese name for India, and the expression 'T'ien Chu Chan-t'an' means 'the Indian Chan-t'an'. Chan-t'an is a transcription of chandan, a royal title which is used by the Greater Yuezhi, or Indo-Scythians, and especially amongst the Kushans of the line of Kanishka 'the Great' of the second century AD.

Therefore Tien Chu Chan-t'an or Chu Chan-t'an is a royal personage who originates in India, with possible familial connections to the second century Kanishka of the Kushans. In fact much of South-East Asia undergoes renewed Indianisation during the second half of the fourth century AD. This is frequently ascribed to Samudragupta of the Gupta dynasty and his wide-ranging conquests.

c.360s - 380s

Scholarly interest in a new name in Central Asia at this time - the Kidarites - is greatly revived in the early twenty-first century by the discovery of a whole new series of Kidarite copper coins, from the Bhimadevi/Shiva shrine at Kashmir Smast in the mountains of northern Pakistan. The Kidarite leader, Kidara, who is active in the 390s is used to name this group of coins but he is only one of several Xionite rulers in Bactria and Gandhara during the fourth and fifth centuries (albeit the best-known of them).

Coinage issues in the names of Kirada, Hanaka, Yosada, and Peroz all appear on coins which are issued before those in the name of Kidara, highlighting several previously unknown Kidarite leaders (Peroz aside). Only approximate dates can be assigned to them, however, as coins usually lack the more precise dating of the written record.


There is no evidence of any Kushans after Kipunada. Having been subjugated by the Gupta kings, the rump eastern Kushan state is soon conquered by the invading Kidarites. They, in turn, claim to be the rightful successors of the Kushans and Kushanshahs. Any possible survivors in the west are probably displaced by the Hephthalites. This is the next wave of barbarians to invade the territory of the Kushanshahs, where they conquer former Bactria and Gandhara to form their own kingdom.

Xionite Bactria / Tokharistan

Starting in the fourth century AD, a general invasion of nomadic tribes began to overwhelm southern Central Asia and northern South Asia (a region which can be combined under the label of 'eastern Iran'). This wave of barbarian invasions is attributed to tribal confederations which originated on the Central Asian steppe. The route southwards from there was not a new one though. It had been followed two millennia before by the ancestors of the Indo-Iranians, and also in part by the Tocharians who gave their name to Tokharistan.

Ptolemy in the second century AD is one of the first European writers to mention the Huns (Xionites), with Marcellinus and Priscus also doing so. They likewise suggest that the Huns were an inner Asian people - although it appears that not all Huns were of the same stock. The White Huns (Hephthalites) especially appear to have been formed of a very different group of people. The other two Xionite groups, the Alchons and Nezak, are much harder to pin down but there is a chance that they were of the same stock. These various Xionite groups made their presence felt in Tokharistan and much farther afield, creating several large kingdoms in their time and dominating the region at the expense of the now-diminished Kushans.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE), Khodadad Rezakhani (Touraj Daryaee, Ed, Ancient Iran Series Vol IV, 2017), from Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins, D Jongeward & J Cribb (American Numismatic Society, 2015), from Xiiaona- and Xyôn in Zoroastrian Texts, C G Cereti (Coins, Art, and Chronology II, Michael Alram & Deborah E Klimburg-Salter, Eds, 2010), from Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus, from The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire, R C Blockley (Francis Cairns, Oxford, 1983), from India's Agony Over Religion, Gerald James Larson (State University of New York Press, 1995), from The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture, Joseph Kitagawa (Routledge, 2013), from Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity, Anthony Kaldellis (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), from Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, Jonathan Conant (Cambridge University Press, 2012), from Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society No 230, Robert Bracey & Karan Singh (Eds, Winter 2017), and from External Links: History of the Wars, Procopius (Wikisource), and Kidarites (Encyclopaedia Iranica).)

fl 462 - 484/96?

Meyam / Mehama

Hephthalo-Alchon governor of Kadag (in Bactria?).


The presence of an Hephthalo-Alchon figure known as Meyam or Mehama is probably a good indication of the progress of Hephthalite power during and after the reign of Shah Peroz. At this point he is first mentioned in two documents (BD ea 1-2 and ed 1-2, dated to 239 and 252 in the Bactrian Era, AD 462 and 475 respectively).

He is acting as a local administrator under the Sassanid Shah Peroz, in a somewhat nebulous and hard-to-locate region known as Kadag which would appear to fall within the general bounds of Bactria. In the period in which Peroz is finally defeated and during the political vacuum which follows in and after 484, Meyam is soon raised to the position of Mahāṣāhi Mehama. The power vacuum allows various local authorities to claim independence, and the situation remains the same in Tokharistan, and farther south and east around Kabul in Gandhara and across Gandhara itself, until the destruction of Hephthalite power.

Lower Swat Valley, Pakistan
Kadag may have been the same location as today's Kadang in the lower Swat Valley in Pakistan, in which case Meyam would have governed a region consisting of challenging terrain and fractious tribes


It is Priscus who reports the name of the current Kidarite king as Kunkhas (see Brockley for details). With the Sassanids suffering a seven year famine between 464-471 and unable to launch a serious military offensive, the Kidarites cease making tribute payments. Then both Kunkhas and Shah Peroz attempt diplomacy through trickery until the latter is finally able to go on the attack, possibly motivated by the help rendered to him by the Hephthalites when fighting for his crown against his brother, Hormuzd III. The Kidarites are permanently driven out, finding refuge in Gandhara. The Sassanids may temporarily control the former Kushan heartland but it is soon a Hephthalite possession.


The Hephthalites apparently betray the trust of Shah Peroz by seizing the Bactrian capital of Bactra which has so recently been restored from Kidarite rule. This triggers the First Sassanid-Hephthalite War, but it does not go well for Peroz. The Sassanids are badly mauled at the third battle in this conflict and Peroz is captured by the Hephthalites. He is forced to pay a hefty ransom to ensure his release.


Shah Peroz again chases the Hephthalites out of Bactra in 484 and towards Arion in Aria (Alexandria Ariana, modern Herat). Along the way he destroys the tower built by Bahram V which marks the border between Sassanid and Hephthalite. On the other side of the border, Hephthalite King Khushnavaz sets a trap into which Peroz falls (literally), along with around thirty of his sons and about 100,000 troops. Their bodies are never recovered by the Sassanids. The eastern empire is overrun and is largely occupied by the Hephthalites until their final fall - this includes regions such as Margiana and its rich capital at Merv, with the Hephthalites setting up puppet governors.

484 - ?

Meyam / Mehama

Raised to semi-independent position of mahāṣāhi of Kadag.

484 - 490s?

Kushano-Sassanid style gold coins are issued in the name of Meyam in Bactria, and Sassanid-style silver coins are issued for him in the Kabul region and Gandhara. Meyam is also known from a late fifth century Buddhist inscription, written during his reign and dated to the year 68, either of the Laukika era (AD 492/3) or the Kushan era (AD 495/6). Possibly the Laukika and Kushan eras are the same, but either way they suggest that Meyam remains prominent for a good decade later then his estimated dates as governor of Kadag (see above for 462 - 484/96).

Map of Central Asia and India AD 500
By the late 400s the eastern sections of the Sassanid empire had been overrun and to an extent occupied by the Hephthalites (Xionites) after they had killed Shah Peroz (click or tap on map to view full sized)

565 - 652

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

588 - 589

The Göktürk khagan, Çur 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 had 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. Çur Bagha is killed during this fight. Even so, by around 625-635 the Göktürks seize Bactria/Tokharistan to create the governorship of Göktürk Bactria.

Göktürk Bactria / Tokharistan

Of the territories annexed by the western Göktürk empire between about AD 625-635, Khuttal and Kapisa-Gandhara remained independent regional kingdoms after the disintegration of the Hephthalite empire (Kapisa being the city of Alexandria on the Caucasus, modern Bagram). Hephthalite or Alchon kings who bore the title xingil in Kapisa-Gandhara continued the coinage of the great Hephthalite kings. Several names can be gathered together thanks to this coinage, albeit without any formal idea of dates or order of succession. These are shown under the Alchon banner.

Despite having endured a series of short-lived rulers between 630-635, some semblance of order was restored to the western khaganate by 635. Even so, Khagan İşbara Teriş Tunga was weaker than some of his subjects. He sent arrows to ten tribes which meant legitimatising them as shads (semi-independent governor princes), but he was careful to keep the delicate balance between the two main rival factions by appointing five from the Dulo clan and five from the Nushibi.

At about the same time, the first western Göktürk ruler of what had been Bactria and was now Tokharistan, along with various neighbouring petty kingdoms which had been subjugated, was Tardu shad, son of İşbara Teriş Tunga. When he was poisoned a few years later by his wife, their son Ishbara ruled in his place. As the most powerful Göktürk south of the River Oxus (and possibly even north of it as the western Göktürk empire began to fragment), he minted his own coins. These showed him bearing a crown decorated with two wings and a bull's head. The legend on one of his coins states 'İşbara yabgu, [minted in his] fifteenth [reignal year at] Khusp' (Khusp being a town in Kuhistan). Another coin was minted in his thirteenth year at Herat, and another in his twentieth year at Shuburgan. All three mints were located in western Tokharistan.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE), Khodadad Rezakhani (Touraj Daryaee, Ed, Ancient Iran Series Vol IV, 2017), from The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture, Joseph Kitagawa (Routledge, 2013), from History of Civilizations of Central Asia, B A Litvinsky (Ed, Motilal Banarsidass Publications, Delhi, 1999), and from Zāwulistān, Kāwulistān and the Land of Bosi, Domenico Agostini & Sören Stark (Studia Iranica, Tome 45, Fascicule 1, 2016).)

c.625? - c.630?


Son of Göktürk İşbara. Yabgu of Tokharistan. Poisoned.

627 - 630

During the early years of his reign, Eastern khagan Khieli makes the mistake of attacking the powerful Tang empire and is defeated by a revolt of the Tiele tribes which is led by the Uyghurs and the Xueyantuo. In 627, as he begins the Third Perso-Turkic War alongside the Eastern Romans and against the Sassanids, he attempts to levy horses from the vassal Tiele tribes after all his livestock are killed during a summer snowstorm. The Tiele revolt as part of a Xueyantuo coalition, and Emperor Taizong of the Tang wastes no time in allying himself with the Tiele and the Khitans in a joint attack.

Map of Central Asia AD 600-700
By the beginning of the seventh century AD, Göktürk power in southern Central Asia was waning while the Sassanids had established a degree of control over the southernmost parts of this region, and various city states had emerged in Sogdiana (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Having murdered his nephew for the Western Khaganate, Baghatur Sepi faces the collapse of that very khaganate. The Göktürk princes begin struggling against each other for power. The Tang eventually intervene, and not to the benefit of the Göktürks themselves. They already dominate the Eastern khaganate and now wish to extend the area under their control.

c.630? - c.650

İşbara / Ishbara

Son. Yabgu of Tokharistan.

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 Turkestan. The Sassanid empire has fallen and with it any notion of Hephthalite independence in petty kingdoms.

c.650 - 661


Unknown final yabgu of Tokharistan.

651 - 662

Yazdagird's son and heir-apparent, Peroz (Pērōz), is one of those who flees eastwards. He reaches the yabgu, the Göktürk viceroy in Tokharistan. From there he soon turns for support to the Tang court. The date of his first embassy to the Tang is before 661. This is before the formal submission of the yabgu to the Tang after the downfall of the western Göktürks, but after the formation of the protectorate of Anxi in the Tarim Basin, which quickly expands westwards. A second embassy is received shortly after April 661.

Gokturk mounted figurines
In 2012 archaeologists were able to examine the previously-untouched tomb of a Göktürk khagan, which contained amongst many other delights these mounted figurines

As a result of the 661 embassy, during the largely nominal reorganisation of the former Göktürk dominions into 'area commands' by the Tang in the same year, Peroz is appointed head of the 'Persia area command' which exists on paper only, with a seat which is claimed to be in Zaranj in Sakastan. Finally, in 662, Peroz is formally invested as 'king of Bosi' by the Tang.

661 - c.675


Son of Sassanid Yazdagird III. Fled to Tang court.

679 - c.706


Son. Eventually disappears from history, perhaps with Tang.

665 - c.706

Increasingly frequent embassies sent by Peroz between 665-671 show his increasing desperation at being able to hold back the encroaching Islamic armies in Sakastan. By 673-675 his position has become untenable and he flees to the Tang court. In 679 his son, Narse, returns west to Tokharistan until about 705-706. He may be coordinating his efforts with the kingdoms of Kabulistan and Zabulistan, which staunchly resist the Islamic advance for a century.

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