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Far East Kingdoms

South Asia

 

Indo-Scythian (Western) Kshatrapas (Sakas)

Prior to their gradual migration into medieval India, the Sakas had been formed out of a seemingly vast range of nomadic tribes and groups which inhabited the region around the River Jaxartes (the modern Syr Darya, which flows from the Aral Sea towards Tashkent in Uzbekistan). Of Indo-European ancestry, they were part of a broad range of Indo-Iranians and closely-related Indo-Aryans who dominated Central Asia in the first millennium BC.

In the second century BC their long dominance of the eastern end of this territory was brought to an end. Sakas in large numbers were forced into Sogdiana by the arrival of the Greater Yuezhi, who were themselves being chased out of sweeping grasslands close to the Chinese kingdom. The pressure kept building, forcing the Sakas further south and west, largely into Drangiana because Bactria's Macedonians were still powerful enough to repel them.

Once there they came into conflict with the neighbouring Parthian empire, which again pushed them further southwards, into Indo-Greek Gandhara. All of this had taken around sixty or seventy years of gradual migration and fighting. Now, founding a power base for themselves (often referred to as the Indo-Scythian kingdom), they ruled until the Kushan empire imposed its dominance over them. After that they gradually faded from the historical record, leaving only their southernmost elements - the Western Kshatrapas - in command of a recognisably Saka-dominated domain.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler and Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, with additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, 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 India, R C Majumdar (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987), from Studies in Indian History, L Prasad (Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000), 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 The Ethnic [Background] of [the] Sakas (Scythians), I P'iankov, presented by the Iran Chamber Society, and Talessman's Atlas (World History Maps).)

Western Kshatrapas (Kshaharata Dynasty) (Indo-Scythians)

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 as they continued to edge south-easternwards towards India. Subsequent Kushan control of the western satraps proved to be relatively transitory.

Having found themselves well inside modern Pakistan's borders, the Sakas here were gradually able to increase their own levels of independence over the subsequent century and even lead a resurgence in regional 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. Chuksa lay to the west of the regionally-important city of Taxila which had provided such a highly pivotal part of Alexander the Great's exploits in the area well over two hundred years beforehand.

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, the western satraps governed a large 'box' of territory which 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.

fl c.72 BC

Liaka Kusuluka

Saka 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'.

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)

Chuksa (or Cukhsa) is located fairly close to the core Saka lands, lying as it does in modern northern Pakistan, but a southwards drift of Sakas 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, today's 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.

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

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.

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 Punjab.

c.50? BC

The Kushans capture the territory of the Sakas in what later becomes 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 the north of the sub-continent as compensation for the loss of Gandhara. They also fight the Satvahanas to their south, and later enter into matrimonial alliances with them.

fl c.30 BC

Kusulaka Patika

Son. Saka kshatrapa of Chhahara & Chuksa.

c.12 BC - AD 15

Vijayamitra

Kshatrapa. Established the Apracaraja dynasty in Bajaur.

c.10 BC

The death of Saka 'great king' Azes II coincides with the rise of the Kushans in the west, but the Sakas 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.

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'

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 the rival Saka ruler, Kharahostes of Mathura, before being lost to the Indo-Parthians.

He is also claimed as satrap of Chuksa (which would make him one of the western satraps, hence his inclusion here) thanks to a silver jug which is later discovered at Taxila, and as the '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 Kharahostes 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. She is a member of the Kambojas tribe. Verses of the Mahabharata are believed to be composed around this period, and they include the Kambojas.

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

It is now that the Indo-Greek kingdom disappears under Indo-Scythian pressure. It seems to be Rajuvula himself who invades what is virtually the last free Indo-Greek territory in the eastern Punjab, where he 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, gradually losing their 'Greekness'. Rajuvula's predecessor, Kharahostes, had 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.

AD 15 - 45

Aspavarma

Apracaraja dynasty kshatrapa in Bajaur.

fl c.AD 20?

Higaraka

Kshatrapa of Chhahara & Chuksa. Numismatic evidence.

fl c.20

Itravasu

Apracaraja dynasty kshatrapa in Bajaur.

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.

Gandhara
Ancient Gandhara is slowly being explored by archaeologists who constantly unearth relics from several millennia of habitation, possibly including signs of early Indo-Aryan domination here

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 subjugated, 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.

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

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. Nahapana himself 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.

Western Kshatrapas (Kardamaka Dynasty) (Indo-Scythians)

Chastana or Castana was the founder of a fresh dynasty of western kshatrapas 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') near Indore, 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.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler and Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, with additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, 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 India, R C Majumdar (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987), from Studies in Indian History, L Prasad (Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000), 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 to the south. 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 which 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.

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

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 it is 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 200s

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).

Thar Desert
Rajasthan's famous Thar Desert, which is also referred to as the Great Indian Desert, today forms part of the India-Pakistan border, lying essentially between Bikaner and Jodhpur

222 - 223

Samghadaman

Brother.

224

Having been all but independent for some time, Margiana is currently ruled by one Ardashir who is to be differentiated from Ardashir I of the Sassanids. Following the Sassanid victory over the Parthians at the Battle of Hormozdgān, the Sassanids have become the great power in Persian lands. Ardashir of Margiana now submits to Ardashir I. Margiana is permitted to continue minting its own coinage for now, while the Sassanids are still consolidating their power.

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 in 242?

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. Possibly mahakshatrapa.

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 on Saka power which is already beginning to fade.

Sassanids
The coming of the Sassanids as replacements for the Parthians meant an entirely new and more vigourous empire being created in the north-western borders of Saka-controlled lands

Western Kshatrapas (Rudrasimha Dynasty) (Indo-Scythians)

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 suggests 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 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 of Magadha soon put an end to their rule entirely.

Sakas on a frieze at Persepolis

(Information by Peter Kessler and Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, with additional information by Manjiri Bhalerao, 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 India, R C Majumdar (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987), from Studies in Indian History, L Prasad (Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000), 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. End of the Sakas.

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.

 
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