Kushan History Kushan History

The Great Kushan Period, 30 AD to 220 AD

For nearly two centuries the Kushan Empire dominated central Asia. There were numerous clashes with the Parthians and with China but by the second century most states in central Asia turned to the Kushans. Once the Kushans invade India internal evidence appears. Inscriptions have been found from all parts of the Kushan empire in numerous languages. These give information about the Kushan kings and also brief glimpses of the society of India and Pakistan in the period.



HHS 118.9a
c.20 AD to c.50AD

The Hou-Han Shu was compiled in the fifth century by Fan Yeh but it drew on earlier material. Its descriptions of the Yu-chi come from a report submitted by the general Pan Yung in about 125 AD. The events described in this section preceded Pan Yung's involvement in the last quarter of the first century.

The country of the Great Yüeh-chih has its capital at the city of Lan-shih;
to the west it borders on An-hsi (Parthia) at a distance of forty-nine days' travel;
to the east it lies 6,537 Ii from the residence of the governor-general, and 6,370 Ii
from Loyang. It has 100,000 households, 400,000 people, and more than 100,000 excellent
soldiers.  Formerly, when the Yüeh-chih had been routed by the Hsiung-nu, they 
moved to Ta-hsia and divided their country into the five hsi-hou af (yabgu) of Hsiu-mi,
Shuang-mi, Kuei-shuang, Hsi-tun and Tu-mi. More than a hundred years later, the yabgu 
of Kuei-shuang (named) Ch'iu-chiu-ch'iieh attacked and destroyed the (other) four yabgu
and established himself as (their) king; the kingdom was named Kuei-shuang. (This) king
invaded An-hsi, took the country of Kao-fu, and, moreover, destroyed P'u-ta and Chi-pin
and completely possessed their territory.  Ch'iu-chiu-ch'iieh as died at the age of more
than eighty years, and his son Yen-kao-chen succeeded him as king.  He in his turn 
destroyed T'ien-chu (India) and placed there a general to control it. Since then 
the Yüeh-chih have been extremely rich and strong.  In the various (Western) 
countries (their ruler) is always referred to as 'the King of Kuei-shuang', but the
Han, basing themselves upon the old appellation, speak about 'the Great Yüeh-chih'.
The country of Kao-fu, to the south-west of the Great Yiieh-chih, is also a large country.
Its (popular) customs resemble those of India, and (the people) are weak and easily 
conquered.  They excel in commerce, and internally (privately) they are very wealthy.
Their (political) allegiance has never been constant: the three countries of T'ien-chu, 
Chi-pin and An-hsi f have possessed it when they were strong, and have lost it (again) 
when they were weak.  But it had never belonged to the Yiieh-chih.  The History of
the (Former) Han treats Kao-fu as one of the five yabgu, but this was not its actual 
state (in former Han times).  It lastly belonged to An-hsi, and the Yüeh-chih 
obtained Kao-fu only after they had defeated An-hsi.


Periplus Maris Erythraie
c.50 AD

The Periplus is a guide to the ocean trade routes from Roman Egypt. The date at which it was written is not known. The information for Arabia belongs to the second half of the first century but this is not a reliable guide to the date of reports in Northern India. As section 47 contains a reference to a warlike king of Bactria but indicates that Gandhara is independant this information probably dates to the middle part of Kajula Kadphises reign. This is consistent with the political instability indicated in Section 38 and the situation after Gondophares.

Section 38 After this region, with the coast by now
curving like a horn because of the deep indentations to the coast made
by the bays, there next comes the seaboard of Skythia, which lies directly
to the north; it is very flat and through it flows the Sinthos River (Indus),
mightiest of the rivers along the Erythraean Sea and emptying so great an 
amount of water into the sea that far off, before you reach land, its 
light-colored water meets you out at sea.  An indication to those coming 
from the sea that they are already approaching land in the river's vicinity 
are the snakes that emerge from the depths to meet them; there is an 
indication as well in the places around Persis mentioned above, the snakes
called graai.  The river has seven mouths, narrow and full of shallows;
none are navigable except the one in the middle.  At it, on the coast, stands
the port of trade of Barbarikon.  There is a small islet in front of it; and
behind it, inland, is the metropolis of Skythia itself, Minnagar. The
throne is in the hands of Parthians, who are constantly chasing each other
off it.

Section 39 Vessels moor at Barbarikon, but all the cargoes are taken up the river to the king at the metropolis. In this port of trade there is a market for: clothing, with no adornment in good quantity, of printed fabric in limited quantity; multicolored textiles; peridot (?); coral; storax; frankincense; glassware; silverware; money; wine, limited quantity. As return cargo it offers: costus; bdellium; lykion; nard; turquoise; lapis lazuli; Chinese pelts, cloth, and yarn; indigo. Those who sail with the Indian winds leave around July, that is, Epeiph. The crossing with these is hard going but absolutely favorable and shorter.
Section 47 Inland behind Barygaza there are numerous peoples: the Aratrioi, Arachusoi, Gandaraioi, and the peoples of Proklais, in whose area Bukephalos Alexaiidreia is located. And beyond these is a very warlike people, the Bactrians, under a king [the kings name is missing but is almost certainly Kajula Kadphises]. Alexander, setting out from these parts, penetrated as far as the Ganges but did not get to Limyrikê and the south of India. Because of this, there are to be found on the market in Barygaza even today old drachmas engraved with the inscriptions, in Greek letters, of Apollodotus and Menander, rulers who came after Alexander.


DN III
c.109AD (on assumption it refers to the same events as DN I

An inscription found at Dasht-i Nawur, (p.419, Harmatta, 1994), known as DN III

1. The year [is] now 50, Brakasi [is] now the month,
   15 days
2. Behold! [We] King of Kings, the noble, great 
   Katvisa, the Kusana,                               (get odd symbol codes)
3. now, here, we order to erect the commanded text 
   for the welfare as heroic words:
4. He [katvisa] mounted in the mountains, [he] was 
   able to cross the high region. He inspected Kapisa.
5. [He] put relief to [his] advancing domestics, moved
   forward [his] forces,
6. fought a battle, crossed the region, pursued, 
   captured and the crushed Sanas [= Avestan Saini-], 
   destroyed [them].
7. Graciously he rested [his] servants, he offe[red] 
   pres[ents] to all of them. He celebrated a feast 
   for the god,
8. being devoted and gracious. Then he held feastings 
   for the officers and the warriors altogethor.
9. He ordered to engrave on the rock the favourable 
   report [that] he removed his tax and contribution 
   from [the sanctuary of] the supreme god. 


DN I
c.109 AD

Part of a trilingual inscription found at Dasht-i Nawur (DN I) in 1967, written in Bactrian and in Greek script. Harmatta dates the inscription to c.109 AD. This is a plausible date but there are difficulties with dating the related inscriptions.

1.  [Era-year] 279, 15th [day of month] Gorpiaios.
2.  King of kings, the noble,
3.  great Ooemo Takpiso,
4.  the Kusana protege of the moon [god], the right-
5.  -eous, the Majesty had this prepared,
6.  he, the benefactor for the welfare.
7.  King Ooemo came both here from
8.  Andezo and the Sanigos
9.  were destroyed by him. And here
10. he ordered: 'be tax paid by Andezo
11. its own for the sanctuary
12. and the warlike divinity for ever!'
13. For that because he was called by them here


Dilberjin Inscription
c.110 AD

D2 from Dilberjin is also fragmentary and the lines which might be reconstructed are included here. A translation was made by Harmatta in 'The UNESCO History Of Central Asia'. The date is unknown but it must belong to the reign of Vima Takto or Vima Kadphises. I think it is probably from the end of Vima Kadphises reign as does Harmatta.

2.  Ooema Ta[kpise, the Kusana, protege of the moon 
    [god], the lord dedicated the sanctuary]
...
8.  [from] the land Ujjayani w[orkers and artisans] were 
    led here. When [king Ooemo]
...
15. he appointed [liia]go to su[perintend]ent [he]re. 
    He received the supervisory [authority over the well]
16. [and the spring so] that it should  be his decision
    that the domestics of the fortress [should] cover 
    the drinking water.
17. [The it was also ordered] so that Liiago should
    continually [take care] for the Kuberean house.
    [Then King]
18. [Ooem]o gave the verbal instruction that 'From my 
    possessions water-conduit [never should be made!]
    Because otherwise
19. this never will be a water-flow!'[Then to priest]
20. [T]oxmodani was appointed. This it is our king who
    exercises the super[vision and] should [take care]
    of us.
21. Then the house was assigned and at that they obtained 
    the duties [so that they presented]
22. [a gift] when King Ooemo turns to the master [of the
    merchants?]
23. [who] received [the privelege so] that the duties of
    them are pledged for the cult which [should be] up to
    the end of time and eternity.
24. Then be the chosen of Oeso, who is [our] k[ing],
    victorius over all!


Surkh-Kotal Canal Inscription
c.70 AD or c.139 AD

According to Harmatta this inscription from Surkh Kotal belongs to the last year of Wima Kadphises, 139 AD. It think that the date is far too late and am inclined to think that this is in the Greco-Bactrian era and belongs to about 70 AD. In this case it may be Vima Takto who is mentioned in the inscription. It is hard, however, to avoid the conclusion that this is in the same era of DN I. Which means that DN I should be redated to the reign of Vima Takto, sometime c.70 AD. Neither of the resolutions is entirely satisfactory.

1.Era-year 299, on the 9th [day] of [month] Dios. King of
  Kings Ooemo Takpiso, the Majesty, the Kusana, had the
  canal d[ug here].


The Rabatak Inscription
c.115 AD

A picture of the inscription arrived at the British Museum in 1995. It was translated and published by Nicholas Sims-Williams in Silk Road Art and Archaeology 4. The inscription was found in the region of eastern Bactria. Its importance for political history cannot be underestimated. It confirms the creation of an era by Kanishka and firmly situates Soter Megas (Vima Taktu in the inscription) in the Kushan dynasty.

... of the great salvation, Kanishka the Kushan, the righteous, the just, the autocrat, the god
worthy of worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has inaugurated the year one
as the gods pleased. And he issued a Greek edict (and) then he put it into Aryan.
In the year one it has been proclaimed unto India, unto the whole realm of the kshatriyas, that (as for)
them - both the (city of) ... and the (city of) Saketa, and the (city of) Kausambi, and the (city of) Pataliputra, as far as the (city of) Sri-Campa
-whatever rulers and other important persons (they might have) he had submitted to (his) will, and he had submitted all 
India to (his) will. Then King Kanishka gave orders to Shafar the karalrang
at this... to make the sanctuary which is called B...ab, in the plain of Ka..., for these
gods, of whome the... glorious Umman leas the service here, (namely:) the lady Nana and the 
lady Umma, Aurmuzd, the Gracious one, Sroshard, Narasa, (and) Mihr. And he likewise
gave orders to make images of these gods who are written above, and
he gave orders to make (them) for these kings: for King Kujula Kadphises (his) great
grandfather, and for King Vima Taktu (his) grandfather, and for King Vima Kadphises
(his) father, and also for himself, King Kanishka. Then as the king of kings, the devaputra
... had given orders to do, Shafar the karalrang made this sanctuary.
[Then...] the karalrang, and Shafar the karalrang, and Nukunzuk [led] the worship
[according to] the (king's) command. (As for) these gods who are written here may they [keep] the
king of kings, Kanishka the Kushan, for ever healthy, secure, (and) victorious.
And [when] the devaputra, the ruler of all India from the year one to the year one thousand
had founded the sanctuary in the year one, then also to the... year...
...according to the king's command, (and) it was given also to the..., (and) it was given also to the..., (and) also to
...the king gave an endowment to the gods, and...


Shah-ji-ki-Dheri Casket
Second Century AD

This is Fussman's translation of the Shah-ji-ki-Dheri casket found inside the Stupa at Peshawar. The translation is hotly disputed with alternatives by provided by Konow and Mukherjee. I accept this one because it matches the context of the find better. It is hard to believe that the casket, which is rather poor, could have been a gift of Kanishka himself.

In the acceptance of the Sarvastivardin teachers. [In the year x of the
great king] Kani[ska], in the touwn of Kaniska-pura, this perfume box
is a sacred gift. May it be for the welfare and happiness of all beings.
(Gift of) Mahasena [and] Samgharaksita, the service monks in charge
of the fire-room in the [.]ska monastry.


Year 30, Huvishka
Mid-Second Century

An inscription from Arytam, 18km east of Termez on the northern bank of the Amu Darya. If the era year is in the era of Kanishka then the King should be Huvishka. Harmatta published a translation in volume two of the 'UNESCO History Of Central Asia'

1.  King [is] Ooesko, the Era-year [is] 30 when the lord
    king presented and had the Ardoxso-Farro image set up
    here.
2.  At the time when the stronghold was completed then 
    Sodila [......] the treasurer was sent to the 
    sanctuary. Thereupon
3.  Sodila had this image prepared, then he [is] who had 
    [it] set up in the stronghold. Afterwards when the water
    moved farther away,
4.  then the divinities were led away from the waterless
    stronghold. Just therefore, Sodila had a well dug, then
5.  Sodila had a water-conduit dug in the stronghold.
    Thereupon both divinites returned back here
6.  to the sanctuary. This was written by Miirozada by the 
    order of Sodila.

The Mat Pedastal Inscription
142AD-174AD

This inscription was found at Mathura on a pedastal which might have once supported a statue of Huvishka. It belongs to a royal shrine which contains statues of Kanishka and Vima Taktu. (p.263, Rosenfield, 1968)It was first Translated by Daya Ram Sahni in JRAS, 1924. It has also been translated by Agrawala in JUPHS (XXIV-XXV, 1951-52) and Rosenfield in 'The Date of Kanishka' (1968).

This is one of the few inscriptions giving genealogical information for the Kushan rulers. Kara Satyadharmasthita (steadfast in the True Law) may be the same as Kuyula Kaphasasa sacadhramathitasa kusanasa. In this case Huvishka is the great-grandson (or claims to be) of Kajula Kadphises. However this would require that Huvishka is not the son of Kanishka, as Kanishka claims to be the great grandson of Kajula.

The Grandfather of Maharaja Rajatiraja Devaputra Huvishka, on whom (since he was found to be)
the fiercest hero of all, the kingdom had been bestowed, in his compassion by Kara who was steadfast
in the True Law. Of him, a devakula and also a tank (had existed). In the course of time the
temple became dilapidated and fell in ruins. Having observed this, for (the increase of) the
life and strength of the Maharaja Rajatiraja Devaputra Huvishka, it was restored by the Bakanapati,
(who was the son of a) Mahadandanayaka ... of the Saukra clan... (who caused something)...
to be instituted in favour of the daily guests and Bramhanas.


Year 51, Huvishka
C.165AD (Year 51 of Kanishka)

This is a relinquary deposit from the west of Kabul. It was probably found in a buddhist stupa of the area. It is a fairly standard format used on deposits.

Anno 51, in the month Artemisios, when 15 had appeared, at
this hour the Kamgulya scion Vagramarega - he has made his
abode here in Khawat - establishes the relic of the Lord
Sakyamuni in the Vagramarega vihara, in a stupa. Through this
root of bliss, may it be for the principal lot of the 
maharaja rajatiraja Huvishka,...


Surkh Khotal
First to Third Century AD

An inscription from Surkh Kotal in a variation of Khotanese Saka. The inscription appears to be a legal ruling, perhaps a divorce settlement.

1.The lord gives orders so: The procedure happened. 
  It is possible to release the non-perishable wealth:
  the mantle,
2.the coat of mail, the armour, the flame[-coloured] covering,
  the miler excellent racehorse, the grain, the goat
  will you quickly carry away!
3.The house is given to the man[or to Dahu]

Main Page
Contents Page and Index
Chronology of Kushan History
Military History of the Kushans
Contacting the Author

All these pages (except where the contrary is clearly stated) are the copyright of Robert Bracey. Permission is given to copy or reproduce these pages in hardcopy for personal use or freinds.