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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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].
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...
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
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
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,...
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]
Contents Page and Index
Chronology of Kushan History
Military History of the Kushans
Contacting the Author
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