Monday, July 2, 2007

Mosopoli's Abridged History Of The Kushan Empire

Moses Wildermuth is a great friend and I think most of us know "Moe" from one of the ancient coin groups we belong to. Moe, has a deep interest in Greek and Roman coins. He has now added another dimension to his repertoire and asked that I share it with our groups and readers. I readly agreed and I commend Moe for the great job he has done with his presentation.

Kushan Empire
The Kushan Empire (c. 1st–3rd centuries) was a state that at its height, about 105–250, stretched from what is now Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and down into the Ganges river valley in northern India. The empire was created by the Kushan tribe of the Yuezhi confederation, an Indo-European people from the eastern Tarim Basin and Gansu, China, possibly related to the Tocharians. They had diplomatic contacts with Rome, Persia and China, and for several centuries were at the center of exchange between the East and the West.

Chinese sources describe the Guishuang, i.e. the “Kushans”, as one of the five aristocratic tribes of the Yuezhi, a loose confederation of Indo-European peoples. They were driven west by the Xiongnu in 176–160 BCE. The Yuezhi reached the Hellenic kingdom of Greco-Bactria, in northernmost Afghanistan and Uzbekistan around 135 BCE, and displaced the Greek dynasties there, who resettled in Indus basin (in present day Pakistan) in the western part of the Indo-Greek Kingdom.

A multi-cultural Empire
The Kushans adopted elements of the Hellenistic culture of Bactria. They adapted the Greek alphabet (often corrupted) to suit their own language (with the additional development of the letter Þ “sh”, as in “Kushan”) and soon began minting coinage on the Greek model. On their coins they used Greek language legends combined with Pali legends (in the Kharoshthi script), until the first few years of the reign of Kanishka. After that date, they used Kushan language legends (in an adapted Greek script), combined with legends in Greek (Greek script) and legends in Pali (Kharoshthi script).

The rule of the Kushans linked the seagoing trade of the Indian Ocean with the commerce of the Silk Road through the long-civilized Indus Valley. At the height of the dynasty, the Kushans loosely oversaw a territory that extended to the Aral Sea through present-day Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan into northern India.The loose unity and comparative peace of such a vast expanse encouraged long-distance trade, brought Chinese silks to Rome, and created strings of flourishing urban centers.

Contacts with Rome
Several Roman sources describe the visit of ambassadors from the Kings of Bactria and India during the 2nd century, probably referring to the Kushans.
Historia Augusta, speaking of Emperor Hadrian (117–138) tells:
“Reges Bactrianorum legatos ad eum, amicitiae petendae causa, supplices miserunt”
“The kings of the Bactrians sent supplicant ambassadors to him, to seek his friendship.”
Also in 138, according to Aurelius Victor (Epitome’ XV, 4), and Appian (Praef., 7), Antoninus Pius, successor to Hadrian, received some Indian, Bactrian (Kushan) and Hyrcanian ambassadors.

The Chinese Historical Chronicle of the Hou Hanshu also describes the exchange of goods between northwestern India and the Roman Empire at that time: “To the west (Tiazhu, northwestern India) communicates with Da Qin (the Roman Empire). Precious things from Da Qin can be found there, as well as fine cotton cloths, excellent wool carpets, perfumes of all sorts, sugar loaves, pepper, ginger, and black salt.”

The summer capital of the Kushan in Begram has yielded a considerable amount of goods imported from the Roman Empire, in particular various types of glassware.

Contacts with China
The Kushan Buddhist monk Lokaksema, first known translator of Buddhist Mahayana scriptures into Chinese, circa 170. During the 1st and 2nd century, the Kushan Empire expanded militarily to the north and occupied parts of the Tarim Basin, their original grounds, putting them at the center of the profitable Central Asian commerce with the Roman Empire. They are related to have collaborated militarily with the Chinese against nomadic incursion, particularly when they collaborated with the Chinese general Ban Chao against the Sogdians in 84, when the latter were trying to support a revolt by the king of Kashgar. Around 85, they also assisted the Chinese general in an attack on Turfan, east of the Tarim Basin.

In recognition for their support to the Chinese, the Kushans requested, but were denied, a Han princess, even after they had sent presents to the Chinese court. In retaliation, they marched on Ban Chao in 86 with a force of 70,000, but, exhausted by the expedition, were finally defeated by the smaller Chinese force. The Yuezhi retreated and paid tribute to the Chinese Empire during the reign of the Chinese emperor Han He (89–106).
Later, around 116, the Kushans under Kanishka established a kingdom centered on Kashgar, also taking control of Khotan and Yarkand, which were Chinese dependencies in the Tarim Basin, modern Xinjiang. They introduced the Brahmi script, the Indian Prakrit language for administration, and expanded the influence of Greco-Buddhist art which developed into Serindian art.

The Kushans are again recorded to have sent presents to the Chinese court in 158–159 during the reign of the Chinese emperor Han Huan.
Following these interactions, cultural exhanges further increased, and Kushan Buddhist missionaries, such as Lokaksema, became active in the Chinese capital cities of Loyang and sometimes Nanjing, where they particularly distinguished themselves by their translation work. They were the first recorded promoters of Hinayana and Mahayana scriptures in China, greatly contributing to the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism.

The Rise of the Great Emperors (all dates are uncertain)

Heraios (1-30): Heraios was probably the first of the Kushan kings. He may have been an ally of the Greeks, and he shared the same style of coinage. Heraios was probably the father of Kujula Kadphises.

Kujula Kadphises (30-80): According to the Hou Hanshu: “the prince of Guishuang, named Kujula Kadphises attacked and exterminated the four other princes. He set himself up as king of a kingdom called Guishuang.”

He invaded Anxi (Parthia) and took the Gaofu (Kabul) region. He also defeated the whole of the kingdoms of Puda, and Jibin (Kapisha-Gandhara). Kujula Kadphises was more than eighty years old when he died.”

These conquests probably took place sometime between 45 and 60, and laid the basis for the Kushan Empire which was rapidly expanded by his descendants.
Kujula issued an extensive series of coins.

Vima Taktu (80-105): alias Soter Megas or “Great Saviour,” Vima Takt[u] (or Tak[to]) expanded the Kushan Empire into the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. The Hou Hanshu says: “His [Kujula Kadphises’] son, Vima Taktu, became king in his place. He conquered Northwestern India and installed a General to supervise and lead it. The Yuezhi then became extremely rich. All the kingdoms call [their king] the Guishuang (Kushan) king, but the Han call them by their original name, Da Yuezhi.”[3]

Vima Kadphises (105-127): Vima Kadphises added to the Kushan territory by his conquests in Afghanistan and north-west India. He issued an extensive series of coins and inscriptions. He was the first to introduce gold coinage in India, in addition to the existing copper and silver coinage.

Kanishka I (127-140): The second great Kushan emperor, fifth Kushan king, upon his accession, Kanishka ruled a huge territory (virtually all of northern India), south to Ujjain and Kundina and east beyond Pataliputra.

His territory was administered from two capitals: Purushapura (now Peshawar in northern Pakistan) and Mathura, in northern India. He is also credited (along with Raja Dab) for building the massive, ancient Fort at Bathinda (Qila Mubarak), in the modern city of Bathinda, Indian Punjab.
The Kushans also had a summer capital in Begram (then known as Kapisa), where the “Begram Treasure”, comprising works of art from Greece to China, has been found.

Huvishka (140-183): Huvishka was a Kushan emperor from the death of Kanishka (assumed on the best evidence available to be in 140 CE) until the succession of Vasudeva I about forty years later. His rule was a period of retrenchment and consolidation for the Empire. In particular he devoted time and effort early in his reign to the exertion of greater control over the city of Mathura.

Vasudeva I (183-225): Vasudeva I was the last of the “Great Kushans.” Named inscriptions dating from year 64 to 98 of Kanishka’s era suggest his reign extended from at least 191 to 225 CE. He was the last great Kushan emperor, and the end of his rule coincides with the invasion of the Sassanians as far as northwestern India, and the establishment of the Indo-Sassanians or Kushanshahs from around 240 CE.

Decline of the Empire
From the 3rd century the Kushan empire began to fragment.
Kanishka II (c. 226 – 240)
Vashishka (c. 240 – 250)
Kanishka III (c. 255 – 275)
Vasudeva II (c. 290 – 310)
Vasudeva III reported son of Vasudeva III, a King, uncertain.
Vasudeva IV reported possible child of Vasudeva III, ruling in Kandahar, uncertain
Vasudeva of Kabul reported Possible child of Vasudeva IV, ruling in Kabul, uncertain.
Chhu (c. 310? – 325?)
Shaka I (c. 325 – 345)
Kipunada (c. 350 – 375)

Around 225 Vasudeva I died and the Kushan empire was divided into western and eastern halves. Around 224–240, the Sassanids invaded Bactria and Northern India, where they are known as the Indo-Sassanians.
Around 270, the Kushans lost their territories on the Gangetic plain, where the Gupta Empire was established around 320 and to the Sassanians during Shapur II’s reign, notably the area that comprises Afghanistan.

During the middle of the 4th century a Kushan vassal, named Kidara, rose to power and overthrew the old Kushan dynasty. He created a kingdom known as the Kidarite Kingdom, although he probably considered himself a Kushan, as indicated by the Kushan style of his coins. The Kidarite seem to have been rather prosperous, although on a smaller scale than their Kushan predecessors.
These remnants of the Kushan empire were ultimately wiped out in the 5th century by the invasions of the White Huns, and later the expansion of Islam.


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