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The Kushan Empire was a syncretic empire, formed by the Yuezhi, in the Bactrian territories in the early 1st century. It spread to surround most of the present areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India, at least as far as Saketa and Sarnath near Varanasi (Benares), where engravings have been found dating to the era of the Kushan Emperor, Kanishka the Great.
The Kushans were most probably one of five branches of the Yuezhi alliance, an Indo-European migrant people of possible Tocharian origin, who migrated from northwestern China (Xinjiang and Gansu) and settled in ancient Bactria. The founder of the dynasty, Kujula Kadphises, followed Greek religious ideas and iconography after the Greco-Bactrian tradition, and also followed traditions of Hinduism, being a devotee of the Hindu God Shiva. The Kushans in general were also great devotees of Buddhism, and, starting with Emperor Kanishka, they also employed elements of Zoroastrianism in their place of worship. They played an important role in the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia and China.
At first the Kushans used the Greek language for administrative purposes, but soon started to use the Bactrian language . Kanishka sent his armies north of the Karakoram mountains. A direct road from Gandhara to China remained under Kushan control for more than a century, motivating travel across the Karakoram and easing the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China. The Kushan dynasty had political contacts with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire and the Han dynasty of China. The Kushan Empire was at the middle of trade relations between the Roman Empire and China. According to Alain Danielou, “For some time, the Kushana Empire was the centrepoint of the major civilizations”. While most of the philosophy, art, and science was made within its borders, the only textual record of the empire’s history today comes from engravings and accounts in other languages, mostly Chinese.
The Kushan Empire broke up into semi-independent kingdoms in the 3rd century AD, which fell to the Sasanians conquering from the west, setting up the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom in the areas of Sogdiana, Bactria and Gandhara. In the 4th century, the Guptas, an Indian dynasty also pressed from the east. The last of the Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian kingdoms were finally devastated by conquerers from the north, known as the Kidarites, and then the Hephthalites.
KUSHAN EMPIRE: FOUNDER
The founder of the Kushan dynasty was Kujula Kadphises.
The first Yuezhi chief to cross Hindkush mountains and to set up the foundation of the Kushan Empire in India was Kujula Kadphises.
His control over Kabul, Kandahar and Afghanistan was developed. Kujula Kadphises was succeeded by his son Vima Taktu, who expanded the empire into northwest India. Large parts of the Silk Route were controlled by the Kushanas, which brought up the spread of Buddhism to China. It was during this time that Buddhism also begun to spread in Korea and Japan. He was a great patron of Buddhism. The coins of Kujula Kadphises show that his authority extended up to Banaras and also till Indus basin.
KUSHAN EMPIRE: KINGS
Main Kushan rulers
- Kujula Kadphises (c. 30 – c. 80)
- Vima Taktu or Sadashkana (c. 80 – c. 95)
- Vima Kadphises (c. 95 – c. 127)
- Kanishka I (c. 127 – c. 150)
- Huvishka (c. 150 – c. 180)
- Vasudeva I (c. 190 – c. 230)
- Vāsishka (c. 247 – c. 267)
- Little Kushans (AD 270 – 350)
Kujula Kadphises (c. 30- c.80)
Kujula Kadphises was the prince of Guishuang, named thilac [Kujula Kadphises], who attacked and killed the four other xihou. He made himself as king, and his dynasty was called that of the Guishuang [Kushan] King. He conquered Indo-Parthia and took the Kabul region. He also defeated the whole of the kingdoms of Paktiya, Kapisha and Gandhara. Kujula Kadphises was more than eighty years old when he died.
These invasions by Kujula Kadphises likely happened to be sometime between AD 45 and 60 and laid the foundation for the Kushan Empire which was quickly enlarged by his successors.
Kujula issued an substantial of coins and was the father of two sons, Sadaṣkaṇa (who is known from only two inscriptions, especially the Rabatak inscription, and evidently never ruled), and Vima Takto.
Kujula Kadphises was the great-grandfather of Kanishka.
Vima Taktu or Sadashkana (c. 80 – c. 95)
Vima Takto (Ancient Chinese: Yangaozhen) is mentioned in the Rabatak inscription (another son, Sadashkana, is mentioned in an inscription of Senavarman, the King of Odi). He was the antecedent of Vima Kadphises, and Kanishka I. He extended the Kushan Empire into the northwest of South Asia. The Hou Hanshu says:”His son, Vema Takto or his brother Sadaṣkaṇa, became king in his place. He conquered Tianzhu [North-western India] and established Generals to manage and lead it. The Yuezhi then became very rich. All the kingdoms called their king the Guishuang [Kushan] king, but the Han call them by their original name, Da Yuezhi.”
Vima Kadphises (c. 95 – c. 127)
Kanishka I (c. 127 – c. 150)
The rule of Kanishka the Great, fourth Kushan king, lasted for about 23 years from c. AD 127. Upon his succession, Kanishka dominated vast territory almost complete northern India, south to Ujjain and Kundina and east behind Pataliputra. According to the Rabatak inscription: In the year one, it has been revealed unto India, unto the whole kingdom of the governing class, including Koonadeano (Kaundiny, Kundina) and the city of Ozeno (Ozene, Ujjain) and the city of Zageda (Saketa) and the city of Kozambo (Kausambi) and the city of Palabotro (Pataliputra) and as far as the city of Ziri-tambo (Sri-Champa)
His territory was controlled from two capitals: Purushapura (now Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan) and Mathura, in northern India. He is also attributed (along with Raja Dab) for building the huge, ancient Fort at Bathinda (Qila Mubarak), in the modern city of Bathinda, Indian Punjab.
The Kushans also had a summer capital in Bagram (before known as Kapisa), where the “Begram Treasure”, consisting works of art from Greece to China, has been established. According to the Rabatak inscription, Kanishka was the son of Vima Kadphises, the grandson of Sadashkana, and the great-grandson of Kujula Kadphises. Kanishka’s period is now generally accepted to have begun in 127 on the basis of Harry Falk’s ground-breaking research. Kanishka’s era was used as a calendar reference by the Kushans for about a century, until the decline of the Kushan realm.
Huvishka (c. 150 – c. 180)
Huvishka (Kushan: Οοηϸκι, “Ooishki”) was a Kushan emperor from the death of Kanishka (assumed on the best evidence available to be in 150) until the succession of Vasudeva I about thirty 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 (c. 190 – c. 230)
Vasudeva I (Kushan: Βαζοδηο “Bazodeo”, Chinese: 波調 “Bodiao”) 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 AD 191 to 225. He was the last great Kushan emperor, and the end of his rule coincides with the invasion of the Sasanians as far as northwestern India, and the establishment of the Indo-Sasanians or Kushanshahs in what is nowadays Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India from around AD 240. Location of the Little Kushans in the northwestern part of the subcontinent, and contemporary South Asian polities circa 350 CE.
Vāsishka was a Kushan emperor who seems to have had a 20-year reign following Kanishka II. His rule is recorded at Mathura, in Gandhara and as far south as Sanchi (near Vidisa), where several inscriptions in his name have been found, dated to the year 22 (the Sanchi inscription of “Vaksushana” – i.e., Vasishka Kushana) and year 28 (the Sanchi inscription of Vasaska – i.e., Vasishka) of a possible second Kanishka era.
Little Kushans (AD 270 – 350)
Following territory losses in the west (Bactria lost to the Kushano-Sasanians), and in the east (loss of Mathura to the Gupta Empire), several “Little Kushans” are known, who ruled locally in the area of Punjab with their capital at Taxila: Vasudeva II (270 – 300), Mahi (300 – 305), Shaka (305 – 335) and Kipunada (335 – 350). They probably were vassals of the Gupta Empire, until the invasion of the Kidarites destroyed the last remains of Kushan rule.