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Kushan Empire, 30 - 375 A.D.

See coins of the Kushan Empire in the Forum Ancient Coins shop.

The Kushans descended from the Guishuang branch of the nomadic Yueh-Chi tribe. In the West, the name Guishuang was adopted and modified into Kushan, but the Chinese continue to call them Yuezhi.

The Yuezhi reached the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (in northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) around 135 B.C. The earliest documented Kushan ruler was Heraios. The Kushans quickly adopted elements of the Hellenistic culture, a modified Greek alphabet, and Greek style coinage. Heraios may have been the father of Kujula Kadphises, who bound the Yuezhi tribes into a tight confederation, becoming the first Kushan emperor.

Gradually expanding south into Gandhara (primarily in Pakistan 's Pothowar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but including the Kabul valley and part of Qandahar in Afghanistan), the Kushans wrested control from the Scythian tribes. They established twin capitals in Begram and Peshawar, then known as Kapisa and Pushklavati respectively. At the height of the dynasty, the Kushans loosely ruled a territory that extended north to the Aral Sea through present-day Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, south into northern India, and east as far as Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkant, in the Tarim Basin of modern-day Xinjiang, China. A direct road from Gandhara to China remained under Kushan control for more than a century, bringing prosperity including a Chinese silk trade with Rome. The Kushan dynasty had diplomatic contacts with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire and Han Dynasty of China.

In addition to Hellenism and the Greek cults, the Kushans adopted many local beliefs and customs. From the time of Vima Takto, many Kushans adopted aspects of Buddhist culture. Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism. He played an important role in the establishment of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent and its spread to Central Asia and China. , encouraging travel across the Karakoram and facilitating the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China. The great Kushan emperor Vima Kadphises may have embraced Shaivism (a sect of Hinduism), as surmised by coins minted during the period. Kushan emperors followed a wide variety of faiths including the Greek cults, Buddhism, Shaivism, Zoroastrianism. While much philosophy, art, and science was created within its borders, the only textual record of the empire 's history today comes from inscriptions and accounts in other languages, particularly Chinese.

In the 3rd century, the Kushan empire fragmented into semi-independent kingdoms which fell to the Sasanians invading from the west, establishing 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 eventually overwhelmed by invaders from the north, known as the Kidarites, and then the Hepthalites.

Also see: Kushan Coins


Alram, M. Iranisches Personennamenbuch: Nomina Propria Iranica In Nummis. Österreichischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften. (Vienna, 1986).
Bracy, R. "The Coinage of Wima Kaphises." (2009).
Bracey, R. "The Mint Cities of the Kushan Empire" in The City and the Coin in the Ancient and Early Medieval Worlds, BAR International Series 2402, pp. 117 - 129.
Jongeward, D. & J. Cribb. Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins: A Catalogue of Coins from the American Numismatic Society. (New York, 2015).
Carter, M. "A Consideration of some Iconographic Details of Buddha Images on Kushana Coins" in Essays McDowall.
Carter, M. "A Numismatic Reconstruction of Kushano-Sasanian History" in ANSMN 30 (1985).
Cunningham, A. "Coins of the Kushâns, or Great Yue-ti" in NC 1892.
Cribb, J. "Kanishka 's Buddha image coins revisited" in Silk Road Art and Archaeology 6 (1999/2000).
Cribb, J. "Numismatic Evidence for Kushano-Sasanian Chronology" in Studia Iranica 19 (1990).
Cribb, J. "The 'Heraus ' coins: their attribution to the Kushan king Kujula Kadphises, c. AD 30-80" in Essays Carson-Jenkins.
Cribb, J. & R. Bracey. Kushan Coins Catalogue. (London, 2011).
Friedberg, A. & U. Gold Coins of the World, From Ancient Times to the Present. (Clifton, NJ, 2009).
Gardner, P. The Coins of the Greek and Scythic Kings of Bactria and India in the British Museum. (London, 1886).
Göbl. R. Donum Burns, Die Küsanmünzen im Münzkabinett Bern und die Chronologie. (Vienna, 1971).
Göbl, R. Münzprägung des Kusanreiches. Österreichischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften. (Vienna, 1984).
Herzfeld. E. Kushano-Sasanian Coins. Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, No. 38. (Calcutta, 1930).
Jongeward, D. & J. Cribb. Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins: A Catalogue of Coins from the American Numismatic Society. (New York, 2015).
Loeschner, H. "Notes on the Yuezhi - Kushan Relationship and the Kushan Chronology" ONS Occasional Paper, 15 May 2008.
Mitchiner, M. Oriental Coins, Vol. 2: the Ancient and Classical World. (London, 1978).
Mukherjee. B. Kushana Silver Coinage. (Calcutta, 2004).
Rosenfield, J. The Dynastic Art of the Kushans. (Berkeley, 1967).
Senior, R. Indo-Scythian Coins and History. (London, 2001; supplement: London, 2006).
Whitehead, R. Catalog of Coins in the Panjab Museum, Lahore, Vol. I: Indo-Greek Coins. (Oxford, 1914).


Wikipedia - Kushan Empire - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushan_Empire
Wikipedia - Kushan Coins - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kushan_coinage

Kushan Rulers

                    ANS KUSHAN

Pages Plates Coins
Kujula Kadphises c. 50 – 90
pp. 21 - 38 pls. 1 - 6. 1 - 146
Wima Takto (Vima Taktu or Sadashkana) c. 90 – 113 pp. 39 - 52 pls. 7 - 10 147 - 257
Wima Kadphises (Vima Kadphises) c. 113 – 127 pp. 53 - 64 pls. 11 - 13 258 - 369
Kanishka I c. 127 – 140 pp. 65 - 88 pls. 14 - 20 370 - 378
Huvishka c. 151 – 190 pp. 89 - 134 pls. 21 - 34 709 - 1081
Vasudeva I c. 190 – 230 pp. 135 - 147 pls. 35 - 38 1082 - 1200

Late Kushan Kings c. 230 - 350 pp. 149 - 180 pls. 39 - 47 1201 - 1688
Kanishka II c. 230 - 247 pp. 152 - 163 pls. 39 - 47 1201 - 1605
Vasishka c. 247 - 267 pp. 164 - 168 pls. 43 - 44 1606 - 1642
Kanishka III (Ruling only in Taxila) c. 267 - 270 pp. 169 - 170 pl. 43 1643 - 1648
Vasudeva II c. 267 - 300 pp. 171 - 173 pl. 45 1649 - 1665
Mahi c. 300 - 305 p. 174 pl. 46 1666
Shaka c. 305 - 335 pp. 175 - 176 pl. 46 1667 - 1681
Kipunadha c. 335 - 350 pp. 177 - 180 pl. 47 1682 - 1688

Kushano-Sasanian c. 230 - 379 pp. 197 - 201 pls. 54 - 63 2140 - 2408
Unidentified King c. 230 p. 202 pl. 54 2140 - 2041
Ardashir c. 230 - 245 pp. 203 - 204 pl. 54 2042 - 2153
Peroz c. 245 - 270 pp. 205 - 209 pls. 55 - 56 2154 - 2205
Hormizd I c. 270 - 300 pp. 210 - 216 pls. 57 - 60 2206 - 2337
Hormizd II c. 300 - 303 pp. 217 - 218 pl. 61 2338 - 2341
Peroz II c. 303 - 330 pp. 219 -220 pl. 61 2342 - 2358
Varhran c. 330 - 365 pp. 221 - 223 pl. 62 2359 - 2370
Shapur II c. 309 - 379 pp. 224 - 226 pl. 63 2371 - 2408

Kinderite Huns c. 340 - 390 pp. 227 - 240 pls. 64 - 68 2409 - 2444
Time of Yasada and Kirada c. 340  - 345 pp. 229 - 231 pl. 64 2409 - 2415
Varahran Kushanshah (Time of Peroz) c. 345 - 350  pp. 232 - 233 pl. 65 2416 - 2419
Peroz c. 345 - 350  pp. 234 - 235 pl. 65 2420 - 2421
Varahran Kushanshah (Time of Kidara) c. 350 - 365 pp. 236 - 237 pls. 66 - 67 2422 - 2432
Kidara Kushanshah
c. 365 - 390 pp. 238 - 239 pl. 68 2433 - 2444

Kushan Ruler Biographies

Kujula Kadphises, c. 50 – c. 90

"...the prince of Guishuang, named thilac [Kujula Kadphises], attacked and exterminated the four other xihou. He established himself as king, and his dynasty was called that of the Guishuang [Kushan] King. He invaded Anxi [Indo-Parthia] and took the Gaofu [Kabul] region. He also defeated the whole of the kingdoms of Puda [Paktiya] and Jibin [Kapisha and Gandhara]. Qiujiuque [Kujula Kadphises] was more than eighty years old when he died." —  Hou Hanshu

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 and fathered at least two sons, Sadaskana (who is known from only two inscriptions, especially the Rabatak inscription, and apparently never ruled), and seemingly Vima Takto.

Kujula Kadphises was the great-grandfather of Kanishka.

Wima Takto (Vima Taktu or Sadashkana), c. 90 – 113

Vima Takto is mentioned in the Rabatak inscription (another son, Sadashkana, is mentioned in an inscription of Senavarman, the King of Odi). He was the predecessor of Vima Kadphises, and Kanishka I. He expanded the Kushan Empire into the northwest of South Asia. The Hou Hanshu says:

"His son, Yangaozhen [probably Vema Tahk (tu) or, possibly, his brother Sadaskana], became king in his place. He defeated Tianzhu [North-Western India] and installed Generals 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." —  Hou Hanshu

Wima Kadphises (Vima Kadphises), c. 95 – 127

Vima Kadphises was a Kushan emperor from around 90–100 CE, the son of Sadashkana and the grandson of Kujula Kadphises, and the father of Kanishka I, as detailed by the Rabatak inscription.

Vima Kadphises added to the Kushan territory by his conquests in Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan. He issued an extensive series of coins and inscriptions. He issued gold coins in addition to the existing copper and silver coinage.

Kanishka I the Great, c. 127 – 140

According to the Rabatak inscription, Kanishka I the Great was the son of Vima Kadphises, the grandson of Sadashkana, and the great-grandson of Kujula Kadphises. Kanishka ruled a huge territory, nearly all of northern India, south to Ujjain and Kundina and east beyond Pataliputra. His territory was administered from two capitals: Purushapura (now Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan) and Mathura, in northern India. The Kushans also had a summer capital in Bagram (then known as Kapisa), where the "Begram Treasure," comprising works of art from Greece to China, was found. He is also credited (along with Raja Dab) for building the massive fort, Qila Mubarak, in the modern city of Bathinda in Indian Punjab. Kanishka 's conquests and patronage of Buddhism played an important role in the development of the Silk Road, and in the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism from Gandhara across the Karakoram range to China. Kanishka 's reign began a calendar era used by the Kushans for about a century, until the decline of the realm.

"In the year one, it has been proclaimed unto India, unto the whole realm 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 so long unto (i.e., as far as) the city of Ziri-tambo (Sri-Champa)." —  Rabatak inscription, Lines 4–6

Vāsishka, c. 140 – c. 160

Vāsishka was a Kushan emperor who seems to have had a 20-year reign following Kanishka. His rule is recorded 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 the Kanishka era.

Huvishka,  c. 151 – 190

Huvishka 's 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 was the last of the "Great Kushans." Vasudeva, is the name of the father of Krishna, the popular Hindu God, and he was the first Kushan king to be named after the Indian God. He converted to Hinduism during his reign. Named inscriptions dating from year 64 to 98 of Kanishka 's era indicate his reign extended from at least 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. 

Kushan Gods on Coins


Nana was a female Kushan divinity from Bactria, a variation of pan-Asiatic Nana, a conflation of Sumero-Babylonian Inanna-Ishtar with a local divinity. Nana is first attested by name on a coin of Sapadbizes, a 1st century B.C. king of Bactria who preceded the Kushans. In this case, Nana is depicted as a lion. Nana reappears two centuries later on coins and seals of the Kushan kings, in particular of Kanishka I. She was typically depicted as a seated martial goddess, escorted by a lion. She was also associated with fertility, wisdom and as a goddess of the waters (in particular of the Indus River). Depictions of Nana are known from Afghanistan as late as the 5th - 6th century. In Afghanistan and Pakistan the name appears as "Nawi," the Pashto word for bride.

Oesho was a deity represented on the coins of several Kushan kings, one of the titular deities of the dynasty. Nearly all of the images of Oesho are on coins, suggesting his worship was a royal cult, not widely followed by the kings ' subjects. Oesho was the only deity depicted on coins of Wima Kadphises, where he is portrayed with an erect lingam and is accompanied by a bull. Under Vasudeva I the iconography varied, with the god depicted with either two or four arms (holding a diadem, thunderbolt, trident and water pot), and one or three heads. The bull, water-pot, and trident became key attributes of Shiva in later Hindu art.

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