History of the Kushanas

The Yueh-Chihs belonged to the pastoral nomad state of what is now the inner Mongolia.  This nomadic horde were the members of the Xiongnu confederacy.  They were China's main rivals during the Han period.  Earliest great wall of China was built to defend the territory the Han had captured from Xiongnu.  After the falling out of Yueh Chihs with the confederacy, they split off and fled to Bactria (western central Asia) leaving back the fertile plains of Xiongnu thus settled down in Bactria.  Though China made several attempts to woo them as their natural allies to bring back the plains worthwhile.  Yue-Chihs rejected the offer of returning back as life was cool and in favour of them at Bactria.

The Yueh-Chih nobles intermarried to the local riches of high states creating several powerful clans.  Since they came into contact with the Greek culture, they lost their nomadic habits and fitted well to this culture.  One of those five tribes, the (Kueh Shen) Kushanas overpowered the others and founded the Kushan state.  At some time after 25 AD, they overwhelmed the Saka - Pahlava (Parthian) princes of  Hind Kush under the leadership of Kujula Kadaphises ( 30 - 80 AD ) and established one of the greatest empires of India.  It was one of the remarkable and distinguished dynasty of ancient India, both culturally and territorially.  The Kushanas in fact  did not eliminate Sakas totally, Sakas continued to be under the rule of their princes and showed allegiance to Kushana rulers.

Kushanas had their capital at Purushapura (Peshawar) and expanded their empire on both sides of Hind Kush, Turkistan in the north and modern Afghanistan.  Some of the coins found in Bactria leads to the suspicion that Heraus (Also Heraios or Sanab) was probably the first Kushana King.  Heraus ( 5 BC - 45 AD ) may be a father of Kujula Kadphises and an ally of the Greek kings and shares the same title in his coinage. Vima Taktu (Vima Takto) succeeded Kujula at 80 AD and reigned for the next fifteen years successfully.  Kanishka's predecessor Vima Kadphises (95 - 115 AD), the son of Vima Taktu expanded the territory by conquering Afghanistan and north-west India.

Kanishka, the glorious ruler of the Great Kushana empire at 115 AD (date is still unreliable) started reigning the empire (some theory says he was never related to Vima Kadphises).  The foundation of popular Saka era (78 AD) is ascribed to Kanishka (some directs it to Vima).  His successors Huvishka-I (140-180 AD), Vasudeva-I (180 - 210 AD) ruled the Kushana empire successfully till 210 AD.   After the death of Vasudeva-I, the descendants of Kanishka, Kanishka-II (210 - 230 AD),  Vashishka (230 - 250 AD), Kanishka-III (255 - 275 AD), Vaskushana (275 - 290 AD), Vasudeva-II (290 - 310 AD) and Shaka (325 - 345 AD), Xandesh (335 - 336 AD), Vashishka (350 - 360 AD), Vasudeva-III (360 AD - 365 AD)  (in  chronological order) held onto power by holding the Kabul valley, though the Kushana power had declined totally. Kipunada (350 - 375 AD) seems to be the last king who was the descendent of the little Kushanas.

Kanishka was a patron of Mahayana Buddhism and during his reign, a large number of  Buddhist monasteries, sculptures were built in and around Gandhara region.  Mathura, the winter capital and Gandhara were two centres of art; Mathura developed it's distinct style of art whereas the Gandhara school was influenced by Greco-Roman philosophies and centred in depicting Buddha's images.  During this period, Buddhism spread in China and Central India.  Kushanas enriched the cultural ethos of India.  They linked Central Asian, Chinese, India and Persian cultures and trade.  They opened and protected silk road, a major trade path for caravans carrying silk and other prominent goods from China to India and Middle east (especially, spices, textile, medicines through ships bound for the Roman empire).  The inflow to Kushana empire was gold coins, Greek wine and slaves.  The Roman history records that ambassadors were sent to the court of Trajan (98-117 AD) by the Indian kings, but it is unclear whether it is by Vima or Kanishka.

Vima Kadphises revolutionized the monitory system by introducing gold coins to the existing copper coinage.  The non usage of silver in their coinage were probably due to world wide shortage of silver.  Minting forged coinage of small inferior contemporary silver coins could be one of the reasons to mint pure copper and gold coins.  The gold weight standard of about eight grams seems to be copied from the Roman coins of the first century.  The bullion Roman coins would have seen the melting pots of Kushana mint for its coinage.  The Kushana empire being in a strategic location for trade of rare goods from China, Central Asia, Alexandria and Antioch explains the prosperous monetary economy of Kushanas.  The coinage of Kujula Kadphises are all of copper.  The gold of Vima Kadphises were stuck in three denominations, the double stater, the stater, and the quarter stater (Dinara as Kushanas named it).  The copper coins were stuck in three varying weights too.

LAST UPDATED 1st Nov 2001
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