Indo-greeks, Shakas, Kushanas




Indo-greeks, Shakas, Kushanas:

  • The Greek Satrapas of North-west are known as ‘Indo-Greeks’. In Indian tradition, they are mentioned as Yavana.
  • Their objectives were to establish their dominance in the region of Mediterranean Sea and to strengthen the hold over trade in west and central Asia. Seleucus Nicator was Indo-Greek king from the province of Bactria in the North-west. In the conflicts between the Indo-Greek kings, the kingdom of Bactria proved to be powerful. Bactrian king Demetrius attacked India in 180 B.C.E.
  • He won over Takshashila. His capital was at Sakal (Siyalkot). During this period, the Indo-Greek king Eucratides established an independent kingdom. In this way, two independent Indo-Greek kingdoms were established in the northwest region. There were 40 Indo-Greek kings in total including the two branches established by Demetrius and Eucratides. The only source to know the history of Indo-Greeks is their coins. Things like emblems, script, portraits on their coins of the kings, images of deities are their gifts to the numismatic tradition of India.

Diodotus I

  • Diodotus, the satrap of Bactria founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom when he seceded from the Seleucid Empire around 250 BCE and became King Diodotus I of Bactria.
  • Diodotus died during the reign of Seleucus II, sometime around 235 BCE, probably of natural causes.
  • He was succeeded by his son Diodotus II, who was subsequently killed by a usurper, Euthydemus, who founded the Euthydemid dynasty.

Demetrius I

  • Demetrius I, son of Euthydemus I, was responsible to lead Greek forces into the interior of India, after Alexander the Great.
  • He crossed the Hindu Kush mountains with a large army and conquered the regions of Punjab and Sindh, making his capital at Sakala (modern Sialkot).
  • His coins bear legends in Greek and Prakrit, written in Greek and Kharosthi script.
  • The coins reveal the names of many Indo-Greek rulers, namely Demetrius I, Antimachus, Pantaleon, Agathocles and Euthydemus II, who extended Bactrian rule in the North-western India.

Later Rulers:

  • Demetrius I died of unknown reasons, and the date 180 BCE is merely a suggestion aimed to allow suitable Regnal periods for subsequent kings, of which there were several. Some of them were co-regents.
  • The kings Pantaleon, Antimachus, Agathocles and possibly Euthydemus II ruled after Demetrius I. Eventually, the kingdom of Bactria fell to the able newcomer Eucratides.
  • After being defeated by Eucratides around 150 BCE, Demetrius II left behind his generals Appolodotus and Menander, who in turn became kings of India and rulers of the Indo-Greek Kingdom following his death.

Menander I

  • Menander I was an Indo-Greek King of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, who administered a large empire in the Northwestern regions of the Indian Subcontinent from his capital at Sakala (Sialkot).
  • The Indian records also describe Greek attacks on Mathura, Panchala, Saket, and Patliputra.
  • Menander was probably the Indo-Greek king who was converted to Buddhism by the holy man Nagasena after a prolonged and intelligent discussion, which has been recorded in the Milinda-panha. The style may have been influenced by Plato's dialogue. The wheel engraved on some of Menander’s coins is probably connected with Buddhism, and Plutarch’s statement that when Menander died his earthly remains were divided equally among the cities of his kingdom and that monuments, possibly stupas. (Buddhist commemorative monuments), were to be erected to enshrine them has been interpeted to indicate that he had probably become a Buddhist.

Antialcidas and Heliodorus:

  • Antialcidas was an Indo-Greek king of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, who reigned from his capital at Taxila.
  • Heliodorus, the ambassador of Antialcidas to the court of Bhagabhadra, commissioned the construction of Besnagar Garuda pillar, in the honour of Vasudeva.
  • It is the earliest reference to the existence of Vaishnavism in ancient India, making Heliodorus the first foreigner to embrace Vaishnavism and also indicated one of the stages in the evolution of Bhakti movement in India

The Indo-Parthian Kingdom:

  • The Indo-Parthian Kingdom, was a Parthian kingdom founded by the Gondopharid branch of the House of Suren, ruling from 19 to 225 CE.
  • The Indo-parthian kingdom is also known as Gondopharid Dynasty. This dynasty ruled Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India, during the 1st century AD. Parthians were some Iranian tribes and in this tribe, the kings assumed the title Gondophares.
  • The kingdom was founded in 19 CE when the Surenid governor of Drangiana (Sakastan), Gondophares declared independence from the Parthian Empire.
  • In ancient Sanskrit texts, the Parthians (Pahlavas) and the Scythians (Sakas) are mentioned together as ‘Saka-Pahlavas’.

The Indo-Scythians:

  • The Indo-scythians were named "Shaka" in India, an extension on the name Saka used by the Persian to designate Scythians. From the time of the Mahabharata wars (1500-500 BCE), the Shakas had numerous mentions in texts like the Puranas, the Manusmriti, the Ramayana the Mahabharata, the Mahabhashiya of Patanjali, the Briht Samhita of Varaha Mihira, the Kavyamimamsa of Rajashekhara the Brihat-Katha-Manjari, the Katha Sarit Sagara and several other old texts. They are described as part of an amalgam of other war-like tribes from the northwest.
  • The Indo-Scythians extended their supremacy over north-western India, conquering the Indo-Greeks and other local kingdoms, although eventually they were subjugated by the Kushana Empire, by either Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka.
  • The indo-Scythian rule in the northwestern Indian subcontinent ceased when the last Western Satrap Rudrasimha III was defeated by the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II in 395 CE.                           
  • Maues was the first Indo-Scythian king, ruling from 85 to 57 BCE. He invaded India and established Saka hegemony by conquering Indo-Greek territories.
  • Maues vastly expanded his domain by conquering key cities along the Indus.
  • This included seizing Taxila in Punjab, and Gandhara capital city Pushkalavati from the Indo-Greek Kingdoms.


  • Azes's most lasting legacy was the foundation of the Azes Era. It was widely believed that the era was begun by Azes's successors by simply continuing the counting of his regnal years. However, Prof. Harry Falk has recently presented an inscription at several conferences which date to Azes's reign and suggests that the era may have been begun by Azes himself. Most popular historians date the start of the Azes era to 58 BC and believe it is the same as the later era known as the Malwa or Vikrama era.

    However, a recently discovered inscription, the Bajaur reliquary inscription, dated in both the Azes and the Greek era suggests that actually this is not the case. The inscription gives the relationship Azes = Greek + 128. It is believed that the Greek era may have begun in 173 BCE, exactly 300 years before the first year of the Era of Kanishka. If that is the case then the Azes era would begin in about 45 BC.

  • Azes I was an Indo-Scythian ruler who completed the domination of the Scythians in Gandhara.
  • He annexed the territory of the last Indo-Greek king, Hippostratos. This is evident from the fact that Azes overstruck the latter’s coins.
  • Azes issued some coins jointly with another king named Azilises and later on with Azes II.
  • That indicated that they ruled simultaneously, as co-rulers.

Decline of Shakas:

  • Under the pressure from the Parthians and later from the Kushanas, the Sakas got divided into five branches with their seats of power scattered in different parts of India and Afghanistan.
  • The rulers belonging to all these branches were known as Kshatrapas or Mahakshatraps

The Western Kshatrapas:

  • There were two important lines of Kshatrapa rulers – the Kshaharatas and the Kardamakas.
  • The earliest known Kshatrapa of Maharashtra was Bhumaka, who belonged to the Kshaharata line. He and his son Nahapana were responsible for the extension of Saka power.
  • After Nahapana’s death, the Kshaharatas were succeeded by the Kardamakas. This line was founded by Chastana who, according to the Andrau inscription of 130 CE, ruled conjointly with his grandson Rudradaman I.

The Kshaharata Dynasty


  • Bhumaka was a Western Kshatrapa ruler of the early 2nd century CE. He was the father of the great ruler Nahapana, according to one of the latter’s coins.
  • His coins bear Buddhist symbols which have been found in the regions of Gujarat, Kathiawar, and Malwa, such as the eight-spoke wheel (dharma chakra), or the lion seated on capital, a representation of a pillar of Ashoka.


  • Nahapana was an important ruler of the Western Kshatrapas, in northwestern India. According to one of his coins, he was the son of Bhumaka.
  • The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions one Nambanus as the ruler of the area around Barigaza. This person has been identified as Nahapana by modern scholars.
  • Nahapana is mentioned as a donator in inscriptions of numerous Buddhist caves in northern India. The Nashik and Karle inscriptions refer to Nahapana’s dynastic name but not to his ethnicity, which is known from other sources.
  • Nahapana had a son-in-law named Rishabhadatta, who accomplished various charities and conquests on behalf of his father-in-law. He constructed rest-houses, gardens, and tanks at Bharukachchha (Bharuch), Dashapura (Mandsaur in Malwa), Govardhana (near Nashik), and Shorparaga (Sopara in the Thana district).
  • The Saka-Kshatrapas were involved in a prolonged conflict with the Satavahana dynasty.
  • Overstrikes of Nahapana’s coins by the powerful Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni have been found in a hoard at Jogalthambi, Nashik District.
  • This suggests that Gautamiputra Satakarni defeated Nahapana.

The Kardamaka Dynasty:

  • Chastana was a ruler of the Saka Western Kshatrapas in northwestern India during 78-130 CE.
  • He founded the Kardamaka dynasty of the Western Kshatrapas.

Rudradaman I

  • Rudradaman I was a Western Kshatrapa ruler from the Kardamaka dynasty. He was the grandson of the king Chastana, who founded the dynasty.
  • Rudradaman I was instrumental in the decline of the Satavahana empire. After he became the king and strengthened his kingdom, he adopted the title of Mahakshatrapa (Great Kshatrapa).
  • He had his capital at Ujjain.
  • The Sanskrit Junagadh inscription dated 150 CE credits Rudradaman I with supporting the cultural arts and Sanskrit literature and repairing the dam built by the Mauryans. 
  • In spite of the matrimonial link, at least two wars took place between them wherein he defeated Satavahanas but spared the life of Satakarni (probably, Vasisthiputra Satakarni), essentially because of their relationship.
  • As a result of his victories, Rudradaman regained all the former territories previously held by Nahapana, except for the southern territory of Poona and Nashik.
  • Rudradaman also conquered the Yaudheyas in Haryana. However, in the next century, the warlike Yaudheyas became more powerful.

Later Rulers:

  • Rudradaman I was succeeded by the likes of Jivadaman (178 – 197 CE), Rupiamma (2nd century CE), Rudrasena II (256–278 CE), and Vishwasena (293 – 304 CE), who was the last ruler of the Kardamaka dynasty.
  • A new family took over, started by the rule of Rudrasimha II (304-348 CE). He was succeeded by Sridharavarman, who was known from the Kanakerha inscription at Sanchi, and another inscription with his Naga general at Eran.
  • Rudrasimha III seems to have been the last of the Western Kshatrapa rulers. During a campaign of Ramagupta, Chandragupta killed Rudrasimha and later his own brother, Ramagupta.

Shakas came from Centra Asia. They established their kingdom by driving out the Greeks of Bactria. Their colony acquired the name ‘Shakasthan’ (Shistan). ‘Maues’ alias ‘Moga’ was the first Shaka king in India. He established the kingdom by conquering the provinces of Gandhara and Punjab. Due to the weakness of the succeeding Shaka kings, Pahalava king Gondophernes defeated them and established his rule in India Although the Shaka rule in Gandhara and Punjab came to an end, some Shaka rulers continued to rule in Western India. The Shaka administrative system was structured after the Achaemenid and Seleucid models. The state was divided into various Satrapi's (provinces) and ‘Mahakshatrapa’, a military official, was appointed for each satrapy. These Satrapies were further divided into sub-sections and a Satrapa was appointed on each of it. These Satrapas were permitted to engrave their own inscriptions and also issue coins. It seems that they had considerable autonomy.

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