Pahlava dynasty

Pahlava dynasty

The breakdown of the Mauryan Empire led to the rise of many regional kingdoms in different parts of the country. At the same time, we witness invasions by various groups of people based in Central Asia and western China. These were Indo-Greeks, the Scythians or the Śakas, the Parthians or the Pahlavas and the Kushāṇas. It was through such political processes that India came in closer contact with the central Asian politics and culture.

It appears that the Scythians invaded India from at least three directions. Since, all Sakas were Scythians but not all Scythians were Sakas, and since some sources indicate that the Scythians in the east were called Sakas, as the literary and epigraphic texts of ancient India and Iran often mention, the Scythians in Indian territories will also be referred as Saka/Scythians. The three major directions from which the Saka/Scythians invaded India were, in the first place, from the former Sai country (to be placed in the modem Hi basin) through Hsien-tu to Chi-pin or Kashmir. Secondly, there was a Scythian migration across the Hindu Kush into the north-western borderlands of the Indian subcontinent. Thirdly, they came from Seistan via Arachosia and the Brahui mountains into the lower Indus country.

As a result of tribal movements, as well as due to the aggression of neighbours, the Scythians who were originally Central Asian nomadic tribes, formed a number of ethnic groups. They appear to have founded various settlements in different regions even in very ancient times. In the early records of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia, reference is made to no less than three settlements of the Sakas who were subjects of the Achaemenids. These were the Saka Tigrakhauda (Sakas with pointed helmets), Saka Haumavarga and Saka tayaiy paradraya (Sakas beyond the sea).

The Sakas with pointed helmets are probably also referred to in the Achaemenian records. They lived beyond Suguda or Sogdiana (modem Bukhara region). According to Herodotus, they were the neighbours of the Bactrians1. They are supposed to have lived in the plains ofthe Jaxartes or Syr Darya. The Saka Haumavarga have been identified by scholars including D.C.Sircar with the Scythian settlers of Drangiana in the Helmund valley which was known later as Sakastan (modem Seistan). The Sakas of the land beyond the sea are usually believed to have been those who lived in the Russian steppes to the north of the Black Sea.

From the west, the Saka migration involved the Arsacid emperor, Mithridates II (c. 123-88/87 B.C.), who according to Justin, scored success against the Scythians and added many new provinces to the Parthian empire. He could have subdued the Scythian (Saka) nomads in western Bactria. A section of them could have ultimately settled in about Drangiana or Sakastana of Stathmoi Parthikoi towards the end of the first century B.C. The Parthian philhellenism had an impact over another group of Sakas who lived in Sakastana or Seistan owing allegiance to the Arsacids. In course of its description of an itinerary of a caravan trail, the Stathmoi Parthikoi states that in the city of Sigal in Sakastana, a part of the Parthian empire “is the royal residence of the Sakai” (i.e. the Sakas). This certainly means the existence of a Saka feudatory state in Sakastana or the Seistan region in or about the last quarter of the 1st century B.C. In Seistan, the Scythians (including the Sakas) and the Parthians mingled with each other forming a composite people whom we may call the Scytho-Parthians. Thus the Sakas of Sakastana was within the limits ofthe Parthian empire and were likely to develop a close relationship with the Pahlavas or Parthians who were the ruling groups in India hailing from that direction in the first centuiy B.C. as well as first century A.D. Hence, they may be called Saka-Pahlava or ScythoParthians. The activities of the different groups of Sakas and Saka-Pahlavas in the subcontinent can be enumerated on the basis of numismatic, epigraphic and literary sources. The names of the Saka-Pahlava and Scytho-Parthian rulers are furnished mainly by their coins, several varieties of which can be attributed to different areas on the basis of their types and major find spots. Such attributions help us in determining the limits of the domains of different rulers. There was an increase of alloy in the metallic currency of North-Western India during the period between c.50 B.C. and 50 A.D. This has been attributed to the absence of a strong monarch or political authority in a commercially important zone like North-Western India. This factor probably tempted private moneyers to mint coins. In the Scytho-Parthian period, the tendency to replace good money by sub-standard coinage became so popular and powerful that an important ruler like Azes II could not check it. However, in the Kushana period, coinage became reformed.

  1. Gondophernes:

Gondophernes appears to have been originally a Parthian Viceroy of Arachosia under the Parthian under the Great King of Kings Orthagenes. Gondophernes was associated with a subordinate ruler named Guda or Gudana whose name sometimes appear in the coins of Orthagenes.

Gondophernes after acquiring independent status gradually extended his power on all sides and became an emperor. From some of his coins it is supposed that he occupied Drangiana that is eastern Iran. He rest-ruck some of the coins of the Parthian emperors Orodes-I and Artabanus-III from which it is thought that he had also conquered certain districts of the Parthian emperors.

In the north he overthrew the last Greek King Hermaues of the upper Kabul Valley despite the assistance the latter received from Kujula Kodphises, the Kushana King. This is borne out by the evidence of the Chinese historian Fan-ye. According to him the upper Kabul Valley was conquered by the Parthians before its conquest by the Kushanas. The success of Gondophernes in the Upper Kabul Valley was short-lived as it was occupied by Kujula Kadphises.

Numismatic evidence also shows that Kujula Kodphises also extended his sway over southern Afghanistan. But Gondophernes’ success over the Sakas of India was more spectacular. Discovery of a record of his reign at Takht-i-Bahi in the Yusufzai territory in the Peshawar district as also the tradition that a Parthian of the name Pharaotes ruling in Taxila in 43-44 A.D. point the rule of Gondophernes in Gandhara. When Apollonius of Tyana visited Taxila in 43-44 A.D. a Parthian Pharaotes was ruler there.

Gondophernes’ association with his nephew Abdagases as also with Sapedana and Satavastra and his military governors Aspavarman, son of Indravarman and Sasa shows that perhaps during Gondopher­nes’ life time, the allegiance of the governors to him was more or less formal.

The name of Gondophernes is associated with the Christian apostle St. Thomas who, according to Christian tradition visited the Court of Gondophernes and converted him into Christianity. The genuineness of the story is questioned by sober historians and Dr. Smith calls it a myth. It may, however, be accepted that the Christian apostle visited the Court of the Parthian King Gondophernes.

Successors of Gondophernes:

Abdagases, successor of Gondophernes, was for sometime a subordinate ruler under Gondophernes, who was his uncle. This is proved by the discovery of joint-type coins. The rule of Abdagases was very short. He was succeeded by Pacores who also ruled for a very short time. But he maintained imperial status throughout his time.

He was succeeded by another king named Sanabares. But he does not seem to have any connection with India proper. The end of the Parthian rule in India is marked by small silver coins found by Sir John Marshall from the Sirkap site of Taxila. But with the end of the Parthian rule the foreign domination of India did not end. The Kushanas succeeded to the empire of the Parthians.

The Saka Satrapies:

The Sakas called their local governors or rulers as Satraps or Kshatrapas. This was derived from a Persian term meaning Provincial Governor. The Sakas followed the system of stationing two Satraps, one senior and one junior, in every province. The senior Satrap was called Mahakshatrapa and the junior as Kshatrapa.

The relation between the two Satraps was in the nature of the relation between the King and Viceroy. During the Saka rule there were many Satrapal houses in different parts of the Saka dominions in India. These may be grouped into (i) Northern Satraps of Taxila and Mathura, and (ii) Western Satraps of Maharastra and Ujjaini.

Northern Satraps of Taxila:

The earliest known Saka Satrap of Taxila is Liaka Kusalaka. He is mentioned in the copper plate inscription found at Taxila. He was originally a Satrap of Maues of Gandhara over Chhahara and Chukhsa. It has not been possible to identify Chhahara but Chukhsa has been identified with modern Chach in the north-west of Taxila. The two districts, it has been suggested, were adjacent to each other. According to Dr. D. C. Sarkar Liaka probably belonged to the Kshaharata family.

Laika’s son was the Mahadanapati Patika. There is no numismatic evidence to show that Patika was a joint ruler with his father. He is said to have enshrined the relics of Buddha. Patika seems to have been a Mahakshatrapa with Mevaki Miyika as his subordinate.

Northern Satrap of Mathura:

Mathura, capital of the ancient Mahajanapada Surasena, was the headquarters of the Satrapal family of the Sakas from the time of Maues. Mathura was the easternmost Satrapy of the Saka dominions. There are many coins and inscriptions dealing with the history of the Satrapy of Mathura. From the coins it is known that Hagamasha and Hagana were the earliest Satraps of Mathura.

The controversy apart, we know the name of Ranjuvula from both numismatic and epigraphic evidences. Ranjuvula is not only called Mahakshatrapa but also as Apratihata Chakra Kshatrapa. Rajuvula appears to have ruled over territories from the Punjab to the Gangetic Doab as is proved by the find-spots of his coins.

Sodasa was a Kshatrapa ruling jointly with his father and became a Mahakshatrapa after his father’s death. He has been described as a Yuvaraja as the Indian Crown Prince is called as also as Kshatrapa before he became a Mahakshatrapa. This shows that the Sakas were being gradually Hinduised which became all the more evident under his successors. Sodasa’s rule must have been confined to Mathura and the surrounding regions, for his coins have been found at Mathura, Padham and Sankisa, all in this belt of U.P.

Sodasa was succeeded by Sivadatta and Sivaghosa and ruled over Mathura for a comparatively short time until, perhaps after a short interregnum this region was conquered by the Kushanas. The adoption of names like Sivadatta and Sivaghosa is indicative of the gradual Hinduisation of the Sakas. This must have been facilitated by the fact that they chose Mathura, a great religious and cultural centre of the Hindus, as their headquarters.

The Western Satrapies:

The western Satrapal houses like those of the north had two distinct groups. The Saka families that ruled in Maharashtra region belonged to Kshaharata family, while those ruled in the Ujjaini region belonged to the Kardamaka family.

The Western Satraps of Maharashtra:


The earliest known western Satrap of the Kshaharata clan is Bhumaka. We have no detailed information about the rule of Bhumaka. On the- basis of a number of coins of Bhumaka found usually in the coastal regions of Gujarat and Kathiawar and also sometimes in Malwa it is supposed that these areas were ruled over by him.

His coins had bi-lingual legends in Kharosthi and Brahmi, Ksharosthi later on fell into disuse, It is likely, remarks N. K. Sastri, that during the Kushana over-lordship of northern and western India, Bhumaka was entrusted with the task of administering the westernmost conquests of the Kushanas. On the other hand, he may have been already ruling there as the Satrap of the Pahlavas when the Kushanas made themselves masters of this region.


Bhumaka was succeeded by Nahapana about whom our sources of information are not only his coins but several of his inscriptions recording the pious endowments and benefactions of his son-in-law Ushavadatta and one of his ministers Ayama. It has not been possible to know the exact nature of Nahapana’s relations with Bhumaka, and although Nahapana is quite a well-known figure in the history of India his chronological position in the Satrapal line remains a matter of great controversy among the scholars.

His coins bear no date and a few of his inscriptions refer to years between 41 and 46 of an unspecified era. But some of his coins which have been discovered show that these were restruck by Gautamiputra Satakarni with his own name that raises a strong presumption that they were con­temporaries.

Nahapana was the greatest Satrap of the Bhumaka line. He is credited with the conquest of Maharastra from the early Andhra rulers. He ruled over Broach, Maharastra, Ajmer and Pushkara. Both eastern and western Malwa were within his dominions. From the Periplus it is known that northern Konkan was included in Nahapana’s dominions.

It is suggested that Nahapana ruled virtually as an independent ruler acknowledging a nominal suzerainty of the Kushanas. At the zenith of his power Nahapana conquered parts of Southern Maharastra from the Satavahanas, but the latter re-conquered the areas during the rule of Gautamiputra Satakarni. Jaina work Avasyakasutra niryukti also refers to frequent attacks made by the Satavahanas on Broach which they conquered in the end.

Nahapana, by all appearances, enjoyed a pretty long reign which continued upto 124 A.D. Traditions current even in the eleventh century A.D. refer to the possession of immense wealth by Nahapana.

Nahapana appears to have become thoroughly Hinduised. He visited Pushkara and many other places of Hindu pilgrimage and made gift of cows and gold to the brahmanas. His wife also made a gift of a cave in order to earn religious merits.

Nahapana’s son-in-law Ushavadatta appears to have played an important part in the administration of Nahapana. He was the com- mander-in-chief of Nahapana and it was he who conquered eastern and western Malwa and extended Nahapana’s dominion. On behalf of the government, he undertook various public utility works such as construc­tion of Ferry-ghats, remitted ferry tolls and built cave-dwellings for the Buddhist monks.

The Bhumaka line of Satraps belonged to the Kshaharata clan. But, with the end of Nahapana the Kshaharata line of Satraps became virtually extinct.

Western Satraps of Ujjaini:

The western Satraps of Ujjaini belonged to the Kardamaka hue, the earliest member of which was Yasamalika. The name Yasamalika is a Scythian name. The Kardamaka Kshatrapas of Ujjaini were the greatest rivals of the later Satavahana Empire. In Bana’s Harsha- Charita Yasamalika has been described as a Saka King, which indicates that the Satraps of Ujjaini were virtually independent rulers. The name Kardamaka was derived from the river named Kardama, in Persia.

Chastana was the son of Yasamalika and started his rule, according to Prof. Dubreuil from 78 A.D. According to Dubreuil Chastana was the founder of the Saka era. But this view has been universally rejected, for the date of Chastana according to most of the scholars was 130 A.D. Raiehaudhuri, Rapson and Bhandarkar are of the opinion that Chastana was the viceroy of some Kushana King. The use of Kharosthi script on his coins, instead of Greek on the obverse and Kharosthi on the reverse also lead to the conclusion that Chastana was a viceroy.

On the evidence of an inscription we come to know that Chastana ruled conjointly with his grandson Rudradamana, son of Jayadamana. It is supposed that Jayadainana predeceased his father Chastana.

Rudradamana I:

Rudradamana was, by common consent, the greatest of the Satraps of Ujjaini. Fortunately we have a wealth of information about him from his Junagarh inscription. From the date given in the inscription it has been possible to fix him near about ISO A.D. During the time he ruled conjointly with Chastana and recovered many of the places earlier occupied by the Satavahanas of the Deccan.

Rudradamana’s rival Satavahana ruler was none else than Gautamiputra Satakarni, the lord of the Deccan whom he had defeated twice and at least Gautamiputra had been won over by Rudradamana who gave his daughter in marriage to him or to his son Vasisthiputra Pulamayi. Rudradamana also defeated the Yaudheyas described as a brave warrior republican clan of eastern Punjab by Panini.

Rudradamana ruled over an extensive dominion comprising East Malwa, West Malwa, North Kathiawar, Saurashtra or South Kathiawar, Sabarmati region, Sindhu, Cutch, Lower Indus, North Konkan, Eastern Punjab, West Vindhyas and Aravali, etc. These are territories mentioned in his inscriptions as within his dominions.

In his Junagarh inscription there is reference to the reconstruction of the Sudarshana Lake which had existed from the time of the Mauryas and which burst its dams as a result of a very strong cyclone. The embankments of the lake were also repaired spending a huge amount from his treasury, without oppressing his people of the Pro­vince by Taxes or forced labour.

Rudradamana held his court at Ujjaini which is referred to by Ptolemy as the capital of his grandfather and appointed a Pahlava named Suvisakas as his viceroy in the provinces of Anarta and Surashtra.

The Great Kshatrapa is said to have become famous by studying grammar, polity, music, logic, various sciences, etc. The civilised character of his government was marked by his order prohibiting killing of men except in battles. The King was helped in his work of administration by a body of able state officials who were endowed with the qualifications of ministers. The officers were divided into two sections, viz., the Counsellors (Matisachiva) and the Executive Officers (Karma-Sachiva).

The royal busts on his coins show Rudradamana to be a man of vivacious and cheerful disposition, marked by signs of strong vigour and personality. The Junagarh inscription attributes to him a beautiful body characterised by most excellent marks and signs. Rudradamana left his mark as one of the most outstanding personalities of ancient Indian history and he ruled for a long time.

Successors of Rudradamana:

Rudradamana-I was succeeded by his son Damaghsada-I after whom there were two rival claimants for succession. They were Jivadaman and Rudrasimha-I. The struggle was decided in favour of the latter.

Rudrasimha was followed by his son Rudrasena-I. According to some scholars Rudrasimha was succeeded by his brother Jivadamana. Rudrasena-I is regarded as the third Satrap of the line after Rudra­damana. The next Mahakshatrapa was Rudradamana-II. We have references to Kshatrapa Bhartrivarman and his son Visvasena. But in what relation they stood to the Mahakshatrapa Rudradamana-II is not known. Rudrasimha-III was the last of the member of the Kardamaka Satrapal family of Ujjaini who ruled upto 388 A.D. and was killed by Chandragupta-II of the Gupta imperial.

Administrative Machinery of the Scynthian-Parthian Period: Its Cultural Achievements:

The administrative set up of the Scytho-Parthian epoch of the Indian history was not a mere improvisation of military upstarts but a highly developed system developed on mature thinking of political theorists and practical statesmanship. The influence of the political thinking—Arthachintakas on the Indo-Scytho-Parthian polity is evident.

The ablest princes of the time assiduously studied the science of polity and appointed ministers and officials of special merits and arrangements were made to train the princes before their occupation of the throne. Abstention from oppression of the people by unjust taxation forced labour, etc., looking after the well-being of the people of the Janapadas and Puras as well as of the country side clearly show that the principles of good government mentioned in the science of polity (Arthasastra) were strictly adhered to.

That there was no breach with the past in the matter of adminis­tration is proved by the use of the names like Mahamatras, Rajjukas, Sancharin, etc., of the officials. At least in southern India the Maurya machinery of government appears to have not ceased to exist although it is not to be supposed that the entire administration was a replica of the Maurya constitution.

The foreign conquerors of north-west India brought with them their knowledge of political systems of the countries through which they had passed. For instance the Persian system of government by Satraps was introduced in the northern, western and southern India. There were also officials with the Greek titles of Meridarch, Stratogos, etc., functioned simultaneously with officials with Indian designations like Amatyas, Mahasenapati, etc.

The system of tribal republics which existed in India during the times of Buddha, Alexander, etc., were not extinct even during the Scytho-Parthian epoch. Inscriptions testify to the existence of such communities which took aggressive role against the neighbouring kings. The Indo-Scythian Kings could not extirpate the republican clans, but they did destroy many monarchies in northern and western India.

The great rulers of the Scythian age adopted dignified titles like Chakravartin, Adhiraja, Rajatiraja, Devaputra, etc. In southern India such titles were of somewhat religious nature, such as Dharma-Yuvamaha- raja, Dharma-maharajadhiraja etc. The queens were likewise invest­ed with titles like Agra-mahishi, Mahadevi, etc.

One of the most remarkable features of the Scythian age was the system of Dvairajya, i.e., Diarchy in northern, western and southern India. The ruler ruled conjointly with the Crown Prince or a near relation who occupied a subordinate position and often stationed in a province.

The general administration was divided into central, pro­vincial, district and village administration. Besides the Counsellors and the Executive Officers of the ruler, there were other important Court officials, such as, the royal physician and the royal scribe, the commander-in-chief, the great judge, etc.

The Chief sources of revenue were bhaga, bali, sulka, etc.; less scrupulous kings used to levy oppressive taxes, forced labour and exact benevolences. The dutas were a very important class of officials in the foreign department.

During this epoch the big dominions in northern and western India were split up into smaller provinces ruled by Mahakshatrapas and Kshatrapas.

The cultural impact of the Graeco-Scytho-Parthian influx can be seen in the coins struck during the period. The coins had bi-lingual legends, the Greek on the obverse and Kharosthi on the reverse. The representation of the ruler on coins or in inscriptions was extremely vivid and admitted of our forming a clear idea about the personality of the ruler depicted in them.

In art and architecture there was no breach since the time of the Yavana rule in the north-west and the continuity of the art and architecture in those regions, particularly at Gandhara helped the emergence of the celebrated Gandhara school of art under the Kushanas. In architecture the main feature was simplicity.

There was no dearth of cities and towns but architecture did not leave any impres­sion of special excellence. The royal palace at Sirkap may be cited as an instance. The Buddhist caves and the temple of Taxila were, however, specially noted for ornamental work.

A very interesting feature of the different peoples who entered India during the post-Mauryan period was their gradual adoption of Hindu religion, names, etc. The Sakas and the Pahlavas became ulti­mately thoroughly Hinduised. Intermarriage between the families of the Saka-Pahlavas with Indian families like the Satavahanas, etc. point to the gradual assimilation of the outlanders into the Hindu socio-religious fabric.


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