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The Kushan Dynasty India

  • The Kushan Empire was an empire in South Asia in the territories of ancient Bactria. The Kushans spread from the Kabul River Valley and reached their peak under the Buddhist emperor Kanishka.
  • The Kushans were among 5 branches of the Yuezhi confederation who had migrated from the Tarim Basin and settled in ancient Bactria. They captured Kashgar, Khotan and Yarkant, in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang, China. A road from Gandhara to China was constructed which was under Kushan control for over 100 years. The security provided by the Kushans promoted travel across the Khunjerab Pass and helped the spread of Buddhism to China.
  • The Kushan dynasty had diplomatic relations with the Aksumite Empire, Sassanid Persia and the Roman Empire. Today, the empire's history comes from inscriptions and accounts in Chinese language.


  • Chinese sources tell the Kushans, as among the 5 aristocratic tribes of the Yuezhi. However, for more than a century there have been several arguments concerning the linguistic and ethnic origins of the Kushans.
  • In Chinese history, the 5 tribes constituting the Yuezhi are Dumi, Xidun, Shuangmi, Guìshuang and Xiumì. The Yuezhi had been residing in modern-day Xinjiang, China until they were forced to move west by the Xiongnu.

Early Kushans

  • There are some traces of the existence of the Kushans in Sogdiana and Bactria. Various friezes and sculptures are known showing horse-riding archers. The Chinese first said that these people were the Yuezhi and they established the Kushan Empire, though the relationship between the Kushans and the Yuezhi is not yet clear. The Kushans are known to have constructed fortresses on the remains of ancient Hellenistic towns. Heraios was the first and the earliest documented ruler to declare himself as a Kushan ruler. Heraios might have been the father of Kujula Kadphises, the 1st Kushan emperor.

Diverse cultural influences

  • The Guishuang achieved importance over the other Yuezhi tribes and created tight confederation, in the first century BCE. In the West, the name Guishuang was adopted and changed into Kushan, even though the Chinese continued to call them Yuezhi.
  • The Kushans Gradually expanded south into the Pakistan's Potohar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region and going in an arc to include Kabul and part of Qandahar and established twin capitals near Kabul and Peshawar.
  • Elements of the Hellenistic culture of Bactria were adopted by the Kushans. In order to suit their own language they adopted the Greek alphabet and started to mint coins on the Greek model.
  • The Kushans were mostly Zoroastrian. Nevertheless several Kushans began adopting Buddhist culture from the time of Vima Takto. Vima Kadphises, the great Kushan emperor embraced Saivism (a sect of Hinduism). The following Kushan emperors embraced Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and possibly Saivism.
  •  The Kushans rule related the maritime trade of the Indian Ocean with the trade of the Silk Road through the Indus Valley. At their peak, the Kushans ruled a region which extended from present-day Uzbekistan, to northern India through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • The unity and peace of such a huge area created a number of flourishing urban centers, brought Chinese silks to Rome and encouraged long-distance trade.

Territorial expansion

  • Rosenfield points out that archaeological proof of a Kushan prolonged rule exists in Mathura, the winter capital of the Kushans, Taxila, Peshawar, the capital under Kanishka I, Begram, the summer capital of the Kushans, and Surkh Kotal.
  • During the first century, Kushan invasions were the reason for the migration of Indians to Southeast Asia.
  • In the early 2nd century CE, huge Kushan territories expanded into the northern India. Under Kanishka, the Kushans conquered many places in the Tarim Basin, the original place of their Yuezhi ancestors where they had contacts with the Chinese. Both literary evidence as well as archaeological findings confirm Kushan rule in Khotan, Yarkand and Kashgar.

Main Kushan rulers

Kujula Kadphises

  • Kujula Kadphises established himself as king and conquered Kabul. He also occupied Paktiya, Kapisha and Gandhara. He was plus 80 when he died. These conquests happened between 45 and 60, and laid the foundation for the Kushan Empire that was expanded by his successors. He issued many coins. Kujula Kadphises was the great grandfather of Kanishka.

Vima Taktu or Sadashkana

  • Vima Taktu was the predecessor of Vima Kadphises and Kanishka I. He extended the Kushan Empire to the northwest of the South Asia.

Vima Kadphises

  • Vima Kadphises was the father of Kanishka I. He was the son of Sadashkana and the grandson of Kujula Kadphises. Vima Kadphises captured Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan. He issued a number of inscriptions and coins. In India gold coins were first introduced by him.

Kanishka I

  • Kanishka I was the fifth Kushan king for roughly 13 years. He ruled over a huge territory. He had two capitals: Purushapura (now Peshawar in Pakistan) and Mathura, in India. He built the massive Qila Mubarak in Bathinda, Indian Punjab.


  • After Kanishka I, Vasishka was a Kushan emperor for 20 years. A lot of inscriptions in his name have been found at Sanchi (near Vidisa).


  • Huvishka ruled for about 20 years. He consolidated the Empire. He focused on the greater control over Mathura.

Vasudeva I

  • Vasudeva I was the last great Kushan emperor.

Kushan deities

  • As disclosed by their coins which were made in gold, silver, and copper The Kushan religious deity is highly varied. These coins contained over 30 different gods, belonging mainly to Greece, India and Iran. Kushan coins had images of Buddha, Kushan Kings, and gods like Persian gods, Hindu gods and the goddess Nana. After Huvishka, just 2 divinities appear on the coins: Oesho and Ardoxsho.