The Date of Kanishka

Lohuizen van Leeuw, Rosenfield, and the Second Kushan Era

Lohuizen (1949) proposed in her book 'The Scythian Period' that it was possible to separate inscriptions of the two Kushan sequences on the basis of paleography of the inscriptions and the style of sculptures. In total she gave 26 inscriptions, which range from year 4 to year 89. She is commonly quoted as having therefore put the second sequence on a firm footing. However, her list is not the one used by students today. That list is drawn from Rosenfield (1966, 1967) and differs significantly from Lohuizens.

It would be interesting, but too lengthy here, to examine whether, in principle, paleography can be used to date the inscriptions this accurately. I hope to present a discussion of this in the near future. Stylistic arguments are more difficult. However, it is clear that they are not a very sound method of dating. Leaving aside the huge subjective judgments involved, and the vagaries of style over very short periods, the argument employed by Lohuizen and others is circular in nature. If sculptures are arranged in chronological order according to apparent style, then style will appear to develop in the way expected over time. It can hardly be otherwise.

Rosenfield presented a comprehensive listing of inscriptions at the 1960 conference (1966: 259-277). It is this list which he duplicated in his later book 'The Dynastic Art of the Kushans'. Unlike Lohuizen, he dated Kanishka to 115 AD (259) and he felt that the second sequence represented a new era (266) rather than a second century. He also made substantial changes to Lohuizen's list. Firstly, he fore-shortened it removing inscriptions dated after the year 55 (Lohuizen had included one of 57, one of 59, two of 62, and one of 89; respectively Luder's List #55, #34, #57, #58, #71), as well as dropping two other inscriptions, Luders #53, #54, without explanation. He also adds a number of inscriptions, including 4 of Kanishka, and 2 of Vasishka (though he leaves one inscription of Vasishka in the first sequence, claiming it represents a different king). 

It is this list of dates which Rosenfield then duplicates in his later book (1967) and on which authors such as Cribb (1987) and Puri (1993: 254) base their own tables. Puri's own table is very interesting because he takes all the inscriptions of Vasishka to be in the second sequence (probably simply unaware Rosenfield excludes the year 24 inscription), adds the year 41 inscription of Kanishka III and duplicates one of the inscriptions, year 14, for Kanishka II, from Rosenfield's list. It is this that makes Rosenfields analysis important, because it has shaped perceptions of the sequence for nearly forty years. Of course, it helps that Rosenfield makes his analysis appear almost seamless with Lohuizen by giving her the majority of the credit, because this makes it seem like two experts, working on stylistic and paleographic grounds, had come to the same conclusions. 

So does Rosenfield succeed. Does his new list save the theory? Well, part of the problem is that it is very difficult to test. If there were an independent way of establishing the order of the inscriptions, and which belong to which sequence we would not need Lohuizen or Rosenfield's lists at all. Rosenfield's list has a similar problem to Lohuizens in the Vasishka & Kanishka inscriptions. Despite his claims, these two inscriptions belong to the second sequence of dates, or we must engage in inventing Kings for whom we have no coins. Again, like Lohuizen, if Rosenfield can misplace two of the inscriptions makes it seem unlikely that his stylistic grounds are as sound as he originally implied. 

There is one inscription about which we can be fairly confident, inscription 41 (Year 15, Rosefield 86) names Vasula, pupil of Sangamika, as does inscription 145 (Year 86, Rosenfield 65). Internal evidence (Sangamika's teacher is named in the Year 15 inscription) would seem to indicate the order is 15 - 86 but the gap (71 years, as opposed to somewhere around 29 for a second century of era) would indicate the order should be reversed. There can be very little doubt in either case and Lohuizen recognised these inscriptions (Lohuizen, 1949: 241-244) for what they were.


The Inscriptions

The three charts below show how the inscriptions have been allocated on the basis of different methods. The first column covers those inscriptions Lohuizen discusses in her text. The second column is the resorting provided by Rosenfield. The third column is the sorting of the inscriptions based on evidence of coins, which I have followed on this site, and which is often mixed with Rosenfields (Puri, 1993: 254; ) . Where a King is named in the inscription I have included that name next to the year.

Lohuizen (1949) Rosenfield (1960) Bracey (2004)
  24 Vasishka
41 Kanishka (Rosenfield, 1967)
 
  52
54
59
62
62
89 all redated to first sequence by Rosenfield
 
4
5
5
9
4
5
5 Kanishka
5
5
7 Kanishka
9 Kanishka
 
12
14 Kanishka
15
18
18
19
11
12
14 Kanishka
15
16
17 Kanishka
18
18
19
15? See discussion
20
20
22
25
20
22
22
22 Vasishka
25
28 Vasishka
20 Vasishka
22 Vasishka
24 Vasishka
28 Vasishka
31
32
35
31
33
35
35
36 Yasaga
 
40 40 41 Kanishka
52
54
57
59
62
62
89
57  

Contents Page The Date of Kanishka The Second Kushan Era A Second Era Inscription Bibliography

Robert Bracey.