Kushan History Kushan History

The Yu-chi in Bactria

The period from 120BC - 10AD (arbitrary dates) is one of confusion, ambiguity and contradiction. A period of spaghetti history with as many explanations and chronologies as there are historians who have written about it 1. During this period the now settled Yu-chi came to dominate the area and grew in power and stature until under Kajula and the Kushans they expanded into India and founded an empire. That much is accepted by most writers. I will not pretend that in this short space the truth of the matter can be found, so for this section I will guide the reader through my own 'gut feeling' of the period. Along the way we'll look at what other people have said and the evidence they provide to support that. The evidence is inconclusice and it is best to form your own opinion.

As the Yu-chi conquered Bactria they divided it into a number of essentially kingdoms (five, according to Chinese sources). This division is not undisputed. Tarn for one has problems with the number five, a number of special significance to the Chinese. The translation of HS 96A.14b 2 is unclear as to the nature of the relationship and an overall king is clearly mentioned prior to the five yabgu.

If however the Yu-chi were still united then it becomes difficult to reconcile the need for Kajula later to conquer the other tribes of the Yu-chi, a conflict apparently testified for in western sources as well. It is possible it took time for the Yu-chi to absorb other nomadic groups added to the horde and that this process did involve fighting. However most historians have simply accepted the Chinese sources at face value, that the Yu-chi settled in Ta-hsia and while there became fragmented into a number of kingdoms, one of which, the Kueh-Shuang, we shall return to later.

Westward expansion was probably at this time halted by the Indo-Parthians who were now pushing down the west flank of Bactria into Indo-Scythia. This powerful Indo-Parthian kingdom, the first of its dynasty Maeus gaining ascendency in Kabul and the Indus valley, was to hold the Yu-chi in check for some time. Though the long trek of the Yu-chi from the east may well have exhausted their desire for conquest, sufficiently so that there is a gap of some 20 years between the Yu-chi's first involvement in Bactria and the foundations of the Indo-Parthian kingdoms in northern India. The nature and direction from which this group originally came is however disputed with the predominant view, though in this case I feel the wrong one, that the Yu-chi pushed ahead of them a wave of Scythian invaders who were turned aside by Parthia and overran northern India.

Within Bactria the Yu-chi were hellenized. As many other barbarian groups who conquered civilized populations they were to adopt many aspects, to produce their own unique blend. The area of Bactria saw improvements in irrigation canals (dating back to much earlier times) and great improvements in the agriculture of the region are testified by Stavisky and Bogard-Levin 3. This improvement no doubt led to an increased level of pastorilism though soviet research indicates that nomadic groups continued to live alongside the pastorilists well into the third century AD4.

The first Yu-chi coins belong to this period of initial dominance and slightly before. They contain no names and are rough imitations of the Greek coins common in the area before the invasion. The gold coinage so important to the Kushan Empire is still a long way of. Coins in the region show a gradual improvement in quality (though even the coins of Kajula Kadphises and his son Wima Takto are not up to the standard of the Greek or later Kushan coinage) over the next century. The life of the nomadic Yu-chi appears to settle in a number of important respects.

When Chinese envoys are sent to bring the Yu-chi in alliance with the son of heaven they fail. The yu-chi are to far from the Han to feel the matters of any consequence. They clearly also feel far removed from the Wu-sun and the Hsiung-nu. While the kingdoms around them are engaged in extensive warfare, notably the Greek and Parthian kings in Gandhara the Kushans enjoy a largely untroubled peace. By the end of the first century BC this has begun to pay dividends. The Yu-chi appear to have quite extensive trading connections and must by this time be acting as middle men on the silk road. They also begin to appear again in the records of the Chinese as a political power worth courting.


Main Page
Contents Page and Index
Chronology of Kushan History
Military History of the Kushans
Contacting the Author

All these pages (except where the contrary is clearly stated) are the copyright of Robert Bracey. Permission is given to copy or reproduce these pages in hardcopy for personal use or freinds.