Kushan History Kushan History

The Later Kushans, Kidarites, Kushanshahs

'The lands next to these the Bactriani [Kushans] possess, a nation formerly warlike and very powerful" Ammianus Marcellinus (XXIII, 6, 55)

In 363 AD, when Ammianus wrote this, the dynasty of Kajula was a memory. But it was a powerful memory. So powerful that for two centuries after the death of Vasudeva the rulers of this region felt a need to legitimise themselves through the Kushan dynasty. The three dynasties that followed the Kushans, the Kushanshahs, Lesser Kushans and Kidarites lasted until the end of the fifth century. They have not been subject to the same scholarly scrutiny as the early Kushan state. So what is presented here can only scratch the surface.

The first successors to the Kushan Kings are the Kushanshahs. Tabari says that the first Sasanian king Ardashir received envoys from the Kushans offering submission. The second Sasanian emperor Shapur has claimed in an inscription (The Kacbe of Zoroaster) that the Kushan Empire was part of his realm. An era is known to have been begun in the region in 248 AD. Certainly from some point in the third century the Kushanshahs began to mint coins at Balkh. These coins are clearly of the same design as the Sasanians but they copy elements from the Kushan issues of Vasudeva and Kanishka II/III. And on their coins they call themselves Kushanshah, King of the Kushans.

For these reasons it is logical to assume that between 220 AD and 248 AD a war was fought between the Sasanians and Kushans. In 248 AD the Sasanians established a puppet king over the north-west of the Kushan empire. These kings clearly felt a need to carry on the name of the Kushan Empire. They were probably engaged in a battle for legitimacy with the Kushan kings south of the Hindu Kush. A tentative suggestion of the order for both the Kushanshahs and the Kushan kings is presented here.
The Later Kushan Dynasty Kushanshahs Other Groups

Kanishka II
Vasishka II
Vasudeva II
Huvishka II

Ardashir I
Ardashir II
Peroz I
Hormizd I
Peroz II
Hormizd II
Varahran I
Varahran II

Shapur I becomes Sasanid emperor.

Samudragupta takes over the Kushan Empire.
Grumbates, king of the Chionites (Kidarites)

Kidarite Huns conquer Kushanshah.

In the fourth century the Gupta king Samudragupta issues a copy of the coins of Vasudeva II and Shaka. In his Allahabad inscription he claims to have allowed the daivaputra-shahi-shahanushahi to mint coins and rule as a subordinate in the Punjab and Gandhara. These titles are the same as the Kushan royal titles and are to be associated with an unnamed Kushan king. It might indicated that a desperate Kushan king (Shaka?) forming an alliance with the Guptas to prevent total annihilation by the Kushanshahs.

It is then that the Chionites enter the scene. Ammianus mentions the Kushan king Grumbates who is present at the battle of Amida. The Kushanshah Peroz II was also present at the battle. There are indications of a brief independence for the Kushanshahs under Hormizd I around 283 AD. So these two kings can be seen as semi-independent allies of the Sasanians. By the end of the fourth century there are archaeological traces of the Kidaraites. A king Kidara is minting coins at the city of Balkh. Kidarite coins begin to appear across the whole Kushan territory. Archaeologists have found signs of destruction at a number of sites in Sogdia and Bactria which could be related to an invasion by the Kidarites.

The Kidarites tried very hard to establish themselves as the successors of the Kushan Empire; they are called Kushan and Yu-chi by Western and eastern sources; they issued coins that copied those of the Sasanians, the Kushanshahs and the last Kushan kings. They failed to achieve a revival of the Kushan Empire. Though they conquered the regions and united them, for the last time, under a single government their empire was transient and superficial. The Kidarite Empire never matched the artistic or urban success of the Kushans. And at the end of the fifth century the Kidarites were overwhelmed by the Hephalite Huns.

It is here that Kushan history comes to an end. Dynasties and conquests are only a superficial aspect of history. This brief guide has not included many of the complex social, religious, cultural and economic changes that accompanied these political events. In other words, the real history, how ordinary people lived, is still waiting to be told. These areas were for most of the last century a backwater of classical studies. Since the late fifties Russian and India historians have begun to give it the attention it deserves. It can only be hoped that western historians will also give this Empire, which stood alongside Rome for most of its history the same attention.

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Chronology of Kushan History
Military History of the Kushans
Contacting the Author

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