The Post-Mauryan Age, also known as the “Middle Period” in Indian history, spans from around the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE. This era marked a significant transitional period following the decline of the Mauryan Empire. During this time, India witnessed the emergence of several powerful regional kingdoms, each vying for supremacy and contributing to the diverse cultural and political landscape of the subcontinent. One of the most prominent dynasties of this era was the Shunga dynasty, which ruled the northern part of India after the Mauryan decline. The Shungas promoted Buddhism and made significant contributions to the development of Indian art and architecture, particularly the creation of exquisite Stupas. Another important dynasty was the Satavahanas in the Deccan region, known for their maritime trade and cultural influence.
The Post-Mauryan Age also saw the consolidation of the Indo-Greek kingdoms in northwestern India, which resulted in a rich exchange of Hellenistic and Indian culture. Furthermore, the region witnessed the rise of indigenous empires like the Kushanas, who played a crucial role in facilitating trade along the Silk Road and the spread of Buddhism to Central Asia. The Gupta dynasty, which emerged in the 4th century CE, is often seen as the culmination of this period, characterized by significant cultural achievements, including advances in mathematics, astronomy, and art. Overall, the Post-Mauryan Age was marked by dynamic political shifts and cultural interactions, setting the stage for subsequent developments in Indian history.
1. Indo-Greek Kingdom
The Indo-Greek Kingdom, also known as the Graeco-Indian Kingdom or Yavana Kingdom, existed from 180 B.C.E. to around 10 C.E. It covered various parts of Afghanistan, the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent (all of present-day Pakistan), and a small part of Iran.
- Preliminary Greek presence in India: In 326 B.C.E., Alexander III conquered the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent, established satrapies, and ceded his north-western territories to Chandragupta in 303 B.C.E.
- Greek rule in Bactria: Alexander established several cities and an administration in Bactria, which lasted more than two centuries under the Seleucids and Greco-Bactrians.
- Rise of the Sungas: Around 185 B.C.E., Pusyamitra Sunga assassinated the last of the Mauryan emperors, Brhadrata, and established the Sunga Empire, which extended its control as far west as the Punjab.
History of the Indo-Greek Kingdom
- The invasion of northern India and the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom started around 180 B.C.E. when Demetrius I led his troops across the Hindu Kush.
- Menander, the conqueror of the greatest territory, led the invasion to the east. The Greeks advanced to the Ganges River and apparently as far as the capital Pataliputra.
- According to Strabo, Greek advances temporarily went as far as the Sunga capital Pataliputra in eastern India. To the south, the Greeks may have occupied the areas of the Sindh and Gujarat down to the region of Surat, including the strategic harbor of Barygaza.
- Following Menander’s reign, about 20 Indo-Greek kings ruled in succession in the eastern parts of the Indo-Greek territory.
- The Indo-Greeks may have ruled as far as the area of Mathura until sometime in the first century B.C.E.
- Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek kings, and their rule, especially that of Menander, has been remembered as benevolent.
- Greek expansion into Indian territory may have been intended to protect Greek populations in India and protect the Buddhist faith from the religious persecutions of the Sungas.
- Most coins of the Greek kings in India had inscriptions in Pali on the back, which indicate a tremendous concession to another culture never before made in the Hellenic world.
- The Indo-Greeks were involved with local faiths, particularly with Buddhism, but also with Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.
- Histories describe Menander I as a great benefactor of the Buddhist religion, seemingly a convert to Buddhism, on a par with Ashoka or the future Kushan emperor Kanishka.
- The coinage of the Indo-Greeks is generally considered some of the most artistically brilliant of Antiquity. The Hellenistic heritage was evident in their art.
- The Hellenistic heritage (Ai-Khanoum) and artistic proficiency of the Indo-Greek would suggest a rich sculptural tradition as well, but traditionally very few sculptural remains have been attributed to them.
- Further, the possibility of a direct connection between the Indo-Greeks and Greco-Buddhist art has been reaffirmed recently as the dating of the rule of Indo-Greek kings has been extended to the first decades of the first century C.E., with the reign of Strato II in the Punjab.
- Limited knowledge of Indo-Greek economy.
- Abundance of coins suggests large mining operations in Hindu-Kush.
- Indo-Greek coins circulated in both Greek and Indian standards.
- Coins used extensively for cross-border trade, adopted by neighboring kingdoms.
- Chinese explorer Zhang Qian’s visit suggests trade with Southern China through northern India.
- Maritime relations developed during Indo-Greek territorial expansion along western coast of India and Kathiawar peninsula.
- Indo-Greek coins provide clues on uniforms and weapons.
- Typical Hellenistic uniforms depicted with round or flat helmets.
- Milinda Panha offers insight into military methods.
- 36 Indo-Greek kings known, some recorded in historical sources, most through coins.
- Chronology and sequencing of their rule still subject to scholarly inquiry and adjustments.
- Parthia is an ancient land in Iran that ruled from 247 BCE to 224 CE.
- The Parthians created an empire from the Mediterranean to India and China.
- The Parthians emerged from the Central Asian Parni tribe and rebelled against the Seleucid Empire.
- The largest sub-kingdom was the Indo-Parthian kingdom, founded by Scythian king Gondophares in late 1st century BC.
- Their first capital was Taxila, Pakistan, later shifted between Kabul and Peshawar.
- Gondophares I ruled over Arachosia, Seistan, Sindh, Punjab, and the Kabul valley.
- The empire started to fragment after his death, with many successors.
- The Indo-Parthians never regained the position of Gondophares I and were absorbed by the Kushans under Kujula Kadphises.
Archaeology and Sources
- Taxila is thought to have been a capital of the Indo-Parthians.
- The nearby temple of Jandial is interpreted as a Zoroastrian fire temple.
- The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea describes Parthian kings fighting in the area of Sindh.
- An inscription from Takht-i-Bahi bears two dates, one in the regnal year 26 of Maharaja Guduvhara (thought to be a Gondophares).
- Unlike Indo-Greeks or Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthian rulers did not support Buddhism explicitly.
- Indo-Parthian coins did not display Buddhist symbols or use depictions of elephants or bulls.
- They likely retained Zoroastrianism, being of Iranian extraction.
- Coins of Hindu deity Shiva have been found issued in the reign of Gondophares I.
- Statues found at Sirkap in the late Scythian to Parthian level suggest a developed state of Gandharan art.
- A multiplicity of statues, ranging from Hellenistic gods to various Gandharan lay devotees, combined with early representations of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
- It is still unclear when Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara emerged, but the findings in Sirkap indicate it was developed before the Kushans.
- Numerous stone palettes found in Gandhara are considered good representatives of Indo-Parthian art.
- These palettes combine Greek and Persian influences and a frontality in representations characteristic of Parthian art.
Other Known Facts
- Local and foreign texts and artifacts have helped in understanding Parthian history, but much is still unknown.
- Chinese explorer Zang Qian described Parthia as an advanced urban civilization.
- Trade between India and China flourished under the silk trade route, with Parthians supplying Chinese silk to the Romans.
|Main Indo-Parthian Rulers||Period|
|Gondophares I||c. 19 – 46|
|Gondophares II Sarpedones||first years AD – c. 20 AD|
|Abdagases I||first years AD – mid-1st century AD|
|Gondophares III Gudana, previously Orthagnes||c. 20 AD – 30 AD|
|Gondophares IV Sases||mid-1st century AD|
|Ubouzanes||late-1st century AD|
|Pacores||late 1st century AD|
- The Indo-Scythians were Scythians (Sakas) who migrated to Central Asia and north-western South Asia from the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE.
- They were pastoralists and good horsemen who often attacked sedentary societies for grazing land and livestock.
- They settled down in Bactria and Parthia, creating their own states after the death of Alexander the Great and the decline of his eastern empire.
- The Sakas then infiltrated India, forcing remnants of the Indo-Parthians into the country.
- Maues or Moga was the first Saka King in India who established his power in Gandhara and ruled over almost all regions of Northwest India.
- Vonones, who ruled with his brother, succeeded Maues.
- Spalagadames ruled the areas between Central Asia and South Asia after his father’s death.
- Azes increased his importance by capturing the kingdom of the last great Indo-Greek king, Hippostratus.
Extent and Expansion
- The Sakas ruled over the north-west frontier, Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa, and the north Konkan belt of Maharashtra.
- They fought against the Satvahanas in India and later entered into matrimonial alliances with them, integrating into Indian society.
- The Sakas employed the Greek system of rule and appointed kshatrapas (satraps, governors) to govern each region.
- The Sakas were overpowered by the Kushans and were forced to accept their suzerainty.
- The Sakas were finished off by the Gupta dynasty, and the remnants of the Sakas blended into Indian society.
- Indo-Scythian coinage is of high artistic quality, although it deteriorates towards the disintegration of Indo-Scythian rule around AD 20.
- The coins were realistic and artistically somewhere between Indo-Greek and Kushan coinage.
- The Greek language was used on the obverse and the Kharoshthi language on the reverse.
- The portrait of the king was never shown, and depictions of the king on horse or sometimes on camel were used.
- The reverse of their coins typically showed Greek divinities.
- Buddhist symbolism is present throughout Indo-Scythian coinage.
- Indo-Scythian soldiers in military attire are sometimes represented in Buddhist friezes in the art of Gandhara.
- Stone palettes found in Gandhara are considered good representatives of Indo-Scythian art.
- Palettes often represent people in Greek dress in mythological scenes, some in Parthian dress, and a few in Indo-Scythian dress.
- The Indo-Scythians seem to have been followers of Buddhism, and many of their practices continued those of the Indo-Greeks.
Indo-Scythians in Indian literature
- The Indo-Scythians were named “Shaka” in India.
- Shakas are mentioned in texts like the Puranas, the Manusmriti, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Mahabhasiya of Patanjali, and the Brhat Samhita of Vraha Mihira.
Decline of Shaka
The Saka Empire started declining after their defeat at the hands of the Satavahana Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni.
- The Kushan Empire (c. First–Third Centuries) reached its cultural zenith circa 105 – 250 C.E.
- The empire extended from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and into the Ganges River valley in northern India.
- The Kushan tribe of the Yuezhi confederation, believed to be Indo-European people from the eastern Tarim Basin, China, possibly related to the Tocharians, created the empire.
- The emergence of the vast Kushan Empire from the first century AD until its decline in the third century saw the political unification of much of Central Asia, from modern day India and Pakistan to the Iranian borders.
- Cultural exchanges flourished, encouraging the development of Greco-Buddhism, a fusion of Hellenistic and Buddhist cultural elements, expanding into central and northern Asia as Mahayana Buddhism.
- Kanishka has earned renown in Buddhist tradition for having convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir, in 72A.D.
- Kanishka also had the original Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Buddhist texts translated into the language of Sanskrit.
- The art and culture of Gandhara, at the crossroads of the Kushan hegemony, constitute the best known expressions of Kushan influences to Westerners.
- Several direct depictions of Kushans from Gandhara have been discovered, represented with a tunic, belt and trousers and play the role of devotees to the Buddha, as well as the Bodhisattva and future Buddha Maitreya.
- The style of these friezes incorporating Kushan devotees, already strongly Indianized, are quite remote from earlier Hellenistic depictions of the Buddha.
- The vast Kushan Empire, extending from Central Asia to Bihar and from Kashmir to Sind, containing peoples of different nationalities and religions with a heterogeneous socioeconomic background, was governed through an organized administrative system, probably in three tiers, at central, provincial and local levels.
- The Kushans seem to have followed the earlier existing pattern of the Indo-Greeks and Parthians by appointing ksatrapas and mahaksatrapas for different units of the empire.
- Other inscriptions mention other officials performing both civil and military functions, called ‘dandanayaka’ and ‘mahadandanayaka’, indicating prevalent feudal elements.
- Further, inscriptions mention two terms –‘gramika ’ and ‘padrapala’, both signifying ‘village headman’, who collected the king’s dues and took cognizance of crimes in his area.
- Thus, the information available suggests that the Kushan rulers accepted the prevalent Indian and Chinese concept of the divinity of kingship, and borrowed the Achaemenid and subsequently Indo-Grcek and Indo-Parthian system of appointing satraps as provincial governors, while the feudal lord (dandanayaka) was their own creation.
- Kushan kings introduced gold and copper coins, a large number of them have survived till today.
- It was the Kushan emperor, Vima Kadaphises who introduced the first gold coins of India.
- During this period, the main coins issued were of the designs that usually broadly follow the styles of the preceding Greco-Bactrian rulers in using Hellenistic styles of image, with a deity on one side and the king on the other.
- Further, towards the end of Kushan rule, the first coinage of the Gupta Empire was also derived from the coinage of the Kushan Empire.
- The inscriptions issued by the Kushan rulers or in areas under their rule include texts in Bactrian, written in Greek script, and in Prakrit written in Brāhmī or Kharoṣṭhī script.
- The most important of this, is the Rabatak Inscription, which established Kanishka’s geneaology, with Kujula Kadphises, Vima Takto (or Takha) and Vima Kadphises being named as his immediate ancestors.
- Roman sources describe ambassadors from Bactria and India visiting during the second century, possibly referring to the Kushans.
- Chinese Historical Chronicles mention trade between north-western India and the Roman Empire, and military cooperation with China against nomads.
- After Vasudeva I’s death in 225 A.D., Kushan empire divided into western and eastern halves
- Persian Sassanid Empire conquered Western Kushans, losing Bactria and other territories.
- In 248 A.D., Persians defeated Western dynasty, replaced them with Persian vassals known as Kushanshas or Indo-Sassanids.
- Eastern Kushan kingdom based in Punjab; territories on Gangetic plain became independent under local dynasties like Yaudheyas around 270.
- Gupta Empire under Samudragupta subjugated them in mid fourth century.
- White Hun invasions in the fifth century and later Islam’s expansion wiped out remnants of Kushan empire.
The Glimpse of Kushan rulers is as follows:
|Kujula Kadphises||30–80 C.E.||He laid the basis for the Kushan Empire which was rapidly expanded by his descendants.|
|Vima Taktu||80–105 C.E.||He expanded the Kushan Empire into the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.|
|Vima Kadphises||105–127 C.E.||He added to the Kushan territory by his conquests in Afghanistan and north-west India. He was the first to introduce gold coinage in India, in addition to the existing copper and |
|Kanishka I||127–147 C.E.||The rule of Kanishka, fifth Kushan king, flourished for at least 28 years Upon his accession, Kanishka ruled a massive territory, covering virtually all of northern India,|
south to Ujjain and Kundina and east beyond Pataliputra He administered the territory from two capitals: Purushapura (now Peshawar in northern
Pakistan) and Mathura, in northern India. Kanishka’s era began in 127 C.E., which is used as a calendar reference by the Kushans for
about a century, until the decline of the Kushan realm.
|Vāsishka||Dated to the year 22 and Year 28||Vāsishka had been a Kushan emperor, who had a short reign following Kanishka His rule extended as far south as Sanchi|
|Huvishka||140–183 C.E.||His rule was a period of retrenchment and consolidation for the Empire. In particular he devoted time and effort early in his reign to the exertion of greater control |
over the city of Mathura.
|Vasudeva I||191–225 C.E.||Vasudeva I ruled as the last of the “Great Kushans.” The last great Kushan emperor, the end of his rule coincides with the invasion of the |
Sassanids as far as northwestern India, and the establishment of the Indo-Sassanids or
Kushanshahs from around 240 C.E.-
- A branch of Sasanian Persians who ruled in Bactria during 3rd and 4th centuries CE, after overthrowing the declining Kushans.
- Sasanian king Ardashir I invaded Bactria (around 230 AD) and took control of western part of Kushan empire.
- Kushanshahs, Sasanian nobles, ruled over Bactria and Gandhara provinces.
- Shapur II took direct control of southern region in 325 AD.
- Zoroastrianism was popular among the Kushano-Sasanians, as shown on coins with fire altars.
- Buddhist missionaries also had influence throughout Afghanistan and Central Asia.
- Buddhism was undergoing change in practices, concepts, and rituals, with acceptance of Buddha image and expansion of monasteries.
- Shiva and Nandi also gained popularity.
- Sasanid rulers took title of shahanshah (King of Kings) and assumed guardianship of sacred fire.
- Smaller territories were ruled by a noble family, Shahrdar, overseen by shahanshah.
- Districts of provinces were ruled by shahrab and mowbed (chief priest).
- Sasanian rule was characterized by centralization, urban planning, agricultural development, and technological improvements.
- Bureaucracy carried out government affairs.
- Extensive coinage with legend in Brahmi, Pahlavi, or Bactrian, sometimes inspired by Kushan coinage.
- Obverse depicts ruler with elaborate headdress, and reverse depicts Zoroastrian fire altar or Shiva with Nandi.
Economy, society, and trade
- Copper coins were widely used to meet local demands, although gold and silver coins also existed.
- Trade continued in the Silk Route.
Languages and scripts
- Middle Persian was written in Pahlavi script by Iranian natives and scribes.
- Kushano-Sasanian coinage had Middle Persian inscriptions in Pahlavi script.
- Inscriptions from Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian periods were found in Termez, written in Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts.
- Kara-tepe in Uzbekistan is a typical syncretistic cultural material, with wall paintings, sculptures, pottery, and more.
- Other cities and settlements in Bactria developed during the Kushano-Sasanian period.
- Buddhist art developed from Gandhara traditions with local features, while non-Buddhist art displayed a fusion of local and Sasanian traditions.
- Sassanid culture drew on and interacted with other cultures, creating a synthesis.
- Zoroastrians became a persecuted minority after the collapse of Sassanid Empire and many emigrated.
- One group settled in Gujarat and later became known as Parsis, playing a significant role in India’s development.
The Main Kushano-Sassanid rulers are as follows:
|Ardashir I Kushanshah||230–245|
|Peroz I Kushanshah||245–275|
|Hormizd I Kushanshah||275–300|
|Hormizd II Kushanshah||300–303|
|Peroz II Kushanshah||303–330|
FAQs on Post Mauryan Age
Q: What is the Post-Mauryan Age in Indian history?
Answer: The Post-Mauryan Age refers to the period in Indian history that followed the decline of the Mauryan Empire, roughly spanning from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE. It was a time of significant political, cultural, and regional changes in the Indian subcontinent.
Q: Which dynasties were prominent during the Post-Mauryan Age?
Answer: Several dynasties were prominent during this era, including the Shungas in northern India, the Satavahanas in the Deccan, the Indo-Greek kingdoms in the northwest, the Kushanas who facilitated Silk Road trade, and the Guptas, whose reign marked the later part of the Post-Mauryan Age.
Q: What was the cultural significance of the Post-Mauryan Age?
Answer: The Post-Mauryan Age was culturally significant as it saw the development of Buddhist art and architecture, the interaction between Indian and Hellenistic cultures in the northwest, and the spread of Buddhism to other parts of Asia. It also laid the foundation for the Gupta period’s remarkable cultural achievements.
Q: How did the Post-Mauryan Age contribute to trade and commerce in India?
Answer: The Post-Mauryan Age witnessed the rise of regional kingdoms that played a crucial role in facilitating trade. The Kushanas, for instance, played a significant role in fostering trade along the Silk Road, connecting India with Central Asia and beyond.
Q: What were the major political developments during the Post-Mauryan Age?
Answer: This period was marked by the rise and fall of various regional powers, as well as the consolidation of indigenous dynasties. The Shungas, Satavahanas, and Indo-Greek kingdoms all made significant political contributions, setting the stage for the Gupta dynasty’s emergence as a powerful and unified empire in the later part of this age.
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