• The Kushan Empire (c. First–Third Centuries) reached its cultural zenith circa 105 – 250 C.E., 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.
    • They were the furthest eastern Indo-European speaking people.
  • 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.



The Glimpse of Kushan rulers is as follows:

King Period Notable achievements
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 silver coinage.

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.-



  • 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 prevalant 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 coin designs 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.


External Contacts

  • Several Roman sources describe the visit of ambassadors from the Kings of Bactria and India during the second century, probably referring to the Kushans
  • The Chinese Historical Chronicles also describes the exchange of goods between north-western India and the Roman Empire at that time.
  • Further, they collaborated militarily with the Chinese against nomadic incursion.



  • After the death of Vasudeva I in 225 A.D., the Kushan empire split into western and eastern halves.
  • The Persian Sassanid Empire soon subjugated the Western Kushans (in Afghanistan), losing Bactria and other territories.
    • In 248 A.D., the Persians defeated them again, deposing the Western dynasty and replacing them with Persian vassals known as the Kushanshas (or Indo-Sassanids).
  • The Eastern Kushan kingdom based in the Punjab.
    • Around 270, their territories on the Gangetic plain became independent under local dynasties such as the Yaudheyas
    • Further, in the mid fourth century the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta subjugated them.
  • Later, the invasions of the White Huns in the fifth century, and later the expansion of Islam, ultimately wiped out those remnants of the Kushan empire.