- Indo-Scythians is a term used to refer to Scythians (Sakas), who migrated into parts of Central Asia and north-western South Asia, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE.
- Generally, they were pastoralists and good horsemen. They often attacked sedentary societies with the intention of acquiring pastoral grazing land and livestock – typical cattle-centric steppe nomad behaviour.
- Following the death of Alexander the Great and the gradual diminution of his eastern empire, the Sakas infiltrated those lands to create states of their own.
- They settled down in Bactria and Parthia, overrunning the Parthians (the Pahlavas or Indo-Parthians), and forcing remnants of their people into India, one of a complex series of incursions and migrations from Central Asia into India in this period.
- According to Historians, the first Saka King in India was known as Maues or Moga.
- He established his power in Gandhara and spread out his power and supremacy in almost all regions of Northwest India.
- He defeated the Indo-Greek territories (in modern Pakistan) and established his governance as far as the River Jhelum
- Maues was succeeded by Vonones (75-65 BC), who ruled along with his brother,
- The brother was succeeded in turn by his son, Spalagadames (50 BC) who ruled areas between Central Asia and South Asia.
- Spalagadames’ successor, Azes (57-35 BC), 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, and in Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa, and the north Konkan belt of Maharashtra.
- They also fought against the Satvahanas in India, and later entered into matrimonial alliances with them, furthering their own integration into Indian society.
- Benefiting from their earlier interaction with the Greeks, the Sakas kings employed the Greek system of rule and appointed kshatrapas (satraps, governors) to govern each region.
- The Sakas were later overpowered by the Kushans when they succeeded in taking control from the Sakas.
- The Sakas were forced to accept their suzerainty but, after the Kushans themselves faded.
- The Sakas were finally finished off as a regional power by the rulers of the Gupta dynasty.
- In time the remnants of the Sakas, now without any political power, blended into Indian society.
- Indo-Scythian coinage is generally of a high artistic quality, although it clearly deteriorates towards the disintegration of Indo-Scythian rule around AD 20.
- Indo-Scythian coinage is generally quite realistic, artistically somewhere between Indo-Greek and Kushan coinage.
- They continued the Indo-Greek tradition, by using the Greek language on the obverse and the Kharoshthi language on the reverse.
- The portrait of the king is never shown however, and is replaced by depictions of the king on horse (and sometimes on camel), or sometimes sitting cross-legged on a cushion.
- The reverse of their coins typically show 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.
- They are depicted in ample tunics with trousers, and have heavy straight swords as weapons.
- In Gandhara, such friezes were used as decorations on the pedestals of Buddhist stupas.
One of the Buner reliefs showing Scythian soldiers dancing
- Numerous stone palettes found in Gandhara are considered good representatives of Indo-Scythian art. These palettes combine Greek and Iranian influences, and are often realized in a simple, archaic style.
- Very often these palettes represent people in Greek dress in mythological scenes, a few in Parthian dress, and even fewer in Indo-Scythian dress
- A palette found in Sirkap and now in the New Delhi Museum shows a winged Indo-Scythian horseman riding winged deer, and being attacked by a lion.
Gandhara stone palette with Scythians playing music
The Indo-Scythians and Buddhism
- The Indo-Scythians seem to have been followers of Buddhism, and many of their practices apparently continued those of the Indo-Greeks.
- Excavations at the Butkara Stupa in Swat (Region in Pakistan), by an Italian archaeological team have yielded various Buddhist sculptures thought to belong to the Indo-Scythian period.
- The Mathura lion capital, which associates many of the Indo-Scythian rulers from Maues, mentions a dedication of a relic of the Buddha in a stupa.
Indo-Scythians in Indian literature
- The Indo-Scythians were named “Shaka” in India, an extension on the name Saka used by the Persians to designate Scythians.
- Shakas receive numerous mentions in texts like the Puranas, the Manusmriti, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Mahabhasiya of Patanjali, the Brhat Samhita of Vraha Mihira, etc.
Decline of Shaka
- The Saka Empire started declining after their defeat at the hands of the Satavahana Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni.
- Eventually, the Saka rule in northwest India and Pakistan came to an end after the death of Azes II (12 BC) when the region came under the Kushanas.