There are a handful of periods of ancient history ignored or treated carelessly in modern historiography. These include the Sakas (Indo-Scythian), Parthians, Kushans, Kidders, and Huns, which span about a thousand years. Traditional literary records have offered such extensive and entertaining accounts of this period’s rajas and maharajas, which are rarely verified by other physical evidence. In truth, there is virtually little mention of actual tribes in historical documents. Yet, the picture seems very different if we look at modern-day archaeological studies conducted on scientific grounds.
It offers evidence of actual tribes with political authority or a presence on the subcontinent. We’re talking about the Indo-Scythians. This time of ancient history is virtually absent from significant historical texts. These were nomadic tribes known as the Sakas in Indian history. They were a nomadic Scythian tribe who moved from Central Asia to South Asia between the mid 2nd century BC and 4th century AD. Modern numismatists and archaeologists have discovered archaeological and numismatic evidence in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indo-Scythian History
The ancient Sakas were nomadic people, according to ancient Roman and Greek historians such as Arrian and Claudius Ptolemy. Maus, the first Saka monarch in South Asia, came to the throne and established Saka supremacy in Gandhara and the Indus Valley around the first century BC. However, according to historical accounts from the subcontinent, the Indo-Scythians also moved throughout the Indo-Greek kingdom, extending from Kabul and seized current Pakistan and India’s northwestern regions, including Jammu Kashmir.
The invasion of the northern Indian subcontinent by Scythian tribes from Central Asia, known as the Indo-Scythian invasion, had a crucial role in the history of the subcontinent and Jammu-Kashmir. The Indo-Scythian rulers are thought to have travelled up to Sindh and Muthura and stayed there for a very long period, till the time of western satraps. The primary monarchs of this dynasty were Maus, Vonones, Azes, and Azilises.
The history and chronology of the Indo-Scythians have also been studied, mostly through archaeological sources. Nonetheless, the mainstream Kashmiri chronicles remain practically mute concerning these people. Even in recent historical records, there is no mention of these people, even though archaeological and numismatic evidence has been left here.
Hundreds of Saka silver and copper coins have been discovered in Kashmir’s southern and northern regions. The coinage of Indo-Scythian rulers was also discovered during the excavations at Semthan – Bijbehra. Their coins may be found in Jammu and Kashmir’s numismatic collections. Several coins of Azes I, Azilises, and Azes II have been identified in the collections of the SPS museum in Srinagar and private collections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Silver Coinage of Azes
Obverse: King carrying a spear, mounted on a horse, marching right; Greek mythology, Basileos Basileon Megalou / Azou Reverse: Winged Nike standing right, facing left, clutching wreath and palm, legend; Ayasa Maharajasa Rajarajasa Mahatakasa / Maharajasa Rajarajasa Mahatakasa Mahatakasa Mahatakasa Mahatakas
Scythian place names may still exist in several localities in Kashmir. For example, in the Bandipur region, there is a settlement called Ajas, which appears to be a corrupt version of Azes I or Azes II, recognised as one of the Scythian tribe’s legendary monarchs.
Saka Arts: Tile Pavement Signs at Kotebal in Southern Kashmir
Furthermore, there are many terracotta dwellings in the Kashmir valley’s forests and remote abandoned areas where only trial digs have been permitted. The preliminary research conducted at these locations reveals relatively little about these people. These terracotta towns are thought to have been created by nomadic tribes. However, the reason for building such settlements in such abandoned regions has yet to be determined. However, one thing is certain: the people that found these settlements were unquestionably nomadic.
Local scholars have often dated these terracotta sites to the first century AD and attributed them to the Kushan era. However, some of these towns can be dated earlier to the Kushans if systematic excavations along scientific lines occur. Such towns have been discovered on the plateau of Harwan Srinagar’s Zabervan hills. Dardakote, Hoinar, Donipather, and Kotebal forest plateaus in the Lidder valley and Gurvieth in the Budgam area of central Kashmir and other locations. Several academics claim to have discovered Scythian motifs of horse riders on the tile pavements of the terracotta villages of Harwan and Kotebal.
Sakai Arts: Terracotta Pavement Signs at Harwan Srinagar
However, suppose those mentioned above, an ancient Roman historian is considered. In that case, one can easily conclude that the well-developed terracotta settlements on such a hilly and abandoned place were the handy work of Indo-Scythians. They built no cities or towns and instead lived a nomadic life in the forest areas. Almost all of the terracotta towns discovered in Kashmir are situated in deforested regions. The builders of these terracotta villages have not been properly recognised yet. Despite the popular belief that most of these terracotta settlements date from the Kushan era, there is no evidence accessible to researchers to determine who raised these pavements.
These terracotta pavements have been installed in wild regions. As a result, it is possible that Indo-Scythian tribes that used to live in woodlands established these sites and that these sites eventually grew further during the Kushans. Since these towns have been partially excavated, it is envisaged that additional excavations at such locations would provide a fuller image of their founders. Motifs of unknown ethnic groups were discovered on Harwan tiles.
Indo Scythian Coinage
The Indo-Scythian monarchs used the Indo-Greek design for their coinage. Their coins were both bimetallic and multilingual and were silver and copper. The coins are likewise labelled as drachm and tetradrachm (dirham and Chugni dirham) and weigh three grammes for dirham and twelve grammes for Chugni dirham. They preserved the legends of their currency on the Indo-Greek coin design, such as the Greek legend on the obverse and kharoshti on the reverse, with all titles being quite identical.
Although the Scythians fostered Grecian numismatic tendencies, they also made alterations and developed their preferred kinds. One significant modification was the placement of motifs on the obverse of their coins. They abandoned the practice of installing portrait statues of their rulers to display horse riders. Instead, they depicted a ruler riding a horse while wielding an ankus and a spear. They kept the backs of the coins untouched and continued putting Greek and Indian deities on them. They also included South Asian creatures like camels, bulls, and lions in their currency. There have been finds of coins in Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwestern India, and areas of J&K.
Indo- Parthians in Kashmir Valley
According to scarce historical documents, the Parthians had already emerged from Parthia into Bactria region. They also migrated south of the Hindukush and drove the Scythians out of Bactria in 126 BC. After solidifying their Parthian Kingdom of Bactria, they embarked on an invasion of southwest Afghanistan, which they annexed. Gondphares, a Parthian governor, was named ruler of the newly formed province of southwest Afghanistan at the time.
Obverse: King wielding a whip, riding a horse to the right; Greek tale, Reverse: standing figure known as Siva, Legend of Kharoshthi,
Later, Gondphares severed connections with the Parthian kingdom of Bactria and established his sovereignty over the territory. He established a new dynasty known to historians as the Indo-Parthian empire, which he established at the expense of the Indo-Scythian and Indo-Greek empires. Gondphares’ assertion has been interpreted in a kharoshti stone inscription discovered in the Punjab city of Takht-i-bhai, Pakistan. Scholars have interpreted the date on the inscription as 120 BC.
Gondphares has split his realm into two provinces, each with its own ruler. His notable viceroys were Abdagases, Aspavanna, and Zeionses. Archaeological evidence of these Parthian viceroys has been uncovered in several North-West India and Pakistan towns. Although, like the Indo Scythians, the Kashmir chapter of the Indo Parthians has remained undiscovered, and there is very little information on the Indo Parthians in its historical sources. Their numismatic and archaeological evidence has also been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir.
A cache of Indo-Parthian coins was supposedly discovered somewhere in the Jammu area a few years ago. It held Gondphares coins with the surname of his ruler. Zeionses coins have also been discovered in the northern and southern areas of Kashmir. A few of his coins are displayed at the SPS museum in Srinagar. The Parthian pattern on horseback has also been seen on one of the terracotta tiles discovered in Harwan Srinagar.
Few researchers believe that the Indo-Parthian kingdom stretched from Gandhara to Kashmir, based mostly on archaeological evidence. Aside from numismatic evidence, other localities with Parthian names have been discovered. Various old settlements begin or end with Gound, such as Gound, Goundbal, Goundupur, Goundchhal, Bata Gund, and Bogund. In northern Kashmir, a hamlet still has the corrupt version of the name Gondphares and is pronounced Zandhupharen.
Indo Parthian Coins
The Indo-Parthians followed the Greek and Scythian numismatic traditions in their coinage. They also produced bimetallic and multilingual coins with their themes. However, it appears that silver coins lost their purity and became base metal coinage throughout their time. They also kept minting coins in the same metal without restoring their purity. They created a variety of coins, but their Nike and horseman coins were the most popular. In this currency style, the ruler was shown on horseback, similar to Indo-Scythian coins, and the Greek and Indian deities were depicted in diverse forms on the reverse.
They also created a bust and animal-themed coins. Their bust coins displayed a half-portrait of the ruler, while their bull/camel coins depicted a Bactrian camel and an Indian bull. These coins are also known from a variety of mints. Copper bull/camel type coins are also found in Kashmir and are attributed to King Zeionses. Coins of Indo-Parthian satraps have also been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir and are housed in the state’s numismatic collections. The SPS museum in Srinagar also has a collection of Gondaphares and Zieonses coins.
Who were the Indo-Scythians?
The Indo-Scythians (also known as the Indo-Sakas) were nomadic Iranian people of Scythian ancestry who moved from Central Asia southward into northern and western ancient India between the mid 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE.
Maues/Moga (1st century BC) was the first Saka monarch of India, establishing Saka dominance in Gandhara and the Indus Valley. The Indo-Scythians expanded their dominance across northwestern India, defeating the Indo-Greeks and other local kingdoms. The Kushan Empire, either Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka, appears to have subdued the Indo-Scythians. Nonetheless, the Saka continued to rule as satrapies, constituting the Northern and Western Satraps. After the Satavahana monarch Gautamiputra Satakarni conquered the Indo-Scythians in the 2nd century CE, the Saka kings’ influence began to wane. The final Western Satrap, Rudrasimha III, was defeated by the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II in 395 CE, ending Indo-Scythian authority in the northwestern Indian subcontinent. The invasion of the northern Indian subcontinent by Scythian tribes from Central Asia, known as the Indo-Scythian invasion, had a crucial role in the history of the Indian subcontinent and neighbouring nations.
Depiction of Indo-Scythians
Aside from currency, only a few works of art are known that unmistakably depict the Indo-Scythians. For example, the coins of Azilises show the monarch in a basic, undecorated tunic, whereas Indo-Scythian kings are frequently represented on horseback in armour. Several Gandharan sculptures depict foreigners dressed in soft tunics and wearing the pointed headdress typical of Scythians. They contrast with depictions of Kushan males, who appear to wear thick, stiff tunics and are often shown in a much more basic fashion.
Indo-Scythian warriors in military uniform are occasionally shown in Buddhist friezes in Gandharan art (particularly in Buner reliefs). They are pictured wearing large tunics with pants and wielding massive straight swords. In addition, they wear pointed hoods or a Scythian cap. This separates them from the Indo-Parthians, who wore merely a plain fillet over their bushy hair.
Some of them make the Karana mudra against bad spirits with their right hand. Such friezes were employed as embellishments on the pedestals of Buddhist stupas in Gandhara. They are contemporary with other friezes depicting people dressed entirely in Greek garb, implying an intermixing of Indo-Scythians (with military authority) and Indo-Greeks (confined, under Indo-Scythian rule, to civilian life). Another relief depicts the same sort of warriors playing musical instruments and dancing, both common in Gandharan art: Indo-Scythians are frequently depicted as revelling worshippers.
Numerous stone palettes discovered in Gandhara are good examples of Indo-Scythian art. These hues incorporate Greek and Iranian inspirations and are frequently implemented in a basic, ancient style. Unfortunately, stone palettes have only been discovered in archaeological strata corresponding to Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Indo-Parthian dominance and are essentially unknown in Mauryan or Kushan layers before or following.
These palettes frequently depict people in Greek dress in mythological scenes, a few in Parthian dress, fewer in Indo-Scythian dress and even fewer in Indo-Scythian dress. A palette discovered in Sirkap and currently on display at the New Delhi Museum depicts a winged Indo-Scythian horseman riding a winged deer and being attacked by a lion.
The Indo-Sycthians were an influential Indo-European nomadic tribe that migrated huge parts to establish their presence and play a significant role in world history and Asian history. Migration between the 4th and 2nd millennia BC took them worldwide. It was most notably to Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, Iran, India, and even Han dynasty China.