Indian Dynasties during 200 BC to 300 AD
This article deals with ‘ Indian Dynasties during 200 BC to 300 AD ’ . This is part of our series on ‘Ancient History’ which is an important pillar of GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
- Period between circa 200 B.C. and A.D. 300 in conventional historical writings is called dark period because of the absence of territorial large imperial dynasty (with the exception of Kushanas).
- But viewed differently, this
period was important due to following developments
- Development of extensive economic & cultural contacts within country and with West and Central Asia (through silk road , maritime etc.).
- Evolution of new art forms at Mathura, Sarnath, Sanchi and Amravati.
- Exalted notion of kingship developed with its pompous titles & identification with divinity .
- State formation outside Northern India happened . Eg: Kalinga under Kharvela and Satavahanas in Deccan.
- Centre of power moved North West (from Gangetic Plains) due to various invasions .
- City life spread , trade flourished and use of metallic money as medium of exchange became widespread.
- Devotional worship of images in shrines started.
Sources of Information
1 . Jataka Stories
- Jatakas were written during this period.
- Jataka contains many stories of ordinary people, traders & travellers .
2 . Puranas
- Puranas and Epics are rich source of information on Dynasties and emergence of early Hindu cults .
3.1 Manava Dharmasutra aka Manu Smriti (Source for 200 BC to 200 AD)
- Manu Smriti was written in 2-3rd Century BC. But the laws codified in it influenced the life from 200BC to 200AD.
- Text vigorously defended Brahmanical privileges against enemies personified as Shudras & Mlechchhas & sought to strengthen the old alliance between Kings & Brahmanas .
3.2 Yajnavalkya Smriti (100 AD to 300 AD)
- Yajnavalkya Smriti gives glimmers of society between circa 100 to 300 AD.
4 . Sanskrit Literature
Many Sanskrit works were written during this time. Eg :
|Ashvaghosha||Buddhacharita (Hagiography of Buddha)|
|Kalidasa||1. Malvikagnimitram |
|Charaka & Shushruta||Medical works|
Later works of Mahayana thinkers such as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu etc. are all in Sanskrit.
5 . Mahabhashya
- Mahabhashya is a commentary on Panini’s Ashtadhayayi written by Patanjali .
- Patanjali was contemporary of Pushyamitra Shunga .
6 . Epics
This period witnessed composition of the greater portions of two epics , namely,
- The Ramayana
- The Mahabharata
7. Sangam Literature
- Sangam Literature is the name given to Tamil literature which gives insight into the social, political, religious etc. life in the region known as Tamilaham.
- It is the main source of knowledge about the polity and administration of early Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas .
8. Graeco – Roman Texts
Works of Arrian, Strabo, Ptolemy & Pliny the elder were written during this period.
|Ptolemy||Geography (c. AD 150)|
|Pliny||Naturalis Historia (about 79 AD)|
8.1 Periplus Maris Erythraei
- This book was authored by an unknown Egyptian Greek involved in the trade who travelled from the Red Sea to India (around 80 BC) & wrote a book based on his experience & observation.
- He left a record of its ports, harbours and merchandise. This book gives us an idea of maritime activities.
- ‘Periplus’ claims that Hippalus a mariner, was knowledgable about the monsoon winds that shortens the round-trip from India to the Red Sea and vice versa.
8.2 Vienna Papyrus
- This document was written in the 2nd Century AD in Greek (language).
- The document is presently preserved in the Vienna Museum and hence known as Vienna Papyrus.
- It records terms of business deal & loan between two shippers of Alexandria & Muziri.
- It also tells about the route, how commodities reached from Muziri to Alexandria.
9. Chinese Accounts
- Chinese texts named Ch’ien Han-Shu & Hou Han-Shu gives us information on movement & migration of people in Central Asia.
10 . Archaeology
- North India : Late NBPW & Post NBPW levels represent the period between 200 BC and 300 AD.
- Deccan & South India: This period corresponds to the transition from later Megalithic Phase to Early Urban Phase.
Range & number of inscriptions increased dramatically.
- North India – Royal inscriptions reflect the transition from Prakrit towards Sanskrit.
- South India – Earliest inscription made an appearance.
- Royal inscriptions – Provide details dynastic histories.
- Ordinary inscriptions – contain a record of pious donations made by ordinary men.
Expansion of state polities and the spread of urban centres led to the development of coinage.
- Indo – Greeks: Almost all information about them comes from their coins.
- Kushanas coins: dealt in the chapter.
- Satavahana coins
- Roman coins provide us with information about Indo-Roman trade interactions.
- City coins issued by urban administration like Ujjain , Vidisha & Taxila etc.
1. North India Dynasties
- Shungas were Brahmins from Ujjain & worked as an official under Maurayas.
- This dynasty was founded by Pushymitra Shunga.
Important rulers of Shungas
- Pushyamitra assassinated the last Mauryan king Brihadratha in 180 BC (works of Banabhata corroborate this).
- He was a Brahmin himself and supporter of Brahmanism. He performed Ashvameda Yajna after proclaiming the throne.
- Buddhist sources like ‘Divyavadana’ depicts that he persecuted Buddhists & destroyed many Buddhist monasteries.
- His kingdom extended only over Pataliputra (capital), Ayodhya & Vidisha.
- From Malvikagnimitrum (of Kalidasa), we come to know that he faced various incursions of Yavanas (Bactrian Greeks) in the North West but was able to defeat them with help of his grandson (Agnimitra Shunga).
- According to Puranas, he reigned for 36 years & succeeded by his grandson Agnimitra Shunga.
- Malvikagnimitram (of Kalidasa) presents a different picture of Shunga rule under Agnimitra than that presented by Divyavadana.
- There were frequent clashes with Bactrian Greeks during his reign as well. Patanjali (2nd century BC grammarian) states that Yavanas were able to come up to Saketa .
- 10 Shunga kings are supposed to have ruled 112 years.
- They too became a victim of a conspiracy masterminded by Brahmana minister Vasudeva Kanava who started Kanava Dynasty.
Side Topic: Besnagar Inscription of Heliodorus
- Besnagar is situated near Vidisha.
- Here Heliodorus (ambassador of Greek king Antialkidas) constructed Pillar of Garuda (vehicle of Vishnu) with inscription in Prakrit.
- This shows that Shungas continued the Mauryan tradition of entertaining greek ambassadors.
- In the inscription, Greek ambassador describes himself to be a worshipper of God Vasudeva Krishna.
- This pillar is quite different from earlier Maurya pillars. (it was small, not polished and not monolithic) .
- Indo-Greeks are known as ‘Yavanas’ in Indian sources.
- They were originally Satraps (principalities) of Seleucid Empire of West Asia. Later, the Seleucid Empire started to weaken. As a result, around 250 BC, Governor of Bactria, Diodotus, revolted and started to rule as an independent ruler of Bactria with capital at Bactra (Majar-e-Sharif).
- Most important Indo-Greek king was Menander who can be identified as King Milinda of book Milindapanha who poses a number of question to Buddhist Monk Nagasena and reigned between 165-130 BC. He is said to have ruled a large kingdom as his coins have been found over an extensive area ranging from the valleys of the Kabul and Indus rivers to as far as western Uttar Pradesh. The incident shown in Milindapanha is claimed to have resulted in Menander’s conversion to Buddhism. This was a period when Greeks were interested in Buddhism, so such a manual is extremely useful to know about the propagation of religion.
- Another Indo-Greek king whose name is remembered is Antialcidas (or Antialkidas), (c. 110 BC). He is known to us primarily because his emissary, Heliodorus, was sent to the court of King Bhagabhadra and he erected a pillar with its capital adorned by a figure of Garuda, in honour of God Krishna (Vasudeva). Heliodorus had evidently become a follower of Vasudeva Krishna.
Coins of Indo-Greek Kings
- Distinguishing feature of the reign of the Indo-Greek kings was their exquisite coinage. These coins carried the portrait of the reigning king on one side with his name and Greek or Indian deities on the other side.
- Most of these coins were bilingual with Greek Language-Greek Script & Prakrit Language-Kharosthi Script.
- 34 out of 45 Indo Greek kings were known through the coins .
- They also help us to date the rise of sects . Eg : Krishna Vasudeva and Balarama depicted on Indo-Greek coins shows that they were important deities.
- Coins of Sakas , Parthians & Kushanas followed basic features of Indo-Greek coins including bilingual & bi-script .
- Indo-Greek coins introduced innovations in Indian numismatics, such as
- use of legends
- portraits of rulers
- representation of deities.
Fall of Indo-Greeks
- Attack from Scythian tribes: With the construction of the Chinese Wall, the Scythians could not move towards China and in turn attacked Greeks and Parthians. Parthians in return also started to attack Greeks. Hence, by about 165 BCE, Bactria was lost to the Parthians and Sakas. After this, the Indo-Greeks continued to rule in central and southern Afghanistan and north-western India.
- The Greeks continued to be beset with internal squabbles among many claimants to power, and the names of more than thirty kings can be identified from their coins. It is possible that they all ruled small pockets as autonomous rulers and issued their own coinage.
Significance of their rule
- They introduced the Hellenistic art features in north-western India which culminated in the Gandhara art style.
- Coinage of Indo-Greeks was far ahead of their time in quality and aesthetics which impacted the later coinage in India .
Side Topic: Movements of the Pastoralists & building of Empires
Greek kingdoms declined in north-west due to attack on Bactria by nomadic peoples from central Asia.
- Scythians/ Sakas inhabited the region around Lake Issyk-Kul and the river Jaxartes. They were attacked by Yueh-Chih/Yuezhi forcing Scythians to migrate westward.
- Yueh-Chih (original home – west China) attacked Scythians because they were attacked by Xiung Nu (Hunas).
- Xiung Nu were impacted because their pastures dried up and Chinese Emperor Shi Huang Ti built THE GREAT WALL restricting their movement and raids toward China.
(Source : Hou Han Shu and Chien Han Shu )
- Sakas aka Scythians were originally the inhabitants of Central Asia (the region around Lake Issyk-Kul and river Jaxartes).
- Sources sometimes mention Scythians & Parthians together as Saka-Pahlawa.
- Sakas destroyed the Greek suzerainty over Bactria with their continuous attacks.
- There were many branches of Sakas ruling simultaneously like
|1||Settled in Afghanistan|
|2||Settled in Punjab. Ruled with Taxila as their capital.|
|3||Ruled from Mathura.|
|4||Established themselves in Western & Central India. Their rule continued till the 4th century AD.|
- In India, the Sakas assimilated into the Hindu society. They began to adopt Hindu names and religious beliefs, so much so that their coins had representations of Hindu gods on one side.
Main rulers of Sakas
1 . Maues / Moga
- He was the earliest Saka King in Gandhara with rule starting from circa 80 BCE.
- We come to know about Maues from his coins & inscriptions.
- He also established Stupa during his period.
2. Azes I
- Azes I succeeded Maues.
- He successfully attacked and defeated the last Indo-Greek king in North India (Hippostratos) and extended Saka rule as far as Mathura.
Inscription of Azes I has led BN Mukherjee to conclude that it was Azes I who started an era around 57 BC known as Vikram Era. Hence, a ruler who started an era in 57 BC wasn’t Vikramaditya but Saka ruler Azes I.
3 . Azilises & Azes II
- Azilises succeeded Azes 1 who was further succeeded by Azes II.
- They were definitely controlling Taxila and their control extended tIll Ganga Yamuna Doab.
- They are largely known from their inscriptions.
- He is one of the most famous Saka Kshatrapas who ruled between 130–150 CE.
- His exploits are celebrated in the famous rock inscription of Junagadh (in Gujarat).
- According to the inscription, he had even defeated the Satavahanas in battle.
- His name indicates that the process of assimilation into Indian society was complete by that time.
Title of Saka Kings
- Saka Kings used Iranian title King of Kings (Shahanu Shahi)
- This point towards the existence of lesser chieftains or smaller kings.
- There were Provincial Governors known as Kshatrapas & Mahakshatrapas who were appointed by the king.
- => Hence, there was a confederation of chieftains headed by the Saka Kings.
- But Chieftains and Governors exercised a considerable degree of autonomy.
- Sakas along with Parthians introduced Satrap system. It was similar to Achaemenid & Seleucid systems in Iran in which
- Kingdom was divided into Provinces.
- Each Province was under a Provincial Governor called Mahakshatrapa (The Great Satrap).
- Governors with lower status were called Kshatrapas (Satraps).
- Governors enjoyed AUTONOMY. They issued their own inscriptions & minted their own coins.
- Later, these Kshatrapas asserted their independence.
1.4 Parthians aka Pahlawas
- Rule of Sakas & Parthians was simultaneous in North & North-West India.
- Parthians originated in Iran & later moved to Indo- Iranian borderlands .
- Aka Guduvhara.
- Most prominent Parthian King.
- Ruled in first century A.D.
- Area: Kabul to Panjab
- St. Thomas travelled to his court for the propagation of Christianity
- Their rule was marked by scarcity of silver coins . It is possible that silver coins of predecessors i.e. Sakas and Indo – Greeks served their needs .
- Their rule ended with rise of the Kushanas .
- Gradually, Parthians assimilated in the Indian society .
- They are mentioned in Chinese Annals as Yueh Chi living around Lake Ysyk Kol. They were attacked & defeated by Xiung Nu (Hunas) and subsequently, Yueh Chi moved westwards.
- There were 5 Yeuh- Chi principalities & one was Kuei – Shang (Kushanas) with capital (initial) at Bactra (Majar e Sharif).
1 . Kujula Kadphises
- He is also known as Kadphises I.
- Kujula Kadphises amalgamated 5 Yueh Chih principalities.
- He established control south of Hindu-Kush Mountains and issued coins suggesting association with Buddhism .
2. Vima Kadphises
- He was the son of Kujula Kadphises.
- He expanded the empire to Kabul, Indus Valley & Mathura region.
- He was the first in Indian subcontinent to issue gold coins.
- His coins suggest an association with Shiva.
- Kushana rule reached its zenith during his reign.
- His reign began in 78 AD which also marks the start of Shaka Era.
- His central Asian identity with boots, coat etc. is imprinted on a statue, unfortunately headless, found near Mathura.
- His empire consisted of
- Xinjiang (China)
- Central Asia up to the north of Oxus river
- Indian regions
- Towards the end of his reign, he led an unsuccessful military campaign against Chinese in which his forces were defeated & he was forced to pay tribute.
- He is celebrated as the patron of Buddhism. Northern Buddhists claimed that Kanishka organised the Fourth Buddhist Council to clarify Buddhist doctrine ( parallel to Theravada (South) Buddhism claim that Ashoka organised 3rd Council). A most significant outcome of this council was (1) recognition to new Buddhist sects and (2) Missionaries were sent to Central Asia.
- But given the territorial span, royal patronage was extended to Buddhism, Jainism, Bhagavata and Shaiva sects, Zoroastrianism and Hellenistic cults. Various deities like Shiva, Buddha, Nana & many other West-Asian divinities can be found on their coins.
- His immediate successors were Vasishka, Huvishka, Kanishka 2 & Vasudeva I.
- Empire started to decline from the time of Vasudeva I & Vasudeva 2 was last Kushana ruler. Their rule ended in 262 AD.
- Kushana coins were of the highest quality and conformed to the weight standards of Roman coins.
- In the coins, Kushana rulers are referred to as “king of kings”, “Caesar”, “lord of all lands” and by other such titles. Unfortunately, the titles did not leave much room on the coins for the actual name of the ruler.
- Kushana coins tell us that Kushanas were eclectic. Different divinities like Shiva, Buddha, Nana etc. on their coins corroborate this fact.
- Coins of Kushanas shows that Kushanas were appropriating Divine Status for the Kings because of features like a halo around the head, flames on shoulders etc.
- Importance of the Kushana coins in international transactions is borne out by the discovery of Kushana coins in Ethiopia.
Art and Literature during Kushanas
- During the reign of Kushanas, art and literature flourished. This was partly due to royal patronage and partly due to other factors, like the growing ascendancy of Mahayana Buddhism, which allowed the representation of the person of Buddha in human form.
- Two separate schools of art developed during this period
- Gandhara School: It was influenced by Greeks and also known as Indo-Greek style of sculpture and art.
- Mathura School: It was red sandstone sculpture produced in areas around Mathura.
- Buddhists began to carve out rock caves in the hills of western India, which served as religious centres with chaityas and viharas, stretching from the Ajanta caves to the Kanheri caves in Mumbai. Large statues of Buddha were sculpted in these caves as a part of the Mahayana tradition.
- Kanishka was the patron of Buddhist philosophers such as Asvaghosha (writer of Buddhacharita and Sariputraprakarana), Parsva and Vasumitra, as well as the great Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna. Among the Hindu treatises, Manusmriti and Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra took final shape during this period.
2. South India
- Mahameghavahanas were ruled Kalinga in Orissa (earlier Kalinga was conquered by Asoka from the local power).
- During Post-Maurya period again came under the local line of rulers named Mahameghavahana who descended from an ancient line of the Chedis.
- He was the third Mahameghavahana ruler.
- Important Source: Hathigumpha Cave Inscription (near Bhubaneswar) which provides the following information
- It gives a year-wise account of his reign.
- Tell his military victories in north, west and south India .
- Undertook many public works.
- As practising Jaina excavated cave-shelters for Jaina monks on Udayagiri hills.
- Agricultural Expansion: Kharavela refers to irrigation canals built by the Nandas, but proudly mentions his own efforts in this direction.
- Kharavela did not issue coins. It is possible that the Kalingan economy was not yet ready for its own coinage.
- Mahameghavahana Dynasty collapsed after his demise .
- Satavahanas are the Andhras of Puranas.
- Gatha Saptasati, a Prakrit text composed by the Satavahana king Hala.
- Inscriptions like Naneghat & Nashik inscription.
- Account of Pliny: Eg – Andhra country had 30 walled cities and a large army of 1 lakh infantry, 2000 cavalry & 1000 elephants.
- Accounts of Periplus in Periplus Maris Erythraei.
- Coins of Satavahanas. Eg – Coins of Yajnashri Satkarni has ship on the coins showing the importance of Trade & Commerce.
Although there is controversy about dates but a sequence of rulers is fairly clear.
1 . Initial rulers
- Satavahana dynasty was founded by Simuka who was followed by Kanha (brother of Simuka) followed by Satakarni I.
2. Satkarni I
- Naganika (wife of Satkarni I) in his Naneghat inscription describes him as Lord of Dakshinapatha who performed two Ashvamedha Yajanas.
3. Gautamiputra Satkarni
- Gautamiputra Satakarni was the greatest of the Satavahana kings.
- He defeated the Shaka ruler Nahapana and reissued the coins of Nahapana with his own royal insignia.
- Achievements are engraved in Inscription of his mother (Gautami Balashri) in Nashik. He is described as the destroyer of Shakas, Pahlavas, & Yavanas.
- He is also said to have performed the prestigious Vedic Asvamedha sacrifice.
- Towards the end of his reign, he suffered defeats from Rudradaman I.
4 . Vasishthiputra Pulumayi
- Vasishthiputra Pulumayi, the successor of Gautamiputra Satakarni, expanded the frontiers of the Satavahana Empire. The coins issued by him are found scattered in many parts of south India.
5. Yajnashri Satkarni
- Yajnashri Satkarni was another famous ruler who issued coins with a ship motif, indicating the importance of the overseas trade during his reign.
Satavahana dynasty came to end in mid 3rd century CE . The breakup of empire paved way for the rise of
- Vakatakas in Deccan
- Kadambas in Mysore
- Abhiras in Maharashtra
- Ikshvakus in Andhra
Descent of Satavahanas
- They claimed Brahamana descent.
- Nashik Inscription states them to be Ekabamhana i.e. Peerless Brahamana and Khatiya dapa manamada i.e. who destroyed the pride of Kshatriyas.
Use of Matronyms
- Satavahanas use name of their mother like Gautamiputra Satkarni, Vasishthiputra Pulumayi etc. This is significant, however, this doesn’t mean they followed the matriarchal system. Their succession was still Patrilineal.
- They were followers of cross-cousin system of marriage, especially with father’s sister’s daughter.
- Offering land grants was an important development of the Satavahana times. The beneficiaries of these grants were mostly Buddhists and Brahmins. The Naneghat inscription refers to tax exemptions given to the lands granted to Buddhist monks. These land donations created a group of people who did not cultivate but owned land.
2.3 Muvendors: Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas
From Sangam poetry, we come to know that Muvendar, ‘the three crowned kings’, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas controlled major agrarian territories, trade routes and towns.
- The area under their control included central and northern Tamil Nadu i.e. Kaveri delta also known as Cholamandalam.
- Capital: Uraiyur
- Main Port : Puhar or Kaviripattinam
- Emblem: Tiger
- Sangam literature point towards fact that Kaviripattinam attracted merchants from various regions of the Indian Ocean and Roman Empire.
- Sangam poems portray Karikalan as the greatest Chola of the Sangam age. Karikalan’s foremost military achievement was the defeat of the Cheras and the Pandyas, supported by as many as eleven Velir chieftains at Venni. He is credited with converting forest into habitable regions and developing agriculture by providing irrigation through the embankment of the Kaveri and building reservoirs.
- Perunarkilli performed the Vedic sacrifice Rajasuyam or Rajasuya Yajna.
- The area under their control included central and northern parts of Kerala and Kongu region of Tamil Nadu.
- Capital: Karur
- Main Port: Muziris
- Emblem: Bow and Arrow
- Sangam poems speak about eight Chera kings, their territory and fame.
- Capital: Madurai
- Main port: Korkai
- Emblem: Fish
- According to traditions, they patronized the Tamil Sangams and facilitated the compilation of the Sangam poems .