Bactrians – Sakas – Parthians – Kushanas : Foreign Invasions on NW India

Foreign Invasions of Northwest India

Bactrians Indo-Greeks

  • Bactria and Parthia became independent from the Syrian empire in the middle of the third century B.C.

  • Demetrius, the Greek ruler of Bactria invaded Afghanistan and Punjab and occupied them.

  • From Taxila, he sent two of his commanders, Appolodotus and Menander for further conquests. Appolodotus conquered the Sindh and marched up to Ujjain.

  • Menander extended his rule up to Mathura but his desire to capture Pataliputra was stopped by Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra Sunga.

  • Indo-greeks wer first to issue coins & also first to issue gold coins in India.

  • They also introduced the practice of military governorship.

  • The Greek rule introduced features of Hellenistic art in the north-west frontier of India.

  • The term ‘Horshastra’, used for astrology in Sanskrit is derived from the Greek term ‘Horoscope’.


  • He was also known as Milinda and the capital was Sakala (Sialcot in Punjab).

  • He was converted into Buddhism by Nagasena.

  • Conversation between the two has been described in the Palitext, “Milinda panho” (The Questions of Milinda).

Sakas or Scythians (90 BC)

  • Sakas or the Scythians attacked Bactria and Parthia and captured them from the Greek rulers.

  • A king of Ujjain, who called himself Vikramaditya, defeated Sakas. An era called the Vikram Samrat is reckoned from the event of his victory over the Sakas in 57 BC.

  • Most famous Shaka ruler in India was Rudradaman I (AD 130 – 150).

  • His achievements are highlighted in his Junagarh inscription & it has details the repairs of Sudrashana Lake in Kathiarwar.

Parthians (pahlavas)

  • Invaded at the beginning of Christian era, from where they moved to India.

  • Most famous Parthian King was Gondophernes, in whose reign St. Thomas is said to have come to India for the propagation of Christianity.

Kushanas (45 A.D)

  • They were the branch of Yuchi tribe, whose original home was central Asia.

  • Founder of the Kushana dynasty was Kujula Kadphises or Kadphises I.

  • He occupied the Kabul valley and issued coins in his name. His son Vima Kadphises or Kadphises II conquered the whole of northwestern India as far as Mathura.

  • He issued gold coins with high-sounding titles like the ‘Lord of the Whole World’ & he was a devotee of Lord Siva.kanishka

Kanishka (78 – 120 A.D)

  • He was the most important ruler of the Kushana dynasty.

  • He was the founder of the Saka era which starts from 78 A.D.

  • According to Kalhana, Kanishka invaded Kashmir and occupied it.

  • His first capital was Purushapura (Peshawar) & second capital was Mathura.

  • His coins exhibit the images of not only Buddha but also Greek and Hindu gods.

  • It reflects the Kanishka’s toleration towards other religions.

  • In the age of Kanishka the Mahayana Buddhism came into appreciation.

  • The Buddha came to be worshipped with flowers, garments, perfumes and lamps.

  • Thus image worship and rituals developed in Mahayana Buddhism.

  • Kanishka also sent missionaries to Central Asia and China for the propagation of the new faith.

  • He patronised Buddhist scholars like Vasumitra, Asvagosha and Nagarjuna.

  • He also convened the Fourth Buddhist Council to discuss matters relating to Buddhist theology and doctrine.

  • It was held at the Kundalavana monastery near Srinagar in Kashmir under the president ship of Vasumitra.

  • Asvagosha was a great philosopher, poet and dramatist & wrote Buddhacharita.

  • Nagarjuna from south India adorned the court of Kanishka.

  • The famous physician of ancient India Charaka was also patronized by him.

Impacts of Central Asian Contacts
  • Introduced the use of burnt bricks for flooring and roofing and use of riding horse on a large scale.

  • Sakas and Kushans introduced turban, tunic, trousers, and heavy long coats. They also brought in cap, helmet and boots which were used by warriors.

  • Vatsyayana wrote Kamasutra.

  • Mathura produced beautiful images of Buddha, but it is also famous for the headless erect statue of Kanishka.

  • Kushan Empire gave rise to several schools of art Central Asian, Gandhara & Mathura.

Gandhara Art
  • Home of the Gandhara school of art is the territory in and around Peshawar in northwestern India.

  • Originated during the reign of Indo-Greek rulers but the real patrons of this school of art were the Sakas and the Kushanas, particularly Kanishka.

  • It was a blend of Indian and Greek-Roman elements.

  • The Gandhara school made sculptures of the Buddha in various sizes, shapes and postures.kanishka

The reliefs depict Buddha’s birth, his renunciation and his preaching. The salient features of Gandhara art are:

  • Moulding human body in a realistic manner with minute attention to physical features like muscles, mustache and curtly hair.
  • Thick drapery with large and bold fold lines.
  • Rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and symbolic expressions.

kanishkaMathura School of Art

  • Developed at Mathura in modern Uttar Pradesh & flourished in the 1st century A.D.

  • The Buddha images exhibit the spiritual feeling in his face which was largely absent in the Gandhara school.

  • Also carved out the images of Siva and Vishnu along with their consorts Parvathi and Lakshmi.

  • Female figures of yakshinis and apsaras of the Mathura school were beautifully carved.

  • Famous for headless erect statue of kanishka with his name inscribed below.

Feel free to comment !!