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The "Saka" peoples of Central Asia and Southern Siberia were the successors of a branch of the people who belonged to what Soviet archaeologists call the "Andronovo" culture, a distinctive Bronze Age culture of the 2nd millenium BC considered by most scholars to be proto Indo-Iranian. "Andronovo" is named after the first finds of the remains of this culture in 1914 near the village of Andronovo in the Yenisei River Valley of southern Siberia, and thus was subsequently used as a conventional name for this cultural complex of mixed farming and herding based on the breeding and raising of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses and the cultivation of wheat, barley and millet. Although most Soviet scholars in the past asserted that specialized pastoral nomadism in its pure form originated after the end of the Andronovo period (ca. 1100 B.C. to 900 B.C.) and subsequently replaced the mixed farming and herding system of the Andronovo culture during a transitional stage c. 800 - 500 BC, recent finds in the Tianshan region of modern-day southeastern Kazakhstan and dendrochronological analysis of these finds show that specialized pastoral nomadism without farming may have appeared as early as the period from c. 1770 - 1380 BC or earlier, ie during the early-mid Andronovo period, and that mixed herding and farming did not disappear after the Andronovo culture and existed even into early Iron Age times, at least during and after c. 800 - 500 BC.

Subsequently, the descendants of the Andronovo culture who remained on the steppes of Central Asia were known to the Greeks and Persians as "Skythians" and "Saka", respectively. "Saka" was used by the Persians to label the Indo-Iranian nomads of the south Russian and Central Asian steppes in general, as Herodotos in the 5th century BC tell us. His information appears to be correct as the relief carvings and inscriptions at Persepolis and Naqsh-i-Rustam show; 3 different groups of Saka are listed - the Saka Tigrakhauda (the "pointed hat" Saka), the Saka Taradraya/Paradraya (the Saka beyond the Black Sea - those Iranian-speaking nomads whom Herodotos calls "Skuthas"/"Skythians"), and the Saka Haomavarga (the "haoma-drinking" Saka). The Greek version of "Saka" was "Skythian" though the Skythians were also used by Herodotos to refer to a specific kingdom in the south Russian/Pontic steppes who replaced the earlier Kimmerians there. Conventionally, they are called "Skythians proper" for ease of clarification; archaeologically, they could've been descended from both the local Srubnaya culture (possibly Kimmerians as well as Skythians) and the Andronovo culture, since Herodotos tells us that either the Massagetai or the Issedones pushed the Skythians out of Asia into Europe, and so, they could've been more culturally distinct from the other Saka/Skythian tribes east of the Volga-Ural area. Again, for ease of clarification, we will call the Saka/Skythian tribes east of the "Skythians proper" by the Persian label of "Saka". A brief summary of the main Saka/Skythian tribes east of the Volga-Ural Srubnaya cultural complex (with the exception of the Sarmatian tribes and the later Daha-Arsakids since the former do not appear in Persian sources and are treated by most historians and archaeologists as distinct from both the "Skythians proper" and the other Saka tribes east of them while the latter the Persians curiously did not consider them a Saka people but called them "Daha") known to Greek and Persian historians appear below.

Main Saka tribes:


The origins and identity of the Massagetai can be interpreted, according to some linguistic experts, using the dissection of the name into "Mas" and "Sagetai" where "Mas" equates to "Great" and "Sagetai" into "Saka" where the "tai" in "Sagetai" is an inconsequential suffix and the "ai" a Greek plural, so that the full name is really "Mas-Saga" or "Great Saka". There does not seem to be any serious objections to this proposed etymology of "Massagetai" and, additionally, most of the classical Greek historians considered them to be a "Skythian nation". So, in all probability, they were a confederacy of Saka tribes; some scholars connect them with the Saka Tigrakhauda, though this identification is by no means certain. The classical Greek historians connect the location of the Massagetai with the "Araxes" river, a name which Herodotos applied to several rivers of Asia, possibly as a result of confusion on his part. However, here we need only to deal with the Massagetan Araxes river which, evident from its description, must have been the ancient arm (possibly the dried-up Uzboi channel of modern times) of the Oxus/Amu-Darya that connected said river with the Caspian sea or it could've possibly been the entire ancient Oxus itself. Considering this interpretation and the accounts of later Greek historians, notably Alexandrian historians like Arrian and Quintus Curtius as well as the Greek geographer Strabo, the Massagetai possibly lived in the area between the Caspian-Aral seas, including Chorasmia (at least most of it), extending as far east as the lower Syr-Darya region and as far south as the deserts of the Kara-kum and Kyzyl-kum north of ancient Sogdiana. As such, they were possibly the westernmost "Saka" tribes east of the Sarmatians.

As mentioned above, Herodotos says that either the Issedones or the Massagetai were responsible for driving the Skythians into Europe from Asia, which might indicate the strength of either the Issedones or the Massagetai. Additionally, Herodotos records a famous story, often repeated by later historians, of the Massagetan queen Tomyris defeating Kyros (Cyrus/Kuros) the Great of Achaimenid Persia. He has it that Kyros, after conquering Babylon, intended to subdue the Massagetai. Taking Kroisos' (Croesus, the former Lydian king) advice, he crossed the Araxes river, left grand Persian food and wine in his encampment, retreated, and later sneak-attacked a third of the Massagetan army who at the time was enjoying the food and wine. This gave him initial victory over the Massagetai and even the capture of Tomyris' son Spargapises. Tomyris was infuriated with Kyros and requested her son back from Kyros but when Kyros took no heed, she prepared an army to fight Kyros; Spargapises eventually killed himself before this was done. Kyros was defeated and when Tomyris found his body took his head and dipped it in human blood held by a wineskin.

The Massagetai appear again in Alexandrian times, when they are recorded by Arrian as sheltering Spitamenes and joining him in raids and assaults on the Makedonian garrisons of Baktria and Sogdiana. The Massagetai later betrayed Spitamenes after being disheartened by defeats inflicted by Alexander's generals on him and upon learning that Alexander was going to pursue the Massagetai into desert country; they cut off his head and presented it to Alexander. The Massagetai seemed to have never been subdued by Alexander or his successors, at least not their main force. In Quintus Curtius' version of Alexander, the Massagetai are recorded to have taken part in a rebellion against Alexander with the Baktrians but later fled after Krateros approached them.

Mention must be made regarding the military innovations of the Massagetai. Herodotos in the 5th century BC mentions that the Massagetai used bronze breastplates to protect the chests of their horses, which is possibly a reference to the development of heavily-armoured cavalry along the lines of kataphraktoi first appearing in history among these Saka people. Additionally, there is further evidence to suggest a Massagetan origin for kataphraktoi cavalry, from both the written sources as well as archaeology. According to Arrian, at Gaugamela, Dareios III (Darius III) had with his army Baktrian cavalry supported by Daai (Dahai) and Arachotian troops as a part of his left wing; in front of Dareios' left wing were posted Skythian cavalry along with 1,000 Baktrians and 100 scythe-chariots. Later, Arrian adds that these Skythian cavalrymen, aided by Baktrian cavalry, routed the Greek cavalry mercenaries that Alexander initially sent against them. Immediately, they fought a fierce battle against the combined Makedonian, Greek, and Paionian cavalry of Alexander and inflicted huge casualties on Alexander's right wing, almost putting them to rout, for Arrian says that in addition to outnumbering them, the Skythian cavalrymen also had much more armour protecting their horses than did Alexander's cavalry. Though there is a possibility that these "Skythian" cavalry included the Dahai, Arrian was rather vague when he described the heavily armoured cavalry as "Skythian". In Quintus Curtius' version of Gaugamela, the events of the battle differ from Arrian's version as well as even the numbers, yet the order of battle of Dareios' army appears to be almost the same; both agree that Dareios' left wing consisted mostly of Baktrians, Dahai, Arachotians/Arachosians, Persians, and Susians, in particular the first 3 peoples. Quintus Curtius also adds that there were 2,000 Massagetai cavalry in the rear of Bessus and that later Dareios had ordered the Massagetan horsemen to charge Alexander's left wing (correction: should be right wing) on its flank. Thus, Arrian's "Skythian" cavalry that almost routed the Makedonians at Gaugamela were probably Massagetai. We know that they had heavily armoured cavalry along the lines of proto-kataphraktoi by at least the 5th century BC from Herodotos. Furthermore, there is a depiction of a fully armoured kataphraktoi on a fragmentary terracotta flask piece from Khumbuz-tepe in southern Chorasmia/Khorezmia, dated to the 4th-early 3rd centuries BC; this find may be the earliest archaeological depiction of a fully armoured kataphraktoi. Strabo states that Spitamenes fled to the Chorasmioi and that the Chorasmioi were a tribe within the Massagetai confederation. According to Arrian, Spitamenes fled to the Massagetai, yet he also mentions the Chorasmioi without ever mentioning their connections to the Massagetai; Quintus Curtius says that the Chorasmii were neighbours of the Massagetai and Dahai. Probably what Strabo meant was that Spitamenes fled to the area that by the time of Strabo were inhabitted by the Chorasmioi who were by that time also part of the Massagetan confederation. More recent archaeological discoveries and an analysis of the texts of both Hekataios and Herodotos suggests that in the earlier Achaimenid period the Chorasmioi were not living in Chorasmia, but actually south of the steppe in Khurasan and that it was only during the time when Achaimenid control had begun to slacken that the Chorasmioi moved down the Oxus into Chorasmia; perhaps during Alexander's time, the Chorasmioi had not moved into Chorasmia and joined the Massagetai yet but were in a transitional period. Nevertheless, this apparent Chorasmian-Massagetan connection seems to point to the origin of the kataphraktoi among either of these peoples. Finally, both Ammianus Marcellinus and Dio Cassius state that the Alans were the descendants of, or, in the latter historian's case, were Massagetai; a more recent archaeological survey shows that the Alans were more heavily armoured than all other Sarmatian groups except the Sirakes and although the archaeological data suggests the appearance of armoured lancer equipment appearing among at least some of the Sarmatian tribes by the 3rd or 2nd centuries BC, there is no clear written description of the armoured lancer among the Sarmatians until at least the early 1st century AD, corresponding to roughly the same time the Alans first raided the Pontic steppes from the northeastern Caspian area.

Finally, while the Massagetai weren't affected much by Alexander's invasion of Central Asia, they certainly were so by the great nomadic migrations of the Da Yuezhi and other nomad groups, especially by the establishment of Kangju in the modern-day Tashkent oasis and their subsequent expansion in all directions. While the majority of the Kangju tribesmen were possibly Indo-Iranian speakers, including absorbed Saka Rauka tribesmen who remained in western Semirechye and other Saka groups as well, their ruling elite were quite possibly Kuchean-Agnean (or more popularly known as "Tokharian") speakers, and there are references to Kangju in later histories of their ruling elite being descended from a Yuezhi clan. From the Han historian Ban Gu, we know that during the late 2nd - middle 1st centuries BC, Chorasmia was under Kangju control. From Fan Ye, we know that during the 1st - 2nd centuries AD, Kangju controlled large parts of northern Central Asia, extending their sway as far west as the southern Urals, and having conquered Yancai, known by that time as Alanliao (evidently the Alans), who were situated near the Caspian sea, corresponding with Josephus' mention of an Alan incursion coming from east of the Caspian sea as late as the late 1st century AD. Thus, Kangju, established by Yuezhi tribesmen in the wake of the Yuezhi migration from Dunhuang-Qilian all the way to Graeco-Baktria as a result of defeat inflicted on them by the Xiongnu, was largely responsible for the destruction of the Massagetai confederacy and quite possibly for the Alan migration to the Pontic steppes from the northeast Caspian area.

Saka Tigrakhauda

As mentioned above, some consider them to really be the Massagetai of the Greek authors, and though this identification is possible, it is by no means certain. More recently, some have equated them with Herodotos' Orthokorubantioi, but this identification rests on shaky linguistic assumptions and thus is not likely. The first records of the Saka Tigrakhauda, or "pointed-hood Saka" appear in Dareios I's inscription at Behistun. When Dareios I was in Babylon, the "Saka province" were among the provinces which rebelled against him. The Behistun inscription has it that during the third year of his reign (519 BC), he went off to the lands of the Saka Tigrakhauda to fight them. He crossed a sea with his entire army and defeated them. One of their chiefs was led bound to Dareios and was killed. Dareios also captured their king, Skunkha and installed a puppet chief of the Saka Tigrakhauda. The Saka Tigrakhauda are also mentioned by Dareios at Naqsh-i-Rustam as well as by Xerxes and Artaxerxes II/III at Persepolis as one of the subject peoples of the Achaimenids. They disappear in subsequent sources.


The widely accepted etymology of Apasiakai is "Apa-saka", which means "water-Sakai". It is possible that the name appears in an earlier form as "Pausikai", who are listed by Herodotos as a people belonging to the 11th province of Dareios I's empire, along with the Kaspioi, the Pantimathoi and the Dareitai; the Kaspioi lived on the west side of the Caspian Sea, so we can suppose, in vague terms, that the Apa-saka lived within range of the Caspian Sea region. According to Polybius and Stephanus Byzantius the Apasiakai lived between the Oxus and the Tanais rivers; the "Tanais" here is probably confused with the Jaxartes, so this would place the Apasiakai in the area between the Oxus and the Jaxartes, ie the eastern coast of the modern-day Aral Sea. One Soviet scholar had, more recently, assigned the Apa-saka to the Iron Age culture that was discovered in the waste south-east of the Aral which once formed the delta lands of the Syr-Darya. Not much is recorded of their history, but if they were indeed the "Pausikai" of Herodotos, then they were at one time under Achaimenid rule, at least by the time of Dareios I. Later, Strabo indicates that Arsakes (r. 247 - 211 BC), the legendary founder of the Parthian empire, fled from Seleukos Kallinikos (Seleukid king r. 246 - 226 BC) into the lands of the Apasiakai. Considering their geographical location, it is possible, as some modern sources claim, that they were, at least one point in their history, part of the Massagetan confederation of Saka tribes. As such, they may have existed well beyond the Alexandrian era until perhaps the great nomadic migrations in the middle of the 2nd century BC.

Abian Skythians

Some modern sources claim that they were the same as the Apasiakai above. Homer as well as the Alexandrian historians tell us that the Abian Skythians were "the most righteous of mankind". Arrian says that they were able to exist as an independent polity because of both their poverty and their fair dealings with others. To this, Quintus Curtius further adds that they do not engage in offensive warfare but only fight when they are themselves on the defensive, and that "because of their moderate and impartial practice of freedom they had made the humblest equal to the chief men." Arrian says that they lived in Asia; Quintus Curtius adds that they had once been subjected to Kyros but were free after his death and so were ready to submit to Alexander. All Arrian and Quintus Curtius says of the Abian Skythians was that they had sent envoys to Alexander a few days after he had defeated a native attack on his foragers at the Jaxartes/Syr-Darya. They do not seem to have been subjected by Alexander or his successors.

Saka Haomavarga

The Saka Haomavarga were known to Herodotos and subsequent Greek historians as the "Skuthas Amurgious" or "Amyrgian Skythians". Curiously, while the Greeks chose to call the Indo-Iranian tribes of the Pontic and Central Asian steppes by the general name of "Skythian", this tribe was subsequently known to the Greeks as the "Sakai", Persian "Saka". Apart from the "Haoma" in "Haomavarga" being associated with the drink "Haoma" used in Zoroastrian rituals, some have suggested that "Haomavarga"/"Amyrgioi" may have also referred to a plain that these Saka lived on or from which the "Haoma" plant grows; a fragment from Hellanikos speaks of this plain and the geographical origin of the name "Amyrgioi". From Herodotos and the frequent mentioning of these Amyrgian Saka with the Baktrians even in later histories, one can suppose that they lived near Baktria, as vague as that is. As analyses of later Greek accounts show, the Saka Haomavarga lived beyond the eastern frontier of the modern Syr-Darya river, specifically the Ferghana valley, which could've been Hellanikos' "Amyrgion pedion"/"Amyrgian plain" and possibly territories in the eastern Hissar range or east of it; most scholars seem to agree to this allocation of the Amyrgians.

From Strabo, we have references to what is probably the earliest historical events of these Saka. According to him, these Saka in their early history made raids like the Kimmerians (the tribe whom Herodotos tells us were displaced by the "Skythians proper") and the Treres (they were a separate tribe of Kimmerians), some raids into neighbouring regions like Baktria which they occupied. Their empire at its height, probably sometime in the 7th-6th centuries BC once extended as far west as Armenia, from which the best lands in that region they left their mark by renaming them "Sakasene", and even into Pontik Kappadokia near the Euxine. According to Ktesias' Persika, Books 7-13, in which some of the materials are preserved and summarized in Photios' review of Ktesias' Persika in Bibliotheca, Section 72, right before Kyros besieged Kroisos at Sardis, Kyros did battle against these Saka and defeated them, capturing Amorges, the king of these Saka. However, Amorges' wife Sparethra subsequently raised an army of, according to Ktesias, an army of 300,000 men and 200,000 women, and defeated Kyros, taking Parmises (Kyros' brother-in-law) as well as his 3 sons prisoners. He states that Kyros then exchanged prisoners with Sparethra, Kyros giving Amorges back to Sparethra and Sparethra giving Parmises and his 3 sons back to Kyros. Shortly after this event, Kyros seems to have been on good terms with the Sakai, making them his allies, for we find that Amorges assisted Kyros in his expedition against the Lydian king Kroisos at Sardis. Kyros' initial war against these Saka, although curiously not stated by Herodotos (some have argued that they were the Massagetai of Herodotos; it is possible that these Saka Haomavarga could've been a tribe within the Massagetai confederation that were later defeated by Kyros' successors), whom Ktesias accuses of falsehood, probably happened right before 547/546 BC, since that was the year Kyros conquered Sardis and captured Kroisos, according to the fragments from the Babylonian "Chronicle of Nabonidus". Later, Kyros seems to have turned on these Saka, for we find that Strabo's account of their eventual defeat by the Achaimenid ruler Kyros the Great has it that Kyros made an expedition against them and he was defeated but that his own carelessness or, possibly his own cunning, by leaving behind his supplies during his retreat, eventually gave him a great victory over these Saka. It is said that his abundant supplies, consisting especially of wine, were taken by these Saka who then enjoyed themselves to the full with the newly captured booty. Kyros then turned back and found the drunken and crazed Saka unready for battle, taking the advantage to attack them, which resulted in his great victory. Kyros and his generals were so proud of the victory that they constructed a temple dedicated to Anaitidos, Omanou, Anadatou, and other Persian gods, on top of a hill located on the plain of the battle and created an annual sacred festival which they called "Sakaia" that mocked the drunken and crazed Saka. If Ktesias' account of these Saka is reliable, Kyros' battle against these Saka, as will be shown below, probably happened sometime between 547/546 - 530/529/528 BC.

This blow to Amyrgian Saka power was rather cataclysmic because in later references to them, we find that they were tributary vassals of the Achaimenids and at times served in the Achaimenid army. For example, from Ktesias, we find that when Kyros and Amoraios, king of the Derbikes who was assisted with elephants from the Indians, were stalemated with both sides suffering heavy casualties, Amorges went in great haste to assist Kyros with 20,000 Saka cavalry, which proved to be the decisive factor in the battle against the Derbikes; the aid Kyros received allowed his army to kill 30,000 Derbikes along with Amoraeus and his 2 sons. Although the cause of Kyros' death is a controversial and debatable issue, as we have Herodotos telling us that he was killed by the Massagetai while Ktesias tells us that in this battle Kyros was mortally wounded by an Indian with a javelin under the thigh and that shortly after his victory he died, most sources place the time of his death in the range of c. 530-528 BC. If Ktesias' account of Kyros' death is correct, then this battle against the Derbikes in which Amorges' Saka cavalry played an important role in the Achaimenid victory can be dated to the same date. Presumably, Amorges was compelled to assist Kyros with his 20,000 Saka cavalry because Kyros, at some point in time between 547/546 - 530/529/528 BC, finally subdued these Saka in a war against them. Herodotos tells us that by the time of Dareios I, they formed part of the 15th Achaimenid satrapy along with the Kaspii (not the same as the Kaspii of the Hyrcanian - Caspian Sea region) and payed 250 in tribute to the Achaimenids. Saka units participated in Dareios I's invasion of Greece, particularly in 490 BC at Marathon where Saka and Persian soldiers were able to break through the center of the combined Athenian-Plataean army led by Miltiades and Callimachus, although the Athenians and the Plataeans from both wings were able to encircle and defeat them. We also see Saka units in service in Xerxes' army when he invaded Greece in 480 BC, where Herodotos describes them as wearing tall, erect, and stiff caps that tapered to a point and trousers for their clothing, while carrying bows, daggers, and battle-axes called "sagaris"; they were, along with the Baktrians, under the command of Hystaspes, son of Dareios and Atossa (Kyros' daughter). Saka units are even present as marines in Xerxes' fleet. Saka cavalry fought under the Achaimenid general Mardonius at Plataea in 479 BC and were considered by Herodotos to have been among the best soldiers Mardonius had with him.

In the late 4th century BC, Saka cavalry are found in Dareios III's army helping the Achaimenids in the defense of their empire against Alexander the Great; at Gaugamela in 331 BC, the Saka cavalry contingent there seemed to have been independent of the Achaimenids but bound to them by alliance, suggesting that perhaps the Achaimenids had lost their former control over these Saka by the time of Dareios III. Under their chief, Mavakes, they were situated, along with the Parthians (the natives of Parthia, not the Dahai-Parthians of later times) on the right wing of Dareios' army, left of the Syrian, Mesopotamian and Median troops, from the point of view of Dareios' right. Additionally, the force of "Asian Skythians" who opposed Alexander at the frontier of the Jaxartes/Syr-Darya near modern Khujand were quite possibly brigands from the Amyrgian state, though Arrian does not directly state that they were "Sakai"; an allusion to the fact that these "Asiatic Skythians" were at least affiliated with the Amyrgian Saka confederacy is supplemented by Quintus Curtius' "Historiae" of Alexander when he mentions in Book 7, sections 17-19 that after Alexander defeated these "Asiatic Scythians", "accordingly the Sacae sent envoys to promise that they would submit...." and that Alexander "had sent back all the prisoners without a ransom". Furthermore, Arrian states that the "Skythian king" (king of the Sacae of Quintus Curtius) attempted to make clear that the force of "Asiatic Skythians" were a pack of brigands and in no sense the deliberate policy of their state, quite possibly meaning that they were outlaws of the Amyrgian state. After this encounter, these Amyrgian Saka probably nominally submitted to Alexander, but later caused much trouble for his successors on their northeastern frontiers. For example, according to Polybius, Euthydemus was besieged at Zariaspa/Baktra by Antiochus (III), c. 209/208 BC, and in his solution to stop Antiochos from fighting him much further, he speaks of a common worry they both share, that of the nomads beyond the frontier of which there were a huge number of and who were close by and that if they continued fighting and let them in, everything would be "barbarized". Antiochus immediately consented to stop the fighting, which is proof of the grave danger that these nomads imposed for the Seleukids and Graeco-Baktrians. Considering that these nomads were near Baktriane, they were possibly Amyrgian Saka, even though Euthydemus' mention of "nomads" was rather vague. After these events, it is possible, though by no means proven, that the Amyrgian Saka came under the influence of the expanding Graeco-Baktrians after Euthydemus, particularly under Demetrius and Menander, and became Hellenized and adopted settled ways, which is evident in Zhang Qian's description of Ferghana, ie Dayuan. Later c. 130 BC, Zhang Qian's report on the kingdoms of Central Asia contains information on Ferghana, known to him as "Dayuan", and may have actually referred to this same Hellenized and settled Amyrgian Saka kingdom in the Ferghana valley, during a time when the Da Yuezhi and other nomad peoples such as the Saka Rauka allied with each other to conquer the Graeco-Baktrian kingdom. It is curious that Strabo explicitly states that the four nomad peoples who conquered Graeco-Baktria came from territory that was ruled by the Amyrgians but did not list the Amyrgians as among those who conquered Graeco-Baktria, evidently suggesting that the Amyrgian Saka had little to no hand in the establishment of the Indo-Saka kingdoms of the late 2nd century BC - 1st century AD. It is possible that during the course of these events, the Amyrgian Saka established a settled state in Ferghana allied to the state of Kangju and were later conquered by the latter during the 1st - 2nd centuries AD.

The Saka Rauka

"Saka Rauka" is the original form of Greek Sakaraukoi/Sakaurakoi/Sakarauloi or Latin Sacaraucae/Sa[ca]raucae. According to linguistic experts, "Saka Rauka" meant something like "Saka lords/kings/commanders". The Saka Rauka were, as their name suggests, an eastern concentration of Saka tribes who lived in the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region north of the present-day Tianshan range, in the areas of southeastern Kazakhstan, northern and eastern Kyrgyzstan, and the northwestern part of the PRC/China. Both the Greek and Latin versions appear in Strabo's geographical treatise and the Prologi of Pompeius Trogus in relation to the events of the middle-late 2nd century BC, during the fall of the Graeco-Baktrian kingdom to the nomad peoples from the northeast; they were unknown to the Greeks and Romans as well as the Persians and Indians before that time since the early Saka Rauka lived in an area beyond their geographical ken. "Saka Rauka" also appears in the Han Shu as "Saiwang", read in its Middle Chinese form "Sak-giwang", and possibly appears in its Indian form as "Saka-murunda". The Han Shu contains the earliest events of the Saka Rauka but we can perhaps trace them back to one of the Rong tribes who bordered the Western Zhou dynasty to their northwest.

Their Early History

From the archaeological evidence and their affinities with the evidence of Saka groups from the Altai and Tuva, the Saka peoples probably maintained close cultural relations and trade with each other. During the Achaimenid period, Saka art shows great affinities with Baktrian art, particularly those objects from the Oxus treasure, dated to the 5th-4th centuries BC, suggesting that the Saka peoples maintained cultural relations with the Achaimenid-Baktrians as well. Greek influence on their art, although perhaps minor, can be seen as we find a kneeling figure of a warrior unearthed in the northern Tianshan region and who appears to be wearing a mix of Saka and Greek clothing, now in the Xinjiang Regional Museum in Urumqi; for the Saka Rauka, this could possibly suggest earlier cultural contacts and trade relations with the Graeco-Baktrians. Curiously, the Saka peoples, particularly those who lived in the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region, ie the Saka Rauka, seemed to have had a special preference for constructing their sacrificial tables and cauldrons out of cast iron and bronze. There is significance in this fact because cast iron was known only in China at this time; Chinese bronzes have also been observed by one authority to display distinct Central Asian nomadic influences. This may mean that the Saka Rauka, like their cousins in the Altai, conducted extensive trade with the Chinese as well. All this suggests that the Saka peoples maintained extensive trade networks and cultural exchanges with neighbouring and distant polities, both settled and nomadic, as well as with each other.

As rather recent archaeological expeditions to sites in the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region and their analyses have shown, a diverse set of economic practices had been existent during the "Saka period" in the region, ranging from pure nomadic pastoralism to semi-nomadic pastoralism and even settled farming on the lowland steppe areas. This type of economic strategy employed by a nomadic polity probably reached its height c. 200 BC - 100 AD, during the "Wusun period"; this conclusion seems valid as the Han Shu notes that the capital of the Wusun when they controlled the region was the walled town of Chigu and it is also noted that Wusun tribesmen, along with practicing pastoral nomadism, also planted trees. This type of mixed economy of both nomadic pastoralism as well as settled farming existing among nomadic tribes receives further confirmation in the written sources as well; Herodotos mentions Skythian farmers as a tribe of the Skythian kingdom in south Russia while events recorded by both Sima Qian and Ban Gu indicate that the Xiongnu occasionally practiced farming, during times of crisis or shortage of food. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that, while the Saka Rauka were mainly pastoral nomads, there were also limited farming communities within the confederacy.

Not much is heard of the Saka Rauka from the written sources until the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the upheaval and subsequent migrations of the Da Yuezhi and Wusun peoples from eastern Central Asia completely altered the course of power in the region where the Saka Rauka lived. In east Asia, the unification of the former Zhou vassal states under the militant Qin empire in 221 BC and its subsequent rapid collapse that resulted in a short period of civil war, allowed the Xiongnu, probable Turkic-speaking steppe nomads living to the north of the former Yan state in southeastern Inner Mongolia, to unite under a powerful leader called Maodun, who by 202 BC had turned the Xiongnu into a superpower and expanded his empire in all directions. Among the peoples affected by this expansion were a probable Tokharian-speaking tribe called by the Han "Yuezhi", whom before Maodun's time owned a large and powerful empire in eastern Central Asia and had constantly pressed the Xiongnu. The Yuezhi finally fled their homeland between Dunhuang (modern Dunhuang on the western edge of the Hexi corridor) and Qilian (the modern Tianshan range) after suffering their 3rd recorded defeat by the Xiongnu in which Lao Chanyu killed the Yuezhi king and made his skull into a drinking cup, an event that happened sometime between 174 - 158 BC, as both Sima Qian in his Shiji and Ban Gu in his Han Shu tell us. The Yuezhi split up into two groups - the first group, who were the main body of the Yuezhi, fled to the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region and were subsequently known to the Han as the "Da Yuezhi" ("Greater Yuezhi"); the second group consisted of a minority of Yuezhi who instead fled south to the Nanshan range in southern Gansu and lived among the proto-Tibetan Qiang tribes there, subsequently known to the Han as the "Xiao Yuezhi" ("Lesser Yuezhi"). In relativity to the Saka Rauka, it is the Da Yuezhi who we must concern ourselves with, since they are a key factor in the history of the Saka Rauka. Many of the Saka Rauka who were living in the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region were driven out by the Da Yuezhi, but there is also reason to believe that many of them remained there as control in the region passed from one polity to another. In the Han Shu, Chapter 96B, Section 2B, it is stated that because of the subsequent passing of control of the region from first the Saiwang (Middle Chinese form pronounced as "Sak-giwang", equatable with the "Saka Rauka") to the Da Yuezhi and then to the Wusun that the current Wusun state contained both Da Yuezhi and Sai (Middle Chinese "Sak" - equatable with "Saka") elements. In another passage, Ban Gu states that the people of Xiuxun and Juandu, polities located to the northwest of Shule (modern Kashgar), consisted largely of Sai/Sak/Saka people who had been driven out of their territories by the Da Yuezhi, and that the clothing the people wore in those states were the same as that of the Wusun people; this may suggest that the majority, or at least a noticeable part of the Wusun polity were Saka Rauka tribesmen who had stayed behind in the region.

In the Han Shu, Chapter 96B, Section 2B, it is stated that the territory the Wusun ruled at the time (late 2nd century BC) had originally belonged to the Saiwang (Sak-giwang = "Saka king" = Saka Rauka) but that the Da Yuezhi later drove them out of the region when they were fleeing from the Xiongnu, and subsequently the Wusun, with Xiongnu aid, drove the Da Yuezhi out as well; this region must have been the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region, as a variety of sinologists and Central Asian historians have shown. The fate of the Saka Rauka is transferred in the Han Shu texts mainly to the description of the kingdom of Jibin in Gandhara/Kapisa, since the main body of Saka Rauka fled there to establish the Indo-Saka kingdom. However, an analysis of Han Shu texts have also shown that a considerable body of Saka Rauka tribesmen remained behind in the steppes of Semirechye; as such, a considerable group of them seem also to have left Semirechye along with the Da Yuezhi to Baktria, accounting for their appearance in Greek and Roman sources as one of the allied nomadic peoples who took part in the destruction of the Graeco-Baktrian kingdom.

The Saka Rauka in Gandhara and Taxila:
Maues dynasty of Indo-Saka

A significant number of Saka Rauka also migrated out of the region; Ban Gu states that the rulers of Jibin were Sai/Sak/Saka people who had been driven from their territories by the Da Yuezhi and that the states of Xiuxun and Juandu, both northwest of Shule (modern Kashgar), were also descendants of those fleeing Sai/Sak/Saka people. Here we have perhaps the only surviving written source that contain detailed descriptions of some of the Indo-Saka kingdoms. Both Xiuxun and Juandu appear to have kept their former nomadic customs since it was stated that they went after water and pasture with their stock animals. On the other hand, the Sai of Jibin appear to have become a settled people and, from Ban Gu's description, was a large and powerful state with a large trained army and many elaborate and developed industries. Jibin was described as having flat land and a temperate climate. Lucerne, a variety of vegetation and rare trees, sandalwood, oaks, catalpa, bamboo and lac tree exist in the area. The five field crops, grapes and various sorts of fruit were grown by the people, who also manure their orchards and arable land. The land, by virtue of it being low and damp, produced rice, and fresh vegetables were eaten in the winter. The people there were skilled at decorative work, engraving and the art of inlay, building residences, weaving woollens and at patterned embroidery, and were fond of wine and food. Gold, silver, copper and tin were used to make utensils, and markets with stalls exist there. Gold and silver were also used to make coins, which contain the image of a mounted rider on the obverse side and a human face on the reverse side (one authority suggests that these coins resembled those of the later Indo-Greeks and Saka, especially that of Heraios). Humped cattle, water-buffalo, elephants, large dogs, monkeys, peacocks, different kinds of pearls, coral, amber and beryl as well as a variety of stock animals were all produced by Jibin. Scholars have proposed several theories regarding the location of Jibin; some claim it is Kapisa or Kashmir or even Kabul (this region was controlled by a relatively powerful Indo-Greek kingdom), though archaeological evidence does not support such a theory for the latter two. It is probable that Jibin was the Swat Valley (Uddiyana) and Gandhara (and also a part of Kapisa); the description of Jibin fits very well with this theory and there is definitely archaeological evidence of the Indo-Saka in this area although they date to a much later period than the description of Jibin's first recorded ruler. Regarding the political history of Jibin, it is stated that communications with the Han empire started during the time of Emperor Wu (Han Wudi - ruled 140-86 BC), but that their king Wutoulao, believing that Jibin's distance from the Han could let it get away with offenses committed against the Han, frequently menaced and killed Han envoys. When Wutoulao died, his son succeeded him, but we are left not knowing what the name of this king was. Nevertheless, this king sent an envoy with tribute to the Han. The Han emperor in turn sent Wen Zhong, "Commandant of the Barrier", to escort the envoy back to Jibin, but because the king tried to kill him, Wen Zhong conspired with Yinmofu, son of the Rongqu king (one authority suggests that he was a lesser noble), to kill the king, and invested Yinmofu as the ruler of Jibin with a seal and ribbon. Surprisingly, Yinmofu later resorted to a hostile attitude towards Han envoys when in one instance, he bound up Zhao De, an army captain sent as a Han envoy to Jibin, and executed 70 members of his mission including his deputy. He asked forgiveness of the Han Emperor Xiao Yuan (ruled 48 - 33 BC) by submitting a written account of what had happened, but Xiao Yuan considered the events too distant to matter and decided to break off relations with Jibin. In 25 BC, Jibin sent an embassy to reestablish relations with the Han, but the Han ignored him and treated the Jibin ambassadors as tradesmen. The time and setting of this story coincide with the Saka cursions and the collapse of the last Indo-Greek kingdoms in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, but Yinmofu has not been successfully identified, at least not convincingly, with any of the rulers from numismatic evidence that have been proposed, which include Hermaeus, Maues, and even Kanishka. Contributing to this difficulty in interpretation are the highly debated dates, chronology, and even the identity of the Indo-Saka rulers known from numismatic evidence.

Among the Saka in India, the first king whose royal name we know from numismatic evidence is Maues, although there exists earlier anepigraphic coins of Indo-Saka rulers in Arachosia commonly dated to 110-100 BC. His name appears as Moasa in Kharoshthi. The dating of his reign has been a heated subject of debate among scholars, as is commonly the case with this period of history in this region of northern India, due to the lack of clear evidence. Among the inscriptions found associated with Maues is a copper-plate from Taxila which records that one Patika, the son of Liaka Kusuluka, established the relics of Buddha in a stupa and built a sangharama in the 78th year, during the reign of the great king, the great Moga. This "Moga" from the copper plate is usually identified with Maues on the basis that "Moga" was a northwestern Prakrit transliteration of "Maues", though a minority of scholars differentiate between the two. Scholars are concerned with, in particular, which era the "78th year" referred to because, evidently, this little fragment offers a clue as to when Maues-Moga ruled. Again, scholarly opinion is rather divided on the issue, and suggested eras include a Parthian era (based on the Parthian influences on Maues' coins), a Saka era (some based on the suggestion that the Saka of Drangiana-Sakastana-modern Seistan established a new era shortly after the Parthian king Mithridates II's death in 88 BC), or the Vikrama Samvat which began in 58-57 BC. All this had lead to suggestions of the time of Maues' as early as even 120-95 BC and as late as 20-21 AD, which seem a bit extreme. Both dates are improbable, the former because it coincides with the reign of the Indo-Greek King Antialcidas and the latter coinciding with the reign of the great Indo-Parthian king Gondophares, both in the same region as the Indo-Saka . However, using rather newer evidence such as the dated Kharoshthi inscriptions of the Taxila silver scroll and the Kalawan copper-plate, it seems very probable that the era of the Taxila copper plate probably commenced sometime in c. 155-150 BC as one authority had suggested and that Maues was ruling about c. 77-72 BC; it seems that many modern authorities on the subject have come to this conclusion and also fits in well with their chronological scheme of this period.

Minted in silver and copper, his coins share affinities with those of the later Indo-Greek king Apollodotus I, whom he could have been related in both time and space. The fact that his coins, for the most part, retained the Hellenic emblems that had been in existence in the area before his appearance indicates that Maues' Saka kingdom was probably receptive to Greek cultural influences and retained many Hellenic customs and infrastructure after the fall of the Greek kingdoms in the area. For example, an abundance of Greek deities appear on his coins, a common motif being that of Zeus and Nike. The Greek goddess Artemis, equated with both Nanaia and Anahita, appear as well. A Hellenic city goddess appears on several of his other coins, with Tyche standing and holding a wheel. The legendary golden winged staff with 2 entwined snakes of the Greek messenger god, Hermes, is another common motif and Hermes himself seems to have been a popular deity among the Saka. To this, we witness Herakles and Helis the Sun God (Surya) in his chariot on several other coins of Maues. Though rather out of place, we even see representations of the Sea God Poseidon, to which some scholars have suggested that it symbolized Maues' understanding of the naval control necessary to dominate the extensive river system of the Panjab. A rather rare coin type of Maues shows a striding male figure with club, trident, and/or vase, reflecting the Saka's reception to an early form of the cult of Siva.

The large and varied coinage of Maues suggests that his reign was rather long and prosperous. Most of his coins were minted and found at Taxila, and also in Gandhara and the Swat Valley as well as Kapisa to the north of Gandhara, but rarely in the Kabul Valley. If we can somehow corroborate what we know about Maues' kingdom from his coins with what was stated in the Han Shu, Ch. 96 about Jibin being a great kingdom with a large trained army, we can also extrapolate that he was part of a lineage of rulers with much power and prestige, and that his ancestors were probably those Saka who were driven out of the north Tianshan region by the Da Yuezhi into Taxila and Gandhara, while some of his kinsmen formed small nomadic states to the northwest of the Kashgar oasis. However, it is not entirely clear from which group of Saka did Maues originate from, since we find that scholarly opinion on this subject is rather divided. Some believe that he was connected with the Saka who directly fled the north Tianshan region from the Da Yuezhi onslaught as suggested above. Others think that he originated from the other group of Saka, the ones who had formerly threatened the entire existence of Parthia, settled down in Drangiana-Sakastana and intermingled with the Parthians of Arachosia; they reason that Maues was really a Parthian because of the fact that he used the Parthian title "Basileus Basileon" on some of his coins and that his successors were closely involved with the Parthian kings of Arachosia. Some scholars have pointed out that some of the coin symbols of Maues and his successors undoubtedly show an origin from Central Asia rather than from the Pahlavas. Nevertheless, it is clear that the two groups of Saka were closely connected in later history. Additionally, it should be mentioned that there is some evidence that suggests that Maues or, rather, his affiliates in Arachosia, formed occasional alliances, possibly even intermarriages, with the Indo-Greeks; Zoilos' coins contain the club of Herakles as well as a nomad gorytos and shares affinities with the Arachosian Saka-Pahlavas while Hermaios, an Indo-Greek king who was a contemporary of the Indo-Saka, is depicted on some of his coins with a nomad gorytos.

The successor of Maues at Taxila was Azes I, who is again obtained from the dated numismatic evidence. In Kharoshthi, it is "Ayasa". Azes I's coin types continue the same emblems as that of his predecessor, those of Zeus, Athene, Demeter, Tyche, Hermes, and Herakles, suggesting the same type of reception and open-mindedness toward the culture of the peoples they had just conquered, in this case, the Indo-Greeks. Like Maues', his coins also show nomadic and Indian influences (Uma on some of his coins), the former a legacy of the Indo-Saka ' nomadic origins from the Central Asian steppe. Like the dating problem associated with Maues-Moga, the problem still remains with that of Azes I. It is significant that modern scholars, for the sake of clarity, identify him as "Azes I" rather than simply "Azes" because there were apparently 2 different Saka rulers in this region bearing the name "Azes" that were not contemporaries of each other; Azes I's successor was most likely Azilises while Azes II was Azilises' successor. It is usually accepted and almost very clear that the numismatic evidence suggests the identification of two separate Azes; certain coins issued in the joint names of Azes-Ayilisha and Azilises-Aya suggest that Azilises was the subordinate viceregal colleague of Azes I before Azilises came to power and that Azes II was, similarly, the subordinate viceregal colleague of Azilises before Azes II came to power. Back to the issue of dating Azes I, if the dated method suggested for his predecessor, ie Maues-Moga, is correct, then Azes I's reign would've probably been around sometime near the middle of the 1st century BC. Other pieces of evidence which suggest such a date for Azes come from Taxila and Kalawan (near Taxila), the former a silver scroll and the latter a copper-plate. The Kalawan copper-plate states "samvatsaraye 134 ajasa" while the Taxila silver scroll states "sa 136 ayasa"; many scholars have suggested that aja and aya of the 2 records are 2 different transliterations of Azes into northwestern Prakrit. Clearly, the first evidence indicates the use of the Vikrama Samvat era, which has commonly been accepted as starting c. 58-57 BC; one authority has even suggested that the Vikrama Samvat era was really the era of Azes I, which would indicate that Azes I's first year was c. 58-57 BC. Even if we assume that this theory takes on too many assumptions, the rather well-established regnal year of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares in AD 19 would necessarily place Azes I as ruling somewhere in the middle of the 1st century BC.

There is a wide range of opinions about the exact origins of Azes I; some argue that he was a Pahlava (based on his intimate involvement with the Arachosian Saka -Pahlavas of Spalarises) while others maintain that he was a Saka, reasoning that his coins share more affinities with Maues and his successor, Azilises, than those of the Arachosian Saka -Pahlavas. Although there does not seem to be a general scholarly consensus on this issue because of the highly debatable interpretations of the limited evidence available to us, it seems that the second argument bears more weight and reason than the first, simply because there is more numismatic evidence that points to a Saka origin for Azes I rather than a Pahlava one and, in any case, the historical origins of the people of the Arachosian kingdom of Vonones' dynasty were a mix of Saka -Pahlava anyway, even though some have chosen to conventionally call it a Pahlava kingdom. Like Maues, his coins are extremely abundant, but even more so that they appear in the Swat Valley, Taxila, and even in Arachosia (from which the other group of Saka -Pahlavas were holding sway) and the Paropamisadae (Indo-Greek territory of Hermaeus). Although it is a highly debatable issue, Azes I may have penetrated the Paropamisadae after Hermaeus' fall. By looking at the manner in which his name appears with Spalarises (whose origin belongs to the other group of Saka -Pahlavas holding sway in Arachosia and the surrounding regions - to the west of Maues' kingdom) on certain coin types, he may have been a subordinate king or closely allied to Spalarises. What is clear though is that both the descendants of the kingdoms of Maues and Vonones (founder of the Arachosian Saka -Pahlava kingdom) were closely involved with each other, to the extent that their kingdoms could've possibly been "combined" into a single empire. One authority reasonably suggests, based on numismatic evidence, that at the beginning of Azes I' reign right after Maues' fall, the Indo-Greek kings Apollodotus II and Hippostratus most likely recaptured Gandhara and Taxila from Azes I for a brief time and that it was only after he had allied with Sparalises' Arachosian Saka -Pahlavas that he was able to reclaim these regions from the Indo-Greeks. The latter king, Hippostratus, being driven back to his territory in the eastern Panjab, was later extinguished by Azes I. Azes I greatly extended the territories of his Indo-Saka kingdom, for he later gained hegemony over Arachosia, Gandhara (which he retook from the Indo-Greeks), the western Panjab, and possibly even Mathura further east in northern central India.

Azes I's successor was one prince by the name of Azilises, whose name in Kharoshthi is "Ayilisasa" (one version). Azilises' coins continue the same motifs as those of his predecessor, Azes I, but he introduces some strikingly original devices on his coins. In particular, some of his coins contain the typically Indian deity Abhisheka-Lakshmi, who appears regularly in ancient and medieval Indian art and had already been adopted by several other foreign and indigenous rulers of India from very early times. In addition, there appear other deities, some of which seem to be identifiably Indian, of both sexes on some of his coins. All this suggests an increasing contact and perhaps adoption of Indian culture, just as Azilises' predecessors had retained and adopted some elements of Greek culture in their empires.

Like his predecessors, Azilises' coins are extensive and appear in various regions. According to one authority, they "are the most handsome of any of the Saka-Pahlava series....", which may be testimony to the prosperity and strength of the Indo-Saka during his reign. Interestingly, the mounted and standing Dioscuri, who in Greek literature were the refuge and protectors of sailors and who in battles would appear on white horses to give victory to the side they favored, also appears on the coins of Azilises. According to one authority, the presence of these varieties of the Dioscuri on Azilises' coins show that the territories of Diomedes and Archebius, and other later members of Eucratides' Indo-Greek dynasty were being annexed by Azilises. On other coins and some on the same coins as those of Dioscuri, there contain images of Zeus holding the small figure of Nike, the winged goddess of victory. These coins, both of the Dioscuri and Zeus with Nike, probably had the primary meaning of military triumph; in fact, there are other forms of evidence that point to a gradual expansion of the empire by Maues' 2 successors, ie Azes I and Azilises. Besides the mentioned conquest of the descendants of Eucratides' Indo-Greek dynasty, Azilises extended his empire far within the borders of Kashmir, if not into the valley proper; this is based on several finds of silver coins of Azilises in Kashmir and the Hazara valley, the former containing a magnificent find of 5 silver coins, all of which were in mint condition. Additionally, the Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus by Justinus, states that during the reign of Phraates IV (c. 38 - 2 BC), the "Scythians" helped him regain the throne from the Parthian usurper Tiridates I. As explained below, "Scythians" in the sense used by Justinus in references to these events on the eastern Parthian border included the Da Yuezhi and their Saka Rauka allies; since by this time, the dynasty of Vonones and his descendants, Spalahores, Spalagadames, and Spalirises, who were most likely the descendants of these Saka Rauka, was already conquered/united by the dynasty of Maues during the reign of Azes I, the "Scythians" referred to here were probably those mobile Saka units employed by Azilises (this could not have happened during the reign of the declining empire of Azes II) to interfere in Parthian affairs. It was under the reign of this great emperor Azilises that the Indo-Saka reached the height of their power.

Azilises' successor was Azes II, who could've been the son of Azilises. Unlike the coins of his predecessors, Azes II's coins are much debased in quality, with some of them being billon and often with corrupt Greek script. His coins also bear few of the usual designs found on the coins of his predecessors, and there is little variety among his issues. All this may suggest that the empire that he had inherited was in decline, very much so that his territories were probably restricted to the central and western parts of the Panjab. Almost certainly, Azes II lost his western domains, those in Kandahar (Arachosia) and Baluchistan (Gedrosia and Drangiana-Sakastana), to the semi-independent local Parthian king Orthagnes, who was ruling in those regions with Gondophares, then his viceregal associate and later the legendary founder of the Indo-Parthian empire. Interestingly, the fact that Azes II's coins contain an increased admixture of lead in the silver alloy may indicate that the empire had extensive trade relations with the Andhras in southern India, where the metallic value of money was much lower. Among his billon coins, there is issued on the reverse the Prakrit legend "Indravarmaputrasa aspavarmasa strategasa jayatasa", or "of the victorious strategos Aspavarma, son of Indravarma". This man, probably an Indo-Greek general as his name suggests, also appears on a coin type closely related to those of Gondophares, the founder of the Indo-Parthian kingdom that later conquered the Indo-Saka kingdom of Azes II, which has lead to the suggestion that Aspavarma first served Azes II as a general ruling jointly with Azes II in the western Panjab and then later turned his allegiance to the conquering power - Gondophares and the Indo-Parthian kingdom. These pieces of evidence, linking Azes II with Gondophares by Aspavarma, suggest that there is almost no doubt Azes II fell to the expanding power of Gondophares, whose regnal year most scholars seem to conclude was AD 19. From this, we can possibly deduce, according to one authority, that Azes II was ruling "within a decade or two of the birth of Christ", ie c.20-10 BC.

The Saka Rauka in Graeco-Baktria and Eastern Pahlava:
The Indo-Saka/Pahlavas of Sakastana and Arachosia

Strabo lists four nomadic peoples who took Baktria from the Greeks, the four being the Asioi, Pasianoi, Tokharoi, and Sakarauloi. This information seems to be corroborated by both the Shi Ji, Ch. 123 and the Han Shu, Chs. 61 and 96, all of which mention the Da Yuezhi conquest of Daxia (Baktria) after the Xiongnu Lao Chanyu killed the Yuezhi king and made his skull into a drinking cup; the Han Shu is more specific in its mention of this event, which has it that the Yuezhi initially fled to the region that was later inhabitted by the Wusun (Issyk-kol/Semirechye) and that the Wusun, seeking revenge for what the Da Yuezhi did to their people in the past, obtained "permission" from the Xiongnu Chanyu and subsequently drove the Da Yuezhi to Daxia/Baktria. In the past, there had been many complex arguments advanced to try to prove the connections between Strabo's list of the nomadic conquerors of Baktria and their relation to the Da Yuezhi. One theory has it that "Daxia" [Middle Chinese "d'd-g'"] was an approximate transcription of "Tokharoi" and that these people were not Yuezhi but another Tokharian people who fled before the Da Yuezhi into Baktria but were later subjugated by the Da Yuezhi. Another school pointed out the mythological connotations of "Daxia" given to Baktria by Zhang Qian, with "Daxia" being the westernmost polity that Zhang Qian knew and that "Daxia" was not an approximate transcription of "Tokharoi" or the name of any people, for that matter. It seems that the latter theory, even though it is questionable that Zhang Qian's designation of Baktria was propogated by his dedication to an ancient fable, holds more weight than the former because the "Da" in "Daxia" was a Chinese character for "great" and wasn't necessarily part of the real name of a polity since they would not designate themselves using Chinese terms. Ptolemy also mentions the Tokharoi being present in Baktria and Sogdiana (albeit in a variant form - Takhoroi) and says that they were a great people. As had been explored above, there appears to have been a large body of Saka Rauka who remained in the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region and were later ruled by the Da Yuezhi and the Wusun. There is no reason to doubt that the Da Yuezhi was a composite horde of both Kuchean-Agnean ("Tokharian", which seems to have been the dominant component of the Da Yuezhi before the rise of the Kushanas) and Indo-Iranian speakers, especially after the Yuezhi fled to the Issyk-kol/Semirechye region that was previously inhabitted by Indo-Iranian Saka Rauka. It is possible that the first two nomad peoples, if not all of them, mentioned by Strabo, were part of the Da Yuezhi composite horde that conquered Graeco-Baktria. The "Tokharoi" could've been the main component of the Da Yuezhi while the Asioi of Strabo and the Asiani of Trogus (Prologus of Book 42 says that the Asiani became/were the kings of the Tochari [Tokharoi]) could've been the Eastern Iranian/Saka-speaking Kushanas/Guishuang clan who later became the ruling clan of the Da Yuezhi composite horde and established the Kushana empire in the early 1st century AD. The Sakarauloi, on the other hand, could've been allies/nominal vassals of the Da Yuezhi but probably became independent later on because they were later separately destroyed, as Trogus tells us in his Prologus of Book 42. Additionally, this group of Saka Rauka could've conquered Sogdiana as well, since Trogus in Prologus of Book 41 states, albeit in very vague terms, that the Sa[ca]raucae and the Asiani occupied Baktria and Sogdiana (Ptolemy mentions that the Sakaraukoi occupied territory below the Jaxartes [Syr-Darya] which may point to the fact that at one point in their history the Sakaraukoi/Saka Rauka had been there), which may indicate a Sa[ca]raucae/Saka Rauka alliance with the Asioi/Asiani. The conquest of Graeco-Baktria by the Da Yuezhi and their Asioi and Saka Rauka allies must have happened sometime between 145 BC (the date of the destruction of Ai-Khanoum on the Oxus, according to the archaeologists who excavated the site) and 130 BC (the date suggested by Zhang Qian's report on Central Asia). The Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus by Justinus contains references to the attacks that the nomadic alliance, designated by Justinus as simply "Scythians", inflicted on Parthia. He says that Artabanus I was killed by a wound he received in battle against the Tochari, who were part of the nomadic alliance that included the Asioi and the Saka Rauka and had been previously responsible for the conquest of Graeco-Baktria. He states in Book 42 that these "Scythians" invaded and laid waste to Parthia during the reign of the Parthian king Phraates (Phraates II, r. 138 - 127 BC) because they were disappointed at not having arrived in time to do what they were called upon to do, which was to aid Phraates in his war against the Syrian king Antiochus (Seleukid king Antiochus VII, r. 138 - 129 BC). Phraates II was killed by his own Greek mercenaries after they had defected to the nomadic alliance, who were defeating the army of Phraates II. Artabanus I (r. 127 - 124 BC), the successor of Phraates II, did no better; he received a fatal wound in his arm, probably from a poisoned weapon, when he was fighting the Tochari. It was only during the reign of Mithridates II ("the Great", c. 123 - 88 BC) that the nomadic alliance was driven back. Trogus states that the Sa[ca]raucae were destroyed. Apart from the incredible vagueness of the statement, it is possible that Mithridates II, in his ventures against the nomadic alliance, he could've driven back the Da Yuezhi/Tochari/Tokharoi but, because the Da Yuezhi were too strong to oust out of Baktria-Sogdiana, the Parthians were only able to totally defeat the Saka Rauka; it is even possible that this statement refers to the Indo-Parthian conquest of Azes II's kingdom further east and all-together unrelated to Mithridates II. It is possible that these Saka Rauka fled towards the south, to a part of Drangiana (in the region of Zaranj around the Sistan Lake) and later gave their name to this region by at least the 1st century BC, when Isidore of Charax in "Parthian Stations" called the region "Sakastana". In this rather complicated field of study regarding the Saka contingent of Sakastana-Drangiana, again we find several opinions regarding their origins and the date of their establishment in this area. One scholar had suggested that a group of Saka established themselves in this region at a very early time, such as the 7th century BC or even earlier, and that they remained in this region all during the Achaimenid and Hellenistic periods even though Sakastana as a name does not appear until the revival of Saka power in the 2nd century BC, and that this revival of Saka power had nothing to do with an invasion of Saka from the Central Asian steppes. Very few scholars accept this theory in its entire form. Some scholars had chosen a more moderate view, e.g. "there is good evidence that the earlier Scythian [Saka] settlements in Iran were reinforced about the time the Cakas [Sakas] first occupied Bactria." Others flatly deny this theory of an earlier occupation of Sakastana-Drangiana by the Saka and insist that they first arrived there when they were expelled from their Central Asian homelands. While there may be some truth regarding the earlier settlement of Saka in this region and the revival of Saka power due to an invasion of Saka from Central Asia, there is also reason to believe that the majority of the Saka of Sakastana-Drangiana were the Saka Rauka. Regardless of the date and origins of the Saka contingent of Sakastana-Drangiana, it is clear that these Saka played a very important role in the history of the eastern Iran-northern India region.

As mentioned earlier, there appear anepigraphic coins in the Arachosia region dated to c. 110-100 BC attributed to the Saka. If we corroborate this evidence with the theory that Mithridates II drove the Saka out of Baktria, we may suppose that by this time, the Saka had already settled in Sakastana-Drangiana and had a presence in Arachosia and that by this time up to 88 BC the Saka in this region mixed with the Parthian/Pahlava conquerors who destroyed the last remnants of Indo-Greek power in Arachosia. The first Indo-Saka/Pahlava ruler of this region whose name is obtainable from numismatic evidence is Vonones, who undoubtedly was culturally a Parthian but whose ethnicity was probably a Saka-Pahlava mix. It is significant that some scholars, perhaps overwhelmingly and unnecessarily, emphasize the Parthian/Pahlava elements of this kingdom. As several authorities had rightly suggested, the Sakas and Pahlavas of the Indo-Saka kingdoms were so closely associated that "it is not always possible to distinguish between them", the same family including both Pahlava and Saka names; this is further backed up by a close linguistic survey conducted by one scholar of the various names of the early foreign chiefs, both royal and satrapal, known from their coins and inscriptions. It is highly probable that the tribes of the Indo-Saka kingdoms of both Maues and, in this case, Vonones, contained diverse elements.

Regarding the date of Vonones' reign, the high-sounding titles of his coins suggest a date most probably after 88 BC, the last year of the reign of Mithridates II, because a great king such as that of Mithridates II would not have tolerated such pomp displayed by his subjects. One authority, in his analysis of the numismatic evidence regarding the rulers of this region, noticed that the square form of omicron (15th letter of the Greek alphabet - looks like an "o") appeared side by side with the round form on the coins of Hippostratus (an Indo-Greek/Yavana ruler) and Azes I (middle of the 1st century BC, 1st regnal year possibly 58-57 BC) and that the change of omicron from a round form to a square form on coins happened during the reign of the Parthian king Orodes I (c. 57-38 BC). Vonones' coins happen to use the round form of omicron, which may suggest a date for Vonones earlier than c. 40 BC. Additionally, Vonones' coins are few in both number and variety and in each of them he issues his name jointly with those of his subordinate rulers, his brother Spalahores (this is presumably his Saka-Pahlava name, just like "Spalagadames" is also - his name in Greek is "Spalyris", with its genitive form being "Spalyrios") and his nephew Spalagadames (son of Spalahores); all this suggests that Vonones' rule could not have lasted long. Vonones was probably a younger comtemporary of Maues and probably ruled about the sixties of the 1st century BC. Vonones was succeeded by his subordinate rulers, the above-mentioned Spalahores and Spalagadames, father and son. The names of these father-son rulers in Kharoshthi are Spalahora and Spalagadama, respectively. Like Vonones' coins, those of Spalahores with his joint subordinate ruler Spalagadames are few in both number and variety, which again suggests that this joint rule of father-son, was short and brief.

Spalahores' joint rule with Spalagadames was followed by the rule of Spalirises (Kharoshthi "Spalirisha"), who was probably another brother of Vonones. His coins differ from those of his predecessors in that he has issued coins of himself as sole king while he also issued coins jointly with Azes, who can be identified with Azes I, the immediate successor of Maues. Since he was a contemporary of Azes I, we may establish that Spalirises was also ruling somewhere in the middle of the 1st century BC. The fact that his coins and those of his predecessors, Vonones, Spalahores, and Spalagadames, contain the same emblems, objects, and motifs on their coins as those of Maues' dynasty which continued the local tradition of the Indo-Greeks, suggests, again, that Vonones and his successors were probably receptive to Greek cultural influences and retained many Hellenic customs and infrastructure presumably after the fall of the Indo-Greek kingdoms in Kandahar (Arachosia) and Baluchistan (Gedrosia and Drangiana-Sakastana). The use of the Kharoshthi script on their coins also suggests Indian cultural influences, probably those acquired by the preceeding Indo-Greeks.

Interestingly, the numismatic evidence suggests that during his time, he greatly expanded his domains from Arachosia all the way to the Paropamisadae and destroyed the last remnants of Indo-Greek power in the Kabul and Herat regions. It is significant that in his joint issues with Azes I, his name appears on the obverse in the Greek legend "Basileos Megalou Spalirisou" while Azes I's name appears on the reverse in the Kharoshthi legend "maharajasa mahatakasa Ayasa". This may suggest that Azes I was in a subordinate position in his alliance with Spalirises; this is totally understandable since the beginning of Azes I's reign was marked by the recapture of Gandhara and Taxila by the Indo-Greek kings Apollodotus II and Hippostratus and perhaps desperation drove Azes I, who had lost a large swap of territory that was formerly owned by his predecessor Maues, to consult an alliance with the powerful Spalirises. Spalirises acted in conjunction with Azes I to recapture the lost domains from the Indo-Greeks and thus saved Azes I's kingdom. Spalirises was a great king and was probably the most remarkable Indo-Saka/Pahlava king of Vonones' line. Spalirises' coins forcibly suggest that he was the last ruler of Vonones' kingdom and that during his time his domains were later incorporated into Maues' kingdom by Azes I; his disappearance from the archaeological record does not seem to be explainable by any theory, but however he lost his position as ruler of his empire, this signifies the end of Vonones' Indo-Saka/Pahlava dynasty.

The Mathura Kshatrapas

The oldest traces of the Saka at Mathura who preceded the Kushanas come from a series of coins minted probaby in the middle of the 1st century BC by four rulers who carry the title Khatapa (in Brahmi) or, Satrap, its Hellenized form, with the "Indianized" form being "Kshatrapa". The title "Satrap" undoubtedly stems from the old Persian title Kshathra-pavan (means "protector of the realm") which was first introduced into northern and northwestern India by the Achaimenid conquerors. In the Achaimenid empire, the satraps were somewhat subordinate rulers with a varying degree of political importance but even during Achaimenid times, these powerful administrators showed a tendency toward independence. The Mathura Saka are covered in a separate section because, as the name "Satrap"/"Kshatrapa" suggests, these rulers probably maintained a good level of autonomy even though they were subjects of the powerful Indo-Saka of Taxila-Gandhara. Regarding the 4 rulers of the coins, they were named Sivaghosha, Sivadatta, Hagamasha, and Hagana, and it has been suggested that the latter 2 names seem to show definite Saka ancestry. It is possible that these Kshatrapas were subordinates of Azes I but these 4 rulers probably preceded Rajuvula and his son-successor Sodasa. As will be shown below, these Saka were probably descended from the Saka of Sakastana-Drangiana and Arachosia, who were probably ultimately descended from the Sakaraukoi who took part in the conquest of Greco-Baktria.

Among the evidence of the Saka at Mathura is the rather well-known Mathura Lion Capital, now in the British Museum. It is composed of lion-griffins turned back to back and the stone is inscribed on all sides in Kharoshthi. Although the order of the sentences is so uncertain due to the script being so worn, the readings and interpretations by a number of scholars suggest that it may be the record of a ceremonial gathering of a large number of Saka princes at Mathura. Unfortunately, it is one of the most vexing historical documents imaginable and it is a pity that although the inscriptions on the capital contain so many potentially valuable information, only a limited amount of data can be safely extracted due to its worn state. Chief among these princes is the Mahakshatrapa Rajula. This Rajula is a short form of the well-known Prince Rajuvula, whose power was based in the eastern Panjab. Ayasia Kamuia is listed as his queen, whose father is listed twice as Yuvaraja Kharaosta, or Crown Prince Kharaosta. This Kharaosta may be the same Satrap Kharaosta who is found on some rare coins in the northwestern Panjab as the son of a certain Arta. Among the other Saka princes listed on the capital and not found elsewhere include a Prince Khalamasa, a Kshatrapa Mevaki Miyika, and a Kshatrapa Khardaa. Mention should be made to some rather controversial names listed whose identity is not entirely certain and have vexed a number of scholars who have attempted to interpret them. They are Mukisriraya (illustrious King Muki) and the Mahakshatrapa Kusuluka Patika. The "illustrious King Muki" has often been identified with Maues, the Indo-Saka king at Taxila and Gandhara, but this interpretation is questionable considering the fact that it is difficult to explain why Maues' name would lack its proper titles and its occurrence so late in time. The name Mahakshatrapa Kusuluka Patika is a bit confusing in that Patika as the name of one man and Kusuluka as his father also appear on the Taxila copper plate of the year 78 in the reign of King Moga (Maues). It is difficult to account for their appearance in a different form at Mathura but, nevertheless, it is quite possible and likely that this personality may have been the Patika of the Taxila copper plate of the year 78. This may necessarily indicate that the Saka at Mathura had strong ties and connections with those of Maues' dynasty in Taxila-Gandhara - indeed, the city of Taxila is also mentioned in the Mathura Lion Capital. Mention is also made to the "whole of Sakastana", which may indicate the origins of these Saka at Mathura as being descended from the Saka of Sakastana-Drangiana in the modern Helmand River Basin who later intermingled with the Parthians to form Vonones' Saka kingdom centered in Arachosia - these were probably ultimately descended from a branch of the Saka Rauka who took part in the conquest of Sogdiana and Graeco-Baktria.

Mention should be made regarding the date of Rajuvula's reign. On the basis of the close affinities that his most common coins show with the late coins of the Indo-Greek kings Strato I and Strato II, Rajuvula must have ruled after c. 75 BC, probably even a generation later than Maues if Mahakshatrapa Kusuluka Patika was the same as the Patika of the Taxila copper plate of 78. It seems most probable, according to a number of scholars, that Rajuvula was a contemporary of Azes I and his successors Azilises and Azes II, attesting a rather long reign for Rajuvula; this would place him as ruling sometime in the middle of the 1st century BC or slightly after to the last quarter of the 1st century BC. Like his affiliates/kinsmen at Taxila-Gandhara, Rajuvula's coins seem to show many Indo-Greek motifs and influences, particularly in one of his coin types with his portrait on the obverse and Pallas Athene on the reverse holding the aegis in her left hand and hurling a thunderbolt with her right. On other coin types also appear other Greek deities, again suggesting the same type of receptivity toward Greek cultural influences and customs that his affiliates in Taxila-Gandhara and Arachosia-Sakastana so commonly evinced on their respective coin types. Rajuvula's other coin types also show that he adapted and picked up Hindu influences, particularly those in the Gangetic Doab in the eastern part of his extensive empire, as a typical coin type over there were simply adaptations of the local Mathura Hindu issues with the typical Gaja-Lakshmi motif on the reverse. These coin types and hence his exposure to Hindu influence may have been rather late in his reign because this coin type was continued by his son and successor Sodasa. Finally, there is evidence that Rajuvula and his contemporaries at Mathura as well as his successors actively engaged in Buddhist activities. From the Mathura Lion Capital mentioned above, there is mention that these Saka actively supported the Sarvastivadin sect against the Mahasamghikas. Additionally, on one of Rajuvula's coin types, there appears the Kharoshthi legend "apratihata cakrasa chatrapasa rajuvulasa" or, "the Satrap Rajuvula whose discus (cakra) is irresistible". This is rather quite interesting in that the traditional Buddhist use of the cakra was an emblem of the Dharma while in this instance Rajuvula has turned the cakra into a weapon of war. This militant interpretation of the cakra, although a sign that Rajuvula and his Mathura Saka were active participants and perhaps followers of Buddhism, is also an indication of the preservation of some of their traditional militant ideals and a legacy of their heritage from the Central Asian steppes. These coin types appear extensive, for they are found in an area from Sankasya along the Ganges in the middle of the Doab and into the eastern Panjab. Rajuvula rightly deserved the title Mahakshatrapa and was, no doubt, a powerful Kshatrapa. As had just been mentioned, his coins extend as far southeast as Sankasya along the Ganges in the middle of the Doab region in modern Uttar Pradesh province in north-central India and northwest into the eastern Panjab. In addition, Rajuvula must have supplanted the above-mentioned Indo-Greek kings Strato I and Strato II as paramount lord in the district of Sagala. Like his Indo-Greek predecessors, he probably continued trade relations with the Andhras to his south as his coinage in the region continued the previous debasement of silver with lead.

At Mathura, Rajuvula's chief successor was his son Sodasa, or Sudasa of the coins. It is significant to note that although his reign was marked by flourishing artistic and religious activity, his power and domains were probably greatly limited in size and strength, as the "unambitious and narrow provenance" of his coins suggest, as one modern authority puts it; he was probably limited to only the Mathura region and the previous domains of his father Rajuvula in the northwest were probably succeeded by Prince Bhadrayasa. It is also significant that he discontinued the Hellenic features of Indo-Saka coinage that were so commonly employed by his predecessors and affiliates/kinsmen elsewhere but instead adopted native, local issues showing strong Hindu influences. On the obverse is probably Lakshmi and on the obverse, the abhiseka of Lakshmi, showing further Hindu influences during his reign. The rarity of his coins where he uses the "Great Satrap" title, ie Mahakshatrapa, suggests that his period as the paramount ruler of Mathura was relatively short. As the dating of his father, the Great Satrap Rajuvula, suggests, Sodasa was probably an older contemporary of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares, suggesting a date for Sodasa as ruling somewhere in the last years of the 1st century BC or the early decades of the 1st century AD.

So far, the sequence of kings at Mathura beyond Sodasa has not been traced and the political situation between him up to the time of the Kushana emperor Vima or Kanishka is unclear. Considering the strong cultural and political links the Indo-Saka of Mathura had with those of Taxila-Gandhara to their northwest, it is possible, although by no means certain or settled, that the rise of the Indo-Parthians under Gondophares and his subsequent conquest of Azes II and the remnants of the once-great Indo-Saka empire at Taxila-Gandhara destroyed the political system there and caused a decline and possible disuse of the political system at Mathura as well. However, there have been no major traces of the Indo-Parthians, as of yet, in the middle Doab region where the Mathura Indo-Saka ruled, and so it must be concluded that Gondophares and his Indo-Parthians probably did not overthrow Indo-Saka power in Mathura; additionally, a Jaina carving from the Kankali Tila mentions the old Saka title Mahakshatrapa along with an anonymous "Ma...." and another fragmented pedestal also gives the rank of a Kshatrapa, albeit the man's name is lost. The work is later than Sodasa but shows no Kushana influences. Regardless of the political situation at Mathura, the sculpture workshops in the area continued to flourish as they had once did under Sodasa and his precedessors and, as has just been mentioned, it is from these works that there are vague references to Saka power still being present in Mathura at so late a date.

As has been previously suggested, the Indo-Saka of Mathura finally succumbed to the rising power of the Kushanas and were conquered by either Vima or Kanishka. Still, reference should be made to a certain Zeionises (or Jihonika in Kharoshthi-Prakrit) who appears to have succeeded the Indo-Parthians at Taxila after the Kushana conquest of the entire Panjab region. He was a Satrap of Chukhsa and was probably installed at Taxila by either of the great Kushana emperors Kujula or Vima. It is interesting that besides the nandipada monogram commonly found on Vima's coins, which may indicate his subordinate position to the Kushanas, most of the features of his coins continued the Hellenized traditions of the Indo-Saka that had once ruled the region centuries before his time. This may suggest that he was even an Indo-Saka, probably a subordinate ruler employed by the Kushanas. This shows that even though the Indo-Saka of Mathura eventually lost their power to the Kushanas, they played a role in the Kushana empire. Perhaps one example would not suffice, but there are many instances in which men with the title of Kshatrapa appear in many Kushana inscriptions, especially the early ones. It might be that these men were Saka who had been absorbed into the Kushana empire or it is possible that the Kushanas employed their own version of the Satrapal system, no doubt influenced by their Indo-Saka predecessors. Considering that along with the title of "Kshatrapa" comes a great deal of individual autonomy and administrative as well as military power as had been the tradition in the Achaimenid empire and, later, the Indo-Saka empire, this suggests that the role the Indo-Saka played in the Kushana empire was an important one.

The Western Kshatrapas

A militant group of Saka, conventionally designated the "Western Kshatrapas", settled far to the south in western and central India, in the regions of Malwa, Gujaradesa, and Kathiawar. These Saka appear to have penetrated far into the interior regions of India and, unlike the rather short-lived empires founded by their kinsmen to the northwest, these Saka retained their independence for quite a while and survived as a relatively powerful polity for nearly four hundred years, their rise and fall almost being contemporary to that of the Kushanas. They fought with the Satavahanas, native Indian rulers of the Andhra kingdom in the Deccan Plateau (in south India), as well as the Yaudheyas in the Sindh region.

The chief seats of power of these Western Kshatrapas were Ujjayini in Malwa and Junagadh in Kathiawar. Regarding their origins, if there is some truth in the medieval legend of the Jaina saint Kalaka in the "Kalakacarya kathanaka", the Western Kshatrapas may have, like their kinsmen in Mathura, originated from the Saka of Sakastana-Drangiana and Arachosia and, thus, being ultimately descended from the Sakaraukoi. The legend has it that a group of Saka kings called Sahis were induced to come to India from a place called "Sagakula" and, after crossing the Indus, they captured Kathiawar and divided it among themselves. Ujjayini was also captured by these Saka and they installed their own Sahi as "King of Kings", beginning a dynasty. Later, the Indian King Vikaramaditya of Malwa uprooted this foreign dynasty and established his own era, the Vikrama Samvat of 57 BC, but after 135 years, he was ousted by another Saka king, who established the Saka Samvat (Saka era). It is significant that both these eras are still in use in India today, both employed for religious purposes while the latter was chosen for the Indian National Calendar. If the legend is factual, which many scholars have come to doubt, then the fact that the Saka Samvat was chosen for the Indian National Calendar clearly shows the legacy and significance that the Saka played in the history of India.

Although the Jaina legend describes Saka activities in Kathiawar and Malwa as early as possibly the first half of the 1st century BC, at least before 58-57 BC, numismatic and epigraphic evidence for the Western Kshatrapas does not trace their activities well until the early 2nd century AD. The first ruler known to us from such evidence is one called Nahapana, who probably reigned c. 120 - 125 AD and whose father and predecessor was one Bhumaka. His rule is attested in the Western Ghats range of western India, in the northern part of the range near modern Bombay on the tip of western India. Nahapana was probably related to a powerful dynasty of Kshatrapas to his north, the dynasty of Castana. Castana probably ruled as sole ruler until c. 130 AD when he was ruling jointly with his grandson and later, successor, Rudradaman I, in the region of the Kutch district in the modern Indian state of Gujarat in western India. His successor, Rudradaman I, was undoubtedly the most powerful Kshatrapa among the Saka princes in the south. By 150 AD, he conquered large portions of western and central India which included the upper Narbada region, eastern and western Malwa including Vidisa, northern Konkan, Kutch, Surastra, most of Kathiawar, and the lower to middle Indus region (Sindhu-Sauvira), and possibly even Kausambi, rendering Kshatrapa power extending as far east as the heart of the Ganges basin in north-central India. Furthermore, Rudradaman I twice defeated the Satavahana King Satakarni and regained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the Western Ghats region and the trading ports on the Indian Ocean and later defeated the Yaudheyas at the Sindh region, the latter who were based in northern Rajputana and the southeastern Panjab and who, along with the Kunindas, were a constant menace to the Kushanas in the region between Gandhara and Mathura. For all intents and purposes, Rudradaman I was an extremely powerful Kshatrapa, and his defeat of the Yaudheyas and the conquest of so many regions in western and central India may even put his empire on par with those of the Kushanas, who were probably their nominal allies. Furthermore, the dynasty of Castana lasted for nearly 200 years and the total length of time of the Kshatrapas in western and central India lasted for over 400 years, the empires of these Saka Kshatrapas far outlasting those to their northwest; Castana's dynasty lasted until about c. 300 AD, the last dated coins of the Kshatrapa kings being the year 388 AD and, finally, by 401 AD, the Guptas under Chandragupta II finally succeeded in what other regional and local powers failed to do, that is, subdue this ancient powerful Saka kingdom of the Kshatrapas.


Mention must be made of the fact that studies have shown that a number of Zoroastrian deities existed before the advent of the Zoroastrian religion and thus, the Saka worship of deities known in Zoroastrianism and by their Zoroastrian terms does not, in any way, indicate that the Saka tribes worshipped Zoroastrianism; consequently, the Zoroastrian deities Ahura Mazdah and Spenta Armaiti were pre-Zoroastrian deities which existed before the advent of Zoroastrianism and probably as far as the time of the proto-Indo-Iranian Andronovo peoples. On the basis of linguistic analysis of the religious terminology of contemporary as well as surviving Saka languages, the Saka tribes before the great migrations and Indo-Saka periods probably worshipped primarily Ahura Mazdah as "God of Heaven" with strong solar features and Svanta Armati as "Goddess of Earth". In the Saka language, "urmaysde", which means "sun", can be linguistically traced to Old Iranian "Ahura Mazdah; the evidence for the strong solar features of Ahura Mazdah among the Saka tribes may be seen when Herodotos states that the Massagetai, a confederacy of Saka tribes, worshipped the sun exclusively and sacrificed horses to the sun, believing that the swiftest of creatures should be given to the swiftest of gods. Saka "ssandramata" can be traced to Old Iranian "Spenta Armaiti"; in later Zoroastrianism, Spenta Armaiti was the patron of the Earth, the fertile land, and of sacred space. Additionally, some of the Saka tribes must have worshipped the cult of Haoma, since one of the Saka tribes known to the Achaimenid Persians and seen on the inscriptions at Persepolis and Naqsh-i-Rustam were "Saka Haomavarga" or "Haoma-drinking/Haoma-consuming Saka". Haoma was the name of both a plant and a deity in the Zoroastrian religion; in the past, much controversy existed over the identity of the "Haoma" plant but a rather recent study indicates that it was most likely the harmel plant, a plant resembling tumbleweed in appearance and containing some very powerful psychoactive alkaloids, harmine and harmaline. It was used in the Zoroastrian ritual of Yasna where the plant was pounded in a mortar partly filled with water and then its juice squeezed into a cup to be drank by a Zoroastrian priest reciting religious texts; besides harmel, this "Haoma juice" was probably prepared along with ephedra. In addition, known northeastern Saka languages are rich in religious terminology, which suggests the Saka worship of divine beings such as daivas, yazatas, and bagas. Due to the lack of direct sources, we must assume that the Saka Rauka worshipped such deities and divine beings as the ones suggested above concerning other Saka tribes.

The above, of course, only pertains to the period before the great nomadic migrations of the middle 2nd century BC and the subsequent Indo-Saka period. After the Saka Rauka tribes conquered Graeco-Baktria and Gandhara/Kapisa and made their mark on Central and South Asia and eastern Iran, they were exposed to the religions of the settled peoples that they conquered, and thus readily adopted some of the Greek and Indian religious ideas and deities that they came across during that time, for both religious and propaganda purposes. As suggested above, the Greek deities Zeus and Nike were common motifs of the coins of the Indo-Saka rulers, along with Artemis, Tyche, Hermes, Herakles, Helis, Poseidon, Athene, Demeter, and Dioscuri. As the Indo-Saka expanded further toward the south and east, they came to pick up Indian deities as well, such as Siva, Abhisheka-Lakshmi, and Gaja-Lakshmi, showing Hindu influence on the Indo-Saka. Buddhism also seems to have, at least in later times, been readily adopted by some Indo-Saka groups, especially the Mathura Kshatrapas; in fact, the Mathura Lion Capital shows that the Indo-Saka actively supported the Sarvastivadin sect against the Mahasamghikas and, interestingly, the Mathura Indo-Saka ruler Rajuvula seems to have attached a militaristic use to the cakra, whose traditional Buddhist use was an emblem of the Dharma.


As was the case for the nomads of the Eurasian steppes, a typical Saka Rauka army before the great migration period would've been composed largely of highly mobile horse-archers armed with the typical nomad recurved composite bow as a primary weapon and a short sword of the akinakes type or a sagaris battle-axe as secondary close-combat weapons and equipped with little to no armour. For a typical nomadic army to function "properly" and utilize its mobility and tactics to the maximum on both the strategic and tactical level, the army would need at least two horses for each soldier. This was usually not a problem for steppe nomads since their whole ecological and economic strategy was based largely upon the rearing of cattle, sheep and, more importantly, horses and the seasonal migration from one grazing ground to another within a general area of grazing grounds under their control; they were transhumant pastoralists. In fact, the Han Shu explicitly mentions that there were large numbers of horses in the region ruled by the Wusun and that some wealthy people own as many as 4,000 - 5,000. The majority of tribesmen would've ridden the steppe pony known today as the Przewalski which had once been widespread across the Eurasian steppes but is now considered an endangered species. Wealthier tribesmen would've ridden larger and more powerful horses, a breed of horses possibly indigenous to the region and one which the Han emperor Wudi (r. 140-86 BC) termed as an "excellent breed"; in fact, before Han Wudi later decided to call the magnificent "blood-sweating horses" from Ferghana "heavenly horses", the term was originally used for Wusun horses, but later the Wusun horses came to be known as "horses from the western extremity", the honor of being designated "heavenly horses" later transferred to the Ferghanian horses. This might be testimony to the good quality of horses from the Semirechye region, and thus we can safely assume that the Saka Rauka polity which ruled the region before the Da Yuezhi and the Wusun and who many of their tribesmen later joined the Da Yuezhi and the Wusun had access to such good-quality horses.

Archaeological evidence, in the form of "anectdotal" gold plaques from the Siberian collection of Peter the Great, dated to the "Saka period", presumably from northern and eastern Kazakhstan, and now in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, show that at least the eastern concentration of Saka tribes used a new larger type of recurved composite bow different from the "Skythian" recurved composite bow used by the other Saka, Skythian, and Sarmatian tribes further west, possibly as a result of contact with the Yuezhi, Wusun, Xiongnu, and other tribes of eastern Central Asia who by that time were probably using a larger recurved composite bow with the additional enlarged "siyahs" at the tips, conventionally called the "Sassanian-type" recurved composite bow by some authorities. This "eastern Saka" bow was probably a "transitional-stage" bow that reached its end product in the form of the said "Sassanian" bow, which was later carried west into the western Central Asian and Pontic steppes by groups such as the Da Yuezhi, Kangju, and Wusun, eventually reaching the Pontic steppes by way of the Massagetai-Alans; it later replaced the "Skythian bow" all across the continent. Thus, if these gold plaques can be attributable to such eastern Saka groups as the Saka Rauka, then they were using these bows by at least the 5th-4th centuries BC or even earlier.

As noticed above, possibly the earliest full depiction of the kataphraktoi in archaeology belong to the Massagetai-Chorasmioi peoples, who were a confederacy of western Saka tribes in the Caspian-Aral Sea region and the lower reaches of the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers; the Khumbuz-tepe terracotta piece also verifies that the kontos lance so commonly attributed to the Sarmatians in later history by Greco-Roman historians possibly originated among the Saka tribes like the Massagetai-Chorasmioi. We know that by at least the 5th century BC, the Massagetai had heavily armoured cavalry developed along the lines of the kataphraktoi. As one authority had noticed, the high collar, the flaring skirt, and the articulated armour of Khalchayan, dated c. 1st century BC - 2nd century AD and commonly attributed to the Kushanas, appears to be very similar to the armour of the Qin chariot fighter from Qin Shihuang Di's famous mausoleum (3rd century BC) near Xian. In fact, a suit of armour made of large lacquered leather plates from a tomb at Suixian, Hubei, just north of the ancient kingdom of Chu, dated to the 5th century BC, presumably that of a Chu infantryman, appears strikingly similar in design to the upper body armour of some of the armoured cavalrymen (presumably Kangju or Saka cavalrymen in Kangju service) depicted on a bone plaque from Orlat, Uzbekistan (the part of ancient Sogdiana), especially in regards to the high neck-guard; they also appear roughly similar to the kataphraktoi depicted on some of the Indo-Saka coins of Maues' dynasty in Gandhara/Taxila. This has possibly lead one noted military historian to conclude that the full set of armour of the kataphraktoi "came into use amid the westernmost and the easternmost Saka tribes: in the west owing to the fight against Persian rule, in the east due to their active participation in the turmoil on the northwest frontier of China", probably a reference to the Massagetai and the Saka tribes of the Rong peoples, respectively. He indicates that the Saka "method of securing their sword belt and accoutrements, was borrowed from China. Even the pommels, the guards, the loops or scabbard slides, the scabbard tips, often made of jade, were directly imported from China."; he further indicates that in general the weapons of the kataphraktoi cavalryman had all been previously used by the Skythians, Persians, and Chinese chariot fighters and infantryman but that it was only among the westernmost and easternmost Saka tribes that the kataphraktoi equipment was fully developed by the late 4th - early 3rd centuries BC. Thus, the Saka Rauka, stemming from a tribe of the Rong peoples, quite possibly had the full kataphraktoi panoply and such a heavy cavalry arm by at least the late 4th - 3rd centuries BC; this might explain the appearance of the armoured riders on the Indo-Saka coins of Gandhara/Taxila.

Saka warfare at this time was relatively innovative, employing both the original highly mobile and lightly-armoured horse-archers typical of steppe nomads but armed with a larger, more powerful recurved composite bow in a transitional stage, in conjunction with the newly innovated armoured heavy cavalry. However, mention must be made of the fact that the heavy cavalry arm by no means comprised the majority, or even a considerable amount of a Saka army, or any steppe army for that matter; evidently, the costly defensive weapon set for such a heavy cavalry arm was probably not attainable by the majority of tribesmen, as was the case for the excellent breed of horses in Issyk-kol/Semirechye mentioned above. The heavy cavalry was usually made up of tribesmen from the higher ranks of the aristocracy. The standard method of attack used by these Saka against, say, a mainly heavy-infantry army, was probably similar to the later Parthians at Carrhae against the Romans, marked by often-repeated tactics such as showering the enemy with arrows at long-range with a demoralizing effect on the enemy, drawing certain contingents of the enemy into ambushes by feigned retreats and the such, using the heavy cavalry arm to possibly tighten the enemy formations and annihilating any enemy soldiers who dared to stray too far away from their main body, and, if no decisive victory was to be obtained in a pitched battle, by virtue of the mobility of their horsemen would go behind enemy lines and continually harass them and attack their supply lines until the enemy yielded. In fact, such tactics and strategies probably marked the type of warfare employed by steppe nomads who had at least an armoured heavy cavalry arm with them, until the advent and widespread usage of the stirrup, whose combined effects with more effective and stable saddles, significantly increased the shock capability and power of the kataphraktoi/armoured heavy cavalryman many centuries to come; these nomads would include such groups as the Dahai-Parthians and the Alano-Sarmatians. Against armies like their own, ie those of other Eurasian steppe nomads, probably one of the most important factors to victory lay in the amount of resources, ie more horses, their basic economic unit, because mobility mattered even more in this type of warfare; in fact, fighting between the pastoral tribes usually involved the seizure of their neighbour's pastures for their herds to graze on or, in extreme cases, the seizure of their neighbours' herds, as ethnographers noticed about the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz of the 19th century. Sometimes this fighting occurred either because of a drought or a murraine among one group's herds, produced by extreme snow or spring freezing after thaw. Against a well-rounded army with overwhelming firepower, like those of the Han, the nomads would have to rely almost totally on harassing and attacking the enemy supply lines on the strategic level and constant raiding, as the battles between the Han and the Xiongnu in later history show.

Later, after groups of Saka Rauka left the steppes and invaded the Graeco-Baktrian kingdom and Gandhara/Kapisa and established settled Indo-Saka kingdoms in northern India, they seemed to have maintained a considerable amount of the preceding Greek and native infrastructures, possibly due to the want of stable administration of the newly established empire. It can be supposed that, while the original cavalry-oriented element of their ancestors had been maintained, the Indo-Saka also employed native and Greek troops who were mainly infantry-oriented, and thus a general increase in the amount of infantry in their armed forces. Probably many Indo-Saka, being settled down, took to infantry-oriented fighting during this time due to the general decrease in the supply of horses since they had lost control of the Central Asian steppes long ago; on a pillar relief from the palace area at Nagarjunikonda is displayed a foot guard holding a spear dressed in Indo-Saka costume and although dated to a later period, he may well be representative of those settled Indo-Saka who took to infantry-oriented fighting. After the conquest of most of the Indo-Saka kingdoms by the Indo-Parthians and later the Kushanas, some Indo-Saka nobles still seemed to have held high positions in the Kushana court, thus indirectly suggesting that Indo-Saka elite cavalry, like the kataphraktoi on the coins of Maues' dynasty, may have been continually employed by the Kushanas.


The Saka Rauka - Indo-Saka play an important, but often over-looked, role in Central and South Asian as well as Middle Eastern history. In the process of their migrations from the Central Asian steppes to the lands below, the once-powerful Graeco-Baktrian kingdom and the subsequent Indo-Greek kingdoms to the southeast were all destroyed by the Indo-Saka. At the height of the empire under Azilises during the mid-late 1st century BC, the Indo-Saka controlled a huge expanse of land from eastern Iran all the way to north-central India and proved to be a serious danger to the Parthians, threatening their entire existence as a polity; even Roman historians like Justinus indicate that the wars Parthia fought with the "Scythians" were much more terrible and devastating than any Roman invasion of the Parthian empire. It is possible, though questionable, that the Indo-Saka ruler Azes I established the Vikrama Samvat (Vikrama era) of 57 BC, but there is no doubt that the Indo-Saka rulers of the Western Kshatrapas established the Saka Samvat (Saka era) of 78 AD. It is significant that both these eras are still in use in India today, both employed for religious purposes while the latter was chosen for the modern Indian National Calendar. If the legend is factual, which many scholars have come to doubt, then the fact that the Saka Samvat was chosen for the Indian National Calendar clearly shows the legacy and significance that the Indo-Saka played in the history of India. During the expansion of the Indo-Saka, many of their rulers patronized Buddhism and some even used the characteristics of Buddhism in their propaganda. The Saka Rauka - Indo-Saka and their cousins, the Massagetai-Alans, were partly responsible for spreading the "Sassanian-type" recurved composite bow to the western steppes and beyond, where it later replaced the earlier and smaller "Skythian-type" recurved composite bow. The Saka Rauka - Indo-Saka were also responsible for spreading and popularizing the kataphraktoi troop type in the rest of Central Asia and India, and their western cousins, the Massagetai-Alans did the same to the Parthians, Sarmatians, and Romano-Byzantines, which is contrary to the popular (and inaccurate) belief that this troop type originated among the Sarmatians. The effects that the Indo-Saka exerted over their territories was such that the ancient province of Drangiane was renamed to Sakastana by at least the 1st century BC, and the same name is still present in its modern form as "Sistan", which is the name of a province in modern-day Iran occupying part of the same area as that of ancient Drangiane/Sakastana.