(Last Updated on : 02/02/2009)
The Sakas or the Scythians originally lived a nomadic life in central Asia. In the records of the early Achaemenian emperors of Persia, there are references of Saka people living in three settlements. The Sakas were the alien tribes who entered India and by defeating the native kings, established a strong foundation of the Saka kingdom in India. However there are different theories approached by scholars after a keen controversy regarding the routes through which the Sakas entered India. The most researched and widely accepted theory is that, the main body of the Sakas moved westward from Bactria to Heart, Eastern Iran and Seistan. From there they tried to force their way into the Parthian Empire but was opposed by the emperor Mithradates II. After suffering a crushing defeat in the hands of Emperor Mithradates, the Sakas moved towards the region of Eastern Iran. From East Iran, they found their way to the Indian subcontinent through the Bolan Pass.
According to Dr. S.Chattopadhya, there were two distinct bands of the Sakas in India, the Saka Murandas who probably came to India from Kashmir and the Sakas of Seistan or Eastern Iran, who bore the marks of Parthian Culture upon them and entered India through the Bolan Pass. Very little is known about the history of the Saka Murandas; however it was the Sakas of Eastern Iran, who became a distinct part of ancient India.
The Saka rulers in India cannot be isolated from the Parthians because the same family included both the Saka and the Parthian names. Among the Saka-Parthian kings who ruled in India, mention may be made of Vonnoes and Maues. The name Vonnoes is distinctly Parthian. However the theory approached by Vikram Samvat is that- the ruling period of Vonnoes fell under 40 B.C. and that of Maues under 20 B.C. Vonnoes ruled in Eastern Iran and extended his sway upto the Indian frontier, including the parts of Southern Afghanistan and Northern Baluchistan. Eminent classical historians have suggested that Vonnoes destroyed the Greek sovereignty in Kabul and Heart as is reckoned from the coins and inscriptions of the king. Apart from these Vonnoes assumed the title of Baselins or `Great king of kings`. Vonnoes followed the policy of appointing his own kinsmen as the viceroys or the governor of the provinces. Vonnoes had issued several coins, through which the facts about his reign can be reckoned. Not only the facts about his rule, his struggle with the Greeks and the facts about his family are also stated in his coins and inscriptions.
There ruled some Saka Chiefs in Eastern Afghanistan before the rise of Vonnoes. They offered their allegiance to the Parthian Emperor Mithradates before the ascend of Vonnoes. When the Saka power under Vonnoes became formidable, the Sakas ruling in Eastern Afghanistan transferred their allegiance towards Vonnoes and enjoyed a semi-independent status. When Spalirises usurped the throne of Vonnoes, these Saka Chiefs ceased to offer any allegiance to him. The earliest among the Saka kings was Maeus.
According to Marshall the first Scythian ruler of Taxila or Gandhara was Maues or Moga. "The Great king Moga" of the Taxila Copper Plate has been unanimously identified by the scholars with Maues or Moga. However Vikram Sambat Fleet has suggested that the date of Maues is 20 -21 A.D., based on the numismatic evidences. Again Dr. Rapson places the chronology of Maues in 77 B.C., while Dr. Roychowdhury puts the reign of Maues in 33 B.C. However there is still an intense controversy among the scholars regarding the actual chronological sequence of Maues`s reign.
Maues himself assumed the dignified title "King of kings". From the coins and inscriptions of Maues himself, it is known that Maues was the master of the territory extending from Afghanistan upto the Gandhara country. He ruled over both sides of Indus in the Gandhara regions Pushkalavati and Taxila. When Maues had risen to power, the territory from Kabul to Punjab was under the dominion of the Greeks. According to some scholars, Maues started the expansion of his kingdom from his base at lower Indus or Sakadvipa, moving forward through the route of Indus. He occupied Gandhara & Western Punjab from the Greeks. Dr. H.C Roychowdhury has suggested that Maues had advanced from Kipin (the place is however identified with Kabul) to Gandhara. But the theory of Dr. Roychowdhury was not supported by facts and hence is refuted by the later scholars. Historian Tarn has mentioned the great naval victory of Maues, reckoned from some of his coins. This naval victory according to the scholars refers to the conquests of Gandhara and Punjab by the Indus route. By the usurpation of Gandhara country, Maues drove a wedge between the Greek kingdom of Kabul and the Greek kingdom of Eastern Punjab. The great plains of Chach (near Taxila) was ruled by Kusukala as his vassal chief. According to Dr. D.C. Sirkar, Maues extended his kingdom as far as Mathura in the east and upto Kapisa in the north. Taxila was probably his capital.
Maues was succeeded by Azes I. It has however been suggested by Marshall and Tarn that after the death of Maues, the Saka authority over Taxila was temporarily outrun by the Indo-Greeks. Azes I stabilised the Saka authority again over the region. But since the theory approached by Marshall and Tarn is a hypothetical one, it has been refuted by the researchers in later years. The coins and inscription of the Saka kings being the principal sources to estimate the ancient Saka kings, historians have provided their theory based on the information provided by the numismatics evidences. According to Tarn and Rapson, Maues and Azes both were Saka Kings, though Sten holds that Maues was a Saka and Azes was a Parthian. The coins available in south Afghanistan however indicate Azes I as the descendent of Vonnoes. It is also suggested by the historians that Azes was the son-in-law of Maues and after the death of Maues he became the master of the entire Saka Kingdom in Taxila either by inheritance or by conquest. After occupying the throne of Taxila, Azes I set out to eradicate the Yavana rule in Eastern Punjab and annexed it to his kingdom. The coins designed after the Greek coins issued by Azes I, testifies the conquests of Azes I against the Greeks in Eastern Punjab. Azes I ruled upto 30 A.D. Marshall holds that the era, which came to be known as Vikrama Sambat, was originally initiated by Azes I.
The period after the reign of Azes I is a subject of intense controversy among the historians. However they have opined that Azilises ascended the throne after his father Azes I and extended the frontier of his Empire upto the Kapisa region and compelled the Yavana ruler of Kabul valley to accept his lordship. In the beginning of his reign, Azilises ruled jointly with his father and later was granted absolute power. However he ruled from 28 to 40 A.D.
Azilises was succeeded by his son Azes II. Azes II ruled over a small area including central and western Punjab. He appointed Apsavarman as the military governor of the western part of his kingdom. He was in throne from 35 to 79 A.D., and was finally dethroned by the Parthian King Gondophernes.
Since the time Azes I ascended the throne, there was a smouldering hostility between the Sakas and the parent Parthians. This hostility grew stronger during the reign of Azes II. Gondophernes, the Parthian ruler of eastern Iran, conquered large parts of northwest frontier province and western Province from Azes II in 1st century of the Christian era. Ousted by the Parthian King Gondophernes, Azes II took refuge among the Kushanas, who for several years accepted Azes II as the de jure king, but finally overthrew him from his authority. With the fall of Azes II, the Indo-Scythian Empire in northwestern India came to an end.