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Middle Kingdoms - 230 BCAD 275

One method for the periodization of the history of India gives great importance to ruling dynasties and foreign invasions and is based, presumably, on the professed religions of the dynasties of northern India. The Mauryan period (322 BC-185 BC) was followed by a period of foreign invasions (Greeks, Shakas, Pahlavas, Kushanas, etc.). This period, mainly known for the Shaka, Kushana and Satavahana dynasties, appears to have no accepted name, though the term Middle Kingdoms seems appropriate. The following period is known as the Gupta period (320 AD-600 AD).

Soon after Asoka's death (232 BC) his empire broke up and his descendants seem to have retained only Magadha and the neighbouring provinces; Kalinga and Andhra were among the first to acquire independence. The Andhra nation, a Dravidian people, occupied in Chandragupta's time the deltas of the Godaveri and Kistna. After Asoka's death, they rapidly extended their power to the sources of the Godaveri and soon stretched right across the peninsula from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, probably including Magadha (c. 27 BC).

After the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire in the second century BC, South Asia became a collage of regional powers with overlapping boundaries. India's unguarded northwestern border again attracted a series of invaders between 200 BC and AD 300. As the Aryans had done, the invaders became "Indianized" in the process of their conquest and settlement. Also, this period witnessed remarkable intellectual and artistic achievements inspired by cultural diffusion and syncretism. The Indo-Greeks, or the Bactrians, of the northwest contributed to the development of numismatics; they were followed by another group, the Shakas (or Scythians), from the steppes of Central Asia, who settled in western India.

Still other nomadic people, the Yuezhi, who were forced out of the Inner Asian steppes of Mongolia, drove the Shakas out of northwestern India and established the Kushana Kingdom (first century BC-third century AD). The Kushana Kingdom controlled parts of Afghanistan and Iran, and in India the realm stretched from Purushapura (modern Peshawar, Pakistan) in the northwest, to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) in the east, and to Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh) in the south. For a short period, the kingdom reached still farther east, to Pataliputra. The Kushana Kingdom was the crucible of trade among the Indian, Persian, Chinese, and Roman empires and controlled a critical part of the legendary Silk Road. Kanishka, who reigned for two decades starting around A.D. 78, was the most noteworthy Kushana ruler. He converted to Buddhism and convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. The Kushanas were patrons of Gandharan art, a synthesis between Greek and Indian styles, and Sanskrit literature. They initiated a new era called Shaka in AD 78, and their calendar, which was formally recognized by India for civil purposes starting on March 22, 1957, is still in use.

About the middle of the 2nd century BC hordes of Sakas, a pastoral tribe from the Jaxartes, established themselves in Sindh and Saurashtra (the modern Kathiawar), and their chiefs assumed the ancient Persian title of "satrap ". Other foreigners also, the Yavanas (Asiatic Greeks or others coming from Grecian kingdoms in the north-west of India) and the Pallavas (Parthians from Persia), had by this time settled in western India as rulers over the native population. By the beginning of the 2nd century AD all these became subject to the Andhra kings.

India History Map - 200In 145 AD, however, Saurashtra, Malwa, Cutch, Sindh, and the Konkan became independent under Eudradaman, one of the satraps. The northern and western boundaries of Andhra can thus be fixed, while towards the east and south they remain problematical. The capital of the Andhra kings at this time was Paithan on the Godaveri.

After Asoka's death Sogdiana, Baktria, the Kabul valley, and the Punjab were ruled by Greek and Parthian rulers, until they were overthrown by the Yueh-chi (Turki nomads), who in course of time became a settled nation. Under Kanishka, the third of the Kushan dynasty, they formed a mighty power, and waged a successful war even against the then powerful Chinese Empire. Towards the west Kanishka's Empire reached to the Persian frontier. In the east he had conquered Kashgar, Yarkand, and Khotan. He ruled over the whole of north-western India probably as far as the Jumna and the Chambal. Northwards the boundaries of his dominions are not clearly defined. The capital of his empire was Parushapura (the modern Peshawar). He acceded about 120 AD, and was a Buddhist. The rest of India was at this time ruled by smaller Hindu rajas.

The period between the extinction of the Kushan and Andhra dynasties, about 220 or 230 AD, and the rise of the imperial Gupta dynasty, nearly a century later, is one of the darkest in the whole range of Indian history. Vasudeva was the last Kushan king who continued to hold extensive territories in India. After his death in 226 AD there is no indication of the existence of a paramount power in Northern India. Probably numerous Rajas asserted their independence and formed a number of short-lived states, such as commonly arise from the ruins of a great Oriental monarchy; but historical material for the third century is so completely lacking that it is impossible to say what or how many those states were. The period evidently was one of extreme confusion associated with foreign invasions from the north-west, which is reflected in the muddled statements of the Vishnu Purana concerning the Abhlras, Gardabhilas, Sakas, Yavanas, Bahllkas, and other outlandish dynasties named as the successors of the Andhras. The dynasties thus enumerated clearly were to a large extent contemporary with one another, not consecutive, and none of them could claim paramount rank. It seems to be quite hopeless to attempt to reduce to order the Puranic accounts of this anarchical period, and nothing would be gained by quoting a long list of names, the very forms of which are uncertain.

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Page last modified: 25-02-2018 16:47:38 ZULU