Foreign Dynasties

  • Alexander’s invasion in north-western India did not lead to a substantial Greek presence in India.
  • This came about in the second century BC through the Greek kings of Bactria, who moved into north-west India and were called the Indo-Greeks.
  • The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded India early in the second century BC and formed the Indo-Greek kingdom.
  • The Indo-Greek kings were the first to issue gold coins in India and their coins were special in the sense that each king had his own distinctive coins by which he could be definitely identified.
  • The coins carry legends in Greek and also in Kharosthi and Brahmi.
  • The most famous Indo-Greek ruler was Menander or Milinda.
  • He had his capital at Sakala (modern Sialkot) in Punjab .
  • Some important Indo-Greek rulers were Euthydemus, Demetrius, Eucratides and Menander.
  • Milindpanho is the book containing questions of Menander (Milinda) to Nagasena and answers of Nagasena.
  • Later on, Menander was converted to Buddhism by Nagasena.
  • The Indo-Greeks introduced Hellenistic art forms in north-western India. These later culminated in the Gandhara school of art.
  • Demetrius brought the Greek calendar to India. Thus, the idea of reckoning time from a fixed date came to India along with the Greeks.
  • The Indo-Greeks remained in India for two centuries and later paved the way for the Shakas (Scythians), the Pahlavas (Parthians) and the Kushans.
  • The Scythians or Sakas were nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
  • By defeating the Indo-Greek kings, the Shakas extended their rule over North and North-Western India.
  • There were five main branches of the Shakas:
        1) Afghanistan
        2) Punjab with Taxila as its capital
        3) Mathura
        4) Maharashtra and Saurashtra
        5) Central India with Ujjain as its capital
  • The Shakas introduced the Satrap system.
  • In 58 BC, a king of Ujjain effectively fought against the Shakas and succeeded in driving them out in his time. He called himself Vikramaditya and an era called Vikram Samvat is reckoned from the event of his victory over the Shakas.
  • Henceforth, Vikramaditya became a coveted title, and consequently there have been 14 Vikramadityas in Indian history.
  • Rudradaman I was the most powerful ruler of the Shakas.
  • Ujjain was the capital of Rudradaman. He issued the firstever long inscription in chaste Sanskrit – the Junagarh Rock Inscription; all the earlier inscriptions were composed in Prakrit. It mentions his reconstruction at Girnar (in Saurashtra) of great artificial lake (Sudarshana), which had been excavated under Chandragupta Maurya and improved in the time of Asoka.
  • The Parthians are also known as Pahlavas; they were Iranian people.
  • The earliest king of this dynasty was Vonones, who adopted the title of “great king of kings”.
  • The most important Parthian king was Gondophernes.
  • St Thomas, a Christian missionary, visited during the reign of Gondophernes.
  • The origin of the Kushans was Yuezhi nomadic tribe of China, who used what came to be known as the Tocharian language.
  • They followed the Parthians in the north-west of India and also displaced the Shakas in Bactria.
  • Kujula Kadphises (Kadphises I) established the Kushan dynasty.
  • Kanishka was the greatest ruler of the Kushan dynasty.
  • Kanishka’s reign has been dated 78-144 AD.
  • He established an era, commonly known as the Shaka era, which starts from 78 AD. It is still in use in India.
  • His capital was Purushapur (modern Peshawar).
  • Kanishka was the follower of Buddhism. The fourth Buddhist council was held during his reign.
  • The early Kushan kings issued numerous gold coins with a very high degree of purity.
  • Kanishka was a great patron of learning. Kanishka’s court was adorned by the presence of some eminent scholars like Ashwaghosha, Nagarjuna, Parsva, Vasumitra and Charaka.
  • Charaka, one of the great authorities on Ayurveda and the writer of Charakasamhita, was Kanishka’s court physician.
  • Asvaghosha, a philosopher, poet and dramatist, wrote Buddha Charita (the biography of Buddha).
  • Nagarjuna is known as the ‘Einstein of India’ because he propounded the theory of ‘Shunyavada’ similar to Einstein’s theory of relativity.
  • Mathura and Gandhara schools reached their peak in his reign.
  • Vasudeva I was the last great king of the dynasty.