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Middle Kingdoms India

The Sakas

by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 2 August 2009

The Sakas, or Indo-Scythians, were a nomadic tribe from Central Asia which inhabited the region around Lake Issykkul and the River Jaxartes. Generally, they were pastoralists and good horsemen. They often attacked sedentary societies with the intention of acquiring pastoral grazing land and livestock.

The Sakas were attacked and driven south by the Yueh Chi tribes, where they contributed towards the weakening of the Greek kingdom there. They settled down in Bactria and Parthia, overrunning the Parthians (the Pahlavas or Indo-Parthians), and forcing remnants of their people into India, one of a complex series of incursions and migrations from central Asia into India in this period.

The Saka king, Maues or Moga (c.90-60 BC), established Saka rule in Gandhara (modern Kandahar). He defeated the Indo-Greek territories (in modern Pakistan) and established his rule up to the River Jhelum, but after his death the Greeks regained their territories.

Maues was succeeded by Vonones (75-65 BC), who ruled along with his brother, Spalahores. The brother was succeeded in turn by his son, Spalagadames (50 BC) who ruled areas between Central Asia and South Asia.

His successor, Azes (57-35 BC), increased his importance by capturing the kingdom of the last great Indo-Greek king, Hippostratus. His joint ruler (although perhaps as a junior partner) was Azillises, who was succeeded by Azes II (35-12 BC). Azes II completed the conquest of the Scythians in northern India, but his death coincided with the rise of the Kushans in India.

The Sakas ruled over the north-west frontier, and in Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa, and the north Konkan belt of Maharashtra (the Sakas also fought against the Satvahanas in India, and later entered into matrimonial alliances with them). Benefiting from their earlier interaction with the Greeks, the Sakas employed the Greek system of rule and appointed kshatrapas (satraps, or governors) to rule each region.

The Sakas were later overpowered by the Kushans as they succeeded in taking control. The Sakas accepted their suzerainty, but after the fall of the Kushans, the western kshatrapas amongst the Sakas once again rose in prominence, especially under King Nahapana, who occupied large swathes of Satvahana territory in western and central India. But he was defeated later by the Satvahana king, Gautamiputra Satkarni.

In Depth

Nahapana was succeeded by King Chastana, who was mentioned by Ptolemy as "Tiasthenes" or "Testenes", and who ruled a large area of western India into the second century AD, especially the area of Ujjain (Ozene), during the reign of the Satvahana king, Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi. Chastana was the grandfather of the great western Mahakshatrap Rudradaman I.

Rudradaman I successfully waged various wars against the Satvahanas. He was the father-in-law of the Satvahana king, Vashishtaputra Satkarni, whom he defeated twice in battle, which led to the decline of the Satvahanas. During his reign he converted to Hinduism after taking a Hindu wife. His kingdom extended over Malwa, Rajputana, Gujrat, and Maharashtra (except Pune and Nasik).

The Sakas were finally finished off as a regional power by the rulers of the Gupta dynasty. In time the remnants of the Sakas, now without any political power, blended into Indian society.

The main Indo-Scythian rulers are as follows:

North-western India

  • Maues, c 90-60 BC
  • Vonones, c 75-65 BC
  • Spalahores, c 75-65 BC, satrap and brother of King Vonones, and probably the later King Spalirises
  • Spalirises, c 60-57 BC, king and brother of King Vonones
  • Azes I, c 57-35 BC
  • Azilises, c 57-35 BC
  • Spalagadames c 50 BC, satrap, and son of Spalahores
  • Azes II, c 35-12 BC
  • Zeionises, c 10 BC-AD 10
  • Kharahostes, c 10 BC-AD 10
  • Indravarman
  • Hajatria


  • Liaka Kusuluka, satrap of Chuksa
  • Kusulaka Patika, satrap of Chuksa and son of Liaka Kusulaka
  • Abhiraka
  • Bhumaka
  • Nahapana (founder of the Western Satraps)

Apracarajas (Bajaur area)

  • Vijayamitra (12 BC-AD 15)
  • Itravasu (c AD 20)
  • Aspavarma (AD 15-45)


  • Kuvhusuvhume
  • Spajhana
  • Spajhayam
  • Bhimajhuna
  • Yolamira, son of Bagavera (second century)
  • Arjuna, son of Yolamira (second century)
  • Karyyanapa
  • Hvaramira, another son of Yolamira (second century)
  • Mirahvara, son of Hvaramira (second century)
  • Miratakhma, another son of Hvaramira (second century)

Northern satraps (Mathura area)

  • Hagamasha (satrap, first century BC)
  • Hagana (satrap, first century BC)
  • Rajuvula, c AD 10 (Great Satrap)
  • Sodasa, son of Rajuvula
  • "Great Satrap" Kharapallana (c AD 130)
  • "Satrap" Vanaspara (c AD 130)

Minor local rulers

  • Bhadayasa
  • Mamvadi
  • Arsakes

Western satraps

  • Nahapana (119-124)
  • Chastana (c 120), son of Ghsamotika
  • Jayadaman, son of Chastana
  • Rudradaman I (c 130-150), son of Jayadaman
  • Damajadasri I (170-175)
  • Jivadaman (175, d 199)
  • Rudrasimha I (175-188, d 197)
  • Isvaradatta (188-191)
  • Rudrasimha I (restored) (191-197)
  • Jivadaman (restored) (197-199)
  • Rudrasena I (200-222)
  • Samghadaman (222-223)
  • Damasena (223-232)
  • Damajadasri II (232-239) with:
  • Viradaman (234-238)
  • Yasodaman I (239)
  • Vijayasena (239-250)
  • Damajadasri III (251-255)
  • Rudrasena II (255-277)
  • Visvasimha (277-282)
  • Bhratadarman (282-295) with:
  • Visvasena (293-304)
  • Rudrasimha II, son of Lord (Svami) Jivadaman (304-348) with:
  • Yasodaman II (317-332)
  • Rudradaman II (332-348)
  • Rudrasena III (348-380)
  • Simhasena (380-?)
  • Rudrasena IV (382-388)
  • Rudrasimha III (388-395)


Main Sources

Majumdar, R C - Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd, 1987

Prasad, L - Studies in Indian History, Cosmos Bookhive, Gurgaon, 2000



Text copyright © Abhijit Rajadhyaksha. An original feature for the History Files.