Evidence from the Rabatak Inscription of Kanishka I

Joe Cribb

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Kanishka Era

[61] The Rabatak inscription suggests that the adoption of the Kanishka Era was a deliberate decision in the first year of the reign of Kanishka I. Its use in inscriptions at Mathura from early in his reign also points to its widespread adoption. The era remains a constant throughout the Kushan period, providing a firm 100 years spanning the reigns of Kanishka I, Huvishka and Vasudeva I. The role of dates in the reigns after Vasudeva I is still disputed. The position of Vasishka, as a successor of Kanishka II, the successor of Vasudeva I, as demonstrated from their coins, seems to many scholars to confirm the interpretation suggested long ago by Johanna van Lohuizen-de Leeuw (1949, 1986), that there are a series of inscriptions dated from 5-41, in a second sequence of dates in a second century of the Kanishka Era following straight after the first century. I am persuaded by her arguments, because they correspond so closely to the evidence presented by the coins. I am also waiting for someone to re-examine the recorded inscriptions in the name of a Kushan king Vasudeva, to see if any of them are also part of this second sequence, because Vasudeva II's reign corresponds closely in the second century to the position of Vasudeva I in the first century. If his reading can be accepted as correct, perhaps the year 170 inscription of Vasudeva, published by Mukherjee (1988: 620), represents a date in the Kanishka Era during the reign of Vasudeva II.

Azes Era = Vikrama Era

[62] I am also comfortable with the wide agreement that the Azes Era corresponds with the Vikrama Era, but I think the proposal remains conjectural. The most convincing aspect of it is the correspondence of the dated inscription of Gondophares (Takht-i-Bahi) with the evidence of his coin type copying an Iranian issue of AD 26. The dates in the Azes Era which provide evidence of coin issuers help to create a sequence of 136 years which can be linked with the sequence of 141 (or 170) years of the Kanishka Era. These coin issuers located in time by their relationship with the Azes Era are Azes I (founder of era, year 1), Aspavarma (the 'Avaca' inscription [Salomon 1982] names Aspavarma's father Indravarma as a prince in year 63 of Azes), Gondophares (Takht-i-Bahi inscription of year 103) and Kujula (Kushan, Panjtar and Taxila inscriptions of years 122 and 136). The framework of the two sequences based on the Azes and Kanishka Eras help to establish an overview of the coin-issuing rulers in north-western India (Cribb in press). From the perspective of this overview, a number of other problems become clearer.

[63] The first problem is the date of the Shaka satraps in Mathura before the Kushan conquest. Dating Gondophares to AD 19-45 has a consequence for the dating of Rajavula, the satrap of Mathura responsible for the Mathura Lion Capital (Konow 1929: 30-49). The Mathura Lion Capital inscription, now in the British Museum, is difficult to read because of its structure. Many of the lines of the inscription wander apparently at random across the surface of the capital and are therefore open to various interpretations. There are, however, a number of names in the inscription which provide a framework for placing the inscription in its historical context. The inscription appears to be a Buddhist dedication made by Ayasia Kamuia, the queen of the mahakshatrava (great satrap) Rajavula. She is also identified as the daughter of the yuvaraja Kharahostes (yuvaraja is a title normally translated as heir-apparent, but on his coins Kharahostes is called satrap). The inscription also refers to Rajavula's son, the satrap Sodasa in a subsidiary, perhaps additional inscription.

[64] The coins of Rajavula issued in Jammu make it clear that his reign there was ended by Gondophares, which means that Rajavula's reign must end after AD 19 and could end as late as about AD 45. This has severe consequences for the dating of two individuals mentioned in the Mathura Lion Capital. The first is Rajavula's son Sodasa, mentioned as a satrap in the inscription, did not come to power in Jammu, but only in Mathura. His rule at Mathura seems to have been lengthy, from the relatively large number of coins surviving and from the large number of Mathura inscriptions naming him. The second individual is Kusulaka Patika, named in the inscription as a mahakshatrava (great satrap), one of the many individuals being honoured by the dedication.

Gondophares Era?

[65] One Mathura inscription, naming Sodasa as great satrap, is dated in an unnamed era, either as 42 or 72 (Sircar 1965: no. 25). The later dating of his father now means that, however it is read, Sodasa's date in this inscription cannot be in the Azes/Vikrama Era, as has been previously suggested. If the date is 72, then it might be a date in an era based on his father's reign. If the date is 42, then the same explanation is possible, or a date in his own reign is also possible, but I would like to suggest a third alternative. Could it be year 42 in the era of Gondophares? I hesitate to throw yet another era into the arena, but do so because I have already suggested this explanation for another problematic set of dated inscriptions. Sodasa's contemporary Nahapana is also named in dated inscriptions in the forties of an unnamed era. I have shown that the first known member of his family, Aubheraka, appears to acknowledge Gondophares on his coins by copying his winged victory design, and therefore suggested that his dates might relate to the era of the ruler from whom his ancestor's power was derived (Cribb 1995). I would accordingly suggest that after the defeat of Rajavula, his son was perhaps allowed to retain the satrapy of Mathura under the suzerainty of Gondophares and so used his era.

[66] Apart from the desire to create a logical explanation of these two problematic dating systems, I am also attracted to explain early use of the Azes Era in the same way. All the early references to the Azes Era occur in the inscriptions of minor dynasties which appear to have been given power under Azes (Fussman 1980). Only in its second century does it appear more widely used by Indo-Parthians and Kushans.

Maues Era

[67] The second person mentioned in the Mathura Lion Capital who needs redating is the satrap Kusuluka Patika. This person is known from another inscription, the Taxila copper scroll (Konow 1929: 23-29), which has been dated variously from about 90 to 6 BC. In the Taxila copper scroll Patika is mentioned as the son of the satrap Liaka Kusuluka, satrap of Chuksa. It is dated in year 78 of Maues. The suggestions for an early date interpret the inscription as dated during the lifetime of the Indo-Scythian king Maues in an era of c. 155 BC, whereas the later dates represent an interpretation based on a Maues Era. The possible gap between the rule of the father Liaka Kusuluka in the 78th year and the rule of his son as a contemporary of Rajavula cannot be big enough to allow year 78 to be in an era beginning in the second century BC. The interpretation proposing a Maues Era therefore best fits the evidence. However, the date of Maues Era's first year cannot be fixed precisely. The Maues Era is likely to begin a decade or more before the Azes Era year 1, because the coins of Maues and the Greek kings Apollodotus II and Hippostratus were issued between the beginning of Maues' reign and the beginning of Azes' reign (Jenkins, 1957, used the coin sequences to show that Maues' reign as a usurper of Greek power in Taxila was followed by a restoration of Greek rule during the reigns of Apollodotus II and Hippostratus before Indo-Scythian rule was more firmly re-established by Azes I). If the Azes Era is the same as the Vikrama Era, then the Maues Era probably began about 80 BC.

[68] The Mathura Lion Capital's reference to 'great Moga and his horse' also suggests that the group of satraps including Rajavula and Patika owed a particular allegiance to the memory of Maues. The use of the Maues Era by these satraps could be parallel to the use of the Azes Era by the local kings of the twin kingdoms of Apraca and Avaca (Salomon 1995). Is it possible that these two groups of local rulers used these two eras as a means of expressing the source of their dynastic power?

[69] Another chronological marker for the date of the reigns of Liaka Kusuluka and his son Patika is the existence of another satrap documented as a ruler of their Chuksa satrapy. A silver jug found at Taxila (Konow 1929: 81-83) names Jihonika, nephew of the 'great king' as satrap of Chuksa. The findspots and designs of the coins of Jihonika (Zeionises) show him to be ruler in Kashmir (not in Taxila and its environs as suggested by Konow 1929 and others), as the issuer of coins after Azes II, contemporary of Gondophares, and the issuer of coins before Kujula Kadphises. Azes II's reign seems to end soon after the accession of Gondophares in c. AD 19. The westward invasions of Kujula Kadphises are during the reign of Abdagases and Sasan, the successors of Gondophares after AD 45. Jihonika therefore seems to have succeeded Patika at a date during AD 20s-40s.

[70] The silver jug has been used by some to date Jihonika and to propose an era of about 155 BC. The inscription on the jug contains the numeral 191, which has been read as a date in the 155 BC era: AD 36. Although this date corresponds with the suggested context for Jihonika outlined above, the inscription does not justify this reading. The inscription is not a date, but a statement of the weight and owner of the jug. It should be translated as follows: '191 ka(rshapanas), of Jihonika, satrap of Chuksa, son of Manigula, brother of the great king'.

Menander, Eukratides or Old Shaka Era?

[71] The era of 155 BC has been identified as the era of the Greek king Menander (Bivar 1981), but has also been shifted to 172 BC or 129 BC by other scholars. The earlier date (Fussman 1980) is proposed as an era of the Greek king Eukratides, the later date (van Lohuizen-de Leeuw 1949) is identified as an Old Shaka Era.

[72] In support of the existence of an Eukratides Era, Fussman (1980) has cited the discovery of a 'year 24' inscription at Ai Khanum. Although the inscription lacks any indication of association with a particular era or king, Fussman suggests that it is year 24 in the reign of Eukratides, whose reign he dates from 172 BC, and asserts that this dating system coincides 'exactement' with the era he has postulated for dating the Jihonika inscription. He also attempts to link into this same era the year 78 Patika inscription and the 'year 184/7' (corrected to 284/7, see Cribb in press) Khalatse inscription of Vima II Kadphises. Arguments for the existence of a Eukratides Era evaporate in the light of the above reassessments of each of the three inscriptions Fussman associates with it.

[73] The same applies to the Menander Era of 155 BC and the Old Shaka Era of 129 BC, both of which have been constructed on the basis of similar attempts to explain these three inscriptions. Recently two other pieces of evidence have been put forward by Fussman (1993) to substantiate the Menander Era (which he places alongside his Eukratides Era). He rediscusses the Bajaur casket and a new Brahmi inscription dated in the era of a 'Greek king' recently found in India.

[74] The Bajaur casket inscription (Majumdar 1937) seems to contain a date in the reign or era of a king called Menander (Minedrasa), but the year is not legible because the casket is broken and the inscription is fragmented. The inscription as it survives does not allow a clear interpretation of the dating system being expressed. It could be either a regnal date or an era date. It could refer to either of the two known Greek kings called Menander. The rest of the inscription relates to the kingdom of Apraca which is known from more recently found inscriptions to use the Azes Era (Fussman 1980, Salomon 1995). There is also some evidence from the script styles that the Menander and Apraca parts of the inscription could have been inscribed at different periods. It is difficult to know how to interpret correctly the inscription and the chronological evidence it supplies. Fussman does not draw an explicit response to this evidence, but links it to his discussion of the new Brahmi inscription.

[75] Found in the vicinity of Mathura and written in the Brahmi current at that city, the new inscription records the dedication of a tank by members of a Brahman family (Fussman 1991 and 1993, Mukherjee 1992). Its date is expressed in a previously unseen formula: "the year 116 of the Yavana kingdom". The term yavana is commonly used in early Indian texts to signify Greeks (it is a sanskritised version of the term Ionian, a common name used by the Greeks to refer to themselves) and other western foreigners who were not distinguished from the Greeks by Indians.

[76] Fussman shows that the inscription is to be assigned both in terms of language and content to the period of the satrapal rulers of Mathura. He also states that the style of writing dates it before the reign of Kanishka. Fussman acknowledges the possibility of Mukherjee's dating of the inscription according to the Azes Era, which Mukherjee concludes is the only way to interpret the phrase "year of the Yavana kingdom". However, he cannot accept this interpretation because his early dating of Sodasa suggests to him that by year 116 in the Azes Era (i.e. c. AD 58) there is no longer a satrap related to the Shaka kings (i.e. Azes dynasty) ruling in Mathura. Fussman therefore proposes that the inscription probably predates the adoption of the Azes Era at Mathura and so must be a Greek king's era. He considers but rejects the idea that the date of this new inscription could be linked to his Eukratides Era because the coins of that king are not found in the vicinity, so suggests that it should be the era of another Greek king. He asserts that Menander previously ruled in Mathura and therefore proposes Menander as the founder of this era (in 155 BC). This gives a date for the inscription of c. 39 BC.

[77] Such a dating is not in keeping with the general context of dedicatory inscriptions at Mathura. The new inscription can be compared with another tank dedication from Mathura, dated according to its text in the reign of Sodasa (Luders 1961: no. 64). The writing style is remarkably similar and there is no reason to separate these two inscriptions far in time. There are few pre-Sodasa inscriptions recorded from Mathura (Luders 1961: nos. 120, 160, 181) and it would be unusual to place the new inscription significantly earlier than the period of Sodasa when dedicatory inscriptions first became fashionable at Mathura. Furthermore, the only certain pre-Sodasa Brahmi inscriptions are written in an earlier script style in no way comparable with the confident monumental style of the new inscription and the Sodasa period tank inscription mentioned above (Luders; 1961: no. 64).

[78] If the new inscription is close in date to the time of Sodasa, then a date during, or soon after, the reign of Gondophares is likely. As indicated above, the most plausible range for the accession date of Sodasa is between AD 19 (Gondophares year 1) and AD 45 (Gondophares year 26). His reign probably ended before the Kushan conquest of Mathura, after about AD 78 (i.e. in the reign of Vima I Tak[to]). The era of the new inscription is therefore likely to have begun after about 97 BC or before about 38 BC (i.e. 116 years before the maximum range of Sodasa's reign). There are two eras already documented which have start dates within that frame: the Azes/Vikrama Era of 58 BC and the Maues Era of about 80 BC. The way in which these two eras were used suggests that the Maues Era is the more likely. There are no examples of either era being used by the Mathura satraps, but the Mathura Lion Capital makes it clear that in the time of Rajavula, Sodasa's father, Maues was still held to be an important person in the dynastic history of the eastern satraps. If the "Yavana kingdom" period is a reference to the kingdom of Maues, this would not be an inappropriate description of the realm of a king who usurped the kingdom of the Greek king Archebius.

[79] The use of this dating system in the new inscription could be explained by placing it late in the end of the reign of Rajavula just before the accession of Sodasa. Sodasa's only recorded date (year 42, Sircar 1965: no. 25, see above) is not in this era, so the new inscription is probably not from his reign.

[80] Attribution of year 116 to the era of Maues, i.e. c. AD 36, is fully compatible with the dating of the reign of Rajavula suggested above. The Mathura Lion Capital, also of the reign of Rajavula, is probably earlier because it implies that the ruler Kharahostes, Rajavula's son-in-law or father-in-law, is still alive and that Taxila still has a Shaka satrap. Both these local rulers are in territory captured and ruled by Gondophares, so the capital was inscribed before Gondophares took their territories, an unknown length of time after his accession in AD 19. Sodasa did not come to power in Mathura until after his father had been ousted from Jammu by Gondophares (Cribb 1985).

[81] Fussman's suggestion that there is an era of Menander, on the basis of the new "Yavana kingdom" era inscription cannot therefore be substantiated in the context of the other inscriptions already known from Mathura, nor can it be reconciled with what we know of the political events at Mathura during the period indicated by the script style and content of the inscription.

[82] Fussman also refers in his discussion of the Menander Era to another inscription relevant to the discussion here. It is the so-called Menander inscription of Reh (Fussman 1993: 118; Sharma 1980). Fussman is correct, along with several other scholars, in rejecting Sharma's attribution of the inscription to Menander, but is wrong to suggest that this inscription is of the period of Sodasa and its surviving parts represent a dating formula in the Azes Era.

[83] The legible part of the inscription says in Brahmi script "of the King, King of Kings, the Great, the Saviour, the Just, the Victorious and the Invincible . . ." (1. maharajasa rajatirajasa 2. mahamtasa tratarasa dhammi 3. -kasa jayamtasa ca apra 4. [illegible]). This combination of titles have never been recorded for Azes or any earlier king. The first ruler to use a significant proportion of them, but never together, was the Indo-Parthian Sasan who issued coins inscribed "King, King of Kings, the Invincible (chakra)" or "King, the Great, the Saviour". Most of these titles were inherited by the early Kushans and used by them on coins and inscriptions. In the Rabatak inscription, for example, Kanishka calls himself King of Kings (line 14), the Great Salvation (line 1), Just (line 1) and Secure and Victorious (line 18), which all correspond to the titles in the Reh inscription. In the Dasht-e Nawur inscription Sims-Williams' new reading shows that Vima Tak[to] also calls himself King of Kings, the Great Salvation, the Righteous, the Just (Sims-Williams and Cribb 1996). Vima I Tak[to] and Vima II Kadphises both use these titles on their coins. There is no other evidence to link the Indo-Parthian ruler with a territory as far east as Reh, but the Rabatak inscription makes it clear that Kanishka I laid claim to the whole of northern India (including Kausambi, 97 k. from Reh), so it seems possible that the Reh inscription represents the opening of an inscription in the name of an early Kushan king. Only the tops of the letters in the fifth line of the Reh inscription remain on the stone and these are open to interpretation in many ways, but fit more closely the name Vima rather than Kanishka.

Shaka Era

[84] The role of the Kushans in India is commonly seen as the reason for the initiation and survival of the Shaka Era beginning in AD 78. Its association with Kanishka in the minds of many scholars seems based primarily on a desire for neatness. Such an important era must begin with someone important, therefore they choose Kanishka I as the most important person available who roughly fits the date. I have not found any other sound arguments put forward to explain this association. The earliest evidence of the Shaka Era seems to come from the territory of the Western Satraps who are not known from any of their inscriptions or coins to have any close relations with the Kushans. It has been suggested by some (including myself, Cribb 1992) that the Shaka Era could be the extension of the regnal dates of Castana, the first member of the satrapal family, based on Ujjain, which first used the era. The above analysis, however, suggests an alternative solution might he more appropriate.

[85] The Chinese account, in the Hou Han Shu, of the rise of the Kushans and their initial conquests describes the son of Kujula Kadphises as the conqueror of India. We now know that the son, called Yan-gao-zhen by the Chinese, was Vima I Tak[to]. The Chinese source also states that Kujula's son appointed a 'general' to rule India on his behalf It has been suggested by many that the 'general' working for Vima I Tak[to] should be identified with the issuer of the Soter Megas coins, but the new inscription and the identification of Vima I Tak[to] as their issuer renders such a suggestion unwarranted. Is it more likely that Castana is the individual considered by the Chinese to be that general, quickly achieving independence? Is it possible that he and his successors used a dating system based on the era of the king, i.e. Vima I Tak[to], who initiated their dynastic rule?

[86] The connection between Vima I Tak[to] and Castana is supported by the presence of a statue of Castana in Vima I Tak[to]'s devakula at Mat (Rosenfield 1967: 145). The statue is inscribed with the satrap's name Shastana (for the form of Sha, read ma by Luders 1961: no. 100, see the gold coins of the Kushan king Shaka, Gobl 1984: no. 593).

[87] The suggestion that Castana is using an era based on the regnal dates of the king who made him satrap corresponds to the suggestion made above that the initial use of the Azes Era, and the use of the Maues Era follow a similar pattern of use by satraps as a reference to the source of their dynastic authority. I have also suggested that the dated inscriptions of Sodasa and Nahapana can be explained in the same way, as references to the era of Gondophares as the king who gave their families satrapal power. Although this suggestion in the case of the Shaka Era and the Gondophares Era is pure hypothesis, it resolves many of the problems involved in trying to ascribe these dates. A pattern of era creation, which also appears to have been followed under Kanishka I, is one of the prerequisites for solving the chronology of the region. The existence of both a Maues and an Azes Era cannot now be disputed, so we must expect to see the creation of eras in a different light. Just as we now have two Indo-Scythian eras, the Maues Era and the Azes Era, the second of which survives into the present day as the Vikrama Era, it is plausible to suggest that there were at least two Kushan eras, the Vima I Tak[to] Era and the Kanishka Era, the first of which survives today as the Shaka Era.

The Unknown Era

[88] The Kushan kings are recorded using two eras in their inscriptions other than the Azes and Kanishka Eras discussed above. The inscriptions which I have attributed to Kujula Kadphises appear to be late uses of the Azes Era, presumably picked up by the Kushans under Kujula from the local Indo-Scythian satraps they conquered on their route into the Punjab. Gondophares seems to have also followed the same practice. Once the Kushans were in possession of former Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian territory, however, they appear to have adopted a completely different dating system. Two clear examples of its use are the Dasht-e Nawur inscription of Vima I Tak[to] dated 279 and the Khalatse inscription of Vima II Kadphises dated 284 or 287. There are less clear inscriptions from Surkh Kotal which also seem to be dated according to the same era.

[89] Fussman (1974) has suggested that these dates should be associated with an Arsacid Era beginning in 247 BC, which would place the year 279 in AD 32 and 284/7 in AD 37/40. This would place the reigns of both Vimas during the reign of Gondophares, who is shown by coin evidence to be an early contemporary or predecessor of Kujula Kadphises, the father of the first Vima. Such a dating, therefore, does not accord with their known context. There is also no reason to suppose that the Kushans would adopt a dating system only otherwise used in Iran (elsewhere the Arsacids used the Seleucid Era commencing 312 BC). There is no political association between the Kushans and Arsacids which would prompt the Kushans to choose such a dating system and there is no tradition of it within their territory.

[90] Bivar (1976) has produced a similar refutation of Fussman's suggestion that the era in use in these inscriptions is the Arsacid Era, and has proposed instead that the era used is the Indo-Greek Menander Era of 155 BC. This would place the two Vimas in AD 124 and 129/132 respectively. As demonstrated above there is no Menander Era on which such calculations could be based, and the resulting dates are too late for the context deduced for these kings.

[91] On the basis of my own analysis, the date 279 should fall in or after AD 78 and 284/7 should fall before AD 100 (or AD 120 on the basis of the later possibility). This gives the first year of the era a range from 201 to 187 (or 167 BC). At this period the region to the north of the Hindu-Kush was in Greek hands and to the south was in transition from Mauryan to Greek rule. It is also the period when according to Chinese sources the Yuezhi, from whom the Kushans sprang, were beginning their migration from China (Zurcher 1968). Is it possible that during the reign of Vima I Tak[to] the Kushans invented an historical era for themselves out of an event in their own history? This is the period when the national identity of the Kushans was becoming important to them, culminating in Kanishka I's adoption of the Bactrian language in place of Greek in his first year (Sims-Williams and Cribb 1996; Fussman 1976). It seems more plausible than their adoption of a Greek era, not otherwise attested. If this is the case it will remain an Unknown Era until an inscription provides it with a name.

[92] The Unknown Era's association with the kings Vima I Tak[to] and Vima II Kadphises suggests that it should be recognized as the era of two early Kushan inscriptions found at Mathura. These inscriptions dated 270 (Luders 1961: 162-3, no. 123) and 299 (van Lohuizen-de Leeuw 1949: 51-61, 320-21; von Mitterwallner 1986: 62-4) refer respectively to the 'Great King' and the 'Great King, King of Kings'. Van Lohuizen-de Leeuw and von Mitterwallner attempt to redate these inscriptions to 170 and 199, but the form of the Brahmi digit for 100 in the new 'Yavana Kingdom' shows that their redating is a mistake. Fussman (1980) has already suggested the link between the 299 inscription and the Unknown Era. The form of Brahmi letters used in these inscriptions began during the reign of Sodasa and ended under Kanishka I. Their attribution to Vima I and II cannot therefore be questioned because they are the only kings ruling at Mathura, other than Kanishka I, during whose reigns early Kushan style Brahmi could have been used. We know from several inscriptions that inscriptions of the reign of Kanishka use his regnal dates, the Kanishka Era, from the beginning of his reign, so the year 270 and 299 inscriptions do not belong to his reign.

[93] If this attribution of the year 270 and 299 inscriptions is accepted this provides a new closer margin within which to limit the first year of the Kanishka Era. The latest recorded date of Kujula Kadphises is the Azes year 136 of the Taxila inscription, i.e. AD 78. There must now be at least 30 years (270-299) between this date and the first year of the Kanishka Era. The earliest possible date for year 270 is during AD 78 (i.e. the Unknown Era commenced in 193 BC or soon after), so the earliest possible date for Kanishka Era year 1 is AD 107. I have already suggested that AD 120 is probably the latest date for this year. So the level of uncertainty concerning the first year of the Kanishka Era is thereby reduced to a 14 year period: AD 107-120.

g o  t o  p a g e  4  (B i b l i o g r a p h y)