Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom

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Sasanian Empire (orange), and the Kushano-Sasanian realm (violet), centered on Kushanshahr, the province at the eastern edge of the Sasanian Empire. The four violet disks represent the four main areas where Kushano-Sasanian coins were minted (Kabul, Balkh, Herat, and Merv), attesting the extent of their realm.[1]
Portrait of Kushano-Sasanian ruler Hormizd I Kushanshah (c. 277-286 CE) in Kushan style.
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The Kushano-Sassanids (also called Kushanshas or Indo-Sassanians) were a branch of the Sassanid Persians who established their rule in Bactria and in northwestern Pakistan during the 3rd and 4th centuries at the expense of the declining Kushans. They captured the provinces of Sogdiana, Bactria and Gandhara from the Kushans, following the fall of the Kushan dynasty in 225 CE.[2] The Sasanians established governors for the Sasanian Empire, who minted their own coinage and took the title of Kushanshas, ie "Kings of the Kushans".[2] They are sometimes considered as forming a "sub-kingdom" inside the Sasanian Empire.[3] This administration continued until 360-370 CE,[2] when the Kushano-Sasanians lost their territories to the invading Kidarites Huns.[3] Thereafter the Sasanian Empire roughly stopped at Merv.[3] Later, the Kidarites were in turn displaced by the Hephthalites.[4] The Sasanians were able to re-establish some authority after they destroyed the Hephthalites with the help of the Turks in 565, but their rule collapsed under Arab attacks in the mid 7th century.

The Kushanshas are mainly known through their coins. Their coins were minted at Kabul, Balkh, Herat, and Merv, attesting the extent of their realm.[5]

A rebellion of Hormizd I Kushanshah (277-286 CE), who issued coins with the title Kushanshahanshah ("King of kings of the Kushans"), seems to have occurred against contemporary emperor Bahram II (276-293 CE) of the Sasanian Empire, but failed.[2]


First Kushano-Sassanid period[edit]

The Sassanids, shortly after victory over the Parthians, extended their dominion into Bactria during the reign of Ardashir I around 230 CE, then further to the eastern parts of their empire in western Pakistan during the reign of his son Shapur I (240–270). Thus the Kushans lost their western territory (including Bactria and Gandhara) to the rule of Sassanid nobles named Kushanshahs or "Kings of the Kushans".

The Kushano-Sasanians under Hormizd I Kushanshah seem to have led a rebellion against contemporary emperor Bahram II (276-293 CE) of the Sasanian Empire, but failed.[2] According to the Panegyrici Latini (3rd-4th century CE), there was a rebellion of a certain Ormis (Ormisdas) against his brother Bahram II, and Ormis was supported the people of Saccis (Sakastan).[6] Hormizd I Kushanshah issued coins with the title Kushanshahanshah ("King of kings of the Kushans")[7], probably in defiance of imperial Sasanian rule.[2]

Around 325, Shapur II was directly in charge of the southern part of the territory, while in the north the Kushanshahs maintained their rule until the rise of the Kidarites.

The decline of the Kushans and their defeat by the Kushano-Sassanids led to the rise of the Kidarites and then the Hephthalites who conquered Bactria and Gandhara, thus replacing the Kushano-Sassanids, until the arrival of Islam to Pakistan.

Second Indo-Sassanid period[edit]

The Hephthalites dominated the area until they were defeated in 565 AD by an alliance between the Gokturks and Sassanids, and some Indo-Sassanid authority was re-established. The Kushano-Hephthalites were able to set up rival states in Kapisa, Bamiyan, and Kabul. The 2nd Indo-Sassanid period ended with the collapse of Sassanids to the Rashidun Caliphate in the mid 7th century. Sind remained independent until the Arab invasions of India in the early 8th century. The Kushano-Hephthalites or Turkshahis were replaced by the Shahi in the mid 8th century.

Religious influences[edit]

Coin of the last Kushano-Sasanian ruler Bahram Kushanshah (circa 350-365 CE) in Kushan style.
Obv: King Varhran I with characteristic head-dress.
Rev: Shiva with bull Nandi, in Kushan style.

Coins depicting Shiva and the Nandi bull have been discovered, indicating a strong influence of Shaivite Hinduism.[8]

The prophet Mani (210–276 CE), founder of Manichaeism, followed the Sassanids' expansion to the east, which exposed him to the thriving Buddhist culture of Gandhara. He is said to have visited Bamiyan, where several religious painting are attributed to him, and is believed to have lived and taught for some time. He is also related to have sailed to the Indus valley area now in modern day Pakistan in 240 or 241 CE, and to have converted a Buddhist King, the Turan Shah of India.[9]

On that occasion, various Buddhist influences seem to have permeated Manichaeism: "Buddhist influences were significant in the formation of Mani's religious thought. The transmigration of souls became a Manichaean belief, and the quadripartite structure of the Manichaean community, divided between male and female monks (the 'elect') and lay follower (the 'hearers') who supported them, appears to be based on that of the Buddhist sangha"[10]

Artistic influences[edit]

The Indo-Sassanids traded goods such as silverware and textiles depicting the Sassanid emperors engaged in hunting or administering justice. The example of Sassanid art was influential on Kushan art, and this influence remained active for several centuries in the northwest South Asia.

Main Indo-Sassanid rulers[edit]

Kushano-Sasanian ruler Ardashir I Kushanshah, circa 230-250 CE. Merv mint.

Based on coinage, a list of the Kushanshah rulers can be established:[11][12]


The Indo-Sassanids created an extensive coinage with legend in Brahmi, Pahlavi or Bactrian, sometimes inspired from Kushan coinage, and sometimes more clearly Sassanid.

The obverse of the coin usually depicts the ruler with elaborate headdress and on the reverse either a Zoroastrian fire altar, or Shiva with the bull Nandi.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E. Yarshater p.209 ff
  3. ^ a b c The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas, Cambridge University Press, 2014 p.284 ff
  4. ^ Sasanian Seals and Sealings, Rika Gyselen, Peeters Publishers, 2007, p.1
  5. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica [2]
  6. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica [3]
  7. ^ CNG Coins [4]
  8. ^ The ancient & classical world, 600 B.C.-A.D. 650 by Michael Mitchiner [5]
  9. ^ Richard Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  10. ^ Richard Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  11. ^ History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Ahmad Hasan Dani, B. A. Litvinsky, Unesco p.105
  12. ^ Numismatic Evidence for Kushano-Sasanian Chronology Joe Cribb 1990 p.171
  13. ^ CNG Coins [6]
  14. ^ CNG Coins [7]

See also[edit]

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External links[edit]