Rabatak inscription

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Rabatak inscription
Rabatak inscription.jpg
The Rabatak inscription.
Period/culture2nd century CE
Discovered36°08′58″N 68°24′15″E / 36.149434°N 68.404101°E / 36.149434; 68.404101Coordinates: 36°08′58″N 68°24′15″E / 36.149434°N 68.404101°E / 36.149434; 68.404101
PlaceRabatak, Afghanistan
Present locationKabul Museum, Kabul, Afghanistan
Rabatak is located in West and Central Asia
Rabatak is located in Afghanistan

The Rabatak inscription is an inscription written on a rock in the Bactrian language and the Greek script, which was found in 1993 at the site of Rabatak, near Surkh Kotal in Afghanistan. The inscription relates to the rule of the Kushan emperor Kanishka, and gives remarkable clues on the genealogy of the Kushan dynasty.


The Rabatak inscription was found near the top of an artificial hill (actually a Kushan site) along the main Kabul-Mazar highway, to the southeast of the Rabatak pass which is currently the border between Baghlan and Samangan provinces. It was found by Afghan mujahideen digging a trench at the top of the site, along with several other stone sculptural elements such as the paws of a giant stone lion, which have disappeared since. An English relief worker of the HALO Trust demining organization working in this province reported the discovery and photographed the inscription. This photograph was sent to the British Museum, where its significance as an official document of the Kushan kings, naming four of these kings, was recognised by Joe Cribb. He determined it was a probably an inscription similar to the famous one found at Surkh Kotal by the Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan in the 1950s. He shared the photograph with one of the few people able to read the Bactrian language, Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams from the School of Oriental and African Studies. More photographs arrived from the charity workers of the HALO Trust and a first translation was made and published by Cribb and Sims-Williams in 1996.

Rabatak inscription
English translation Original in Greco-Bactrian script

[1] . . . of the great salvation, Kanishka the Kushan, the righteous, the just, the autocrat, the god
[2] worthy of worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has inaugurated the year one
[3] as the gods pleased. And he *issued a Greek *edict (and) then he put it into Aryan.
[4] In the year one it has been proclaimed unto India, unto the *whole of the realm of the *kshatriyas, that (as for)
[5] them – both the (city of) . . . and the (city of) Saketa, and the (city of) Kausambi, and the (city of) Pataliputra, as far as the (city of) Sri-Campa
[6] – whatever rulers and other *important persons (they might have) he had submitted to (his) will, and he had submitted all
[7] India to (his) will. Then King Kanishka gave orders to Shafar the Karalrang[Note 1]
[8] *at this . . . to make the sanctuary which is called B . . . ab, in the *plain of Ka . . ., for these
[9] gods, (of) whom the . . . *glorious Umma leads the *service here, (namely:) the *lady Nana and the
[10] lady Umma, Aurmuzd, the gracious one, Sroshard, Narasa, (and) Mihr. [interlinear text: . . . and he is called Maaseno, and he is called Bizago] And he likewise
[11] gave orders to make images of these gods who are written above, and
[12] he gave orders to make (them) for these kings: for King Kujula Kadphises (his) great
[13] grandfather, and for King Vima Taktu, (his) grandfather, and for King Vima Kadphises
[14] (his) father, and *also for himself, King Kanishka. Then, as the king of kings, the Devaputra[Note 2]
[15] . . . had given orders to do, Shafar the Karalrang made this sanctuary.
[16] [Then . . .] the Karalrang, and Shafar the Karalrang, and Nukunzuk [led] the worship
[17] [according to] the (king's) command. (As for) *these gods who are written here – may they [keep] the
[18] king of kings, Kanishka the Kushan, for ever healthy, *secure, (and) victorious.
[19] And [when] the devaputra, the *ruler of all India from the year one to the year *one *thousand,
[20] had *founded the sanctuary in the year one, then *also to the . . . year. . .
[21] according to the king's command . . . (and) it was given also to the . . ., (and) it was given also to the . . ., (and) also to
[22] . . . the king gave an *endowment to the gods, and . . .

— Translation by Nicholas Sims-Williams (1996)
Rabatak inscription

Because of the civil war in Afghanistan years passed before further examination could be accomplished. In April 2000 the English historian Dr. Jonathan Lee, a specialist on Afghan history, travelled with Robert Kluijver, the director of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage, from Mazar-i Sharif to Pul-i Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan, to locate the stone. It was eventually found in a store at the Department of Mines and Industry. Dr. Lee took photographs which allowed Prof. Sims-Williams to publish a more accurate translation, which was followed by another translation once Professor Sims-Williams had examined the stone in person (2008).

Variations of the Greek alphabet (narrow columns) in the Kushan script (wide columns).

In July 2000 Robert Kluijver travelled with a delegation of the Kabul Museum to Pul-i Khumri to retrieve the stone inscription (weighing between 500 and 600 kilograms). It was brought by car to Mazar-i Sharif and flown from there to Kabul. At the time the Taliban had a favorable policy toward the preservation of Afghan cultural heritage, including pre-Islamic heritage. The inscription, whose historical value had meanwhile been determined by Prof. Sims-Williams, became the centrepiece of the exhibition of the (few) remaining artifacts in the Kabul Museum, leading to a short-lived inauguration of the museum on 17 August 2000. Senior Taliban objected to the display of pre-Islamic heritage, which led to the closing of the museum (and the transfer of the Rabatak inscription to safety), a reversal of the cultural heritage policy and eventually the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan and other pre-Islamic statuary (from February 2001 onwards).

Today the Rabatak inscription is again on display in the reopened Afghan National Museum or Kabul Museum.

The Rabatak site, again visited by Robert Kluijver in March 2002, has been looted and destroyed (the looting was performed with bulldozers), reportedly by the local commander at Rabatak.

Main findings[edit]

Territories of the Kushans under Kaniska according to the Rabatak inscription.


The first lines of the inscription describe Kanishka as:

"the great salvation, the righteous, just autocrat, worthy of divine worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has inaugurated the year one as the gods pleased" (Trans. Professor Sims-Williams)

The "Arya language"[edit]

Follows a statement regarding the writing of the inscription itself, indicating that the language used by Kanishka in his inscription was self-described as the "Aryan language".

"It was he who laid out (i.e. discontinued the use of) the Ionian ("ιωνα", Yona, Greek) speech and then placed the Arya ("αρια", Aryan) speech."

Regnal eras[edit]

Also, Kanishka announces the beginning of a new era starting with the year 1 of his reign, abandoning the therefore "Great Arya Era" which had been in use, possibly meaning the Azes era of 58 BCE.

Territorial extent[edit]

Lines 4 to 7 describe the cities which were under the rule of Kanishka, among which four names are identifiable: Saketa, Kausambi, Pataliputra, and Champa (although the text is not clear whether Champa was a possession of Kanishka or just beyond it). The Rabatak inscription is significant in suggesting the actual extent of Kushan rule under Kanishka, which would go significantly beyond traditionally held boundaries:[1]


Kanishka ordered the carving of the Rabatak inscription.

Finally, Kanishka makes the list of the kings who ruled up to his time: Kujula Kadphises as his great-grandfather, Vima Taktu as his grandfather, Vima Kadphises as his father, and himself Kanishka:

"for King Kujula Kadphises (his) great grandfather, and for King Vima Taktu (his) grandfather, and for King Vima Kadphises (his) father, and *also for himself, King Kanishka" (Cribb and Sims-Williams 1995/6: 80)

Another translation by Prof. B.N. Mukherjee has been given much currency, but it lacks the accuracy and authority of Sims-Williams' translation.

Full text[edit]


1. […. ]νο βωγο στοργο κανηþκε κοþανο ραþτογο λαδειγo χοαζαοαργο βαγ[η]-

2. ζνογο κιδι ασo νανα oδo ασo oισπoανo µι βαγανo ι þαoδανo αβoρδo κιδι ιωγo χþoνo

3. νoβαστo σ(α)γωνδι βαγανo σινδαδo oτηια ι ιωναγγo oασo oζoαστo ταδηια oριαo ωσ-

4. ταδo αβo ιωγo χþoν(o) αβo [ι] ιυνδo φρoαγδαζo αβo þατριαγγε þαoρε αγιτα κoo-

5. αδηανo oδo ι oα(σ)πo oδ(o) [ι ζ]αγηδo oδo ι κωζ(αµ)βo oδo ι παλαβoτρo oιδρα αδα αβo ι ζιριτ-

6. αµβo σιδηιανo πρoβαo oδo µανδαρσι ζαopανo αβo ι σινδo ωσταδo oτη(ι)α αρoυγo

7. ιυνδo (αβo) ι σινδo ωσταδo ταδι þαι κανηþκε αβo þαφαρo καραλραγγo φρoµαδo

8. (α)βειναo βαγoλαγγo κιρδι σιδι β…αβo ριζδι αβo µα καδγε ραγα φαρειµoανo β-

9. (α)γα(ν)o κιδι µαρo κιρδαν(ε) ι µα..o[φ]αρρo oµµα ooηλδι ια αµσα νανα oδo ια αµ-

10. σα oµµα αoρoµoζδo µoζδoo(α)νo σρoþαρδo ναρασαo µιιρo oτηια oυδoα-

11. νo πι(δo)γιρβo φρoµαδo κιρδι ειµoανo βαγανo κιδι µασκα νιβιχτιγενδι oτ-

12. ηια φρoµαδo αβειµoανo þαoνανo κιρδι αβo κoζoυλo καδφισo þαo αβo ι φρ-

13. oνιαγo (o)δo α(βo o)oηµo (τ)ακτoo þαo α(β)[o] ι νια(γ)o oδo αβo ooηµo καδφισo þαo αβo

14. (ι) πιδα oδo αβo ι χoβιε aβo κανηþκo þαo tα σαγωνδι þαoνανo þαo ι βαγoπoo-

15. ρακ[α]νε […] φρ(o)µαδo κιρδι ταδι þαφαρε καραλραγγε κιρδo ειo βαγoλαγγo

16. [ ]o καραλραγγo oδo þαφαρo καραλραγγo oδo νoκoνζoκo ι αþτoo-

17. α[λγo κιρ]δo ια φρoµανo ειµιδβα βαγε κιδι µαρo νιβιχτιγενδι ταδανo αβo þαoν-

18. αν(o) þαo αβo κανηþκε κoþανo αβo ιαoηδανι ζoρριγι λρoυ(γ)o αγγαδ…γo oανινδ-

19. o π[…]ι(ν)δι oδ[…](δ)ι βα(γ)επooρo ασo ιωγo χþoνo αβo ιo (α) χþoνo ιυνδo αρoυγo ν-

20. αρα[]ι β(α)γoλαγγo αβo ιωγo χþoνo ασπαδo ταδι αβo ι αρηµεσo χþoνo αγγαρ[…]

21. []χα[ π]ιδo þαo φρoµανα αβισσι παρηνα λαδo αβισσι ρηδγε λαδo αβισσ[ι ..]

22. []þαι µαδ...α (α)βo βαγανo λαδo oδo φαρειµoανo αχoδανo [σι]δι [α]βo µι βαγε λ[αδo]

23. [ ]ατιδ(η)oσ[


  1. [….]no bōgo storgo kanēške košan raštog lādeigo xoazaoargo bag[ē]-
  2. znogo kidi aso Nana odo aso oispoan mi bagano i šaodano abordo kidi iōg xšono
  3. nobasto s(a)gōndi bagano sindado otēia i iōnaggo oaso ozoasto tadēia aria
  4. ōstado abo iōg xšon(o) abo [i] iundo froagdazo abo šatriagge šaore agita koo-
  5. adēano odo i oa(s)po od(o) [i z]agēdo odo i kōz(am)bo odo i palabotro oidra ada abo i zirit-
  6. ambo sidēiano probao odo mandarsi zaorano abo i sindo ōstado otē(i)a arougo
  7. iundo (abo) i sindo ōstado tadi šai kanēške abo šafaro karalraggo fromado
  8. (a)beinao bagolango kirdi sidi b…abo rizdi abo ma kadge b-
  9. (a)ga(n)o kidi maro kirdan(e) i ma…o[f]arro omma ooēldi ia amsa nana odo ia am-
  10. sa omma aoromozdo mozdoo(a)no srošardo narasao miiro otēia oudoa-
  11. no pi(do)girbo fromado kirdi eimoano bagano kidi maska nibixtigendi ot-
  12. ēia fromado abeimoano šaonano kirdi abo kozoulo kadfiso šao abo i fr-
  13. oniago (o)do a(bo o)oēmo (t)akto šao a(b)[o] i nia(g)o odo abo ooēmo kadfiso šao abo
  14. (i) pido odo abo i xobie abo kanēško šao ta sagōndi šaonano šao i bagopoo-
  15. rak[a]ne […] fr(o)mado kirdi tadi šafare karalraggo kirdo eio bagolaggo
  16. karalraggo odo šafaro karalraggo odo nokonzoko i aštoo-
  17. a[lgo kir]do ia fromano eimidba bage kidi maro nibixtigendi tadano abo šaon-
  18. an(o) šao abo kanēške košano abo iaoēdani zorrigi lrou(g)o aggad…go oanind-
  19. o p[…]i(n)di od[..](d)i ba(g)epooro aso iōgo xšono abo io (a) xšono iundo arougo n-
  20. ara[ ]i b(a)golaggo abo iōgo xšono aspado tadi abo i arēmeso xšono aggar[…]
  21. []xa[ p]ido šao fromana abissi parēna lado abissi rēdge lado abiss[i..]
  22. [ ]šai mad…a (a)bo bagano lado ado fareimoano axodano [si]di abo mi bage l[ado]
  23. [ ]atid(ē)os


Translation by Mukherjee, B.N., "The Great Kushana Testament", Indian Museum Bulletin, Calcutta, 1995:[2][3]

"The year one of Kanishka, the great deliverer, the righteous, the just, the autocrat, the god, worthy of worship, who has obtained the kingship from Nana and from all the gods, who has laid down (i.e. established) the year one as the gods pleased."
"And it was he who laid out (i.e. discontinued the use of) the Ionian speech and then placed the Arya (or Aryan) speech (i.e. replaced the use of Greek by the Aryan or Bactrian language)."
"In the year one, it has been proclaimed unto India, unto the whole realm of the governing class including Koonadeano (Kaundinya< Kundina) and the city of Ozeno (Ozene, Ujjain) and the city of Zageda (Saketa) and the city of Kozambo (Kausambi) and the city of Palabotro (Pataliputra) and so long unto (i.e. as far as) the city of Ziri-tambo (Sri-Champa)."
"Whichever rulers and the great householders there might have been, they submitted to the will of the king and all India submitted to the will of the king."
"The king Kanishka commanded Shapara (Shaphar), the master of the city, to make the Nana Sanctuary, which is called (i.e. known for having the availability of) external water (or water on the exterior or surface of the ground), in the plain of Kaeypa, for these deities – of whom are Ziri (Sri) Pharo (Farrah) and Omma."
"To lead are the Lady Nana and the Lady Omma, Ahura Mazda, Mazdooana, Srosharda, who is called ... and Komaro (Kumara)and called Maaseno (Mahasena) and called Bizago (Visakha), Narasao and Miro (Mihara)."
"And he gave same (or likewise) order to make images of these deities who have been written above."
"And he ordered to make images and likenesses of these kings: for king Kujula Kadphises, for the great grandfather, and for this grandfather Saddashkana (Sadashkana), the Soma sacrificer, and for king V'ima Kadphises, for the father, and for himself (?), king Kanishka."
"Then, as the king of kings, the son of god, had commanded to do, Shaphara, the master of the city, made this sanctuary."
"Then, the master of the city, Shapara, and Nokonzoka led worship according to the royal command."
"These gods who are written here, then may ensure for the king of kings, Kanishka, the Kushana, for remaining for eternal time healthy., secure and victorious... and further ensure for the son of god also having authority over the whole of India from the year one to the year thousand and thousand."
"Until the sanctuary was founded in the year one, to (i.e. till) then the Great Arya year had been the fashion."
"...According to the royal command, Abimo, who is dear to the emperor, gave capital to Pophisho."
"...The great king gave (i.e. offered worship) to the deities."

Note: Nicholas Sims-Williams gives "Vima Taktu" as the grandfather of Kanishka in lines 11–14. Further, he never sees "Saddashkana" or anything about "Soma" anywhere in this inscription.[4][5][6]

See also[edit]

Part of a series on the
History of Afghanistan
"Interior of the palace of Shauh Shujah Ool Moolk, Late King of Cabul"
Associated Historical Regions


  1. ^ Karalrang means "Lord of the border land". See: Sundermann, Werner; Hintze, Almut; Blois, François de (2009). Exegisti Monumenta: Festschrift in Honour of Nicholas Sims-Williams. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 216. ISBN 978-3-447-05937-4.
  2. ^ "Devaputra" means "Son of the Gods" in Indian languages.


  1. ^ See also the analysis of Sims-Williams and J.Cribb, who had a central role in the decipherment: "A new Bactrian inscription of Kanishka the Great", in "Silk Road Art and Archaeology" No.4, 1995–1996.
  2. ^ Quoted in Ancient Indian Inscriptions, S.R. Goyal, 2005
  3. ^ Here[permanent dead link] the greek transcription can be found.
  4. ^ "Bactrian Documents from Ancient Afghanistan" at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-10. Retrieved 2007-05-24.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link).
  5. ^ Sims-Williams (1998), p.82
  6. ^ Sims-Williams (2008), pp. 56–57.


  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas and Cribb, Joe 1996, "A New Bactrian Inscription of Kanishka the Great", Silk Road Art and Archaeology, volume 4, 1995–6, Kamakura, pp. 75–142.
  • Fussman, Gérard (1998). "L’inscription de Rabatak et l’origine de l’ère saka." Journal asiatique 286.2 (1998), pp. 571–651.
  • Pierre Leriche, Chakir Pidaev, Mathilde Gelin, Kazim Abdoulaev, " La Bactriane au carrefour des routes et des civilisations de l'Asie centrale : Termez et les villes de Bactriane-Tokharestan ", Maisonneuve et Larose – IFÉAC, Paris, 2001 ISBN 2-7068-1568-X . Actes du colloque de Termez 1997. (Several authors, including Gérard Fussman « L'inscription de Rabatak. La Bactriane et les Kouchans » )
  • S.R. Goyal "Ancient Indian Inscriptions" Kusumanjali Book World, Jodhpur (India), 2005.
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1998): "Further notes on the Bactrian inscription of Rabatak, with an Appendix on the names of Kujula Kadphises and Vima Taktu in Chinese." Proceedings of the Third European Conference of Iranian Studies Part 1: Old and Middle Iranian Studies. Edited by Nicholas Sims-Williams. Wiesbaden. 1998, pp. 79–93.[1]
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (2008). "The Bactrian Inscription of Rabatak: A New Reading." Bulletin of the Asia Institute 18, 2008, pp. 53–68.

External links[edit]