Part III| Re- constructing the ancient history of Kashmir

Several scholars claim to have identified Scythian motifs of horse riders on the tile pavements of Harwan and Kotebal terracotta settlements
Part III| Re- constructing the ancient history of Kashmir
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Indo-Scythians in Kashmir

Surprisingly, in the mainstream historiography, there are few other periods of ancient history which either have been forgotten or have been taken up casually. These included the historical periods of Sakas, Parthians, Kushans, Kidders and Huns, which almost cover a span of about one thousand years.

The traditional literary records have given such long and interesting tales of rajas and maharajas of this period, which hardly get substantiated by other physical sources. In fact, there is very little mention of the genuine tribes in the contemporary historical records, on the other hand if we look on the modern day numismatic and archaeological researches undertaken on scientific bases, the picture looks quite different. It reveals the evidences of genuine tribes which either had got any political authority or respective presence in the sub continent. In this context Let us first talk about Indo Scythians. This period of ancient history is almost missing in the major history works. These have been a nomadic tribe known to Indian history as Sakas. They are believed were a group of nomadic tribe of the Scythian origin who migrated from Central Asia into South Asia from the middle of the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD. The modern day numismatists and archaeologists have also come across certain archaeological and numismatic evidences from Jammu and Kashmir.

Ancient Roman and Greek historians including Arrian and Claudius Ptolemy have mentioned that the ancient Sakas (‘Sakai’) were nomadic people. , Italo Ronca, in his detailed study of Ptolemy’s chapter vi, states: “The land of the Sakai belongs to nomads, they have no towns but dwell in forests and caves” as spurious.

The first Saka king in South Asia was identified as Maus, who is believed ascended the throne and established Saka power in Gandhara, and Indus Valley during 1st century BC. The historical records of the sub continent suggest that the Indo-Scythians also spread over the Indo Greek empire, and extended from Kabul, and annexed the the present Pakistan, north western parts of India including Jammu and Kashmir. The invasion of northern regions of the Indian subcontinent by Scythian tribes from Central Asia, often referred to as the Indo-Scythian invasion, played a significant part in the history of the subcontinent as well as in Jammu and Kashmir. The viceroys of Indo Scythian are believed to have moved up to Sindh and Muthura and continued to stay there for a very long time, till the times of western satraps. Maus , Vonones, Azes, Azilises were the main rulers of this dynasty.

The history and chronology of Indo Scythians has also been explored mainly through archaeology and numismatic sources, in fact the main stream Kashmiri chronicles are almost silent about these people. There is very little mention of these people even in modern historical records, although these people have left certain archaeology and numismatic evidences here. I have already attempted this period of our history and their coins, in my earlier papers, of Greek Kashmir and Ancient Greeks in Kashmir´ respectively under the title Indo Scythians in Kashmir.

In fact hundreds of their silver and copper coins have been found in southern and northern parts of Kashmir as well. The excavations carried at Semthan – Bijbehra also revealed the coins of Indo Scythian princes. Their coins are recorded in the numismatics collections of Jammu and Kashmir. Several coins of Azes I, Azilises, and Azes II are recorded in the numismatic collections of SPS museum Srinagar and in few private collections of the Jammu and Kashmir.

Silver coin of Azes

Obverse;- King holding spear, mounted on horse walking right; Greek legend, Basileos Basileon Megalou / Azou

Reverse;- Winged Nike standing right facing with head left, holding wreath and palm, legend; Maharajasa Rajarajasa Mahatakasa / Ayasa

Culturally speaking, there are several places in Kashmir which still carry the Scythian place names. In Bandipura area there is a village called Ajas, which clearly looks as the corrupt form of Azes I or Azes II, who has been identified as one of the famous princes of Scythian tribe.

Tile pavement at Kotebal in south Kashmir

Besides, there are scores of terracotta settlements in forest and distant abandoned places of Kashmir valley, where only trial digs have been given. The preliminary investigation carried out at these sites, speaks very little about these settlers. These terracotta settlements are believed to have been founded by those tribes which had lived a nomadic life, although the purpose of lying of such settlements in such abandoned places is yet to be ascertained, but one thing is very much clear that the tribes which have laid these settlements had been defiantly a nomadic tribe.

Usually the local scholar’s have been dating these terracotta sites to first century AD and attributing them to kushan era, but the fact is that several of these settlements can be dated earlier to kushans, provided the systematic excavations on scientific lines are resumed at these sites. Such settlements have been encountered at the plateau of Zabervan hills of Harwan Srinagar. Dardakote, Hoinar, Donipather and Kotebal forest plateaus of Lidder valley and at Gurvieth in Budgam area of central Kashmir and at other several places. Several scholars claim to have identified Scythian motifs of horse riders on the tile pavements of Harwan and Kotebal terracotta settlements.

Terracotta pavement site Harwan Srinager

On the other hand If the above mentioned claim of ancient Roman historians is taken into consideration then one can easily say that the well advanced terracotta settlements on such a hilly and abandoned places has been the handy work of Indo Scythians, which are believed to had built no cities, no towns, but lived a nomadic life in the forest areas. Almost all the terracotta settlements found so far in Kashmir are located on abandoned forest areas. The builders of these terracotta settlements have not been properily identified yet, although there is general view that the most of these terracotta settlements belong to Kushan era, but there is no such evidence available with scholars to know who actually had raised these pavements. Since these terracotta pavements have been laid in forest areas. As such there is every possibility that Indo Scythian tribes who used to dwell in forests may have founded these sites and later on these sites may have developed further during Kushans. Since these settlements have been excavated partly and if further excavations are resumed at such sites, it is hoped we may get clearer picture about its founders.

Motifs of unknown tribal people found on the tiles of Harwan

Indo Scythian Coins

Indo- Scythian rulers issued their coins on the Indo-Greek pattern. Their coins are also bi metallic and bilingual. They issued their coins in silver and copper. There coins are also denominated as drachm and tetra drachm (dirham and Chugni dirham) and weighed dirham three grams and chugni dirham twelve grams. They kept the legends of their coin on the Indo -Greek coin pattern as Greek legend on obverse and kharoshti on reverse, with all most similar titles.

Although the Scythians promoted the Grecian numismatic trends, but they also made certain changes in it and introduced their own favorite types. One of the major change, they made was in displaying of motifs on obverse of their coins. They dismissed placing the portrait busts of their kings, instead introduced the tradition of placing of horse rider. They displayed the motif of king riding on horseback, holding ankus and spear. The reverse of the coins they kept unchanged and continued the tradition of placing of Greek and Indian deities. They also made certain innovation in their coinages by placing south Asian animals like camel, bull and lion motifs. There coins have been found in parts Afghanistan, Pakistan, north western India and in parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

The following Copper coins of Azes I and II have been found in Kashmir

Azes II

Obverse;- Humped bull walking right; Greek inscription around

Reverse;- Lion walking right; Kharoshthi inscription around,

Obverse;- Horse rider to right

Reverse;- deity standing to left

Indo- Parthians in Kashmir

Parthians as mentioned in the rare historical records had earlier emerged from Parthia towards the neighborhood of Bactria. They are said also moved towards south of Hindukush and drove Scythian out of Bactria in 126 BC. After consolidating their Parthian Kingdom of Bactria they left for an expedition to south west Afghanistan and annexed it with their kingdom. Gondphares,a Parthian governor was appointed viceroy of the then newly created province of southwest Afghanistan.


Obverse;- King holding whip, mounted on horse walking right; Greek legend, Reverse; - standing figure identified as Siva, Kharoshthi legend,

Gondphares is later known to have disbanded his ties with Parthian kingdom of Bactria and declared his own authority over the province. He founded a new dynasty known to the historians as indo- Parthian empire, which he created at the cost of indo Scythian and Indo Greek empires.

Gondphares declaration has been deciphered in a kharoshti stone inscription recovered way back from the Takht-i-bhai city of Punjab, Pakistan (the inscription these days is preserved in Punjab museum at Lahore). The inscription bears a date which scholars have been interpreting as 120B.C.

Gondphares is recorded to have divided his kingdom into two provinces where he appointed his own viceroys. Abdagases,Aspavanna and Zeionses were his famous viceroys. Archaeological, numismatic and epigraphic evidences of these Parthian viceroys have been discovered from several cities of North West India and Pakistan.

Although the Kashmir chapter of the Indo Parthians like Indo Scythians has also remained unexplored and there is very little information available on Indo Parthians in its historical records. Their numismatic and archaeological evidences have also came up from Jammu and Kashmir. A hoard of indo- Parthian coins reportedly few years back was found somewhere from Jammu region. It carried coins of Gondphares with sub name of his viceroy. Coins of Zeionses have been also found from northern and southern parts of Kashmir. Few of his coins are preserved in the SPS museum at Srinagar. The Parthian motif, king on horseback has been also encountered on one of the terracotta tiles found at Harwan Srinagar

Tile depicting horse rider

It is mainly on the basis of numismatic and archaeological finds few scholars opine that the indo Parthian empire extend from Gandhara upto Kashmir. Besides the numismatic evidences, there are also found several places which carried Parthian names. There are several ancient villages, which are either prefixed or suffixed with the word Gound, as, Gound, Goundbal, Goundupur, Goundchhal, Bata Gund, Bogund etc. There is a village in north Kashmir, which still carries the corrupt form of the name of Gondphares, and is pronounced as Zandhupharen.

Indo Parthian Coins

Indo Parthian, in their coins, followed the Greek and Scythian numismatic traditions. They also issued bi metallic and bilingual coins and depicted their own motifs. But during their period it looks silver coins had lost its purity and it had become base metal coins. They also continued to mint coins in the same metal and did not attempt to restore its purity. They issued several coin types but their Nike and horseman type coin had become very popular coin type. In this coin type they displayed king on horseback, in the similar fashion of Indo Scythian coins and on reverse they displayed the Greek and Indian deities in various forms. They issued bust and animal type coins as well. Their bust type coins, depicted half portrait of the king and the bull/ camel type coins depict Bactrian camel and Indian bull. Such coins are also known from various mints. The bull / camel type coins in copper are also known from Kashmir and these coins are attributed to king Zeionses.

The coins of indo- Parthian satraps are also recorded to have been found in Jammu and Kashmir and are recorded in the numismatic collections of Jammu and Kashmir. The SPS museum Srinagar also records several coins of Gondaphares and Zieonses.

Gonodphares with Sasan

Obverse;- King holding whip mounted on horse walking right; Gondopharean symbol in front; traces of Greek inscription.

Reverse; - Zeus standing facing, holding winged Nike on outstretched right hand and left arm at side: traces of Kharoshthi inscription

Obverse;- King holding whip mounted on horse walking right; Gondopharean symbol in front; traces of Greek inscription.

Reverse;- Zeus standing facing, holding winged Nike on outstretched right hand and left arm at side: traces of Kharoshthi inscription.


Obverse;- Humped bull walking right; Greek inscription around.

Reverse;- Lion walking right; Kharoshthi inscription around,

Obverse;- Humped bull walking right; corrupt Greek inscription around

Reverse;- Lion walking right; Kharoshthi inscription around.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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