Saka Dynasty: Rulers, Rudradaman, and Decline | Sakas UPSC

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

The Sakas, often referred to as the Indo-Scythians or Indo-Sakas, were a nomadic Iranian people of Scythian descent who travelled from Central Asia southward into the northern and western regions of ancient India between the middle of the 2nd century BCE and the 4th century CE. The Sakas Dynasty began with the accession of King Chashtana and lasted for a duration of 11 to 52 years. These particulars were taken from the Chashtana king’s inscriptions.

Aspirants should be aware that the terms ‘Sakas, ‘Shakas’, and ‘Indo-Scythians’ are interchangeable and have the same meaning. For the UPSC Exam, it is crucial to become familiar with Shakas. In addition to discussing Shakas, this article will offer crucial information regarding their time period, rulers, culture, coinage and decline.

Saka Dynasty

The Saka Dynasty began with the accession of King Chashtana. Iranian pastoral nomads are known as Scythians or Sakas in Indian literature. Central Asian nomadic tribes and tribes from the Chinese region in the second century BC invaded the Scythian-inhabited region of modern-day Kazakhstan. The Scythians were urged to move to Bactria and Parthia as a result.

After overthrowing the Parthian king, they marched toward India. Scythians who migrated to India are known as Indo-Scythians. According to historians, the first Saka king in India was known as Maues or Moga. He consolidated his authority in Gandhara before expanding his dominance to all of Northwest India. He overthrew the Indo-Greek provinces (in what is now Pakistan) and established his rule to the Jhelum River.

  • The Saka Era spans 11 to 52 years. The inscriptions left by King Chashtana provided this information.
  • With the help of victories over the Indo-Greeks and other regional kingdoms, the Indo-Scythians expanded their dominance across northwest India.
  • The Indo-Scythians appear to have been subdued by the Kushan Empire, possibly under Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka.
  • However, the Saka, who made up the Northern and Western Satraps, continued to rule as satrapies.

Rulers of Sakas Dynasty

There were three main rulers of the Sakas Dynasty, namely:

Maues or Moga (Reign 98/50 BC to 60/57 BC)

  • Maues, also referred to as Moga, was the first Indo-Scythian emperor.
  • He was the Gandhara king (present Pakistan and Afghanistan).
  • His home base was Sirkap (Punjab, Pakistan).
  • It has been discovered that Maues gave many coins. They feature Hindu and Buddhist images. Greek and Kharoshti tongues were used to make these coins.
  • His son Azes I took control of the remaining Indo-Greek territories by conquering Hippostratos.

Chashtana (Reign 78 AD to 130 AD)

  • As a ruler of the Western Kshatrapas (Satraps) Dynasty, Chashtana ruled over Ujjain.
  • His rise to power in 78 AD is said to have signalled the start of the Saka Dynasty.
  • He is referred to as Tiasthenes or Testenes by Ptolemy.
  • Chashtana was the one who discovered the two important Saka Kshatrapa dynasties, the Bhadramukhas, in northwest India.

Rudradaman I (Reign 130 AD to 150 AD)

  • The greatest Sakas emperor is thought to have been Rudradaman. He came from the Western Kshatrapa family and was the grandson of Chastana.
  • The Konkan, the Narmada valley, Kathiawar, and other regions of Gujarat and Malwa, fell within his sphere of influence.
  • In Kathiawar, he was in charge of fixing the Sudarshana Lake.
  • After marrying a Hindu woman, he converted to Hinduism.
  • He also released the first lengthy inscription in pure Sanskrit.
  • After ascending to the throne, he was given the name Makakshatrapa.
  • He was related to the Satavahanas through marriage. He had Vashishtiputra Satakarni as his son-in-law. However, he fought beside them in innumerable battles.
  • He supported the literature and arts of Sanskrit culture.
  • The Greek author Yavaneshwara, who lived in India during Rudradaman’s rule, converted the Yavanajataka from Greek to Sanskrit.

Sakas Coinage

The Sakas currency is often very creative, although it obviously degraded as Indo-Scythian control broke down around AD 20. In general, the coins from the Saka dynasty were very realistic, with an aesthetic style that fell between Indo-Greek and Kushan coinage.

  • They carried on the Indo-Greek heritage by employing the Greek language on the front and the Kharoshthi language on the reverse.
  • However, the king’s portrait is never displayed; instead, the monarch is always represented riding a horse, occasionally on a camel, or occasionally resting cross-legged on a cushion.
  • Greek divinities are frequently depicted on the back of their coinage.
  • The Sakas coinage is replete with Buddhist iconography.

Art and Architecture During the Sakas

Foreigners are seen in several Gandharan sculptures with soft tunics and distinctive Scythian pointed hats. They stand in contrast to representations of Kushan males, who appear to wear bulky, stiff tunics and are frequently shown in a far more primitive manner.

  • Many of the stone palettes found in Gandhara are considered excellent examples of Sakas’ art.
  • The Sakas’ speciality was similar to other Iranian steppe ethnic tribes and is generally referred to as Scythian workmanship.
  • The installation of a Buddha relic in a stupa is recorded in the Mathura lion capital, which is connected to various Indo-Scythian kings, including Maues and Rajuvula.
  • Alongside reliefs of standing Buddhas, several reliefs in the same location show Sakas wearing their characteristic tunics and pointed hats in a Buddhist setting.

Decline of the Sakas Dynasty

The Sakas declined after their loss at the hands of Satavahana Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni. The Sakas dominated northwest India and Pakistan until Azes II’s (12 BC) death, when the Kushanas seized control of the region.

When Chandragupta II of the Gupta dynasty overthrew the final Western Satrap Saka monarch, Rudrasimha III, the Saka Dynasty’s rule over western India ended.

Sakas UPSC

The Saka Dynasty was one of the well-known dynasties of the south during the Ancient India period. The Sakas were mighty rulers who ruled over a large kingdom. To study more about them, aspirants can refer to the Indian History Notes for UPSC and practice the Previous Year’s Question Papers to be acquainted with the IAS Exam Pattern.

Sakas UPSC Questions

Question: Who was the first Saka king in India?

  1. Moga
  2. Rudradaman
  3. Azes
  4. Ghatotkacha

Answer: Option A

Question: Which of the following passes was used by Sakas to come to India?

  1. Bolan Pass
  2. Nathu La Pass
  3. Shipki La Pass
  4. Bara-lacha la Pass

Answer: Option A

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