Western Satraps – Western Kshatraps or Kshaharatas – Contemporaries of Kushan Dynasty and Satavahana Dynasty – 47 CE – 412 CE

The timeline of Western Satrap Empire falls between 47 CE and 412 AD, and belongs to the Golden age of Indian History. Western Satraps are also referred to as Western Kshatraps or  Kshaharatas. They ruled the Western and Central part of India (Saurashtra) and they were the contemporaries of the Kushan Dynasty in the North of the Indian-Subcontinent and the Satavahana Dynasty in Southern India (Andhra). They were successors to the Indo-Scynthians and called themselves as Satraps as indicated by the coins that existed in their dynasty, but Ptolemy in his ‘Geographica’ referred to them as Indo-Synthians. The word Satrap means viceroy or governor of a province. The dynasty lasted for around 350 years during which there were almost 27 independent Western Satraps.

History of Western Satraps

Western Satrap Map - 47 CE - 412 CE

Western Satrap Map – 47 CE – 412 CE

Kshaharata dynasty

The history of Western Satraps started with the Kshaharata dynasty (1st century CE). Abhiraka is one of the Kshaharatas about whom there is evidence. He was succeeded by Bumaka who was succeeded by Nahapana a powerful ruler. According to the descriptions in the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’ ( a Greek book describing the lands around the Indian ocean) we get indications of the achievements of the Nahapana rule.

  • The land was prosperous and its people were healthy
  • Barigaza( a city under Western Satraps) was  one of the main centers of Roman Trade with India
  • Goods were also brought down in quantity from Ujjain, the capital of the Western Satraps
  • Some ships were also fitted out from Barigaza, to export goods westward across the Indian ocean
  • Nahapana also established the silver coinage of the Kshatrapas.
Coins of Western Satraps Empire during Rudrasimha I around 178 CE

Coins of Western Satraps Empire during Rudrasimha I around 178 CE

 Kardamaka dynasty, family of Castana (1st–4th century)

This dynasty was established by the satrap Castana who is known as the founder of the Saka era. Castana was the Satrap of Ujjain. The territory under Kardamaka dynasty spread from Patalene  in the West,to Ujjain in the east and Barigaza in the south.

The Political Scenario

During the time of Rudradaman I , the grandson of Chastana there were conflicts with the Satavahanas of the Central India,  and Rudradaman defended his kingdom and he was entitled “Mahakshatrapa” (“Great Satrap”). In order to establish peace between the two kingdoms Rudradaman’s daughter was wedded to the Satavahana king Vashishtiputra Satakarni.

During the two wars with Satavahanas, Rudradaman defeated his enemies twice. But in the late 2nd century the Kshatrapas Dynasty was constrained after they were defeated by Yajna Sri Satakarni of Satavahans. Under the rule of Rudrasena II, the 19th ruler of Kshatrapa, the dynasty reached its highest prosperity between 256 and 278. The last Kshatrapa ruler from the Chastana family was Visvasena son of Rudrasena II. After them another family under the Kingship of Rudrasimha II took over the Kshatrapa dynasty.

Decline of Western Satrap dynasty.

During the reign of Rudrasimha III, the Gupta king RamaGupta attacked the Kshatrapas.  Initially the Guptas were defeated and then Rudarsimha asked the RamaGupta to hand over his own wife to him in exchange of peace. But ChandraGupta II, the younger brother of RamaGupta, disguised himself as the queen and went to Rudrasimha, and killed him and conquered the Kshatrapas. Later ChandraGupta killed his own brother and became the emperor himself. Thus the Kshatrapa dynasty came to an end.

Western Satraps – Culture and Influences

  • Rudradaman promoted arts and poetry in his kingdom. Sanskrit was made the court language.
  • India’s earliest astrological treatise namely “Yavanajataka” was written during his period, which is actually the translation of a Greek work.
  • The Kshatrapas have a very rich and interesting coinage. These coins were very informative since they record the name of the king, of his father, and the data of issue. This helped in tracing the early history of India.
  • The coins of the Kshatrapas were also very influential and imitated by neighboring or later dynasties, such as the Satavahanas, and the Guptas.
  • A script namely Kharoshthi was employed together with the Brahmi script and the Greek script on the first coins of the Khatrapas. Occasionally Sanskrit was also used.

Western Satraps and Kushans

Western Satraps made their own contribution to the Golden age of Indian history, it is still unclear whether they were independent rulers or vassals of the Kushans. The usage of the word Satrap in their coins itself is misleading and indicates a kind of subjugation to a higher ruler. In Mathura, in a temple the statue of Chastana, was found together with those of Kanishka and Vima Kadphises ( Kushan kings) which points at least to an alliance or friendship between the two dynasties.

By: Mathew Abraham

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