Episode 18 – Lost Kushan Empire
Foundations of Eastern Civilization
Dr Craig Benjamin
The Kushan, originally descended from Yuezhi nomads,* were the great Silk Road facilitators. Their empire extended from Uzbekistan in the north to Central India and from the Iranian Plateau to the Tarim Basin** in the East. By the early first century AD, the Han Empire had also expanded to incorporate much of Central Asia as tributary states. This brought them into direct contact with the Kushan, who eventually controlled all the east-west and north-south Silk Road trade routes.
Because the Kushan had no literature of their own, most of their history is reconstructed from historical accounts and their coins. Imprinted with a distinctive Bactrian script employing Sanskrit grammar and Greek letters, the latter frequently commemorated royal lines of succession, foreign conquest. and various religious icons of their subjects.
Major achievements if the Kushan Empire included creating a new dating system and subsidizing numerous schools of sculpture (based on Greco-Roman and Persian sculpture), which would have a major influence on all all Asian art. The Kushan are credited with creating the first sculptural likeness of the Buddha.
Major patrons of Buddhism, they also called the first world conference on Buddhism to consolidate Buddhist doctrine, which the Kushan government translated into Sanskrit for wide dissemination.
The demise of the Kushan Empire was triggered by an invasion by the new Sasssanian Empire in Persia, destroying their capitol and palaces. However the Gupta Empire, which reunified India in the 4th century AD retained many Kushan influences.
*Long time rivals of the Xiongu nomads, who forced the Yuezhi to migrate to the Central Steppes and resettle in Bactria in 130 BC (ten years prior to their visit from Han Dynasty envoy Zhang Xian).
**Aka the Taklamakan Desert
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