Indo-Parthian Kingdom

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Indo-Parthian Kingdom

19–c. 240
Indo-Parthian Kingdom at its maximum extent.
Capital Taxila
Common languages Aramaic
Pali (Kharoshthi script)
Sanskrit, Prakrit (Brahmi script) Parthian
 20 BC
Gondophares I
Historical era Antiquity
c. 240
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Parthian Empire at it's greatest extent.png Parthian Empire
IndoScythianKingdom.svg Indo-Scythians
Kushan Empire Kushanmap.jpg
Sasanian Empire Derafsh Kaviani flag of the late Sassanid Empire.svg

The Indo-Parthian Kingdom, also known as the Suren Kingdom, [1] was a Parthian kingdom founded by the Gondopharid branch of the House of Suren, ruling from 19 to c. 240. At their zenith, they ruled an area covering parts of eastern Iran, various parts of Afghanistan and the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent (parts of modern Pakistan and northwestern India).

Parthia region of north-eastern Iran

Parthia is a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. It was conquered and subjugated by the empire of the Medes during the 7th century BC, was incorporated into the subsequent Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, and formed part of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire following the 4th-century-BC conquests of Alexander the Great. The region later served as the political and cultural base of the Eastern-Iranian Parni people and Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire. The Sasanian Empire, the last state of pre-Islamic Persia, also held the region and maintained the Seven Parthian clans as part of their feudal aristocracy.

House of Suren or Surenas are one of two Parthian noble families explicitly mentioned by name in sources dateable to the Arsacid period.

Iran Country in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With over 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), it is the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. The country's central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the country's capital and largest city, as well as its leading economic and cultural center.


The kingdom was founded in 19 when the Surenid governor of Drangiana (Sakastan) Gondophares declared independence from the Parthian Empire. He would later make expeditions into the west, conquering territory from the Indo-Scythians and Indo-Greeks, thus transforming his kingdom into an empire. [2] The domains of the Indo-Parthians were greatly reduced following the invasions of the Kushans in the second half of the 1st. century. They managed to retain control of Sakastan, until its conquest by the Sasanian Empire in c. 240.

Drangiana satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire

Drangiana or Zarangiana (Greek: Δραγγιανή, Drangianē; also attested in Old Western Iranian as 𐏀𐎼𐎣, Zraka or Zranka, was a historical region and administrative division of the Achaemenid Empire. This region comprises territory around Hamun Lake, wetlands in endorheic Sistan Basin on the Iran-Afghan border, and its primary watershed Helmand river in what is nowadays southwestern region of Afghanistan.

Sistan historical and geographical region in present-day Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan

Sīstān, known in ancient times as Sakastan, is a historical and geographical region in present-day eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. Largely desert, the region is bisected by the Helmand River, the largest river in Afghanistan, which empties into the hamun lakes that form part of the border between the two countries.


Gondophares I was the founder of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom and its most prominent king, ruling from 19 to 46. A member of the House of Suren, he belonged to a line of local princes who had governed the Parthian province of Drangiana since its disruption by the Indo-Scythians in c. 129 BC. During his reign, his kingdom became independent from Parthian authority and was transformed into an empire, which encompassed Drangiana, Arachosia, and Gandhara. He is generally known from the dubious Acts of Thomas, the Takht-i-Bahi inscription, and coin-mints in silver and copper.

The Indo-Parthians are noted for the construction of the Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Monastery complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplace(s) of monks or nuns

A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.

Takht-i-Bahi ruins

Takht-i-Bahi, commonly mispronounced as Takht-i-Bhai, is an Indo-Parthian archaeological site of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The site is considered among the most imposing relics of Buddhism in all of Gandhara, and has been "exceptionally well-preserved."

Gondophares I and his successors

Portrait of Gondophares, founder of the Indo-Parthian kingdom. He wears a headband, earrings, a necklace, and a cross-over jacket with round decorations. GondopharesCoin.JPG
Portrait of Gondophares, founder of the Indo-Parthian kingdom. He wears a headband, earrings, a necklace, and a cross-over jacket with round decorations.
King Abdagases I being crowned by the Greek goddess Tyche, on the reverse of some of his coins. StandingAbdagases.jpg
King Abdagases I being crowned by the Greek goddess Tyche, on the reverse of some of his coins.

Gondophares I originally seems to have been a ruler of Seistan in what is today eastern Iran, probably a vassal or relative of the Apracarajas. Around 20–10 BC, [4] he made conquests in the former Indo-Scythian kingdom, perhaps after the death of the important ruler Azes. Gondophares became the ruler of areas comprising Arachosia, Seistan, Sindh, Punjab, and the Kabul valley, but it does not seem as though he held territory beyond eastern Punjab. [5] Gondophares called himself "King of Kings", a Parthian title that in his case correctly reflects that the Indo-Parthian empire was only a loose framework: a number of smaller dynasts certainly maintained their positions during the Indo-Parthian period, likely in exchange for their recognition of Gondophares and his successors. These smaller dynasts included the Apracarajas themselves, and Indo-Scythian satraps such as Zeionises and Rajuvula, as well as anonymous Scythians who struck imitations of Azes coins. The Ksaharatas also held sway in Gujarat, perhaps just outside Gondophares' dominions.

Arachosia former country

Arachosia is the Hellenized name of an ancient satrapy in the eastern part of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Greco-Bactrian, and Indo-Scythian empires. Arachosia was centred on the Arghandab valley in modern-day southern Afghanistan, although its influence extended east to as far as the Indus River. The main river of Arachosia was called Arachōtós, now known as the Arghandab River, a tributary of the Helmand River. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Aryan land of Harauti which was around modern-day Helmand. The Arachosian capital or metropolis was called Alexandria Arachosia or Alexandropolis and lay in what is today Kandahar in Afghanistan. Arachosia was a part of the region of ancient Ariana.

Sindh Province in Pakistan

Sindh is one of the four provinces of Pakistan, in the southeast of the country, and the historical home of the Sindhi people. Sindh is the third largest province of Pakistan by area, and second largest province by population after Punjab. Sindh is bordered by Balochistan province to the west, and Punjab province to the north. Sindh also borders the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the east, and Arabian Sea to the south. Sindh's landscape consists mostly of alluvial plains flanking the Indus River, the Thar desert in the eastern portion of the province closest to the border with India, and the Kirthar Mountains in the western part of Sindh.

Kabul Metropolis and municipality in Afghanistan

Kabul is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan, located in the eastern section of the country. It is also a municipality, forming part of the greater Kabul Province. According to estimates in 2015, the population of Kabul is 4.635 million, which includes all the major ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Rapid urbanization had made Kabul the world's 75th largest city.

Ancient Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) constructed by the Indo-Parthian. Takht-e-bahi.jpg
Ancient Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) constructed by the Indo-Parthian.

After the death of Gondophares I, the empire started to fragment. The name or title Gondophares was adapted by Sarpedones, who become Gondophares II and was possibly son of the first Gondophares. Even though he claimed to be the main ruler, Sarpedones’ rule was shaky and he issued a fragmented coinage in Sind, eastern Punjab and Arachosia in southern Afghanistan. The most important successor was Abdagases, Gondophares’ nephew, who ruled in Punjab and possibly in the homeland of Seistan. After a short reign, Sarpedones seems to have been succeeded by Orthagnes, who became Gondophares III Gadana. Orthagnes ruled mostly in Seistan and Arachosia, with Abdagases further east, during the first decades AD, and was briefly succeeded by his son Ubouzanes Coin. After 20 AD, a king named Sases, a nephew of the Apracaraja ruler Aspavarma, took over Abdagases’ territories and became Gondophares IV Sases. According to Senior, this is the Gondophares referred to in the Takht-i-Bahi inscription. [6]


Sarpedones was an Indo-Parthian king. He was one of the successors of Gondophares, together with Abdagases, Sases, Gondophares II, Sarpedones, Orthagnes and Pacores. He may have ruled from Arachosia to Eastern Punjab.


Sases, also known as Gondophares IV Sases, (ruled for at least 26 years during the mid-1st century CE), was an Indo-Parthian king who ruled in northwestern parts of India in modern Pakistan. He is only known from coins.

There were other minor kings: Sanabares was an ephemeral usurper in Seistan, who called himself Great King of Kings, and there was also a second Abdagases Coin, a ruler named Agata in Sind, another ruler called Satavastres Coin, and an anonymous prince who claimed to be brother of the king Arsaces, in that case an actual member of the ruling dynasty in Parthia.

But the Indo-Parthians never regained the position of Gondophares I, and from the middle of the 1st century AD the Kushans under Kujula Kadphises began absorbing the northern Indian part of the kingdom. The Indo-Parthians managed to retain control of Sakastan, which they ruled until the fall of the Parthian Empire by Sasanian Empire. [7]

Archaeology and sources

The Hellenistic temple with Ionic columns at Jandial, Taxila, is usually interpreted as a Zoroastrian fire temple from the period of the Indo-Parthians. A picture Texila by Usman Ghani.jpg
The Hellenistic temple with Ionic columns at Jandial, Taxila, is usually interpreted as a Zoroastrian fire temple from the period of the Indo-Parthians.

The city of Taxila is thought to have been a capital of the Indo-Parthians. Large strata were excavated by Sir John Marshall with a quantity of Parthian-style artifacts. The nearby temple of Jandial is usually interpreted as a Zoroastrian fire temple from the period of the Indo-Parthians.

Some ancient writings describe the presence of the Indo-Parthians in the area, such as the story of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who was recruited as a carpenter to serve at the court of king "Gudnaphar" (thought to be Gondophares) in India. The Acts of Thomas describes in chapter 17 Thomas' visit to king Gudnaphar in northern India; chapters 2 and 3 depict him as embarking on a sea voyage to India, thus connecting Thomas to the west coast of India.

As Senior points out, [8] this Gudnaphar has usually been identified with the first Gondophares, who has thus been dated after the advent of Christianity, but there is no evidence for this assumption, and Senior's research shows that Gondophares I could be dated even before 1 AD. If the account is even historical, Saint Thomas may have encountered one of the later kings who bore the same title.

Gondophares on horse, from his coinage. He wears a short jacket and baggy trousers, rather typical of Parthian clothing. GondopharesOnHorse.jpg
Gondophares on horse, from his coinage. He wears a short jacket and baggy trousers, rather typical of Parthian clothing.
Portrait on Gondophares on one of his coins. GondopharesFinePortrait.jpg
Portrait on Gondophares on one of his coins.

The Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana is related by Philostratus in Life of Apollonius Tyana to have visited India, and specifically the city of Taxila around 46 AD. He describes constructions of the Greek type, [9] probably referring to Sirkap, and explains that the Indo-Parthian king of Taxila, named Phraotes, received a Greek education at the court of his father and spoke Greek fluently:

"Tell me, O King, how you acquired such a command of the Greek tongue, and whence you derived all your philosophical attainments in this place?" [10]
[...]-"My father, after a Greek education, brought me to the sages at an age somewhat too early perhaps, for I was only twelve at the time, but they brought me up like their own son; for any that they admit knowing the Greek tongue they are especially fond of, because they consider that in virtue of the similarity of his disposition he already belongs to themselves." [11]

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is a surviving 1st century guide to the routes commonly being used for navigating the Arabian Sea. It describes the presence of Parthian kings fighting with each other in the area of Sindh, a region traditionally known at that time as "Scythia" due to the previous rule of the Indo-Scythians there:

"This river (Indus) has seven mouths, very shallow and marshy, so that they are not navigable, except the one in the middle; at which by the shore, is the market-town, Barbaricum. Before it there lies a small island, and inland behind it is the metropolis of Scythia, Minnagara; it is subject to Parthian princes who are constantly driving each other out." Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Chap 38 [12]

An inscription from Takht-i-Bahi bears two dates, one in the regnal year 26 of the Maharaja Guduvhara (again thought to be a Gondophares), and the year 103 of an unknown era. [13]

Religion of the Indo-Parthians

Devotees at Zoroastrian fire-altar. FireAltarWorship.JPG
Devotees at Zoroastrian fire-altar.

We do not know the religion of the House of Suren although we know they were in religion conflict with the Zoroastrian Arsacid Dynasty. [14] To the contrary of the Indo-Greeks or Indo-Scythians, there are no explicit records of Indo-Parthian rulers supporting Buddhism, such as religious dedications, inscriptions, or even legendary accounts. Also, although Indo-Parthian coins generally closely follow Greek numismatics, they never display the Buddhist triratna symbol (apart from the later Sases), nor do they ever use depictions of the elephant or the bull, possible religious symbols which were profusely used by their predecessors. They are thought to have retained Zoroastrianism, being of Iranian extraction themselves. This Iranian mythological system was inherited from them by the later Kushans who ruled from the Peshawar-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan.

Coins of the Hindu deity Shiva have also been found issued in the reign of Gondophares I. [15] [16] [17]

Representation of Indo-Parthian devotees

Indo-Parthian King IndoParthianKing.JPG
Indo-Parthian King

On their coins and in the art of Gandhara, Indo-Parthians are depicted with short crossover jackets and large baggy trousers, possibly supplemented by chap-like over-trousers. [18] Their jackets are adorned with rows of decorative rings or medals. Their hair is usually bushy and contained with a headband, a practise largely adopted by the Parthians from the 1st century AD. [19]

Individuals in Indo-Parthian attire are sometimes shown as actors in Buddhist devotional scenes. It is usually considered that most of the excavations that were done at Sirkap near Taxila by John Marshall relate to Indo-Parthian layers, although more recent scholarship sometimes relates them to the Indo-Greeks instead. [20] These archaeological researches provided a quantity of Hellenistic artifacts combined with elements of Buddhist worship (stupas). Some other temples, such as nearby Jandial may have been used as a Zoroastrian fire temple.

Buddhist sculptures

The statues found at Sirkap in the late Scythian to Parthian level (level 2, 1–60 AD) suggest an already developed state of Gandharan art at the time or even before Parthian rule. A multiplicity of statues, ranging from Hellenistic gods, to various Gandharan lay devotees, are combined with what are thought as some of the early representations of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Today, it is still unclear when the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara exactly emerged, but the findings in Sirkap do indicate that this art was already highly developed before the advent of the Kushans.

Stone palettes

Numerous stone palettes found in Gandhara are considered as good representatives of Indo-Parthian art. These palettes combine Greek and Persian influences, together with a frontality in representations which is considered as characteristic of Parthian art. Such palettes have only been found in archaeological layers corresponding to Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian rule, and are essentially unknown the preceding Mauryan layers or the succeeding Kushan layers. [21]

Very often these palettes represent people in Greek dress in mythological scenes, but a few of them represent people in Parthian dress (head-bands over bushy hair, crossed-over jacket on a bare chest, jewelry, belt, baggy trousers). A palette from the Naprstek Museum in Prague shows an Indo-Parthian king seated crossed-legged on a large sofa, surrounded by two attendants also in Parthian dress. They are shown drinking and serving wine.

Silk Road transmission of Buddhism

Gandhara Buddhist reliquary with content, including Indo-Parthian coins. 1st century AD. BuddhistReliquaryWithContent1stCenturyCE.jpg
Gandhara Buddhist reliquary with content, including Indo-Parthian coins. 1st century AD.

Some pockets of Parthian rule remained in the East, even after the takeover by the Sassanids in 226. From the 2nd century several Central-Asian Buddhist missionaries appeared in the Chinese capital cities of Loyang and sometimes Nanjing, where they particularly distinguished themselves by their translation work. The first known translators of Buddhist texts into Chinese are actually Parthian missionaries, distinguished in Chinese by their Parthian surname "An", for "Anshi", "country of the Arsacids".

Main Indo-Parthian rulers

Coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases, in which his clothing is clearly apparent. He wears baggy trousers, rather typical of Parthian clothing. AbdagasesOnHorse.jpg
Coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases, in which his clothing is clearly apparent. He wears baggy trousers, rather typical of Parthian clothing.
Coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases, in which his clothing is clearly apparent. He wears baggy trousers and a crossover jacket. AbdagasesOnHorseFacing.jpg
Coins of the Indo-Parthian king Abdagases, in which his clothing is clearly apparent. He wears baggy trousers and a crossover jacket.

See also


  1. Gazerani 2015, p. 26.
  2. Rezakhani 2017, p. 35.
  3. Photographic reference: "The dynastic art of the Kushans", Rosenfield, figures 278–279
  4. The chronology of the Gondopharid kings has long been uncertain, predominantly based on coins. This reconstruction is based on "Indo-Scythian Coins and History IV" by Robert Senior, CNG 2006, as the four volumes of Senior's work provide an almost complete catalogue of the coinage of the period. Senior's chronology is based on the existence of only one king Azes, a theory that was vindicated when it was shown that a coin of the so-called Azes II was overstruck with a type attributed to Azes I (see Senior, "The final nail in the coffin of Azes II", Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society 197, 2008).
  5. Rosenfield, p129
  6. A votive inscription of the 26th year of Gudavhara or Gondophares, is reported to have been found on a stone at Takht-i-Bahi, northeast of Peshawar with a date in the year 103 of an unspecified era reckoning. This era is likely to have been the Malva or Vikrama era, founded in 57 BCE, this would give a date of 20 CE for this king's ascension (see Hindu calendar). The stone was formerly in the museum at Lahore. The point is especially important for those Christians who consider that a germ of history is embedded in the Acts of Thomas.
  7. Gazerani 2015, pp. 26-27.
  8. see Senior, "The final nail in the coffin of Azes II".
  9. Description of the Hellenistic urbanism of Taxila:
    • "Taxila, they tell us, is about as big as Nineveh, and was fortified fairly well after the manner of Greek cities" (Life of Apollonius Tyana, II 20)
    • "I have already described the way in which the city is walled, but they say that it was divided up into narrow streets in the same irregular manner as in Athens, and that the houses were built in such a way that if you look at them from outside they had only one story, while if you went into one of them, you at once found subterranean chambers extending as far below the level of the earth as did the chambers above." (Life of Apollonius Tyana, II 23)
  10. (Life of Apollonius Tyana, II 29)
  11. (Life of Apollonius Tyana, II 31)
  12. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, Chap 38
  13. Rosenfield, p130.
  14. Gazerani, Saghi. The Sistani cycle of epics and Iran's national history : on the margins of historiography. Brill. p. 111. ISBN   9789004282964 . Retrieved 9 January 2019.
  15. Gondophares I Indological researches in India: selected works of Prof. K.D. Bajpai
  16. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 46 Pg. 274
  17. []
  18. Described in "Rome's enemies, Parthians and Sassanid Persians", ISBN   0-85045-688-6
  19. "Parthians, from about the 1st century AD, seem to have preferred to show off their carefully tonsured hair, usually only wearing a fillet of thick ribbon; before then, the Scythian cap or bashlyk was worn more frequently". In "Parthians and Sassanid Parthians" Peter Willcox ISBN   0-85045-688-6, p12
  20. Pierfrancesco Gallieri, in "Crossroads of Asia": "The parallels are so striking that it is not excluded that the objects discovered in Taxila and dated to between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE were in reality produced earlier, maybe by artisans who had followed the Greeks kings during their retreat from Bactria to India" p211 (in French in the original)
  21. "Let us remind that in Sirkap, stone palettes were found at all excavated levels. On the contrary, neither Bhir-Mound, the Maurya city preceding Sirkap on the Taxila site, nor Sirsukh, the Kushan city succeeding her, did deliver any stone palettes during their excavations", in "Les palettes du Gandhara", p89. "The terminal point after which such palettes are not manufactured anymore is probably located during the Kushan period. In effect, neither Mathura nor Taxila (although the Sirsukh had only been little excavated), nor Begram, nor Surkh Kotal, neither the great Kushan archaeological sites of Soviet Central Asia or Afghanistan have yielded such objects. Only four palettes have been found in Kushan-period archaeological sites. They come from secondary sites, such as Garav Kala and Ajvadz in Soviet Tajikistan and Jhukar, in the Indus Valley, and Dalverzin Tepe. They are rather roughly made." In "Les Palettes du Gandhara", Henri-Paul Francfort, p91. (in French in the original)

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