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Humshehri: Thinking Pakistan's History

Thinking Pakistan's History

Kushan Dynasty

Urdu Version

The Kushans, a Central Asian people, ruled the region from northwestern India to Kashgar from the 1st to 3rd century AD.

Kushan Invasion

The Kushans were a branch of the Yue-Chi nomadic people from Central Asia. After being driven out of their homelands, they slowly migrated to northwestern India. By the second century BC, the Kushans had conquered Bactria. In 64 AD under their king, Kujala Kadphises, they overthrew the Parthians and took over Gandhara. He went on to extend Kushan rule into India as far south as Mathura and north to the Chinese frontier.

Khusan Map
Kushan Empire
(Huntington Archive)


Kanishka & Buddha
Kanishka & Buddha
(Coin India)

The greatest Kushan King, Kanishka, ruled from the 128 to 151 AD. He extended the boundaries of their rule further north up to Kashgar and Yarkand. He established his capital at Purushapura (present day Peshawar) and the cities of Mathura in India and Kapica (near present day Kabul) rose to prominence.

Trade flourished during Kanishka’s rule and with it affluence increased. Textiles, dyes, jewelry, and spices were all in great demand from the Roman Empire, which paid for their imports in gold. Kanishka is also known for promoting science and medicine. In fact the first operation in the subcontinent was performed by his court doctor, Charaka.

Kanishka converted to Buddhism and through his patronage had thousands of stupas and monasteries built. Many of the famous Buddhist relics found in Swat and Peshawar were produced in this era.

Cultural exchange and influences

Buddhist Triad Gandhara
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Kushan Dynasty was in contact with the Roman Empire, Haan Dynasty in China, and Sassanids in Persia. Along with trade and travel there was an exchange of ideas in the region. Travel across the Khunjerab Pass allowed for the spread of Buddhism into China. The Gandharan art form also flourished under the Kushans, influenced by the different cultures that co-existed in the region.

Find out more

Books & Articles

Hussain, Jain. An Illustrated History of Pakistan (Book 1). Karachi: Oxford UP, 1981.

Department of Asian Art. “Kushan Empire.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.

“The Kushan Empire.” Silk Road Exhibit. University of Washington.


Columbia University: South Asia Study Resources – Late Kushan Coins

PBS The Story of India: Episode 3 – Kanishka Rules (video)