INDO-PARTHIAN DYNASTY, rulers over a large part of northwestern India from Seistan (portions of the present-day border provinces of that name of Iran and of Afghanistan) to Sindh on the Indus river at the beginning of the 1st century C.E. They came after the Indo-Greeks and the Indo-Scythians and were, in turn, defeated by the Kushans in the second half of the 1st. century C.E. The main difficulty in studying this period is the lack of firm sources. Very few texts mention the Indo-Parthians, and inscriptions do not refer directly to them. Furthermore, archeological sites have yielded few pieces of information, some of which are controversial. Coins thus remain the main source of information for reconstructing Indo-Parthian history. Five distinct regions can be distinguished by their coin types, the chronology of which will be considered here from west to east. (See Table 1.

Seistan. Indo-Parthian issues in Seistan (Drangiana, q.v.) and in the Herat region (Areia; see HERAT ii.) are directly inspired by silver Parthian drachms, as far as types and weight standard are concerned. They depict on the obverse the bust of the king, turned to left, sometimes wearing a tiara, and on the reverse the king seated on a low chair, generally holding a bow, sometimes shown as being crowned by a Nike standing to left (see also INVESTITURE ii.). The surrounding Greek legend is shaped into a square. These are silver drachms, weighing ca. 3.7 g, with a good percentage of silver.

Gondophares (q.v.), founder of the Indo-Parthian dynasty, is depicted in left profile with a simple diadem having a frontal ornament (obverse) and being crowned by a Nike (reverse; Senior, type 210; Plate I, coin a). He was probably followed by Sases, whose issues are quite rare (five specimens are known so far). His portrait and Greek legend are very similar to those of Gondophares; but on the obverse he wears a tiara, and on the reverse he is called Gondophares; but the Greek legend ends with SAH, except for one coin on which a tiny S can be seen between A and H (Senior, type 240). Thus, the reading must be SASH /sasē/.

Sases was followed by Orthagnes, depicted with a simple tiara (Senior, type 256), and by Ubouzanes, known before as Otannes (Alram, 1983, pp. 69-74; Senior, type 259; coin f). In his Greek legend, Ubouzanes specifies he is Orthagnes’ son.

For the following rulers, from Sanabares onwards, a Pahlavi legend is added on the obverse, and the Nike crowning the king on the reverse is abandoned. Sanabares struck coins in Seistan (Senior, types 261-62) and also bronze drachms of poor style, which perhaps were issued in Iran (Senior, type 266). There is a possibility that there were two Sanabares. Sanabares I, Indo-Parthian, would have struck coins in Seistan and in Arachosia (coin h), while Sanabares II, a Parthian, issued coins in Marv (Alram, 1986, p. 260, n. 930; Chiesa, 1982; coin c). These are to be differentiated from the issues of Abdagases I, who struck coins in northern Arachosia, Gandhara, and Jammu. The depiction of Abdagases II is very similar to that of Pacores, the last Indo-Parthian king in Seistan; the Greek legend copies the well-known, stereotyped Parthian Greek legend. It also seems that Abdagases II struck gold coins, with a specific iconography and Pahlavi legends (Grenet and Bopearachchi, 1996, pp. 219-31; 1999, pp. 73-82); these were prestige issues with poor-quality engraving. Lastly, Pacores issued silver drachms very similar to those of Abdagases II, and a portrait that clearly reminds one of his own Arachosian issues. On the reverse is an imitation of the Parthian monogram (Figure 1; see, for Ecbatana/Hamadān, Senior, type 268).

Arachosia. In Arachosia, the coins issued by Indo-Parthian kings are bronze tetradrachms (9.40 g), with the bust of the king (obverse) and a Nike holding a crown (reverse). On the obverse, the legend is in Greek, on the reverse, in Kharoṣṭhī script. Arachosian coins repeat types inaugurated in this area by the Indo-Greeks. Two mints can be distinguished, one in southern Arachosia, in the Kandahār area, one in northern Arachosia, in the Begrām (q.v.) region (coin d).

In Kandahār, seven kings struck coins, often in a poor style; they are depicted on the obverse turned to left. Tetradrachms of Gondophares represent the king with a diadem and a frontal ornament, as in Seistan (Senior, type 212). He was probably followed by Sarpedones, recognizable thanks to his goatee beard (Senior, type 255; coin g). On the obverse, to the left of the king’s bust in left profile, stands a symbolic device or tamga specific to the Indo-Parthian dynasty (Figure 2). The ruler Orthagnes also insisted on his belonging to the Gondophares dynasty by using Gondophares’ name before his own name in the slightly corrupt Greek legend (Senior, type 257). The Kharoṣṭhī legend is less clear, ending with gada or gadana; the meaning of that word has not yet been deciphered. Orthagnes introduced on his coins a large number of mintmark combinations.

Very few coins of his successor, Sases, are known, and those mainly due to hoards (Senior, type 244; coins b, e). The absence of a frontal ornament and the name Sases following the Gondophares title certify the identification of Gondophares-Sases. Therefore the name “Gondophares,” as used by Sases and Orthagnes in Arachosia and by Ubouzanes, Sarpedones, and Sases in Jammu certainly served as a dynastic title; similarly, the tamga was a dynastic mintmark (Cribb, 1985, p. 295; MacDowall, 1991, p. 246).

Among the three last Indo-Parthian kings in Arachosia whose names are known, Sanabares issues are clearly identified, since the king is depicted with a tiara on the obverse and the legend is written in Greek on both obverse and reverse (Senior, type 265). A single coin of Abdagases II is known so far, found in a hoard. The depiction of the king (obverse) is very similar to that of Pacores; and the Kharoṣṭhī akṣaras, with curved lines under the syllabic signs, are the same as on Pacores issues (Cribb, 1985, fig. 36; Senior, type 235). Pacores tetradrachms, by contrast, are very numerous. They provide a chronology for this king, since a good number of them are overstruck on coins of a Kushan King, Soter Megas (Sims-Williams and Cribb, 1995-96, fig. 12, type 5d and e). Pacores was thus contemporary with Soter Megas-Vima Tak[tu] or followed him, probably in the beginning of the 2nd century C.E.

Pacores, Sanabares, and Abdagases coins were subsequently imitated by unnamed kings, in a very poor style and struck on irregular dies (Senior, types 271-73, 275-77; coins i, j). On the obverse a Pahlavi legend was added, and on the reverse the Pacores Kharoṣṭhī legend was progressively abandoned for a Pahlavi legend.

In northern Arachosia only two kings, Gondophares (Senior, type 213) and Abdagases I (Senior, 2001 type 224), struck coins, the latter in a style cruder than that of Gondophares; Gondophares’ issues are the more numerous. Some of these are overstruck on Hermaeus imitations and are also overstruck by the satrap Zeionises and by the early Kushan ruler, Kujula Kadphises. From these it can be inferred that by ca. 50 C.E. the Kushans put an end to the Indo-Parthian power in northern Arachosia.

Gandhara and Taxila. Traces of Indo-Parthian kings in Gandhara and Taxila area are more numerous than elsewhere. In this region they imitated Indo-Scythian bronze coins, with a king mounted on horseback on the obverse and a Greek deity (Zeus or Athena) on the reverse. It seems that there were two mints, one in Gandhara and another one in Taxila.

In these two mints, three kings struck coins: Gondophares, Abdagases, and Sases. In Gandhara, Gondophares reigned first (Senior, types 216-20; coin k). Apparently Abdagases, who specifies he is Gondophares’ nephew (Senior, types 226-230; coin l), initially ruled at the same time as Gondophares, as his title (“king,” and not “great king of kings”) and coin weight suggest. He gradually assumed higher titles and later was followed by Sases (Senior, types 241-42). Sases must have been defeated by the Kushans, probably by Soter Megas or Kujula Kadphises. In the very same area, perhaps during Abdagases’ reign, some local rulers governed under the Indo-Parthian power in northern Gandhara. In the Bajaur area, some fifteen inscriptions (Falk, 1998, pp. 87-108), a few archeological remains, and bronze coins attest the presence of a strategos and local princes of the Apracarāja family (Senior, types 177-85). They imitated the Greek legend and the types of the Indo-Scythian Azes (q.v.), but coin weight, mintmarks, and hoard evidence (Malakand hoard, Rajjar hoard) prove they belong to the Indo-Parthian period.

The Sirkap city site in Taxila, contrary to what J. Marshall (1951, p. 59) thought, was not the place visited by Apollonius of Tyana (in Philostratus, Vita Apollonii), who thus cannot be used to date Gondophares (Bernard, 1996, pp. 505-19). Furthermore, all the coins attributed to Gondophares by J. Marshall with Zeus Nikephorus on the reverse were very probably struck by Sases (Senior, type 243) or even Abdagases (Senior, type 231). Kujula Kadphises and Soter Megas coins found in Taxila and in the Swat valley suggest that Sases was defeated by one of these kings, as an overstrike of Soter Megas over Sases indicate (N. Sims-Williams and J. Cribb, 1995-96, pp. 119-20).

Hoard evidence indicates that in Gandhara Indo-Parthians or their contemporary local rulers imitated Azes drachms and tetradrachms in a very debased and crude style (Senior, types 105, 138-39, 175).

Jammu. In Jammu, on the Indo-Pakistan border, the Indo-Parthian coinage closely imitates that of the early 1st-century C.E. Indo-Scythian satrap, Rajuvula. Small debased drachms of a very poor style, they depict the head of the king (obverse) and Athena Alkidemos (reverse). They all weigh around 2.50 g. The succession is very clearly indicated by hoards (Cribb, 1985, pp. 282-300): the satrap Rajuvula, who is also known in Mathura (Senior, types 151-52), defeated the last Indo-Greek kings, Strato II and his son (Bopearachchi, 1991, pp. 125-32 and series Strato II, 1-2 and Strato II and his son, 6). He was expelled by Gondophares (Senior, type 222) and his followers. It is quite difficult to reconstruct a firm sequence for the Indo-Parthian kings. Five kings are known in this region, some of whom must have had a short reign. Few coins of Abdagases (Senior, type 232), Sarpedones (coin n), and Ubouzanes (Senior, types 254, 260; coin m) have been found; Sases, who is attested in a wider area, seems to have ruled longer, as the number of his coins and the variety of mintmark combinations suggest (Senior, type 246). He was followed by the Kushans, probably by Soter Megas.

Sindh. Few coins struck in Sindh, the lower Indus valley, are known, and all were found in Taxila, but they still represent a clue to the reconstruction of Indo-Parthian chronology. They are silver drachms, bearing the bust of the king wearing a tiara, with a Greek legend (obverse) and a Nike holding a crown and a Kharoṣṭhī legend (reverse). They might weigh around 2.35 g, but their exact weight was not given in publication (Marshall, 1951, p. 160). Three Indo-Parthian kings struck coins in Sindh. Sarpedones, recognizable thanks to his goatee beard (Marshall, 1951, coins nos. 211, 213-16) reigned first. Satavastres (Marshall, 1951, coins nos. 212, 218-21) is known only through six coins. Finally, Sases (Marshall, 1951, coins nos. 201-8, 210) declares he is nephew of “Aspa,” which has been interpreted as a short name for the 1st-century C.E. strategos in Gandhara, Aspavarman. These Indo-Parthian coin types were subsequently imitated by the Kushan Kudjula Kadphises (Cribb, 1992, pp. 131-45).

More importantly for chronology, Satavastres issues were overstruck by a Western Satrap, Nahapana; and Nahapana issues also were overstruck by Satavastres. Later, Sases as well overstruck Nahapana’s coins (Cribb, 1992, pp. 131-35, fig. 17-18 and 20). Nahapana, named in the Periplus Maris Erythraei (ed. Schoff, 41.14.1-4, 8-9) as Mambanos, is known thanks to his coins, inscriptions, and to Greek texts (Bhandare, 1999, pp. 240-69). His date corresponds to the first Kushan invasion, and therefore Satavastres, his exact contemporary, and Sases, who came a little later, have to be placed during the third quarter of the 1st century A.D. This corroborates the evidence given by the Indo-Parthian coinage in other areas.

Plate I. Examples of the Indo-Parthian coin series.



M. Alram, Iranisches Personennamenbuch. Band IV, Nomina propria Iranica in Nummis, Vienna, 1986.

P. Bernard, “L’Aornos bactrien et l’Aornos indien. Philostrate et Taxila: géographie, mythe et réalité,” TOPOI 6/2, 1996, pp. 475-530.

S. Bhandare, Historical Analysis of the Satavahana Era—A Study of Coin, unpublished Ph.D. diss., Bombay, 1999.

O. Bopearachchi, Catalogue raisonné des monnaies gréco-bactriennes et indo-grecques du Cabinet des Médailles, Paris, 1991.

F. Chiesa, “Osservazione sulla monetazione Indo-Partica. Sanabares I e Sanabares II incertezze ed ipotesi,” in Festschrtift Herbert A. Cahn zum 70. Geburtstag, Munich, 1982, pp. 15-22.

J. Cribb, “New Evidence of Indo-Parthian Political History,” in Coin Hoards VII, London, 1985, pp. 282-300.

Idem, “Numismatic Evidence for the Date of the ‘Periplus’,” in D. W. MacDowall and S. Garg, eds., Indian Numismatics, History, Art and Culture. Essays in the Honour of Dr. P.L. Gupta, Delhi, 1992, I, pp. 131-45.

F. Grenet and O. Bopearachchi, “Une monnaie en or du souverain indo-parthe Abdagasès II,” Studia Iranica 25, 1996, pp. 219-31.

Idem, “Une nouvelle monnaie en or d’Abdagasès II,” Studia Iranica 28, 1999, pp. 73-82.

D. W. MacDowall, “The Interrelation between Indo-Parthian and Kushan Chronology,” in Histoire et Cultes de l’Asie Centrale préislamique, Paris, 1991, pp. 243-50.

J. Marshall, Taxila, an account of the archaeological excavations carried out at Taxila on the orders of the Government of India between the years 1913-1934, Cambridge, 1951.

M. Mitchiner, Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian Coinage, 9 vols., London, 1975-76.

R. C. Senior, A Catalogue of Indo-Scythian Coins, Glastonbury, 2001.

W. H. Schoff, tr., The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century, 2nd ed., New York, 1912.

N. Sims-Williams and J. Cribb, “A New Bactrian Inscription of Kanishka the Great,” Silk Road Art and Archaeology 4, 1995-96, pp. 75-142.

(Christine Fröhlich)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 29, 2012

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