Read this article to learn about Vonones and Maues of the Scythians of Sakas.
The Scythians (Sakas)
In the inscriptions of the Persian emperor Darius-I we come across one of the oldest references to the Scythians or the Sakas.
They were divided into three branches. In the Nakshi Rustam inscriptions the three branches of the Sakas who have been mentioned as vassals of the Achaemenid emperor, were Saka Somavargah meaning the Sakas of Haumavarka branch, Saka Tigraxauda, i.e., the Sakas with pointed helmets and Saka Tyetirojraya, the sakas beyond the Sea.
Herodotus also mentions some of these Sakas forming one of the various national contingents that composed the expeditionary forces of Xerxes. Herodotus tells us that the Sacae or the Scyths, clad in trousers, had on their heads tall stiff caps rising to a point. They bore the bow of their country and the dagger; besides which they carried the battle-axe or sagaris. They were in truth Amyrgian Scythians, but the Persians called them Sacae since that the name which they gave to all Scythians.
Two of the branches of the Sakas, it appears, lived in contiguous regions if not in the one and the same place, which is supposed to have been Drangiana-Seistan Territory, that is Sakdsthana, modern Seistan. The third branch who have been identified by Rapson with the Sakas of Europe dwelt on the north of Black Sea. The Sakas were nomadic tribes who originally belonged to Central Asia.
In the middle of the second century B.C. there was a displacement of tribes in Central Asia and under pressure from other nomadic tribes, the Sakas were compelled to move to south and south-eastwards. For the early history of the Sakas and the tribes like Hiung-nu, Wu-Sun, Yue-chi, Saiwang and Ta-hia we are indebted to the Chinese annalists.
The Sakas were ousted from their original home by the Yue-chi, and they migrated to the south and fought against the Greeks of Bactria. Most of the Sakas then settled in valley of the river Helmund and set up small settlements there. One of the settlements is known as Sakastan or Seistan, another settlement was in the Jaxartes (Syr Daria) Valley.
References to the Sakas in the Indian texts of the Pre-Christian era, such as in the Mahabhasya leave little doubt that the Sakas at the time of Panini were living with the Yavana, i.e., Greeks outside the limits of Aryavarta. Saka infiltration into the extreme north-western and western borders of India some considerable time before the beginning of the Christian era is extremely likely—perhaps even when the Bactrian Greeks were ruling in these regions.
The Indians obtained first knowledge of the Sakas from these border settlements and the Puranas, Jaina literature occasionally refer to these people. In the Ramayana there is reference to Saka settlements along with those of the Kambojas and the Yavanas in the extreme north-west beyond Sakala, Capital of the Madra people.
According to Dr. J. N. Banerjee the Sakas came into India by an indirect route. After crossing the Hindukush they entered the northern borders of Gedrosia wherefrom they entered into the Indus region through the Bolan Pass and not through the Khyber Pass. It is supposed that many of the Saka Kings were contemporaneous with the Indo-Greek rulers.
The Saka rulers seem to have copied the type of the coins issued by the Indo-Greek Kings. The reason for the choice of indirect route for immigration into India by the main Saka branch was due to the resistance offered by the Greeks under Hermaeus and his predecessors in the Kabul Valley.
The Saka influx into India after the Yue-chi occupation of Bactria mainly followed the southerly and south-westerly directions, receiving checks from the Indo-Greeks and the Parthians. The Scythians, that is, the Sakas made their way into the lower Indus Valley, later known as Indo-Scythia.
This view is expressed by Cunningham and some other Scholars. P. Gardner on the other hand holds that the Sakas first entered into Kashmir and the Punjab through the Karakoram Pass and then spread into the Indus Valley. N. K. Sastri points out that the contention of Cunningham is hypothetical, for the difficult terrain mentioned by him was unsuitable for the migration of an entire people, the route being used chiefly by the pilgrims and caravan traders.
The Chinese evidence shows that a branch of the Sakas came to India by direct route from Wakhan to the Indus and further to Kashmir and Udayana. N. K. Sastri, therefore, points out that in all probability there were two ways, direct and indirect, taken by the Saka immigrants into India. This is vouchsafed by numismatic and epigraphic evidences. Early epigraphic evidence also appears to support the theory that Seistan region was the original home of the Sakas wherefrom they entered into India.
On numismatic evidence scholars have identified two or more lines of the Saka Kings ruling over northern, north-western and western parts of India. Some of these Saka Kings are also known from the Kharosti and Brahmi inscriptions. But none of these has, however, been mentioned in any Indian or foreign literature. Two main royal lines of the Scythians known from their coins are those of Manes in the Punjab and the adjoining areas and Vonones and his associates in Kandahar (Arachosia).
The Parthian King Mithridates-I conquered eastern Iran and the adjoining parts of India. The capital of the Parthian dominions was Ctesiphon. When the Sakas fell upon the Parthians, the struggle became so serious that two of the Parthian emperors lost their lives at the hands of the Scythians, i.e., Sakas.
The life and death struggle of the Parthians with the Scythians naturally led to the loosening of grip of the central government over the provinces ruled through governors. This offered opportunities to the establishment of independent of semi-independent states in the eastern part of the Parthian empire under the leadership of governors of Parthian or of mixed Scytho-Partbian origin.
In eastern Iran the local governor was Vonones who took advantage of the weakness of the central government and made himself independent. The name Vonones is Parthian but his brothers’ adopted Persian and Scythian names.
Dr. Smith is of the opinion that both Vonones and Maues were Parthians. But Rapson rejects the view of Smith and points out that the Parthian features in their names were due to the long association of Scythians with the Parthians.
Vonones after assuming independent status took the title Great King of Kings after the fashion on the Parthian rulers. Vonones seems to have ruled southern Afghanistan besides eastern Iran. Southern Afghanistan and the eastern parts of his dominions were ruled by him through his Viceroys.
The exact date of his rule, however, is not definitely known. One interesting feature of Vonones’ coins is that his own name is given on the obverse in Greek and of the viceroy on the reverse in Kharosthi. Sometimes two subordinate rulers’ names are likewise associated.
Vonones seems to have ruled conjointly with his brother or stepbrother Spalahora and his nephew Spaladagama. Spalahora and his son Spaladagama probably ruled over south Afghanistan. On the early coins of Vonones another name appears as a ruler. His name is Spalirises who might have been a brother or a step-brother of Vonones who might as well have served as a joint ruler.
Spalirises’s later issue of coins of the type Zeus enthroned is taken by scholars as indicative of his succeeding Vonones. Some of the coins of Vonones were also restruck into “Zeus enthroned” type coins. This led some scholars to think that Vonones was overthrown by Spalirises. Spalirises also restruck some of the coins jointly issued by Spalahora and Spaladagama, perhaps after overthrowing them presumably because they did not offer their allegiance to the usurper Spalirises.
In this way Spalirises made himself supreme in eastern Iran and Southern Afghanistan. The Scythian chiefs who were ruling over eastern Afghanistan were feudatories of the Parthian rulers but with the success of Vonones they became vassals under him. But there was exception in the time of Spalirises.
When Spalirises deposed Vonones and assumed sovereign power, the Scythian chiefs of eastern Afghanistan declared themselves independent. The earliest of these Indo-Scythian independent rulers was Maues or Moga. Dr. D. C. Sarkar is of the opinion that there are reasons to believe that Vonones was the founder of an era which later on came to be known as Vikrama-Samvat.
II. Maues (Moga):
Soon after Spalirises had overthrown the suzerainty of Vonones, Maues or Moga severed his relationship with the Great King of Kings of east Iran and extended the Saka suzerainty in large parts of northwestern India and himself assumed the tide of Great King of Kings. Maues ruled from 20 B.C. to 22 A.D. Numismatic evidence suggests that Maues ruled over territories from eastern Afghanistan to Gandhara.
Occupation of Gandhara by Maues drove a wedge between the two Indo-Greek Kingdoms in the north-west of India. Dr. D. C. Sarkar mentions that Maues extended his authority upto Mathura in the east. A dated copper plate inscription found at Taxila, capital of Maues mentions the enshrining of some relics of Buddha in a Stupa and the construction of a Sangharama by one Patika, son of Liaka Kusuluka, a vassal chief and gives the date as 78. Whether it had any relation to the Vikrama-Samvat of late time is not known for certain.
Maues was succeeded by Azes. The exact nature of the relationship between Maues and Azes is not known. Jt has been suggested, that Azes was the son of Spalirises and was a joint-ruler with his father in south Afghanistan. This will mean that Azes became ruler of the Kingdom of Maues by conquest or there must have been some relationship between him and Azes which made him the successor of Maues.
It is said that Azes not only ruled over the dominions of Maues but also extended his sway by extirpating the house of Euthydemus. From some coins which had been jointly issued by Azes and Azilises with the title of Great of the Great Kings for both and showing Azes as the senior ruler with Greek legend on the obverse and Azilises on the reverse with Kharosthi it is supposed that the latter was probably the son of Azes. There are again some coins which put Azilises as the senior on the obverse and Azes as the junior joint-ruler en the reverse. Scholars take this Azes as a second ruler of the same name. Azes was succeeded by Azilises.
Azilises and Azes-II:
Azilises was the son of Azes-I and for some time he was a joint ruler with Azes. But on the death of Azes he became the ruler- Azilises was succeeded by his son Azes-II. Under Azes-II, the Saka Kingdom of Maues house was reduced to central and western Punjab only. By his time the Saka rule in this area became weak and could not withstand the onslaught of the Parthian Gondophernes, King of Arachosia.
Gondophernes overthrew Azes-II and brought a large part of north-western India under his sway. It is suggested by Dr. S. C. Chatterjee that natural calamities like earthquake and pestilence had weakened the Sakas under Azes-II the advantage of which was taken by Gondophernes.