Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Western Satraps

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Hinduism, Buddhism

c. 35
Western Satraps

Pali (Kharoshthi script)Sanskrit, Prakrit (Brahmi script)Possibly Greek (Greek alphabet)

The Western Satraps, Western Kshatrapas, or Kshaharatas (35–405) were Indo-Scythian (Saka) rulers of the western and central part of India (Saurashtra and Malwa: modern Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states). They are so named in contrast to the "Northern Satraps" who ruled around East Punjab and the area of Mathura.


The Western Satraps were contemporaneous with the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and were possibly their overlords, and the Satavahana (Andhra) who ruled in Central India. They are called "Western" in contrast to the "Northern" Indo-Scythian satraps who ruled in the area of Mathura, such as Rajuvula, and his successors under the Kushans, the "Great Satrap" Kharapallana and the "Satrap" Vanaspara. Although they called themselves "Satraps" on their coins, leading to their modern designation of "Western Satraps", Ptolemy in his 2nd century "Geographia" still called them "Indo-Scythians". The power of the Saka rulers started to decline in the 2nd century CE after the Saka rulers were defeated by the south Indian Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni of the Satavahana dynasty. Later the Saka kingdom was completely destroyed by Chandragupta II of the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE.

Altogether, there were 27 independent Western Satrap rulers during a period of about 350 years. The word Kshatrapa stands for satrap, itself descended from Old Persian and which means viceroy or governor of a province.

First expansion: Kshaharata dynasty (1st century CE)

The Western Satraps are thought to have started with the rather short-lived Kshaharata dynasty (also called Chaharada, Khaharata or Khakharata depending on sources). The term Kshaharata is also known from the 6 CE Taxila copper plate inscription, in which it qualifies the Indo-Scythian ruler Liaka Kusulaka. The Nasik inscription of the 19th year of Sri Pulamavi also mentions the Khakharatavasa, or Kshaharata race.

The earliest Kshaharata for whom there is evidence is Abhiraka, whose rare coins are known. He was succeeded by Bhumaka, father of Nahapana, who only used on his coins the title of Satrap, and not that of Raja or Raño (king). Bhumaka was the father of the great ruler Nahapana, according to one of the latter's coins. His coins bear Buddhist symbols, such as the eight-spoked wheel (dharmachakra), or the lion seated on a capital, a representation of a pillar of Ashoka.

Nahapana succeeded to him, and became a very powerful ruler. He occupied portions of the Satavahana empire in western and central India. Nahapana held sway over Malwa, Southern Gujarat, and Northern Konkan, from Bharuch to Sopara and the Nasik and Poona districts. His son-in-law, the Saka Ushavadata (married to his daughter Dakshamitra), is known from inscriptions in Nasik and Karle to have been viceroy of Nahapana, ruling over the southern part of his territory.

Nahapana is mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea under the name Nambanus, as ruler of the area around Barigaza:

41. "Beyond the gulf of Baraca is that of Barygaza and the coast of the country of Ariaca, which is the beginning of the Kingdom of Nambanus and of all India. That part of it lying inland and adjoining Scythia is called Abiria, but the coast is called Syrastrene. It is a fertile country, yielding wheat and rice and sesame oil and clarified butter, cotton and the Indian cloths made therefrom, of the coarser sorts. Very many cattle are pastured there, and the men are of great stature and black in color. The metropolis of this country is Minnagara, from which much cotton cloth is brought down to Barygaza."

Under the Western Satraps, Barigaza was one of the main centers of Roman trade with India. The Periplus describes the many goods exchanged:

49. There are imported into this market-town (Barigaza), wine, Italian preferred, also Laodicean and Arabian; copper, tin, and lead; coral and topaz; thin clothing and inferior sorts of all kinds; bright-colored girdles a cubit wide; storax, sweet clover, flint glass, realgar, antimony, gold and silver coin, on which there is a profit when exchanged for the money of the country; and ointment, but not very costly and not much. And for the King there are brought into those places very costly vessels of silver, singing boys, beautiful maidens for the harem, fine wines, thin clothing of the finest weaves, and the choicest ointments. There are exported from these places spikenard, costus, bdellium, ivory, agate and carnelian, lycium, cotton cloth of all kinds, silk cloth, mallow cloth, yarn, long pepper and such other things as are brought here from the various market-towns. Those bound for this market-town from Egypt make the voyage favorably about the month of July, that is Epiphi."

Goods were also brought down in quantity from Ujjain, the capital of the Western Satraps:

48. Inland from this place and to the east, is the city called Ozene, formerly a royal capital; from this place are brought down all things needed for the welfare of the country about Barygaza, and many things for our trade : agate and carnelian, Indian muslins and mallow cloth, and much ordinary cloth.

Some ships were also fitted out from Barigaza, to export goods westward across the Indian ocean:

"Ships are also customarily fitted out from the places across this sea, from Ariaca and Barygaza, bringing to these far-side market-towns the products of their own places; wheat, rice, clarified butter, sesame oil, cotton cloth, (the monache and the sagmatogene), and girdles, and honey from the reed called sacchari. Some make the voyage especially to these market-towns, and others exchange their cargoes while sailing along the coast."

Nahapana also established the silver coinage of the Kshatrapas.

Nahapana and Ushavadata were ultimately defeated by the powerful Satavahana king Gautamiputra Satakarni. Gautramiputra drove the Sakas from Malwa and Western Maharashtra, forcing Nahapana west to Gujarat. Gautamiputra restruck many of Nahapana's coins.

Kardamaka dynasty, family of Castana (1st–4th century)

A new dynasty, called the Bhadramukhas or Kardamaka dynasty, was established by the "Satrap" Castana. The date of Castana is not certain, but many believe his reign started in the year 78 CE, thus making him the founder of the Saka era. This is consistent with the fact that his descendants (who we know used the Saka era on their coins and inscriptions) would use the date of their founder as their era. Castana was satrap of Ujjain during that period. A statue found in Mathura together with statues of the Kushan king Kanishka and Vima Taktu, and bearing the name "Shastana" is often attributed to Castana himself, and suggests Castana may have been a feudatory of the Kushans. Conversely, the Rabatak inscription also claims Kushan dominion over Western Satrap territory (by mentioning Kushan control over the capital Ujjain), during the reign of Kanishka (c. 127–150 CE).

Territory under Chastana

The territory of the Western Satraps at the time of Chastana is described extensively by the geographer Ptolemy in his "Geographia", where he qualifies them as "Indo-Scythians". He describes this territory as starting from Patalene in the West, to Ujjain in the east ("Ozena-Regia Tiastani", "Ozene, capital of king Chastana"), and beyond Barigaza in the south.

Moreover the region which is next to the western part of India, is called Indoscythia. A part of this region around the (Indus) river mouth is Patalena, above which is Abiria. That which is about the mouth of the Indus and the Canthicolpus bay is called Syrastrena. (...) In the island formed by this river are the cities Pantala, Barbaria. (...) The Larica region of Indoscythia is located eastward from the swamp near the sea, in which on the west of the Namadus river is the interior city of Barygaza emporium. On the east side of the river (...) Ozena-Regia Tiastani (...) Minnagara".

Victory against the Satavahanas: Rudradaman I

Around 130 CE, Rudradaman I, grandson of Chastana, took the title "Mahakshatrapa" ("Great Satrap"), and defended his kingdom from the Satavahanas. The conflict between Rudradaman and Satavahanas became so gruelling, that in order to contain the conflict, a matrimonial relationship was concluded by giving Rudradaman's daughter to the Satavahana king Vashishtiputra Satakarni.

The Satavahanas and the Western Satraps remained at war however, and Rudradaman I defeated the Satavahanas twice in these conflicts, only sparing the life of Vashishtiputra Satakarni due to their family alliance:

"Rudradaman (...) who obtained good report because he, in spite of having twice in fair fight completely defeated Satakarni, the lord of Dakshinapatha, on account of the nearness of their connection did not destroy him."

Rudradaman regained all the previous territories held by Nahapana, except for the southern areas of Poona and Nasik:

"Rudradaman (...) who is the lord of the whole of eastern and western Akaravanti (Akara: East Malwa and Avanti: West Malwa), the Anupa country, Anarta, Surashtra, Svabhra (northern Gujarat), Maru (Marwar), Kachchha (Cutch), Sindhu-Sauvira (Sindh and Multan districts), Kukura (Eastern Rajputana), Aparanta ("Western Border" – Northern Konkan), Nishada (an aboriginal tribe, Malwa and parts of Central India) and other territories gained by his own valour, the towns, marts and rural parts of which are never troubled by robbers, snakes, wild beasts, diseases and the like, where all subjects are attached to him, (and) where through his might the objects of [religion], wealth and pleasure [are duly attained]".

Recently discovered pillar inscriptions describe the presence of a Western Satrap named Rupiamma in the Bhandara district of the area of Vidarbha, in the extreme northeastern area of Maharashtra, where he erected the pillars.

Rudradarman is known for his sponsoring of the arts. He is known to have written poetry in the purest of Sanskrit, and made it his court language. His name is forever attached to the inscription by Sudharshini lake.

He had at his court a Greek writer named Yavanesvara ("Lord of the Greeks"), who translated from Greek to Sanskrit the Yavanajataka ("Saying of the Greeks"), an astrological treatise and India's earliest Sanskrit work in horoscopy.

Defeat against the Satavahanas: Yajna Sri Satakarni

The south Indian ruler Yajna Sri Satakarni of the Satavahana dynasty defeated the Western Satraps in the late 2nd century CE, which led to a decline in the power of the ruling dynasty.

Rudrasena II (256–278)

The Kshatrapa dynasty seems to have reached a high level of prosperity under the rule of Rudrasena II (256–278), 19th ruler of Kshatrapa.

The last Kshatrapa ruler of the Chastana family was Visvasena (Vishwasen), brother and successor to Bhartrdaman and son of Rudrasena II. A new family took over, started by the rule of Rudrasimha II, son of Lord (Svami) Jivadaman.

Defeat by the Guptas (c. 400)

A new family took control under Rudrasimha III. A fragment from the Natya-darpana mentions that the Gupta king Ramagupta, the elder brother of Chandragupta II, decided to expand his kingdom by attacking the Western Satraps in Gujarat.

The campaign soon took a turn for the worse and the Gupta army was trapped. The Saka king, Rudrasimha III, demanded that Ramagupta hand over his wife Dhruvadevi in exchange for peace. To avoid the ignominy the Guptas decide to send Madhavasena, a courtesan and a beloved of Chandragupta, disguised as the queen. However, Chandragupta changes the plan and himself goes to the Saka King disguised as the queen. He then kills Rudrasimha and later his own brother, Ramagupta. Dhruvadevi is then married to Chandragupta.

The Western Satraps were eventually conquered by emperor Chandragupta II. This brought an end to the rule of the Sakas on the subcontinent.


The Kshatrapas have a very rich and interesting coinage. It was based on the coinage of the earlier Indo-Greek Kings, with Greek or pseudo-Greek legend and stylized profiles of royal busts on the obverse. The reverse of the coins however is original and typically depict a thunderbolt and an arrow, and later, a chaitya or three-arched hill and river symbol with a crescent and the sun, within a legend in Brahmi. These coins are very informative, since they record the name of the King, of his father, and the date of issue, and have helped clarify the early history of India.

Regnal dates

From the reign of Rudrasimha I, the date of minting of each coin, reckoned in the Saka era, is usually written on the obverse behind the king's head in Brahmi numerals, allowing for a quite precise datation of the rule of each king. This is a rather uncommon case in Indian numismatics. Some, such as the numismat R.C Senior considered that these dates might correspond to the much earlier Azes era instead.

Also the father of each king is systematically mentioned in the reverse legends, which allows to reconstruct the regnal succession.


Kharoshthi, a script in use in more northern territories (area of Gandhara), is employed together with the Brahmi script and the Greek script on the first coins of the Western Satraps, but is finally abandoned from the time of Chastana. From that time, only the Brahmi script would remain, together with the pseudo-Greek script on the facing, to write the Prakrit language employed by the Western satraps. Occasionally, the legends are in Sanskrit instead.

The coins of Nahapana bears the Greek script legend "PANNIΩ IAHAPATAC NAHAΠANAC", transliteration of the Prakrit "Raño Kshaharatasa Nahapanasa": "In the reign of Kshaharata Nahapana". The coins of Castana also have a readable legend "PANNIΩ IATPAΠAC CIASTANCA", transliteration of the Prakrit "Raño Kshatrapasa Castana": "In the reign of the Satrap Castana". After these two rulers, the legend in Greek script becomes denaturated, and seems to lose all signification, only retaining an esthetic value. By the 4th century, the coins of Rudrasimha II exhibit the following type of meaningless legend in corrupted Greek script: "...ΛIOΛVICIVIIIΛ...".


The coins of the Kshatrapas were also very influential and imitated by neighbouring or later dynasties, such as the Satavahanas, and the Guptas. Silver coins of the Gupta kings Chandragupta II and his son Kumaragupta I adopted the Western Satrap design (itself derived from the Indo-Greeks) with bust of the ruler and pseudo-Greek inscription on the obverse, and a royal eagle (Garuda, the dynastic symbol of the Guptas) replacing the chaitya hill with star and crescent on the reverse.

The Western Satrap coin design was also adopted by the subsequent dynasty of the Traikutakas (388–456).


Sudarshan Lake of Satrap period is mentioned in major rock edicts of Junagadh but no trace of it remains. Six inscription-stones called Lashtis of 1st century were recovered from hillock near Andhau village in Khavda region of Kutch and were moved to Kutch Museum in Bhuj. They are earliest dated monuments of Satrap period and were erected in the time of Rudradaman I.

Possible vassalage to the Kushans

It is still unclear whether the Western Satraps were independent rulers or vassals of the Kushans. The continued use of the word "Satrap" on their coin would suggest a recognized subjection to a higher ruler, possibly the Kushan emperor.

Also, a statue of Chastana was found in Mathura at the Temple of Mat together with the famous statues of Vima Kadphises and Kanishka. This also would suggest at least alliance and friendship, if not vassalage. Finally Kanishka claims in the Rabatak inscription that his power extends to Ujjain, the classical capital of the Western Satrap realm. This combined with the presence of the Chastana statue side-by-side with Kanishka would also suggest Kushan alliance with the Western Satraps.

Finally, "Northern" Indo-Scythian satraps who ruled in the area of Mathura, the "Great Satrap" Kharapallana and the "Satrap" Vanaspara, are known from an inscription in Sarnath to have been feudatories of the Kushans.

Generally the orientation taken by modern scholarship is that the Western Satraps were vassals of the Kushan, at least in the early period until Rudradaman I conquered the Yaudheyas who are usually thought themselves as Kushan vassals. The question is not considered as perfectly settled.

Kshaharata dynasty

  • Yapirajaya
  • Hospises
  • Higaraka
  • Abhiraka (Aubhirakes)
  • Bhumaka (?–119)
  • Nahapana (119–124)
  • Bhadramukhas or Kardamaka dynasty

    Family of Chastana:

  • Chastana (c. 78-130), son of Zamotika
  • Jayadaman, son of Chastana
  • Rudradaman I (c. 130–150), son of Jayadaman
  • Damajadasri I (170–175)
  • Jivadaman (175, d. 199)
  • Rudrasimha I (175–188, d. 197)
  • Isvaradatta (188–191)
  • Rudrasimha I (restored) (191–197)
  • Jivadaman (restored) (197–199)
  • Rudrasena I (200–222)
  • Samghadaman (222–223)
  • Damasena (223–232)
  • Damajadasri II (232–239) with
  • Viradaman (234–238)
  • Yasodaman I (239)
  • Vijayasena (239–250)
  • Damajadasri III (251–255)
  • Rudrasena II (255–277)
  • Visvasimha (277–282)
  • Bhartrdaman (282–295)
  • Visvasena (293–304)
  • Family of Rudrasimha II:

  • Rudrasimha II, son of Lord (Svami) Jivadaman (304–348) with
  • Yasodaman II (317–332)
  • Rudradaman II (332–348)
  • Rudrasena III (348–380)
  • Simhasena (380–384(5?)
  • Rudrasena IV (382–388)
  • Rudrasimha III (388–395)
  • References

    Western Satraps Wikipedia