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Indo-Parthian king
Coin of Gondophares
Reign c. 20 BC – c. 10 BC
Successor Unknown
Born Unknown
Died 10 BC
House House of Suren
Religion Zoroastrianism[citation needed]

Gondophares I was the founder of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom in western Pakistan.[1] He seems to have ruled c. 20–10 BC according to modern research.[2] However, Bopearachchi gives a later timeframe of 21–40 AD for his rule.[3] He was originally likely a relative or vassal of the Apracas, ruling in Apracapura (Bajaur, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan) and down in to Sistan (Balochistan).


Gondophares I has traditionally been given a later date; the reign of one king calling himself Gondophares has been established at 20 AD by the rock inscription he set up at Takht-i-Bahi near Mardan, Pakistan, in 46 AD.,[4] and he has also been connected with the third-century Acts of Thomas. Recent research has however shown unambiguously that "Gondophares" was a title held by many kings; none of the ancient inscriptions or sources could be specifically connected with the first Gondophares, and numismatic indications strongly suggest that Gondophares I was earlier than these events.[citation needed]

Gondophares I took over the Kabul valley and the Punjab and Sindh region area from the Scythian king Azes. In reality, a number of vassal rulers seem to have switched allegiance from the Indo-Scythians to Gondophares I. His empire was vast, but was only a loose framework, which fragmented soon after his death. His capital was the Gandharan city of Taxila.[5] Taxila is located in Punjab to the west of the present Islamabad. Ernst Herzfeld claims his name is perpetuated in the name of the Afghan city Kandahar, which he founded under the name Gundopharron.[6]

The name also occurs in Avestic Old Iranian as Vindafarna "May he find glory."[1] In old Armenian, it is "Gastaphar". “Gundaparnah” was apparently the Eastern Iranian form of the name. [7]


Gondophares on horse, from his coinage (Click image for reference).

On the coins of Gondophares, the royal names are Iranian, but the other legends of the coins are in Greek and Kharoṣṭhī.

Ernst Herzfeld maintained that the dynasty of Gondophares represented the House of Suren.[8]

The Biblical Magus "Gaspar"[edit]

The name of Gondophares was translated in Armenian in "Gastaphar", and then in Western languages into "Gaspar[d]". He may be the "Gaspar[d], King of Persia", who, according to apocryphal texts and eastern Christian tradition, was one of the three Biblical Magi who attended the birth of Christ.[9] Through this interaction and association, Gaspar[d] was adopted by the Europeans (and in Western tradition) as a male first name.

Connection with Saint Thomas and Apollonius of Tyana[edit]

Gondophares receives a letter from St. Thomas

The apocryphical Acts of Thomas mentions one king Gudnaphar. This king has been associated with Gondophares I by many scholars, as it was not yet established that there were several kings with the same name. Richard N. Frye, Emeritus Professor of Iranian Studies at Harvard University, has noted that this ruler has been identified with a king called Caspar in the Christian tradition of the Apostle St Thomas and his visit to India.[10] Recent research by R.C. Senior shows with some certainty that the king who best fits these references was Gondophares-Sases, the fourth king using the title Gondophares.[11]

A. D. H. Bivar, writing in The Cambridge History of Iran, said that the reign dates of one Gondophares recorded in the Takht-i Bahi inscription (20–46 or later AD) are consistent with the dates given in the Apocryphal Acts of Thomas for the Apostle's voyage to India following the Crucifixion in c. 30 AD.[12][13] B. N. Puri, of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Archaeology, University of Lucknow, India, also identified Gondophares with the ruler said to have been converted by Saint Thomas the Apostle.[14] The same goes for the reference to an Indo-Parthian king in the accounts of the life of Apollonius of Tyana. Puri says that the dates given by Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana for Apollonius' visit to Taxila, 43–44 AD, are within the period of the reign of Gondophares I, who also went by the Parthian name, Phraotes.[15] Saint Thomas was brought before King Gundaphar (Gondophares) at his capital, Taxila.[16] "Taxila" is the Greek form of the contemporary Pali name for the city, “Takkasila”, from the Sanskrit “Taksha-sila”. The name of the city was transformed in subsequent legends concerning Thomas, which were consolidated into the Historia Trium Regum (History of the Three Kings) by John of Hildesheim (1364–1375), into "Silla", "Egrisilla", "Grisculla", and so on,[17] the name having undergone a process of metamorphosis similar to that which transformed “Vindapharnah” (Gondophares) to “Caspar”. Hildesheim's Historia Trium Regum says: “In the third India is the kingdom of Tharsis, which at that time was ruled over by King Caspar, who offered incense to our Lord. The famous island Eyrisoulla [or Egrocilla] lies in this land: it is there that the holy apostle St Thomas is buried”.[18] "Egrisilla" appears on the globe made in Nuremberg by Martin Behaim in 1492, where it appears on the southernmost part of the peninsula of Hoch India, “High India” or “India Superior”, on the eastern side of the Sinus Magnus ("Great Gulf", the Gulf of Thailand): there Egrisilla is identified with the inscription, das lant wird genant egtisilla, (“the land called Egrisilla”). In his study of Behaim's globe, E. G. Ravenstein noted: “Egtisilla, or Eyrisculla [or Egrisilla: the letters “r” and “t” in the script on the globe look similar], is referred to in John of Hildesheim’s version of the ‘Three Kings’ as an island where St. Thomas lies buried”.[19]

Coin types[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bivar, A. D. H. (2003), "Gondophares", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 11.2, Costa Mesa: Mazda 
  2. ^ See main Indo-Parthian page for references to Robert Senior's modern chronology
  3. ^ Osmund Bopearachchi, 2007, Some observations on the chronology of the early Kushans
  4. ^ A. D. H. Bivar, "The History of Eastern Iran", in Ehsan Yarshater (ed.), The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol.3 (1), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, London, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p.197.
  5. ^ B. N. Puri, “The Sakas and Indo-Parthians”, in A.H. Dani, V. M. Masson, Janos Harmatta, C. E. Boaworth, History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 2003, Chapter 8, p.196
  6. ^ Ernst Herzfeld, Archaeological History of Iran, London, Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1935, p.63.
  7. ^ Mary Boyce and Frantz Genet, A History of Zoroastrianism, Leiden, Brill, 1991, pp.447–456, n.431.
  8. ^ Ernst Herzfeld, Archaeological History of Iran, London, Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1935, p.63; name="Bivar_2003"/> cf. name="Bivar_1983_51">Bivar, A. D. H. (1983), "The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran, 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, p. 51 
  9. ^ Alfred von Gutschmid, Die Königsnamen in den apokryphen Apostelgeschichten, in the Rheinisches Museum für Philologie (1864), XIX, 161-183, nb p.162; Mario Bussagli, "L'art du Gandhara", p.207
  10. ^ Richard N. Frye, “The Fall of the Graeco-Bactrians: Sakas and Indo-Parthians”, in Sigfried J. de Laet, History of Humanity, London, New York and Paris, Routledge and Unesco, Volume III, 1996, Joachim Herrmann and Erik Zürcher (eds.), From the Seventh Century BC to the Seventh Century AD, p.455.
  11. ^ Robert C. Senior, Indo-Scythian Coins and History, Volume 4: Supplement, London, Chameleon Press, (2006).
  12. ^ W. Wright (transl.), The Apocryphal Acts of Thomas, Leiden, Brill, 1962, p.146; cited in A. D. H. Bivar, "The History of Eastern Iran", in Ehsan Yarshater (ed.), The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol.3 (1), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, London, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p.197.
  13. ^ India and the Apostle Thomas, A. E. Medlycott, fully reproduced with illustrations (including the coins of Gondaphares) in the Indian Church History Classics ed. George Menachery, Ollur, 1998
  14. ^ B. N. Puri, “The Sakas and Indo-Parthians”, in János Harmatta, B. N. Puri and G.F. Etemadi (editors), History of civilizations of Central Asia, Paris, UNESCO, Vol.II, 1994, p.196.
  15. ^ Puri, “The Sakas and Indo-Parthians”, p.197.
  16. ^ A. E. Medlycott, India and the Apostle Thomas, London, David Nutt, 1905, Chapter 1, “The Apostle Thomas and Gondophares the Indian King”
  17. ^ Frank Schaer, The Three Kings of Cologne, Heidelberg, Winter, 2000, Middle English Texts no.31, p.196.
  18. ^ Joannes of Hildesheim, The Three Kings of Cologne: An Early English Translation of the "Historia Trium Regum" together with the Latin Text, London, Trubner, 1886; repr. Elibron Classics, 2001, cap.xi, pp.227–28; translation by F.H. Mountney, The Three Kings of Cologne, Gracewing Publishing, 2003, pp.31, 47.
  19. ^ E. G. Ravenstein, Martin Behaim: His Life and His Globe, London, George Philip, 1908, p.95.

Further reading[edit]