Tamga of the Kidarites
The Kidarite kingdom in 400 CE.
|Capital||Bactria, Peshwar, Taxila|
|•||fl. 425||Varhran I|
|Historical era||Late Antiquity|
|Today part of|| Turkmenistan
The Kidarites (Chinese: 寄多羅 Jiduolo) were a dynasty of the "Ki" clan named after their ruler Kidara. They were part of the complex of tribes known collectively as Xionites or "Hunas". Referred to as the "Red Huns", they established the first of four major "Hunic" states in Southern Asia, the following ones being in chronological order: the Hephthalites, the Alchon, and the Nezak.
In 360-370 CE, they established the Kidarite kingdom in the eastern regions of the Sasanian Empire, when they replaced the Kushano-Sasanians in Bactria and northwestern Pakistan. Thereafter the Sasanian Empire roughly stopped at Merv.
The Kidarites, a nomadic clan, are supposed to have originated in the Altai region and arrived in Bactria with the great migrations of the second half of the 4th century. When Shi Le established the Later Zhao state, it is thought that many of the Uar (Chinese 滑 Huá) fled (c. 320 CE) from the area around Pingyang (平陽; modern Linfen, Shanxi) and fled west along the Silk Road. This put pressure on the Xionites, who increasingly encroached upon Khorasan and the frontiers of the Kushan state. Another theory is that climate gravely deteriorated in the Altai region in 4th century, leading Hunnic tribes to migrate to the West and the South.
The name "Kidarites" may be derived from a Turkic runic term "Kidirti" meaning "West", thus explaining that the Kidarites were the first of the Huns to migrate (as they were the westernmost tribe) and to appear in Central Asia and put pressure on the Sasanian Empire and the Kushan Empire.
According to the Chinese sources Kidarites appeared in Kazakhstan and Bactria in 4th century and were branch of the Little Yuezhi. (?) Some of them inherited the Kushan Empire and were called little Kushans. Kidarites were also called Red Huns, they practiced artificial cranial deformation and were displayed on Sogdian coins as archers riding on the reverse.
The first 4th century evidence are gold coins discovered in Balkh dating from c. 380, where 'Kidara' is usually interpreted in a legend in the Bactrian language. Most other data we currently have on the Kidarite kingdom are from Chinese and Byzantine sources from the middle of the 5th century. The Kidarites were the first "Hunas" to bother India. Indian records note that the Hūna had established themselves in modern Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province in present-day Pakistan by the first half of the 5th century, and the Gupta emperor Skandagupta had repelled a Hūna invasion in 455. The Kidarites are the last dynasty to regard themselves (on the legend of their coins) as the inheritors of the Kushan empire, which had disappeared as an independent entity two centuries earlier.
Migration into Bactria
Around 350, the Sasanian Emperor Shapur II (ruled 309 to 379) had to interrupt his conflict with the Romans, and abandon the siege of Nisibis, in order to face nomadic threats in the east: he was attacked in the east by Scythian Massagetae and other Central Asian tribes. Around this time Hunnic tribes, most likely the Kidarites, whose king was Grumbates, make an appearance as an encroaching threat upon Sasanian territory as well as a menace to the Gupta Empire (320-500CE).
After a prolonged struggle (353–358) they were forced to conclude an alliance, and their king Grumbates accompanied Shapur II in the war against the Romans, agreeing to enlist his light cavalrymen into the Persian army and accompanying Shapur II. The presence of "Grumbates, king of the Chionitae" and his Xionites with Shapur II during campaigns in the Western Caspian lands, in the area of Corduene, is described by the contemporary eyewitness Ammianus Marcellinus:
Grumbates Chionitarum rex novus aetate quidem media rugosisque membris sed mente quadam grandifica multisque victoriarum insignibus nobilis.
"Grumbates, the new king of the Xionites, while he was middle aged, and his limbs were wrinkled, he was endowed with a mind that acted grandly, and was famous for his many, significant victories."
"Grumbates, king of the Chionitae, went boldly up to the walls to effect that mission, with a brave body of guards; and when a skilful reconnoitrer had noticed him coming within shot, he let fly his balista, and struck down his son in the flower of his youth, who was at his father's side, piercing through his breastplate, breast and all; and he was a prince who in stature and beauty was superior to all his comrades. "
Later the alliance fell appart, and by the time of Bahram IV (388-399) the Sasanians had lost numerous battles against the Kidarites. The migrating Kidarites then settled in Bactria and northwestern Pakistan, where they replaced the Kushano-Sasanids, a branch of the Sasanids that had displaced the weakening Kushans in the area two centuries before. It is thought that they were in firm possession of the region of Bactria by 360 CE. Since this area corresponds roughly to Kushanshahr, the former western territories of the Kushans, Kidarite ruler Kidara called himself "Kidara King of the Kushans" on his coins.
The Kidarites based their capital in Samarkand , where they were at the center of Central Asian trade networks, in close relation with the Sogdians. The Kidarites had a powerful administration and raised taxes, rather efficiently managing their territories, in contrast to the image of barbarians bent on destruction given by Persian accounts.
Expansion to northwest India
The Kidarites consolidated their power in Northern Afghanistan during the 420s before conquering Peshawar and part of northwest India, then turning north to conquer Sogdiana in the 440s. The Kidarites were cut from their Bactrian nomadic roots by the rise of the Hephthalites in the 450s. The Kidarites also seem to have been defeated by the Sasanian emperor Peroz in 467 CE, with Peroz reconquering Balkh and issuing coinage there as "Peroz King of Kings". It is probably the rise of the Hephthalites and the defeats against the Sasanians which pushed the Kidarites into northern India.
Conflicts with the Gupta Empire
The Kidarites may have confronted the Gupta Empire during the rule of Kumaragupta I (414–c. 455 CE) as the latter recounts some conflicts,although very vaguely, in his Mandsaur inscription. The Bhitari pillar inscription of Skandagupta, inscribed by his son Skandagupta (c. 455 – c. 467 CE), recalls much more dramatically the near-annihilation of the Gupta Empire, and recovery though military victories against the attacks of the Pushyamitras and the Hunas. The Kidarites are the only Hunas who could have attacked India at the time, as the Hephthalites were still trying to set foot in Bactria in the middle of the 5th century. In the Bhitari inscription, Skandagupta clearly mentions a conflagrations with the Hunas, even though some portions of the inscription have disappeared:
"(Skandagupta), by whose two arms the earth was shaken, when he, the creator (of a disturbance like that) of a terrible whirlpool, joined in close conflict with the Hûnas; . . . . . . among enemies . . . . . . arrows . . . . . . . . . . . . proclaimed . . . . . . . . . . . . just as if it were the roaring of (the river) Ganga, making itself noticed in (their) ears."
After these encounters, the Kidarites seem to have retained the western part of the Gupta Empire. The Huna invasion are said to have seriously damaged Indo-Roman trade relations, which the Gupta Empire had greatly benefited from. The Guptas had been exporting numerous luxury products such as silk, leather goods, fur, iron products, ivory, pearl or pepper from centers such as Nasik, Paithan, Pataliputra or Benares etc. The Huna invasion probably disrupted these trade relations and the tax revenues that came with it.
Conflict with Sasanian emperor Peroz I and the Hephthalites
Around 457, the Kidarites were again in conflict against the Sasanians under Yazdegerd II. A "Kidarite dynasty", south of the Oxus, was at war with the Sassanids in the fifth century. The Sasanian Emperor Peroz I (ruled 459–484) fought Kidara and then his son Kungas, forcing Kungas to leave Bactria. The Kidarites, who had established themselves in parts of Transoxiana during the reign of the Sasanian king Shapur II, and had a long history of conflicts with the Sasanians. The latter stopped paying tributes to Kidarites in the early 460s, thus starting a new war between these two states.
During the start of the war, however, Peroz did not have enough manpower to fight them, and therefore asked for financial aid by the Byzantine Empire, who declined his request. Peroz then offered peace to the leader of the Kidarites, Kunkhas, and offered him his sister in marriage. However, Peroz tried to trick Kunkhas, and sent a woman of low status instead. After some time Kunkhas found about Peroz's false promise, and then in turn tried to trick him, by requesting him to send military experts to strengthen his army. However, when a group of 300 military experts arrived to the court of Kunkhas at Balaam (either the same city as Balkh or a city in Sogdia), they were either killed or disfigured and sent back to Iran, with the information that Kunkhas did this due to Peroz's false promise.
What happened after remains obscure, it is only known that by 467, Peroz, with Hephthalite aid, reportedly managed to capture Balaam (possibly Balkh) and put an end to Kidarite rule in Transoxiana once and for all. Although the Kidarites still controlled some places such as Gandhara and Punjab, they would never be an issue for the Sasanians again.
Many small Kidarite kingdoms seems to have survived in northwest India up to the conquest by the Hephthalites during the last quarter of the 5th century. They are known through their coinage. They were particularly present in Jammu and Kashmir, such as king Vinayaditya, but their coinage was much debased.
Main Kidarite rulers
|Kidara I||fl. c. 320 CE|
|Varhran I||fl. c. 340|
|Grumbates||c. 358-c. 380|
|Kidara (II ?)||fl. c. 360|
|Brahmi Buddhatala||fl. c. 370|
|Varhran (II)||fl. c. 425|
|Goboziko||fl. c. 450|
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|History of Turkmenistan|
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References and notes
- Touraj Daryaee (2009), Sasanian Persia, London and New York: I.B.Tauris, p. 17
- Sasanian Seals and Sealings, Rika Gyselen, Peeters Publishers, 2007, p.1
- The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas, Cambridge University Press, 2014 p.284sq
- CNG Coins 
- History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Ahmad Hasan Dani, B. A. Litvinsky, Unesco p.119 sq
- The Huns, Hyun Jin Kim, Routledge, 2015 p.50 sq
- The usual view is that after the Yeuzhi were driven out of Mongolia the Lesser Yuezhi disappeared in Tibet while the Greater Yuezhi became the Kushans. I can find Kidarite=Lesser Yuezhi only on Zeimal, History of Civilizations in Central Asia, vol iii, pages 119 and 122, but on page 120 he has Greater Yuezhi with the same meaning.
- COINS OF THE TOCHARI, KUSHÂNS, OR YUE-TI, A. Cunningham, The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42680025?seq=12#page_scan_tab_contents
- A NOTE ON KIDARA AND THE KIDARITES, WILLIAM SAMOLIN, Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1956), pp. 295-297, „The Yueh-chih origin of Kidara is clearly established...“, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41926398?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
- Kuṣāṇa Coins and Kuṣāṇa Sculptures from Mathurā, Gritli von Mitterwallner, Frederic Salmon Growse, page 49, https://books.google.com/books?id=uufVAAAAMAAJ
- Ancient Coin Collecting VI: Non-Classical Cultures, Wayne G. Sayles, p. 79, https://books.google.com/books?id=YTGRcVLMg6MC&pg=PA78
- The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas, page 185, https://books.google.com/books?id=67dUBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA185
- History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Ahmad Hasan Dani, B. A. Litvinsky, page 120, https://books.google.com/books?id=883OZBe2sMYC&pg=PA120
- History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Ahmad Hasan Dani, B. A. Litvinsky, Unesco p.38 sq
- Ammianus Marcellinus 18.6.22
- Ammianus Marcellinus 18.6.22
- The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas p.286
- The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Attila, Michael Maas p.287
- Malwa Through the Ages, from the Earliest Times to 1305 A.D by Kailash Chand Jain p.242
- Longman History & Civics ICSE 9 by Singh p.81
- CNG Coins 
- Zeimal 1996, p. 130.
- Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
- Zeimal, E. V. (1996). "The Kidarite kingdom in Central Asia". History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume III: The Crossroads of Civilizations: A.D. 250 to 750. Paris: UNESCO. pp. 119–135. ISBN 92-3-103211-9.
- ENOKI, K., « On the Date of the Kidarites (I) », Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, 27, 1969, p. 1–26.
- GRENET, F. « Regional Interaction in Central Asia and North-West India in the Kidarite and Hephtalite Period », in SIMS-WILLIAMS, N. (ed.), Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, (Proceedings of the British Academy), London, 2002, p. 203–224.