Season 01 | Episode 12

The Dark Age

17 October 2020 / 11 mins 29 secs

Show summary

Topic: History of India - Ancient India.

Timeline: 220 BCE - 320 CE

In this episode of Namaskar India, we will learn how the construction of the Great Wall of China impacted the history of India by setting off a domino effect resulting in yet another series of invasions. And we will unravel the mystery of why this time is called the Dark Age.

Around the 3rd century BCE, the Eastern region of the Steppes (today’s Mongolia) was inhabited by nomadic, pastoral people who had formed a far-flung tribal confederation by the name of ‘Xiongnu’. The repeated attacks by these Xiongnu nomads on the Northern Chinese kingdoms of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Han, Yan and Zhongshan, forced them to build a series of fortifications, which over centuries would take the shape of ‘The Great Wall of China’. Qin Shi Huang conquered the last of his opponents and unified China as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC. And to position the empire against the Xiongnu people from the north, he ordered the building of new walls to connect the existing fortifications along the empire's northern frontier. But did you know that this pushback by China and the fortifications it created had an impact on faraway India?

At the beginning of the first millennium of the Common Era, North India was in turmoil. The central authority of the Mauryans had declined and a number of smaller kingdoms and principalities had emerged. Taking advantage of this, the Indo-Greek or the Yavanas had established their power in North-Western India, making an audacious bid for the prized city of Pataliputra. But they were to be displaced by even more powerful force. The pushback from China and the ripple effect this had on the tribes across the Central Asian Steppes forced a number of nomadic tribes to migrate to India and make it their home. The most prominent among them were the Indo-Scythians or the Sakas, and the Indo-Parthians or the Pahlavas. Over the next few centuries, they would come into India, embrace it and leave an incredible mark on Indian culture and society.

The ruler of the Xiongnu, attacked the Yuezhi tribe, who then occupied the rich farming oasis of the Tarim Basin (modern-day Xingjian province of China). The Yuezhi tribe, one of the numerous pastoral tribes that inhabited Central Asia, fled to the west, where they came across another tribe, the Wu-Sun, who lived in an area near Kazakhstan. The Yeuzhi killed their king and defeated them. In what had become a pattern by now, or a ripple effect, the Wu-Sun were pushed further west and south, and it was these tribes who came to be known as the Scythians in the West – and the Sakas in India! The Sakas, displaced by the Yeuzhi pushed towards India, went on to defeat the Graeco-Bactrian kingdoms on India’s frontier in Northern Afghanistan.

By 80 BCE, in western Eurasia, the Seleucid Empire was replaced by Roman Empire and Parthian Empire. And around 60 BCE, when the Saka Empire became weak, Parthians took over the Indus Valley from the Sakas.

The Yuezhi reached the Hellenic kingdom of Greco-Bactria (in northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) around 135 BCE and after making alliances with Roman Empire to take over Indo-Parthian controlled land, eventually established the Kushan Empire under their king Kujula Kadphises in 30 CE.

Around 230 CE in western Eurasia, Persion Empire was replaced by Sasanian Empire. And all Kushan controlled areas outside Indian subcontinent came under the Sasanian Empire. And hence making the Kushan Empire weaker.

During the period of invasions into India much of its roads and ports were maintained. India benefited from expanded economic and cultural contacts with the world outside India and an expanded trade with West Asia and the Roman Empire. And the increase in trade brought a rise in intellectual activity among the Indians and science and the arts flourished.