Marks of Empire: Extracting a Narrative from the Corpus of Kuṣāṇa Inscriptions
Skinner, Michael Christopher
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University of Washington Abstract Marks of Empire: Extracting a Narrative from the Corpus of Kuṣāṇa Inscriptions Michael C Skinner Chairperson of the Supervisory Committee: Professor Richard Salomon Department of Asian Languages and Literature This dissertation constructs a history of the Kuṣāṇa Empire (ca. 50-350 CE) from the corpus of inscriptions composed during this period. The corpus of Kuṣāṇa inscriptions complied in this study consist of two hundred ninety-five extant texts composed in Bactrian, Gāndhārī, and Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit. These inscriptions are considered marks of empire both in their literal sense, as marks on a surface meant to record information, and in their figurative sense, as visual marks that imprinted the Kuṣāṇa’s authority. “Appendix 1: Corpus of Kuṣāṇa Inscriptions” includes a transcription, translation, and notes for all two hundred ninety-five inscriptions and represents the most up-to-date, and searchable, compilation of the inscriptions composed during this imperial period. The intention in creating this corpus was to make the epigraphic material accessible to anyone interested in the history of the Kuṣāṇa Empire. The six chapters that constitute this dissertation extracts the material from these inscriptions to craft a narrative of the Kuṣāṇa Empire. This imperial narrative is divided into three parts: imperial initiation, imperial perpetuation, and imperial diminution. Each part of this dissertation contains two chapters, one that deals specifically with the inscriptions composed in the reigns of the Kuṣāṇa rulers associated with a specific phase, and a second that focuses on a related topic. In Part A: Imperial Initiation, chapter one provides the historical background of the Kuṣāṇas, the territory they ruled, their imperial currency, trade networks, and the state of Buddhism in the pre-Kuṣāṇa period. Chapter two examines the inscriptions composed in the reigns of Kujula Kadphises, Vima Takto, and Vima Kadphises and uses the texts to show how they initiated their empire. Part B: Imperial Perpetuation represents the height of the Kuṣāṇa Empire, and chapter three examines the inscriptions associated with the Kaniṣka I, Huviṣka, and Vāsudeva I. The relative abundant amount of epigraphic evidence produced in this period allows for these texts to be analyzed according to year they were composed, the types of inscribed objects, and the donors who sponsored the objects. The fourth chapter focuses on the role of Buddhism in the imperial period and argues that a Buddhist public emerged in the Kuṣāṇa period comprised of a diverse donative sphere orbiting around institutionalized Buddhist monastic complexes that the Kuṣāṇas utilized to exert their influence. Chapter five, the first chapter in Part C: Imperial Diminution, looks at the how the epigraphic records for Kaniṣka II, Vāsiṣka, and Kaniṣka III reflect the decline of the Kuṣāṇa Empire. With the narrative of empire concluding in chapter five, the sixth and final chapter of this study expands outward and compares the Kuṣāṇas with their Roman, Arsacid and Sasanian, and Later Han contemporaries. During first three centuries of the Common Era empires emerged that integrated almost all of Eurasia, from Rome to India and China. This chapter examines the congruencies among these empires, and then compares the Kuṣāṇa Empire with the well-documented Roman and Later Han empires to gain a better understanding of this empire. Through comparing the Kuṣāṇas with other empires and providing a detailed analysis of the marks of empire, this dissertation highlights the significance of the Kuṣāṇa Empire to South Asian and world history.