The princes of the Kushan dynasty ruled a vast empire which, in the first three centuries of the Christian Era, stretched from the Ganges River Valley into the oases of Central Asia. This empire, here called the Kushanshahr, was created by nation of former nomads whose language and culture were probably Iranian. The Kushan princes themselves seem to have been cast in much the same mold of Iranian heroic princely ideals as Darius and Xerxes, or Timur and Akbar-creator of great polyglot empires from a welter of semi-nomadic tribes, conquered kingdoms, and allied states. Through the Kushanshahr the Buddhist faith began its triumphal spread into Afghanistan, central Asia, and China. The Kushan nobility became its ardent patrons and builders of vast sanctuaries. The period of Kushan supremacy paralleled that of the Roman Empire in its prime; men, ideas and artistic motifs moved freely along the trade routes linking the Kushans, the Parthians, China and the Roman West, creating an atmosphere of extraordinary cosmopolitanism and prosperity. Yet the record of this dynasty virtually faded from history until a hundred year ago, when scholars became increasingly aware of the in the development of the art, religion, and statecraft of the time.
This book brings together the major forms of evidence for the cultural role of the Kushans - their goldcoinage and imperial portraits in stone, their appearance as donors and devotees in religious carvings, the inscription written during their reign. It gives the general outline of the history of the dynasty with an account of its major princes, princes whose portraits are found in India and Afghanistan as traces of a cult of deified kings, and demonstrates that the strong affiliation between the dynasty itself and Parthian civilization had a profound impact upon the development of Buddhist art both in India and the Far East.
About The Author:
John M. Rosenfiled is Professor of Fine Arts at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Universtiy, Cambridge, Masssachusetts.
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