1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saka

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SAKA, or Shāka, the name of one or more tribes which invaded India from Central Asia. The word is used loosely, especially by Hindu authors, to designate all the tribes which from time to time invaded India from the north, much as all the tribes who invaded China are indiscriminately termed Tatars. Used more accurately, it denotes the tribe which invaded India 130-140 B.C. They are the Sacae and Sakai of classical authors and the Se of the Chinese, which may represent an original Sek or Sök. The Chinese annalists state that they were a pastoral people who lived in the neighbourhood of the modern Kashgar. About 160 B.C. they were driven southward by the advance of the Yue-Chi from the east. One portion appears to have settled in western Afghanistan, hence called Sakasthāna, in modern Persian Sejistan. The other section occupied the Punjab and possessed themselves of the territory which the Graeco-Bactrian kings had acquired in India, that is Sind, Gujarat and Malwa. The rulers of these provinces bore the title of Satrap (Kshatrapa or Chhatrapa) and were apparently subordinate to a king who ruled over the valley of Kabul and the Punjab. In 57 B.C. the Sakas were attacked simultaneously by Parthians from the west and by the Malava clans from the east and their power was destroyed. It should be added that what we know of Saka history is mostly derived from coins and inscriptions which admit of various interpretations and that scholars are by no means agreed as to names and dates. In any case their power, if it lasted so long, must have been swept away by the Kushan conquest of Northern India.

Nothing is known of the language or race of the Sakas. Like most of the invaders of India at this period they adopted Buddhism, at least partially. They can be traced to the neighbourhood of Kashgar, but not like the Yue-Chi to the frontiers of China. They may have been Turanians akin to that tribe, or they may have been Iranians akin to the Iranian element in Transoxiana and the districts south of the Pamirs. They cannot be the same as the Scythians of Europe, though the name and original nomadic life are points in common.

See Vincent Smith, Early History of India (1908); O. Franke, Beiträge aus chinesischen Quellen zur Kenntnis der Türkvölker und Skythen (1904); P. Gardner, Coins of Greek and Scythian Kings in India (1886); and various articles by Vincent Smith, Fleet, Cunningham, A. Stein, Sylvain Levi and others in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal asiatique, Indian Antiquary, Zeitsch. der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, &c. (C. El.)