KIDARITES, a dynasty which ruled Tukharistan and later Gandhāra, probably also part of Sogdiana; the initial date is disputed (c. 390 CE for some modern authors, c. 420-430 for others), while the final period is better documented (loss of Tukharistān to the Hepththalites in 467, residual North Indian kingdom, perhaps in Swat, until 477).

The name of Kidara, the founder of the dynasty, is attested in Chinese transcription as Jiduoluo (in the Weishu), in Sanskrit as Kidara or Kidāra (on coin legends in Brāhmī script; the length of the second syllable is uncertain), and in Sogdian as kyδr (on coin legends). The Bactrian form of the name is attested as Kidiro and Kēddiro (Sims-Williams 2005). In Greek we have only the ethnonym: Ounnoi Kidaritai “Kidarite Huns.” So far no convincing etymology has been proposed.

The most precise information concerning the beginning of the Kidarites as an imperial power is in the Weishu : “The king of the Great Yuezhi called Jiduoluo, brave and fierce, eventually dispatched his troops southwards and invaded North India, crossing the great mountains to subjugate the five kingdoms which were located to the north of Gandhāra” (transl. based on Kuwayama 2002, p. 124). This information most probably reached China in 437; in any case the invasion took place after 412, since the Chinese pilgrim Faxian who visited Gandhāra at that time does not mention any such event. The Byzantine chronicler Priscus mentions the “Kidarite Huns” for the first time in 456 as adversaries of the Sasanian king Yazdgird II (438-457), who had discontinued a tribute paid by his predecessors to Iran’s eastern neighbours (Exc. De Leg. Rom. 8, ed. Blockley 1983, pp. 336-7). Two earlier defeats of the latter king on the border of Tukharistān are mentioned by Łazar P’arpets’i (transl. Thomson 1982, pp. 294, 302-3); his foes, though conventionally styled “Kushans,” are probably already the Kidarites. They might have been already involved in the eastern wars of Wahrām V (420-438), but their name does not appear in sources pertaining to his reign.

Therefore, as far as narrative sources are concerned, all information seems to point to the same period. On Gandhāran coin issues the ruler named Kidara assumed as his second crown that of Yazdgird II (Göbl 1967, issues 11-14). In this perspective Kidara would have emerged in Tukharistān in the 420’s or 430’s and then crossed to Gandhāra via its northern valleys.

There is, nevertheless, a consensus among numismatists (Göbl 1967, Cribb 1990, Alram 1996) to place the first king named Kidara in Kāpiśā as early as c. 390. This identification rests upon the reading *kidaro on the last series of gold coins present in the hoard in Tepe Maranjān near Kabul, buried at about this date. The reading is not incompatible with what is actually written on the corrupt legend (kioooooo), but there is some room for doubt (for an alternative see Grenet 2002, p. 206).

There is less uncertainty concerning the continuation of the history of the Kidarites. From 457 onwards they were challenged by a rebellion of the Hephthalites, with whom the Sasanian pretender Pērōz took refuge and from whom he obtained military help. As soon as he had established himself on the throne war broke out again with a new Kidarite ruler called Kunkhas. Eventually in 467 the Kidarites were expelled from their capital “Balaam” (= Balkh?) (Priscus, 12 and 22 = Blockley, pp. 349 and 361); the Sasanians claimed the victory, but most probably it was the result of combined operations with the Hephthalites. A residual Kidarite kingdom in the Gandhāran region (possibly in Swat: Göbl 1967, II, p. 224, issue 15) continued to send embassies to China until 477.

A Kidarite conquest of at least part of Sogdiana seems to be safely attested by coins from Samarkand, bearing on the obverse the schematized portrait of a ruler with the Sogdian legend kyδr (Zeimal 1996). On typological and metrological grounds these coins can be assigned to the 5th century. Hypothetically this conquest can be connected with the interruption of Sogdian embassies to China between 441 and 457, and with a piece of information in the Weishu (formerly dated to 437, but actually referring to 457, see de la Vaissière 2005, p. 107 n. 37), mentioning an earlier capture of Samarkand by the Xiongnu, the ruler in 457 being the third of the new dynasty. This Kidarite(?) dynasty maintained its hold over Samarkand until 509, after which date embassies from Samarkand were incorporated into Hephtalite ones.

It is difficult to form an opinion about the ethnic affiliation of the Kidarites. The information just mentioned about Sogdiana seems to link them with the Xiongnu, which is consistent with Priscus calling them “Huns.” It has been proposed that the Greek transcription of the name (or title?) of their last ruler Kunkhas may reflect “khan of the Huns” (Tremblay 2001, p. 188). On Gandhāran coins bearing their name the ruler is always clean-shaven, a fashion more typical of Altaic people than of Iranians. At the same time the Weishu presents them as “Yuezhi” and “Kushans” when referring to their activities in Northern India, and on their coins in Gandhāra (and already in Kāpiśā if the Tepe Maranjān specimens belong to them) they style themselves “Kušāhšāh,” a title no other rulers assumed after them. In these scraps of historical information they appear as adversaries of the Xiongnu: “The state of the Little Yuezhi: the capital is Purusapura [Peshawar] . . . Kidara had been driven away by the Xiongnu and fled westwards, and later made his son assume the defensive” (transl. based on Kuwayama 2002, p. 128). This information is difficult to interpret: it might refer to hostilities in Gandhāra between the Kidarites and some Hunnish predecessors there, or to the Kidarites’ eventual expulsion from Tukharistān by the Hephthalites; yet another possibility is that this passage may contain a reminiscence of the Xiongnu’s expulsion of the ancient Great Yuezhi westwards out of China as recounted in the Hanshu.

To sum up, the Kidarites seem to have emerged from the Hunnish invaders (Sogd. Xūn, Lat. Chionitae, Chin. Xiongnu) who had overrun the Kushano-Sasanian kingdom in the second half of the fourth century, but they eventually posed as restorers of the former political order (a step their immediate successors the Hephthalites did not take). The official art of their period, documented by mural paintings from Tukharistān and by seals, shows continuity with the Kushano-Sasanian traditions together with some specific iconographic and stylistic features (Callieri 1997, 2002). Bactrian seal inscriptions document some titles inherited from the Sasanian administration, e.g. hazˊaruxt “chiliarch” (Sims-Williams 2005).

The direct or indirect Kidarite rule over Sogdiana coincided with the building of new fortifications (Samarqand, Paykent) and the foundation of new cities such as Panjikent and Kushaniya. (The name of the latter probably indicates a Kidarite royal foundation, as neither the Great Kushans nor the Kushano-Sasanians had exerted control over that region.) The art of Sogdiana, hitherto very provincial, began to flourish in this period, the school of painting at Panjikent apparently branching off directly from that attested at Dil’berjin near Balkh. In 457 the ruler of Samarqand negotiated the liberation of Sogdian merchants who had been captured in China in 439 (on these various points see Grenet 2002 and de la Vaissière 2005, pp. 107-10, with reference to earlier contributions). All this tends to indicate that the relatively short Kidarite period was one of recovery and better integration of the Bactrian-Sogdian region, with transfers of populations and skills from south to north. These tendencies were confirmed and developed in the Hephthalite period, with a somewhat different cultural orientation.



M. Alram, «Alchon und Nēzak. Zur Geschichte der iranischen Hunen in Mittelasien», in La Persia e l’Asia centrale da Alessandro al X secolo. Atti dei convegni Lincei, 127, Rome, 1996, pp. 517-54.

R.C. Blockley, The fragmentary classicizing historians of the later Roman empire, Liverpool, 1983.

P. Callieri, Seals and sealings from the North-West of the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan (4th century BC – 11th century AD), Naples, 1997.

Idem, “The Bactrian seal of KhinÂgila,” Silk Road Art and Archaeology, 8, 2002, pp. 121-41.

J. Cribb, “Numismatic evidence for Kushano-Sasanian chronology,” Studia Iranica, 19, 1990, pp. 151-93, pls. I-VIII.

K. Enoki, “On the date of the Kidarites», Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, 27, 1969, pp. 1-26; 28, 1970, pp. 13-38.

R. Göbl, Dokumente zur Geschichte der Iranischen Hunnen in Baktrien und Indien, 4 vols., Wiesbaden, 1967.

F. Grenet, «Regional interaction in Central Asia and Northwest India in the Kidarite and Hephthalite periods», in N. Sims-Williams, ed., Indo-Iranian languages and peoples, Proceedings of the British Academy, 116, 2002, pp. 203-24, esp. pp. 205-9.

Sh. Kuwayama, «The Hephthalites in Tokharistan and Northwest India», Zinbun: Annals of the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, 24, 1989, pp. 89-134, esp. pp. 110, 116-7 (reprinted with some changes in Sh. Kuwayama, Across the Hindukush of the first millen[n]ium, Kyoto, 2002, pp. 107-39, esp. pp. 124, 128).

B.I. Marshak, “K voprosu o vostochnykh protivnikakh Irana v V v.,” Strany i narody Vostoka, 10, Moskva, 1971, pp. 58-66.

N. Sims-Williams, “Some Bactrian seal-inscriptions,” in O. Bopearachchi, M.-F. Boussac, ed., Afghanistan, ancien carrefour entre l’Est et l’Ouest, Brepols, Turnhout, 2005, pp. 335-46.

R.W. Thomson, History of Vardan and the Armenian war, Cambridge (Mass.) – London, 1982.

X. Tremblay, Pour une histoire de la Sérinde, Wien, 2001.

E. de la Vaissière, Sogdian Traders. A history, Leiden-Boston, 2005.

E.V. Zeimal, “The Kidarite kingdom and Central Asia,” in B.A. Litvinsky, ed., History of civilizations in Central Asia, III, Paris, 1996, pp. 119-33.

July 29, 2005

(Frantz Grenet)

Originally Published: July 20, 2005

Last Updated: July 20, 2005