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The Middle City: Sirkap

Sirkap flourished from the late second-early first century BCE to the middle of the second century CE. Near the end of the second century CE, the majority of the population, once again, moved a bit northward to the new Kusana city of Sirkukh. While the general chronology of the three cities is now agreed upon by most scholars, the finer chronology of the development of Sirkap itself is not so clear.

Chronology at Sirkap:

The analysis of any historic city is determined by the quality of the excavation, and fortunately Sir John Marshall was a careful archaeologist who left a detailed excavation report. He was not perfect, however, in either his technical or interpretive techniques, and Marshall's dating of the basic stratigraphy of Sirkap has come under intense scrutiny. [10]


As Robin Coningham states, "Marshall's control of the vertical record was not particularly strong, however, it would be true to say that his horizontal recording was amongst the best of his day." See Coningham and Edwards, "Space and Society at Sirkap, Taxila," p. 54.

Marshall himself continually refined his chronological schemata throughout his reports, and his final conclusions appear in the 1951 publication of Taxila where he identified seven strata. [11]


Marshall, Taxila, p. 118. The vast majority of the artifacts were recovered from strata III and II.

These were later dated with greater accuracy, but little change in the general outline, by Saifur Rahman Dar,







before 190 bce



190-90 bce

IV and


early Scythian

later Scythian-Parthian

90 bce to 60 ce


Kuṣāṇa conquest and

post Kuṣāṇa rulers

60-80 ce and afterward[12]


Saifur Rahman Dar, "Dating the Monuments of Taxila," in Urban Form and Meaning in South Asia, ed. Howard Spodek and Doris Meth Srinivasan (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1993), p. 108.


George Erdosy, focusing on the Indo-Scythian, Indo-Parthian, and Kuṣāṇa layers, further refined this chronology by separating out strata III and II, and he pushed the overall dates forward by at least fifty years. Erdosy's refinement is the following,






Late Scythian

early first c. ce



mid-late first c. ce

early second c. ce



mid-second c. ce[13]


George Erdosy, "Taxila: Political History and Urban Structure," in South Asian Archaeology 1987, ed. Maurizio Taddei (Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1990), p. 670.





All of these chronological systems can be generally linked to the first two phases of Kurt Behrendt’s four-phase chronological system based on a correlation of architectural features, masonry types, and numismatic evidence.[14]


Behrendt, The Buddhist Architecture of Gandhara, Appendix A, pp. 255-267. Behrendt uses Taxila, even more specifically Sirkap, as the baseline for all of his dating of Gandharan material culture. For Behrendt, understanding Sirkap is essential for understanding the rest of the region. Sirkap holds this place as it is the largest urban excavation in the region by far.

Outlined below is Behrendt's architecturally based phase system correlated to the archaeologically based strata system,








Marshall et. al.



Mauryans, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, Indo-Parthian and other kings

circa 200 bce to middle to late 1st c. ce

IV, III, and II



upper boundary is marked by coins of Kuṣāṇa king Kujula Kadphises circa 78 ce



Great Kuṣāṇa Kings: Vima Takto, Vima Kadphises, Kaṇiṣka I and Huviṣka

circa middle to late 1st c ce to circa 200 ce



begins with reign of Vāsudeva I and includes later Kuṣāṇa and Kuṣāṇa-Sassanian rulers

circa 200 ce to 5th c. ce



In all these systems, general agreement centers around the conclusion that strata III and II, that is Phase I of Behrendt's system, belong to the Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian layers dated to the first century before the Common Era to the mid-late first century of the Common Era.


Not all of the strata present enough evidence to make justifiable inferences about the local culture and society. There are two reasons for this: one, Sirkap existed as a small settlement before and during the Mauryan Empire, and the subsequent development of the city in later periods destroyed, or better re-used, much of what was there. In addition, Marshall chose not to excavate below the Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian levels in much of the city, thus leaving much of earlier city, that is strata VII, VI, and V, buried under the later city. Marshall explains this decision,


. . . seven-eighths of the digging in this area [Sirkap] has been devoted to the Śaka-Parthian structures of the second stratum; one-eighth only to the earlier Śaka and Greek remains below [15]


Saka and Indo-Scythian are interchangeable in most contexts. Similarly, Pahlava and Indo-Parthian are, for the most part, interchangeable as well. There are debates concerning the various waves of Sakas that entered the Indian sub-continent, but these need not delay us here. For more details, see A. K. Narain, The Earliest Sakas of South Asia (Patna: Kashi Prasad Jayaswal Research Institute, 1998).

. . .

I am particularly glad that I decided from the start to resist the temptation to remove any part of these Parthian and Śaka remains until a substantial area of the city had been cleared and ample opportunities afforded to other archaeologists to study it . . . Another and no less cogent reason which influenced me in the course I followed was that it was evident from the outset that the later remains comprised a number of sacred structures, some Jaina, some Buddhist in origin, the destruction of which would have aroused great resentment among the members of those faiths.[16]


Marshall, Taxila, p. 120. The only part of Sirkap which was excavated beyond the Scythian-Parthian levels was a narrow band near the northern gateway in Blocks I', A', B', and C'. But in this explanation, again, Marshall makes clear his assumptions going into the excavation: he expects to find Jaina and Buddhist structures. This choice not to excavate the site to its lowest levels is good archaeological practice. Archaeologists generally recognize the importance of leaving unexcavated portions of a site for later study when new assumptions and new technologies might be available.


In later studies of Sirkap, most authors quickly skip over the earlier layers. For example, Ahmed Dani summarized his brief section on these early Greek strata with a very general statement, "[a]fter accepting the technologies and some material elements that imperceptibly came with them, Taxilans continued their own life pattern and followed their own social pattern and religious traditions."[17]


Dani, The Historic City of Taxila, p. 65.

What these social patterns and traditions were he did not venture to guess as the evidence is too scant to draw any solid conclusions. With stratum IV, the earliest Indo-Scythian layers, the material evidence begins to grow. But it is the evidence from strata III and II which is by far the most complete, and in Marshall's 1951 Taxila the primary site map of Sirkap is of the city layout of these two strata. 


Cartography at Sirkap:

The first entry point into the study of a published excavation report is the site map, but often the site map can conceal more than it reveals. Rodney Stark's insights into the nature of classical ruins holds equally true for early Indian ruins,


[w]hen we examine the magnificent ruins of classical cities we have a tendency to see them as extraordinarily durable and permanent—after all, they were built of stone and have endured for centuries. But this is an illusion. We are usually looking at simply the last ruins of a city that was turned to ruin repeatedly.[18]


Rodney Stark, "Antioch as the Social Situation of Matthew's Gospel," in Social History of the Matthean Community: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to an Open Question, ed. David L. Balch (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991), pp. 189-210.


For Sirkap, Marshall's primary site map reveals some of the last structures from a time when the city was moving to Sirsukh with the coming of the Kuṣāṇas in the late first century of the Common Era. This is very fortunate for those interested in the centuries on either side of the Common Era because there is a fairly intact city that was not completely put to ruin and rebuilt by new inhabitants. Rather, the city was almost completely abandoned by the end of the first century of the Common Era, and only a few structures from earlier strata were modified in the second century

However, when the city of Sirkap is placed in its larger context, that is, when the map of the whole complex of Taxila is analyzed, Stark's warnings must be heeded. In Marshall's general site plan, which included the three cities—Bhiṛ Mound, Sirkap, and Sirsukh—and the extra-urban monasteries and temples, there is no chronological distinction between the structures. In other words, all the structures appear to be contemporaneous. However, as Kurt Behrendt has detailed, before circa 78 ce very few of these structures would have been extant.[19]


Behrendt, The Buddhist Architecture of Gandhara, pp. 41-50, 61-76, and fig. 6.

The city at Bhiṛ Mound was basically abandoned and would have had few inhabitants, and the walled city of Sirkap was the main urban center. Within easy walking distance of the city were the Dharmarājikā stūpa, the Jaṇḍiāl B stūpa and monastery complex, the Jaṇḍiāl C temple, and the Moḥrā Maliārāñ complex. The latter three structures are all on the north side of the city within a half kilometer of the main northern gate; the Dharmarājikā stūpa is a kilometer and a half from the eastern gate. Thus, out of the myriad of ancient monuments found outside the walled city of Sirkap in the general area of Taxila—close to fifty structures of various sizes—only four date to this period and the rest date to after the end of the first century [20]


Some of the more famous monuments that do not fit into this period include Kalawan, Akhauri A, B and C, Khader Mohra D1 and D2, Kunala, Jauliañ, Mohra Moradu, Pippala, and Bhamala, just to name a few. In the area of greater Gandhara, the only major Buddhist monument that would be attributable to this period is Butkara I.

While a model that includes the structures of the Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian period beyond Sirkap's city walls is the eventual goal of this project, in this iteration, we will attend to the urban environment of Sirkap itself. Further, at this point, we have only been able to model ten blocks of the excavated city.