The Kushan Empire was a political power that started as a nomadic tribe from the Central Asian steppe and became established as sedentary state across South Asia and Central Asia. Migrating from the border of agricultural China in late 2nd century bce to north Afghanistan, by the 1st century ce, the Yuezhi nomads transformed themselves into a ruling elite in a large area from Afghanistan to the Indus Valley and North Indian Plain, embracing many linguistic and ethnic groups. Adapting the Persian satrapy administrative system into Indian kshatrapa administration, the Kushan regime gave much autonomy to local institutions such as castes, guilds, and Buddhist monasteries and meanwhile won support from those local communities. Legacies from Achaemenid Persia and Hellenistic cities, the cultures of various nomadic groups from Central Asia, and Buddhist and Brahmanical traditions merged to create a cosmopolitan Kushan material culture and art. Mahāyāna Buddhist theology and institutions matured in the Kushan economic and cultural environment and were propagated to Central Asia and China from there. Having under their control several important commodities, such as silk, lapis lazuli, and horses, demanded by elites from the Roman Empire, the Han Empire, and the Parthian Empire, the Kushan court sat on a key location of the Eurasian trade networks, or the Silk Road. The Kushan Empire benefited from the Silk Road trade economically and meanwhile received knowledge of faraway countries and facilitated transferring the information to the visions of the Romans, Parthians, and Chinese.
Tomas Larson Høisæter
The history of contact and exchange across the mountain ranges radiating out from the Pamir knot, separating the three regions of Central Asia, Inner Asia, and Northwestern India, can be traced far back into prehistory, seen in the movements of languages, crops, and animals. From around the 2nd century bce onward, however, these connections steadily grew in intensity. New political connections were drawn across the mountains by the rise of the Kushan Empire in Central Asia, as they came to control much of Northwestern India and exert a significant influence in Inner Asia. Around the same time, Buddhism was spreading northward from Northwestern India into both Central and Inner Asia, bringing with it several innovations and practices that would come to shape these two regions for almost a millennium. Finally, paralleling these political and cultural developments, economic interaction between the three regions steadily grew, with both merchants and large quantities of goods moving between them. These developments feed into one another as local communities grew more and more enmeshed into the growing networks, serving to lay the foundation upon which the fabled Silk Roads could operate.