The Abhira tribe (Ahirs) were a people mentioned in ancient Indian epics and scriptures as early as the Vedas. A historical people of the same name are mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
Sunil Kumar Bhattacharya says that the Abhiras are mentioned in the first-century work of classical antiquity, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. He considers them to be a race rather than a tribe. Scholars such as Ramaprasad Chanda believe that they were Indo-Aryan peoples. but others, such as Romila Thapar, believe them to have been indigenous. The Puranic Abhiras occupied the territories of Herat; they are invariably juxtaposed with the Kalatoyakas and Haritas, the peoples of Afghanistan.
According to Jayant Gadkari tribes such as Vrusni, Andhaka, Satvatas and Abhiras after a period of long conflicts came to be known as Yadavas.
In the Padma-puranas and certain literary works, the Abhiras are referred to as belonging to the race of Krishna.
There is no certainty regarding the occupational status of the Abhiras, with ancient texts sometimes referring to them as warriors, pastoral and cowherders but at other times as plundering tribes.
In archaeological inscriptions Abhiras are mentioned as belonging to the race of Lord Krishna. According to K. P. Jayaswal the abhiras of Gujarat are the same race as Rastrikas of Emperor Asoka and Yadavas of the Mahabharatha.
According to Ganga Ram Garg, the modern-day Ahir caste are descendants of Abhira people and the term Ahir is the Prakrit form of the Sanskrit term Abhira. Bhattacharya says that the terms Ahir, Ahar and Gaoli are current forms of the word Abhira. This view gets support in many writings. However, it is also said that the Ahirs do not appear to be fully representative of the ancient Abhiras.
M. S. A. Rao and historians such as P. M. Chandorkar and T. Padmaja have explained that epigraphical and historical evidence exists for equating the Ahirs with the ancient Abhiras and Yadava tribe.
During the reign of Samudragupta (c. 350), the Abhiras lived in Rajputana and Malava on the western frontier of the Gupta empire. Historian Dineshchandra Sircar thinks of their original abode was the area of Abhiravan, between Herat and Kandahar, although this is disputed. Their occupation of Rajasthan also at later date is evident from the Jodhpur inscription of Samvat 918 that the Abhira people of the area were a terror to their neighbours, because of their violent demeanour. Abhiras of Rajputana were sturdy and regarded as Mlecchas, and carried on anti-Brahmanical activities. As a result, life and property became unsafe. Pargiter[who?] points to the Pauranic tradition that the Vrishnis and Andhakas, while retreating northwards after the Kurukshetra War from their western home in Dwarka and Gujarat, were attacked and broken up by the rude Abhiras of Rajasthan. They were the supporters of the Duryodhana and Kauravas, and in the Mahabharata, Abhir, Gopa, Gopal and Yadavas are all synonyms. They defeated the hero of Mahabharatha war, and did spare him when he disclosed the identity of the members of the family of Sri Krishna. The Gopas, whom Krishna had offered to Duryodhana to fight in his support when he himself joined Arjuna's side, were no other than the Yadavas themselves, who were also the Abhiras. The Abhiras also have been described as Vrata Kshatriyas.
The Abhiras did not stop in Rajasthan; some of their clans moved south and west reaching Saurashtra and Maharashtra and taking service under the Satavahana dynasty and the Western Satraps. Also founded a kingdom in the northern part of the Maratha country, and an inscription of the ninth year of the Abhira king Ishwarsena.