The first gold coins of ancient India

History and facts

Kushan emperor Vima Kadaphises is said to be responsible for introducing gold coins to India, around 100 CE. Vima was the predecessor of Kanishka the Great, the fifth Kushan King, who ruled virtually all of northern India.

The Kushan empire extended from southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, through much of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, most of Northern India, including Kashmir, to Pataliputra, which is now known as Patna, the state capital of Bihar.

These first coins in India were, however, minted around the 6th century BCE by the Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain in the time of the Buddha, and certainly before the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The coins of this period were punch-marked coins. Several of these coins had a single symbol, for example, a bull or a swastika.

The Kushan-period gold coins generally depicted iconography from Indian mythology, where Shiva, Buddha and Kartikeya were the major Indian deities portrayed. Other icons were drawn from Greek, Mesopotamian, and Zorastrian mythologies, demonstrating the the fusion of different religions of that period. One wishes that modern India starts imbibing the same values.

Kanishka's coins from the beginning of his reign bear legends in the Greek language and script and depict Greek divinities. Later coins bear legends in Bactrian, the Iranian language that the Kushans spoke, and Greek divinities were replaced by the corresponding Iranian ones.

On the Kushan coins, the King is typically depicted as a bearded man in a long coat and trousers gathered at the ankle, with flames emanating from his shoulders. He wears large rounded boots, and is armed with a long sword similar to a scimitar as well as a lance. He is frequently seen to be making a sacrifice on a small altar. The Kushan gold coins influenced subsequent dynasties, notably the Guptas (4th-6th centuries CE).

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