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An Emerging Story

Map #1: Baktria

I have been accumulating some interesting, and good looking coins from Asia, roughly areas today that are Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The map (Wikipedia CCSA-3.0) shows the maximum extent of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom circa 180 BCE. Like pieces of a puzzle they are starting to come together to tell a story. It is a story of change in rulers, conflict and blending of cultures that is still taking shape, fragmented and incomplete. Here's what I have so far: Hermaios was the last Indo-Greek ruler of the Gandhara.

Bactria, Indo-Greek Kingdom, Hermaios, circa 105-90 BCE, Æ Tetradrachm (23mm, 9g, 12h), postumous issue, struck circa 90-50 BC

Obv: Diademed and draped bust right

Rev: Zeus seated slightly left, extending arm and holding scepter; monograms flanking

The first Yuezhi ruler, Sapalbizes, ruled around 20 BCE, and minted in Greek and in the style of the western Indo-Greek kings, probably depending on Greek (Bactrian) mints and celators.

Yuezhi, Sapalbizes (Sapadbizes) AR Hemidrachm. Late 1st century BC.

Obv: Helmeted and draped bust to right; CAΠAΛBIZHC around

Rev: Lion standing to right; crescent and Λ above, NANAIA to left and right.

Ref: ANS Kushan 1-2; Senior A6.1; HGC 12, 516. 1.24g, 15mm, 12h.

Note: Extremely Fine - few coins show so clearly all elements and this coin confirms the name Sapalbizes instead of Sapadbizes. Nanaia is a moon goddess.

Hermaios' coinage was imitated by the conquering Greater Yuezhi, a nomadic pastoralist society known for their horses. They came from western China and conquered Bactria ~140-125 BC. The Yuezhi ("Da Yuezhi") transitioned from nomadic to sedentary, agricultural society as they expanded control, integrated diverse cultures and populations of the region and became the Kushan empire in the 1st century CE.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Hermaios Soter, circa 105-90 BCE, AR tetradrachm, Posthumous Indo-Skythian imitation, uncertain mint in Gandhara, struck circa 55-45 BC

Obv: Hermaios Soter diademed and draped bust right

Rev: Zeus enthroned slightly left, holding scepter and raising hand in benediction; monogram to left, Kharoshthi letter to right

Ref: Bopearachchi 14F

At some point a Yuezhi ruler, Kujula Kadphises, conquered other Yuezhi rulers and established himself as king.

Ancient Indian Coins, Kujula Kadphises, circa. AD 30-80, Æ drachm (16mm, 2.15g)

Obv: Laureate head right in Roman emperor style, with blundered Greek legend around

Rev: Nike standing left, winged, holding diadem in extended right hand; Kharoshthi legend around, Maharajasa rayarayasa mahatasa Heramayasa (of Great King, King of Kings, Hermaeus the Great)

Ref: ANS Kushan 133-142 (imitations of Hermaios/Nike type); HGC 12, 312. Rare. The obverse is an early Kushan imitation of the Indo-Greek tetradrachm of Hermaios, while the reverse design is copied from the Indo-Parthian coins of Gondophares (AD 36-50).

Here is a coin from the Khushan empire at the end of the 1st century CE from the son of Kujula Kadphises, Vima Takto.

Kushan Empire, Vima Takto Æ Didrachm, "Soter Megas". Uncertain mint (possibly Begram) mint, CE 80-113

Obv: Radiate and diademed bust to right, holding sceptre; tamgha to left

Rev: King on horseback to right, holding axe; tamgha to lower right

Ref: ANS Kushan 186-95; Senior B17.1vT (listed as tetradrachm); Donum Burns 60.

Vima Takto's son was Vima Kadphises, the first Kushan king to mint gold coins.

India, Kushan Empire, Vima Kadphises, circa CE 113-127, copper tetradrachm (29.5mm, 16.85g, 12h), main mint in Begram

Rev: Siva standing facing, holding trident; behind, the bull Nandi standing right; Buddhist triratana (Three Jewels) to left

Obv: Vima Kadphises standing facing, head left, sacrificing over altar; trident to left, tamgha and club to right

Ref: MK 762; ANS Kushan 300-2; Donum Burns 87-105

Vima Kadphises was the father of Kanishka.

Map 2: Kushan Empire

India, Kushan Empire, Kanishka I, circa CE 127-151, Æ Drachm (16mm, 3.8g, 12h), Kashmir mint

Obv: Kanishka standing left, holding goad and standard, sacrificing over altar; sam in Kharosthi to right

Rev: Mao standing left, lunar horns at shoulders, extending hand in benediction and holding hilt of sword; tamgha to left

Obv: MK 802; ANS Kushan 642-5; Donum Burns 195-8; Zeno –

Note: "lunar horns" appear to be a way of describing the"horns" of a crescent moon for lunar god Mao, an important Zoroastrian lunar deity found on the coins of the Kushan Empire in martial dress. Mao is linked with the female goddess in Greek mythology: Selene, the lunar sister of Helios.

  • MK == Göbl, Robert. Münzprägung des Kusanreiches. Österreichischen Akademie Der Wissenschaften. (Wien, 1984).

  • ANS Kushan == Jongeward, D. & J. Cribb. Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins: A Catalogue of Coins from the American Numismatic Society. (New York, 2015).

Huvishka I ascended to the throne on the death of Kanishka I

Kushan, Huvishka, ca. 155-187, AE unit (10.34g), local issue of the Taxila region.

Obv: King riding elephant left, holding elephant goad, Bactrian legend around: þAONANOþ OOηþKE KOþANO

Rev: deity Oesho (Shiva?) standing, facing left, holding long spear in right hand, tamgha on left

Ref: Mitch 3291/3301

In 233 CE, Ardashir I Kushanshah, was appointed by Sasasnian King of the same name, Ardashir I, as a Sasanian ruler and perhaps family member to replace Kushan rule, eventually covering the Turkharistan, Kabulistan and Gandhara regions. (The purple region in the map below).

Here is a coin of Ardashir I Kushanshah:

Kushano-Sasanians, Ardaxšīr (Ardashir I–II), circa CE 233-246, Æ (19mm, 3.59 g, 1h), Merv mint

Obv: Crowned bust right

Rev: Anahit seated facing under domed canopy, holding wreath and scepter

Ref: Carter –; Cribb 16; MK 1028; Donum Burns 831-46

Note: Anahit or Anahita is a Zoroastrian goddess of water and fertility

Here's are two Kushano-Sasanian AEs from Hormizd I Kushanshah

Kushano-Sasanian, Hormizd I, circa 265-295. AE (Bronze, 14.5 mm, 2.2g), mint in Baktria, probably Balkh.

Obv: Draped bust of Hormizd I to right, wearing crown with decorated korymbos and a lion's head; before head, 'AWHRMYZDY MLKA' ('Hormiz King' in Pahlawi)

Rev: 'BWLZAWNDY YZDTY' ('Exalted God', in Pahlawi) Exalted God emerges from fire altar, holding diadem in his right hand and long spear in his left

Ref: ANS Kushan, 2235

Kushano-Sasanians, Hormizd I, circa 275-300 CE, AE Unit (Bronze, 15x17mm, 3.46g)

Obv: bust of Hormizd I to right, wearing crown

Rev: Fire altar

Fig #1 Anahita 4th-6thC. Vessel

Around 360–370 CE, a Kidarite kingdom replaced the Kushano-Sasanian kingdom. The Kidarites, were the first wave of people from Central Asia to enter Indian Subcontinent via the via the Khyber Pass, a mountain pass near the modern border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 390-410 CE they expanded to include the remnants of the Kushan Empire.

Sasanian King Vahram (420-438 CE), aka Vahrahan or Bahram, was born around 400 CE to the Sasanian King Yazdegard I (399-420 CE) and his wife Shushandukht. His mother was the daughter of Jewish Mesopotamian exilarch, a leader in the Jewish community.

Yaudheya was an ancient militant confederation they emerged in the 5th century BCE, governed independently for a while, were incorporated into the Maurya Empire, regained autonomy, they were then conquered by the Western Kshatraps, briefly won autonomy again and joined the Kushan Empire.

Yaudheyas, Anonymous,circa 3rd-4th Century AD. Æ 25mm (11.38 gm)

Obv: Karttikeya standing facing, holding spear and resting hand on hip; peacock standing left in right field

Rev: Female (Karttikeya's consort Devasena?) standing left, wearing earrings, necklace, and bracelets, extending hand and resting other hand on hip; vase of flowers in left field; inverted Nandipada symbol in right field

Ref: Mitchiner 4711

Sasanian King, Vahram I, fought a significant and decisive war with the Kidarite Huns in the eastern part of Sasanian territory. Vahram ultimately killing the Kidarite king and forced out the Kidarites.

Peroz I was the Sasanian King 459 to 484 CE, son of Yazdegerd II, and grandson of Bahram V.

Sasanian, Peroz I, ca. CE 457-484, AR drachm

Obv: Pahlavi legend, bust of Peroz I facing, head right, wearing crown with two wings, frontal crescent, and korymbos set on crescent, ribbon over each shoulder

Rev: Pahlavi legend, fire altar with ribbons, flanked by two attendants; star and crescent flanking flames

Size: 4.11g, 27.3mm

The Alchon Empire was the third of four Hun states established in Central and South Asia. The Alchon Huns, an nomadic people in the 4th an-6th centuries CE, came after the Kidarites and were displaced by the Hephthalites in Bactria and the Nezak Huns in the Hindu Kush. Sasanian King, Peroz I, was defeated by the Hepthalites in 474 CE. The Helpthalites were initially his allies, as Peroz replaced his brother as king of the Sasanian Empire, however they fought three wars in two of which Peroz was captured and ransomed. The Hepthalites received tributes from the Sanssanian empire until the rise of Kushro I, son of Kavadh I and grandson of Peroz I.

Sasanian Kings, Kavadh I (second reign, CE 499-531) AR Drachm, ML (Merv) mint, RY 34 = CE 522/3

Obv: Draped bust of Kavadh I to right, wearing mural crown with frontal crescent and korymbos set on crescent

Rev: Fire altar with ribbons flanked by two attendants; star and pellet flanking flames

Hunnic Tribes, Alchon Huns, Narana-Narenda, Late 4th-early 5th century CE, Æ Drachm

Obv: Crowned bust right [holding palm and fruits?]

Rev: Incuse of obverse

Ref: M. 1444, Göbl, Hunnen Em. 150

This coin which is from one of the small Kidarite kingdoms that survived in northwest India, Jammu and Kashmir. One can certainly see the connections between the Early 4th century Kidarite coins (outside gold coin from a recent Leu Auction and not my coin) and my Kidarite coin of the 7th/8th century (inside debased gold coin).

Map 3: Kidarite Empire

Kidara of Kashmir (Kidarite), Durlabhadeva (7-8th Century CE), Electrum, 20-22mm, 7.48g

Obv: a highly stylized depiction of the king standing facing towards an altar in the left field, the Brahmi legends "Kidara" and"Jaya" under his arms and an additional letter "Ka" in the left field

Rev: a highly stylized depiction of the goddess Ardokhsho (Lakshmi) enthroned, the Brahmi legends "Shri Durla & "Deva" in the left field

Note: Joe Cribb's article on the early medieval coinage of Kashmir appeared in Numismatic Digest, vol. 40 (2016), pp. 86-112.

Kidara of Kashmir (Kidarite), Vinayaditya, 7th/8th century, debased dinar (7.15g)

Obv: highly stylized king standing left

Rev: Abstract Ardoksho seated facing, sri vinaya / ditya in Brahmi

Ref: Mitch-3656/60, Cribb-32

Note: this coin appears to copper with very little gold, perhaps a contemporary imitation or illegal strike at the official mint, bold VF-EF. Joe Cribb's article on the early medieval coinage of Kashmir appeared in Numismatic Digest, vol. 40 (2016), pp. 86-112.

That's where the notes end for now, more research needed....


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