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Nitin Singhania: Summary of Coins in Ancient India - History for UPSC CSE

Coins in Ancient India

  • Coin- derived from Latin word Cuneus.
  • First recorded use of coins- China & Greece around 700 B.C.
  • India- sixth century BC.
  • Study of coins & medallions- Numismatics.
  • Coins were die-struck manually & so were not uniform.

Punch Marked Coins

  • Earliest coins- casted coins & were die-struck only on one side.
  • One to five marks or symbols incused on single side & termed as ‘Punch Marked’ coins.
  • Panini’s Ashtadhyayi- punch marked coins, metallic pieces were stamped with symbols.
  • Each unit- ‘Ratti’ weighing 0.11 gram.
  • First trace of this coin- in period between sixth & second century BC.

Two of its classifications:

1. Punch marked coins issued by various Mahajanapadas (around 6th century BC).

  • First Indian punch marked coins called Puranas, Karshapanas or Pana.
  • Minted in 6th century BC by various Janapadas & Mahajanapadas of Indo-Gangetic Plain.
  • had irregular shapes, standard weight & were made up of silver with different markings like Saurashtra had a humped bull, Dakshin Panchala had a Swastika & Magadha had generally five symbols.
  • magadhan punch-marked coins- most circulated coins in South Asia.

- These are mentioned in the Manusmriti & Buddhist Jataka stories and lasted three centuries longer in south than in north.

2. Punch marked coins during Mauryan Period (322-185 BC):

- Chanakya, prime minister to first Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya, mentioned minting of punch marked coins such as rupyarupa (silver), suvarnarupa (gold), tamrarupa (copper) & sisarupa (lead) in his Arthashastra treatise.

- Sun & six armed wheel were most consistent symbols.

- Coin contained an average of 50-54 grains of silver & 32 rattis in weight termed as Karshapanas.

 Indo- Greek Coins

(i) Reign of Indo-Greeks -> 180 BC to around 10 AD. The

(ii) Introduced concept of showing bustor head of ruler on the coins.

(iii) Legends on Indian coins were mentioned in two languages - in Greek on one side & in Kharosthi on the other.

(iv) Greek gods & goddesses on lndo-Greek coins were Zeus, Hercules, Apollo & Pallas Athene.

(v) Initially images of Greek deities but later images of Indian deities also incorporated.

(vi) Significant as they carried detailed information about issuing monarch, year of issue & an image of reigning king.

(vii) Made of silver, copper, nickel and lead.

(viii) Coins of Greek kings in India were bilingual- Greek on front side & Pali language (in Kharosthi script) on back.

(ix) lndo-Greek Kushan kings introduced Greek custom of engraving portrait heads on coins.

(x) Kushan coins- adorned with helmeted bust of the king on one side, & king’s favourite deity on reverse.

(xi) Coins by Kanishka- employed only Greek characters.

(xii) Extensive coinage of Kushan Empire- influenced a large number of tribes, dynasties & kingdoms, which began issuing their own coins.

 Coins by Satavahanas

(i) Satavahanas rule- after 232 BC & up to 227 AD.

(ii) Satavahanas mostly used lead for their coins.

(iii) Silver coins were rare.

(iv) Apart from lead, they used an alloy of silver & copper called ‘polin’.

(v) They are devoid of beauty or artistic merit, but constitute a valuable source-material for dynastic history of Satavahanas.

(vi) Had figure of an elephant, horse, lion or Chaitya & Ujjain symbol - a cross with four circles at end oftwo crossing lines, on other side.

(vii) Dialect used- Prakrit

(viii) Cowrie Shell- were another major medium of exchange in early Indian market; were used in large numbers by ordinary masses; carried definite value in market.

Coins of the Western Satraps or the Indo-Scythians

(i) Western Satraps (35-405 AD)- dominion in Western India, originally comprising Malwa, Gujarat & Kathiawar.

(ii) Were of Saka origin.

(iii) Coins of Western Satraps- of great historical importance.

(iv) They bear dates in Saka era, which started from 78 AD.

(v) Coins of Western Satraps- head of king on one side and on other side, they carry device of Buddhist chaitya or stupa (borrowed from Satavahanas).

(vi) Prakrit language - generally used.

Coins issued in Gupta Age

(i) Gupta age (319 AD-550 AD)- period of great Hindu revival.

(ii) Gupta coins - mainly made of gold, silver & copper coins too were made.

(iii) Silver coins- issued only after Chandragupta II overthrew Western Satraps.

(iv) Many types & varieties of Gupta gold coins.

(v) On one side- king standing & making oblations before an altar, playing the veena, performing ashvamedha, riding a horse or an elephant, slaying a lion or a tiger or a rhinocerous with a sword or bow, or sitting on a couch.

(vi) On other side- goddess Lakshmi seated on a throne or a lotus seal, or figure of the queen herself.

(vii) Inscriptions on coins- in Sanskrit (Brahmi script) for first time in the history of coins.

(viii) Gupta Coins depicted emperors in both martial activities & leisurely activities.

(ix) End of Gupta rule in sixth century due to a Hun invasion-^a number of local kingdoms rose in different regions issuing region-specific coins poor in both metallic content & artistic design.
(x) Thus, till thirteenth century, a mix of designs borrowed from Kushana-Gupta pattern & foreign designs were employed by the dynasties in Western, Eastern, Northern & Central India.
(xi) South India- different coin paradigm moving towards a gold standard, inspired from Roman gold coins, which arrived in region during first three centuries of first millennium.

Coins of the Vardhanas
(i) Varadhanas of Taneshwar & Kannauj- turned out Hun invaders from India in late 6th century.
(ii) Most powerful of their kings- Harshavardhana (his empire comprised almost whole of Northern India).
(iii) Silver coins on one side had head of king & on other side, figure of a peacock.
(iv) Dates on coins of Harshavardhana- reckoned in a new era, which began in AD 606, year of his coronation.

Coins of Chalukyan Kings
(i) Western Chalukyan dynasty (6th century AD)- founded by Pulakesin 1
(ii) His capital- Badami in Karnataka.
(iii) One side of coin- image of a temple or a lion & legends; other sid- left blank.
(iv) Coins of Eastern Chalukyan dynasty (7th century AD)- symbol of boar at centre, around whicheach letter of king’s name was inscribed by a separate punch.
(v) Other side- left blank.

Coins of the Rajput Dynasties
(i) Coins of Rajput dynasties (11 th—12th century)- mostly of gold, copper or billon (an alloy of silver and copper) but very rarely silver.
(ii) Two types of Rajput coinage:
1. One type showed ‘name of king in Sanskrit on one side & a goddess on other side.
- Made by Kalachuris, Chandellas of Bundelkhand, Tomars of Ajmer & Delhi and Rathores of Kannauj.
2. Other type of silver coins had a seated bull on one side & a horseman on the other.
- Introduced by kings of Gandhara or Sindh.

Coins of the Pandyan and Chola Dynasty
(i) Coins of Pandyan dynasty- square shaped with image of elephant in early period.
(ii) Later, fish- very important symbol in coins.
(iii) Gold & silver coins- inscriptions in Sanskrit & copper coins in tamil.
(iv) Coins of Chola king Raja Raja-I had standing king on one side & seated goddess on other side with inscriptions in Sanskrit.
(v) Rajendra-I’s coins- legend ‘Sri Rajendra’ or ‘Gangaikonda Chola’ inscribed with emblems of tiger & fish.
(vi) Coins of Pallava dynasty- figure of a lion.

Turkish and Delhi Sultanate Coins
(i) Had inscriptions of king’s name, title & date as per Hijri calendar.
(ii) Did not bear any image of issuing monarch as there was a prohibition of idolatry in Islam.
(iii) First time, name of mint was also inscribed in coins.
(iv) Sultans of Delhi issued gold, silver, copper & billon coins.
(v) Silver Tanka & Copper Jital- introduced by Iltutmish.
(vi) Alauddin Khilji- changed existing design by dropping name of Khalif & replaced it by self-praising titles.
(vii) Muhammad bin Tughlaq- bronze & copper coins and also issued token paper currency which was a flop.
(viii) Sher Shah Suri (1540-1545)- introduced two standards of weight-one of 178 grains for silver coins & one of 330 grains for copper coins-> were later known as rupee & dam respectively.

Vijayanagara Empire Coins
(i) Vijayanagara Empire (14th-17th century)- issued large quantities of gold coins; other metals used were pure silver & copper.
(ii) Pagodas—higher denomination -figure of running warrior along with dagger symbol
(iii) Gold fanams - fractional units
(iv) Silver taras - fractional units
(v) Copper coins - day to day transactions.
(vi) Earlier Vijayanagara coinage- produced in different mints & had different names such as Barkur gadyanas, Bhatkal gadyanas, etc.
(vii) Inscriptions in Kannada or Sanskrit.
(viii) Images- double-headed eagle holding an elephant in each beak and claw, a bull, an elephant and various Hindu deities.
(ix) Gold varahan coin by Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529) had a seated Vishnu on one side and a three-line legend Shri Pratap Krishna Raya in Sanskrit on the other side.

Mughal Coinage
(i) Standard gold coin of Mughals- Moliur of about 170 to 175 grains.
(ii) Abul Fazl in‘Ain-i-Akbari’ indicated that Mohur was equivalent to nine rupees.
(iii) Half & quarter mohurs are also known.
(iv) Silver rupee (adoption from Sher Shah’s currency)- most famous of all Mughal coins.
(v) Mughal copper coin- adopted from Sher Shah’s dam.
(vi) Akbar- issued both round & square coins.
(vii) 1579- gold coins called Ilahi coins to propagate his new religious creed ‘Din-i-Illahi’.
(viii) On this coin, it was written ‘God is great, may his glory be glorified’.
(ix) Value of ilahi coin- equal to 10 rupees.
(x) Sahansah- largest gold coin.
(xi) These coins bore names of persian solar months.
(xii) Jahangir showed legend in couplet in coins.
(xiii) In some of his coins, he added name of his wife Noorjahan. His most famous coins had images of Zodiac signs.

Important Facts
(i) Earliest reference of coins in Indian context- found in Vedas.
(ii) Nishka- term used for coins made up of metals.
(iii) Sher Shah Suri, 16th century ruler of Afghan lineage introduced Rupee. It was a silver currency.
(iv) Then one rupee was equal to four coins made of copper.
(v) Indian currency- still called Rupee.
(vi) Rupya- made of silver & weighed almost 11.34 grams.
(vii) Ancient India- people used money trees to store their coins.
(viii) Money tree- flat piece of metal, shaped like a tree, with metal branches & at end of each branch was a round disk with a hole in centre.
(ix) Gupta kings stamped their given names on front of their coin & assumed names ending with “aditya,” or sun at the back.
(x) Chhatrapati Shivaji- issued gold huns & copper Shivarais with his titles in Nagari script.
(xi) Wodeyar dynasty (Mysore:: 1399-1947) coins of King Kanthiraya Narasa bore image of Narasimha avatar of Vishnu & weighed six to eight grains.
(xii) Haidar Ali- overthrew Wodeyar dynasty & continued their coinage with the figures of Shiva & Parvati on earlier gold pagodas. Tipu Sultan used two eras in his coins.

The document Nitin Singhania: Summary of Coins in Ancient India | History for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Nitin Singhania: Summary of Coins in Ancient India - History for UPSC CSE

1. What are the different types of coins used in ancient India?
Ans. Ancient India used various types of coins such as punch-marked coins, cast coins, and die-struck coins. Punch-marked coins were made by punching symbols on metal pieces, cast coins were made by pouring molten metal into a mold, and die-struck coins were made by striking a metal blank with a die.
2. How were the designs and inscriptions on ancient Indian coins created?
Ans. The designs and inscriptions on ancient Indian coins were created using various techniques. Punch-marked coins had symbols punched onto them using punches and dies. Cast coins had designs and inscriptions created on the mold, which would transfer onto the coin when the molten metal was poured. Die-struck coins had designs and inscriptions engraved on metal dies, which were then used to strike the coin blanks.
3. What were the materials used to make ancient Indian coins?
Ans. Ancient Indian coins were made from various materials, including gold, silver, copper, and alloys. The choice of material depended on the value and purpose of the coin. Gold and silver coins were often used for higher denominations, while copper coins were more commonly used for smaller transactions.
4. How did the use of coins in ancient India contribute to economic development?
Ans. The use of coins in ancient India played a significant role in economic development. Coins facilitated trade and commerce by providing a standardized medium of exchange. They also helped in measuring value, making transactions more convenient. The circulation of coins encouraged economic growth, as it promoted specialization, increased market integration, and facilitated the accumulation of wealth.
5. Were there any counterfeit coins in ancient India?
Ans. Yes, counterfeit coins were prevalent in ancient India. The lack of advanced minting techniques made it easier for counterfeiters to create fake coins. Counterfeit coins were usually made from base metals or alloys and were designed to mimic the appearance of genuine coins. The existence of counterfeit coins posed challenges to the authenticity and trustworthiness of the currency system in ancient India.
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