Tag Archive | Gupta Empire

Coins of the Gupta Empire

images (30)The splendid gold coinage of Guptas, with its many types and infinite varieties and its inscriptions in Sanskrit, are the finest examples of the purely Indian art that we possess. Their era starts from around 320 with Chandragupta I’s accession of the throne. Son of Chandragupta I-Samudragupta, the real founder of the Gupta Empire had coinage made of gold only. There were seven different varieties of coins that appeared during his reign. Out of them the archer type is the most common and characteristic type of the Gupta dynasty coins, which were struck by at least eight succeeding kings and was a standard type in the kingdom.

The silver coinage of Guptas starts with the overthrow of the Western Satraps by Chandragupta II. Kumaragupta and Skandagupta continued with the old type of coins (the Garuda and the Peacock types) and also introduced some other new types. The copper coinage was mostly confined to the era of Chandragupta II, and was more original in design. Eight out of the nine types known to have been struck by him have a figure of Garuda and the name of the King on it. The gradual deterioration in design and execution of the gold coins and the disappearance of silver money, bear ample evidence to their curtailed territory. The percentage of gold in Indian coins under the reign of Gupta rulers showed a steady financial decline over the centuries as it decreases from 90% pure gold under Chandragupta I (319-335) to a mere 75-80% under Skandagupta.

During the Indo-Scythians period whose era begins from 200 BCE to 400 CE, a new kind of the coins of two dynasties were very popular in circulation in various parts of the then India and parts of central and northern South Asia (Sogdiana, Bactria, Arachosia, Gandhara, Sindh, Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) These dynasties were Saka and The Pahlavas. After the conquest of Bactria by the Sakas in 135 BCE there must have been considerable intercourse sometimes of a friendly, sometimes of a hostile character, between them and the Parthians, who occupied the neighbouring territory.

Maues, whose coins are found only in the Punjab, was the first king of what may be called the Azes group of princes. His silver is not plentiful; the finest type is that with a “biga” (two-horsed chariot) on the obverse, and to this type belongs a square hemidrachm, the only square aka silver coin known. His commonest copper coins, with an elephant’s head on the obverse and a “Caduceus” (staff of the god Hermes) on the reverse are imitated from a round copper coin of Demetrius. On another copper square coin of Maues the king is represented on horseback. This striking device is characteristic both of the Saka and Pahlava coinage; it first appears in a slightly different form on coins of the Indo-Greek Hippostratos; the Gupta kings adopted it for their “horseman” type, and it reappears in Mediaeval India on the coins of numerous Hindu kingdoms, and was even employed by Muhammadan invaders until the 14th century CE.