FROM A TO Z SERIES
PAKISTAN - part 1
I am, as everyone reading this knows, a citizen of
the United States of America, and my country has complex and interesting
(not to mention vexing) relations with Pakistan. Actually, most or
all nations that have business with Pakistan have relations complex and
interesting (not to mention vexing). Even I personally, when I wear
my coin dealer hat (which I do most every day) have relations with Pakistan,
or rather Pakistanis, and the transactions, and attempts at such, are complex
and interesting (not to mention vexing). Perhaps everyone has interactions
of these qualities when dealing with things and people Pakistani.
This is, after all, a country with about 35% literacy that has nevertheless grown its own nuclear industry and produced its own atomic bombs.
Let me tell you some stories of dealing with Pakistan. I've been buying things from there for decades. There are antiquities export laws of course, but there are laws about all sorts of things in Pakistan and very few people pay attention to them. There was a briefly famous story a few years back about a centuries old religious shrine in some Pakistani city that because of its beauty and historicity had been designated as a national treasure by the national government. The guy who owned property next to it petitioned the municipal government to let him expand his parking lot and the local government approved the request, supposedly without bothering to research the status of the shrine. The guy brought in bulldozers at night and razed the shrine. The national government complained, but it was a bit late. This happened in a big town, not in some tribal village on the Northwest Frontier.
Pakistani legal procedure.
Anyway, the coin stories. Story one: years ago, before the internet, I was contacted by a guy offering Indo-Greek silver drachms of that famous (to some people) Indo-Greek ruler Menander. Condition XF, how much would I pay? I checked the market as it was at that time and offered $75.00, thinking that would be reasonable for a few specimens (don't try this at home - it would be a wild overpayment today). He wrote back and told me to bring $15,000 in cash to an inconvenient airport in the USA where I would meet an associate of his who would bring me 200 pieces. He was setting me up for a snocker. That kind of quantity should get you a minimum of 50% discount. I wrote him back and told him to forget it.
Some years later I saw a picture of him in the Oriental Numismatic Society Journal. Nice smile.
In the ensuing years I was contacted by several other people in Pakistan with things to sell. Negotiations with most turned out to be fruitless, but one developed into a relationship that has persisted over decades.
Story two: for at least a decade now I have been receiving regular shipments of coins and small antiques and antiquities from a person Pakistan. The arrangement is that I get the stuff, I put a price on it, I send the money. Though my offers are often met which complaints about their lowness they have only been refused once. I was to send the returns to a USA address. The person at that address was several times supposed to be sending me some "serious" high quality stuff, but that has never happened. The things I've received from Pakistan have been varied in type and quality but the former has been notable in the total lack of certain categories such as Indo-Greek tetradrachms and the latter by the uniform absence of anything of quality better than the occasional "B+." In fact, taking the corroded trash, broken antiquities, 50 year old pot metal jewelry, and fakes the overall quality grade can't be better than "C," maybe a bit less.
The interesting thing about this particular relationship is that this supplier shows no capacity whatsoever to learn from experience. Over a decade there has been no improvement in quality and no diminution of the proportion of counterfeits. I have sent extensive written instructions. I have sent pictures of what I want. No matter. It has proven impossible even to reduce the quantity of useless corroded coins sent. And the sole result of my asking for some particular thing has been the very occasional receipt of a counterfeit (or several) of the requested item.
Still, in spite of everything, it seems to sort of work for both of us. It must be the case. I keep getting packages and I keep making payments.
Story three: among the packages received from this source were some cut gems, specifically rubies of low quality. I looked around at the gem market and found that over here those stones would probably have been ground up for sandpaper. The colored stone market is utterly, totally, and completely saturated at every level and there is no money to be made except at the very tippy top. I wrote back informing of this situation, offered a pittance for the stones (which was accepted) and advised not to send any more. I was ignored - more arrived and I paid even less. I sold a few for $12, a few for $25, a few for $50, and a few are left.
Meanwhile I was contacted again, a dozen years later, by Mr. "Meet-My-Friend-At-The-Airport," who was now using a different name, a not uncommon practice there, where a complete name might take up a line or two of close-set type. Asked if I might be interested in opening business relations I responded by reminding of our previous attempts at getting something going and expressing a wish for NORMAL negotiations, were any coins available? The response was that all of the coins were going somewhere else and none were available for me, would I like some antiquities? Well, not as much as coins, but go ahead and show me.
In due course I received an email with attached pictures showing small stone chunks with Gandhara style figures carved on them. None were bigger than my medium sized foot. None were complete. No prices. OK, I emailed back, how much? I had within the year bought similar items in terra cotta for $5, $10, $20. The cat-and-mouse reply from Pakistan: how much did I want to pay?
So I went ahead in the American way and put prices I could stand to pay - $50, 100. From Pakistan comes the answer: $8000 for this one, $12,000 for that one.
I am told that there is a standard bargaining technique over there. It's like you go to the bakery for a loaf of bread. Price is $600.00 per loaf. You're supposed to offer $0.03 for 20 loaves. After 3 hours of friendly chitchat, during which you insult each other's families and threaten to kill each other, you're supposed to settle "in the middle" at $1.00 per loaf.
I like my bargaining to be limited to 3 steps: I offer low, you offer high, we meet in the middle. I don't have time for that glacial shaggy dog soap opera bargaining. I wrote back to just keep the stuff, I really wanted coins anyway.
The end of that story: a few months later I got a spam from the guy. RUBIES! With a pic attached. They were from the same batch as the ones I got from the other source for which I paid less than $10.00 each. The low grade sandpaper stones. How much were these rubies? Only one lot of 13 stones available for only $9000. Hurry!
OK, let's get started. Pakistan is significantly
bigger than Texas. The north is arid mountains. The south is
lowland desert. Afghanistan to the northwest. Iran to the southwest.
India to the east. Several different lanquages. Although the
state religion is Islam, and the population is about 95% Muslim, the government
is officially religiously tolerant. Half the population is kids.
Tenth most populous country in the world. A lot of emigration, probably
most people in the "first world" know some Pakistani immigrants.
But of course even more have stayed behind.
The eastern plains, called the Punjab after the five (punj) rivers (ab) that meet to join the Indus, are the home of one of the earliest literate civilizations. The two major Indus cities: Mohenjo-Daro (upriver from Karachi) and Harappa (between Lahore and Multan), seem to have sprung up suddenly around 2500 BC. This is about 1000 years later than early Sumeria, but whereas no one knows where the Sumerians came from the Indus culture was evidently homegrown.
The Indus people had writing, but it has not been deciphered yet. Their cities had streets laid out in a grid and organized water supply. They worshipped gods and goddesses. But aside from the ruins of the cities themselves there is not very much in the way of artifacts except for some terra cotta objects, stone, and bronze objects.
My Pakistani sources have sent me a few of these objects. Of particular interest are small statuettes of women. Some are almost but not quite naked, others have fairly elaborate drapery. Usually the hair arrangement is complex. These are goddess figures, evidently one of their major cults, as they are fairly common. Male figures on the other hand are rather rare. Animal figures are not uncommon, mostly bulls, goats, etc..
There is bronze associated with the Indus Valley culture, but evidently not so much of it was used. Tools were made of stone and bone for the most part. They made beads out of stone as well, some of them large, some of them of lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. And they made stone seals, both flat and cylinder types. My sources have sent both beads and seals. A few of the beads may have been genuine, though as time went on it became increasingly obvious that many were modern fakes. All of the seals I've received have been fakes, and rather egregiously crude at that.
Those guys definitely did not use coins. It is possible that they had no exchange economy either, the distribution of goods motivated by religious obligation rather than profit and loss calculations. There have been other cultures in other times and places that organized their economies that way, so it is not impossible. No evidence either way.
There is also not much evidence at all in the way of military activity. Warfare seemed not to be one of their activities. It seems that for about a millennium the Indus Valley culture prospered in peace. This picture is mirrored to some extent by the neolithic cultures of Mediterranean Europe, typified by the people who built the monumental stone structures of Malta.
The Neolithic cultures were disrupted by warlike pastoral nomads whose invincible weapons were bronze metalwork and horses. In Europe the nomads were the proto-Mycenaeans. Further east the Indus Valley culture was overwhelmed by people who have come to be known as Aryans.
Up to ten years ago or so it was thought that the Indus people were small and dark, that they were the ancestors of the people now called "Dravidian," most of whom now live in southern India. And it was thought that the Aryans were tall and light colored. The story went that their arrival was a catclysm, that they came like the Mongols and destroyed everything in their path. Lately though people have been remarking that there seems to be no evidence of such stirring events - no titanic battles, no destroyed cities. In fact, it has been noted that there really is no evidence on the ground of any coherent culture that could be assigned as Aryan. Of course they were nomads, so you wouldn't expect to find cities or anything like that. But the nomadic Scythians left all sorts of stuff for us to find, and so did the Huns. But there is no bronze sword that anyone can call Aryan, no horse tack, not even any campfires, no evidence of the horse sacrifices that nomads used to like to make. So now some people are saying - maybe no Aryan invasion. Tall, fair, horses, bronze, warlike, sure, but slow infiltration over centuries rather than an invasion short and swift. And the eventual appearance of the classical Vedic culture with its pantheon of dieties, some from the Indus culture, some from the horse people, and the caste system based on skin color and language, because by the historical period of c. 500 BC those cultural characteristics were certainly present.
Another characteristic of that later ancient culture was trade economy, and it was about that time that the people of the Indus Valley, at that point a mix of Dravidic and Aryan strains, started using little standardized bits of metal, that is to say coins, in their commerce. These were the famous (to some people) punchmarked coins.
Around 600 BC there existed a culture complex stretching
from eastern Afghanistan to the Ganges Valley, from the mountains of the
north down into Saurashtra in western India (modern world coin people think
of the Indian native state of Kutch). The culture complex had been
formed over the previous half millennium of the melding of the sedentary
Indus Valley people with the northern nomads we call “Aryans.”
The people displayed a range of ethnic types: tall, short, light, dark,
speaking a number of languages. They worshiped a number of dieties
with a number of rituals, and derived their sustenance from one of two
methods: cereal agriculture and cattle herding, with a bit of international
trade on the edges.
Socially the cattle herders were dominant. By that time they had introduced and made dominant the religiously enforced social stratification we now call the caste system, which basically goes: priests on top, warriors next, farmers next, then merchants and artisans, then critical basic infrastructure maintenance workers and other riffraff.
Economically the dominance of the formerly nomadic herders had disrupted the sea old trade and agricultural system of the Indus Valley culture, and the Indus cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa had dwindled to ruins. New towns had risen to prominence: Taxila near the modern capital Islamabad. Pushkalavati (modern Peshawar), Kapisa (Kabul region in Afghanistan), Gandhara (Qandahar), and there were of course developments further east in the Ganges valley on India proper.. These towns took part in a new trade that was developing along the trans-Eurasian “silk road.”
Political organization was essentially the city-state “system,” which is to say that the balance of powers relied on local rather than centralized control. These city-states are referred to as “janadapadas” in the literature. The bigger ones are called “mahajanapadas.” Lots of civic autonomy, weak urban dominance of surrounding hinterland, tolls and local taxes everywhere, frequent small armed conflicts between towns or regions. In other words, pretty much the situation in Afghanistan today.
The religious milieu of the region would be recognizable as Hinduism, with many of the dieties known today, but it was the warlike Vedic Hinduism of meat eaters, horse sacrifices, conquest.
The horse sacrifice: at an astrologically propitious time a Vedic king would declare a horse sacrifice. A white stallion was chosen and an army assembled. The horse was set loose to wander where it wished. The army followed, engaging and attempting to conquer any new territory entered. At the end of a year the horse was sacrificed. Interesting way to access the will of heaven, don’t you think?
Way to the east was China, involved at this time in internal nation building. To the west was Iran, where the Achaemenid Persians were assembling an expanding empire.
According to Mitchiner in his “Oriental Coins and their Values” it had become common in the 7th century BCE for metal traded on the silk road to be carried in bars of various sizes. Around 600 BCE such bars in base silver, of a conviently small size, began to be used in local trade around Taxila and Gandhara. At more or less the same time, give or take about 70 years, similar items, of a more coinlike morphology (round & thin) began to circulate further east. These things were stamped with one or more small punches rather than the whole planchet dies used in the west, and the whole complex is known to us numismatists as the “punchmarked” series. Among them is to be found the “first” south Asian coin, of antiquity equal to the earliest coin/ingots of Lydia, and probably to the earliest numismata of China.
But which one was first? Hard to say. These punchmarked coins have been known to numismatists since the 19th century, but had not been seriously systematized until the 1980s or so. Since then it has been possible to devise a reasonable chronology of the coins based on find data, morphology, weight, punch associations, etc., the usual tools of scientific numismatics, along with a dollop or more of assumption, supposition, guesswork.
The picture that emerges is of a set of issues of autonomous janapadas of the 6th - 5th century BCE, followed by mahajanapada coins as some city states were absorbed by others, usually by conquest, and finally by royal issues of the kingdom of Magadha, its successor the Mauryan empire, and the Sunga kingdom that followed the Mauryan demise.
The earliest pieces were made according to a weight standard called “satamana,” which translates as “100 units,” the unit in question being the “rati,” the average weight of a certain red seed. The satamana of about 11.2 grams turns out to be equivalent to two Persian sigloi, and by coincidence to the old silver rupee as well. Half satamana coins of fairly good silver were made at various locations in India proper. They tend to be roundish, thin, often slightly cupped, with between one and four carefully positioned punches. The rarest of these are getting in excess of $500.00 these days, with the cheapest going for something under $100.00. I took a brief stroll through the web and didn’t see any of these earliest punchmarked Indian coins for sale.
In Pakistan/Afghanistan on the other hand, Taxila and/or Gandhara produced a coinage of bar shaped satamanas and round, scyphate (cupped) eighths. Mitchiner has a picture of a half (OCV vol. 1 #4078), but that coin lacks the normal stamp so maybe he misattributed it. At any rate it is very rare. Because the satamanas are curved in side view they are called “bent bars.” They are stamped on each end with a seven-armed solar symbol. Silver content tends to be on the low side. The roundish eighths have a single stamp on one side. A series of imitation bars in silver plated copper is known from the upper Ganges valley to the east.
Both bent bar satamanas and eighths are available on the collector market. While not the earliest south Asian coins, they can reasonably be assumed to be the first of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An important chapter in human history occurred in the region during the 6th century BCE. This was the life and career of Siddhartha Gautama, who came to be known as the Buddha. His message in some ways resembled that of Martin Luther in a later age. He claimed that it was possible to obtain the fruits of the spiritual tree without the intercession of priests, and that the claims and demands of the social (caste) system were empty and meaningless. One of the miracles of his life was that such a revolutionary doctrine produced no violence, not by his followers and not by the old guard. On the contrary, he lived a long and successful life and left behind one of the world’s great religions.
In the mid-6th century BCE one of the Ganges valley states, Magadha, became dominant in the region and remained the preiminent janapada for a century and a half. The expansion of Magadha is attributed to a king named Bimbisara, mentioned in Buddist texts as a contemporary and friend of the Buddha. The texts go on to narrate that most of the Magadhan rulers of the next century were parricides and all of them were wicked fools. That didn’t interfere with Magadhan commercial success. It became quite wealthy, and Magadhan coins of the 4th century are fairly common.
Early Magadhan coins followed the model of the other early janapada states. A single large central punchmark was surrounded by several minor marks. Banker’s countermarks started to appear on the formerly blank reverses. Around the time of Bimbisara, circa 546 - 494 BCE, the satamana standard was abandoned and the weight standard was set at about 4.5 grams, about a 20% reduction. The type modified to a series of five stamps crudely applied in a jumble. This became the normal presentation for the punchmarked coins. The weight was further reduced after some time (decades?) to 3.6 grams, which was called “karshapana” and became the standard for a couple of centuries.
Well then, of the bent bar coins on the market it was said that all of them come from a single hoard of about 1000 pieces found about 15 years ago. Odd pieces still turn up today. No story attaches to the eighths, save that they came to light after the bent bars.
Karshapana punchmarks, on the other hand are all over the place. Thousands of them have been found, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands, and more every year. Lots of them, perhaps most (or perhaps not) are found in Punjab and other parts of Pakistan, particularly around Taxila. But because the Pakistani territories were not part of the Magadhan kingdom at that time the Magadhan component of the Pakistani finds is small.
Of this mass of punchmarks some small fraction, perhaps 5%, can be attributed to Magadha. The assignment is done on the basis of morphology (tendency toward broadness and thinness) and marks. Systematization of the marks has been elaborated by Gupta and Hardaker in their book “Ancient Indian Silver Punchmarked Coins of the Magadha-Maurya Karshapana Series.” Mitchiner assigned various combinations of marks to certain kings, and his scheme is often used by dealers offering the coins, because it is pleasant to be able to do so. But while Gupta and Hardaker have sequenced the mark combinations and have placed them within time frames, they have refrained from assigning them to individual kings. I can’t say that I understand how Mitchiner has done so.
I am sanguine regarding the accuracy of those attributions. How could one possibly be sure? But I’ve always been a little skeptical where the evidence is not sitting there on the coins. Take Parthian coins, for example. They do die studies, style studies, hoard studies, and they assign this coin to Artabanus II and that one to Vologases I. They look almost the same, they have the same meaningless reverse legend. How can they be sure? But you can give your coin a number from a catalog, so it comes to pass that that is what it IS, whatever the book says.
Or how about the coins of the Ptolemies of Egypt. How can they be sure this bronze is Ptolemy II and that one Ptolemy III? I’ve listened to people explain that its because the eagle has it’s head turned back or it’s wings open, but I remain unconvinced. How can they know? There’s no contemporary documentation.
And then some new research throws the old attributions into a cocked hat (good old 18th century turn of phrase), as has happened recently with the Chinese Ban Liang coinage, and eventually the collector community catches up with the new attributions, maybe just in time for the latest research to conclude that the old assignments were correct after all.
Not only is that CALLED progress, it actually IS progress. Life is change, and so is history, and so is the study of it.
At any rate, after about a century of bad rule a guy named Chandragupta Maurya overthrew the old Magadhan dynasty in 321 BC, which is two years after the death of Alexander the Great. When Alexander reached the Indus he was met by an enormous army led by a “great king” who had to have been a vassal of the immediate predecessor of Chandragupta. Alexander wanted to go on, utterly mad he had become, but his soldiers wisely promised mutiny. Chandragupta most likely had a million men at his disposal. Had he met Alexander in battle we might be speaking Hindi today. He was a good one in political and military terms, and he expanded the realm to both south and east. That brought him Pakistan as far as Taxila.
Then, army mustered at his new western border, he forced the cession of most of eastern Afghanistan from the Greek Seleukos, who was too far away to do anything about it. At the end of Chandragupta’s reign the Mauryan realm stretched from Bengal to Kabul.
With Chandragupta the Magadhan kingdom became an empire. Vastly increased resources yielded a vastly increased coinage of punchmarked karshapanas, the more so as Taxila was the gateway to Afghanistan, where there were silver mines. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son, Bindusara, who continued in the father’s warlike ways, taking territory far into central India. And Bindusara’s son Ashoka started out the same way, with yearly campaigns of conquest.
But one day, after a great battle in which he beat the army of Kalinga in Orissa he surveyed the thousands of dead lying on the quiet field and had a crisis of remorse. He saw all of that killing as a waste and thought there had to be a better way. At that time and in that place the better way was right there being preached in the midst of his kingdom. He turned to Buddhism.
He was a guy with big ideas. He renounced war, became a vegetarian, devoted his life to doing good. The result was an enormous economic boom in the Mauryan empire lasting about 30 years. Physical remnants of Ashoka’s rule are found all over India. Notable are voluminous precepts and edicts carved in stone. Among these “rock edicts” is one at Sarnath in India, a column topped by a tri-bodied lion. This fabulous animal has been adopted as a national symbol by India, and can be seen on its coins and paper money.
Gupta and Hardaker do not make any claims, but among the most common mark combinations of the punchmarked series are those that Mitchiner attributes to Ashoka. This makes sense, because the last two decades of his reign were prosperous as only an empire at peace can be.
Ashoka spread Buddhism far and wide. Afghanistan became a stronghold of the Dharma. But the Mauryan empire suffered from the weakness of all hereditary monarchies, which is that the designated heirs, whatever their personal qualities might be, lack the fire in the belly that propelled the founders of the dynasty from obscurity to the heights of achievement. The successors of Ashoka quarrelled and schemed for the throne and neglected the business of government. The western provinces slipped away. Afghanistan went first, then Taxila. Provincial control in India proper was pretty loose by 187 BCE, when the last Mauryan was overthrown by Pushyamitra Sunga. But that’s not really part of our story, as Pakistan at the time of the Sunga takeover had been under the control of the Baktrian Greeks for some seven decades. It is worth noting, however, that although the punchmarked coins continued under the Sungas until about 75 BC, the Sunga types are nowhere near as common as the Mauryans, and of course hardly any are found in Pakistan, where so many Mauryan coins came form, and where they were using western style portrait coins.
A lot of silver coins from Pakistan have a terrible black surface. That’s silver chloride. Won’t come off in ammonia or vinegar. Has to be electrolyzed, leaving porosity. That's chloride from acid in the soil. Too bad, but there are also plenty of nice coins too, so you don’t have to be satisfied with compromised specimens.
For most of the history of “South Asia” the Indus
River was a natural dividing line between “west” and “center.”
Several major states have confronted each other across that river.
That it lies today within the borders of Pakistan is entirely an accident
of the sequence of wars and treaties of the British in the early 19th century.
Alexander the Great reached and crossed the Indus in 327 BC, fought battles with some of the vassals of the Magadhans, who would assemble an empire a few years later. He was planning to go against Magadha proper in the heat of the Indian summer when his troops refused and he had to turn back.
The divine Alexander had founded a couple of cities east of the Indus, but the Greek presence there was, in historical terms, ephemeral. Not so to the west, where a number of cities were created and relatively larger numbers of Greeks settled in later years.
Alexander retired west and came to rest in Babylon, where he caught a fever, ate some bad food, and died in 323 BC. His child was an infant, his brother was retarded or brain damaged, one of his wives murdered the other, he left no designated successor nor any regents. His generals immediately fell to bickering and soon mobilized their armies against each other. The east, which is the part of his realm we’re concerned with here, fell to Seleukos.
The original Seleukid kingdom stretched from Palestine to India and was essentially impossible to maintain from a central location. A system of viceroys or sub-kings (satraps) was put in place, and these minor rulers began to assert their independence and pass their territory to their descendants in short order.
I’ve been very taken with the political theories of Ibn Khaldun, an Arab writer of the 14th century. He had no experience with any governing system other than monarchy, and his analysis of how dynasties rise and fall has completely penetrated my thinking. Briefly, he saw that early dynastic leaders had a fire in the belly that allowed them to appeal to the urge for solidarity of their followers and these monarchs would ride the wave of their followers’ enthusiasm to the heights. At that point they, or their successors, would lose the common touch, drift into vice and luxury, remove themselves from the realities of administration, and eventually the dynasty would fall to the next upstart. Is that not just plain the way it is?
So, Seleukos the First was strong and held his huge empire together. He delegated the eastern regions to his son, Antiochos the First. Antiochos was a warrior, and is chiefly known for beating back a Celtic incursion into Asia Minor. His son, Antiochos II, was a “Don’t-bother-me-can’t-you-see-I’m-busy?” drunkard fool around kind of guy, and the government fell into the hands of scheming courtiers. During his fifteen years of misrule first Baktria and then Persia slipped out of his trembling hands.
The Greek “east” after Alexander comprised Baktria, in which is now found the western Afghan city of Herat, Sogdiana, or southern Turkmenistan, Arachosia in southeastern Afghanistan, in which is now found Qandahar, and territory in Pakistan eastward to the Indus. In 256 BC the satrap of Baktria, Diodotos, after a number of decades of doing as he pleased, renounced his allegiance to the feckless Seleukid Antiochos II. The Seleukids did not just walk away from the east, and
when a strong Seleukid, Antiochos III, came to power an attempt was made to restore the empire. That was about forty years later. This new Antiochos reconquered Persia from the Parthians for a time and made an inconclusive foray into Baktria that ended when he recognized Baktrian ruler, Euthydemos at that moment, as king, which is to say as an equal.
All of this took place in Afghanistan. The Mauryans had taken all of the Pakistani territory that the Greeks had held during the previous decades. Actually, at the point of greatest expansion the Mauryan empire extended as far west as Kapisa in the Kabul valley.
You remember what the Mauryans were using for money, don’t you? Right. Punchmarked silver karshapanas. Now the Mauryan realm after Ashoka began to shrink, and by around 220 BCE they were gone from Pakistan. The people they left behind organized themselves into city states until the next conqueror should come along, and some of these cities issued local coins, mostly thick square coppers, a few smaller round ones, no silver, no gold. These things are found around Taxila and Pushkalavati (Peshawar) and a few other places nearby, and facilitated the silk road trade. Note these are the first “dumpy” copper coins of India, forshadowing the later dumpy Kushan coins that are so common (as these are not).
And the Greeks in Afghanistan? Alexander tetradrachms were struck at Alexandria Ariana near Herat. Seleukid coins were almost certianly struck in the Afghan towns of Balkh and elsewhere. Diodotos struck coins as Seleukid satrap and then as king, and the series continued from there.
The early Baktrian coins were typically Greek in fabric and style. Weights were Greek standard, all the coins were round, the art was executed with that unmistakable Greek realism we art loving numismatists know and love. They come in all three standard coinage metals, the gold being extremely rare. Actually, all of the early Baktrian are hard to find. They don’t start getting common until about 60 years or so after the “declaration” (so to speak) of independence.
Euthydemos was the Baktrian king who was recognized by the Seleukid Antiochos III in 206 BC. By coincidence, one of his coppers is the earliest Baktrian coin I’ve handled. During his reign (circa 230-190 BCE) Sogdiana slipped away, the loss somewhat balanced by eastward expansion toward the mountains of the Hindu Kush and the Panjshir valley, where there were silver mines.
The expansion to the southeast was continued by Euthydemos’s successor, son Demetrios, who took the Kabul valley and started issuing coins from the city of Kapisa as well as at a city he founded, Demetrios in Arachosia, near Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. Expansion of the Greek realm proceeded as far as Taxila, near modern Islamabad in northern Pakistan.
An interesting aspect of the base metal coinage of this period is that some of them will be found with a very light color, approaching unto silvery looking in some specimens. Turns out these coins contain a decent percentage of nickel, the first time that metal was used, albeit inadvertently, in coinage. Nickel has a very high melting point, and I imagine the first mintmaster to encounter that ore blowing his top at the employees who had to report that the new stuff didn’t smelt normally. “Then pump those bellows harder,” he must have yelled. And then later, looking at the whitish coins: “Did you idiots put silver in the mix?” But they figured it out, and continued using the nickel alloy for about 40 years or so.
The Baktrian kings governed the way they knew how, with regional satraps, whom they were pleased to call “kings.” Around 171 BCE the king was an old man, Antimachos, who governed with two satraps, Agathocles and Pantaleon. A guy out east, Eukratides, revolted, and was not immediately crushed. He held on, and within three years he controlled almost all of Afghanistan, confining Antimachos and his associates to the lands between Taxila and Gandhara in the east.
In their eastern exile the government of Antimachos began to produce bilingual coinage, Greek on the obverse, Karosthi or Brahmi on the reverse, with an adjustment of the the silver weight to facilitate conversion with the karshapana. Copper coins started to appear with a square module, similar to the things they had been using in northern Pakistan before they got there.
Eukratides extinguished the Antimachids around 160 BCE. His reign was the high point of Greek power in the east, with a realm stretching from eastern Iran to the Kashmir border. He used the satrapal administrative system, but whereas his predecessors had appointed relatives, Eukratides chose generals. He started with two: Menander and Apollodotos I, who jointly administered northern Pakistan.
Baktrian coins prior to Eukratides are not so easy to get, but once he was in control the output of coinage increased dramatically, at least in the workhorse denominations, which were the silver drachm and the square bronze obol and hemiobol. Satrap Menander was a particularly prolific coiner, easy for him as he controlled the silver mines of Panjshir, but Apollodotos’ coins are pretty common as well. Another satrap, Plato, was later appointed to rule the north (southern Uzbekistan, more or less), and his coins are rare. Apollodotos died around 150 BCE and was replaced by Zoilos I, and Menander (moruit c. 145 BCE) with Lysias and Antialkidas. The output of coinage suffered a significant diminution during the tenures of these guys. I’ve had dozens of Menanders, could have had hundreds if I wanted them, but only a few of Antialkidas and none of Zoilos or Lysias.
I should mention that by this time (160s BCE and later) the bilingual coinage was standard for the bronze and small silver, while the tetradrachms were monolingual Greek. Shall we guess at an explanation? Perhaps the main use of the tetradrachms was as royal largesse rather than for day to day street business. What about for major transactions in the silk road trade? Then there should be a hoard or two found in India or Parthia (Iran) and such discoveries have not occurred. Absence of the local language might be construed to support the theory that their prime function was political rather than fiscal.
So Eukratides died around 135 BCE and was duly succeeded by his son Heliokles, who reigned about 15 years. He appointed as satraps Polyxenos and Epander to take care of the south. Coinage continued as before, with a substantial decline in artistry evident. Coins of all of these guys are scarce and rare, especially those of the satraps, whose terms of office were cut short by a human disaster of epic proportions.
Some time during the early decades of the second century BCE two groups of nomads came to blows in the general region western China. One group was “Indo-European,” called Yueh-chi by the Chinese. The other was “Turko-Mongol” and the Chinese called them Hsiung-nu. What were they fighting about? Probably grazing grounds. Probably there was a drought. Anyway, the Hsiung-nu beat the Yueh-chi, who retired, cursing and muttering, toward the southwest. Perhaps around the 160s BCE, while Eukratides was rebelling perhaps, they came to rest in Sogdiana, which please recall is southern Turkmenistan.
Sogdiana was lightly ruled by Greeks who had broken away from Baktria, and was filled with another group of fractious nomads, the Scythians. The Scythians were pretty ferocious themselves, but they melted before the hungry Yueh-Chi. Where did the Scythians go? South into Baktria of course. They were basically looters and burners, and they left the proverbial trail of devastation in their wake, settling down in the ruins to pasture their horses and steal from the local farmers. The Greeks were pushed east of Balkh in north-central Afghanistan.
But the Scythians didn’t stop in Baktria. They pushed on westward until they came up against the Parthians, then turned south and east, ending up in the Punjab around 100 BCE.
Take a break to kiss someone you love. Or something.
Here we are in Pakistan around 135 BCE. And
let’s say, for purposes of cultural “continuity,” that we are Greek.
There are problems. The old king, Eukratides is dead, apparently
murdered by his son, the new king, Heliokles, though of course since he’s
the king now no one is saying anything. At any rate, he is the king
and there is this situation in the west. It seems that there has
been an invasion from the north by nomadic Scythians and it has been a
total disaster. Wherever they go they win, the Greeks lose.
The Scythians like to loot and kill. They don’t farm. They
steal. They don’t govern. They smite. They don’t
build. They burn. Greeks are fleeing Baktria (northwestern
Afghanistan) for Arachosia (southeastern Afghanistan). Refugees everywhere.
It’s a mess.
The Scythians had been pushed out of their former homes in what are now called Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan by another horde of nomads called by the Chinese Yueh-Chi, who themselves had been displaced by the Wusun division of the Xiungnu (Huns). In Afghanistan the Scythians drove the Greeks before them and intended to proceed west into Iran but were stopped by the Parthians, who, being former nomads themselves, knew how to deal with the Scythians. Not being the kind of people to settle down and work with what they had, the Scythians turned around and marauded back towards the east through southern Afghanistan as far as the Punjab plains of what is now Pakistan.
This movement did not take place in a blitzkrieg, but rather proceeded over a period of several decades. By about 110 BCE the Greeks had only the eastern third of Afghanistan and contiguous Pakistan, say from Kabul to Peshawar in the north to Qandahar in the south, and ten years later they had lost the southern portion of that.
The Greek coins of that troubled time followed the traditional models and modules. Heliokles was the paramount king, striking coins from Balkh, Kapisa, and Pushkalavati (Peshawar) and some other cities. He issued two series: coins with monolingual Greek legends to the so-called “Attic” standard, assumed to be for trade with the west, and slightly lighter bilingual Greek-Kharosthi coins, including the normal square bronzes, for trade with the east. Following Indo-Greek tradition Heliokles appointed sub-kings; Polyxenos in Kapisa (Kabul) and Epander in Parapamisidae (south of Peshawar), who also struck coins.
These guys ruled for about 5 years. Coins of Heliokles are scarce. Those of the associate kings are rare.
Around 130 BCE Heliokles brought his son Strato into the ruling circle and the two ruled together until about 110 BCE. Strato is also a scarce ruler. During all this time the Scythians remained a problem, pushing the Greeks out of the southern plains. By 110 BCE Heliokles and Strato were gone, replaced by Philoxenos and associate Diomedes. In around that time there was a revolt in the east led by Apollodotos II. Shades of Eukratides! The rebellion was partially successful: the line of Philoxenos survived, but Apollodotos peeled off the Pakistani portion of the Greek realm, and from that point there were two
The “new” western Greek kingdom of Philoxenos was thus the east-central part of the old Greek kingdom, while the new eastern Greek kingdom of Apollodotos II was way east in the Punjab. Have to discuss them separately, since they were different countries.
Philoxenos and Diomedes trudged on through their reduced reigns until about 80 BCE. Philoxenos’ Attic weight tetradrachms and drachms are rare. Bilingual tetradrachms and drachms start to be base, and the drachms are cutely square. Most or all of his coins are from Pushkalavati. I’ve had a few of his drachms and square bronzes. Certainly not the most prolific coiner. Diomedes struck in Kapisa and Demetrias in Arachosia. His coins are quite a bit scarcer.
Around 80 BCE a new king, Archebios, came on the scene, along with associate kings Theophilos, Peukolaus, and Nikias. This quadrumvirate endured for two decades or so. Of the four Archebios was by far the richest if one can judge by his coins. His are fairly common. Those of his associates are rare. In this time the Scythians carved off much of the Greek territory in Arachosia and set up a capital at Taxila, not very far at all from Pushkalavati. But the Scythians grew weak and the next pair of Greeks, Amyntas and Artemidoros, circa 60 - 40 BCE, took back some of it. Evidently these guys were too busy fighting to issue many coins. I don’t think I’ve ever had any.
The next king, Hermaios, completed the Greek conquest of Arachosia. Things looked good for a couple of years or so and then a new problem appeared from the north. This time it was the Yueh-Chi again, or a branch of them called the Kushans, who swept through Scythian Afghanistan and Greek territory around 20 BCE. Hermaios was pushed out of Pushkalavati and stuck in eastern Arachosia for the remainder of his unhappy reign, which ended around 1 BC.
Hermaios’ coinage has a number of interesting aspects. His earliest issues show busts of him and his wife Kalliope, I think the only female portrait of the Indo-Greek series. The artistry shows a steady decline from traditional Greek standards, and the silver becomes quite base at the end, a result of the loss of the Panjshir silver mines to the Kushans. His late types, quite crude and base, were struck for a couple of decades after his death and the extinction of his kingdom until they, and his lapsed authority, were replaced by the works of the “Indo-Parthian” Gondophares, about whom more later. Overall, Hermaios’
coins are fairly common, and his tetradrachms are the only common types of that denomination for the Indo-Greek series.
That wraps up the “western” Indo-Greek kingdom. The “eastern” Greek kingdom of Apollodotos II was beleaguered from the start. No sooner had independence been obtained than the Scythians started to nibble away at the western edges. Bear in mind that at its greatest extent this kingdom stretched only about 300 miles from east to west and similar north to south. Bannu, south of Pushkalavati, was lost around 100 BCE, Chach (Attock) around 80 BCE, Taxila a few years later. By around 50 BCE the Greeks were confined to part of Jammu in the east. Around 10 BCE the Scythian satrap Rujuvula took Jammu
and that was the end of Greek governments in the east, though elements of their culture continued and their genes are present today.
Chach - there is the possibility of confusion in that name. Chach here is Attock and the surrounding regions. There is another Chach, a silk road kingdom flourishing during the period 200-400 CE, way over northwest in Uzbekistan. Those guys struck Hephthalite (Hun) looking coins, very rare at this time. No connection between the two Chach entities other than the name.
The silver drachms of Apollodotos II are fairly common, with a tendency toward baseness evident in the silver and a significant decline in artistry and execution. Copper coins not so common, tetradrachms rare. Coins of his successors in Jammu, becoming quite crude, are quite scarce.
Now let’s look at the situation from the Scythian point of view. These were wagon people. Campfire and tent people. Meat and milk people. Stone walls gave them the willies. Plants were food for animals. Work was for slaves. Things were for stealing. Pushed out of their bivouacs in Uzbekistan by the more numerous and ferocious Yueh-Chi into northwestern Afghanistan maybe 150 BCE they set up there for a generation. The Greek overlords of the region fled east.
With the Greeks gone the local “culture” was Parthian. The Parthians were former nomads themselves but they had managed to pick up the methods of settled administration from the Persians they had conquered and had produced a stable regime with a nomad military, an imperial bureaucracy, infrastructure to support agriculture. The Scythians learned some of this citified stuff from the Parthians, as well as getting a lot of their metalwork from them. And they also picked up Parthian names. And the idea of coinage, with which they could engage in the distasteful practice of trade with those too powerful for the noble practice of pillage.
When the Scythians began to move east around 110 BC they had some notion of how to administer a trade-and-agriculture culture rather than destroy it, and they kept the Greek bureaucracy and methods in place. We see this in the Scythian coinage, produced from the same mints to the same standards and some of the same types, with the same bilingual Greek and Kharosthi legends. But instead of the Greek royal portraits there was a new emblem - a horseman with a weapon. This became the instant identifier for Scythian coins; a few issues lack it but only a few.
The first Scythian coins were anonymous small square silver hemidrachms with horses and winged Nikes (personifications of Victory) struck in small numbers in Gandhara (Qandahar) around 110 BC or so. Not too long after that a “normal” Greek style coinage was inaugurated with base tetradrachms, slightly finer drachms, and (mostly square) bronzes in the name of a king with the Parthian name Vonones and his sidekick brother Spalahores. The standard obverse type here is the mounted horseman holding a spear. The reverse type is varied: gods and goddesses, weapons, etc. Presence of control marks shows that the same mints that had been striking coin for the Greeks had continued production for the new overlords.
Spalahores died around 90 BCE, replaced by his son Spaladagames, who conquered northern Arachosia (modern Ghazni in northeastern Afghanistan). Maybe 75 BCE another son, Spalyrises came into the ruling circle and coins are found with his name as well.
Vonones was succeeded around 65 BCE by Spalyrises, who found himself in trouble with the Greek Amyntas. Spalyrises formed an alliance with the Scythian lord of Taxila, Azes I to present a united front to Amyntas, but it was in vain. Spalyrises was beaten back to Gandhara, and his little rump kingdom was extinguished around 40 BCE by the Greek Hermaios.
Coins of these Scythian rulers are not particularly common, especially when compared with what came later. I’ve had a couple of Vonones, but only 2 Spalyrises.
That king in Taxila, Azes, got there as a result of the appointment by Vonones of a satrap, Maues, after his conquest of Arachosia around 110 BC. Maues broke away some two decades later. Maues’s first job was evidently to organize the territories taken from the Greeks by a Scythian freebooter named on his scarce coins as Arsakes Theos (the god), after which he occupied himself with the dismemberment of Apollodotos II’s kingdom. He issued a bunch of coins in the normal denominations of the time, though for him the armed horseman is a scarce type, and also some handsome and good sized bronzes with elephant heads. Maues is not a rare ruler, but not common either.
Maues’ reign was followed around 57 BCE by the joint kings Azes I, mentioned above and Azilises. These kings extended Scythian control deep into India as far as Ujjain. A late survival of their sway is found in the use of Vikrama era dating down to the 20th century in certain Indian coin series. It began as a reckoning of the regnal years of Azes.
The two rulers struck coins in what became the normal style for the Scythians. The horseman, usually carrying a whip, is the dominant obverse, with various gods on the reverse. The coins are not uncommon, but share types with those of the next guy, and if you can’t read the royal name you might have a problem nailing your attribution.
For an interesting discussion of the horseman type you might wish to look at an article by Robert Tye .
That next guy was Azes II, reigned circa 35 BCE to 5 CE. His accession occurred in the general time frame of the maximum extent of the conquests of the Greek Hermaios. Azes campaigned in India, conquering widely and appointing satraps to govern. The satraps: Kharahostes, Athama, Rujuvula, Indravarma, and Aspavarma, came to overshadow Azes to such a degree that the time of his death has become obscured. Much of the historical evidence for the period is in the coins, but it seems that all of the satraps issued coins with Azes name after his passing. In addition, Azes types were made across the border by non-Scythian polities in several times and places during and after his reign.
Out of 100 Scythian coins 99 of them are likely to be Azes’. Many types of many denominations: billon tetradrachms and drachms with the “normal” horseman / diety scheme, large, medium and small bronzes, mostly round, a few square, many with lions and bulls, a few with elephants and other types. Many of these are common and easily available.
The later years of Azes reign saw the dominance of the satraps in their zones of influence. All of them struck coins, as well as the titular successor to Azes, Arsakes Dikaioy, and a later generation of satraps: Rujuvula, who extinguished the last Greek domain in Jammu, and Sodasa in Mathura deep inside India. The numismata of these people is distinctly scarce in comparison
to that of Azes II. The base drachms of Rujuvulu struck in Jammu are degenerate imitations of the already crude coins of the displaced Greeks and were imitated even more crudely by the next people to appear on the scene.
with part 2