PAKISTAN - part 2
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention counterfeits
in the Indo-Greek series. I was poking around on the web for some
reason I don’t recall and I came upon this website: http://www215.pair.com/sacoins/public_html/forgeries_examples.htm.
I have come across a number of fake Indo-Greek coins, mostly crudely cast
tetradrachms and a few drachms that would fool “nobody” (except that
such things do fool people on occasion). But some of the fake tetradrachms
seem to be very good die struck or pressure cast pieces that would catch
my eye and hold my interest were the offering price tolerable. And
on that webpage is a picture of an Indo-Scythian tetradrachm that looks
fairly unremarkable. If there were no traces of casting line on the
edge I’d probably take it - those things are usually cheap. There
is a picture of a Kushan gold coin on that page that is truly frightening.
The page also has an interesting comment by Steve Album regarding the little
gold fanams of later date and elsewhere, and there is a statement about
Chinese fakes with which I disagree.
I have been saying for years now that fakes are getting better and better and that the time will probably come when it becomes impossible to determine authenticity for some items. But for the moment, I believe, one can hope. Always, I urge you, check your ancient coins for the classical signs of casting, keep stylistic and manufacturing aspects in mind, get the standard return privilege.
Duly warned, let us now step into our conceptual time machine and recede back to the start of the Common Era, location: Pakistan. When we broke off our discussion last month it was a mess. The wild Scythians had knocked off the remnant Greek governments and established their own set off rulers, not all that different after all from those of the Greeks with whom we feel some affinity. The Greeks, after all, were strongman rulers. Those in control at any moment would cheerfully kill brothers, fathers, sons, to gain and maintain their control, the population was there to be exploited, nothing more. If you opposed you either won or died. The main difference between them and the Scythians was that the Greeks built things and the Scythians only knocked them down.
In the last century BC the Scythians destroyed all of the Greek governments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir, establishing in their stead a loose strongman system. There were great kings and lesser kings, restrained in their respective positions by their political and military strength alone. If the great king became weak the sub-kings would expand their influence to fill the vacuum, and that is what happened in the final decades of the BCE period and the first of CE. The Scythian great king, Azes II, the one whose coins are so common, faded to a figurehead on the throne and then became merely a name on the coins struck by his satraps after his death.
Coins actually carrying the names of the satraps are much scarcer than those of Azes II. They start out looking pretty much the same as those of the overlord: similar types, similar control marks, maybe the artwork and execution are cruder, but many of the Azes coins are crude as well. Your best bet to nail an attribution is to actually read the legend on the coin, but this can be problematic, as much of the legend is unimportant, and the actual name is often off the flan.
Anyway, the names of the satraps in question are Zeionises in southern Chach, first quarter of first century CE, Kharahostes in central Chach, a few years earlier, Arsakes Dikaioy, direct successor to Azes II as titular great king starting around 30 CE, Indravarma and son Aspavarma in Taxila until about 35 CE, and Rujuvula in Jammu until around 10 CE followed by son Sodasa for another 15 years or so. Consult the out of print Oriental Coins & their Values by Mitchiner for the appropriate legends.
The coins of the satraps carry on the Azes types with the exception of Rujuvula and son in Jammu. Rujuvula struck small billon drachms with a squared off portrait in continuation of the Greek tradition. There are local lead and copper coins struck for holdings in the southern Punjab and India proper. In my experience the drachms are uncommon and the local base metal coins are scarce.
While the eastern Scythian situation was playing itself out during the last century BCE the Scythians in the west spent a number of decades interacting with the Parthians in Iran. From the classical Persian point of view the Parthians were rude barbarians, but the Scythians looked at them and saw high and imminently immitable culture. The paramount Scythian tribe in the region was the Sacaraucae, whose principal city was Alexandreia Ariana (Herat). In the first century BCE the Sacaraucae struck silver drachms, first a few with portrait of the king. Later they countermarked Parthian drachms, and still later they struck imitations of the countermarked Parthian coins with the “countermark” included as part of the die. All of these Sacaraucan coins are rare and run a couple of hundred dollars.
Because of the heavy dose of Parthianism evident in their coinage these people are known in the numismatic context as “Indo-Parthians.” We must consider this appellation to be something of a misnomer. They were independent operators.
In 20 CE the Sacaraucan king, Gondophares, renounced his vassalage to the Parthians and set off on a career of conquest against his fellow Scyths to the east. Within a few years he had engulfed the western Greek kingdom of central Afghanistan. Temporarily shut out of northern Afghanistan by the presence of the Kushans (see below), Gondophares proceeded east into Pakistan, gobbling up most of the Scythian satrapies there. By the 30s CE he had driven the Kushans out of Gandhara and had made himself master of all of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the administrative style of the time Gondophares appointed viceroys: his brother Orthagnes in Afghanistan and Aspavarma, son of the Scythian governor Indravarma in Pakistan. The viceroys perpetuated their dynasties. Names? Otannes son of Orthagnes, Sasan nephew of Aspavarma. Gondophares himself succeeded as paramount king by nephew Abdagases circa 55-100 CE (with viceroys Sorpedonus and Satavastra), then Pakores and Sanabares I. Pakistan was lost again to the Kushans during the reign of Abdagases, the broken remnants of the “Indo-Parthian” realm in Afghanistan extinguished during the third century CE.
Gondophares is popularly associated with the story of the three wise kings of the baby Jesus story, and us dealers like to mention this when we have Gondopharean coins to sell. But the timing seems a bit iffy. If Gondophares was there at the nativity he might have been in his early twenties so he could die around 55 CE in his seventies. People in their twenties are usually not considered wise. If he was in his 30s or older he would die in his 80s or later. Possible, but the older he is at the end the more difficult it is to reconcile the stories.
Anyway, Indo-Parthian coins are typed to the region in which they were struck. In far western Afghanistan there is a continuation of the Sacaraucan coinage of rare Parthianoid silver drachms. In eastern Afghanistan the coins are somewhat Greek in spirit, with a bearded portrait obverse and a diety on the other side. Most of these coins are bronze tetradrachms, badly struck, and fairly common in low grade. One rarely gets a piece with both a nice portrait and legible legends. In Chach and Taxila (northern Pakistan) the Scythian horseman types were continued along with the Scythian minor types. The “instant identifier” is the Sacaraucan tribal symbol, which is pretty much the same as the astrological symbol of Mercury, somewhere in the field. To fully attribute the coins you have to read them, which can be difficult or impossible, as the legends are always fragmentary and frequently off the flan. Maybe one out of forty horseman tetradrachms might be an Indo-Parthian.
From Jammu come the extremely common bronze drachms in the name of Gondophares, with a cartoon “portrait.” So many of these are around that they are promotable: “One of the three wise kings!” They are so ugly!
The Indo-Parthians were thrown out of Pakistan by the resurgent Kushans early in the second century CE. The remnant in western Afghanistan dragged on for almost a century, breaking into two kingdoms, both of which were eventually annexed by Sasanian Iran. The coins, in my experience are rare.
Another aspect of Indo-Parthian coinage should be mentioned. The southeastern salient of Gondophares’ kingdom was the Saurashtra peninsula in India proper, famous to us numismatists as the location of Kutch, the native state with the nice coins. The Indo-Parthian governors of the region were replaced in the late first century CE by a line of satrapal kings. These “Western Satraps,” totally independent from the mid-second century CE, issued a well known series of silver drachms.
History is not a single story, but rather is full to the brim with “meanwhiles.” While the Greeks were being overrun by the Scythians, and the eastern Scythians in their turn walloped by the Indo-Parthian Scythians, the people who had provided the original motive and necessity for the Scythian migration were anything but quiescent. Let us return to the Yueh-chi.
We left these people in occupation of northern Afghanistan and points north. The Scythians were unable to dislodge them. During the first century BCE their headquarters were in Sogdiana (southern Turkmenistan), where they struck rare silver coins, vaguely Parthian in spirit, with handsome and distinctive anonymous portraits. These coins are expensive and fakes are known. In northern Afghanistan the Yueh-chi established three shortlived kingdoms (last two decades BCE), whose rulers struck some rare Greek derived small silver coins. In 15 years of dealing with that part of the world I have not run into any of these early Yueh-chi coins.
The ruler of one of the Afghan principalities united the Yueh-chi around 5 BCE. On his coins, which are basically all the artifacts we have of him, he is named “Heraios the Kushan,” the epithet taken to indicate a tribal affiliation. His silver coins, issued from mints in the Qunduz and Bamian regions of Afghanistan show a portrait of a Teutonic looking guy with a handlebar moustache. His coins are fairly rare.
Heraios is thought to have ruled as late as 45 CE or so. Around 15 CE a co-ruler, Kujula Kadphises, came on the scene, issuing coins in the Kapisa (Kabul) region and further east as far as Chach in Pakistan. Most of Kujula’s coins are bronze tetradrachms with a distinctive portrait and a figure of Herakles standing with his club, with a few smaller coins as well. These coins are fairly common. In Chach there are rare coppers with portraits that look almost Roman. Mitchiner calls them “dichalkons,” but they look like base drachms to me. From another mint in Chach come some scarce coppers with types modified from the Scythian - seated figures and animals. Distinctive for this early Kushan series is the presence of the double humped Bactian camel. These coins are rare as well.
Kujula was out of the picture by about 30 CE. His “normal” bronze tetradrachms and fractions were imitated in the Kabul valley by the locals after his death. The line between the royal issues and the imitations is often difficult to draw. Nice die work is assumed to be official, very crude specimens are assumed to be copies. Naturally there are a lot of in-betweens. As a class the copies are not rare.
Recall please that the Kushans suffered some reverses during the reign of the “Indo-Parthian” Scythian king Gondophares. Kabul was lost as was western Pakistan. One occasionally finds Kujula coins overstruck by Gondophares and vice versa, testimony to the complicated lines of control of that time and place.
By the 60s CE the situation had become clearer. A new Kushan conqueror was on the scene. This guy, Vima Takto, whose coins name him as “Soter Megas” (Great Savior), consolidated a kingdom that extended from Sogdiana in Turkmenistan to Mathura in India, laying the basis for the great Kushan empire of the next century.
Initially Soter Megas continued the coinage of the conquered regions. These early derivative coins are rare. At some unknown time a unified coinage was issued for the entire realm. The basic coin is the bronze tetradrachm with a beardless portrait facing right on the obverse and a mounted horseman holding a whip on the reverse. Die work and artistry is superior. Bronze drachms were also made.
The distinctive and fun feature of this series is that divine rays of light emanate from Mr. Megas’s head. The number of rays varies from 5 to 14, and these can be assembled into a pleasant set. Exactly what the varying number of rays signifies is not definitively known, maybe control marks, maybe regnal years, maybe something else, but certainly something. The coins were issued from three mints: Taxila in Pakistan, Balkh and Kapisa (Kabul) in Afghanistan. Taxila is common, the others less so. In a recent bulk purchase of 20-odd all were Taxila except for a single Balkh. One distinguishes the mint by the forms of the Greek letters. Consult Mitchiner for details.
I was just offered a lot of 200+ of these things, so at the moment they are common. The small drachms, less so.
Mr. Megas was succeeded around 105 CE by one Vima Kadphises. The Kushan realm under king Vima seems to have become a peaceful kingdom engaging in Silk Road trade in the north and agriculture in the south. Output of coinage, substantial under Soter Megas, became large under Vima. The basic coin was a massive clunker, maybe 28mm in diameter and weighing about 17 grams. There’s a picture of the king on the obverse. He’s standing, wearing his distinctive high round hat and a knee length coat, sacrificing at an altar, with a trident somewhere, his name and titles in Greek around. The reverse displays Shiva with his trident and his bull, with an identifying legend in Kharosthi. I suppose from this we can deduce that Vima was, personally, a devotee of the Hindu god of destruction and yoga.
We could call these big coins octodrachms if we wanted to, but we don’t. We call them “units” for lack of any knowledge of what the Kushans themselves called them. They were struck in Balkh and Kapisa in Afghanistan, Pushkalavati and Taxila in Pakistan. “Units” are very common. Low grades, corroded, or poorly struck specimens can be found for a couple of dollars from dealers who will deign to handle them. Choice specimens can get into multiple tens of dollars. There are also scarcer halves and quarters.
Gold coins joined the currency. Gold had last been issued in very small numbers by the Greeks, but Kushan gold was plainly meant to circulate. There are a lot of 8 gram staters on the market, and many of them show wear. Also to be found are quarter staters, also usually worn.
By the start of the second century CE the Kushan empire was rich and powerful, with a thumb on the silk road trade that transported goods and money from Rome to China and points between and flourishing agriculture in northern India, Punjab, and central Afghanistan.
The surplus product and money funded cultural projects. Quite a bit of infrastructure was produced: buildings, wells, roads. Religion was supported, Buddhist and Hindu, Greek, Persian, local. During several centuries of Kushan power the distinctive “Gandhara” style of sculpture developed. This application of Greek realism to Buddhist iconography has produced a quantity of sculpture, quite appealing to us westerners, who see something quite familiar in an exotic setting. The great Buddhist center of Bamian in central Afghanistan, where those giant statues were blown up a couple of years ago by the know-nothing Taliban, was a Kushan project.
Kushan policy was not exclusively Buddhist. Their coins show Greek and Hindu dieties. It seems that they saw value in piety and virtue no matter the flavor, and they enjoyed peace more than war.
If the coinage of Vima Kadphises is common that of his successor Kanishka (c. 120-150 CE) is abundant. During his reign and the next the Kushan realm attained the apogee of its development and influence. Economic activity was very strong - Kanishka’s coins are found as far afield as Bengal and Sinkiang, and it is thought that Kushan political control extended as far as Benares.
The obverses of Kanishka’s coins show the by now standard full figure of the king in distinctive Kushan clothes sacrificing on an altar. The reverses show portraits of various gods and goddesses. These are recognizable by their attributes if their names, written in an odd looking Greek beside them, should happen to be off flan or illegible.
Mitchiner’s Oriental Coins and their Values, vol. I lists seven basic dieties: the sun god, the moon goddess, the god of fire and war, the earth mother, the great judge, the creator, and the wind. Each can have coins with its name in Greek, Persian, or Hindu versions. For instance, the moon goddess is named on some coins as Salene (Greek), on others as Mao (Persian), and on still others as Vohumanah (Hindu). There are others besides these. Mitchiner lists 17 for Kanishka. These various dieties make a cute collection.
Kanishka’s coins hail from four regions: Baktria in western Afghanistan, Kapisa (Kabul), Taxila-Pushkalavati in Pakistan, and Jammu-Kashmir.
Baktrian coins have Greek legends on the obverse, and are all 8.5 gram copper “half units.” They are less common than the Pakistani coppers, which have their obverse legends in Persian (though written in a Greek alphabet). Pakistan coppers come in unit, half, and quarter sizes (rare eighths also exist), and there are gold coins as well. The gold is available, and the copper is, in general, abundant. Kapisa coins are similar in most respects to the Taxila-Pushkalavati coins, though not as common. The signature difference is that the dieties of the Kapisa series are wearing “opaque” garments, while the dieties of the Pakistani coins have “transparent” clothes through which their legs can be seen. Jammu-Kashmir coins are cruder in style than those of the other regions, and many are struck from a magnetic alloy. Jammu quarters are far more common than units or halves.
On to the next king, Huvishka, c. 158-195 CE. Styles started to change. The standing portrait is replaced on the gold by a torso, quite Hindu in style. The copper obverses vary by region. Taxila-Pushkalavati shows us a guy, why not call him the king, riding an elephant. Kapisa and Balkh have the king seated cross legged on a couch. Jammu-Kashmir coins continue the old type of the standing king holding a trident. There is another uncommon “seated king” series from Mathura deep inside India. The reverses show the various dieties, about 24 according to Mitchiner, though only about 5 could be considered common.
The common ones are very common, especially from the Pakistan mint.
The copper weights were reduced across the board during Huvishka’s reign, starting at about 16 grams to the unit (Kanishka’s standard was 17 grams) and ending as low as 7 grams. Must have been some kind of pressure on the empire, costs of which were pushed down to the economic bottom. The top level trade was protected, as can be seen in the gold coinage, which was maintained in both fineness and weight.
Whatever was going wrong with the Kushan kingdom continued during the next reign, that of Vasu Deva, c. 195-230 CE. Though physical evidence in the form of rock inscriptions is slight and (Chinese) historical records fragmentary at best, coin hoard evidence seems to indicate that formerly Kushan territories in northern Afghanistan were lost to a group of Turkic nomads known as “Jouan-Jouan,” who might have been ancestors of the Hephthalites, or “White Huns.” In India hoards to the east of Mathura lack coins of Vasu Deva and successors.
There may have been internal troubles in the Kushan realm as well. The ecumenical assortment of dieties previously pictured on the Kushan coinage disappeared with Vasu Deva, leaving only Siva and his bull. The king’s image is the standard Kushan standing figure, in the context of this decline perhaps an evocation of the better days of the past. Puts me in mind of the Roman FEL TEMP REPARATIO types of the next century.
The gold coins show a range of artistic competence and execution from mediocre to excellent. They appear to be very common at the moment, with prices ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to many hundreds, these figures relating not at all to any characteristic of the coins themselves. A search on the web in April 2003 produced about a dozen offers. The most expensive coins were the worst looking pieces of trash I’ve ever seen. There are also fakes. One I saw, if I hadn’t been told I would never have known. Scary.
And there are, as usual with the Kushan gold, quarter staters, but these are never offered for sale that I know of.
In copper there are three mint regions: Taxila, Peshawar (at this time called Pushapura), and Mathura. They are distinguished by the shape of letters in the legends: Taxila’s are “round,” Pushapura’s are “angular,” and Mathura’s coins, all half units, are crude. Usually there’s no more than one or two letters of the legend visible, so you can either guess where the coin comes from or you can give up. There was a bit of bottom gouging inflation too, the copper unit dropping from a strong 10 grams to about 8 while the top of the economy was held up by an unchanging gold stater.
Sometime during Vasu Deva’s reign the Sasanians of Iran took all of Afghanistan and the western half of Pakistan, leaving the Kushans with about half of their territory, from Taxila to Mathura. I’ll come back to the Sasanian sector later.
As for the Kushans, the next king was Kanishka II c. 230-250 CE), ruling a truncated realm. Gold coins, still of full weight and fineness, seem to have been struck at two mints: Taxila in Pakistan and Mathura in India. The Indian reverse shows a seated goddess “Ardoksho,” a version of the Hindu Lakshmi, consort of Vishnu and patroness of wealth. The Taxila gold has the traditional Shiva and bull design. These coins are not scarce, nor are they abundant. The coppers, evidently all from Taxila, are found with both of the gold reverse types, weigh 8 grams declining to 6, and are pretty crude.
Mitchiner chose to treat the coins of Kanishka II together with those of successors Vasishka and Vasu Deva II, who may have been co-rulers during the period c. 250-260 CE. The types for all three kings are the same. Legends on gold are readable, but the coppers tend not to have legible legends, and in practice most specimens can only be attributed to the period rather than to a specific king. I do this by comparing my coin with the pictures in the Mitchiner book - perhaps not a very accurate method, as the same type was used by the next set of kings as well.
By c. 260 CE Mathura in India was lost and the Kushan kingdom was essentially confined to central and eastern Pakistan. Two royal names are associated with the next four decades: Vasu, Chhu, who probably ruled together. Gold and copper types continued as before, with a trace of silver debasement inflicted on the gold toward the end, and the copper weight dropping as low as about 5 grams.
The years 300 to 360 CE are the final decades of the Kushans. There are essentially no records other than the coins, and the names found on them are Shaka, Kipanada, Mahi, Shahi, Gadahara, and Gadakhara. As the last four of these often cite neighboring kings they are usually taken to be later entities in vassalage to foreigners. Provisional dates for the major kings are 300-330 for Shaka and 330-360 for Kipanada.
Shaka’s gold is standard Kushan, and common. Kipanada’s gold has a characteristic compact and dumpy planchet and debasement with silver become rather marked at the end. Kipanada staters are rather common and fairly cheap. Golds with the minor names are less common but they go at the same price based on beauty rather than scarcity.
Copper can have either Ardoksho or Siva and bull, legends when present are usually corrupt or illegible, weight ranges from about 5 to about 7 grams.
In the middle of the 4th century CE a vassal in Pakistan, Kidara by name, rose to power and overthrew the old Kushan dynasty. We call his declining domain the “Kidarite kingdom” but he thought of himself as a Kushan, and so styled himself on his coins. The coins are pretty much all we have to go on for Kidarite history. Those guys didn’t accomplish much in the way of enduring monuments during their century in the sun.
Actually, according to Mitchiner in his “Oriental Coins and their Values,” the initial hit on the Kushans that led to his takeover was delivered by a gentleman named Peroz, who may have been a vassal of the Kushanshah, the viceroy of the Sasanian kings of Iran. Never mind that, Peroz was too far west for our consideration here. Kidara took advantage of the chaos and made his move.
Though he is named as king (Shah) on his coins, it seems that Kidara was probably the head of a confederacy of warlords whose descendants ruled their principalities and issued coins in their own right.
According to Chinese accounts of the period the Kidarite lands continued to experience the peaceful prosperity of elder Kushan days, though there was a significant reduction in the grandeur quotient due to lack of surplus funds.
Coinwise the early Kidarite period of the mid to late 4th century CE is marked by a modest penetration of the Iranian silver drachm as far east as the Gandahara region of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. Silver coins had not been issued in this region since early Scythian times, but this was not a major movement in the servicing of the economy - the silver coins are rare.
Along with the silver are the standard 8 gram Kushan gold coins. It seems that the fineness was maintained during Kidara’s reign. In later decades the gold, some with names of princes, some anonymous, declined in style and fineness through silver all the way to copper.
As is normal with a coin series that continued for most of a century there are common and rare types. By and large the Kidarite gold, mostly debased, is fairly easy to find. And actually the degree of debasement is quite variable. A coin of the same name might be found with significant and visible gold content, or seemingly all silver, or even crusty copper, leading one to imagine a corrupt situation in which the strong or favored get paid in gold coins while Joe Shmo gets his in the copper “gold.” The most common types these days are probably the base issues of 5th century princes Vigraha Deva and Vinayaditya, and of course the nameless versions. Vigraha is actually so common that it has become the subject of backyard counterfeiters in Pakistan, who make cast copper versions of what is normally to be a struck silver coin with a trace of gold. The other names are a bit harder to find, but people mostly don’t make a specialty of these coins, which all look pretty much the same.
The copper is pretty miserable. Mitchiner calls it all “anonymous,” though I, in my conceit, imagine that I have seen a letter or two on some specimens. We are basically talking about a continuation of the declining Kushan copper series, starting at about 6 grams and falling eventually to under 1 gram. The types are crude renditions of the either the standing king / seated goddess theme or standing king / Siva & bull. Style declines to stick figures and lines. Generally speaking they are very common and cheap.
Amongst the principalities two, both in the Punjab (eastern Pakistan-western India) issued interesting and unusual coins. Kota Kula coins are small coppers, sometimes with a stick figure Siva & bull, and either a the word “Kota” in Brahmi or a tribal mark. Not too common, these coins, and quite distinctive. The other series of base gold staters has a double-headed god, “Kartikeya,” standing and a bull on the other side. I’ve seen pictures, but never the actual coins. Maybe that means they’re rare?
Well, the Kidarite regime of faded glory succumbed to a social disaster. The whole region - Afghanistan to northern India - was invaded by people we call the Hephthalites.
When we discuss the Hephthalite “phenomenon” we are working in the dreamworld of supposition and plausible theory rather than in any kind of fact. The records of Chinese travellers are fragmentary. Then there are the coins, and that’s it for source material. From these bits of stuff numerous Ph.D. theses have been spun, and some of the authors of these have grown up to be experts. But the bottom line at this moment is that we do not know who the Hephthalites were, what language they spoke, or where they came from.
We know some of what and who they were not. They were not Turks. The Turks hated them. They were not Buddhists. They hated Buddhism. They were probably more than one group of people. The Baktrian Hephthalites who fought with the Sasanians may or may not have been related to the Hephthalites who conquered the Kidarite princes in Pakistan. One article I read on the web asserted that Kidara was a Hephthalite. Doesn’t seem reasonable to me, but I’m just a dilettante.
Anyway, during the 4th century CE the Hephthalites, whoever they were, expanded their realm until they occupied most or all of Afghanistan. Then they took Peshawar, then Taxila, then further east deep into India. Their progress was a typical nomad campaign, though the Hephthalites of the time had not been true nomads for almost a century. There was looting and burning and raping, and for some reason they really didn’t like Buddhism, wrecking Buddhist monasteries and temples wherever they went. (Mitchiner wonders if this apparent anti-Buddhist bias is more apparent than real, a result of Buddhist lamentations that have survived while the Hindu whining has been lost to the sands of time.)
The Hephthalites liked to strike coins, a habit we assume they learned from the Sasanians. Easy to assume, because the first Hephthalite coins of the mid-4th century CE were actually made with Sasanian dies they had found when they conquered Balkh in Afghanistan. They simply rubbed out the Sasanian king’s name (Shapur II) and replaced it with their tribal identity (Alchono - which I am pleased to translate as “Hun”). From that beginning they progressed to their own Sasanian style dies, and to imitations of the beautiful Kushanshahr gold coins.
Early in the 5th century they started to put out quite distinctive coins in the Kabul Valley and western Pakistan. These were still Sasanian in inspiration; there is the royal bust and the fire altar, but the portrait lacks the distinctive Sasanian crown and the guy looks extremely un-Persian. He is either mustached or cleanshaven, diademed, earringed. Sometimes he has a sort of “conehead,” from which some have opined that they practiced head binding, which may or may not be true.
The “turret head” coins typically have very rude reverses, sometimes nigh unto blankness. Early metal content is white silver, declining to copper in late 5th century Pakistan.
Around 467 CE the Sasanian king Peroz was captured in battle by the Hephthalites and held for ransom. Millions of Peroz drachms were sent east, where they were copied and imitated for another 400 years as far as Gujerat in India.
An offshoot of the Peroz imitations became popular in 5th century Pakistan. Known as the Napki Malka or Sri Shaho coinage from the legend, the series has a bushy haired, mustached portrait with a winged crown, the normal fire altar on the reverse. Metal content starts out somewhat base and declines to copper. Weight stays fairly constant at a bit over 3 grams, but diameter declines from 30mm to about 20 with correspondingly increased thickness.
Other Hephthalite coins were based on the Kidarite prototypes found in circulation when those lands were taken. Copper coins, based on Punjabi Kota Kula types, were struck by one “Sruta” around 460 CE, succeeded by “Tama,” then by Toramana, who used a new type of his portrait and a wheel. Toramana’s son, Mihiragula, c. 515-530, struck portrait coins with a bull on the reverse in Punjab, and also copper “staters” to replace the base gold Kidarite coins in Taxila, which he conquered. These used Kidarite types: standing king, seated goddess, and his name. In Kashmir the copper staters of Mihiragula’s son, Toramana II, were the prototype of the common coppers of the Kashmir kings.
As befits a government of wreckers rather than builders, Hephthalite coins are not so common. Easiest to find are the base end of series coins of the turret head type, followed by the Napki Malka coins, but they are not available in lots of 100 or more, as are Kushan coppers. I was recently offered some 2000 Soter Megas coppers. That does not happen with Hephthalite coins. A few here, few more there, individual nice coins on occasion, small hoard of a few tens of pieces once in a blue moon.
Someone noted that some of the Hephthalite portraits, especially in the Napki Malka series, are rather extraordinarily finely rendered, given the cartoonish nature of the portraiture used on Sasanian coins, not to mention the primitive art of the contemporary Kidarites. The implication is that there was a high culture somewhere in there. I respond by reminding that the ancient Scythians had an appreciation of fine art, and were in the habit of carrying off Greek artisans and artists as slaves to make beautiful things for their big shots. Why not the Hephthalites as well?
So, there are not Hephthalites hanging around anymore. You can’t find them anywhere. Assyrians you can find, proudly tracing their lineage back to those murderous scoundrels Senacherib and Ashurnasirpal, and Mongols of course with their George Washington analog Chingis Khan. But no Hephthalites. They got “absorbed.” But before they vanished into the indigenous population their government(s) were smashed. Some of the smashing was done by their constant enemies the Sasanians. But most of the leg work was done by another people, relatively new on the south Asian scene, descended as all nomads from somewhere north and east. I refer to the Turks.
The Turks are first mentioned by the Chinese late in the BCE period, when they were among the nomads living in “the West”; Sinkiang, Mongolia, Siberia. They were considered “advanced” amongst the nomads, having metalworking, a legal system, and other accouterments of civilization, albeit remaining nomads. Part of the seething stew of nomads, they expanded westward and southward in the first five centuries CE, pushing ahead of them the Scythians, Yueh Chih (from which sprang the Kushans), Hephthalites, and so forth. By the third century CE they were dominant from Sinkiang to Sogdiana (Turkmenistan). Groups of Turks migrating into northern China and Manchuria coalesced into the Northern Wei dynasty. In the west the Turkish tribes of the 5th century were vassals to the Hunnish Jouan-jouan (who were copying Kushan coins in northeastern Afghanistan).
Around 525 CE the western Turks joined up with the Wei dynasty to successfully assault the Jouan-jouan. At that point there existed a gigantic Turkish empire, larger than China but very lightly held. Pretty soon it was broken into eastern and western khanates.
By the mid-6th century CE Turks were ruling almost all of the former Hephthalite territories in Afghanistan and Pakistan, meanwhile breaking up into small principalities. Many of these princes struck their own coins.
There are two series of Turkish coins from this time and place. One is Sasanian in spirit, several series from various places in Afghanistan and points north, all of them rare and expensive. The other one, from Zabul (Kabul) and points east. These are the well known “bull and horseman” coins, some of which are extremely common.
It should be noted, though, that the Zabul shahs were more or less of a rump kingdom. The Turks of the 8th century had been dispossessed of their rule in Afghanistan by another group of newcomers, who would change the nature of the region and set the stage for the modern era. These newcomers were the Arabs, and they came of course with their new religion, Islam.
Let’s do a brief review of the geography of Pakistan.
The country is bigger than Texas and the roads, though better than those
in northwestern neighbor Afghanistan, are not good. Mountains to
the east from the north southward to the coast. Lowlands to the east
toward India. The coastal south, highland and lowland, is desert
The country has five provinces and a disputed territory. That last is Jammu, in the far north, called by Pakistan “Free Kashmir.” South of Jammu is Punjab, within which are the major cities of Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, and the ruins of most ancient Harappa. South of Punjab is Sind, major cities being Hyderabad and Karachi near the mouth of the Indus River, with the ruins of ancient Mohenjo Daro. West of Sind is mountainous Baluchistan, major town being Quetta on the Afghan border. North of Baluchistan is Northwest Frontier Province. Major city today is Peshawar. About 50 miles from Peshawar are the ruins of ancient Taxila. Kabul in Afghanistan is about 130 rugged mountain miles to the west.
From about 100 to about 700 CE the southern lands were edge zones of the major nomad migrations. Coins of those
regions struck by Scythians, Kushans, Hephthalites tend to be somewhat scarce. The region seems to have been a political and numismatic backwater during that period, while coins were pouring out of the northern mints and from such entities as the Western Satraps of Kutch. Early in the 8th century southern Pakistan was taken by the Muslim Arabs, whose doings and coinage will be presented below.
Back to the discussion of the Hindu Turkish Shahis of Zabul, south and west of Kabul, with their silver “bull and horseman” jitals. This political entity was a rump state that survived the Arab invasion of northern Afghanistan, effectively completed in 719 CE. The Zabul state coalesced with Hephthalite Gandhara, expanded a bit into India, was extensively penetrated by Hindu ideas.
The first Zabul coins are and fine silver coins equal in weight with the Sasanian dracchm, with the trademark Shahi horseman obverse. Reverse types varied in the 8th century CE. The art was fairly realistic. The coins are rare, worth a couple of hundred dollars these days. After the 9th century union with Gandhara the weight was dropped about 25%, equal to the ancient punchmarked karshapana, and the type became standardized with a horseman obverse and a bull couchant reverse. These are the famous “bull and horseman” (BH) jitals. Some of them are extremely common.
BH coins start out in silver of “reasonable” fineness, maybe 70%. The major varieties have different names written in Brahmi above the bull, subtypes have varyious letters or devices either side of the horseman. The names on the bull side are “Spalapati Deva,” “Bhima Deva,” “Khudarayaka,” and “Samanta Deva.” The succession of the coinage is uncertain but probably proceeded in that order. It is generally considered that Spalapati and Samanta are not names of individuals, and that those coinages endured for perhaps as long as a century each.
Spalapati coins were struck in Kabul between 719 and 870 CE, when Kabul was temporarily taken by the Muslims. The Shahi king retired to Gandhara, setting up a capital in Ohind, not far from Attock. a few miles southeast of Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. The Samanta Deva coins were struck there until about 1000 CE, when a further advance of the Muslims drove the Shahis into India proper.
Both Spalapati and Samanta coins are very common and cheap. The Samantas were continued in India, imitated by numerous entities Hindu and Muslim, debased, transformed, evolved as late as the 14th century CE. Bhima coins were made in Kabul circa 950 CE and are rare. Khudarayaka coins were struck in the vicinity of Kabul at about the time of the Muslim conquest, and the guy seems to have been kept on as a governor by the conquering Muslims. They are scarce, though less so than the Bhimas. There is a Khuda version with the Arabic word “’Adl” (=just) before the horseman. These are rare.
Associated with the silver jitals were coppers. The first copper type was a scarce bull and horseman Spalapati coin. This was followed with types of elephant (name above) and lion. The name “Vakka Deva” is associated by Mitchiner with Samanta Deva and assigned to Ohind, but Robert Tye, in his book “Jitals,” assigns them to Kabul and the Spalapati coins. Tye is probably correct, as there are versions of the type with “Samanta Deva” above the elephant. There are a number of varieties with letters here and there on the coins, half size Samantas, and a few are known with the names “Bhima,” “Kumara,” Khudarayaka, and Arabic legends. The Vakkas are common, Samanta coppers a bit less so, the others are rare.
In the first years of the 11th century the Muslims (Turks by now, not Arabs) pushed into northern Pakistan, first taking Peshawar, then nearby Ohind. By 1008 the Muslims had a firm grasp on all of Pakistan to the Indus and by about 1020 they had it all and had gone on into Kashmir and northern India. The Shahis were pushed east, pushed again, and finally eliminated.
From Punjab and western India in the 11th century come a series of bull and horseman jitals with thick “dumpy” flans and the Samanta Deva legend. All are base in varying degrees. They are called “Post-Shahi anonymous” issues in the references, though some of them are probably issues of the last of the Shahis in their Indian refuge. Some of them are extremely common. The type was taken up by the conquering Muslims and by various Indian dynasties, the rajas of Delhi noteworthy among them.
It is normal practice in the numismatic study of Asia aside from the Far East to discuss the “World of Islam” separately from whatever else there might happen to be. I will stick with that practice and backtrack to the 7th century CE.
The armies of Islam flowed out of Arabia both westward into Africa and eastward into Syria. Resistance was futile. By 720 or so the Arabs had conquered a band of territories stretching from Spain to Sind in Pakistan. The swiftness of the conquests was considered another miracle by the Muslims who were convinced of the rightness and justice of their cause.
Toleration of other religious faiths is built into the scheme of Islam, but it is limited to specific monotheistic creeds, specifically Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. Polytheism and “idolatry” are anathema. The treatment of captured polytheistic populations was worked out in the early years of Islamic consolidation in Arabia. The individuals in question, if they were adult, were given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. This policy removed the remnants of the old religions of Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the local stuff, leaving only monotheists of varyious kinds.
The anti-polytheist policy work adequately until the Muslims got to the Hindu-Buddhist zone. There they found people performing rituals in front of statues, and what could that be other than idolatry? And there were many different gods and goddesses, the definition of polytheism. The fine points raised by the Buddhists that their statues represented not dieties but states of mind were lost on the Arabs, to whom if it quacked like a polytheism it was a polytheism. The solution to the “problem” of polytheist Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India was clear and hallowed by fifty years of tradition.
There was a problem though. The Muslims were not dealing with handfuls of idolators precariously hanging on in lands that had become overwhelmingly Christian, as in Egypt and Syria. There were millions of idol worshippers in the newly conquered eastern lands, and many more millions over the border in India. “Join or die” as a general policy was not an option, though it was tried here and there.
The general practice came to be that the well organized Buddhist monasteries were destroyed, but the “pagans” were allowed to exist as a despised subject population. Various nasty practices were perpetrated as occasion, opportunity, and desire provided. Chief among them was the “raid.” These were military actions performed over the border or on subject populations. The typical procedure involved the overrunning of an area, killing of any adult men found, and abduction of women and children as slaves, along with any portable property. It became a general cultural practice. One day there would be trade and commerce, the next day a raid. The process is still happening in Sudan.
In the early decades of the Muslim occupation of Pakistan raids produced at least hundreds of thousands of slaves, possibly millions. Large caravans of slaves were brought across the mountains into occupied Afghanistan. It was a rough journey and many of them died. I found a website that explains that the current name, Hindu Kush, of that northern mountain range across which many of those Hindu slaves were brought translates as “Dead Hindus” or something like that, and that the name comes from that time, roughly 9-11th centuries CE, when the slave raids were such a popular pastime.
The Arab armies penetrated Pakistan all the way to Sind, governors set up to administer the territories.
Well, let’s take a look at the early Islamic coins of eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Regular “post-reform” silver dirhams and copper fulus of the Umayyad caliphs were struck in Balkh in northern Afghanistan as early as 740 CE, and those continued through the early Abbasid caliphs. Balkh is a fairly common mint for Abbasid dirhams. Extremely rare Umayyad dirhams come from the port of Debul near Karachi in Sind, and equally rare fulus are known from Mansurah near Lahore and Multan in Punjab.
In Sind the Arabs found the coinage to be mainly tiny silver coins degenerated from the drachms struck first by the Western Satraps, then by the Guptas, then by local authorities of the 5-7th centuries CE. The latest common coins of that progression have the designs reduced to lines on one side and a triangle of dots on the other. In recent years a few coins have been found with the three dots on one side and an Arabic legend on the other and these have been assigned to the governors (later autonomous) of Multan.
The local governors of Afghanistan were autonomous from the early 9th century CE. In 867 CE a warlord in the service of the governor amassed power and displaced his master, becoming an independent ruler. He had one of those long Arab names, the important part of which, for our purposes, was Saffar. The caliphate sent an army against him and with local allies defeated and killed Saffar, though his brother held on to some parts of eastern Iran for a while.
The Saffarid uprising disrupted communications with the caliphal governors of Sind and Punjab, who from that time became autonomous. From about 870 CE until about 1030 the Arab rulers in Sind struck a series of coins consisting of tiny silvers, very common in aggregate, scarce coppers, and an extremely rare small gold coin. The silvers, hard to read for the most part, usually have either the names Ahmad or Abdallah, with a few other names known. Some references call them qanhari dirhams, others style them dammas. I have seen batches of more than 1000, priced to sell.
One of the caliphate’s allies in the suppression of the Saffarids was the family of Saman, four brothers of which had previously been rewarded with governorships in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for services rendered. For a while late in the 9th century the Samanid realm stretched from central Iran to Kashgar in Sinkiang.
There was a problem with Samanid governmental organization, however. In common with many Arab governments of the time there was a shortage of trained soldiers and qualified administrators. Many of these regimes adopted the practice of buying large numbers of Turks to serve as slaves in both army and government. In the 10th century the chickens hatched of this situation came home to roost as Turks took over from their Arab lords and established their own states.
This happened in our area of interest in the eastern Afghan town of Ghazna, where the Turkish commander Sebuktegin took over and proceeded to consolidate his zone. His immediate successors expanded into Pakistan, then into India.
with part 3