Numismatic Books


Punchmarked Coinage of the Indian Subcontinent – Non-Imperial Series North of Deccan

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Ancient India’s political structure at the dawn of history went through a remarkable phase that saw the transformation of a small local state in the Middle Ganga basin — Magadha — into an empire that covered most of the Subcontinent. That process began in the fifth century BCE and lasted for over three hundred years, reaching its peak under the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. This period also coincides with the introduction of metallic coinage to India. First brought to the notice of scholars in the early nineteenth century, these ‘punchmarked coins’ proved complex and difficult to place in a chronological sequence. The basic framework was set out by scholars such as Durga Prasad and Parmeshwari Lal Gupta in the mid-twentieth century, but the ongoing appearance of new types and increasingly close-focus analysis of the coins has allowed a fine-tuning which is still in progress today. The pre-Imperial punchmarked coins are primarily a coinage of prehistoric peoples, with their origin in an age without written language. Of all the sources available to scholars to reconstruct the history of the time literary and artefactual – the coins are increasingly recognised as the most consistent narrative of political and economic conditions during the three hundred years of their manufacture. Archaeologists have been slow to recognise that coins are artefacts just like the other human products of the past, but with a good deal more information to impart if given sufficient attention. Their provenances give us the locations of different political regions, their iconographic content describes the agrarian society in which they were produced, and the different weights tell of the growth and evolution of trade networks. From small beginnings comprising rare localised coins, we follow the progress of the rise of Magadha until its coinage — as issued by its Mauryan successors becomes ubiquitous over vast tracts of land. We see, too, the catastrophic and sudden collapse of Imperial authority in the mid-second century BCE as the coins quickly become debased and were then replaced with paltry local copper coinages of the breakaway states. Clearly, numismatics tells two different stories here. The so-called Imperial Series which are attributed to Magadha and its successor the Mauryan Empire are paralleled by the coinages of all the other small states that were at different stages free from the hegemony of the Imperial authority. At first, before the rise of Magadha, many small states began tentative issues of coins, but soon after we see their progressive elimination by the growing Magadhan conquests, until in the time of Ashoka in the mid- third century, few if any places manage to survive with an independent coinage. Then, as Mauryan power fell away, they briefly crept back again before the invasion by Indo-Greeks from the northwest put a final end to punchmarked coinage. That is the picture as we read it in the early 21st century. But as research continues and techniques become more sophisticated, who knows what the final analysis will be? This volume is a companion to the Magadha-Mauryan catalogue (‘GH’, Gupta & Hardaker 2014) that describes the Imperial Series. It covers all the ‘local’ coinages (except those of the Deccan) that are believed to have been issued independent of Magadha-Mauryan authority. From the point of view of history they are perhaps the more interesting of the two groups, but they present a more daunting challenge to classify. It is an exciting journey to explore what the coins themselves tell us; they are the only consistent and indestructible elements of history from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Often with uncertain provenance, rare, poorly manufactured, with a bewildering array of weight systems, many can only be ascribed tentatively to any region. All the techniques available to the numismatist have to be harnessed to make headway in bringing order out of the chaos: style, method of manufacture and fabric, weight and weight range, metal quality, iconography, bankers’ marks, comparative rarity and archaeological evidence all go into this melting pot. If the reader is seeking in this Catalogue precise answers to all the questions of date and locality, we have to say in truth this cannot always be determined. {Enter}While most of the Series in this Catalogue belong to the period before the rise of Magadha, or run in parallel to its rise, some may belong to the late Mauryan or post-Mauryan period, such as the Saurashtra or Sugh series. There may have been a small window of time when breakaway states from the collapsing Mauryan Empire were still able to access silver to make their own coinages, but candidates are few and the evidence is not strong. Most fractional coins with single marks can be linked to regions or hoards that suggest an early date, even though their types are ambiguous. The true post-Mauryan coinages are almost exclusively of base metal and are covered in GH 2, (2014).


Availability: 5 in stock

Weight 1.074 kg
Dimensions 28 × 21 × 2 cm

Terry Hardaker