A gold massa from Srivijaya, and their sacking by the Cholas!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by JayAg47, Jan 18, 2021.

  1. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    This is my longest write-up ever, and the first one for 2021!
    I've always wanted to talk about the Cholas, and their conquests, and here is one when they were at their peak!
    South India is often overlooked by the historians, as most people consider the dramatic northern part to be more interesting, however away from all the ruckus of the north were the kingdoms of the Tamil region, the Cholas, Cheras, and the Pandyas. Among them the most successful in not only getting out of the southern peninsula, but also establishing their control on far off lands was the Cholas.

    It is really interesting to read about their naval adventures, I would say they were the most powerful naval force at the time after the Romans, but before the European/Ottoman fleets of the late 14th century!

    With a powerful navy and a quest for dominance comes with its problems, the Sri Vijayans. The Cholas and the Srivijayans once had cordial relations, even the Srivijaya king Mara-vijay-ottungga-varman of the Sailendra dynasty built a Buddhist monastery called ‘Chudamani Vihara’ in Negapatnam (modern Dutch-Indian colony), in the Chola land under the patronage of Raja Raja I. However, the relations started to deteriorate as the Cholas expanded their power and trade. The sea route to China was controlled by the Sri Vijayans, it is still one of the busiest routes in the world (Malay-Singapore straits). Heavy taxes and the constant pirating of the Tamil merchant ships made the Cholas angry, but the catalyst that made them sprung into action was when the Hindu Khmer king Suryavarman I requested the help of Rajendra Chola, against the Buddhist kingdom Tambralinga, who then allied with the other major Buddhist kingdom, Sri Vijaya!

    So, in 1025 AD, Rajendra Chola’s fleet set on the journey of crossing the Bay of Bengal, at first, he sent a small fleet to the north of Sumatra as a decoy, so when the ill-prepared Sri Vijayans spent most of their forces preventing the advancement of the ships in the north, the much larger armada sailed behind the island down its west coast, crossing the Sunda strait (Sumatra-Java), and attacked the southern part of Sumatra where the Sri Vijayan capital, Palembang, was located! The Cholan army then sacked the capital, plundered the ‘Vidhyadara Torana’, the jewelled 'war gate' of Srivijaya, and finally captured Sangrama Vijay-ottungga-varman, the king himself!

    The distance from the Cholan port city of Poompuhar to Palembang is the same as the distance between London and Iraq (2500 miles)!

    The Chola fleet didn’t stop there, the ships advanced northwards, sacking and plundering every city including Melayu, Tumasik (modern day Singapore), Panai and Kedah (Malaysia). For this achievement, Rajendra Chola is also known as ‘Kadaram Kondan’, aka the one who conquered Kadaram (Malay peninsula).

    This was the point of Sri Vijayan decline, for the next two decades (until when Rajendra died), Sri Vijaya was under the direct control of the Cholas, and from then onwards until the Pandyan conquest of Cholas in 1279, Sri Vijaya was no more a dominant player in the area as the Cholas took over the control of the trade, after that the new Majapahit kingdom came to power in that region around 1293. This 13th century bilingual stone inscription from Canton, China, shows both Tamil and Chinese.
    Fun fact, the Northern Sentinelese island was already known to the cholas by the name of ‘Thinmai-Theevu’, aka the island of valour men, although there are many other islands in that archipelago with hostile defenders that the Cholas could’ve meant here among the Nicobar islands (known as the Nakkavaram by the Cholas). And they also called the Bay of Bengal as the 'Lake of the Cholas', similar to how the Romans called the Mediterranean, 'Mare Nostrum'.
    A map of showing the Chola's maximum extent.
    Alright, now let's get to the coins, I only ever was interested in the South Indian coinage, but thanks to @TuckHard and his various posts featuring coins from the South East Asia made me want to get a coin from that area! and when I was looking for them, I came across this one massa gold coin from the Srivijayan Sailendra dynasty, weighing at 2.44 grams, circa 700-1000 AD. 5mmx5mmx5mm, it's literally a cube!
    Ex Peter Andrews collection
    Obverse shows the letter 'tha' of Devanagari,
    Rev shows a incuse of two Lingams.
    And this thing is thicc! side.jpg
    I wonder if this Ranjendra Chola coin (1014-1044) was ever made from the plundered gold from the conquest of Srivijaya?!
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic (coins and) writeup, @JayAg47, about a phase of history I knew exactly nothing about. I had no idea the Cholas expanded beyond Ceylon, let alone anything remotely to this extent. Just, Wow. Making sense of the South Asian cultural element in Southeast Asia is suddenly a lot more intuitive. Many, Many Thanks! Not least for the terrific map.
    JayAg47 likes this.
  4. TuckHard

    TuckHard Well-Known Member

    Very, very nice! I don't have one of these square coins yet but they're very interesting. They're commonly called gold piloncitos, after taking their name from a Philippine numismatic term for a similar and related gold coinage from the Philippine islands. With yours at 2.44 grams, it's spot on weight-wise to a standard massa size. These first appeared in the late 8th/early 9th century, along with a matching silver coin series shown below. This is a really nice example of them! Pretty soon after the gold piloncitos emerged in Central Java they evolved to be more rounded than these early cube types, I'd say that yours can be dated from c. 780-900 AD, give or take a few decades. Curiously, there haven't been any Sumatran/Javanese coins reported from Indian finds. I would wager good money, though, that there were some of these piloncitos taken back to India where they reside today.

    800-850 CE (Circa) AR Massa 'Sandalwood flower' 'Ma character in Nagari'.png
    Mataram Kingdom of Central Java
    c. 800 - 850 AD
    AR Massa | 2.44 grams | 12mm | Slightly cup-shaped flan (scyphate)
    Obv: Incused sandalwood flower motif
    Ref: Ma character in Nagari​
  5. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    It’s really a shame that the mighty history of Cholas are buried! They were the only ever kingdom from the Indian subcontinent to ever go out of their way to establish their dominance in far off lands, and wanted to control the sea rather than like most kingdoms who wanted to rule the whole of ‘India’, like Ashoka, Gupta, and the Mughals!
    Alegandron and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  6. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Yes Massa!

    Here is a silver. The character on this one is "Na".
    later series AR 1/2 unit, 1.29g, 7mm
    Obv: Character Na
    Ref: Mitchener NISW 3058var (or 3885?); cf. Zeno 133598

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    ...Well, I guess we could add that to everything Else they never taught you in school!!! Unprintable verbiage May ensue....
  8. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    Given that the native territory of Cholas didn't have any gold or silver reserves, and that all their precious metals came from trade and conquests, I'd say any foreign coins would've been melted and issued under the authority of Cholas, so there won't be any of these coins from India in its native form!
    +VGO.DVCKS and TuckHard like this.
  9. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    What a great write-up, @JayAg47, about an area of history that I never learned about in my admittedly Eurocentric and USA-centric formal schooling. Looks like a fun area to collect!
    JayAg47 likes this.
  10. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Great write-up and enlightenment, @JayAg47 , thank you. I am limited in South India Culture coins... But, this is very interesting history, with the Cholas expanding OUTSIDE the Indian Continent. Cool.

    Here is one from South India around the same time period:

    India Gujarat Chalukyas Gadhaiya Paisa BI Drachm 11th C CE Sun Moon Fire Alter Crescent
    Curtisimo, JayAg47, capthank and 2 others like this.
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