An Indian snack: Drachm of the Western Satraps (Kshatrapas)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, Mar 31, 2021.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    I'm still far behind in posting my coins, and depending on some upcoming auctions may be even farther behind soon, but meanwhile here's a quick write-up:
    Western Satraps.jpg
    Western Satraps (Kshatrapas). AR drachm (2.0 g, 16 mm). Vijayasena (238-250 AD, Saka era 160-172). Obverse: Bust of king right with tight-fitting headdress, Sara-Era date behind head 1xx, blundered pseudo-Greek inscription around. Reverse: Three-arched hill with crescent above, crescent and moon to sides, Brahmi inscription around giving names of king and his father. MACW 2701-2714. This coin: Ex @John Anthony auction, August 2020.

    The Western Satraps (also known as the Kshatrapas, also also known as the Sakas) were an important dynasty in Northern India for several centuries, both politically and numismatically. They gained independence from the Into-Parthians in 78 AD (which is thus the starting year of the Saka era) and were ultimately conquered by the Guptas shortly before 400 AD. At their greatest extent they ruled territory in what are now Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh states in west-central India. The following map shows their realm around 350 AD:

    (image courtesy Wikipedia)

    The kings of the Western Satraps continued to use the term "satrap" for themselves, which implies they considered themselves subservient to some other, more powerful ruler, presumably the Kushans. However, the Kshatrapas seem to have acted independently, and their allegiance was probably no more than nominal. There is evidence of trade with the Roman Empire along the Indian Ocean coastal region. The Kshatrapa kings seem to have supported Buddhism. The expanding Sasanian empire reduced Kshatrapa territory in the west, and by 400 the Gupta empire had swallowed up the remaining Western Satrap territories. Vijayasena was one of the four sons of Damasena to take the throne, he was briefly usurped in 242 but regained the throne about a year and a half later, he was succeeded by his brother, and... that's all I can find on him. (If there was a Suetonius for the Western Satraps, his work has not survived.)

    The silver drachm coinage of the Western Satraps remained very stable for a long period, with highly stereotyped designs and inscriptions. (The earlier coins of king Nahapana are a bit different, but we're ignoring that for now.) The obverse type features the king's bust in a tight-fitting cap that (to me) looks a bit like a WWI doughboy's helmet, and the reverse features a three-humped hill with crescent and star. The obverse features blundered pseudo-Greek, but also (starting in S 102) the Saka-Era date behind the king's head. On my coin, I can make out the bottom of the initial 1 in the date, but the other two digits are beyond my skill. (Vijayasena's dates are Saka 160 to 172 ). The reverse inscription is in Brahmi script and names both the king and his father. I tried to read the reverse legend on my specimen, but eventually my brain had too much trouble with the unfamiliar Brahmi script. It seems to match photos online for Vijayasena, but if anyone here feels confident in their reading of Brahmi I'd appreciate hearing their input. The coinage of the Kshatrapas was imitated by several other kingdoms, most notably the Guptas whose silver coinage copies the Kshatrapa obverse, with the reverse design changed to a peacock. Drachms of the Western Satraps are fairly common, tend to look decent even with significant wear, and frequently have readable dates, which makes them very collectible. Please post your coins of the Western Satraps.

    Mitchiner, Michael. Oriental Coins and Their Values, Volume 1: The Ancient and Classical World 600 B.C.- A.D. 650. B. A. Seaby Ltd., 1978. ISBN 0 904173 16 X.
    Wikipedia page: Western Satraps Retrieved March 31, 2021. (Yes, I know, Wikipedia, reliability, yada yada. But this page is actually thorough and well-researched. Wikipedia may not be a proper scholarly source, but as a quick reference it is often pretty good.)
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2021
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  3. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter Dealer

    What I like most about that coin is the abundance of the pseudo-Greek lettering. It's often off-flan on these types.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Parthicus like this.
  4. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Beautiful example from a series that never seems to get enough love!

    I have a full binder page from the days when it was possible to get them for $5 on ebay; I have about the second half of the dynasty finished, which is the easy half.

    Apparently I need to get them out and imaged, because I only have these three handy

    Bhartradaman, blockage strike
    Western satrap drachm brockage.jpg

    Visvasena, AKA "Mister Magoo" rare early(?) variant with Chhatrapa instead of Kshatrapa
    Western kshatrapas visvasena unusual style.jpg

    Rudrasena III, the last common kshatrap
    Western satraps rudrasena iii.jpg
  5. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

    Great coin and write up! I totally see the American Dough helmet!
    Here's one of my Satraps
  6. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Great writeup.

    The third ancient I ever bought & still own.

    Western Kshatrapas: Rudrasimha I (178 - 197 A.D.)
    O: Head of king right.
    R. Chaitya (3-arched hill), river below, crescent moon and sun above, Brahmi legend around.
  7. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    In the opening post coin, if you start reading clcockwise at 3 o'clock the visible margin text reads "KsaTra(Pa) DaMaSeNa PuTraSa RaJno MaHaKsaTra".
    Where "Damasena putrasa" means "son of Damasena". The name of the actual ruler is not visible and not certain as Damasena had four sons who ruled for some time. But Vijayasena would be the most probable.
    Parthicus and Orielensis like this.
  8. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    A very nice coin and an informative write-up! I enjoyed reading it and learned something.

    I have a single drachm of the Western Satraps and a later Gupta coin copying that design:
    Orient, Antike – Westliche Satrapen, Bhartrdāman, Drachme.jpg
    Bhartrdāman, Western Satraps, AR drachm, issued 288-295 AD. Obv: Head of king right, Saka era date behind : 21[...]. Rev: Brahmi legend "rajno mahakshatrapasa rudrasenaputrasa rajno mahakshatrapasa bhartrdamnah;" chaitya (3-arched hill), river below, crescent moon and sun above. 14mm, 1.96g. Ref: BMC 678. Ex AMCC 2, lot 548 (their picture).

    Orient, Antike – Gupta Empire, Kumaragupta I, Drachme, Garuda.png
    Gupta Empire, Kumaragupta I, AR drachm, c. 415–455 AD, "Western type." Obv: Head of king r.; blundered legend. Rev: "Paramabhāgavata Rajadhiraja Sri Kumaragupta Mahendraditya"; Garuda standing facing. 14.3mm, 1.70g. Ref: Mitchiner 4845-58.
  9. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    On the last Gupta one; The legend is blundered, but is seems Skandagupta rather than Kumaragupta (Starting about 1 o'clock to slightly past 3 o'clock "Sri SkaNdaGuPta"
    +VGO.DVCKS, Orielensis and Parthicus like this.
  10. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    One of my first ancient coins that was neither Greek nor Roman was a Satrap identified by the seller as Bhartrdaman. At that time I had no way to check the ID since Mitchiner was still in my future. I decided at that time that I would have no more of the coins unless I learned the language or found coins with enough legend that made me relatively certain of the ID. Full legend Satraps never came my way.

    Over a decade ago, I briefly revisited interest in the series and picked up a few more. By that time I had Mitchiner but never became in the least comfortable reading the legends. Foreign languages are not easy for me and reading half letters is not as easy as having whole letters. This period brought me what I am calling Rudrasena I as Mahakshatrapa from year 133 (211 AD) of interest since that was the year Septimius Severus (and Geta) died. om4395bb0582.jpg

    That same time brought me a coin in my catalog as Rudrasimha I but listed with the same date span (199-222AD). I do not recall if this was a seller ID or mine but the coins look the same to me now so I remain confused. Am I seeing a difference in the name of the father at the bottom (two small letters between the tall hooks???)?

    About that same time what I am calling Vijayasena year 164 was added mostly because I thought I could read the year. My eyes are not what they were a decade ago and Mitchiner illustrations are not as clear to me now.

    That leaves my only other Satrap which I am calling another Bhartrdaman. The portrait is not as clear as my first coin but the legend is better in the significant parts bringing up the question of which is more important when you don't have both on one coin. For that matter, I assume the rare rulers which I do not have probably would be even harder to find in clear and complete.

    If I continue my cycle from the past, I am scheduled to revisit interest in these sometime after I am 90. If I were going to shows (cancelled) and happened upon a large pickout pot with thousands of these at a cheap price, I feel more comfortable not so much reading them but in selecting coins that have the important legends clear enough that I might be able to figure them out. Realistically, I know I will not be putting in the work to become familiar with the letters presented in partial form. For those of you with fewer years past than you have in the future and with better language skills, I could see these as being an interesting activity.

    From the Gupta group I only have two. The first I have as Kumaragupta I. The portrait style of this coin and flan shape appealed to me and still does.

    The last similar coin (to be in 2016) is what I am calling Skandagupta with a bull replacing the Garuda. The number of different options from Indian region civilizations large and small from roughly the same time as what we might call 'Severan and later' Roman seems huge especially for those of us who were brought up on 'Western Civilization' rather than 'World History'. Many of the coins are decent silver and better looking than most of their late Roman equivalents.
  11. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

  12. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks so much, both for the correction as well as for the link! It's wonderful to have so many experts on different topics on this board.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  13. cplradar

    cplradar Talmud Chuchum

  14. cplradar

    cplradar Talmud Chuchum

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