An Unexpected Kushan Coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Oct 18, 2018.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    A while ago I contacted @John Anthony about possibly buying some cheap Roman coins for a project for my students (much like what @Gavin Richardson has done in this thread - thanks for doing all the leg work!). John kindly put together some Roman coins from his stock, complete with attributions which will save me a lot of time. He included some Greek coins which I won’t be able to use (I teach high school students, and just getting them to piece together a Latin inscription will be enough of a challenge), also with attribution, and then one unattributed Kushan coin:

    Anc-06-KU-k0127-Karishka I-DR-797.jpg
    Kushan Empire
    Kanishka I, r. 127-150 A.D.
    AE Drachm, 17.42 mm x 4.3 grams
    Obv.: Crowned, diademed king standing facing, holding spear and sacrificing at altar at left, Bactrian legend around: þAO KA ... NηþKI (King Kanishka)
    Rev.: Solar deity Mithra standing left, holding sword hilt and holding out hand in blessing, radiate nimbus around head, Bactrian legend right: MIYPO, tamgha at left

    As you can tell from my caption, I figured out what the coin is, and I am incredibly pleased with it! This is primarily due to the depiction of Mithras on the reverse. Most of us are probably aware of the Roman cult to Mithras - this was primarily the result of the Romans imitating Persian practices. But Mithras is much older than the Romans, and even the Parthians or Sasanids.

    A Sassanian depiction of Mithras on the left, sanctifying the investiture of Ardashir II

    Mithras probably originated with early Indo-European speakers migrating through Iran to India. He is mentioned in the RigVeda as an associate of the sky god Varuna, and as such becomes incorporated into the Brahmanic religions of
    India as a sun god, and a god of binding and contracts. He is likewise recognized in Zoroastrianism as a god of contracts, and is also associated with the sun (hence the nimbus around his head). The Kushan would mix together Indic, Persian, and Hellenic practices, but it seems their acceptance of Mithra comes from the Persian/Zoroastrian influence.

    A 2nd Century depiction of Maitreya from Gandhara (North-West India). It is tempting to think that the nimbus here is reminiscent of that given to Mithras, but it seems this symbol for holiness was used with many Bodhisattvas.

    It is also possible that Mithras become incorporated into Buddhism. The Bactrian Kings (Menander I in particular) would already change Buddhism into a religion by recognizing the Buddha as a god. This new form of Buddhism is called Mahāyāna Buddhism, which would become incredibly popular and spread along the Silk Road into China. Mahāyāna Buddhism also introduced “Saint-like” beings called Bodhisattvas, who had achieved enlightenment, but existed to aid others in achieving enlightenment. One of the earliest recorded Bodhisattvas was Maitreya. There is a theory that Maitreya derives from Mithras - primarily because of the linguistically relationship, but there are some general similarities between what the two represent. King Kanishka would oversee the shift of the Kushan empire from being Zoroastrian to becoming Buddhist. This is even reflected in his coins, with one of his reverses showing Maitreya sitting crossed-leg on a throne.

    NOT MY COIN. Image and description from
    AE tetradrachm or unit, c. 128-150 CE
    Weight: 16.28 gm., Diam: 26 mm., Die axis: 12 o'clock
    Crowned, diademed king standing facing, holding spear and sacrificing at altar at left,
    Bactrian legend around: þAO KA ... NηþKI (King Kanishka) /
    Maitreya Buddha seated facing on a meditation platform,
    Bactrian legend around: MHTPAΓO BOYΔO (letters retrograde), no tamgha
    Göbl 793, Cribb die 22

    So, I got an unexpectedly awesome coin, with a god whose representations span the major civilizations in the world. Thank John!

    Feel free to post any Kushan or any other related Coins!
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  3. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    Very cool coin @FitzNigel it is quite the interesting piece. Your post made for a good read. I don't have any coins of the Kushans, but since you mentioned Menander I Soter I will add a coin of his.
    Menander I Soter AR Drachm 155-130 BC.
    18mm, 2.46 g
    Obv: Diademed heroic bust left, seen from behind, wearing aegis and brandishing spear.
    Rev: Athena Alkedimos advancing left, holding shield and thunderbolt; monogram to right.
    Bopearachchi 7A
  4. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I think Bactrian coins are fair game for this thread!

    Anc-05-BA-iee-Menander I-DR-67.jpg
    Kingdom of Bactria
    Menander I r. c. 165/55-130 B.C.
    AR Drachm, 15.71mm x 2.5 grams; Obv.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ / ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ. Diademed bust of the sovereign right, coat fastened on the right shoulder
    Rev.: (Maharajasa tratarasa / Menamdrasa). Athena Alkidemos standing left. Monogram 'H' in right field
    Ref.: Bopearachchi, Ménandre (I) Sôter, 67
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Fantastic post, thank you!! I would love to get my hands on a Kushan Mithras.

    Here's one of my favourite Kushan coins, of Kanishka's father, Vima Kadphises:

    Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 7.13.28 PM.jpg

    Plus some notes related to the subject of the OP: "The symbol in the left field of the reverse is usually called the Buddhist "triratna" or "three jewels." The symbol is associated with "Buddha's footprint", and combines a lotus petal, a diamond rod, and the three jewels proper, symbolizing the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Interestingly, the triratna is quite similar to the Hindu symbol for Nandi's footprint, Nandi being Shiva's bull depicted on the reverse. The Kushans seem to have been big on religious pluralism, and found a nice expression of it here."
  6. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    Hey that's a cool Mithras Kukshan @FitzNigel!

    Here's one I need to do a new photo of, a Kanishka I with the goddess Nana on the reverse.

  7. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Frankly, I need to do a new picture as well. I just got my camera to take good pictures of silver, but need to figure out something different for bronze
  8. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Here's my Kanishka featuring goddess Nanaia:
    Kanishka Nanaia.jpg
    And one I posted a full write up of recently, of Kujula Kadphises:
    Kujula Kadphises.jpg
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I suppose I do owe you for my first Kushan coin @Parthicus

    00-KU-Karishka I-AE-TET-3098.jpg
    Kushan Empire
    Karishka I, r. 128-158 A.D.
    AE Tetradrachm, 24.73 mm x 16.8 grams
    Obv.: Crowned, diademed king standing facing, holding spear and sacrificing at altar at left, Bactrian legend around: ϸΑΟ ΚΑ ... ΝηϸΚΙ (King Kanishka)
    Rev.: Four-armed Oesho (Shiva?) standing facing, head turned to left, nimbate, holding various attributes, Bactrian legend right: ΟΚϸΟ, tamgha at left
    TheRed, Orielensis, panzerman and 8 others like this.
  10. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I thought I would tack on to this thread a recent purchase - it was advertised as a Kushan coin depicting the Buddha, but I knew better than that. This is the Kushan king Huvishka, seated cross-legged much like the Buddha coin (and was perhaps inspired by the coin of his predecessor). It too depicts Mithra on the reverse (I believe - it is admittedly worn, but the price was right).

    Kushan Empire
    Huvishka, r. 155-189 A.D.
    AE Tetradrachm, 25.48 mm x 13.8 grams
    Obv.: Huvishka seated facing cross-legged, holding ankuśa (elephant goad) and scepter; trace of clouds below
    Rev.: Solar deity Mithra standing left, extending hand in benediction and holding hilt of sword; tamgha to left
    TheRed, Orielensis, panzerman and 6 others like this.
  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Well, you can see where I got this one from, also Huvishka. Different obverse, but same reverse, I think, Mithra with his hand on his sword hilt? Though it looks more like he's doing aerobics...

    TheRed, Orielensis, Parthicus and 5 others like this.
  12. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    That's certainly a rather odd coin @FitzNigel - my own thought is its a barbarous copy - but it surely has a crescent moon sprouting from the shoulders, and possibly 'MAO' written to the right?
    panzerman likes this.
  13. Alegandron

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

    I captured this in one of @John Anthony 's weekly auctions:

    INDIA, Kushan Empire. Vima Takto (Soter Megas).
    Æ Tetradrachm - [EDIT] nope, it is probly a DIDRACHM, 21mm, 8.5g, 12h; c. AD 80-100.
    Obv.: Radiate and diademed bust right, holding scepter; tamgha behind.
    Rev.: BACIΛЄV BACIΛЄVΩN CΩTHP MЄΓAC; Vima Takto on horseback right, holding axe; tamgha to lower right.
    Reference: Senior B17.1vT

    For some silly reason, the obverse always reminded me of this silly song back from the late 70's.

    LOL, it was a fun party song back in University days... :)
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2019
  14. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    the one I just posted? I admit to being no expert in these, so may I ask why you think it is a barbarous imitation? Unfortunately the lack of centering and the wear has eliminated the inscription to the right of the figure on the reverse, so I couldn’t tell you what it says. I based my judgement by comparing it to other examples of the same design, so I am happy to be corrected!
  15. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Nice Kushans in this post! My only Kushan was kind of an accident too. I plan on getting a few more when the opportunity arises:

    Kushan - Didrachm bull Sep 2019z (0).jpg

    Kushan Kingdom Æ Didrachm
    Vima Kadphises
    (c. 100-128 A.D.)

    King standing sacrificing at fire altar, club, tamgha & axehead-shafted trident in fields, Greek legend around / Siva standing w. trident & deerskin, bull Nandi right behind, Kharoshti legend.
    Göbl 763; MAC 3048-49.
    (8.66 grams / 20 mm)

    Attribution Notes:

    Full legends: BACIΛEYC BACIΛEWN CWTHP MEΓAC OOHMO KAΔΦICHC/ maharajasa rajadirajasa sarvaloga isvarasa mahisvarasa Vima Kathphishasa tratara

    Coins India ( "...the rare di-drachm or half unit. These are hard to find."
    TheRed, Orielensis, FitzNigel and 4 others like this.
  16. panzerman

    panzerman Well-Known Member

    Nice Kushan/ Bactrian coins!
    Here are some of mine....
    Kanisakha I
    Vasu Deva II
    Vima Kadphises I 539ea2538bb1d68c4b9b84a5ba02e738.jpg 1fb461a100d9bdea6c834f9b113eb525.jpg 18969.1.3_1.jpg 122e1ef80de73e8d5e90f3f9f887a62c.jpg
    TheRed, Orielensis, FitzNigel and 3 others like this.
  17. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Parthicus and FitzNigel like this.
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