Mauryan coin- do you know these three men/gods?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Parthicus, Sep 15, 2019.

  1. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Punchmarked coins of India are interesting, but can be tough to attribute. Here's one I think I have figured out, in terms of assigning catalogue numbers and such, but still have some questions about symbolism:
    Mauryan Samprati.jpg
    Mauryan Empire. AR karshapana (15 mm, 3.41 g). Period of Samprati (c.216-207 BC). Obverse: 5 punchmarks- 3 human figures (each a separate punch), tree in rail and elephant on 5-limbed symbol. Reverse: One punchmark. Mitchiner Ancient and Classical World 4246, Gupta-Hardaker 587 (Type VII I D 27). This coin: Triskeles Auction 28, lot 477 (June 21, 2019).

    The Mauryan Empire was founded in 321 BC by Chandragupta Maurya, who conquered the powerful north Indian state of Magadha and then extended his borders. The Mauryan Empire reached its greatest extent under Ashoka (272-232 BC), who conquered nearly the entire Indian subcontinent before renouncing wars of conquest and turning to Buddhism. Surviving literary sources show a society with a highly developed and multi-level bureaucracy, powerful tradesmen's guilds, and extensive trade networks operating in a monetary (rather than barter) society. The last part is confirmed by the huge numbers of punchmarked coins that have been found at archeological digs from that period. Not much is known about the later kings. Samprati (probably 216-207 BC, though other sources list him as 224-215 BC) is known to have favored the Jain religion, and to have sent Jainist missionaries within India and to other regions. The Mauryan Empire gradually declined in the period post-Ashoka, and was replaced by the Sungas in 185 BC.

    There is written evidence of the relative purchasing power of these coins: the lowest-paid laborers received 60 silver karshapanas per year, while the chief priests and commanders of the army received 48,000. As these coins lack inscriptions, attribution to specific kingdoms and reigns is largely conjectural and based on findspots, archeological context, and sequences of designs based on overstrikes, but the basic outline has been pretty well established by decades of hard work by devoted scholars. However, the meaning of the various symbols is not always clear. The three human figures on this type are identified by Mitchiner as Kartikeya, a Hindu war god. However, I am unsure what that ID is based on, as the attributes of the figures (a horseshoe-shaped object each is holding, and dots above their heads) don't seem to be part of the standard imagery of Kartikeya. Gupta and Hardaker mention one punch mark that may depict Kartikeya, but it shows a man holding a spear (reasonable for a war god) and is not found in triplicate on coins. Also, I can't find any reason why Kartikeya would be found in triplicate. The only number I found linked to him was six, and he is sometimes shown with six faces. (As an infant, the god was found by six of the Pleiades, who argued over which should nurse him, until the infant god grew five more heads so that all six could nurse him simultaneously.) If anyone knows of a scholarly source or justification for the Kartikeya ID, or wants to suggest some other ID for the figures, I would like to hear it. Also please post your own Mauryan or other Indian punchmarked coins.
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Larry, Moe, & Curly :troll::troll::cool:

    Kidding aside, neat coin. Don't see human figures on those too often.
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  4. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    You know more about these than I do. I only pick them up when very cheap and unidentified but that look identifiable. The problem I see is 90% of the coins in this category are one of three or four types. It is rather like uncleaned Romans having a lot of later Constantinians. Thanks for the post.

  6. Muhammad Niazi

    Muhammad Niazi Well-Known Member

    Great job on the attribution, out of frustration I usually dont try attributing them. hahaha
    Heres my 3 human figures one. They are in a single punch and the one on the right seems to have flowing hair coming out of the right of its head (maybe). Also we can see the single dot next to the head of the first two

    IMG-20190916-WA0003.jpg IMG-20190916-WA0002.jpg
  7. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    Sorry. My wife sent me this a while ago and I couldn't resist.

    Very cool rarity! And informative write up.
    No peeps on mine. Not even a Moe:
    88BA8C5A-5A37-40FF-B0D7-6D1FF67A97B3.png 44BF848B-3986-4DF4-8018-5788DF57B3AD.png
  8. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    Nice op coin! And nice write up thanks..
    I only own one here it is...
    I was lucky enough to find the exact punchmark symbols at coin India..
    And here is another link that could be helpful..
    This too has my coins set of symbols attributed to Devadharman-Devavarman.
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  9. Bob L.

    Bob L. Well-Known Member

    Well, clearly this guy is just back from a Florida vacation.

    Punch figure.jpg

    Perhaps a contemporaneous emission?:

    mickey karp 3.jpg

    Seriously, great coin and informative write-up, as usual, Parthicus. Well done.
  10. Alegandron

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

    Mauryan Chicklets

    India Maurya ser VIB AR Karshapana punchmark 270-175 BC ASHOKA
  11. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Supporter! Supporter

    Little known fact, these were actually ancient restroom tokens, usually bought for which location you wanted to use (such as: behind a tree; behind an elephant, in the pool, you get the idea...), or if you wanted the "family" area (thus the multiple figures), or perhaps a gender neutral location...:smuggrin:

    The real pricy ones allowed you to go anywhere! :D:eek:
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  12. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..huh...i was just lookin' at my 3 piece combo recently...i think the bottom one shows Mickey with the sun behind him :clown: Maurya coins 200BC india 003.JPG
  13. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Try this

    Its hard to go beyond what I wrote there and pin down the implications of the symbols – but since you ask I will offer suggestions.

    First note that (contra Doug) there are hundreds of different combinations on the Maghada/Mauryan PMC’s and dozens of them are quite common. Nearly all of them show two marks: the sun and 6-arm. I would read those symbols

    sun = the universal emperor (because the sun shines on everyone)

    6-arm = the logo of the Maghada/Mauryan dynasties

    Turning to the specific GH 586 you ask about. (It got this number because there were 585 known types presumed older than this by Gupta).

    These 3-man coins are almost the only ones that lack the sun and six arm, and they clearly come near the very end of the whole series. An obvious guess is that they were not issued by the ruling dynasty at all, but by the opponents who brought about its fall and the end of the empire.

    Thus one guess might be that they are three generals/regional kings who had combined to bring about the defeat and fall of the Imperial house.

    However, recall that traditional Hinduism recognised 3 supreme deities - Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. So maybe this opposing force is just putting up a symbol of traditional Hinduism as its political masthead?

    Although I take most of the symbols on the PMC’s as rather arbitrary - to indicate officials, places and dates, this very late coin has a strange elephant-on-flea mark – which also looks to me like it might also have some kind of political interpretation.

    Rob T
  14. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    On the classification as GH586 vs 587, here is the entry from the book:

    Instead of an elephant on a flea, i think the fifth punch might be an elephant on a turtle. In Indian mythology elephants on top of a turtle support the entire weight of the earth.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2019
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  15. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Yes - you could certainly be right. Having lived long in the West of Scotland myself, the thing looks so much like a tick to me. Of course, political satire being what it is - it could be both..............

    Rob T
  16. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Very nice! One of the most iconic of all Mauryan punchmarked coins. I also have an example of the type - I suppose it might be GH587? Three figures punchmark karshapana.jpg
  17. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    I won't be attributing everyone's specimen, but this last one is GH584. On the obverse it has, apart from the 3 figures, a 3-arched hill and an animal.
    The center-mark on the reverse is an Indra-dhvaja, the banner of the deity Indra. (It is upside down in its current orientation)
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  18. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Thanks everyone for the replies, this is exactly the sort of thread I always hope my posts will start. Just want to reply to a few:
    @dougsmit : As Rob T states in his post (#12), there are actually dozens of common types of PMC, but there are a lot of symbols that recur often , so they do tend to look similar after a while. Also, the coin you posted is HG 586, exactly the same type as my OP coin. (You probably already knew this, but it wasn't completely clear from your post.)
    @Muhammad Niazi : Your coin (featuring three figures in one punch mark, the rightmost with long hair) is HG 589, which has been attributed to Ashoka. However, if Rob T's hypothesis in his paper (linked in post 12) is correct, all these types with three human figures are actually struck by rebels, not the official kings.
    @Mat @Ryro @Bob L. : Ha! Thanks for the laughs. And now I've got "What is Love?" playing on repeat in my head.
    @EWC3 : Thank you for the link to your article, it was very interesting reading and I found your central thesis (that the PMCs with three human figures were issued by someone other than the "legitimate" Mauryan kings) convincing. Unfortunately that may mean having to relabel some of my coins; but as a long-time Parthian collector, I'm used to attributions changing. Your idea that the three figures are a triumvirate of rebel generals/insurgent kings sounds reasonable, although I don't know what other evidence could be sought for or against the ID. I am less sold on the idea that they may represent the Trimurti. The idea of a divine trinity, although it certainly exists in Hinduism, is less central in that religion than, for example, the Holy Trinity is in Western Christianity, and while the exact dates when specific Hindu texts were written is often unclear, late-3nd-century BCE seems early for such ideas. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I suspect that an average Hindu in the time these coins were struck would not look at the three figures and think "Oh, that must be Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva", especially in the absence of any additional iconography specific to those gods. Unless further evidence turns up (such as a contemporary text discussing the images on coins) all we can do is speculate. Also, thank you for writing your wonderful book on Jitals. Even though I only have a few coins of that type, I've greatly enjoyed reading your book, and would class it with Hendin's Guide to Biblical Coins for most enjoyable numismatic guidebook.
  19. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    I think @GDJMSP went to school with them.
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  20. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I agree your key point here. We do need to step back from very specific suggestions. But I think something rather more general probably still might stand up. Recall that there were somewhat trinitarian ideas in Plato long before Christianity, and surely we find the same in India. The possible association of the three jewels of Buddhism with the ancient nandipada symbol springs to mind. Its hard to keep track of the ways theologies mutate. Around 1000 AD the Islamic scientist Alberuni was rather fascinated with the notions of Trinitarianism in both Christianity and Hinduism.

    Thank for the kind comments on Jitals. I often fear the main message I was aiming at gets missed.

    Those coins seem to me to tell a big story. It starts with a cultural fixed kind of hard money policy, inherited from the Sasanids by Islam. And how and why that collapsed, and how a fiat money policy with cultural roots in India filled the void in Afghanistan. And how and why that in turn collapsed, amidst even more disastrous turns of events.

    Is all that the sort of story Barbara Tuchman called “A Distant Mirror”? Readers must decide for themselves.

    Rob T
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  21. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Gonna getcha for that ! :shifty:
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