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Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Auction 105  10 May 2017
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Lot 537

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Estimate: 25000 USD
Price realized: 27500 USD

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INDIA, Kushan Empire. Vima Kadphises. Circa AD 113-127. AV Double Dinar (25mm, 15.96 g, 12h). Bilingual series. Main mint in Baktria. BACIΛЄYC OOH MO KAΔΦICHC, diademed and crowned figure of Vima Kadphises seated facing on cushioned throne with ornate legs and high back, head left, feet on footstool, holding laurel branch in raised right hand and resting left arm on left knee; club to left, tamgha to right / Maharajasa rajadirajasa sarvaloga iśvarasa mahiśvarasa vima kaphthiśasa tradara[sa] in Kharosthi, ithyphallic Siva standing facing, head left, holding trident in right hand and resting left arm on bull Nandi behind, who is standing right with head facing; Buddhist triratana (Three Jewels) to left. Bopearachchi, Premiers, Série IX, 22; MK 11 (O1/R9; unlisted die pair); ANS Kushan 260; Sunrise 523 (this coin); Donum Burns 76. Superb EF.


Ex Sunrise Collection, purchased from Classical Numismatic Group, 2007.

The name Kushan derives from the Chinese term Guishuang, used to describe one branch of the Yuezhi, a loose confederation of Indo-European people who had been living in the Xinjiang Province of modern China. Driven west by Xiongnu between 176 and 160 BC, the five groups of the Yuezhi – the Xiumi, Guishuang (Kushans), Shuangmi, Xidun, and Dumi – reached the Hellenic kingdom of Baktria by 135 BC. They expelled the ruling Greek dynasties there, forcing these kings further south to settle along the Indus River. In the following century, the Guishuang forced the other tribes of the Yuezhi into a tight confederation. Now, as the Guishuang was the predominant power, the entire group became known by that name. This appellation was Westernized as Kushan, though the Chinese still referred to them as Yuezhi.

Like the Hellenistic Greeks and Romans, the Kushans were a multi-cultural society, incorporating much of the cultures they ruled into their own. Like their Baktrian predeccesors, early Kushan coins used Greek legends on the obverse, along with a translation in the local Karosthi script on the reverse. Beginning with Kanishka I, however, the Kushan language, written in an adaptation of the Greek alphabet with some local alterations, was used almost exclusively. From the time of Vima Taktu (Soter Megas), the Kushans also began to adopt Indian cultural elements. Embracing a wide variety of local Indian and Central Asian deities, they assimilated them with Greco-Roman types already prevalent in the region. Overall, the Kushan pantheon represented a religious and artistic syncretism of western and eastern elements.

An adept military leader who expanded Kushan power throughout much of Central Asia, Vima Kadphises was the first Kushan ruler to send a diplomatic mission to Rome, during the reign of Trajan. Vima Kadphises was also the first Kushan ruler to strike gold coins. Because the Kushans under his reign had extended their protective control over the Silk Road, the Roman gold they obtained through the trading of luxury items with the Roman Empire–such as silk, spices, and other exotic goods–provided the metal for the striking of the first Indian gold coins. In addition to the existing copper and silver denominations, Vima Kadphises introduced three gold denominations: the dinar (struck on an 8g weight standard), the double dinar, and a fractional quarter dinar.

The reverse type of these coins, showing the Hindu deity Siva, known to the later Kushans as Oesho, indicates that Vima Kadphises, like his father and predecessor, Vima Taktu (Soter Megas) embraced the religion of Shaivism, a branch of Hinduism. Shaivists recognized Siva as the supreme god of the Brahma-Siva-Visnu triad, contrary to the more traditional view that the three deities were parts of the Trimurti, the three aspects which make up the supreme godhead. Siva is sometimes portrayed as a figure with a tripartite head and is usually shown in association with Nandi, the bull of happiness and strength. Siva often appears in an ithyphallic state, recalling the ancient and abstract form of the god: that of a conical or ithyphallic-shaped stone, or siva lingam, set within a yoni, a round base with a single projecting channel, which together represented the respective male and female parts and the mystical powers of generation. Likewise, these coins also display the Buddhist Triratana, or "Three Jewels", on the reverse, indicating that like his son and successor Kanishka I, Vima Kadphises was interested in Buddhism.

While the dinars and their fractions were clearly meant to facilitate international trade, the purpose of the double dinars is less certain. While it is quite possible that they too were used in trade, especially when larger sums were required, their rarity would seem to indicate that they may have served a more special, possibly ceremonial function: gifts presented to the king's favorites as a way of strengthening support for the regime and deposited resources from which the king could later draw.
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