Gold Coin of Samudragupta

Gold Coin of Samudragupta


Chandragupta II

Chandragupta II (Gupta script: Cha-ndra-gu-pta, r. c. 380 – c. 415 CE ), also known by his title Vikramaditya, was one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta Empire in northern India.

Chandragupta continued the expansionist policy of his father Samudragupta: historical evidence suggests that he defeated the Western Kshatrapas, and extended the Gupta empire from the Indus River in the west to the Bengal region in the east, and from the Himalayan foothills in the north to the Narmada River in the south. His daughter Prabhavatigupta was a queen of the southern Vakataka kingdom, and he may have had influence in the Vakataka territory during her regency.

The Gupta empire reached its zenith during the rule of Chandragupta. Chinese pilgrim Faxian, who visited India during his reign, suggests that he ruled over a peaceful and prosperous kingdom. The legendary figure of Vikramaditya is probably based on Chandragupta II (among other kings), and the noted Sanskrit poet Kalidasa may have been his court poet.


Political History of the Guptas – Discussed!

The beginnings of the Gupta dynasty are shrouded in mystery. As very little is known about their ancestors, various speculations are made regarding their original home and ancestors.

The rise of the Guptas as political masters and their acceptance as an imperial power strongly suggests that the Sastric dictum that only the people of Kshatriya Varna are eligible to be the rulers was not a binding condition.

Further, the epigraphs of the Sunga and the Satavahana dynasties refer to the name Gupta, in particular reference to Sivagupta that led some to postulate they are as ancient as the Satavahanas.

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However, it is certainly conceded that the Guptas are not of royal origin. This becomes clear from Chandragupta I’s attaching importance to his marriage alliance with the Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi and the first two rulers not recording any details except their titles. If they were of royal origin, the first two rulers would have claimed royal ancestry and Chandragupta I need not have attached much of significance to his matrimonial alliance with the Lichchavis, who were a well-known tribal royal family by that time.

Hence, it is clear that the Guptas are of uncertain origin and rose to prominence taking advantage of the prevailing political uncertainty with the decline of Kushan power in northern India. Different theories have been offered about the original home of the Guptas. Some scholars placed their original home in North Bengal, while some placed it in Magadha in Bihar and U.P. Nevertheless, many historians now tentatively accept that their original home lay in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The advocates of this theory point out that they come to this conclusion based on the following:

(a) The Puranas, in particular the Vayu Purana refered to allude to eastern Uttar Pradesh as early Gupta territory,

(b) A number of coin hordes are found in this region, and

(c) The earliest epigraph of the Guptas recording the achievements of Samudragupta, the Allahabad pillar epigraph also comes from this region.

Further, it is said that of the fifteen inscriptions that refer to the first one hundred and fifty years of the Gupta rule, eight come from Uttar Pradesh, two from Magadha and five, which belong to a later period come from Bengal.

The Gaya inscription, indirectly clinches the issue by stating the intimate relations of the Guptas with Eastern Uttar Pradesh. All the above evidence conclusively proves that the Prayaga region of eastern Uttar Pradesh was the core area of the early Guptas. Though the literary and archaeological sources clearly reveal that the Guptas started their independent rule in the second decade of 4th century AD, it may be surmised that they were vassals of the later Kushans in north-western India in the closing decades of the 3rd century AD.

Epigraphs inform us that Srigupta was the first king of the Gupta dynasty followed by Ghatotkacha Gupta. Prabhavati Gupta’s two records from Poona and Rithpur refer to Ghatotkacha Gupta as the first king and the recently discovered Rewa epigraphs refer to him as the founder of the Gupta family. Perhaps, compared to Srigupta, Ghatotkacha made some notable conquests that have yet to come too light that led him to be considered as the founder by the Rewa record. He appears to have assumed the title of ‘Maharaja’ which however does not imply that he was ruling independently.

Ghatotkacha’s son and successor, Chandragupta I ascended the throne of the Guptas in AD 319-320 and commenced the Gupta era. In 1887, J.F. Fleet propounded the theory that Chandragupta was the founder of the Gupta dynasty and started ‘the Gupta era’. He assumed the title of ‘Maharajadhiraja’, which clearly indicates that he started the independent rule of the Guptas. Beyond his marriage with Kumara Devi, the princess of the Lichchavi clan, nothing much is known about his rule.

His successors record this matrimonial alliance with pride, and this makes us believe that this matrimonial alliance undoubtedly helped him in consolidating his kingdom. This can be further proved by the fact that Samudragupta, the successor of Chandragupta I, proudly declares himself as Lichchavi Dauhitra, the son of the daughter of the Lichchavis. Chandragupta I issued a coin with the figures of himself and Kumara Devi on the obverse with their names and on the reverse, a goddess seated on a lion along with the legend Lichchavanyah.

The specific issue of a gold coin by Chandragupta I proclaiming his marriage with Kumaradevi, and the legend Lichchavanyah definitely indicates that this marriage had political significance. The Guptas in general and Chandragupta I in particular were benefited by this marriage. This marriage brought both respectability and legit­imacy to the Guptas as rulers because they contracted a matrimonial alliance with one of the age-old and well-established ruling dynasties of Northern India.

We may safely presume that by this marriage, the incipient Gupta state power and the Lichchavi state power merged, leading to the emergence a strong power in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Magadha. There are no definite evidences t determine the boundaries of the kingdom of Chandragupta I. But, it is believe( that his kingdom covered parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal Chandragupta is also credited with initiating the Gupta era, immediately after his accession to the throne in AD 319-320.

The spatial extent of the use of this term ‘Gupta era’ by the non-Gupta rulers is an indication of the power wielded by the Guptas. Likewise, the non-mention of this era in later dated epigraphs would point out to the decay and decline of the Gupta power. The solid founda­tions laid by Chandragupta I appear to have made the middle Ganga Valley and the region around Pataliputra, a political centre of importance.

The Gupta political power and polity were firmly rooted in the central sector of the Ganga Valley. Chandragupta successfully placed the Guptas in firm control of the middle Ganga Valley to both the north and south of the river. Samudragupta, the son of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi, succeeded his father, and ruled for a period of five decades from AD 325 to AD 375 or from AD 330 to AD 380.

Samudragupta had been acclaimed as the greatest of the Gupta lineage as well as one of the illustrious sovereigns of early Indian history. He has been praised as the real founder of the Gupta Empire. Allahabad Prasasti epigraph, inscribed on the original Asoka edict, by Harisena, the minister for war of Samudragupta vividly describes in detail the achievements of Samudragupta as a warrior as also his other qualities as a person and administrator.

The Allahabad Prasasti specifi­cally mentions that Smudragupta was specially chosen by Chandragupta I to succeed him among many aspirants for the throne. From this, we may infer that Chandragupta I had more than one son and he had chosen Samudragupta to succeed him.

It is suggested that Samudragupta did succeed peacefully without opposition from his other brothers who aspired for the throne. It is believed that one of the disgruntled brothers, Kacha declared himself as ruler of the Gupta Empire, and ruled for some time as coins bearing the name of Kacha are found. Based on the evidence of the coins of Kacha, it is suggested that a civil war had taken place, though there is no direct or indirect evidence either way this. Samudragupta must have driven Kacha away and occupied the Gupta throne. This theory gained currency as the gold coins of Kacha are similar to those of Samudragupta but interestingly, the Gupta epigraphs are silent about Kacha.

After successfully establishing himself on the throne, Samudragupta appears to have started his invasions against the powerful contemporary rulers to expand and consolidate the Gupta hegemony. From the undated Allahabad Prasasthi, we come to know of his policy of conquests.

Believed by some was the minister for war under Samudragupta. What the epigraph narrates is a faithful record in the order of the happenings. However, R. Sathianath Iyer opines that the order of events given in the inscription is not representing the chronological order. Further, the said inscription is silent about the Aswamedha sacrifice so this inscription must have been composed immediately after his victorious campaigns and there must be a considerable gap between the issue of the said epigraph and performance of the Aswamedha sacrifice.

First, let us take Samudragupta’s campaign in Aryavarta. The question of the number of campaigns he supposedly led has been questioned by scholars. Some historians hold that Samudragupta uprooted his opponents of Aryavarta in one campaign but some others, relying on the authenticity of the record argue that he campaigned twice against the rulers of Aryavarta.

We are not sure whether they were undertaken successively or whether there was any gap between these two campaigns. By his successful campaigns in Aryavartha, Samudragupta became the master of the whole of Gangetic Valley and of Eran in the central part of India. Samudragupta employed the diplomatic technique of encircling the valley with a ring of tributary states, which are Atavika or forest tribes, to make this core territory secure and safe, and adopted a mild policy towards these states.

The tribal frontier states of Malawas, the Arjunayanas, the Yaudheyas and the Madrakas, accepted the sovereignty of Samudragupta. Further, the Abhiras, the Ararjunas, the Sanakanikas, the Kakas and the Kharaparihas tribes that ruled in the north and east of Bhilsa also acknowledged his sovereignty. Now let us consider campaigns in Dakshinapatha. There is a controversy regarding the number of his invasions against Dakshinapatha and about the route followed by Samudragupta.

The Allahabad Prasasti clearly states that he defeated all the kings of Dakshinapata. There is a view that he invaded the South twice, but the Allahabad Prasasti gives no hint to that effect. It clearly gives a list of twelve names of the rulers along with the names of the kingdoms. The kings and kingdoms defeated by Samudragupta are Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakantara, Mantaraja of Korala, Mahendra of Pistapura, Swamidatta of Kottura, Damana of Erandapalli, Vishnugopa of Kanchi, Nilaraja of Avamukta,” Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Pallakka, Kubera of Devarastra and Dhananjaya of Kusashtalapura: The Allahabad Prasasti clearly mentions that with regard to the kings of Dakshinapatha, Samudragupta followed a policy of Grahana or capture of the enemy, Moksha or liberation and Anugraha or reinstating him.

This policy of “grahana-moksha-anugraha” reveals the diplo­matic skill and foresight of Samudragupta, as he knew that in those days when there was no proper and speedy communication network it would be very difficult to have a constant control on these distant areas, and decided to be satisfied with their acknowledging his overload ship rather than bringing them under his direct control.

R.K. Mukherjee rightly observes, “This policy may be taken to be the only policy that a conqueror could pursue in distant South where he was only anxious that his position as the paramount sovereign of India should be recognised”. Samudragupta’s not trying to annex these southern kingdoms clearly reveals his farsighted wisdom and realistic approach.

There are historians who believe that the list of kingdoms and kings given in the Allahabad Prasasti is the route of the southern campaign of Samudragupta. Very recently, P.V.P. Sastri came out with a theory that Samudragupta’s expedition to South India was merely prompted more by a desire to establish Sanatana Dharma in the south, than to gain any wealth or political advantage. Whatever the reason, the southern expedition of Samudragupta was a reality and established him as a victorious warrior.

The Allahabad pillar Prasasti also states that independent or semi-independent principalities also acknowledged his supremacy. But, it is very difficult to identify these except Simhala or Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The epigraph refers to a term “Daivaputra Shahi-Shahanushahi-Saka-Murundas”. Out of this compound term, we are very well aware that Daivaputra-Shahi-Shahanushahi is the titles of the Kushan rulers who were divided into three small principalities by that time. But, we are not sure of the names of the principalities of the Kushan rulers who are supposed to have accepted the suzerainty of Samudragupta.

A critical examination of the conquests of Samudragupta and the policy adopted by him towards his enemies reveals him as a political realist who had the geopolitical interests of the Gupta kingdom at heart. While he followed a policy of Unmulya or annihilation towards the rulers of Aryavarta, he followed a policy of “Grahana, Anugraha and Moksha” towards the southern rulers.

His decision to annihilate his enemies in Aryavarta was motivated by his ambition to make himself the unquestioned master of the core area. As already indicated, his southern conquests were undertaken to prove his prowess as a warrior and a general striking awe in the minds of the contemporary rulers. His decision to create a ring of dependencies around the core area of his territory and maintaining friendly relations with distant frontier tribes and rulers was a masterstroke of diplomacy.

The view of some of the scholars that Samudragupta had in his mind an international system of goodwill and peace, through violence, aggression and war appears to be far-fetched. Further, the opinion of R.K. Mukherjee that he earned fame as one who vanquished kings whom he reinstated in their kingdoms in a new order of peaceful partnership does not appear to be an overstatement. Samudragupta was not a bloodthirsty general but only a pragmatic imperialist. His pragmatic imperialism made him follow a policy of peaceful partnership with distant southern kingdoms, frontier tribes and frontier kings but not with enemies in the neighbourhood of his core area.

Samudragupta should be credited with raising the fortunes of the Gupta kingdom and establishing himself as a ruler of the entire Aryavarta and laying solid foundations for the military prowess of the Guptas. He is undoubtedly a good warrior and a capable general, equally interested in the fine arts of music and literature. None of his poetry is available, but he had the title of Kaviraja. That Samudragupta was also a patron of Sanatana Dharma could be deduced from his revival of Asvamedha sacrifice.

It is also true that he is a typical repre­sentative of the ideology of the age that king is the image of God on earth. However, a patron of Sanathana Dharma, he was not obsessed with that ideology. This is proved by placing his son under the tutorship of Vasubandhu, a great Buddhist scholar. His coins bear testimony to the fact that he was of robust build. In one of his recently found coins, we come across the title of Srivikramah indicating his great prowess as victor and suggesting that he was as great as the legendary Vikramaditya.

Some scholars hold the opinion that the Gupta era starts not from the year of the accession of Chandragupta I, but from the accession of Samudragupta, because the copper plate grants of Samudragupta from Nalanda and Gaya are dated in the fifth and ninth years of the Gupta era. However, the most accepted view is that it was Chandragupta I who started the Gupta era and not Samudragupta.

We can say that it was Chandragupta I who started the independent rule of the Guptas and it was Samudragupta who made the Gupta independence a reality by making the Guptas the real masters of northern India. Though family details of Samudragupta are not available in any source, the availability of some coins bearing the name Ramagupta and references to a fratricidal war between Chandragupta and Ramagupta in works like Natyadarpana, Kavyamimamsa, Harshacharita and Devi Chandraguptam, have prompted scholars to postulate a hypothesis that Ramagupta, his elder son, succeeded Samudragupta.

On the basis of the available epigraphic and literary evidence, it is suggested that immediately after the death of Samudragupta, Gupta state was attacked by Sakas and that the Guptas had to face political humiliation and agree to handover Dhruvadevi, who is known from the Gupta epigraphs as the wife Chandragupta II, as demanded by the Sakas. But literary evidence indicates that Dhruvadevi was the wife of Ramagupta, who was supposed to have succeeded Samudragupta.

The story in the literary evidence is as follows:

Chandragupta, the brother, of the king disgusted at the meek surrender of his brother, went in the disguise of Dhruvadevi to the Saka king and killed him. His elder brother did not like this action of Chandragupta and hence Chandragupta killed his brother and married Dhruvadevi. Scholars of the stature of H.C. Raychaudhari rejected the above literary and numismatic evidence as untrustworthy and belonging to a later date. For some scholars, Chandragupta II, was chosen by Samudragupta as a worthy successor to him.

At this juncture, we can only say that Chandragupta became heir to the Gupta throne at a time when their political fortunes and state power were at stake due to the rise of their enemies and this is supported by the fact that Chandragupta II had to wage wars again to re-establish the Gupta hegemony. Chandragupta II like his grandfather Chandragupta I entered into matrimonial alliances with Nagas by marrying Kuberanaga and their offspring Prabhavati Gupta was given in marriage to Rudrasena II of the Vakataka family.

Chandragupta’s policy of matrimonial alliances must have strengthened his position as the Nagas and the Vakatakas were powerful ruling lineages in North India and the Deccan and by making them his allies, he could wage war against the Sakas of Gujarat and Kathiawar.

The details of the conquests and campaigns of Chandragupta II are not known as any record like the Allahabad pillar, Prasasti of Samudragupta has become known. However, the Udayagiri hill epigraph of Virasena, his minister for peace and war, the epigraph of Sanakanika Maharaja near Bhilsa and the Sanchi epigraph of Amrakardeva, a military commander, testify to his camping at Malwa with his retinue to attack the Saka territories. In this conquest, Chandragupta defeated and killed the last Saka king Rudrasimha III.

His total success against the Sakas is proved by the absence of Saka coins minted after this period, and the positive evidence of Chandragupta minting Saka type of silver coins and the legend of Sakari Vikramaditya, i.e., Vikramaditya who was an enemy of the Sakas. The victory against the Saka and the annexation of Gujarat-Kathiawar region was a very significant event, as he not only ousted foreign rule but also obtained access to the Arabian Sea and important ports and trading centres on the western coast. By this conquest, Chandragupta II improved the resource base of the Gupta kingdom, as he secured an advantage in the field of internal and external trade with the western world.

Chandragupta is also said to have extended his empire in the east by his conquest of Vanga or eastern Bengal. The Mehrauli pillar inscription, of one Chandra who is identified as Chandragupta II, proves this. There is a contro­versy regarding the identification of Chandra of the Mehrauli epigraph. Various scholars have identified this Chandra of Mehrauli with Chandragupta Maurya, Chandragupta I and Chandragupta II. However, the most persuasive identifi­cation is with Chandragupta II.

We are already aware that his father Samudragupta had conquered Vanga or eastern Bengal and made it a tributary state, so the reason for his invasion appears to be a rebellion at Vanga or the desire of Chandragupta II to bring eastern Bengal under his direct rule. Whatever the reason that Vanga was brought under the area control of the Guptas is proved by the rule of the Guptas in the early years of the 6th century AD.

Chandragupta is also believed to have crossed the Sindh region and defeated Vahika, which is identified with Bactria, based on the exploits mentioned in the Mehrauli iron pillar inscription. The Kushan type of coins bearing Chandra’s name further proves this fact. It is now established, based on available epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidence that Chandragupta II extended the frontiers of the Gupta Empire to western, north-western and eastern India.

Chandragupta is compared to the illustrious legendary ruler Vikramaditya of Ujjain and to the hero of Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa. Undoubtedly, Chandragupta II occupies a place of eminence among the Gupta rulers and among the great rulers produced in early historic period. Chandragupta II is unquestionably a worthy son, who was a conqueror of reputation and a patron of letters.

It is also said that Chandragupta II patronized the Navaratnas, one of whom is the great poet and dramatist Kalidasa. Another important event of this era is the visit of Fahien, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, who stayed in his court for a period of nearly six years. Curiously, Fahein is silent about the name of the ruler who patronized him, though he gives a vivid account of the social and administrative aspects of his patron’s reign. Chandragupta II ruled from 380 to AD 415-416.

Kumaragupta, the son of Chandragupta II, succeeded his father and ruled for forty years from AD 415 to AD 455. Nothing eventful occurred in his reign to be remembered by posterity, except keeping intact the vast empire bequeathed by his father. The cracks began to appear in the solid foundations of the state power of the Guptas in the form of the attack of Pushyamitras, a barbaric hoard from Mekala in the Narmada valley along with the foreigners, the Hunas.

The Bilsad epigraph portrays his reign as one of ever-extending victory and says that he performed Asvamedha sacrifice and issued coins commemorating that event. However, we are not certain of his victories. He also proudly styles himself as Mahendraditya. He is said to have founded the Nalanda University and patronized Kalidasa.

It is also learnt from one of the epigraphs that a group of silk weavers migrated to his territory and prospered there. His son Skandagupta is said to have played a crucial role in quelling the attacks of the Pushyamitras and the Hunas. The important epigraphs that refer to Kumaragupta are the Bilsad inscription, the Damodarpur copper plate inscriptions of AD 433 and AD 477, a stone inscription from Mandasor and the Karamdand epigraphs dated AD 436. While the Karamdand epigraph mentions that his fame spread to the four oceans, a stone inscription from Mandasor mentions Kumaragupta as reigning over the whole earth. The Damodarpur inscription refers to his tide Maharajadhiraja. He appears to have maintained cordial relations with the Vakatakas with whom he had matrimonial relations.

Skandagupta succeeded his father Kumaragupta and ruled for a period of twelve years from AD 455 to AD 467. He was perhaps the last powerful Gupta emperor. His reign witnessed the attacks of the Hunas and AD 467 appears to be the last known date of his reign. Romila Thapar correctly observes, “Skandagupta battled valiantly, but he faced domestic problem as well, such as the breaking away of his feudatories, and there are indications of an economic crisis which would explain the debasing of the coinage”.

It is to be noted that in comparison to the gold coins of the earlier rulers, the gold coins minted by Skandagupta are fewer in number. It is also an established fact that though his gold coins are heavier in weight, the gold content in them is less than that of the earlier coins.

In spite of the economic crisis faced by the kingdom and constant attacks of the Hunas, his Junagadh epigraph informs us that he undertook public works during his reign. We have come to know from the said epigraph, that when the Sudarsana Lake was damaged due to heavy rains, his governor Purnadatta got it repaired. Some scholars hold the view that the Gupta territory was partitioned between him and his half-brother Purugupta. Skandagupta assumed the title of Vikramaditya and ‘Kramaditya’. After his death, the central authority of the Guptas appears to have declined fast. The succession of the various kings that followed him is uncertain.

A number of administrative seals have been discovered with the names of the same kings, but following a varied order of succession, which points to a confused end to the dynasty. Epigraphs record that after Skandagupta, Budhagupta, Vainyagupta, Bhanugupta, Narasimhagupta, Baladitya, Kumaragupta II and Vishnugupta succeeded as rulers. Though we come across so many names, it is not very clear in what order these kings ruled the Gupta territories.

Though epigraphs inform us that the Guptas ruled until AD 550, gradual disintegration of the empire started from the end of Skandagupta’s rule. It is believed that the Guptas lost Kathiawar and portions of Malwa by AD 477. The repeated Huna invasions under Toramana and Mihirakula from AD 500 further weakened their rule. This gave scope for the subordinate kings of the Valabhi to rise in revolt and the rise of Yasodharman of Malwa and finally the Maukharis eclipsed the main Gupta line, which lingered on in eastern India for some more time.


Kanishka I Gold Dinar

Reportedly the first ever gold coin issued by an Indian king issued in 127 CE by Kushan king Kanishka 1. This was also one of the few coins that was issued in Greek as the later ones switched to the Bactrian language, an Iranian language which was spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria (present-day Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan).

Huvishka Gold Dinar

Kanishka’s son, Huvishka, issued many gold coins and quarters and this is one of the examples. Also in Bactrian language, the coins were issued between 155 to 190 CE. This one features the Iranian solar deity Mithra.

Vasudeva I Gold Dinar

Vasudeva I is believed to be Huvishka’s son by a Hindu wife which is what explains his name. This is an example of a gold coin issued by him in 195 CE which shows Lord Shiva and the Nandi bull.

Kanishka II Gold Dinar

Gold coins issued by Kanishka II, who rules for at least 20 years, also featured Lord Shiva and the Nandi bull. Here is an example of a coin issued between 227 to 247 CE. It differs from its predecessors only in minor details and the inscription.

Vasishka Gold Dinar

This coin issued by Vasishka between 247 to 265 CE shows the king on the left and the Iranian goddess Ardochsho on the right.

Vasudeva II

Issued sometime between 275 to 300 CE, this coin is again remarkably similar to its predecessor.

Shaka Gold Dinar

After Vasudeva II, the Kushan chronology becomes uncertain. So, the Shaka gold coins might be a set of coins issued over a period of time or by a ruler named Shaka. The Shaka coins are more attractive than the others and were issued around mid-4 th century. This coin, like others, too features the king and the goddess Ardochsho.

During the Gupta Empire, India saw its golden period in civilisation, culture, arts and… gold coins. Some of the finest gold coins issued in India come from the Gupta empire and were issued between 335 and 375 CE. Here are the various types of gold coins from the period:

Sceptre

Called the “standard type”, this one is amongst the first Gupta gold coins. It shows the king holding his rajadanda or royal sceptre.

King and Queen

This coin depicts the marriage of king Chandragupta I to Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi. This was an important event in early Gupta history as it is believed to have brought the King good fortune which allowed him to expand his empire.

Archer

One of the most common Gupta coins, it shows the king holding the long bow in his left hand an arrow in his right.

Battle axe

This coin shows the king holding a battle axe in his left hand. The other side depicts Hindu Goddess Lakshmi being depicted like on the sceptre, archer and king and queen coins.

Ashvamedha

As the name indicates, the coin depicts a horse. In Vedic times, Ashvamedha was a horse sacrifice ritual followed by rulers to expand their kingdoms. The other side depicts the queen.

Lyrist

This one is unique because it shows the king playing a musical instrument. King Samudragupta is known to have been an accomplished musician.

Tiger-slayer

The tiger-slayer coin too depicts the king’s prowess with arms. The coin shows the King aiming a bow at a tiger and hunting the animal down.

Kacha

The last of the Gupta gold coins, the Kacha coin shows the king holding a chakra-topped standard at an altar.

Post the Gupta era, coinage was dominated by interesting designs issued by Harsha and early medieval Rajput dynasties. The gold coins from the time were quite fascinating.

Seated Lakshmi coins

Issued by Gangeyadeva the Kalachuri ruler, these gold coins were widely popular and were later imitated by other rulers.

Bull and Horseman coins

The bull and Horseman were the most common motifs that appeared in these gold coins issued by the Rajput clans.

Gold coins that were issued during the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji also stand out. Issued between the years of 1674 to 1680, this is a rare gold coin in which Shivaji is called Sri Raja Shiv on one side and Chhatrapati, or Lord of the Kshatriyas, on the other.

Coins have played a pivotal role in India’s illustrious relationship with gold. Today, with the Indian Gold Coin offering security, purity, prestige, and value all wrapped in one, gold once again finds its place in our hearts and our pockets!


Samudragupta History, Biography and Administration

Samudragupta was the fourth empire of the Gupta Empire. He was born to Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi. He ruled the reign between 335 to 380 BC. During his rule, conquest all the Neighbouring Kingdoms and expanded the boundaries from Nepal, Punjab, Pallava Kingdom to South India. Mostly the Indian subcontinent was directly or indirectly under his rule. There are many stories of Samudra Gupta becoming to the heir to Gupta Dynasty. Among them one is Chandragupta I had many sons, however after his death, the conflict occurred among his sons and Samudra Gupta over throw all his brothers and absumed the throne as the successor of the Chandragupta I.

Samudragupta Expand Kingdom:

After his coronation, he started to increase the military and concentrated to expand the kingdom. Then he started attacking the Neighboring Kingdoms of Ahichchhatra and Padmavati, the center India. Later conquered whole Bengal, some kingdoms in Nepal and forcefully merged Assam into Gupta Kingdom. The present day Afghanistan and Kashmir were also come under the rule of the empire.
We can find the detailed conquests and the history of Samudragupta on the inscriptions of the pillars in Allahabad. In these inscriptions, described how the Samudragupta’s body was marked with the wounds, which were happened with axes, arrows, spears, swords and javelins. This inscription also gives us the detailed political geographical of Gupta Empire. Samudragupta did numerous campaigns made the navy as a powerful source to invade the enemies. The mighty powered army caused no one dare to go against the king. So that the foreign kingdoms like Saka and Kushan kings maintained cordial relations to Samudragupta and offered their services to him.
To strengthen the kingdom, he maintained matrimonial alliance with the Vakataka King Rudra Sena II, married Naga princes Kubernaga, accepted the maidens as gifts from neighbouring courts. He also made marriages to his royal family members with other kingdom maids.

Samudragupta Coins

Samudragupta conquest many kingdoms and brought the Gold and made eight variety of coins to the people in public domain in various purposes. The Kushan kings send the coin-making experts to Gupta Kingdom. He minted the coins as the battle Axe type, the tiger slayer type, the standard type, the king and queen type, the Lyre player type and there more. He was fond of music and followed the strict culture. So some coins also minted as Samudra Gupta playing Veena. He also encouraged the scholars, poets to propagate the religious, artistic and literary aspects of Indian culture. He was the great devotee of Hinduism and followed the ethics of Hinduism. However, he was a religious tollerent king. He also permit to construct a monastery for Buddhist pilgrims in Bodh Gaya. He ruled for years with great war skills and admirable administration skills.


Gold Coin of Samudragupta - History

The advent of the Common Era brought the rule of the illustrious Kushan and the Gupta empires. When the mighty Kushan Empire crumbled, many small kingdoms acquired territories. One such was the Gupta dynasty. Starting from a small kingdom in Magadha in the late 3rd century CE, the Guptas gradually extended their rule over a large part of Southern Asia. Under the able and strong leadership of many rulers, this dynasty grew and became deeply rooted in the Indian subcontinent. The empire at its paramount included all of northern India from the Indus in the west to the Brahmaputra in the east and in the south it extended along the eastern coast of the Indian peninsula.

The Gupta period is considered as the “Golden Age” of classical India. This was a time when great universities flourished in Nalanda and Taxila, India made contributions in all sectors like mathematics, science, astronomy, religion etc. The famous story tales of Panchatantra, the very popular Kama Sutra, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed during the Gupta Era. Gupta art is regarded as the high point of classical Indian art, and their coinage as among the most beautiful of ancient India. A general atmosphere of peace and prosperity helped create a civilisation conducive to the cultural advent and social growth.

Coinage of the Guptas: An Introduction:

The flourishing state of the economy was ascertained by a large number of gold coins circulated by different Gupta rulers. Famous for their gold coins, the Gupta numismatic art has an abundance of coins in the variety of designs. They also issued silver coins. However, coins made of copper, bronze or any other alloy metals are scarce. This abundance of gold coins from the Gupta era has led some scholars to regard their reign as the ‘rain of gold’.

Let’s explore this Gupta Numismatic Art through their noteworthy accomplishments and downfall.

General coin specifications:

The Gupta gold coins are known as Dinars and they are the most extraordinary examples of numismatic and artistic excellence. The coins, in general, depicted the ruling monarch on the obverse and carried legends while the reverse depicted the figure of a goddess. Gupta coinage started out imitating that of the mighty Kushans, but very soon had their own identity which in turn became a forerunner for the dynasties and kingdoms to come thereafter!

Gupta coinage reached the height of metallurgy and iconography. After Indo-Greek and Kushan coins, Gupta coinage made a huge come back with a true Indian taste in it. Being indigenous, they portrayed the king, queen, and deities with Indian attire and with lots of grace. Now let’s see the famous Gupta kings and their contribution to the acclaimed Gupta numismatic art.

Samudra Gupta:

Samudragupta, a legendary king by the virtue of his military prowess and administrative efficiency, was an important ruler of the Gupta Empire. His competent ruling produced some high quality of gold coins and laid the foundation of the Golden Age of India. He is credited to have issued only gold coins (Dinar) during his reign in seven different types (‘Lichhaviya’ type included). The coins of Samudragupta give us a lot of information on the start of the mighty empire of Gupta, and its economy.

Samudragupta’s coins according to their design and variety are known in numismatic terms as:

Standard types are numerous and common. This type of coins shows the king carrying a Garuda Dhvaja in his left hand and is shown wearing a cap. The reverse side of the coin portrays the goddess Laxmi.

The Archer types, introduced for the first time in the Indian Numismatic, are rare and they portray Samudra Gupta holding the bow.

Battle Axe type, Samudragupta’s coins featured weapons such as the battle axe, bow, arrow and swords. His battle axe type has the legend “Kritantparashuh” on them.

Lichchavi type: The Licchaviya issue bears the image of King Chandragupta-I with his queen Kumaradevi of Lichchavi family. Though the legend is specific to Chandragupta I, it was issued by Samudragupta in memory of his father.

Kacha type coin bears the legend “Kacha, having conquered the earth, wins heaven by the highest works”, while the reverse showed the legend “Exterminator of all the kings”.

The tiger slayer type coins of the king show him trampling a tiger as while shooting it with a bow. The obverse legend reads “Vyagraparakramah”.

The Lyrist type has the king in a high backed couch, playing the Veena which rests on his knees. The legend “Maharajadhiraja – Sri Samudragupta” decorates the obverse.

Asvamedha types are unique, we find a horse standing before a yupa or a sacrificial post with legend around that decorates the King as the conqueror of heaven, earth, and the oceans.

All of his coin designs with their illustrious legends are indicative of the conquests of Samudragupta and his attainment of paramount power. Samudragupta’s coinage features a distinct Indian touch to it in reference to the depiction of the dresses, weapons, goddesses, etc. as compared to the earlier Kushan coinage.

Chandragupta-II

Chandragupta-II inherited the Gupta throne at its peak. He contributed to the vastness of the empire by adding the few territories left off by his father Samudragupta. He extended great support to the arts and his reign saw the Golden Age of India developing and contributing to various fields under his royal patronage. He is known to have issued a total of eight types of gold coins (Dinars). Known through his coins as “Vikramaditya”, Chandragupta II also issued silver (Denaree) and copper (Daler) coins, probably to be circulated in the region that was conquered from the Western Kshatrapas. Let’s have a look at his coin types:

Archer Type: Interestingly, where his father issued a lot of Standard Type coins, Chandragupta II issued Archer type in abundance. The archer type contains the legend “Deva Sri Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandraguptah”.

Couch Type, are the rarest of Chandragupta’s coins with only two known varieties in the museum. Both of them differ in many details but have the legends “roopkrti” and “Vikrama”.

The Chhatra type carried the image of an attendant holding a royal parasol over Chandragupta.

Lion Slayer type which shows the king standing and shooting a lion with the bow contained the legend “Simhavikrama”

Horse Man Type coin design was introduced by Chandragupta II and depicts the King riding a horse.

The Standard Type, are similar in design with that of Samudragupta.

Chakarvikrama Type, this extremely rare variety features a Chakra or the wheel on the obverse with the legend “Chakravikramah”.

Kalasha Type, yet another extremely rare variety of Chandragupta II which depicts a Kalasha or a water pot.

It is said that in the later part of his reign, Chandragupta II started issuing silver and copper currency to be circulated in the regions of Gujarat and Kathiawar. However, the number of gold coins he issued was vast and the imperial mints were active throughout his reign.


Kumaragupta-I

Kumaragupta-I, often inscribed on coins as “Mahendraditya”, issued a good 14 different types of gold (Dinar) and silver (Denaree) coins. His coinage itself is enough to speak about the vastness and prosperity of his empire. His long reign saw both, the epitome and the decline of the empire as the Hun invasions during the later period of his rule shook the Gupta Empire. The financial crunch led Kumaragupta to issue silver-plated copper coins (Daler). Mostly continuing the coin types of his predecessors’, he introduced a few new varieties. Let’s have a look at his coins:

Archer type depicts the King standing in left, holding the arrow in right hand and bow in left.

Swordsman Type, King is seen with a sword in left hand with Bramhi legend “Gama – vajitya – sucharitaihi – kumaragupto – Divam – jayati”

Asvamedha Type was issued to commemorate the performance of Horse Sacrifice. The legend on the obverse reads “Jayati Divam Kumarah” and the reverse reads “Sri Asvamedha Mahendrah”.

Horseman Type, King on a horse with legends around that decorates his strength and victory on obverse and “Ajitamahendraha” legend on the reverse.

Lion Slayer, depicts the king slaying a lion with the legend “shrimahendrasimha” or simhamahendrarah” on the reverse.

Tiger Slayer, similar to the lion slayer type, this coin variety shows the king slaying the tiger with the legend “’Srimam vyaghrabalaparakramah” on the obverse.

Peacock or the Kartikeya type: Is probably the most beautiful of his coins which shows the King offering a bunch of grapes to a Peacock with his right hand.

Pratapa Type is an extremely rare variety which depicts the king with two attendants holding the Garuda Standard on both of his sides. The reverse reads the legend “Shri Pratapah”.

Elephant Rider Type is only known from one unique specimen. Though the inscriptions are illegible, this variety is attributed to Kumargupta I for its similarity in coin design and make. The coin feature King with an attendant riding an elephant.

Ashavamedha Types of Kumargupta is similar to that of Samudragupta and depict the horse tied to a Yupa or the sacrificial post on the obverse. The reverse has the Brahmi Legend “Shri – Asvamedha – Mahendra”.

• Kumargupta revived the Lyrist Type and King- Queen Type coins of the previous rulers.

• His Elephant-Rider-and-Lion-Slaying Type showcases his sportive and hunting capacities.

• His Rhino-Slayer Type variety is unique and features a rhino for the first time in Indian numismatic art!

Kumargupta I issued silver and copper coins for circulation in West of India but they were of a debased type. They generally depicted the bust of the king to the obverse and a peacock or a garuda (eagle) on the reverse. Though he issued a vast variety of coins, his coinage lacked an artistic excellence and consistency.

Skanda Gupta

The gold coins of this king lack the variety of type. The illustrious Gupta Period began to decline during the reign of Skandagupta. Inscribed on coins as “Kramaditya”, Skandagupta issued four types of gold dinars and three types of silver denarees. The Gupta gold coins, once an ultimate example of numismatic art, now began to lose their lustre and the political strain became evident in coin designs and its execution. Let’s have a look at his coin types:

• The regular Archer type which depicts the King with a bow, arrow and a legend in Brahmi “kramadityah”

King and Lakshmi Type: This type depicts the King with the goddess on the obverse and Brahmi Legend ‘Sri Skandaguptah’ in the reverse.

Horse Man type has the king riding the horse.

Chattra Type has the King with an attendant offering at a fire altar

• His silver coins have three varieties with the King’s bust on the obverse with Bull or Fire Altar or a Peacock on the reverse.

His successors Purugupta, Kumaragupta-II issued only one type of gold coins namely Archer type. Budha Gupta’s coins followed his predecessor’s type but the artistic degree declined greatly. Lack of consistency in the same coin design shows symptoms of a steady decline of the once mighty empire.

The decline in the later Gupta Period:

Gupta Period that was once distinguished for its creativity in art, literature and architecture began to decline during the reign of Skandagupta. This period was riddled with the invasions of the Pushyamitras and the Hunas which accompanied with the intra-territorial upheavals led to a substantial loss of their imperial authority. The rulers that came after Skandagupta struggled to handle the vast empire which was fast crumbling.

The expenses incurred from the constant wars drained the royal treasury and affected the general trade and commerce of the empire. Naturally, the disintegration of their political and financial prowess reflected on their art and culture. This decline is most prominently observed on the quality of their coins.

The Gupta gold coins now began to lose their lustre and were increasingly struck in base metals with very little gold or silver content. Furthermore, the plethora of artistic coin designs of the earlier kings soon was reduced to a standard Archer Type coin of the later rulers. The calligraphy of the legend and the execution of the coin design suffered too.
There was also a general paucity of coinage caused by the declining internal trade and weakening of a powerful centre. The newly emerging independent and self-sufficient local units or ‘Shrenis’ too contributed to a sharp decline in the number and purity of later Gupta coins. Hence it would not be an exaggeration to say that level of excellence of the Gupta numismatic art declined in the later times.

Interestingly, the Post-Gupta coins too became monotonous with slight or no creative changes at all.

References:
The Coinage of the Gupta Empire – Dr A S Altekar
Catalogue of Indian Coins in the British Museum – John Allan
Indian Feudalism – R C Sharma
The Expansion and Consolidation of the Gupta Empire – R C Majumdar

The Mintage World Team comprises of experts, researchers and writers from the field of Philately, Notaphily and Numismatics who try to shed light on some of the most interesting aspects of coins, banknotes and stamps from not just India but across the globe as well.


Ref- Corpus Inscripionum Indicarum, Vol. III by John Faithful Fleet p.254

  • (Lines 1 to 6, containing the whole of the first verse and the first half of the second, are entirely broken away and lost.)
  • (Line 7.)— . in giving gold . [by whom] Prithu and Râghava and other kings [were outshone.]
  • (L. 9.)— . . . . . . . . . there was Samudragupta, equal to (the gods) Dhanada and Antaka in (respectively) pleasure and anger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . by policy (and) [by whom] the whole tribe of kings upon the earth was [overthrown] and reduced to the loss of the wealth of their sovereignty—
  • (L. 13.)— [Who], by . . . . . . . . . satisfied by devotion and policy and valour,—by the glories, consisting of the consecration by besprinkling, &c., that belong to the title of 'king,'— (and) by . . . . . . . . . . . combined with supreme satisfaction, — . (was) a king whose vigour could not be resisted—
  • (L. 17.)— [By whom] there was married a virtuous and faithful wife, whose dower was provided by (his) manliness and prowess who was possessed of an abundance of [elephants] and horses and money and grain who delighted in the houses of . (and) who went about in the company of many sons and sons' sons—
  • (L. 21.)— Whose deeds in battle (are) kindled with prowess (whose) . . . . . . very mighty fame is always circling round about and whose enemies are terrified, when they think, even in the intervals of dreaming, of (his). . . . . . . that are vigorous in war —
  • (L. 25.) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . in a place in Airikina, the city of his own enjoyment. . . . . . . . . . . . . has been set up, for the sake of augmenting his own fame.
  • (L. 27.) — . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . when the king said . . . . . . .

Source: Fleet, John F. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the Early Guptas. Vol. III. Calcutta: Government of India, Central Publications Branch, 1888, 20-21.


Samudragupta (History of Samudragupta) – The Great King of Gupta Empire

King Samudragupta, known as Samudragupta the great, was the son of Chandragupta I. He was the son of Chandragupta I’s Lichchavi queen Kumaradevi and possibly was not the eldest son. From the “Allahabad Prasasthi” composed by Harishena, it is learnt that Chandragupta deliberately choose Samudragupta to succeed him among his other brothers.

The Great King of Gupta Empire, Samudra Gupta participated most in building the “The Golden Age of India”. When King Samudragupta ascended the throne the condition of Northern India was still very turbulent. Though his father Chandragupta I had established an empire yet there were enough of scattered independent kingdoms all over the Northern India who were independent and ready to shed blood for maintenance of their independence. These independent kingdoms, mostly monarchical and some republican rose to power on the rivers of the Kushana Empire. Eventually Samudragupta had to fight at every step with them for spreading the Gupta empire and thanks to his military zeal that at every battle he was the victor.

The Allahabad Prasasthi of Harishena, the coins and inscriptions of the local rulers who became vassals of the mighty emperor, the Kaushambhi inscription, the Bhita seal and the coins of the Sakha and Kushana rulers are important sources for depicting the history of Samudragupta. The Vayu and the Bhagavata Puranas also throw significant light on the contemporary political condition of India.

In U.P. and Central India Samudragupta had four outstanding rivals such as

In addition to these four formidable enemies, the Allahabad Prasasti gave us the names of six other Kings of Northern India whom Samudragupta had to defeat to extend Gupta empire. They were

In addition to these Kings there were a good number of Atavika Kings or forest kings who ruled independently in the forest tracts, extending from the Ghazipore district of U.P to Jabbalpore in Central Province. Moreover outside U.P. Central India and Bengal there were five ‘Pratyanta rashtras’ or frontier kingdoms. Those were Samatata or South East Bengal, Davaka or portion of Assam, Kamrup or Upper Assam, Nepal and Kartipura in modern Jalandhar district. These were all independent and powerful kingdoms. But these are so far the Monarchies are concerned. From Allahabad Prasasti we came to know the names of a good number of independent as well as powerful non-monarchical tribes who lived in the West and South-Western fringe of North India proper, popularly called in those days as “Aryavarta. ” These were the Malavas, who though originally from Punjab, were settled at that time in Rajputana, the Arjurayanas lived in Bharatpur State of Rajputana, the Yaudheyas of Sutlej valley of East Punjab, the Madrakas of the valley between Ravi and Chenab in Punjab, the Abhiras of Western Rajputana, the Sanakanikas of Bhilsa, and the three republican states of Kakas, Kharaparikas, and Prarjunas, possibly of Malwa and Central India. In addition to these the Kushana chiefs were there in Western Punjab and Afghanistan and the Sakh chiefs ruled the Western Malwa and Kathiawar region.

This list of kings clearly shows that is not an easy task for Samudragupta to set his empire on a sound footing. These political atoms had fragmented the whole of Northern India. Indeed it was a time for the emergence of a great conqueror like Chandragupta Maurya. Samudragupta appeared in the fullness of the time. He had inherited a solid foundation of his sovereign authority in Bengal, Bihar and part of U.P. from his father. Now he was free to hoist his flag elsewhere.

It was the aim of Samudragupta to bring about the political unification of India and make himself an Ekrat or sole ruler like Mahapadama. The idea of becoming a Rajachakraborti had haunted him from the very beginning. Hence he was out for “Digvijaya” in the North. From the Allahabad Prasasthi we get details of his military campaigns. Lines 13-14 and 21-23 of the Prasasti illustrated his conquests in the Northern India or “Aryavarta” while the lines 19-20 refer to his conquest of the South.

Samudragupta made two campaigns in Northern India. At first he totally defeated the neighbouring kings in the Ganga-Yamuna Valley and consolidated his position. He defeated king Achyuta of Ahichchhatva, Nagasena of Mathura and Ganapati Naga of Padmavati and also a Prince of the Khota family. These kingdoms had formed a league against Samudragupta and the latter defeated their combined forces in a battle of Kausambi, though this theory lacked sufficient proofs to support it. In his conquests of Aryavarta Samudragupta followed a policy of ruthless conquests and annexation and he violently exterminated his opponent monarchs. He then turned to subjugate the kings of forest countries, all of whom were compelled to become his servants. Samudragupta then undertook the difficult task of subjugating the monarchs of Dakshinapatta. They were defeated in the battle and captured. But the victor released and reinstated them. His magninimity had earned him the allegiance of these Kings. In south he defeated King Mahendra of Kosala, king Vyaghraraja of Mahakantara, Mantaraja of Kovala, King Mahendra of Pistapura, King Svamidatta of Kottura, King Damana of Erandapalli , Visnugopa of Kanchi, Nilraja of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka , Kubera of Devarastra , Dhananjaya of Kusthalapura.

Samudragupta’s successful campaign in North and South India and his enormous military strength as well as his unquestionable generalship were enough to create awe and terror in the hearts of the rulers of other states, monarchic and republican, indigenous or foreign. Accordingly they gratified his imperious commands by paying all kinds of taxes, obeying his commands and orders and coming to do homage. Among the rulers of the frontier states described as the “Pratyanta-nripatis” the most noted were the followings who accepted the suzerainty of Samudragupta – the King of Samatata (or South-Eastern Bengal), Davaka (Le. Dacca or the hill tracts of Chittagong and Tippera, though Prof. VA. Smith identified it with the modern district of Bagura Dinajpur and Rajshahi while Mr. K.L. Barua identified it with the Kopili Valley of (Assam) Kamrupa (Assam), Nepala (or Nepal) and Kartipura. Many turbulent tribes also surrendered to him who may be summarized as the Malavas, the Arjunaynas, the Yaudheyas, the Madrakas, the Abhiras, the Prarjunas, the Sankavikas, the Kakas, the Kharaparikas, etc. Thus the tribes that survived Alexander’s invasion and the Mauryan imperialism lay easily prostrated at the might of Samudragupta. This proves beyond doubt the valor and generalship of Samudragupta and there seem some truth in the remark that the Gupta imperialism sounded the death knell to the republic that had long history of much glory.

Samudragupta’s conquests were of various degrees. He forcibly extirpated certain kings and steadily annexed their kingdoms. But the others were totally vanquished and taken prisoner but subsequently set free as they acknowledged his suzerainty. Lastly the frontier monarchs and the tribes, being impressed by his victories, paid him homage of their own accord.

Samudragupta thus made himself master of an extensive empire. The rise of a new indigenous power could not be a matter of indifference to the foreign potentates, who were no less anxious to be on good terms with him. The Allahabad Pillar Inscription informs that the Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanushahi, the Saka-Muruades as well as the people of Sinhala and other islands, purchased peace by self surrender, bringing presents of maidens, the application of Charters, stamped with the Garuda Seal, confirming them in the enjoyment of their territories. It appears that the above mentioned powers were profoundly struck with the expanding fame and influence of Samudragupta and therefore they thought it prudent to enlist his friendship and favor. They were the representatives of the Kushanas and the Sakhas who had formerly held sway over a large area of India. Of course it is difficult to identify these people definitely.

The Daivaputra-Sahi-Sahanushahi was perhaps the late Shahi Kushanas, the successor of Kaniska who were the rulers of the North-Western Frontier province of India, now within Pakistan. The Sakas were the Scythians ruling in the Western part of India in Malwa and Saurastra or in other parts of the country. The Murandas have not yet been identified satisfactorily. The Sinhalese obviously stood for the Ceylonese. The relation of the country is corroborated by the Chinese sources which informed that Maghavarna, the king of Ceylone had sent a formal embassy with rich gifts to Samudragupta seeking his permission to build a monastery at Bodhgaya for the use of the Ceylonese pilgrims. Samudragupta was gracious enough to grant his request and there grew up a magnificent structure which was known as the Mahabodhi Sangharama when Hiuen-Tsang came in India.

Thus Samudragupta became the unquestioned master of the whole of Northern India and a greater part of Southern India. He now prepared himself to perform the traditional horse sacrifice ceremony or the Aswamedha as a token of his absolute supremacy. Though this incident is not recorded in his Allahabad Pillar inscription, yet he is represented in the inscription of his successors to have revived the horse sacrifice which was long been in abeyance. The claims in favor of Samudragupta in the later inscriptions may not be fully correct, yet it can be said that he performed the sacrifice with full Sastric-injunction. That the Aswamedha was performed by Samudragupta can be substantiated by the fact that the king issued an “Aswamedha” type of gold coin bearing the figure of the sacrificial horse before a post on one side and on the reverse, the queen with the legend of “Aswamedha Parakramah.” It is learnt that these coins were minted to be given to the Priests who performed the sacrifice. During this ceremony he distributed large sums as charity. It is assumed that “the Aswamedha sacrifice might have been performed by Samudragupta at the conclusion of his fighting days and after the incision of the Allahabad Pillar inscription, as it was not mentioned therein.”

Samudragupta’s conquests, thus, had two distinct phases, his conquest in the North and his conquests of the Southern countries of India. But the very manner of his conquest of these two parts of India was not the same. Though he conquered different countries of Deccan, yet he did not annexed those kingdoms with the Gupta Empire as he did in Aryavarta. Samudragupta restored these vanquished countries to their former position and showed them many favor after receiving formal allegiance from them. Herein we find the real statesman like attitude and policy of Samudragupta. Possibly Samudragupta had realized that it would not be possible for him to control and rule the southern countries owing to its distance from his capital city and due to the communication difficulties. At the same time by indigenous display of skill, he created a chain of alliances and friendly terms to ban the progress of the Vakatakas, who had become formidable at this time and thus he safeguard the new Gupta Empire. Though his southern campaign was basically Digvijaya it was in reality Dharmavijayas. Thus his northern campaign was Digvijaya, but southern conquests were essentially Dharmavijayas.


By Joe Cribb, Research keeper, British Museum

The rule of the Gupta kings was probably the most important period in the history of Ancient India, but by the early nineteenth century knowledge of this 'Golden Age' had almost disappeared there. Europeans working with Indian scholars gradually reconstructed India's ancient history, by collecting and translating ancient Sanskrit and Pali literature, deciphering the scripts used in ancient India and recording the monuments, antiquities and coins of the period. For the Gupta period gold coins like this one were the most numerous surviving records.

In the 1830s James Prinsep, a British civil servant based in Calcutta deciphered the ancient scripts and read the inscriptions on these coins. He was able to link them with inscriptions on stone to suggest a chronological context for the Gupta kings in the middle of the first millennium AD. Our present knowledge of the history of the Gupta kingdom is based on these and more recently discovered inscriptions and coins.

The coins are only representations of the kings, showing their regalia, costumes and religious affiliation and practice. The dominant religious images on the coins are the bird-man god Garuda, the mount of Vishnu, and Sri Lakhshmi, Vishnu's spouse.

Kumaragupta's coins are an exception, as they represent his name-god Kumara, more commonly called Karttikeya today. Alongside the cult of the gods, the representation of Horse Sacrifice on the coins of Samudragupta and Kumaragupta show a different form of religious practice, based on the Vedic tradition, which predates the cult of Vishnu and Kumara, a more recent development in Hinduism. The coins continue to be a vital source for our study of ancient Indian history.


Gold Coin of Samudragupta - History

The advent of the Common Era brought the rule of the illustrious Kushan and the Gupta empires. When the mighty Kushan Empire crumbled, many small kingdoms acquired territories. One such was the Gupta dynasty. Starting from a small kingdom in Magadha in the late 3rd century CE, the Guptas gradually extended their rule over a large part of Southern Asia. Under the able and strong leadership of many rulers, this dynasty grew and became deeply rooted in the Indian subcontinent. The empire at its paramount included all of northern India from the Indus in the west to the Brahmaputra in the east and in the south it extended along the eastern coast of the Indian peninsula.

The Gupta period is considered as the “Golden Age” of classical India. This was a time when great universities flourished in Nalanda and Taxila, India made contributions in all sectors like mathematics, science, astronomy, religion etc. The famous story tales of Panchatantra, the very popular Kama Sutra, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata were composed during the Gupta Era. Gupta art is regarded as the high point of classical Indian art, and their coinage as among the most beautiful of ancient India. A general atmosphere of peace and prosperity helped create a civilisation conducive to the cultural advent and social growth.

Coinage of the Guptas: An Introduction:

The flourishing state of the economy was ascertained by a large number of gold coins circulated by different Gupta rulers. Famous for their gold coins, the Gupta numismatic art has an abundance of coins in the variety of designs. They also issued silver coins. However, coins made of copper, bronze or any other alloy metals are scarce. This abundance of gold coins from the Gupta era has led some scholars to regard their reign as the ‘rain of gold’.

Let’s explore this Gupta Numismatic Art through their noteworthy accomplishments and downfall.

General coin specifications:

The Gupta gold coins are known as Dinars and they are the most extraordinary examples of numismatic and artistic excellence. The coins, in general, depicted the ruling monarch on the obverse and carried legends while the reverse depicted the figure of a goddess. Gupta coinage started out imitating that of the mighty Kushans, but very soon had their own identity which in turn became a forerunner for the dynasties and kingdoms to come thereafter!

Gupta coinage reached the height of metallurgy and iconography. After Indo-Greek and Kushan coins, Gupta coinage made a huge come back with a true Indian taste in it. Being indigenous, they portrayed the king, queen, and deities with Indian attire and with lots of grace. Now let’s see the famous Gupta kings and their contribution to the acclaimed Gupta numismatic art.

Samudra Gupta:

Samudragupta, a legendary king by the virtue of his military prowess and administrative efficiency, was an important ruler of the Gupta Empire. His competent ruling produced some high quality of gold coins and laid the foundation of the Golden Age of India. He is credited to have issued only gold coins (Dinar) during his reign in seven different types (‘Lichhaviya’ type included). The coins of Samudragupta give us a lot of information on the start of the mighty empire of Gupta, and its economy.

Samudragupta’s coins according to their design and variety are known in numismatic terms as:

Standard types are numerous and common. This type of coins shows the king carrying a Garuda Dhvaja in his left hand and is shown wearing a cap. The reverse side of the coin portrays the goddess Laxmi.

The Archer types, introduced for the first time in the Indian Numismatic, are rare and they portray Samudra Gupta holding the bow.

Battle Axe type, Samudragupta’s coins featured weapons such as the battle axe, bow, arrow and swords. His battle axe type has the legend “Kritantparashuh” on them.

Lichchavi type: The Licchaviya issue bears the image of King Chandragupta-I with his queen Kumaradevi of Lichchavi family. Though the legend is specific to Chandragupta I, it was issued by Samudragupta in memory of his father.

Kacha type coin bears the legend “Kacha, having conquered the earth, wins heaven by the highest works”, while the reverse showed the legend “Exterminator of all the kings”.

The tiger slayer type coins of the king show him trampling a tiger as while shooting it with a bow. The obverse legend reads “Vyagraparakramah”.

The Lyrist type has the king in a high backed couch, playing the Veena which rests on his knees. The legend “Maharajadhiraja – Sri Samudragupta” decorates the obverse.

Asvamedha types are unique, we find a horse standing before a yupa or a sacrificial post with legend around that decorates the King as the conqueror of heaven, earth, and the oceans.

All of his coin designs with their illustrious legends are indicative of the conquests of Samudragupta and his attainment of paramount power. Samudragupta’s coinage features a distinct Indian touch to it in reference to the depiction of the dresses, weapons, goddesses, etc. as compared to the earlier Kushan coinage.

Chandragupta-II

Chandragupta-II inherited the Gupta throne at its peak. He contributed to the vastness of the empire by adding the few territories left off by his father Samudragupta. He extended great support to the arts and his reign saw the Golden Age of India developing and contributing to various fields under his royal patronage. He is known to have issued a total of eight types of gold coins (Dinars). Known through his coins as “Vikramaditya”, Chandragupta II also issued silver (Denaree) and copper (Daler) coins, probably to be circulated in the region that was conquered from the Western Kshatrapas. Let’s have a look at his coin types:

Archer Type: Interestingly, where his father issued a lot of Standard Type coins, Chandragupta II issued Archer type in abundance. The archer type contains the legend “Deva Sri Maharajadhiraja Sri Chandraguptah”.

Couch Type, are the rarest of Chandragupta’s coins with only two known varieties in the museum. Both of them differ in many details but have the legends “roopkrti” and “Vikrama”.

The Chhatra type carried the image of an attendant holding a royal parasol over Chandragupta.

Lion Slayer type which shows the king standing and shooting a lion with the bow contained the legend “Simhavikrama”

Horse Man Type coin design was introduced by Chandragupta II and depicts the King riding a horse.

The Standard Type, are similar in design with that of Samudragupta.

Chakarvikrama Type, this extremely rare variety features a Chakra or the wheel on the obverse with the legend “Chakravikramah”.

Kalasha Type, yet another extremely rare variety of Chandragupta II which depicts a Kalasha or a water pot.

It is said that in the later part of his reign, Chandragupta II started issuing silver and copper currency to be circulated in the regions of Gujarat and Kathiawar. However, the number of gold coins he issued was vast and the imperial mints were active throughout his reign.


Kumaragupta-I

Kumaragupta-I, often inscribed on coins as “Mahendraditya”, issued a good 14 different types of gold (Dinar) and silver (Denaree) coins. His coinage itself is enough to speak about the vastness and prosperity of his empire. His long reign saw both, the epitome and the decline of the empire as the Hun invasions during the later period of his rule shook the Gupta Empire. The financial crunch led Kumaragupta to issue silver-plated copper coins (Daler). Mostly continuing the coin types of his predecessors’, he introduced a few new varieties. Let’s have a look at his coins:

Archer type depicts the King standing in left, holding the arrow in right hand and bow in left.

Swordsman Type, King is seen with a sword in left hand with Bramhi legend “Gama – vajitya – sucharitaihi – kumaragupto – Divam – jayati”

Asvamedha Type was issued to commemorate the performance of Horse Sacrifice. The legend on the obverse reads “Jayati Divam Kumarah” and the reverse reads “Sri Asvamedha Mahendrah”.

Horseman Type, King on a horse with legends around that decorates his strength and victory on obverse and “Ajitamahendraha” legend on the reverse.

Lion Slayer, depicts the king slaying a lion with the legend “shrimahendrasimha” or simhamahendrarah” on the reverse.

Tiger Slayer, similar to the lion slayer type, this coin variety shows the king slaying the tiger with the legend “’Srimam vyaghrabalaparakramah” on the obverse.

Peacock or the Kartikeya type: Is probably the most beautiful of his coins which shows the King offering a bunch of grapes to a Peacock with his right hand.

Pratapa Type is an extremely rare variety which depicts the king with two attendants holding the Garuda Standard on both of his sides. The reverse reads the legend “Shri Pratapah”.

Elephant Rider Type is only known from one unique specimen. Though the inscriptions are illegible, this variety is attributed to Kumargupta I for its similarity in coin design and make. The coin feature King with an attendant riding an elephant.

Ashavamedha Types of Kumargupta is similar to that of Samudragupta and depict the horse tied to a Yupa or the sacrificial post on the obverse. The reverse has the Brahmi Legend “Shri – Asvamedha – Mahendra”.

• Kumargupta revived the Lyrist Type and King- Queen Type coins of the previous rulers.

• His Elephant-Rider-and-Lion-Slaying Type showcases his sportive and hunting capacities.

• His Rhino-Slayer Type variety is unique and features a rhino for the first time in Indian numismatic art!

Kumargupta I issued silver and copper coins for circulation in West of India but they were of a debased type. They generally depicted the bust of the king to the obverse and a peacock or a garuda (eagle) on the reverse. Though he issued a vast variety of coins, his coinage lacked an artistic excellence and consistency.

Skanda Gupta

The gold coins of this king lack the variety of type. The illustrious Gupta Period began to decline during the reign of Skandagupta. Inscribed on coins as “Kramaditya”, Skandagupta issued four types of gold dinars and three types of silver denarees. The Gupta gold coins, once an ultimate example of numismatic art, now began to lose their lustre and the political strain became evident in coin designs and its execution. Let’s have a look at his coin types:

• The regular Archer type which depicts the King with a bow, arrow and a legend in Brahmi “kramadityah”

King and Lakshmi Type: This type depicts the King with the goddess on the obverse and Brahmi Legend ‘Sri Skandaguptah’ in the reverse.

Horse Man type has the king riding the horse.

Chattra Type has the King with an attendant offering at a fire altar

• His silver coins have three varieties with the King’s bust on the obverse with Bull or Fire Altar or a Peacock on the reverse.

His successors Purugupta, Kumaragupta-II issued only one type of gold coins namely Archer type. Budha Gupta’s coins followed his predecessor’s type but the artistic degree declined greatly. Lack of consistency in the same coin design shows symptoms of a steady decline of the once mighty empire.

The decline in the later Gupta Period:

Gupta Period that was once distinguished for its creativity in art, literature and architecture began to decline during the reign of Skandagupta. This period was riddled with the invasions of the Pushyamitras and the Hunas which accompanied with the intra-territorial upheavals led to a substantial loss of their imperial authority. The rulers that came after Skandagupta struggled to handle the vast empire which was fast crumbling.

The expenses incurred from the constant wars drained the royal treasury and affected the general trade and commerce of the empire. Naturally, the disintegration of their political and financial prowess reflected on their art and culture. This decline is most prominently observed on the quality of their coins.

The Gupta gold coins now began to lose their lustre and were increasingly struck in base metals with very little gold or silver content. Furthermore, the plethora of artistic coin designs of the earlier kings soon was reduced to a standard Archer Type coin of the later rulers. The calligraphy of the legend and the execution of the coin design suffered too.
There was also a general paucity of coinage caused by the declining internal trade and weakening of a powerful centre. The newly emerging independent and self-sufficient local units or ‘Shrenis’ too contributed to a sharp decline in the number and purity of later Gupta coins. Hence it would not be an exaggeration to say that level of excellence of the Gupta numismatic art declined in the later times.

Interestingly, the Post-Gupta coins too became monotonous with slight or no creative changes at all.

References:
The Coinage of the Gupta Empire – Dr A S Altekar
Catalogue of Indian Coins in the British Museum – John Allan
Indian Feudalism – R C Sharma
The Expansion and Consolidation of the Gupta Empire – R C Majumdar

The Mintage World Team comprises of experts, researchers and writers from the field of Philately, Notaphily and Numismatics who try to shed light on some of the most interesting aspects of coins, banknotes and stamps from not just India but across the globe as well.


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