Tag: indo-sasanian

The Indo- Sasanians: History and Coinage

The Indo- Sasanians: History and Coinage


The territory of the Kushan Empire captured by Ardashir I, the first Sasanian emperor of Iran (224 AD- 241 AD), was placed under the control of Sasanian princes who were given the title Kushanshah, i.e. Kushan King or King of Kushan. The name of the first of these princes has not yet been deciphered on his coins, which show him being presented with the Kushan crown by the Iranian goddess Anahita. His successor, called Ardashir, minted coins, probably at Balkh, with mixed Sasanian and Kushan designs for circulation in the formar territories of the Kushans around Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Their successors maintained the title Kushanshah and continued to issue coins. In about 260 AD, during the reign of Peroz I, the third Sasanian Kushanshah, Sasanian control was extended into the Kabul and Begram area, and for the next century, Ganghara (modern day Peshawar valley in northwestern Pakistan), remained a contended area between the Sasanians and the Kushans. This group of Sasanian princes is referred to in modern scholarship as the Indo-Sasanian.

Early History

After the victory of the Parthians, the Sasanians extended their area of rule into Bactria during the reign of Ardashir I around 230 CE. It was extended further towards the east in western Pakistan during the reign of Shapur I (240-270 CE). Until the rise of Kidarites, Shapur II remained directly in charge of the southern territory, while the north was pertained to the Kushanshahs. The decline of Kushans and their defeat in the Kushano-Sasanian conflict led to the rise of Hephthalites who conquered Bactria and Gandhara. The Indo-Sasanian period ended with the collapse of Sassanids to the Rashidun Caliphate in the mid 7th century.

ardashir_rock relief

A rock relief of Ardashir I

Some of the important Indo-Sasanian rulers are:

  • Ardashir I (c. 230 – 250)
  • Peroz I (c. 250 – 265)
  • Hormizd I (c. 265 – 295)
  • Hormizd II (c. 295 – 300)
  • Peroz II (c. 300 – 325)
  • Shapur II (c. 325)
  • Varhran I, Varhran II, Varhran III (c. 325 – 350; lasted until the Hephthalites invasion)
  • Peroz III (c. 350 – 360; in Gandhara)

The Sasanian Originators and Entering of Huns

Most of north and northwestern India between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE was under the control of the Kushans. Towards the ebb of this empire, the Sasanian rulers began to press eastward, first conquering the Bactrian region during the reign of Ardashir I (230 CE), then moving further to Gandhara in the reign of Ardashir’s successor, Shapur I (241-270 CE). This brought the Sasnian into direct confrontation with the later Kushans. There were also multi-faceted consequences of this contact in cultural, religious, and artistic arenas. The introduction of the broad flan Sasanian issues from Afghanistan bearing Kushan motifs is such an instance.

The adaptations of Sasanian coin type of bust/ fire altar in Afghanistan travelled into northwestern India in 6th century CE. These follow the pattern of the large stereotype Sasnian coins, featuring the bust of the king on the obverse, and fire altar with attendants flanking it on the reverse. Sasanian coins, which were introduced in the 3rd century CE in Persia, retained a standard pattern throughout their long history of circulation. However, the coins of each king were distinguished by a unique crown on his head, allowing for issues of different kings to be told apart even in the absence of legends and dates.  There is a mention of Bahram II successfully establishing his authority over the whole of Sakastan (the Sakas of Seistan), a martial nation, acquiring the title of Sagan Shah. Also, there is an allusion of the Persians being called back to Khosaran when the Sasanian were engaged in a war with the Romans.

Bahram V (420-438 CE) extended his dominion to include Makran and Sind through a matrimonial alliance with the daughter of the Indian ruler named ‘Shangal’ by Firdausi. Shangal had been identified with Vasudeva, ruler of Magadh and Kanauj. It was during the reign of Bahram V that the Hephthalites (known as Huns according to Chinese sources) suddenly crossed Oxus and overran the province of Merv. The nomadic Hunas, pressured by the Chinese rulers, swung westward only to face prolonged conflicts with the Sasanian rulers in the second half of the 5th century. The presence of Hunas, however, is recorded in literature from even an earlier period i.e. the epic period.  The Sasanian-Huna conflict between the 2nd and 5th century influenced the Huna coinage at a great extent.

The Spread of the Gurjara-Pratiharas

Gurjara Pratiharas of Rajputana:  Harichandra (550 CE) founded the earliest Gurjara kingdom in the erstwhile Jodhpur State of Rajputana. He conquered and fortified Mandor (North of Jodhpur) which became the capitsl of the newly-founded kingdom. This region was then known as Gujarat. Harichandra’s four sons- Bhadra, Bhogabhata, Kakka, Rajjila and Dadda were described as to be very powerful. Not much is known about the first two sons, but Rajjila ruled Mandavyapura while Dadda moved southward and founded a kingdom in the region of Broach in Gujarat. Rajjila’s son Narabhata, also known as Pellapelli succeeded him.

Pellapelli’s son Nagabhata shifted the capital from Mandor to Medanaka. The rise of Gurjaras brought them into conflict with Prabhakaravardhan, father of Harshvardhan, a powerful king who kept Gurjaras in check. King Tata, son of Nagabhatta and his three successors ruled between 640 and 720 CE. Silukha, his great grandson, was successful in defeating neighboring powers and expanding the kingdom. The advent of Arabs weakened this dynasty. Nagabhata succeeded in stemming the Arab advance. The new Pratihara dynasty founded by Nagabhata went on to become a great empire, while the dynasty found earlier by Harichandra continued to rule from Jodhpur as feudatories of the Imperial Pratiharas. On the death of the last king, Kakutta, the feaudatory kingdom was mearged with the Gujjara-Pratiharas Empire.

The Gurjaras of Nandipur: The Gurjaras also established a small principality in the region around Broach in Gujarat. It boundaries extended from the river Mahi in the north to the river Kim in the south, and from the western seacoast to the borders of Malwa and Khandesh in the east. Nandipur, identified with Nandol, became their capital. Dadda I, his son Virraga Jayabhata I and Dadda II Prasantaraga were the first three kings of Nandipur Gurjaras. The second half of the 7th century CE saw the Chalukyas, also known as Kalachuris establish an independent kingdom in south Gujarat with Navasari as their capital. Chalukyan King Avanijanasraya Pulakesiraja crushed the Arabs and gained supremacy in the region. The Gurjaras thereafter acknowledged the Chalukyas as their overlords. The weakening of the Gurjaras led to the emergence of four powers- the Paramaras, the Chahamanas, the Chalukyas or Solankis and the Pratiharas. The Paramars ruled Dhar and Ujjain, Chalukyas ruled Anhilpur, the desert region west of Abu was ruled by Pariars and the Chahamanas were in charge of the northern part.

The Imperial Pratiharas: Nagbhata I of Avanti, founder of the Pratiharas dynasty, defeated the powerful forces of Arbas between 724 and 736 CE. Nagabhata brought under him a large number of states and established his supremacy over Rajputana and Gujarat. At the time of Nagabhata I, the Rashtrakutas became a power to reckon with in the Deccan. Rashtrakuta king Dantidurga defeated the Gurjara leader, but their annexure was not long lasting. Nagabhata I managed to conquer powerful principalities of Malwa and parts of Rajputana and Gujrat. The reigns of Kakkuka and Devaraja, his nephews were uneventful. Upon Devaraja’s death his son Vatsaraja came to power and ruled from Avanti.

End of the Pratiharas Empire

The Gurjara-Pratiharas Empire, which saw its zenith under the all-powerful Bhoja and Mahendrapala, began to weaken under their successors. After the death of Vinayakapala, a series of weak successors resulted in the reign of confusion and chaos in the 10th century CE. The Chandellas, Chahamanas, and Guhilas, feudatories of the Pratiharas declared their independence. The emergence of new poers like Kalachuris in central India, the Paramaras in Malwa, and the Chalukyas in Gujarat further eroded the authority of the Pratiharas.

Early Indo-Sasanian Coinage

The Hunas adopted the coin design of Sasanian ruler Firuz, and then issues their own coins in the region northwest to India. Following the death of Firuz in 484 CE, Firuz’s coins and their imitation made their entry into India. According to K.K. Maheshwari, the Indo-Sasanian coins is attributable to the Mihiras (or Mers) and the Gurjaras who were newly settled in the Ajmer-Beawar region in Rajasthan. Here the closest copies to Firuz’s coins are found.

IMG_115 copy

Fire attendant’s bodies are of dot or herringbone design

A hoard Beawar is an important discovery as it contains earliest imitations of the Indo-Sasanian currency in India. Maheshwari was divided the hoard into two groups. The Firuz type coins, where the reverse depicts attendants with a hand rose on the altar side and the other across waist on the border sides come under the first group. The other group consists of both the hands of attendants raised. The coins of the hoard have thin, large flans with an average diameter of 25mm, so that the entire die is accommodated, leaving enough margin all round. They weigh from 3-4 grams.

Dramma and Gadhaiya

The dramma was a distinct monetary denomination of Gurjara-Pratiharas, their feudatories and successors. The term Dramma is said to signify a coin equal to eight dramas. Dirham itself is derived from drachm. Though the mention of dramma is in various inscriptional accounts, none of the fractional denominations of any of the currencies termed as Indo-Sasanian have surfaced so far. It appears that the dramma was in frequent use in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Malwa between the early 7th and mid- 14th centuries CE which roughly corresponds to the same geographical area and time span as the Indo-Sasanian/gadhaiya coinage.

The gadhaiya coin confirms to the weight standard of 65 grains. Though the term dramma is frequently mentioned in sources, the term gadhaiya has hardly any reference. The absence of the term gadhaiya from literary sources can be explained if it is assumed that gadhaiya to be a type of dramma. Evidently, the term ‘gadhaiya’ was handed down the ages orally. It was a common currency in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Malwa. Rajasthan was the home country where the Gurjara and Mers first struck imitations. The Gurjaras carried this currency with them when they invaded Gujarat, and it remained a popular currency not only during their rule but afterwards too. The Paramaras, an offshoot of the Gurjaras, introduced the gaighaiya in the Malwa region, where it circulated for a short while and was then replaced by the Malwa region of the gadhaiya.

Indo-Sasanian coinage is generally recognized as comprising of two distinct families or evolutionary lineages. These have been categorized variously based on either geographic or political-temporal distinctions. The gadhaiya series, which is the earlier one, of the two great evolutionary lines and the longer-lived, was derived from imitations of Sasanian coins bearing the image of Emperor Firuz but later went on to become quite physically distinctive. Their silver metal content is very high. This evolution was a slow process spread over many years. From their place of origin in the Rajasthan-Gujarat borderlands, they not only became a dominant and thriving currency which circulated widely in the coastal and inland trading regions of western India, but standard currency over time for succeeding dynasties.

Any currency that is copied and circulated for a long time loses its original form and becomes degraded. Indi-Sasanian currency was no exception. The engraver, while engraving a coin die took one of the circulating specimens as a base to do his work, using it as his prototype. Thus imitation of coins began which continued for years to come.

Mapping Findspots

The following are the Indo-Sasania findspots. It reflects the widespread area of circulation of Indo-Sasanian currencies:

State District Findspot
Rajasthan Bikaner Diatra
Pali Pali, Nadol
Ajmer Piplaj, Atitmad, Chandma, Merwara
Jaipur Amarsur, Khijuria, Raniawas, Khejroi, Sakhun, Dayarampura, Siwakawas
Tonk Rairh
Bhilwara Dlapura, Khatwada
Kota Nimod
Haryana Bhiwani  
Uttaranchal Nainital  
Hardwar Hardwar
Uttar Pradesh Saharanour  
Meerat Sakauti
Bulandshahar Madrsa
Budaun Budaun
Bareilly Bunidan, Buzurg, Reyogurgaon, Ahichchtra
Pilibhit Neoria, Pilibhit
Lakimpur Kheri Hydrabad, Khoria, Kotra, Saithu, Kheri
Etah Etah
Sitapur Tikera
Lucknow Narainpur
Barabanki Madanpur, Barabanki
Unnao Attardhani
Kanpur Semri, Raibarelli
Sultanpur Sultanpur
Faizabad Faizabad
Gorakhpur Kusmauli
Jaunpur Jaunpur
Allahabad Allahabad
Jhansi Saprar
Bihar Saran Deoalakhan
Dharbhanga Rauna Berai
Nalanda Nalanda
Gujarat Banaskhantha Samatwada, Bhildi
Mehsana Kheralu
Panchmahal Godhra
Madhya Pradesh Sagar Maharajpur
Damoh Kherua
Jabalpur Murwara, Patan
Nimar Guida
Chhattisgarh Durg Sirsa
Maharashtra Nagpur  
Yeotmal Pahur
Akola Pimparkheda, Lohara, Risod
Prabhani Paheni
Nashik Chandanpuri
Thane Ambesihv
Mumbai Kandivali

The Indo-Sasanian coinage was found in a large number of hoards over a very vast geographic area, with numerous surviving specimens. It was a currency adopted by the Hunas that to begin with was an imitation of Firuz I’s coinage in central Asia, and which continued to imitate that imitation continuously for centuries as the tribes who accompanied the Hunas put down roots in India. Ind- Sasanian coins had a record life of nearly eight centuries, starting from the 5th century CW and coming to an end sometime in the 14th with the advent of Muslim rule in the country. Despite its long circulation and the vast number of coins struck, no two coins seem to have been struck from a single die. Statistically, this indicates that the hoards were derived from an extremely large original coin population, of which only a small percentage managed to survive and find its way into museum hoards and other collections.