Kushan Coinage Kushan History
Introduction Coin Inscriptions Other Sites Overview of coins
Propaganda of Kajula Huvishka's Devaluation


The evidence for Kushan history is not as substantial as the evidence for Rome or Greece. Very little of the literature of the time, and there is very little doubt that India produced as much history amongst its literature as anywhere else, survives for us now. A small amount has been passed down in the Buddhist tradition but it concerns itself mostly with Kanishka. So archaeology has always been an important part of Kushan studies. Of all the items which have survived from the Kushan period their coins are most numerous and have been most studied. The amount derived from coins is so great that a summary seems essential for those who can't access the numismatic books.

The first Kushan coins were found in the Punjab in 1830. A few years later between 1834 and 1836 Masson collected a number of coins in the region of Begram in Afghanistan. These were published by Wilson in a report for the seventeenth volume of Asiatic Researches. Serious study was lavished on these previously unknown kings at the end of the nineteenth century. So that by the start of the twentieth century a huge number of Kushan coins hand been catalogued. Between 1912 and 1930 John Marshall excavated the site of Taxila in modern Pakistan. This and many more digs during the fifties and sixties gave more and more contextual information to the coinage. By the 1980's the order of the coins had been established, rough dates decided and catalogues compiled. The coins remain however a tantalising glimpse of the past. And vast hoards such as that from Takht-i-Sangin continue to come to light.

The questions posed by the coins are important to the Kushan empire and to the situations that proceed and follow it. Few of the questions have any certain answer. Appeal to other sources can sometimes clarify the situation but it is usualy easier to say what a coin does not mean rather than what it does. The purpose of this is to make you think about the very different ways that the same evidence can be interpreted. This page will be expanded in future by adding new pages on particular aspects of Kushan coinage.

Coin Inscriptions

Many of the coins are illustrated with sketches. These are often clearer than photographs but they won't help you decipher the inscriptions. The inscriptions on Kushan coins are given in three languages. Greek, in Greek script; Bactrian which is written in Greek script with the addition of an extra letter (þ which represents the 'sh' sound); and the Karoshti script which appears once the Kushan kings are masters of northern India and is usual on the reverse of the coin.

Most translations are based on seeing a large number of coins clearly stamped from the same die. As an example of the difficulty of reading a particular coins inscription, one is dissected on the left. The coins belongs to the king Wima Kadphises, the second Kushan king who ruled at the end of the first century AD. The inscription in Greek is in the script common at the time and is written out again in the modern cursive Greek used in text books. Notice the difficulty in distinguishing the alpha from delta, in the second and third letters of Kadphises, and sigma and lambda, third and fifth letters of basileo. Remember that this is among the larger coins produced by the Kushans, nearly 3cm across. Once read any difficulties are filled in, as in the case of megas (great) where the original inscription appears to have been blundered or the end of Kadphises. On a stone inscription these assumed sections would be surrounded in square brackets but with a coin the large number of identical or near identical inscriptions makes the final translation more certain.

So the final inscription (word order changed for clarity in English) reads...

'king of kings, Wima Kadphises, the Great, the Saviour'

Other Places

On-line you can access a list of the Kushan kings and there coins complete with pictures, weights and descriptions courtesy of T.K Mallon. His page contains lists and notes with weights and sizes for the whole series of Kushan coins.

Kushan Coinage

Kushan History - General Contents
Military History of the Kushans
More Information and Contacting the Author