Kushan Coinage Kushan History

The Propaganda Issues of Kajula

The coins of the region of northern India became increasingly debased in the first century AD and by the time of the Kushan rise to power they were almost all of bronze 1. Kajula Kadphises is the first king to have Kushan printed on his coins, which were all of bronze. These bronze issues can be seen as a sign of the poverty of the region, or perhaps of the rulers. The material of the coins had up to this point been silver and bronze.

The two coins are the obverse of issues of Kajula Kadphises. Kajula issued a series of coins which showed the Greek king Hermaues on the obverse with a Greek legend. The coins are still in Greek which his Great Grandson Kanishka abandons. It reads 'of King Hermaues the Saviour' and on the unshown reverse 'of Kujula Kasa Kushan chieftain, steadfast in the law'. The coin weighs 8.78g and measures 23mm. The second coin reads 'of Kujula Kadphises Kushan chieftain' on the obverse. It appears to show a bust of Augustus Caesar copied from a Roman coin. It weighs 3.45g and measures 18mm across.


Kajula's coins include a series of coins featuring Hermaues and a particular example apparently based on a coin of Augustus. Though copying of designs is not unusual we do not know why Kajula chose these designs to copy. The Greek historian Tarn thought that the Hermaues coins were a propaganda issue. Tarn established a good order for Kajula's 'Hermaues' coins, in three stages. He thinks the coins on which Hermaues appears most prominently are the earliest. Tarn argued that the coins were intended to establish a blood relationship between Kajula and Hermaeus. He suggested that the king Heraus (Sanab) is the grandfather of Kajula and that he married a daughter of Hermaeus. The link is rather tenuous. Tarn was probably right to consider these as a propaganda issue, claiming descent from the last Greek to Kajula. He goes on to finish his discussion...

'It shows, incidentally, that in the first half of the first century AD there were still enough Greeks, or what passed as Greeks in the Parompamisadae to be worth conciliating'(Appendix, Tarn)

Tarn is wrong, the point is far from incidental. In fact this is the central interest of the coins. There may well have been other groups worth conciliating but what can these coins tell us about the group Kajula was aiming at. They give us some clues to how an urban, wealthy elite thought about themselves. It seems unlikely that this group was anything else, or they would not have seen the coins. The group must have associated themselves with Greeks, though they probably spoke native languages and were native in habit. We can see that many of these 'Greeks' were native speakers because the Karoshti legend is used to carry the same message as the Greek. The use of Augustus head was probably also intended to appeal to people who thought of themselves as Greek. The coin has rounded letter forms like group III so it was probably minted a forty or fifty years after Augustus death. The practice of this type of propaganda was continued by Kajula's son Vima Takto. Kajula and his son clearly wanted to win over an important group that the Parthians had failed too.

Soter Megas

Until the publication of an inscription giving the genealogy of Kanishka in 1996 the enigmatic Soter Megas had received considerable attention. Some Kushan scholars believed he was a Greek rebel fighting against Kajula and Vima, others that he was a Greek vassal. Some thought he was a rebel prince who looked to the Greeks for support. Errington and Cribb had firmly stated that he did not exist and that the coins belonged to the reign of Kajula or Vima 2. The evidence that the coins were minted by a previously unknown king Vima Takto, and that he, not Vima Kadphises, had conquered India, resolved a great many problems. It should also serve as warning against attempting to read to much into the coins. No amount of analysis of coins would have revealed the situation.


The coins of Kajula are not limited to his copies of Hermaues. He also copied drachmas, based on the Indo-parthian types of Sasan, Sapedones and Sutavasta and drachmas based on Rajavula and Gondophares. He also copied obols of Eucratides for distribution north of the Hindu Kush. Joe Cribb has suggested that the coins credited to Sarnab (or Heraus) were also minted by Kajula. It could be that Kajula just had mints produce coins in a style or type with which they were already familiar. Or perhaps Kajula wanted to be all things to all men, legitimate ruler of Bactria and Kabul to the Greeks, kindred spirit to the Parthians, traditional chief of the Yu-chi and ally of a powerful emperor in Rome. Kajula's Empire reveals its wide range of peoples in his coins.


The Hermaeus-Kajula Series of Coins3

Coin group Obverse Reverse Letter Forms Dates
Group I Bust of Hermaues with diadem and a Greek legend reading 'King Hermaues, the saviour' Standing figure of Heracles with club and lion skin. Karoshti legend reading 'Kujula Kadphises, Kushan, Yavuga'. Squared Omicron Hard to say. It seems likely they precede Group II. If so a range of dates 10 to 30 AD.
Group II Bust of Hermaues with diadem and a Greek legend reading 'Kujula Kadphises, Kushan' Standing figure of Heracles with club and lion skin. Karoshti legend reading 'Kujula Kadphises, Kushan, Yavuga'. Squared Omicron, Phi and Sigma The letter forms are similar to the coins of Gondophares. So the dates of these coins could range 30 to 50 AD.
Group III Bust of Hermaues with diadem and a Greek legend reading 'Kujula Kadphises, Kushan' Nike holding a wreath with the Karoshti legend 'King Hermaues, king of kings, the Great' The letters are all rounded as in later Kushan coins An association of Nike with Kajula's success in conquering the Paropamisadae is simplistic. The coins do however appear to be after those of group II so a range of 50 to 60 AD seems reasonable.

Notes and Digressions

1 Tarn believes all of Kajula's coins to have been bronze. Most authors concur. Mukherjee suggests that he minted silver for circulation in the lower Indus. This must be a mistake as Kujula never circulated coins in the lower Indus.

2The argument is made in Crossroads of Asia, 1992. Coins of the kings Kajula and Vima Kadphises are found at Taxila with those of Soter Megas. They assume the overlap means a separate king could not have fitted in the gap. This neglects that coins may well remain in circulation long after the king has died. This appears to have been quite common in northern India both before and during the Kushan period.

3, This follows Tarns division of the coins. The dates could be shifted. Many authors argue that Kajula cannot be contemporary with Gondophares because he is too powerful. If the evidence were stronger this might be reasonable but given the paucity of evidence it cannot be sustained. If Kajula was later then his dates would seem to be between AD 50 and 68. This is too short a rule to be reasonable.
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