Topics in Kushan History Kushan History

The Goddess Nana

Image from the reverse of Sapadbizes coins. From the collection of Peter 

The reverse of Sapadbizes' coins show a beast, probably a lion, facing to the right. To the right and left are two legends; both reading NANAIA. Above the lion is a symbol consisting of a crescent and an 'L' shape. Around the edge is a dotted border. The inscription NANAIA is used on some of the coins of Kanishka to indicate the goddess Nana. Rosenfield suggested that the shorter version NANA was common in the eastern parts of the Kushan Empire and the longer version NANAIA in the west, the region ruled by the Sapadbians.

The reverse of Kushan coins is a space reserved for gods and goddesses, often symbols of dynastic power and authority. On the reverse of Sapadbizes' coins there is an image of a lion representing the Mesopotamian goddess Nana. Nana was an important and popular goddess in Parthia where she combined aspects of fertility and warfare.

The image of the lion is drawn from the reverse of the coins of the Greek kings Agothocles and Pancleon, where it represents a panther. It is certain that it represents a lion in this case because in the Kushan period Nana is often represented with a lion. This is an example of the way in which the engraver is freely borrowing and reinterpreting rather than simply imitating earlier coinage (see also the letterforms used on the coins). Image from a coin of Kanishka, early 1st century AD

There are no earlier examples of Nana on central Asian coins but after Sapadbizes she appears on coins of several Kushan rulers. These coins provide a number of iconographic links with coins of Sapadbizes.