Reviews


Coins of the Great Kushans, Arvind K.Singh, Parimal Publications (Delhi, 1996)
The book is available through Biblia Impex, New Delhi.

This is probably the most disappointing book I have reviewed for these pages. It is disappointing because there is a genuine gap in the market for a work like this and Singh falls short of filling it. Kushan history is still an under represented subject and there is a need for a single well written text book providing an introduction to the coinage of the period. Such a book would need to be comprehensive, well illustrated and provide an overview of all the coinage from the early barbarian imitations to the last Kushan kings, as well as touching on important debates. Arvind K.Singh does not achieve any of this.

The book consists of three sections, text, tables and illustrations. The text gives a brief overview of the different type of coins, the gods that appear on them and the legends that are used. The tables that follow show the Greek, Karoshthi and Brahmi alphabets, coin legends, symbols on the coins, insignia. These tables are followed by illustrations of the coins.

Importantly, the book is riddled with errors of fact. Singh implies the Kushans had a strong silver currency when in fact production was limited. He says that after Vasudeva I there were only two other kings, Kanishka and Vasudeva, yet his own coin charts show a Vasishka. He suggests that weight standards for coins were constant when in fact the coins were reduced in weight, repeatedly, from Huvishka onwards. These errors make the text look like a series of notes rather than a well thought out introduction.

The tables contain useful information but they are badly organised and the presentation is of a very low standard. Most of the entries in the tables are hand written and there are no explanatory notes to guide the student. The third section is little better. Any guide to Kushan coins needs high quality illustrations, unfortunately these seem to be photocopied from drawings and photographs. The quality is so bad that it is impossible to tell what most of the illustrations represent.

The writing in this book is little better than the illustrations. I realise that many Indian academics are writing in a second language and in previous reviews I have ignored occasional mistakes. Singh's writing is far worse than this. When he says 'it is possible that the portraiture of the Kushana rulers were based on reality which fact help to understand the personality of the ruler and his august appearance, as on coins' it is impossible to understand what he means. The whole book needed to be proofread by a native speaker before it was published. It seems spectacular that Singh could not find a colleague to do this.

Even if the production standards are ignored there is very little in this book to interest a new student. There is no attempt in the book to highlight the way in which coins can be used better understand the history of the Kushans. The bibliography is inadequate consisting mostly of articles from the Journal of the Numismatic Society of India. Tanabe, Cribb and others are simply missing from the bibliography. In short the book is simply inadequate to fill the gap it was intended for. To provide a proper introduction the bibliography and text need expanding, recent debates and ideas including, and sections on the Yu-chi and Kushano-Sasanian coinage adding. Then Parimal need to work very hard to improve the quality of the illustrations and the general production standards. Until this is done I recommend anyone against buying this book.


Contents Page The Crossroads of Asia  Silk Route Portraits From Gandhara Gandharan Art in Context Silkroad Coins

Robert Bracey.