Reviews


Silk Road Coins: The Hiryama Collection, by Katsumi Tanabe, The Institute of Silk Road Studies, 1993. pp. 47 (In English)

This is available through Spink and Sons in London, telephone 0171 930 7888. The cost is ten pounds plus the postage and packaging.

This is a catalogue of an exhibition held at the British Museum in 1993. A conference was also held at the time and a separate volume of conference papers published in 1997. The catalogue is based on a Japanese catalogue of the same exhibition. It includes the original Japanese text, plus an English translation and pictures of the Hirayama collection.

The catalogue covers the coin collection of Professor Ikuo Hirayama who has been very generous towards the British Museum in the past eight years. Like most similar catalogues it is heavy on pictures of the exhibits, quite slim and covers a broad period. Unlike most catalogues the text does not focus on the collection but instead has a number of short essays on the nature of kingship, as displayed on the coins. The emphasis is very much on Parthian, Kushan and Sasanian coins with some mention of Bactrian-Greek, Indo-Greek, and Post-Kushan coins. These short essays are preceded by an historical overview and followed by photographs of 126 coins from the exhibition.

Brevity in the case of this catalogue has done some harm. Perhaps as a result of trying to sum up complex ideas in such a short space (the essays are barely 500 words long) Tanabe fails to communicate some of his ideas clearly. In some places this is very misleading. On page fifty two he writes 'The Kushan Kings replaced the Greek portraits of kings and gods with their own more Indian and Iranian portraits, and although they still used Greek script on the coins, it was used to write their own language, Bactrian'. In fact the Greek language was used until the time of Kanishka and the images of gods were borrowed from the Greeks (even when used to represent native gods). This is corrected in parts later in the text but the text contains many such misleading omisions. It fails to mention Vima Taktu and the Soter Megas coins at all, while concentrating almost exclusively on the coins of Kanishka and Huvishka. The result is very difficult to put into context. In section seven he attempts an explanation of the shoulder flames seen on coins of the Kushan king. He links it to a Buddhist legend of Kanishka killing a dragon. This completely ignores that the image can be found on the coins of Wima Kadphises.

On the positive side the eleven short essays do slowly bind together to form an interesting view of Xvarnah, legitimate kingship. They include some interesting thoughts on the five Buddha coins of Kanishka. Also, an article on the facial marks of Arscacid kings, for which he finds parallels on the coins of Kanishka and Huvishka. The pictures are a very useful source. There are 143 black and white figures in the first half, mostly of coins. All are clear and of adequate size. At the back of the catalogue are a selection of coins from the Hirayama collection presented in chronological order. The obverse and reverse of each is photographed clearly. The illustration of the catalogue is very impressive.

This slim volume is worth buying if you have a strong desire to have a selection of pictures from the coins of the Hirayama collection. It is also a useful guide for those interested in numismatics. If you wish to develop an already existing knowledge of Kushan history into a grasp of numismatics then this is an inexpensive start. For the general student, Errington and Cribb's Crossroads of Asia is a better choice. It is a stimulating read for those interested in Kushan political history but you will need to come to it prepared with some prior knowledge.


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Robert Bracey.