About the Author
After taking a degree in Geography from the University of Cambridge Terry Hardaker spent a year teaching in Ahmedabad, India. He then followed a career as a cartographer, while pursuing numismatics and archaeology as spare time occupations. Working from 1972 with Dr. Parmeshwari Lal Gupta, he jointly authored the companion volume to this work on the Imperial Series, (first edition 1985, revised edition 2014).
He is a Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society, London, an Honorary Research Fellow, School of Archaeology, University of Liverpool, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
A concise catalogue of the non-Imperial punchmarked coins of ancient India has long been overdue. The idea was first conceived by Dr. Parmeshwari Lal Gupta for his PhD thesis, completed in 1959 but never published. In his later years, Gupta carried out more work on this subject but old age overtook him and at his death it was still work in progress. In the meantime others have tried to fill the gap. First was the 2001 publication Punchmarked Coins of early historic India by Dilip Rajgor, which also attempted to include the Imperial Series. The Ahata Project, conceived by Paul Murphy, aimed to produce a Series of monographs covering different Series in the non-Imperial range, and three were published - Kosala State Region by Murphy (2001), Saurashtra and Surasena by P Anne van't Haaff (2004), and the Ghagara-Gandak River Region by Shinji Hirano (2007). But by far the most detailed work is Michael Mitchiner's two-volume Ancient trade and early coinage (2004) which covers much more than just the Indian subcontinent's coinages in its 1420 pages. In parallel, articles on specific hoards of early coins have appeared in the relevant journals of the IIRNS and the ONS, by authors such as Hirano, Sharma and Verma.
Why then, one might ask, is there still a need for the present book? It is remarkable that all the above works, saving that of Rajgor, have been compiled by people who are not professional numismatists, and whose days are normally filled with other tasks. They fall under the term 'amateurs', although that word may do them something of an injustice. It is perhaps testimony to the importance of punchmarked coinage in the minds of collectors, dealers, historians, archaeologists and students, that non-professionals have taken matters into their own hands. The downside of this situation, if any can be found, is occasional 'amateurishness', and sometimes a less-than-ideal presentation of the data.
The present author shares the same amateur status and makes no claim to better qualification than his peers: this volume will have its own shortcomings. It does, however, benefit from hindsight in having to hand the other works just listed, whose authors have been more than generous in allowing their data to be called upon, and it also offers the opportunity to introduce new types that have come up in the meantime.
Being able to watch the market in punchmarked coins for more than 50 years has enabled both a broad perspective and an in-depth view of the subject. Hopefully too, lessons have been learnt to allow a more user-friendly presentation of a very complex branch of numismatics. In arranging the classification, I have tried to imagine myself in the situation of people living 2500 years ago and to think what their interests and priorities might have been, based on the small segment of their lives that has come down to us, including of course the coins themselves.
This book essentially comprises two parts - a commentary on the coins and a Catalogue of them. In both we explore innovative approaches, including a much closer look at the coins themselves. That has yielded a veritable treasure trove of new facts and figures. We discover that punchmarked coins offer a great deal more information about the history of their times than was formerly thought possible. This new data is fitted into a wider view of the Subcontinent in the mid-first millennium BCE when it was at the point of moving from prehistoric to historic time. The narrative is supported with the use of abundant illustrations, tables and maps. Mapping the distribution of hoard evidence - something that would seem to be fundamental to the subject - is presented here (often for the first time) with interesting results.
The format used in the companion volume on the Imperial punchmarked coins (Gupta & Hardaker revised edition 2014) is broadly repeated here but with changes where the nature of the subject required them.
Ancient India's political structure at the dawn of history went through a remarkable phase that saw the transformation of a small local state in the Middle Ganga basin - Magadha - into an empire that covered most of the Subcontinent. That process began in the fifth century BCE and lasted for over three hundred years, reaching its peak under the Mauryan emperor Ashoka.
This period also coincides with the introduction of metallic coinage to India. First brought to the notice of scholars in the early nineteenth century, these 'punchmarked coins' proved complex and difficult to place in a chronological sequence. The basic framework was set out by scholars such as Durga Prasad and Parmeshwari Lal Gupta in the mid-twentieth century, but the ongoing appearance of new types and increasingly close-focus analysis of the coins has allowed a fine-tuning which is still in progress today.
The pre-Imperial punchmarked coins are primarily a coinage of prehistoric peoples, with their origin in an age without written language. Of all the sources available to scholars to reconstruct the history of the time - literary and artifactual - the coins are increasingly recognised as the most consistent narrative of political and economic conditions during the three hundred years of their manufacture. Archaeologists have been slow to recognise that coins are artefacts just like the other human products of the past, but with a good deal more information to impart if given sufficient attention. Their provenances give us the locations of different political regions, their iconographic content describes the agrarian society in which they were produced, and the different weights tell of the growth and evolution of trade networks. From small beginnings comprising rare localised coins, we follow the progress of the rise of Magadha until its coinage - as issued by its Mauryan successors -becomes ubiquitous over vast tracts of land. We see, too, the catastrophic and sudden collapse of Imperial authority in the mid-second century BCE as the coins quickly become debased and were then replaced with paltry local copper coinages of the breakaway states.
Clearly, numismatics tells two different stories here. The so-called Imperial Series which are attributed to Magadha and its successor the Mauryan Empire are paralleled by the coinages of all the other small states that were at different stages free from the hegemony of the Imperial authority. At first, before the rise of Magadha, many small states began tentative issues of coins, but soon after we see their progressive elimination by the growing Magadhan conquests, until in the time of Ashoka in the mid- third century, few if any places manage to survive with an independent coinage. Then, as Mauryan power fell away, they briefly crept back again before the invasion by Indo-Greeks from the northwest put a final end to punchmarked coinage. That is the picture as we read it in the early 21st century. But as research continues and techniques become more sophisticated, who knows what the final analysis will be?
This volume is a companion to the Magadha-Mauryan catalogue ('GH', Gupta & Hardaker 2014) that describes the Imperial Series. It covers all the 'local' coinages (except those of the Deccan) that are believed to have been issued independent of Magadha-Mauryan authority. From the point of view of history they are perhaps the more interesting of the two groups, but they present a more daunting challenge to classify. It is an exciting journey to explore what the coins themselves tell us; they are the only consistent and indestructible elements of history from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Often with uncertain provenance, rare, poorly manufactured, with a bewildering array of weight systems, many can only be ascribed tentatively to any region. All the techniques available to the numismatist have to be harnessed to make headway in bringing order out of the chaos: style, method of manufacture and fabric, weight and weight range, metal quality, iconography, bankers' marks, comparative rarity and archaeological evidence all go into this melting pot. If the reader is seeking in this Catalogue precise answers to all the questions of date and locality, we have to say in truth this cannot always be determined.
While most of the Series in this Catalogue belong to the period before the rise of Magadha, or run in parallel to its rise, some may belong to the late Mauryan or post-Mauryan period, such as the Saurashtra or Sugh series. There may have been a small window of time when breakaway states from the collapsing Mauryan Empire were still able to access silver to make their own coinages, but candidates are few and the evidence is not strong. Most fractional coins with single marks can be linked to regions or hoards that suggest an early date, even though their types are ambiguous.
The true post-Mauryan coinages are almost exclusively of base metal and are covered in GH 2, (2014).
Author(s): P L Gupta & T R Hardaker
Publisher: IIRNS Publication Pvt Ltd