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Two small (and scarce) Kushan coins


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Here are two related coins I've bought in the last few months. One was acquired at the Baltimore Whitman Coin Expo in October 2022, while the other is one of my first coin purchases of 2023. As it happens, both are early Kushan, both are small in size, and both are fairly scarce. Hope you enjoy.


Coin 1. Kushans. AR obol 11 mm, 0.45 g). Slightly crude copy of Heraios type, likely by Kujula Kadphises (c. 50-90). Obverse: Diademed bust right. Reverse: Soldier standing right, blundered Greek legend. MACW 2840-2843. This coin: Purchased from Marc R. Breitsprecher, January 2023.


Coin 2. Kushans. Kapisa mint in Kabul valley. AE 12 mm. Wima Takhto (c. 90-113). Obverse: Shiva-Hercules hybrid figure standing, holding trident and lion skin, tamgha of Wima Takhto behind. Reverse: City-goddess standing holding cornucopia, to right flower-vase. MACW 2921-2922. This coin: Purchased at Baltimore Whitman Coin Expo from Tamco Numismatics (October 2022).

The Kushans were originally one of five semi-nomadic tribes that constituted the Yuezhi confederation, which lived along the northwestern border of China. During the second century BCE the Yuezhi were forced to migrate west, into Bactria and nearby territories. Eventually, the Kushans conquered the other four tribes to assume leadership. The first true Kushan King is considered Kujula Kadphises (c. 50-90); we know the names of a few earlier Kushan rulers as part of the Yuezhi, but very little of this early history is known except in broad outline. The Kushans would quickly become a wealthy and important kingdom, controlling major trade routes between China, India, and Persia/Rome. They issued an abundant coinage in both gold and in bronze, though after a few scarce issues of the Yuezhi and (according to Joe Cribb) Kujula Kadphises they seem to have not issued silver coins. These coins depict an extensive and very mixed pantheon, including Indian, Iranian, Greek, and Central Asian deities, and even some scarce types depicting both the Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) and the Maitreya Buddha (the future Buddha). The Kushan Kingdom broke apart in the 3rd century CE, with multiple independent local Kushan rulers and some territories acquired by the new Sasanian Empire of Persia. The remaining Kushan territories were lost to the Kidarite and Hephthalite Huns in the 5th century CE.

The silver obol above has a somewhat disputed attribution. There are some rare silver tetradrachms bearing the same obverse bust with a reverse inscription in Greek "Heraios, tyrant of the Kushans". Some silver obols of the above type have a shorter but legible Greek inscription "Heraios Kushan". Coins of this type have been assumed to belong to the late portion of the Yuezhi period of Kushan history. However, Joe Cribb has assigned the coinage like my example (with blundered legends) to the early part of Kujula Kadphises' reign. If this is so, then this is the only silver coinage of the Kushans. The small bronze also has its own mysteries. Mitchiner lists it as a coin of "Soter Megas" (the second Kushan king and son of Kujula Kadphises, and who used only the title "Great Savior" on his coins) and with a denomination of "AE drachm (?)". The coin seems too small to be a drachm; I prefer to leave it as just an AE12. An inscription discovered in the 1990s, plus some scarcer coin types, confirmed that the king "Soter Megas" used the personal name Wima (or Vima) Kadphises. Interestingly, Mitchiner states that on this coin there is a Kharoshthi letter "Vi" to the right of the deity on the obverse. Unfortunately this is off the flan of my specimen, but it does help to confirm the Soter Megas- Vima Takhto equation. I rather like the portrait on the obol despite the heavy wear; the remaining bits of dark toning nicely accentuate the details of the face. The small bronze is not very pretty, but it is a scarce and historical type and was pleasantly cheap at just $12.50. Please share your related coins.


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Very nice Vima Takto bronze! That type is pretty hard to find generally. One interesting point; there is some other extremely rare silver coinage from the Kushans, though the Heraios coins are pretty much the only ones that can actually be bought on the market. The one that I've seen discussed least is this very late silver drachm from Vima Kadphises; it was found in the 1830s before it ended up in the British Museum, making its authenticity extremely likely. I've seen speculation that it was likely a test strike; no other examples are known, so it's hard to say.index.png.9165653ad73da282946711802e8fc69e.png

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