Coinages of Saurashtra and Surasena    (410)

The study of P.Anne van't Haaff forms part of the AHATA project which aims at creating a comprehensive catalogue of ancient Indian punchmarked coinages. The first AHATA project study was about the Kosala punchmarked coinages and had had been done by Paul Murphy who had published his results in a fine catalogue. The present study appears in the same attractive A-4 soft cover format comprising 120 pages full of thorough discussions, useful informations, drawings and attractively enlarged coin illustrations. Van't Haaff's catalogue contains two books in one: book one is about the silver punchmarked coinages of Saurashtra, dated by the author c.450 - 50 BC, book two is about the silver punchmarked coinages of Surasena, dated by the author c.500 – 350 BC.

The ancient Saurashtran Janapada was situated in modern Gujarat on the west coast of India. This Janapada had issued a series of small irregularly shaped silver coins which had been punched by the single die technique. The coins have a weight standard of ca.0.9grams. Only a few specimens of smaller denominations are known which had been produced from cutting full weight 0.9g specimens resulting in ca.0.6g pieces. Only one specimen of 0.3g weight is known. The coins in most cases have been restruck several times. A few specimens have been overstruck on cut down Magadhan karshapanas with design traces of the Magadhan undertype on them. Most Saurashtran punchmarked coins have surfaced in the southern parts of the peninsula of Gujarat, from find spots in the modern districts of Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar. Meanwhile a large number of types and subtypes has come to light. Whereas Mitchiner in 1978 reported only four main-types, viz. hill, tree, seated goddess and elephant, Rajgor's catalogue from 2001 about the punchmarked coins of early India lists many more. Rajgor's focus is mainly on the coins from the Junagadh 3 hoard which is regarded to have contained early coins of the series. Van't Haaff includes Rajgor's informations but he also adds new important material from another early series hoard recently found at Amreli. Some early symbols like Srivatsa, turtle and svastika had also been reported by Rajgor from the Junagadh 3 hoard but others are reported at the first time by van't Haaff. Among the early Saurashtran coin designs in his study we find a ‘Banyan' tree from the Amreli hoard, a symbol looking like a barrel, a peculiar U-shaped symbol and a great number of miscellaneous other symbols. However, the majority of the coins published in this new catalogue belongs to types regarded mainly on stylistical considerations to belong to a later phase of Saurashtran's coin history: they mainly show different varieties of hill, tree, depictions of goddess Lakshmi, elephant, bull or temple depictions. The author emphasizes the detailled execution and the elegant style of many of these later types, especially seen on some Lakshmi and bull depictions, in contrast to the cruder, artistically inferior style of the early types. New trade contacts and with them new artistic insights and possibly inspirations from the Indo-Greek coinages and from contemporary temple artwork are discussed among the factors which might have influenced the style development within the Saurashtran coin series. In this context a special attention is paid to the Lakshmi images. Here the author refers to Coomaraswamy's opinion that anthropological depictions in India are not earlier than the 2nd century BC. I don't know whether this statement holds true for all kind of ancient Indian art but as far as I see it it holds true for the indigenous Indian coinages. This therefore seems to be a strong argument to follow van't Haaff in dating at least the Saurashtran Lakshmi types to the 2nd or 1st century BC.

Scholars like Mitchiner, Rajgor and Tye have proposed different dates for the time of issue of the Saurashtran punchmarked coins. Inscriptional evidence suggests that Saurashtra was incorporated into the Mauryan Empire at the end of the 4th century BC. This has made Rajgor to believe that the Saurashtran coinage, which he assumed to have started at about 450 BC, had stopped at about 300 BC. Derived from Buddhist chronicles Rajgor sees Saurashtra as an independent republic before its incorporation into the Mauryan Empire and as a vassal kingdom with no coinage of its own thereafter. One of Rajgor's material arguments is the fact that overstrikes on cut down Magadhan karshapanas are known but no such overstrikes on Mauryan karshapanas. Van't Haaff's reply is that it wouldn't have been a problem to hammer the thicker Mauryan coins flat before cutting and overstriking them but that this process would make it most probably impossible to identify even traces of any Mauryan undertype. For Mitchiner Saurashtra lost its independence only under Asoka and for him the Saurashtran coin series had been issued from about 310 to 260 BC. With regard to the large number of different types and subtypes and the many restrikes,one can find mostly five and sometimes upto eight restrikes on a coin, van't Haaff sees problems with such a relatively short time span of only 50 years. Tye had placed the series between the early 2nd and the late 1st century BC. On the one hand he regarded the series as being too complex and too long to fit into a short period just before the Mauryan occupation. And on the other hand the symbols on the coins appeared to him rather to belong to a later period. As for the occurrence of overstrikes on cut down Magadhan karshapanas Tye argued with a prolonged use of these karshapanas long after the time of their emission. For Tye the Saurashtran coin series could conveniently fill the gap between the demise of the Mauryan karshapanas in the early 2nd century BC and the use of imported silver drachms of the late Indo-Greek ruler Apollodotos II in the later 1st century BC. Van't Haaff is of the opinion that a period from the late 2nd to the late 1st century BC cannot convincingly explain the complexity and the stylistic development within the series. As for a distiction between earlier and later types he found that the coins from the Amreli hoard that have been classified as earlier types have fewer overstrikes in contrast to coins that have been classified as later types. Also the later coins are somewhat larger than earlier coins. As each restrike widenes the coin a bit this also seems to support a distiction into early and late in addition to the stylistic differences. The restriking was applied throughout all phases of the Saurashtran coin series and on most specimens traces of at least five restrikes can be found with no general restrike pattern recognisable.Van't Haaff's explanation for this phenomenon is a continuous restriking process: each coin received by the treasury would get a new restrike, sometimes with the same image as before, sometimes with a different image. As a result of his study and his observations van't Haaff links the different views of the previous writers on the subject by proposing that the Saurashtran punchmarked coins had been issued in one long series from about 450 BC to about 50 BC.

The second part of van't Haaff's study is devoted to the single punched ‘fish over lion' silver coins from ancient Surasena Janapada. Ancient literature refers to Surasena and its capital Mathura as one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. The territory of ancient Surasena was in modern Uttar Pradesh west of the Yamuna river with the Panchala Janapada as its neighbour east of that river. Few details are available about Surasena's political history. We only hear that Surasena's king Avantiputra had close relations with king Pradyota of Avanti who was a contemporary of Bimbisara, king of Magadha. At about 350 BC Surasena seems to have been conquered by Mahapadma Nanda, king of Magadha. The coins of Surasena have a very characteristic design which in most cases had been deeply incused by a single punch of round or oval shape: a lion-like animal with a fish above and some ancillary symbols around. Many varieties exist in the shape of the animals and the kind of the anciallary symbols. Sometimes the fish is exchanged by a second lion, a sun or a taurine. The exact identification of minor varieties is frequently impossible as only parts of the complete design appear on the coins because the punch was always considerably larger than the flan. In the past these ‘fish over lion' coins have mostly been misattributed to the Avanti Janapada. In 1989 P.L.Gupta noticed that such coins had been found in a hoard at Sonkh/Mathura and he discussed their attribution to Surasena. The hoard soon disappeared and only a few pieces were acqired by the Mathura museum with no exact identification of their findspot. Since then some more hoards with several thousand ‘fish over lion' coins have surfaced in the Mathura district strengthening their attribution to the Surasena Janapada (Kosi Kalan hoard, Mathura hoard and Nandagaon hoard). These hoards have been reported in Rajgor's catalogue of 2001. In that catalogue 21 varieties of Surasena coins are listed in two denominations: ‘˝ karshapanas' of 1.5–1.8g and ‘mashakas' of 0.3-0.4g. Van't Haaff's study is based on about 1050 Surasena coins; 400 were from the photographic library of the IIRNS, 632 were scans of the Maheshwari collection and others came from different private collections. The author thoroughly examined the coins, noticing any variety. In the end he comes out with an astonishing number of different types and subtypes, many of them reported here for the first time and all of them carefully catalogued and illustrated by photos and drawings. In this catalogue we find scarce types with a fish above and below the lion, specimens on which the fish is omitted, rare pieces with two lions and no fish at all and sometimes we even see the lion facing left. As for the flan type round, square and rectangular shapes can be observed. The author describes the round specimens as having been produced by the ‘droplet' technique, the square and rectangular ones as having been cut from a silver sheet. More than 70 % of the coins have tiny marks on them, measuring 2-4mm, the so-called bankers' marks, of which the author identifies and lists 75 different types. Many Surasena coins have been restruck on an older coin, sometimes on another Surasena specimen but mostly on a Panchala Janapada coin, a feature supporting the attribution of the ‘fish over lion' type to the Surasena Janapada. Not all observations of van't Haaff's study can be explained satisfactorily at this moment. One such observation is that nearly all the restrikes of Surasena coins on Panchala coins were on specimens with blank reverses. Another question is raised by the fact that round coins are significantly more often restruck on Panchala coins than square and rectangular coins. Van't Haaff discusses the possibility that round and square/rectangular pieces might have been separated either geographically or in time but in the absence of factual evidence questions as this one must be left open. As for the dating of the Surasena coin series van't Haaff disagrees with Rajgor who proposes a time-span from 400-350 BC for the issue of these coins, in contrast for example to the earliest coins of Kashi, Magadha or Gandhara which Rajgor assumes to have started at about 600 BC. Van't Haaf sees no reason why the Suarasena coinage should have started so much later than the first coinage of other Janapadas. He mentions the intensive trade connections at that time with trade routes linking the Jamuna-Ganges region with North-Western and Central India and holds it to be probable that these contacts might have inspired the start of coinages in the different Janapadas at about the same time. Following the hypothesis of the first Indian coinages to have been issued around 500 BC, he proposes a time-span for the Suarasena Janapada coins from about 500 BC until about 350 BC when Surasena became a part of the Magadhan Empire.

Altogether the author has to be congratulated on this well researched, well written, profusely illustrated and user-friendly work. It's a pleasure to go through the hundreds of photos and neatly drawn illustrations and to identify one's own coins according to this new classification. If future AHATA publications will be of a similar standard as the first two then we all can look forward to add some more nice books to our libraries. Van't Haaff's book is highly recommended to all scholars and collectors with an interest in ancient Indian coins and history. Potential buyers can contact the author by e-mail at or at his postal address (P.Anne van't Haaff/ Westerenban 44/ 4328HE Burgh-Haamstede/ The Netherlands). The book is available at $25 or 21 Euros plus package and postage, cash or paypal.

Review by Wilfried Pieper 9/04

Sample page          Book cover

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