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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Previously Unknown Type

CNG 91, Lot: 448. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $13000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

INDIA, Kushan Empire. Vima Kadphises. Circa AD 100-127/8. AV Dinar (20mm, 7.85 g, 12h). Mint I (A). 3rd emission. BACIΛEYC BACIΛEωN CωTHP MEΓAC OO[H]MO KAΔΦICHC, diademed and crowned figure of Vima Kadphises seated facing on cushioned throne with ornate legs and high back, head left, feet on footstool, holding laurel branch in raised right hand and resting left arm on left knee; club to left, tamgha to right / “Maharajasa rajadirajasa sarvaloga ishvarasa mahishvarasa hima kathpishasa tradata” in Karosthi, ithyphallic three-headed Siva standing facing, holding trident in right hand, left arm resting on the bull Nandi, who stands right behind; triratana to left. Bopearachchi, Premiers –; cf. MK 3 (for rev. die) and MK 11 (for obv. type); Donum Burns –. Good VF.

This unique and previously unknown dinar may well be one of the earliest issues in the glorious series of Kushan gold. This coin shares a reverse die with MK 3 (showing Vima riding an elephant on the obverse). This three-headed Siva reverse type was also used for MK 1 and 2, which are the first among previously known Kushan gold issues. While the enthroned Vima obverse was also used for the double dinar issue of MK 11, Göbl knew of no corresponding dinars. Unlike this dinar, however, the Siva that appears on the reverse of the MK 11 issue has only a single head – a type that continues throughout the rest of Vima’s gold coinage. Therefore, assuming the types were struck in succession, this dinar must precede MK 11 and presumably served as the model for that issue.

Vima Kadphises was the first Kushan king to strike in gold, reflecting the Kushan’s expanding economic power. By the early second century AD, Kushan control of the Silk Road, and the immense wealth its control provided, enabled the Kushans to strike quantities of impressive coin types which emphasized their new-found importance. The coronation of Vima Kadphises, the first truly independent Kushan ruler, allowed for the opportunity to issue a large number of gold dinars, as well as multiples and fractions. While the weight standard was based on the Roman aureus, the imagery on these issues represents a synthesis of Hellenistic and Central Asian cultures. Adopting Greco-Roman models, the king’s portrait displays a confident realism, and, although his costume may reflect the style of the Parthian court, it nevertheless possesses an underlying forcefulness which is distinctly Kushan, revealing an earlier nomadic ethnic identity. His power as independent ruler was emphasized by the inclusion of weapons as adjuncts: the mace-scepter, the sword, and the spear, symbols of his new ability to coerce and pacify. The presence of the club of Herakles, an already-familiar hero throughout Central Asia, not only gave the king a Greco-Roman, and consequently, more cosmopolitan association, but also implied that he was a Herakles Redivivus, a mortal able to achieve mythical tasks. Such divine association is carried further with Vima’s depiction above the clouds. While it might be interpreted as his wish to be viewed a god, being associated with gods, or his elevation over other men, the inclusion of such imagery may, in fact, indicate a special status, unattainable by others. The presence of the flame at Vima’s shoulders, a manifestation of kavaem khvareno (the Iranian concept of royal good fortune), reflects the status and power bestowed on a worthy ruler by the gods as a talisman of his lawful reign and surity of his success. The depiction of Vima’s left hand being covered, a Parthian convention, symbolizing subjection to a higher power, namely Siva, who is depicted on his coinage, further suggests that the Kushan king saw himself as that god’s functionary to rule over his newly-won resources and territory.