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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton IX, Lot: 1139. Estimate $1000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 9 January 2006. 
Sold For $1500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

[Ancient] INDIA, Kushans. Kanishka I. Circa 127/8-152 AD. AV Dinar (8.00 g, 12h). Mint I (A). PAONANOPAO KA- NHPKI KOPANO, Kanishka standing facing, head left, holding goad over altar in right hand, standard in left; flame at right shoulder, annulet on cheek / MAO, the lunar god Mao, diademed with long fillets, lunar "horns" at shoulders, standing facing, head left, right hand extended in benedictional gesture and cradling globe-tipped sceptre in left arm; tamgha to left. MK 58 (dies unlisted); Donum Burns 128; MACW -. Good VF. ($1000)


The name Kushan derives from the Chinese term Guishuang, used to describe one branch of the Yuezhi, a loose confederation of Indo-European people who had been living in the Xinjiang Province of modern China. Driven west by Xiongnu between 176 and 160 BC, the five groups of the Yuezhi – the Xiumi, Guishuang, or Kushans, Shuangmi, Xidun, and Dumi – reached the Hellenic kingdom of Baktria by 135 BC. They expelled the ruling Greek dynasties there, forcing these kings further south to settle along the Indus River. In the following century, the Guishuang forced the other tribes of the Yuezhi into a tight confederation. Now, as the name Guishuang were the predominant power, their name became that by which the entire group was known. This appellation was Westernized as Kushan, though the Chinese still referred to them as Yuezhi.

Like the Hellenistic Greeks and Romans, the Kushans were a multi-cultural society, incorporating much of the cultures of those they ruled into their own. Their early coins employed both Greek and Kharosthi legends like their Baktrian predecessors. Beginning with Kanishka I, however, the Kushan language, written in an adaptation of the Greek alphabet with some local alterations, was used almost exclusively. From the time of Vima Taktu (Soter Megas), the Kushans also began to adopt Indian cultural elements. As evidenced by his use of Siva as a reverse type on his dinars, Taktu's son and successor, Vima Kadphises, seems to have embraced the monotheistic religion of Shaivism, which recognized Siva as supreme deity. His successors also embraced a wide variety of Indian and Central Asian deities. Overall, the Kushan pantheon represented a religious and artistic syncretism of western and eastern elements.

Kanishka I was a fervent Buddhist who convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. Its outcome was the adoption and promotion of Mahayana, or "Greater Vehicle" Buddhism, which, unlike Theravada Buddhism, allowed for different levels of Buddhist achievement, placed as great an emphasis on the life of the Buddha as on his teachings, and allowed for the existence of Buddhist "saints", or bodhisattvas. Kanishka's special interest in the Buddha is reflected in his use of the Buddha as a reverse type on his gold and bronze coinage. His gold dinars and quarter-dinars were probably struck as a special issue in conjunction with the conference, while those in bronze would circulate widely through the populace, promoting the king's religious aspirations.

Although the Kushans maintained diplomatic relations with both the Roman and Chinese empires, by the mid-third century their empire began to weaken and fragment. Upon the death of Vasudeva I in 225 AD, a split into western and eastern halves occurred. The Sasanian Empire under Ardashir I conquered Baktria and northern India. The southern portion of this territory remained under direct Sasanian control, while in the north arose the Kushanshahs, or Kushano-Sasanians, Sasanian nobles who ruled the region as vassals. By 270 AD, Kushan control of the Ganges plain was ceded to the rising Gupta kingdom. By 320 AD, the rising Gupta Empire was moving northward, pressing on the remaining Kushan-held territories. During this period, several rebel leaders and generals appeared, further weakening the remaining Kushan state. By the middle of the fourth century AD, the former Kushan vassal, Kidara, absorbed the now-moribund Kushan state and brought it under his control. This new kingdom lasted for only the next century or so, when the Hunnic rulers and later, the Muslims, incorporated it into their own territories.