It is very difficult to know today where the concenpt of coinage first evolved, but based on available evidences, it appears that the concept of money (as coins, which by definition here would be a piece of metal of defined weight stamped with symbol of authority for financial transaction), was conceived by three different civilizations independently and almost simultaneously. Coins were introduced as a means to trade things of daily usage in Asia minor, India and China in 6th century BC. Most historians agree that the first coins of world were issued by Greeks living in Lydia and Ionia (located on the western coast of modern Turkey). These first coins were globules of Electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. These were crude coins of definite weight stamped with incuse punches issued by the local authorities in ~650 BC.

Most likely the first coins of India were minted just before 5th century BC in northern and central India. Although, few historian have suggested (based on vedic records) that India minted perhaps the first coins of the world which were introduced even earlier than Lydian/Ionian coins, in 8th century BC; most scholars do not agree with this theory. Both, literary and archaeological evidence confirm that the Indians invented coinage somewhere between 5th to 6th century BC. A hoard of coins discovered at Chaman Huzuri in 1933 contained 43 silver punch-marked coins (the earliest coins of India) with Athenian (coins minted by Athens city of Greece) and Achaemenian (Persian) coins. Bhir (Taxila) hoard discovered in 1924 contained 1055 punch-marked coins in very worn out condition and two coins of Alexander in mint condition. These archaelogical evidences clearly indicate that the coins were minted in India long before 4th century BC i.e. before Greeks advanced towards India (Alexander's invasion of Persia and India). Panini wrote Ashtadhyayi in 4h-5th century BC in which he has mentioned Satamana, Nishkas, Sana, Vimastika, Karshapana and it's various sub-divisions to be used in financila transactions. Thus coins are known in ancient Indian literature from 500 BC. There is also a strong belief that silver as a metal which was not available in Vedic India (pre 600 BC), became abundantly available by 500-600 BC. Most of the silver came from Afganistan and Persia as a result of international trade.

The earliest coins of India are commonly known as punch-marked coins. As the name suggests, these coins bear the symbols of various types, punched on pieces of silver of specific weight. Interestingly earliest Indian coins have no defined shapes and they were mostly uniface. Secondly, these coins lack any inscriptions written in contemporary languages and almost always struck in silver. These unique characters makes early Indian coins very different than their contemporaries in Greece. Many early historians believed that concept of coinage was introduced in India by Greeks. But unlike Indian punch-marked coins, Greek coins had inscriptions, they were round in shape, were stamped on both the sides and minted using silver, electrum and gold too. Today we are certain that the concept of coinage was invented in India independent of foreign influence which imparted the unique characteristics to these punch-marked coins, not seen in any other coins of the ancient world.

Punch-marked coins are marked with 1-5 (and sometimes more) marks representing various symbols. Two well known numismatists, D. B. Spooner and D.R. Bhandarkar after careful study independently concluded that the punching of various symbols representing animals, hills, tree and human figures followed a definite pattern and these coins were issued by royal authority.

In Rig-Vedic period (Rig Veda is the first out of the four Vedas which contains scriptures and hymns in Sanskrit, probably composed in 8th-10th century BC), the small kingdoms came into existance all over the suncontinent from Kabul (Kubha in Sanskrit) to upper Ganga (Ganges). most of these were the small states under hereditary monarchs and few republics. These small and large states called Janapadas and Mahajanpadas. About 6th century BC, sixteen Mahajanapadas or kingdoms rose to pre-imminence in India. According to ancient text Anguttara Nikayas they were as follows: Anga, Magadha, Kashi, Koshala, Vajji, Malla, Vatsa, Chedi, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Ashvaka, Avanti, Gandhar and Kamboja. One of the earliest coins of india were minted by following Mahajanapadas.

Ganga River valley:
Brij (?)

Upper Ganga river valley:

Indus river valley:
Takshashila (Taxila) & Gandhara (Pushkalavati)

Southern India (Godavari and Narmada river valley):
Ashmaka or Ashvaka and Avanti

Each of the kingdom have issued distinct type of silver coins to facilitate the trade. Shown above is possibly the earliest coin of Indian subcontinent which was found near Mathura. This rectagular coin, made of almost pure silver, was issued in central India or Madhyadesha. It has seven distinct punch marks including central `pentagon enclosing a sphere' punch mark. None of those marks show much resemblance to punch marks routinely seen on coins of other Janapadas. Three other punch-marked coins of India minted by Taxila, Koshala and Ashmaka Janapadas are shown below. These are some of the earliest coins of the India.

About 600 BC, in north western part of India, Takshashila or Taxila and Pushkalavati, became an important commercial centers for the trade with Mesopotamia. These wealthy satrapies (provinces) introduced a unique coinage to facilitate the trade. These were silver concave bars of 11 gms which are popularly called as `Taxila bent bars' or `Satamana bent bars'. Satmana or Shatamana represented 100 rattis of silver in weight (Shata means 100 while mana means unit). These silver bars were punched with two septa-radiate (seven arms) symbols, one at each end. These bent bars represents one of the earliest coins of India. Shown above is a fine example of Satamana bent bar.

Ancient Indian coinage was based on `Karshapana' unit that consists of 32 rattis (3.3 grams of silver). A `Ratti' is equivalent to 0.11 gms which is the average weight of a Gunja seed (a bright scarlet colored seed). Subsidiary denominations of Karshapana like half Karshapana (16 ratti), quarter Karshapana (8 ratti) and 1/8 of Karshapana (4 ratti) were also minted. Shown below is a fine example of 1/8th of Karshapana which is as usual uniface. On obverse is septa-radiate single punch (identical to what is seen on two ends of Satamana bar).

The Pradyota kings of Avanti had a large kingdom covering central and western India. It was prosperous nation due to the commerce with Mesopotamia through a sea port at Bharoch (modern Gujrath). Shown below is a beautiful example of one of the earliest coins of India minted by Ashmaka kingdom in southern India or Deccan. This coin which is considered as double Karshapana, is from a hoard that surfaced in village of Ashmaka in Maharashtra in 90s. Although this type was first published by Elliot in the 1870s, very few specimens have been around until the recent hoard.

Most of these Janapadas were subsequently absorbed into Magadha empire (ruled by Saisunaga dynasty) between 600-321 BC. Pradyotas of Avanti were defeated by Saisunaga in 400 BC. The most remarkable king of Magadha was Bimbisara (also called Shrenika) who ascended on throne in 545 BC. He annexed kingdom of Anga (east Bihar) and married princesses of Koshala and Vaishali thereby expanding his kingdom to the borders of Nepal. He was a very efficient administrator and built the city of RajGriha (Rajgir in Bihar). Both, Goutam Buddha and Mahavir Jain preached their doctrines during his reign. His son Ajatshatru (494-462 BC) defeated many of his adversaries including humbling his uncle Presanjit of Koshala. He founded the city Pataliputra (modern Patna) which was metropolis of ancient India for next four centuries.

In ancient India during 600-321 BC, many Janapadas issued coins with only one symbol like Lion (Shursena of Braj), humped bull (Saurashtra) or Swastika (Dakshin Panchala). Four symbol coins were issued by Kashi, Chedi (Bundelkhand), Vanga (Bengal) and Prachya (Tripura) Janapadas. Five symbol punch marked coins were first issued by Magadha which were continued during Mauryan expansion. Shown below is a very rare coin of Kalinga Janapada which is in mint condition. This is from a recent hoard which supposedly surfaced from river delta; about half square and rest circular in shape.

Ajatshatru was followed by many kings who eventually lost this kingdom to the family of Nandas. To maintain the huge army of 200,000 infantry and 3000 elephants (supported by Greek evidence), Nandas had to resort to heavy taxation which was detested by people. They found a new leader in Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 BC) who eventually with the help of Taxilian Bramhin Kautilya or Chankya overthrew the Nanda ruler and laid the foundation of illustrious dynasty of Maurya.


Most likely, emperors of Maurya dynasty ruled the largest empire that ever existed in the Indian subcontinent. Soon after the death of Alexander, his empire was divided among his generals. One of his general Seleucus assumed the title of King in 312 BC. He invaded India but was repelled by Chandragupta Maurya. Seleucus surrendered a large part of Gandhara (modern Afganistan and Pakistan). Very likely Chandragupta later married to daughter (or sister) of Seleucus. Seleucus sent an ambassador named Magasthenes to Chandragupta's court, who has written detailed account of might and pomp of Mauryan empire. Chandragupta (according to Jain scripture converted to Jainism and spent his last days at Shravan Belgola in southern India) was followed by his son Bindusara who increased his empire by annexing Deccan. His son Ashoka seized Pataliputra after his father's death and enthroned himself as emperor. Ashoka is the greatest emperor of Muaryan dynasty and most certainly the greatest figure in the Indian history. He was an ambitious ruler who annexed a large part of southern and eastern India, including the kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa).

Shown above is a an interesting silver Karshapana (mentioned in ancient Sanskrit treatise Manu smruti being 32 rattis in weight) minted by Mauryan authorities. The most striking feature of this punch-marked coins is presence of 3 deities, struck from single punch. It is very rare to see any human figure or deities on punch-marked coins. Shown below is another coin minted by Mauryan emperor which shows sun, the symbol of Mauryan.

During Ashoka's reign, the Mauryan empire reached zenith covering an area from modern Afganistan in west to Assam in east and in north from Himalayas to modern Andhra Pradesh in southern India. These imperial punch marked coins have been discovered in all the regions which cover modern India, Pakistan and Afganistan, truly representing the glory of the mighty Mauryan empire. Although, Kalinga war proved to be turning point and produced far reaching consequence in the history of India and whole eastern world. Ashoka came under influence of Buddhist philosophy and later sent his son (or brother?) Mahendra to Sri Lanka who converted king Devanampiya Tissa and eventually the entire island country to Buddhism.

Emperor Ashoka drew up a code of laws noted for their humanity and erected hundreds of stone pillars and magnificent Buddhist Stupas (dome shaped monuments). It is believed that Ashoka erected almost 85,000 stupas and pillars all carved in stone with teachings of Buddhism engraved on them. After two thousand years, we can still see ruins of them in most states of india including Gujrat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamilnadu. Some of Asoka's edicts , carved on pillars and rocks, form the earliest known epigraphs in the subcontinent. These pillars are made out of shafts of sandstone and display Buddhist symbols such as the wheel and the lion. These pillars are some of India's earliest major stone sculptures.

The great Stupa at Sanchi is perhaps the finest surviving relic of the Mauryan empire. This great stupa is 54 feet in height and surrounded by exquisitely carved stone railings and four gateways. These elaboratley carved gateways depicts events in life of Buddha and also lifestyle of people of that era. A famous Lion-Capital (four-lion pillar which is shown above) gleams in polished white sandstone realistically represents the artistic achievements of Indian artists and patronage of their masters. This Lion-Capital that Ashoka erected at Sarnath (in modern madhya Pradesh) has become the national emblem of modern republic of India. All the coins and currency notes of modern India have this four-lion symbol on it. The Mauryan Empire is famous for its great achievements in art, culture architecture and literature. The classics of Indian literature, such as the Arthashastra of Kautilya (a treatise for kings about ruling a state) and the famous Kama Sutra by Vatsayan (unfortunately, today it is considered as just the book for art of Love-Making) were written during Mauryan reign.


Ashoka was the last emperor of Mauryan empire which started it's decline soon after his death. Many kingdom arose out of ruins of this great empire. Northern India was divided into many republics (?) which were controlled by various ganas (tribes) like Achuyta, Ahicchatra, Arjunayana, Ayodhya, Eran, Kaushambi, Kuninda etc.. The coins issued by these republics/Kingdoms are very interesting both historically and numismatically.


Kuninda, which referred as Kulinda in ancient literature, issued very attractive silver coinage in late 2nd century BC. These coins were issued by king Amoghbhuti who ruled in the fertile valley of Jamuna, Beas and Sutlaj rivers (modern Punjab in northern India). The obverse of the coins shows a deer and Laxmi (goddess of wealth) is holding lotus in her uplifted hand. Between horns of deer, a cobra symbol is depicted. The reverse shows 6 symbols. Hill and river below, Nandipada (hoof of bull), tree in railing, Swastik and Y shaped symbol. Interestingly, the coins were bilingual. On obverse, legends were in Prakrit (closely related to Sanskrit), written in Brahmi script while on reverse were in Kharoshti. The legends on obverse reads Rajnah Kunindasya Amoghabhutisya maharajasya. The reverse bears Maharajasa in Kharoshti script at the same place where Indo-Greek and Saka coins depicted their ruler's names.

These coins represent the first ever effort of an Indian ruler to issue silver coinage which could compete in market with that of Indo-Greek coinage. Indo-Greek kings who ruled in neighboring areas (Bactria and Punjab) issued breathtaking examples of silver coins which, were highly sought after. This made Amoghbhuti to issue coins of purely Indian design but of exceptional beauty to ensure economic superiority over his neighbors. Shown above is this very attractive silver coin of ancient India.

Kuninda kingdom was eventually invaded by Kushan and Shakas in middle of first century BC. Both, Indo-Greek and Kuninda kingdoms were annexed to make next great empire of India, Kushan empire .

This section is currently under construction. I am putting together more images of coins and a lot more interesting information. Come back soon! If you have any comments, please send at

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