Gold aureus of emperor Caligula

Roman, AD 40
Minted in Rome, Italy; found in southern India

Roman gold goes east

This coin was made in Rome in the first century AD, but was found hoarded together with many others in southern India in the late nineteenth century. How did these coins travel so far from home? We know there were extensive trading links between the Romans and the peoples of the east, including southern India. Roman gold went east in payment for spices and silk. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (AD 23/4-79) tells us that, in his day, over 25 million denarii were spent each year on this trade, equivalent to one million gold coins like this one.

The image on the front of the coin is of the Roman emperor Gaius (reigned AD 37-41), otherwise known to history by his nickname Caligula ('Little Boot'). The coin has been cut with a chisel, as were several other coins from the same hoard. Indian traders may have wished to check the coin to see if it was really made of solid gold and not plated. The traders' version of Buddhism forbade the use of human images and this may be why the coins were defaced.

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More information

Bibliography

A. Barrett, Caligula: the corruption of po (Yale University Press, 1998)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

Dimensions

Weight: 7.610 gm
Diameter: 18.000 mm

Museum number

CM 1898.8-3.8 (BMC Caligula 22)

CGR87883

Gift of H.H. the Rajah of Pudukota

Location

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