Gold coin of Kumaragupta I

North India, about AD 415-50

A horse sacrificed by Kumaragupta, king of the Gupta dynasty, which ruled large areas of northern India from the fourth to the sixth century AD.

The Gupta dynasty gold coin was named the dinara after the Roman denarius aureus - a reflection of Indian trading contacts with the West and the export of Roman coinage as bullion to India.

However, the designs of Gupta coinage were completely Indianized, and they were closely connected with the ancient Indian concept of a chakravartin (a universal monarch or ideal ruler).

This unique design shows a tethered horse. It symbolises the ashvamedha ritual of legitimizing the conquests of a honourable and pious king, in this case Kumaragupta I (around AD 415-50). After a great victory, a horse was left to roam for a year and all the lands he passed through in that time belonged rightfully to the king. At the end of the year the horse was sacrificed in celebration of the great king's victory.

The reverse of this coin shows a goddess (probably Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune), with the royal attributes of a standard and a flywhisk.


Gold coin of Kumaragupta I

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Object details

Gupta dynasty

Diameter: 1.9 cm
Weight: 8.070 g


CM 1894-5-6-962

Coins and Medals


    Sir Alexander Cunningham Collection


    E. Raven, 'Invention and innovation: royal Gupta gold coins' in A treasury of Indian coins (Bombay, Marg Publications, 1994), pp. 39-56

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

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    A.S. Altekar, The Coinage of the Gupta Empire (Varanasi, Numismatic Society of India, 1957)

    U. Chakravarti, ‘Saffroning the Past: of Myths, Historians and Right-Wing Agendas’, Economic and Political Weekly, 33 (1998), 225–232

    J.C. Harle, Gupta Sculpture (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1974)

    A. Glicklich, The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture in Historical Perspective (Oxford, 2008)

    P.L. Gupta, The Imperial Guptas (Varanasi, 1974)

    S.M. Gupta, Karttikeya, the Son of Shiva (Bombay, Somaiya Publications, 1988)

    D.H.H. Ingalls, ‘Kalidasa and the Attitudes of the Golden Age’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 96 (1976), 15–26

    P. Pal, ‘The Chowdrie-bearing Goddess on the Asvameda Type of Samudrugupta’s Coin’, Ars Orientalis, 18 (1988), 197–205

    H. von Stietencron (ed.), Hindu Myth, Hindu History: Religion,  Art and Politics (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2005)

    R. Thapar, Early India from the Origins to AD 1300 (London, Penguin Books, 2002)

    P. Van Der Veer, ‘”God must be liberated” A Hindu Liberation Movement in Ayodhya’, Modern Asian Studies, 21 (1987), 283–301

    M. Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009)