South-Sea Annuities certificate

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Room 68: Money 

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Weight: 4.23 grammes
Museum number: IOC.652

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Gold coin of Muhammad ibn Sam showing the Goddess Lakshmi

Minted in Delhi, AD 1192 - 1206

This gold coin features a stylised image of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. It is an image which was prevalent on coins throughout the Indian sub-continent for over a millennium, so much so that it was even used by Muslim rulers.

Muhammad ibn Sam was installed as Ghurid sultan in Ghazna, Afghanistan in AD 1173 by his brother Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad ibn Sam, Supreme sultan of Ghur. In 1186 he invaded northern India and defeated Prithvi Raj, Chauhan ruler of Sambhar, at the battle of Taraori in 1192. It was a victory which allowed him to lay claim to vast swathes of northern India almost to the great city of Delhi.

Muhammad began to issue coins in these newly conquered territories bearing his name in Nagari script. Aware that visual elements on coins were fundamental to their acceptance and success as currency, he issued coins which maintained a visual tradition begun in India 1,000 years previously, on the coinage of Kushan king Kanishka II.

While the image of a seated goddess finds its origins in Iranian and Greek cultures, most users would have understood the goddess to be Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity. It was an image used across vast geographical areas and by rulers who often had very little else in common with one another. Evidently it was important for Muhammad to issue coinage bearing Hindu imagery, this would appeal to the local population and immediately fit into an existing currency.

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J.S. Deyell, Living Without Silver – The Monetary History of Early Medieval North India, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1990)

S. Goran, The coins of the Indian sultanates : covering the area of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, (Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 2001)