Hindu mythology, £8.99
Weight: 3.390 g
Room 68: Money
Silver karshapana of the Mauryan Empire
Mauryan Empire, 3rd century
A hill, a bull and an elephant
The first coinages of India used the same technology as the bent bars of the north-west regions, that is, pieces of silver, of any shape but of a specific weight, were struck with punches on one side. The earliest coins show great regional variation in design and in the number of punches used, but under the Mauryans smaller round or square coins with five random punch marks became standard. These coins circulated well beyond Mauryan borders; they have been excavated at sites from northern Afghanistan to Sri Lanka. In Indian texts they are called karshapana.
Two of the punches are always a sun and a six-armed symbol. The other three may include representations of plants, animals, auspicious or religious symbols and everyday objects. This coin, for example has a tree on a hill, a bull and the rear part of an elephant. According to the Indian text Visuddhimagga, these marks enabled a money changer to know who issued each coin and where it was struck.
P.L. Gupta and T.R. Hardaker, Ancient Indian silver punchmar (Nasik, 1985)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)