A short history of ancient Indian coinage.

Rupee is the name of  Indian coin and currency. It was derived from a Sanskrit language word  Rupya. Rupya literally means the wrought silver used as coins of trade or currency during  600-400 BCE (Before Common Era).

Earliest Vedic literature (1500-600 BCE) from India mention coins as  Satamanas, so far no specimens have been found. The coins issued by several  Early Kingdoms   from all over the India from 600-500 BCE were found. These coins have symbol of sun with six radiating arms. They are mostly referred as punch mark coins. Those symbols were still in use during Mauryan Empire,  first empire set up in India by indian emperor. Minting large quantities of coins and using them as a means of trade transactions in India began during Mauryan period (500-400 BCE).

Information about the ancient indian coinage came from two different sources. Panini, Sanskrit grammarian ( c. 500 BCE) wrote about coins and various fractions suggesting that the concept of coins existed prior to 500 BCE. He mentioned Satamanas (sata= 100, manas = units)  and Karshapana ( subfraction). Each unit was called  Ratti, weighing 0.11 grams. Ratti is average  weight of a Gunja seed.

Second source was a book  Arthasashtra (literally means science of money, figuratively means Monetary policy). It was written in Sanskrit language by Kautilya, prime minister to the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta Maurya (c. 340-290 BCE). The book mentions several types of coins. gold coins (Suvarnarupa ), silver coins (Rupyarupa), copper coins ( Tamararupa) and lead coins (Sisarupa). Rupa means form or shape.  Example:  Rupyarupa ---  Rupya - wrought silver,  rupa - form.

Mauryas were followed by Indo-Bactrians (c. 185 - 50 BCE) and Kushanas (40-241 CE). These empires in the north used portraits of the kings, greek gods or indian gods on the coins.1 Satavahanas (120 - 300 CE) ruled central and southren India and issued coins with pictures of elephents, horses and also kings' portaits.

Gupta empire (320-540 CE ) is considered as golden age of ancient India. Guptas minted coins using molds and dies to give uniformity in shape. Gupta coins portrayed pictures of royal activities and culture. Portraits of Hunter, horse rider, musician, goddess of wealth Lakshmi or goddess of learning Saraswathi were used on the coins.

Coin Images:

Northern Indian Empires

Early Kingdoms (c. 800 -350 BCE)
(Andhra , Asmaka, Dakshina Panchala, Gandhara, Kashi, Kalinga, Kosala, Kunala, Magadha, Malla, Mulaka, Suresena, Surashtra, Uttara Panchala, Vanga and Vatsa).

Maurya Empire (c. 321 - 181 BCE)

Sunga Kingdom (c. 181 - 70 BCE)

Indo-Bactrians (c. 185 - 10 BCE)

Indo-Scythians (c. 100BCE - 150 CE)

Kushan Empire (c. 40 - 300 CE)

Gupta Empire (320 - 540 CE)

Southern Indian Empires

SatavahanaEmpire (120 - 300 CE)


1. Money Talks-2, N.N. Pai, 1981. Mangolore, India.

Mitchiner, M., The Origins of Indian Coinage, USA, 1973.

Cunningham, A., Coins of Ancient India: from the Earliest Times Down to the Seventh Century A.D., 1990.

Mitchiner, M., The Early Coinage of Central Asia,  Hawkins, 1973.


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