Short notes on Numismatic Evidence of Mauryan Period
It appears that punch-marked coins of silver and copper and silver bar coins were prevalent, throughout the Mauryan period, largely in north-west India, the basin of the River Ganga and the northern areas of the Deccan plateau.
The early coins are of silver generally, but there are also coins of copper. These are of various shapes and sizes with punched symbols like the elephant, the mountain, the tree- in-railing, ctc. The ‘general’ method of producing them involved cutting the metal and then punching it.
It is stated that the coins of the Mauryan period are the earliest surviving coinage in India. Actually, coins were in circulation in the period before the emergence of the Mauryas.
But “probably the earlier coins were the bent-bar variety, the punch-marked coins coming into use later under the Mauryas” (Romila Thapar).
The punch-marked coins, according to Allan in Catalogue of the Coins of Ancient India, gave way to struck coins in the second century bc. In 500-331 bc, some Persian coins (of Darius) seem to have been in circulation in the Punjab region.
Of the coins of Alexander, a square-shaped copper coin was found in India and two tetrahedron-shaped silver coins were unearthed at Taxila all belonging to third or fourth century bc.
The Bhir Mound excavated at Taxila yielded two large hoards of coins providing numismatic evidence relating to the Mauryan period.
While the larger hoard has been dated to 317 bc, the smaller one has been dated to 248 bc based on a coin of Diodotus. Other Greek coins of the north-west region excavated from the mound include
(i) A silver coin of Philip Aridaeus dated to 317 bc,
(ii) Coins imitating the Athenian ‘owl’ type Greek coins (which have been linked to north-west India of fourth century bc), and
(iii) Silver coins of Sophytes-identified with Sopheithes who is believed to have been in control of the Salt Range region in the Punjab (none have yet been found in India).
As regards the Nandas, they are believed to have been the first dynasty to issue coins on a large scale.
The symbols on the coins provide important clues identifying them with the Mauryan period.
Chemical tests have shown that the alloy of the coins with the symbol of ‘a crescent on arches’ is of the same composition of various metals as the alloy for coins mentioned in the Arthashastra.
However, this symbol is also similar to that in the Sohgaura copper plate, generally assigned to the Mauryan period and is associated with the sadarachakra.
The three ovals with a common tangent is seen as an Asokan symbol by some scholars as (i) it occurs often (owing to the long reign of the king), and (ii) it also occurs on coins associated with Bindusara.
The ‘peacock on arches’ symbol is linked to Bindusara’s reign and the totem of the peacock is associated with the Mauryan dynasty. The tree-in-railing seems to be an Asokan symbol, representing the Asoka tree.
The hoards of coin excavated at Bhir Mound, Taxila are mainly of silver punch-marked coins, suggesting that silver coins were more in circulation than copper coins in the Mauryan period.
As, however, silver is of higher value than copper, it is quite possible that the coins were hoarded wealth. Possibly, in the period following the Mauryan age, copper coins were more extensively used at Taxila.
The finding of ancient Greek-related objects suggests that Taxila was influenced by the Indo-Bactrians at the close of the Mauryan period.
Use of coins under the Mauryas the Arthashastra states that coins were used as a medium of exchange and as a legal tender.
The descriptions regarding commercial deals, revenues, etc., in the work seem to suggest that transactions involving money in the form of coins was quite common.
A well-organised mint existed and coins were minted under careful supervision to prevent counterfeiting. The Arthashastra describes the silver coin (pana) and the copper coin (masika), with its quarter piece called kakini.
Gold coins were not in circulation. Salaries and transactions were quantified in panas. NBP ware or punch-marked coins have been found in places like Amaravati, Ahichchhatra, Atranjikhera, Bairat, Basarh, Bhita, Buxas, Hastinapur, Kausambi, Maheshwari, Nasik, Rajgriha, Rupar, Sambhar, Sanchi, Sarnath, and Tripuri indicating that they were inhabited during the Mauryan period.