Monday, 26 January 2015

Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian & other early Indian coins found in Britain

The following post is a very brief piece, intended simply to share a distribution map and details of some intriguing Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and other early Indian coins that are recorded on the PAS database.

Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian & other early Indian coins found in Britain, based on data from the PAS (drawn by C. R. Green)

A Kushan imitation of a coin of the Indo-Greek king Hermaeus, found in Hampshire (image: PAS)

The above distribution map shows all of the early Indian coinage recorded from Britain by the PAS, with the coins depicted separated into three categories: Indo-Greek coins (c. 200–130 BC); Indo-Scythian coins (c. 58 BC–AD 10); and other early Indian coins (c. AD 40–410). With regard to these, the following notes are offered:
  • Indo-Greek coins: only three of these coins are recorded on the PAS, namely a coin of Menander from c. 150 BC, found at Tenby, Wales, in the late nineteenth century; a coin of Apollodotus I, c. 180–160 BC, found in London; and a coin of Demetrius, dating c. 200–185 BC and found near Newcastle. In addition, three further Indo-Greek coins—all of Menander and dating from the mid-second century BC—are recorded and mapped in this post, one from 'near Stonehenge', Wiltshire (found before 1880); one from Buriton, Hampshire (found in the 1920s); and another from Towcester, Northamptonshire (found in 1882, probably from foundations).
  • Indo-Scythian coins: early Indo-Scythian coins of c. 58 BC–AD 10 are slightly more common than Indo-Greek coins, with six recorded on the database, all of Azes I/Azes II. These coins have been found in Leicestershire, Buckinghamshire, East Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Hampshire
  • Other early Indian coins: there are nine 'other issues', all dating from roughly the period in which Britain was under Roman rule, consisting of one Indo-Parthian coin and eight Indo-Scythian/Kushan coins. These coins were found in Nottinghamshire (a first-century Indo-Parthian coin of Nahapana), Merseyside (a second-century Kushan coin of Kanishka I), Staffordshire (a third- to fifth-century Kushan coin), South Yorkshire (a third-century gold Kushan coin), Cornwall (a late second- or early third-century Kushan coin of Vasudeva I), Cornwall (a coin of Kujula Kadphises, who the PAS and others place broadly in the second half of the first century AD, that imitates a coin of the first-century BC Indo-Greek king Hermaeus), Hampshire (another Kushan imitation of a coin of Hermaeus, of the same general era as the last), North Yorkshire (a second-century Indo-Scythian/Kushan coin), and Norfolk (an unidentified 'Indo-Scythian' coin).

A coin of the Indo-Greek king Menander, c. 150 BC, found two feet below the ground when the foundations of a house were dug in 1881 at Tenby, Wales (image: Roche, 1992–3)

A coin of Demetrius of Bactria, dated c. 200–185 BC and found at Fenham, near Newcastle (image: PAS)

The obvious question with all of these finds is whether they represent modern losses by tourists and collectors, or if they were instead ancient losses made during the Roman period or even before. Needless to say, it is difficult to reach a definite conclusion for most of these coins, and the hypothesis that some of them are modern losses is explicitly adopted in a few of the PAS records. However, we do need to be cautious here and there are reasons for thinking that a handful, at least, may be ancient losses. Perhaps the most persuasive argument here is provided by the Indo-Greek coin of Menander from Tenby, which was found in 1881 two feet under the ground:

The circumstances of the finding of the coin of Menander at Tenby, from 'An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire: VII - County of Pembroke' (London, 1925), which assumes that the coin was brought over in the first century AD and lost at that time.

In addition to this evidence for at least one of the coins probably having been a genuinely ancient loss, the following two points may be worth noting. First, that a significant number of pre-Roman Greek coins, including Carthaginian and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) issues, are also now known from Britain, and whilst some may be recent imports, others are thought likely to be ancient losses of at least the Roman era. Indeed, it is interesting to observe that the case has been made for at least a proportion of these coins having arrived here as a result of Mediterranean trade with pre-Roman Britain, a possibility that may be worth further consideration for at least the Indo-Greek coins listed above. Second, the PAS now has details of a significant number of these early Indian coins, and it might be wondered if the notion that they were all (except for the Tenby coin) modern losses might not seem slightly implausible, unless we are to assume that there were a surprisingly large number of careless Indian coin collectors present in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain?

A coin of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II, dated c. 20–1 BC and found at Nailstone, Leicestershire (image: PAS)

A coin of the Indo-Parthian king Nahapana, dating from c. AD 40–78 and found in Clipstone, Nottinghamshire (image: PAS

A coin of the Kushan emperor Kanishka I (AD 127–50), minted at Begram and found at Lydiate, Merseyside (image: PAS

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.