The Kushanas established their rule over a vast area of northern India and central Asia during the 1st century C.E. Many significant rulers of early India belonged to this dynasty including Kujula Kadphises, Kanishka, etc. The Kushanas originally belonged to the Yu-Chih tribe. They took the advantage of political instability in the region of northern India during the 1st century C.E. and established their dominance. The empire of the Kushanas experienced much prosperity due to the trading activities of the merchants. They carried out their trade mainly in silk with the Roman Empire. Their commercial activities generated huge amount of wealth; part of which find its way into the Kushana treasury. The prosperity of the Kushana Empire is well reflected in their coins.
The first two Kushana kings, Kujula and Vima issued gold coins. Archaeologists and Numismatists have also found their copper coins. The Kushana coins are excellent examples of artistic excellence and sophistication. The coins were die-struck and produced in large numbers to facilitate growing trade and commerce. They resembled a great similarity to the earlier Indo-Greek coins as these coins also depicted the portrait of the issuing monarch in a great detail. The Kushanas also closely followed the Indo-Greek weight standard in minting their coins. Some of the coins of Vima Kadphises were minted following the Roman aureus. The early gold coins of the Kushanas weigh around 8 gm. We have also some specimens of silver coins issued by Vima. The silver coins were mainly circulated in the area of lower Indus region.
Another main characteristic of the Kushana coins are the depiction of various deities on the reverse of the coins. Various Greek, Iranian, Bactrian and Indian deities were featured in the Kushana coins. We found the Indo-Iranian deities like Mazda, Mao, Athsho, etc. inscribed on the coins of the Kushanas. This is significant because it showed the syncretism nurtured by the Kushana rulers.
Another significant example of the syncretism of the Kushanas is evident from their issue of bilingual coins. The obverse of the coins carries Greek inscriptions and the reverse Kharosthi inscriptions using the Prakrit language which was the lingua franca of northern India during the early centuries of Christian era.
The greatest of the Kushana rulers is Kanishka I. He expanded the Kushana rule to many far flung areas of central and eastern India. He also reformed the currency system and issued new variety of coins. The martial character of the king is well depicted in the coins. He can be seen carrying a spear in his left hand in many of the coins. The Greek and Indian gods and goddesses continued to feature in the Kushana coins. The prominence of the Indian god Shiva in the coins of Kanishka and later Kushanas is regarded by numismatists as a proof of their conversion to Saivism in later days. Buddhism also had a profound effect on the Kushanas. It is well documented in the archaeological remains. Buddha is also represented in various forms in their coins. Buddha is regarded as Boddo and Sakamano Boddo in these coins. These corroborate the literary texts which described the great patronage provided by Kanishka to Buddhism. Kanishka is still much revered as one of the greatest patrons of Buddhism. However, the policies of issuing bilingual coins were discontinued in favor of Greek or Bactrian legends.
The later Kushana rulers such as Vasudeva, Huvishka, etc. continued to issue highly sophisticated gold coins. The portrait of Huvishka in the coins is highly appreciated for its artistic excellence and exact depiction of the.
Due to the abundance of the gold coins of the Kushanas, they are considered as the worthy predecessors of the Guptas by some scholars.