The Decline of Coins in the Early Medieval India

Have you ever thought of life without money? Can you imagine a society where no one uses coins and currency in economic transactions? Though it may sound weird, it was the case in India at a certain point of time. After the fall of the mighty Gupta dynasty in the mid-6th century CE, several smaller states came into existence in India. The big cities of the earlier age were all in decline. With them declined trade and commerce. The prosperous days of Indo-Roman trade were gone. Under these circumstances, the economy of India became more agrarian and land-centric.

Based on these evidences several scholars has argued that the period between the fall of the Gupta dynasty (mid-6th century CE) and the commencement of the Muslim Sultanate rule in Delhi in the 13th century was marked by the emergence of an Indian variety of feudalism. This same period is known among the historians of India as early medieval period. The scarcity of money, in the form of coins of course, was another major feature of this age.

So, how did the people buy goods or services in the absence of hard cash? The proponents of feudalism theory argued that the cowrie shells became the principal medium of exchange during this period. The cowrie shells had definite market value. They were used by merchants and ordinary people for small scale local transactions. Though long distance trading activities were in decline, some merchants still managed to export rice from the eastern part of India to Maldives. In exchange they brought cowrie shells from Maldives to use in the local market. The Indian Ocean trade was the main source of cowrie shells in the Indian market.

However, foreign merchants refused to accept cowrie shells in exchange of their products. Thus, the states were compelled to issue some debased and devalued copper and silver coins. Thus, there was not any absolute absence of coins. There were certainly some coins in circulation in the market. But these coins were no match with the coins of the Guptas. Gold coins became very rare in this period as they were not essential for an economy based on declining trade. The coins of this period also lacked the aesthetic quality and precision of the earlier period. They remained mere imitation of the earlier age.

Nevertheless, there are some scholars who countered the hypothesis of scarcity of coins in the early medieval India. John S. Deyell is one the champion of this counter-argument to the theory of shortage of coin. He suggested that the number of coins in circulation did not decline in this period. What was in decline was the value of the coins. As trade was in decline, people needed very little amount of hard cash for their sustenance. Moreover, the circulation of cowrie shells solved their problem of acquiring metal coins as there was a scarcity of silver supply in early medieval India. This shortage of silver came to known as the ‘Silver famine’. The opponent of the feudalism theory further argued that a human society could not exist completely abandoning trade and commerce. Salt and iron are two essential commodities for sustenance and they are not available everywhere. Thus, people had to engage in some sort of economic transaction to procure these products.

Well, now-a-days our economy is again leading towards a system where carrying and transacting via hard cash is becoming obscure day by day. Digital and plastic money is becoming more convenient. It is interesting to note that the idea of inventing the alternatives to hard cash is not at all new. People in the early medieval age, too, look for the alternatives and they found cowrie shells.

Interesting facts and news about coins and numismatics

Gold and Switzerland
Even for the Egyptians 4000 years ago gold was a symbol of seignory representation. But the Egyptians considered gold also as a symbol of the sun and awarded to it healing and lifegiving power.
«Faszination Gold» is the name of the issue 2000/1 of the magazine «Kunst + Architektur» (that is «Art + Architecture») in Switzerland (www.gsk.ch). To this magazine you may refer, if you want to know how the Swiss goldwatch has become a status symbol or how rich in gold the Helvetians were. Furthermore it is the question about how the diplomatic effect of English gold was or how the French revolution distributed gold for interior decoration. As well you may read about the healing effect the alchemists accredit to the «aurum potabile», the so-called drinkable gold.

A Case for Brussels?
A report of an archaeological find in Pattensen in the county of Hanover, Germany was covered in the April edition of the magazine Archäologie in Deutschland (Archaeology in Germany): A Roman gold coin was found at a gravesite with the image of the Emperor Valentinian II of Trier (383-392 AD), dating from the time of the migration of the peoples. Because the reverse was undoubtedly struck with a circular harrow, the archaeologists could deduce that the gold coin was actually made of a silver alloy. The worthless counterfeit coin however, showed a remarkable level of forgery excellence. This coin was most probably made by a professional counterfeiter working closely with the imperial mint of Trier (France). Perhaps the Germanic soldiers in service to the Roman rulers were paid with counterfeit money.
Certainly there is no fear of the development of diplomatic tension between Rome and Berlin as a result of this Roman counterfeit money. However, the contemporary critic must pose this question: Just what will we undergo with the minting of the Euro? Brussels will need not only politicians with the gift of gab, but learned and alert technical advisors!
The Treasure Island of the Vikings
Scientific American Discovering Archaeology reports in the September/October, 2000 edition of a new archaeological find of a large hoard of silver coins on the island of Gotland, Sweden.
During the time of the Vikings (8th century AD) this largest island of the Baltic Sea was a significant trade location. Its inhabitants grew affluent over the centuries and buried their hoards in times of emergency. In 1999, archaeologists found a silver hoard weighing 70 kilograms making it the largest silver hoard found up until today. The Gotland coin hoard contains in all, 1,400,000 coins, 70,000 alone originating from Europe (England, Germany, Denmark and Sweden). The other 70,000 coins originated from the Arabian world and prove the long trade routes that the businessmen covered.
The Vikings are known for their grand metal craftwork. Silver was for them the most popular metal used for jewellery – astounding when one realizes that not even one silver mine exists in all of Scandinavia. Silver must have been imported. Acquiring silver coins in order to melt them down to create a new form must have been one of the means of getting the rare and popular metal to the north.
The northern treasure island of Gotland has relinquished many a coin and silver hoard over time. Why these hoards were buried still remains a dark secret of videos pornos.
Counterfeiters?
During the excavation of a fountain vault of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica in Augst, Switzerland, archaeologists came upon an obvious ancient crime scene. The archaeologists found the skeletons of five murdered people along with the indication of counterfeit coins. The excavators came upon the four-meter high subterranean domed room with an artesian well in 1998. The domed construction was fully excavated in 1999. Indications of a violent blow was found on one of the bones. Another surprising find for the archaeologists was the some 6000 terracotta forms in which third century coins were molded: officially authorized or a sign of criminality?
History lives on because man’s imagination is immortal.

Gold Coins and Psychology
«If you bought gold – bars or coins – you have to be able to forget the price you paid.»
This drastic quote coming from a disappointed investor indicates the amount of money invested in gold coins. After a few short upward curves for the price of an ounce of pure gold, to which the price of gold coins closely follows, the price went downwards from a yearly average in 1980 of 700 $ US to the current 280 $ US. Out of the many reasons why, the strongest is the constant threat of the selling off of gold by the central banks. Those who insist on buying gold coins must collect for their ideal worth, timeless beauty and have knowledge of its historical value. In the sense of investing, «worthless» gold coins will gain in individual value by the pure joy of collecting beauty.

Even Money has its Fate
«Banknotes and coins with a value of 16.2 million Deutsch marks have burned, been damaged, discolored or gone rotten in forgotten piggybanks in Germany last year» as reported by the Bundesverband Deutscher Banken (Federal Association of German Banks). The damaged money is certainly not automatically worthless. The Deutsche Bundesbank as a rule will replace the money fast and without cost only on the condition that the owner presents more than half of the banknote or has proof that more than half of the note had been destroyed.
Often the neighborhood bank can help by replacing a slightly damaged note when the note was, say, washed in the washing machine. However, serious damage should be brought to the attention of the state-owned Central Banks. There they have machines that verify its authenticity and worth. Qualified technicians can then further examine the notes and decide the claim.
In special cases, like when only ashes remain after a fire, they should be sent to the department of the directorate of the Central Bank in Frankfurt where thirty experts examine the remains. Through the wonders of modern technology they are often able to determine just how much money they’re dealing with and if it is genuine. Up to 20,000 times a year the Bundesbank experts are called on to help.
Clearance Sale on Current Coins
Many of the estimated 500,000 coin collectors in Germany have specialized in current coins: these are coins that are currently in circulation. Some speculate that the course will go «through the roof because this is the end». For the first time in the history of coin collecting, it’s been known four years in advance when the coins will be taken out of circulation. Other monetary standards were put through in a far shorter time period. Collectors are able to complete an incomplete series – but at the same time this pushes the price for coins of smaller editions way up. Some secretive hobby-archaeologists will probably find themselves searching solemnly through their address books for acquaintances whose piggybanks they’d be allowed to take a peek in.
However, those whose goal is collecting for speculation, will collect uncirculated coins. Almost certainly, only coins in absolute mint condition can be expected to appreciate in value. An uncirculated set (from one pfennig to the 5 mark piece) costs about 140 Deutsch marks, the polished plate twice as much. In any case, pfennigs have not been minted for circulation since 1997.