The Coins of Akbar, the Great Mogul

The Moguls started their reign in India in the year 1526 CE. Babur, the founder of the Mogul rule defeated the reigning Sultan of Delhi and established his rule. From 1526 to 1857, the Mogul emperor was the sole source of legitimate rule in the whole of South Asia. However, after Babur’s death his son Humayun faced crushing defeat at the hands of a Pathan lord, Sher Shah Suri in 1540. Humayun left India and took refuge in Persia. But his son Jalal ud-din Akbar was of extraordinary talent. After the death of Sher Shah Suri in 1545, the Pathans were in a weak position. Humayun took the advantage and returned to India. His son Akbar finally crushed the power of the Pathans and established the Mogul rule on a strong footing.

Akbar’s reign saw the all round development of India. The people of India prospered in every sphere of life. Trade and commerce flourished, arts and aesthetics attained new heights, and religious syncretism of the Moguls became the example of the day. The all round development can also be traced in the coins issued during the rule of Akbar Shah.

The monetary system of Akbar was inspired largely by the innovations of Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah Suri was an able administrator. Akbar, though from a rival house, adopted several of the administrative measures innovated by Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah first introduced Rupya. It was a silver currency weighed 178 grains. Akbar continued to issue the Rupya with his own name inscribed. Interestingly, the money is still known by the name of Rupya in India.

Akbar not only copied the measures introduced by Sher Shah, he also reflected innovation and originality. He issued coins in all the three principal metals used for coinage worldwide. The gold coin was known as Mohur. Mohurs weighed about 170 grains. It was mainly used by the traders for large business deals. It was also used by the princes of royal blood, the landlords and the regional governors for large amount of payment. Apart from the continuing usage of Rupya, Akbar also issued a different variety of silver coin known as Shahrukhi. It was of much lighter weight than the Rupya. A typical Shahrukhi weighed about 72 grains. The copper coins of Akbar Padshah were known as Dam. Dam weighed about 330 grains. The Shahrukhi and Dam were circulated in large numbers and used extensively by the common folks. The exchange rate of converting a particular variety of coin into another variety was also clearly defined.

The Akbari system of coinage is significant because of their minute details. A detailed description of the issuing year and the location of the mint were inscribed on the coins. The coins also carried the full title of the emperor. This practice was followed by all the subsequent Mogul emperors. Even the English East India Company who started their career in India as a subordinate power to the Moguls struck the coins in the name of the reigning Mogul emperor. This practice was discontinued by the English only in the year 1837 when the Moguls were in a politically debilitating state.

However, you won’t find a single coin carrying the image of any of the Mogul emperor. Moguls were known for their religious syncretism but they remained Muslim throughout the period. As is well known, idolatry is prohibited in Islam. Thus, the Moguls refrained from inscribing their image on their coins. But they compensated this with beautiful calligraphy. The Mogul coins remained as some of the most excellent examples of aesthetics and artistic excellence in Indian coinage.

The Indo-Greek Coins

South Asia, and more precisely the modern state of India has experienced the incursion of several tribes throughout its history. Many of the famous military generals of the world had made their mark in the territories of South Asia. The Greek military genius Alexander also attacked north western India albeit without much success. The invasion of Alexander took place in the year of 326 BCE. However, he succeeded in establishing several Greek colonies. He left some of his military generals and soldiers to occupy and rule his Indian and Central Asian conquests. These Greek generals came to be known as Indo-Greeks in the history. They ruled roughly during the period between mid-3rd century BCE when Diodotus I established an independent kingdom to early 1st century BCE when they were overwhelmed by the Parthians and the Shakas.

Their rule extended over a vast part of central Asia and north western South Asia. It included the modern areas of Afghanistan, north western part of Pakistan, the Indian provinces of Kashmir and Punjab. There were several dynasties and over 40 rulers of the Indo-Greek lineage who ruled over this extended time period. And surprisingly the main sources of information about the rule of these numerous kings are the numismatic evidences.

The Indo-Greek coins inaugurated a new phase in the history of South Asian coinage. These coins carried elaborate details about their issuing authority. The name, the issuing year of the coin and a portrait of the reigning monarch was die-struck very precisely on the metal pieces.

We can identify elaborate measures of coin circulation in the Indo-Greek territory. The coins circulated in the north of the Hindu Kush Mountains were mainly made of gold, silver, copper and nickel. They were struck according to Attic weight standard. The obverse of the coins carried the portrait of the issuing monarch. The reverse of the coin was marked by the depiction of Greek gods and goddesses. The name of the monarch and his royal titles were also mentioned in the reverse in Greek.

The coins which were circulated in the south of the Hindu Kush bear more Indian touch. They were mostly made of silver and copper. Most of these coins are of round shape, while some of them are square. These coins were struck according to Indian weight standard. They bear the royal portrait on the obverse. But their reverse was marked by Indian religious symbols rather than Greek. These type of coins also carried bilingual and bi-script inscriptions using the Greek and Prakrit languages; and Greek and Kharosthi or Brahmi scripts.

The Indo-Greek coins have been found in large numbers in the modern Afghanistan. The largest number of coins was discovered from Gardez. This hoard is known as the Mir Zakah hoard. It yielded 13,083 coins. Among these large number of coins 2,757 were Indo-Greek coins. Other major finds are the hoard found at Khisht Tepe near Qunduz and the coins found during excavations at the city of Ai-Khanoum.

The Indo-Greek coins are very important source of ancient Indian history. Out of 42 Indo-Greek kings who ruled, about 34 kings are known only through their coins. Coins of such kings as Menander depicted them slowly progressing from their teenage to old age, which also indicated their long reigns. The high standard of coinage set by the Indo-Greeks worked as a model for several other Indian dynasties for a very long period of time. The representation of Indian religious figures and symbols in the Indo-Greek coins has a greater significance for the cultural history of South Asia. This illustrated the syncretism of the Indo-Greek rulers. A sort of cultural and religious fusion between India and Greece can be traced from these coins.