The Coins of Kanishka: A Glimpse into the Art, Culture, and History of Ancient India

Coins of Kanishka

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Last updated on April 29th, 2023 at 09:42 pm

The Kushan period has a special significance in the circulation of coins in India. Although the Yavana kings introduced gold coins in northwest India, the credit for their regular and complete circulation goes to the Kushan kings only. India’s relations with Rome and other Western countries became very strong during the Kushan period due to trade activities.

As the trade relationship grew, there was a need for coins of certain sizes and shapes. In order to overcome the problems of foreign trade, the Kushan rulers also had to make changes in their coins, so they also issued gold, copper, and silver coins. 

The Coins of Kanishka: A Glimpse into the Art, Culture, and History of Ancient India



Kanishka was a ruler of the Kushan Empire, which existed from the 1st to the 3rd century CE in parts of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. He is known for his military conquests, patronage of Buddhism, and contributions to art and culture.

The coins of Kanishka are considered some of the most beautiful and artistically advanced coins of the ancient world. They were made of gold, silver, and copper and depicted various images, including portraits of the ruler, deities, and mythological figures. Some of the notable features of Kanishka’s coins include their large size, detailed inscriptions in various languages, and unique designs that reflect the diverse cultural influences of the Kushan Empire.

One of the most famous coins of Kanishka is the gold dinar, which features a portrait of the ruler on one side and the god Oesho (also known as Shiva) on the other. The coin is inscribed in Greek and Prakrit, an ancient Indian language, and is considered a masterpiece of coin design. Other notable coins of Kanishka include the silver tetradrachm, which depicts the ruler holding a bow and arrow, and the copper follis, which features the god Mithras on one side and a depiction of the sun on the other.

Brief Introduction of Kanishka

Kanishka was the most prolific ruler of the Kushan dynasty. He ascended the throne in 78 AD after Vima Kadphises. Twelve inscriptions and the majority of gold and copper coins have been found. He was a follower of Buddhism. The Fourth Buddhist Council of Buddhism was organized during his reign. Purushpur or Peshawar was the capital of his empire.

Although Kujul Kadphises, and Vim Kadphises among Kushan rulers introduced coins before Kanishka today we will talk about Kanishka coins in this blog. We will describe the characteristics of Kanishka’s coins and their utility through this blog.

The Coins of Kanishka

Indian Hindu, Greek, Iranian and Sumerian deities have been found in the coins of Kanishka, which shows his religious tolerance. The Greek script and language have been used in the coins issued by him in the early years of his rule and Greek divine images were found.

Later coins appear in the Bactrian, Iranian script and languages ​​he used to speak, and Iranian gods in place of Greek gods. All Kanishka coins, even those in Bactrian, were written in a modified Greek script, with an additional engraved letter (Ϸ), used in ‘Kushana’ and ‘Kanishaka (sh) denotes.

In the coin of Emperor Kanishka, Suryadev stands to the left. In the left hand, there is a punishment that is tied to Rashna. The sword is hanging around the waist. Surya Irani is shown in royal garb, wearing a long coat with a beard, from whose shoulders flames emanate. This idol of Kanishka depicts him wearing shoes that are circular in shape. Kanishka is mostly depicted in his coins worshiping gods and goddesses or performing havan. A statue of Kanishka resembling this description was preserved in the Kabul Museum but was later destroyed by the Taliban.

Features of Kanishka coins

Coins of Kanishka A large number of coins made of gold and copper have been found in various places in North-Western Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, and Orissa. Gold coins are equal in weight to Roman coins (about 124 grains). 

The Coins of Kanishka: A Glimpse into the Art, Culture, and History of Ancient India
 Coins of Kanishka

Features of Junior’s Gold Coins

Obverse part – There is a figure of a king in a standing posture. He is wearing a long coat, pajama, and a pointed cap. In his left hand, he holds a garland and in his right hand, he is offering an offering in the havan-kunda. The inscription ‘Shao Nano Shao Kanishki Koshano’ is inscribed in Greek script of Iranian origin.

The meaning of ‘Shao Nanao Shao’ is from ‘Shahanshah’. The Prayag pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta shows that the Kushan rulers used to assume the title of ‘Devaputrashahishahanushahi’.

Reverse part – Figures of various deities are found engraved. These are derived from Greek, Indian, and Iranian gods, each coin has the same deity and its name engraved on the bottom. The name is in Greek such as Miro (Sun), Meo (Moon), Arlegno, Nana, Ardoxo (Goddess), etc.

Some coins have the shape of a quadrilateral Shiva on the obverse and ‘Iso’ (Shiva), in Greek language. He holds a trident, goat, Damru, and Ankush in his hand. Buddha statue in standing posture with influence on some coins and ‘Vodo’ (Buddha) is inscribed in Greek script below it.

Features of Kanishka’s copper coins

 The copper coins are circular whose details are as follows –

 The reverse part – Kanishka’s figure and inscription ‘Basilius Baselian’ is engraved. It is a Greek title meaning ‘king of kings’.

 Reverse part – The figure of Greek, Iranian, or Indian deities and their name is found engraved in Greek

Some such copper coins of Kanishka have been found, on which the king has been made in a sitting posture. The name of the king has been destroyed on them. The weight of four of these coins is 68 grains. Whitehead has described them as Kanishka on the basis of size and style. Gardner mentions some bronze coins of Kanishka. On the back are the figures of Greek gods and goddesses.


Thus, while on the one hand, the spread of Kanishka’s coins shows the expansion of his empire, on the other hand, the figures of various gods and goddesses engraved on his coins reveal his religious tolerance. Looking at the coins of Kanishka, it can be easily inferred that people of many communities and religions lived in his empire.

This was the reason that he had carved the figures of gods and goddesses of all classes on his coins. Kanishka showed respect for all classes of people and their religious sentiments as a state policy. Such an act of his would have earned him the support and respect of all sections.

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