Ērān ud Anērān
Webfestschrift Marshak 2003


Coins from Kish. 3rd-2nd Century BC - 8th Century AD*

Edvard V. Rtveladze

Money circulation in ancient and early-medieval Kish was practically unknown until recent times. A first study on this topic was discussed by the present author in an article published in 19881. New materials allow me to revise some propositions advanced in that article and, in particular, to speak more rigorously about the initial stage of money circulation which took place during the Greco-Bactrian period.

In the region of Kishlak Bugazhil, in the north-west of Kitab2, silver imitations of Alexander the Great’s drachms were found. Probably, an imitation of the same type was discovered by A. Musakaeva during the Kish archaeological excavation of Kalandartepa3. The appearance of imitations of Alexander the Great’s coins is supposedly dated to the end of 4th-3rd century BC, although E. V. Zejmal proposed 3rd-2nd century BC. It is worth noting that the place where the coins of this kind were found is precisely known, while previous coin finds are of unknown provenance4. This observation allows one to ask about the place of production in the region of Kish-Nautaka and in the neighbouring region of Xenippa (later Nahshab), where the real tetradrachms of Alexander the Great and Seleucus I (who based his coinage on the Alexander model) were found5. On the border between the region of Kish and Central Sogdiana, in the area of Kishlak Haprin (4 km from Kishlak Jam), was found a silver tetradrachm of Antiochus I (281-261 BC) with a sitting Apollo6. It is worth noting that all these coins were found on the ancient road connecting the region of Nautaka-Kish with Sogdiana and Maracanda through the pass of Jam, which was intensively used during the Hellenistic period.

The arise of coin circulation in the eastern part of the Kashkadar’ja basin is dated to the Greco-Bactrian period (middle of 3rd-beginning of 2nd century BC). According to M. E. Masson, in 1906 a great hoard of Greco-Bactrian coins was found near Kitab. Among these coins were obols, drachms, tetradrachms of Eucratides and two coins of Antimachus7. B. N. Kastal’skij reports the recovery of four obols of Antimachus at Shahrisabz8. During the KATE excavations of Sangyrtepa a copper coin of Diodotus was found and recognized by M. E. Masson.

Findings of coins dated to the 1st century AD are scarce. A copper coin of Kanishka was found near the Tashkurgan pass, while a Sogdian obol of the Girkod group was found at Kalandartepa at Kitab9. S. K. Kabanov found a copper Sogdian coin with images of Heracles and Zeus10. On this evidence, E. V. Zejmal, who dated this coin group to 2nd-4th century AD, supposed that they could have been produced in Southern Sogdiana11. A similar coin (but in silver) was found during the excavtions at Turtkul’tepa12, situated in the region of Nautaka-Kish as well. A great hoard of these coins was found in the region of Talimarjan, on the ancient caravan road from Xenippa-Nahshab to the ford across the Amu Darja in the Karka region. I have personally studied sixty coins from this hoard. Thus, it is obvious that the group of silver coins similar to the obols because of their weight, with Heracles on the obverse and Zeus on the reverse, was circulating in southern Sogdiana, that is to say in the regions of Nautaka-Kish and Xenippa-Nahshab.

Two considerations arise in the study of these coins: their chronology and the deciphering of Sogdian inscriptions, as their proper understanding would give important information not only about money circulation, but also about the history of the region. Let us consider the inscriptions. Although even at the end of 19th century there were some attempts to read them, only in the 70’s of 20th century E. V. Zejmal first proposed an interpretation based on the analysis of fourteen coins stored in the Hermitage13. He determined quite correctly that the inscription on the obverse was formed by four letters which could be read MR’Y, an Aramean ideogram for the title xwβ (governor) widely used on coins from Sogdiana, Chach and Chorasmia. However, I cannot agree with Zejmal’s reading of the reverse of the coin, where the image of Zeus appears. According to Zejmal, the inscription is composed of seven letters rendered as ‘ywnwn14: this could be a personal name or the name of the region. However, the investigation of sixty coins of the Talimarjan hoard shows that the legend is composed of four letters. E. V. Zejmal interpreted as two distinct letters "w" and "n"15, but it would be preferable to recognize the same sign as a double "t". The interpretation wrongly given by Zejmal is due to the fact that, in the later coinage, the signs for "t" could seem to be two letters. As for the first letter it is obviously an "aleph", while the second, most likely, a "beta" and not a "iota" which occurs at the end of the word MR’Y. Thus, it is preferable to read the inscription on the reverse of this coin ‘4βtt and the whole legend as MR’Y ‘βtt (the governor Abtat). The second word is probably a personal name. It can neither be an ethnonim, nor the name of the region because ethnonims were never written on ancient and medieval coins struck in Central Asia while the name of the region first appeared in 3rd-4th century AD on the coins of Chach and Kish. As regarding the name, which I prefer to read "Abtat" ‘βtt -although other readings of the first two letters are possible- it is an eponim, that is to say, the name of the founder of the dynasty ruling in Southern Sogdiana during several centuries.

The practice of writing only the eponims without the names of the subsequent rulers first appeared on Parthian coins which diverged from Greek traditional coin legends where the name of the ruler and his epithet were always present. It was later imitated on the coins of the so-called Heraius (actually a Kushan ruler), on the coins of Girkod, Chach, Southern Sogd and other regions. This new tradition was introduced in Central Asian coinage by nomadic dynasties which attached great importance to the ancestor’s patronymic16.

On the basis of paleography, it is possible to speak of two groups distinct for the coins with images of Heracles and Zeus. In the first group are included the coins with an archaic "aleph" rendered as a cross which has a parallel in the Euthidemus coins dated 2nd-1st century BC. The "aleph" of the second group is completely different, closer to the one used in the Sogdian letters of the beginning of 4th century AD and to the coin legends of other Central Asian regions, especially 3rd-4th century Chach. Thus, the coinage production with Zeus and Heracles started in the 1st century BC and ended around 3rd-4th AD. In that period they circulated with the coins with combat scenes. Obviously, the level of mints in Southern Sogdiana in Antiquity was rather high. There, as in other regions of Sogdiana, it created a money economy connected with political conditions, the division of Sogdian regions and the formation of independent feuds.

At Aultepa was found a type of silver imitation of the coins of Bahram V (420-438). At Kizbizi, situated in this region as well, were found Sogdian coins with images of a ruler and an archer17. One silver coin of the same group, but of another type, was found with two copper coins from Southern Sogdiana in a vessel at Zindantepa. Unfortunately, these coins have a wide chronology: the coins with the archer are dated from the 1st-2nd to the beginning of 6th century AD18, and copper coins with combat scenes are dated from 3rd-4th to 6th century AD19. It is worth noting, however, that the coin with an image of the archer from Zindantepa corresponds to the productions of the third period. The presence of a clear brief Sogdian legend -which probably gives to us the name of the ruler, "twrk" Turak- is of great interest. In fact, it was found together with other Southern Sogdian coins with the images of the ruler and the combat scenes, testifying that both coinages were circulating in the territory of Kish.

Another important monetary typology is that of the copper coins with combat scenes. The history of their study, general analysis and the territory of circulation were thoroughly investigated by S. K. Kabanov and M. E. Masson, who diverged from each other both in the chronology and historical interpretation of the coins. M. E. Masson called these coins Partho-Sogdian, while S. K. Kabanov called them Nahshebian.

The reading and translation of the inscriptions on these coins as Bohumazdai and Vohumazdai (good Mazdean) was firstly proposed in 1899 by E. Druen and also Allot de la Fuis agreed. According to W. B. Henning, the legend should be read ’β’wh’z k’γ, Bukharan king. It is worth noting that a second interpretation is possible, but the topography of the findings contradicts it because most specimens were found in Kashkadarj’a20.

V. A. Livshits has noted that in one series of these coins the inscription in Sogdian cursive could be read kyšykwk’w (king of Kish), recognizing, however, some uncertainty in this rendering21. On the other hand, according to S. K. Kabanov, the absence of these coins in Kish does not allow one to accept such a reading of the inscription. However, such arguments can be abandoned now, after the findings of this kind of coins in the region of Kish (Kitab-Shahrisabz).

The last variant of the reading of this legend was proposed by O. I. Smirnova, who believed that the inscription contained eight letters. According to her, the first four signs could be read kwš (‘n) k (Kushan, belonging to the Kushan) with the omission of "‘n" due to the lack of space. At the same time she does not neglect the possibility of readings proposed by W. B. Henning and V. A. Livshits. According to O. I. Smirnova, the second word of the legend represented a title βrz (great)22.

On the basis of the the reading by O. I. Smirnova, S. K. Kabanov supposed a stable presence of late Kushans in Nahshab, although this is not supported by historical and numismatic data23. Then, I find that the translation by O. I. Smirnova is rather hypothetical. In particular, the absence of the syllabe "‘n" due to the lack of space is subjected to objections. The analysis of other coins persuades me that there was enough space in order to write this letter. The second letter of the first word is less probably a "w". In some specimens, after the initial "k" there is another line straight or semi-curved, not connected with other letters which vaguely resembles "w" or "n" or "z". However, this is most likely a flaw of the matrix causing the first letter not to have struck deeply enough resulting in a break which allows us to read two letters instead of a single one. In the coins where the inscription is struck properly, this letter is connected with another one which has the form characteristic of Sogdian "s" or "š". The third semi-curved letter of the inscription is probably a "n", while the fourth is indoubtedly a "k".

Taking this consideration into account, it is possible to read the first word of the inscription "ksnk" or "kšnk", that is to say "Keshian", an adjective formed by the suffix "k" from the word "Kšn/Ksn", "Kes/Kesh" or "Kis/Kish", probably coming from the ancient name of the Kashkadar’ja region, preserved also in Greek transliteration as Κσαηια (Ksenippa) which probably is a rendering of its local Sogdian name. The same name is preserved in the medieval town of Kasan at 20 kilometres in the north from Karshi.

There are then the coins of Ahurpat, the ruler of Kish. Untill the present time the findings of these coins were known only in Penjikent. O. I. Smirnova, who first published them, believed that the Sogdian legend on the obverse presented the name, title of the ruler and indications for the place of his feud. According to Smirnova, the name of the ruler was ">Axūrdat" (Given by Ahura), but then she changed her opinion and preferred the reading "Ahūrpat", now commonly accepted24.

The reading of the first word "xwβ" (governor) is undoubtedly correct. Regarding the third word, O. I. Smirnova believed that it signified "nisba"in the place of the ruling "ryb’n’k", "raγfānāk" (Rafganian, from Rafgan), which she compared with the name of the spring of Zerafshan: Fandar’ja. At the same time, D. Davudov mentioned in his thesis the opinion of O. I. Smirnova, thus connecting the coins of Ahurpat also with Kish. This is based on the similarity with the name of the ruler of Kish, Ahubido, who, in 727 AD, sent a mission to China.

However, V. A. Livshits has shown that the word "kšn’k" means "Keshian" and not "Rafganian" and thus the legend can be translated "Ahurpat, governor of Kish". As regarding the comparison of this name with the names of the rulers of Kish known from historical sources, it could correspond not only to "Ahubido", but also to the name of the ruler of the Shi-Ahe (Shir), Ahura, crowned in 656-660 AD25. Such an hypothesis was supported by the recovery at the same level of coins of Ahurpat and Shishpir, who governed between 642-656 AD. In the region of Kish, other Sogdian bronze coins of ikhshids from Shishpir to Turgar were recovered.

The fels of Ikhrid -the governor of Kish executed in the time of Abu-Muslim in 751 AD- are dated to the second quarter of 8th century AD. The obverse displays in Arabic Kufic letters the inscription: "Ikhrid, dehkan of Kesh" and, on the reverse: "This fels is coined in Kish". The fels is extremely interesting because it is the first specimen of a coin with an Arabic inscription from Central Asia26.

In conclusion, the numismatic data allow us to observe the early development and, probably, the continuity of money circulation in the Nautaka-Kish region. They point out that, the variety of the recovered coins from this region, at the beginning of the 1st century AD, was oriented towards Sogdiana and not towards Bactria. This is clear after iconography, dimensions and the same metal composition of the coins based on silver and copper have been analysed. Probably, even in the Early Medieval period the name of the region "Kish" appeared on the coins struck there, though a real independent coinage had developed since 1st century BC-1st century AD.


* Translated from Russian by Ivan A. Shelyh.

1 Rtveladze E. V., K voprosu o monetah Kesha, Istorija i kul’tura iuzhnyh rajonov Srednej Azii v drevnosti i srednevekov’e, Tashkent, 1988.

2 Omel’chenko A. V., Podrazhanie drahme s tipam Aleksandra Moakedonskogo iz Iuzhnogo Sogda, Numismatika Centralnoj Azii, V, Tashkent, 2001: 14-17.

3 According to A. Musakaeva.

4 Zejmal E. V., Drevnie monety Tajikistana, Dushanbe, 1983: 77-81.

5 Zejmal E. V., Nachal’nyj etap denezhnogo obrashchenija drevnej Transoksiany, Srednjaja Azija, Kavkaz i zarubezhnyj. Vostok i drevnosti, Moskva, 1983: 65.

6 Abdullaev K., Tetradrahma Antioha iz kishlaka Haprin, Numizmatika Central’noj Azii, V: 11-14.

7 Masson M. E., Monetnye nahodki v Srednej Azii, Izvestija Sredazkomstarisa, III, Tashkent, 1928: 284.

8 Kastal’skij B. N., Neizvestnaja greco-baktrijskaja tetradrahma-medal’ Antioha I, bitaja v chest’ Evtidema, Vestnik Drevnej Istorii, 3-4, 1940: 359.

9 Masson M. E., Raboty Keshkoj arheologo-topograficheskoj ekspedicii TashGU (KATE) po izucheniu vostochnoj poloviny Kashkadar’inskoj oblasti, Trudy TashGU. N. 233: Arheologija Srednej Azii, Tashkent, 1977: 26.

10 Kabanov S. K., Ruiny poselenija III-IV vv. v doline Kashkadar’i, Istorija material’noj kul’tury Uzbekistana, 6, Tashkent, 1965: 84-85.

11 Zejmal E. V., Rannesogdijskie monety s izobrazheniem Gerakla i Zevsa, Coobshchenija Gos. Ermitazha, XXXVIII, Leningrad, 1973: 68, 73.

12 Abdullaev K., Moneta s izobrazheniem Zevsa i Geracla iz Kashkadar’i, Numizmatika Central’noj Azii, 2, Tashkent, 1997: 9-16.

13 Zejmal E. V., Rannesogdijskie monety: 68-73. See in particular the history of the study of these coins.

14 Ibid.: 72.

15 Ibid.

16 Rtveladze E. V., K istorii stanovlenija kushanskogomgosudarstva v Baktrii i Gapdhare, Drevnjaja Indija i Srednjaja Azija, Tashkent, 2001: 145-148.

17 Kabanov S. K., Nahshab na rubezhdrevnosti i srednevekov’ja, Tashkent, 1977: 77, 90.

18 Zejmal E. V., Drevnie monety: 268.

19 Kabanov S. K., Nahshebskie monety V-VI vv., Vestnik Drevnej Istorii, 1, 1961: 137-141; ibid., Pozdnie kushany v Nahshebe, Vestnik Drevnej Istorii, 3, 1973: 159-171; ibid., Nahsheb: 96; Masson M. E., Parfjano-cogdijskie monety oblasti doliny Kashka-dar’i, Istorija i kul’tura antichnogo mira, Moskva, 1977: 136-137.

20 For the report of the recovery see: Kabanov S. K., Nahshebskie monety: 137-141; Masson M. E., Parfjano-sogdijskie monety: 136-137.

21 Livshits V. A., Lukonin V. G., Srednepersidskie i sogdijskie nadpisi na serebrjanyh sosudah, Vestnik Drevnej Istorii, 3, 1964: 470.

22 Smirnova O. I., Svodnyj katalog sogdijskih monet, Moskva, 1981.

23 Kabanov S. K., Pozdnie kushany: 159-171.

24 Smirnova O. I., Katalog monety s gorodishcha Penjikent, Moskva, 1963: 199; ibid., Svodnyj katalog: 306-308.

25 Smirnova O. I., Svodnyj katalog: 425.

26 Smirnova O. I., Katalog monet: 138-139; Bolshakov O. G., Vtoroj fel’s Ihrida, pravitelja Kesha, EV, XV, Moskva, Leningrad, 1963: 164.

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Actualizado el 24/07/2004

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