Exceptional Kushan Dynastic Ring
Gold finger ring from Ancient India.
|Sale: Triton XI, Lot: 953. Estimate $25000.
Closing Date: Monday, 7 January 2008.
Sold For $27500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
Kushan period, early 3rd century AD. Solid gold ring, of typical Roman shape, fabricated rather than cast. The intaglio bezel was made separately and carefully fitted into the ring (the join visible only in a slightly damaged area on the edge of the bezel). The bezel is decorated with vis-à-vis portraits of Septimius Severus (laureate head left) and Julia Domna (draped bust right with elaborate coiffure), beneath which is a Gupta Brahmi inscription in a characteristic square-serif style: Damputrasya Dhanguptasya ([Seal of] Dhangupta son of Dama). Very fine condition, a slight edge bruise, matte surface characteristic of river deposition.
The use of gold, the method of fabrication, and the fine quality of the engraving all suggest than the owner was a person of significant wealth and position. The portraits of the imperial couple are reminiscent of Severus’ dynastic coin designs, although this actual design does not appear on his coins. The use of imperial portraits may reflect the owner’s relationship, perhaps as a client, to the emperor. The characteristic surface texture, indicating deposition in water, suggests that the ring may have been formally dedicated, perhaps in a holy river, once it had outlived its original function.
There was a tradition in north West India for Greek rulers to adopt Indian names. King Menander was called Milinda, and is referred to as such in the famous Milindapanha. Similarly, Demetrios is called Dattamitri, Appollodotus is Apaladatas, Azes is Aya, Azilezes is Ayilisha, and Gondophares is Devarata Gudupphara. Therefore, it is not unlikely that the Damaputrasya on this ring meant the son of Dama or, more appropriately, the son of Domna -- Julia Domna herself whose picture is in situ. This meaning of Dama as Domna is also supported by the fact that the word Dama means money in the Indian language, and such a name was not given to a person. The full name containing the word Dama could be Damabhadra or Damamitra, but never just Dama. The important person, the owner of the ring, thus associates himself with the Roman imperial family.
Roman trade in India was on large scale during the Severan period. Periplus says that the traders of the Roman Empire exported gold and silver bullion to the coastal parts of the Indian peninsula. In addition, Roman coins were exported for use by the Roman traders. This does not prove that Roman coins could never have been used as bullion, but suggests that Roman coinage was required for some specific purposes. The Yavana traders were not content to carry merchandise to the Indian harbors and return with products of Indian origin; they also maintained actual settlements in various ports of southern India, which were emporia, oriental market towns, lying on or near the seacoast. These prosperous settlements can be compared with the factories established by European traders in India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Archaeological and epigraphic evidence has verified at least two of these settlements: Pondicherry (Arikamedu), identified as the Podouke emporia referred to by Ptolemy, and Muziris, where the Peutinger — Tables (AD 222) record that the Romans had built a temple of Augustus and maintained a force of two cohorts to protect their trade. The latter shows the nature of the authority of the Roman traders over the emporia.
Archaeological discoveries from a number of sites in Deccan and the extreme South distinctly reveal the impact of Roman trade on contemporary society. Finds at Arikamedu include amphorae and Arretine Ware (which led Wheeler to pinpoint the period of trade activity at this South Indian port to the first centuries BC-AD); a warehouse with Roman jars (which chemical examination has shown to possibly have contained wine of Italian origin), Roman lamps, and glassware; and gems carved with intaglios, some of which were signed by Graeco-Roman gem-cutters (suggesting presence of Western craftsman at the site). Finds of Rouleted Ware are quite significant, as it was a technique that influenced the style of pottery in India over a wide area, particularly the coastal regions. All of these finds suggest a substantial influence of the Mediterranean world resulting from trade.
On the western coast there is considerable evidence of Roman contact that can be inferred from archaeological finds. Pottery specimens of Roman origin or ceramics influenced by Roman types have been recovered from the early centuries of the Christian era at Nasik, Baroda, Akota, Bhokardan, Kolhapur, Malwer, Nagara, Nevasa, Shamlaji, Deoni Mori, and Ter. Objects such as amphorae, Red Polished Ware, Samian Ware, Rouletted Ware, Roman glass, Roman lamps, figures of Eros, caltrops (the peculiar painted spike of the Roman world), bronze statuettes of Poseidon, and the presence of Graeco-Roman artistic features on local art and architecture at some of these sites are conclusive evidence of the influence of Mediterranean culture on life in the southwestern parts of the peninsula. Only the constant presence of a Graeco-Roman community over a wide area for a considerable period of time can satisfactorily account for such an impact. Similarly, finds at sites in the south and southeast, like Dharanikota, Yeleswaram, Uraiyur, Kanchipuram, Alagarai, and Kaveripattinam, display the influence of Roman techniques on some of the local pottery types, and likewise testify to the power of the Graeco-Roman culture.
The Graeco-Roman trading communities maintained cordial relations with the local rulers, the Satavahanas, Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas. Nevertheless, the long presence of these settlements, with their protective garrisons of troops, exhibited a superior military strength that could have easily led the monarchs of South India to be intimidated by their might, similar to the reverential fear that the East India Company used to instill in the hearts of the local Indian potentates.
The rulers of Peninsular India did not have the resources to strike gold coins, or seals, and it is not unlikely that the foreign traders were allowed to use their coins to facilitate smooth and quick commercial transactions, particularly on a large scale. Similarly, the rulers may have allowed the traders to use gold seals, such as that present on this ring, to approve transactions. Comparable terracotta bullae are abundantly known from Indian sites as mentioned in the references sited below.
O. Bopearachchi, Indo- Greek, Indo Scythian, Indo Parthian coins in the Smithsonian institution (New Delhi, 1993).
A.K. Jha, ed., Coinage, Trade and Economy : 3rd International Colloquium (Maharashtra, 1991).
R. Krishnamurthy, Non Roman Ancient Foreign Coins from Karur in India (Chennai, 2000).
Periplus Maris Erythraei
P.V. Radhakrishnan, Roman Gold and Sulver Coins from India (Nasik, 1999).
P. Turner, Roman coins in India (London, 1990).