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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Achaemenid Period Ingot

Triton XV, Lot: 1366. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $3000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

INDIA, Pre-Mauryan (Gandhara). Period of Achaemenid Rule. Circa 5th century BC. Cast AR Cake Ingot. Dimensions of ingot: 56 mm at the base tapering to 45 mm at top; thickness of ingot is 23 mm. Weight: 379.00 grams. M. Blet-Lemarquand, “Premières frappes locales de l’Inde du Nord-Ouest:L’apports des analyses élémentaires” in Trésors d’Orient: Mélanges offerts à Rika Gyselen, SD* = O. Bopearachchi, “Premières frappes locales de l’Inde du Nord-Ouest: nouvelles données,” in Trésors d’Orient: Mélanges offerts à Rika Gyselen, Fig. 10 (this ingot). As made, some find patina and encrustation, test cut from top into interior of ingot. Historically and numismatically important.

Ex 2007 Shaikhan Dehri Hoard.

While the later coinage of the region between the Oxus and Indus Rivers (and beyond) is well-known, the monetary systems of this region's earlier period is somewhat less certain. During the Achaemenid Empire (circa 539–330 BC), this region relied on payment in specified weights of gold or silver. Collectively known as "hacksilber", such money consisted of fragments, jewelry, coinages from monetized areas, or ingots, whether in part or as a whole. While hoards of hacksilber have been found throughout the ancient Near East, where there was a long tradition of this kind of monetary transaction (for a further discussion, see Miriam S. Balmuth, ed. Hacksilber to Coinage: New Insights into the Monetary History of the Near East and Greece (Numismatic Studies No. 24) [New York, 2001]), similar hoards further east are less widely known (see the published reports of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan).

Since the discovery in 1924 of the Bhir Mound (Taxila) hoard of 1167 bent bars, numismatists have considered this type to be the earliest regional issue, dating to the 5th or 4th century BC. The 1953 publication of that portion of the 1933 Tchamani-i Hazouri hoard which had been given to the Kabul Museum showed that it too contained a number of bent bars. The Tchamani-i Hazouri hoard included 30 Greek civic issues, including 34 Athenian tetradrachms of the mid to late 4th century BC, and one imitation, 8 sigloi (Carradice Type III), 14 single-punch bent bars, and 29 examples of what Schlumberger called "a new type" - a scyphate strike on a thick round flan (see Daniel Schlumberger. "L'argent grec dans l'empire achéménide," in Trésors monétaires d'Afghanistan [Paris, 1953]). Based on the Athenian imitation present, Schlumberger gave the hoard a date of circa 380 BC.

In 2009, Osmund Bopearachchi published a small coin hoard discovered in 2007 at the site of ancient Pushkalavati (Shaikhan Dehri) in Pakistan (see O. Bopearachchi, "Premières frappes locales de l'Inde du Nord-Ouest: nouvelles données," in Mélanges Gyselen). Consisting of bent bars, a number of examples of Schlumberger's "new type," some blank flans, and an Athenian tetradrachm, dated to circa 500/490-485/0 BC (see lot 1163 above), the group also contained four cake-type cast ingots, including this one. Each weighs approximately 400g (about 72 Persian sigloi), and each one has a test cut. Such marks appear on coins which circulated throughout the region, indicating that the integrity of the metal was more important than the coin itself. Bopearachchi noted that the composition of this group was similar to the Tchamani-i Hazouri hoard and dated it on the presence the Athenian owl to the 5th century BC. Noting the presence of the blank flans, as well as the ingots, Bopearachchi saw the hoard as evidence of very early coin production in Pushkalavati.

From the preliminary metallurgical analysis of this hoard (see M. Blet-Lemarquand, "Premières frappes locales de l'Inde du Nord-Ouest: l'apport des analyses élémentaires," in Mélanges Gyselen), the composition of this ingot along with the bent bars and blanks, with their consistently unusual percentages of copper and other trace elements, demonstrates that the silver may well have been derived from the same source. The analysis also suggested that this source most likely supplied the silver used one or two centuries later by the Mauryan Empire to strike its first series of punch marked coins.

While preliminary analysis suggests a single source for the silver somewhere in the Hindu Kush, and the circumstantial evidence of the hoard (the blank flans and ingots) points tantalizingly to the possibility of an early coin production at Pushkalavati, the presence of the Athenian tetradrachm and the test marks on each of the four ingots provides an alternative possibility. As with the presence of Greek and Persian coins in the Tchamani-i Hazouri hoard, the Athenian tetradrachm here argues that the Shaikhan Dehri blank flans and ingots with their test cuts may not have been meant for eventual striking, as Bopearachchi suggests (pp. 43-44), but may have been a savings hoard.

According to Herodotos' Persian tribute list (3.90-94), the empire provided most tribute in silver, with India supplying gold dust. For those areas that did not strike coinage, cast ingots of a specialized weight calculated to the tribute owed to the Great King may possibly have provided a convenient method of payment. Pushkalavati was also an important commercial center at the time (its Greek name was Peukela or Peukelaitis), and such ingots could also have been part of a merchant's savings, which would have also included Greek and Indian coinages acquired through the international trade which flowed through the city. Under this theory, however, the presence of blank flans in the hoard would remain unexplained.