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Home Newsletters So-Wide Space November 2011 - Excerpt from the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies

So-Wide Space November 2011 - Excerpt from the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies

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So-Wide Space November 2011
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The following is taken from a review by Richard Fynes of Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India. By Johannes Bronkhorst (Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section Two, India, Vol. 19). pp. xx, 420, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2007

One important development, which must have had an impact on social relationships in ancient India, was the use of coined money. Bronkhorst does not discuss the evidence provided by numismatics in his section on urbanization, even though coinage in India is a key example of the adoption of a concept that originated outside Brahmanical culture.

The earliest Indian coins were produced in Kabul and Gandhara in the early fourth century BC at a time when these regions were part of the Achaemenid empire, and shortly afterwards coins were being produced in large quantities in the countries bordering the Ganges valley. There is evidence to suggest that the earliest coins of the eastern regions were produced in Kosala. Early Indian coins are now known as punch-marked coins, since they are typically formed from pieces of silver, scyphate or flat, cut from larger sheets, and usually bear from one to five symbols, some of which clearly have a religious significance, stamped separately onto one side of their surface. Punch-marked coins were being manufactured and were circulating in the area Bronkhorst calls Greater Magadha perhaps no later than twenty-five years after the death of the Buddha.

Coined money facilitates the redistribution of wealth and it may be that one of its original purposes in India was to enable kings to make payments to Brahmins in return for their performance of Vedic sacrifices. Coined money also facilitated donations by merchants to the Buddhist sangha, as is evidenced by visual representations from Buddhist monuments dating perhaps from the second century BC. Furthermore, an increased production of coinage may well imply an increase in exchange transactions that are not based on an asymmetrical hierarchal relationship between giver and receiver, but imply equality, since the participants’ relationship is often temporary and is determined solely by their willingness to give and accept money in the form of coins.

Money facilitates anonymous exchange and thus enables its possessor and receiver to enter into relationships that are based on choice rather than on ascribed status. The growing availability of coined money may well have had a profound influence on social relationships and cultural expression in ancient India. No study of the culture of early India should ignore the potential of the evidence provided by numismatics.


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