MAGADHA circa 410-400 BC karshapana with elephant mark


MAGADHA, Sisunaga dynasty, circa 410-400 BC, punchmarked karshapana, no date, Obverse: elephant, fish, silver, 19-21mm, 2.24g, series IVa, GH340, VG

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In Northern India a number of “Janapada” states started developing bureaucratic governments that issued coinage as early as the 5th century BC. The Janapada of Maghada evolved into the Mauryan Empire, the first government to control most of the Indian subcontinent.

Bureaucratic governing systems emerged when people who didn’t know each other personally were interacting in ways other than war. Coins were developed to keep track of the mutual satisfaction factor in trades. In northern India bureaucratic governments emerged before the 6th century BC. They were family based. Families of a certain size we like to term “tribal.” In northen India the earliest “tribal” states are called “janapada.”

The earliest ancient Indian coins were the “bent bar” punchmarked silvers of the Achaemenid Persians occupying Gandhara in northwest Pakistan. By the 3rd century BC coins were in general use in most of India and Ceylon, and in subsequent centuries struck round coins in gold, silver, and copper came into use throughout the subcontinent and beyond to Southeast Asia and Pacific islands to Java and beyond.