Before money was introduced, cowry shells/seashells, beads of various types; and in India, cows were medium of exchange. But who introduced the first coins which can also be counted among the world’s oldest coins?
There is no end to debate on claiming a certain coins as world’s first coin. The debate is not likely to die down soon.
It starts with definition of a coin. Simply speaking a coin is a piece of metal, stamped by a legitimate authority, of a prescribed weight carrying symbols, inscriptions or both.
The simple wisdom “all the coins are money, but all the moneys are not coin” helps little in determining the first coin of the world. Archaeological evidences are subject to interpretations and experts from different opinions which create a sort of uncertainty in determining acceptable ideas of first coin.
In the context of India, many hoards are found but very few are reported. It is very difficult to determine location of the find, stratigraphy (if found in a particular stratum), other details about the accompanying coins etc. which makes it almost impossible to come to a conclusion.
Ancient Greek coins and coins of Lydia are known to be the first amongst the coins of the world. However, a common period is not yet determined by various claimants. Since the ancient coins were without inscriptions and carried just symbols, the determination of a particular period is subject to other materials found with them.
Trite or 1/3 Stater of Lydia
In India, early Punch Marked Coins (PMCs) of various Mahajanapadas are candidates for first coins of India and contest the space for World’s first coins. Though many experts believe that the first coins of India were introduced in 5-4th Century BCE, there are suggestions that first coins in India were introduced in 6th Century BCE. Some uninscribed cast copper coins also make it to the list of first Indian coins.
However, there have been references of ‘money’ in ancient Indian literature like Brahamanas, Vedas etc. terms such as Suvarna, Hiranyam, Shatamana are found and they indicate a kind of ‘money’ in use. But no concrete evidences have been found as no claims are thoroughly investigated. In Buddhist literature too there are mentions of coins of silver and gold.
Dr Nupam Mahajan PH.D, FRNS (www.nupam.com) is of the opinion that India developed the first coins in the World which can also be the world’s oldest coins. Many experts like Mitchiner believe that Indian coins were influenced by western and Islamic coinage. However, looking at the vast Punch Marked Coin series, it is difficult to believe above statement, as these coins show genuine and innovative minting technique, local devices, fabric and styles.
Gandhar Janapada is one of the first Janapadas to mint coins in India. A shatamana coin of 11+ grams is known as bent bar in 6th Century BCE. They are found in various length and thickness but carry standard shatamana weight.
Gandhara Janapada Bent Bar 7th – 6th Century B.C.
Since dating is most challenging part of such coin and coin hoards, it will take some time to come to a final conclusion and declare the winner!