CHORASMIAN COINAGE, issued by the rulers of Chorasmia between the 2nd century BCE and the 8th century CE (see COINS AND COINAGE, in EIr VI, pp. 14-17). These coins are important primary evidence for the Old Chorasmian language and the region’s post-Achaemenid history because of the paucity of preserved sources for this period.

In the mid-19th century, coins that had been found in Russia and showed certain similarities to Indo-Parthian and Kushan coinages were for the first time identified as Chorasmian. In 1938, Sergei P. Tolstov (1907-76), who had conducted preliminary archeological fieldwork in the lower basin of the Oxus river, accepted this interpretation, while Mikhail E. Masson (1897-1986) drew the same conclusion from specimens found in this area. In 1948, Tolstov published the first classification of Chorasmian coinage, while a catalogue raisonne of all known specimens by Bella I. Vainberg appeared in 1977. Subsequent finds of both single coins and hoards have not necessitated any substantial changes in Vainberg’s typology. The oldest known specimens ascribed to Chorasmian rulers are single coin finds that do not constitute conclusive evidence for the origins of Chorasmian coinage. But it seems that copper coins were not minted in Chorasmia with any regularity before the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. The first local coinage (group A; see PLATE I. a-c) comprised silver coins that followed the model of the fairly widely circulating tetradrachms of the Bactrian king Eucratides I (r. ca. 171-145 B.CE). These specimens have on the reverse a blundered Greek legend that is similar to the legends on the Eucratides tetradrachms. Three stages of development can be distinguished. On the coins of the first stage (A I; see PLATE I. a) the tamḡā (tribal mark of ownership; see ĀL TAMḠĀ in EIr I, pp. 706-7) of the local ruler, who probably belonged to the cattle-breeding Sarmatian tribes, is added to the reverse, below the Dioscuri, on the left side of the exergue (Vainberg and Novgorodova). The second stage (A II; see PLATE I. b) is characterized by an altered obverse that now shows a typical Near Eastern image of a ruler: The king’s head is in profile, while his torso faces forward, and he is wearing a crown (kolāh) adorned with an eagle spreading his wings. At the third stage (A III; see PLATE I. c), both obverse and reverse are modified. On the obverse, the crown is different, and a female figure—a Greek Nike or a Zoroastrian Arta (see AŠA; cf. OPers. arta-)—stands behind the king holding a wreath to bless him, while he is turned towards an arch (rainbow?). If the female figure is Arta, the arch might represent the king’s farr (see FARR(AH)). On the reverse, the Dioscuri are replaced with a solemn horseman moving to the right. Throughout these three stages, form and placement of the tamḡā slightly change, but its new occurrence on the reverse becomes a characteristic of all subsequent silver coinages until the end of the 8th century CE.

Group B of Chorasmian coinage comprises mostly silver coinage, tentatively dated to the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd centuries CE (see PLATE I. d-l). On the reverse of the silver coins with the horseman type (B1 I, II, III, IV; see PLATE I. d-g), the legend, which runs from the horse’s muzzle to the tamḡā behind his rump, combines blundered Greek with the Old Chorasmian language (see CHORASMIA, in EIr V, pp. 517-18). These legends contain the names of the ruler and their title MLKʾ. In group B1 (see PLATE I. d-g), the royal names are theophoric and Zoroastrian, as they are derived from Arta. Group B2 (see PLATE I. h-l) includes the first experimental specimens of Chorasmian copper coinage (B2 20 and 21 (see PLATE I. k-l), as well as coins with an S-shaped tamḡā; Vainberg, 1979). From the 2nd century CE, copper coins from Kushan, countermarked with the Chorasmian S-shaped tamḡā, seem also to have functioned as petty coinage in Chorasmia. The silver and copper coins of group B2 were issued simultaneously from the end of the 3rd century CE. The dating of these coins is very imprecise, since it is exclusively based on the evidence of successive issues, overstrikes, and archeological context (i.e., stratigraphic data of the find spot). On the reverse of the silver coinage, the blundered Greek legend morphs into an ornament (B2 V; see PLATE I. h), and disappears entirely from later issues of Chorasmian silver coins. The legends on the copper coins also name the ruler and his title MLKʾ, and yet not all rulers who issued copper coins are also documented on silver coins. The obverse of the copper coins bears a ruler’s bust (B2 5; see PLATE I. j) or the horseman (B2 1; see PLATE I. i). On their reverse is a tamḡā or a legend on the margins, and sometimes the tamḡā is encircled by the legend. Aside from the traditional tamḡā of the ruler, there are also marks in the shape of swastikas, with upturned ends (B2 1; see PLATE I. i) or in a quite unique tripartite variant (B2 5; see PLATE I. j).

In the 6th century CE, the silver and copper coins of group C (i.e., the Cyrillic letter ve) underwent significant changes. The copper coins became larger so that silver and copper coins now have often the same diameter (C IV, 11; see PLATE II. a-b). But silver and copper coins are not struck according to a fixed weight standard. The royal crowns on the obverse have a new characteristic design (C IV, V, VIb; see PLATE II. a, c-d). In the legends on the reverse, the title MRʾY MLKʾ precedes the name of the ruler. But some copper coins have legends on the obverse, which appear in the fields left and right of the ruler’s bust, as well as complicated legends on the reverse that have not yet been deciphered. Group C includes copper coinages that were issued by the rulers of two independent principalities in the north, Kerder and possibly Gorganj (the modern Urgenj). Among the dated issues of group C are 8th-century copper coins that were issued by the Muslim governor of Khorasan. The obverse shows a ruler’s bust accompanied by identical legends in Sogdian and Arabic with the name of the Chorasmian king, while an Arabic legend on the reverse identifies the local governor (C 15; see PLATE II. e). At the beginning of the 9th century, with the consolidation of Muslim rule in Gorganj, local Chorasmian coinage ceased to be issued.


D. V. Biryukov, “Oblichennye vlast’yu i lishennye imeni: Anonimnyĭ period drevnekhorezmiĭskoĭ monetnoĭ chekanki” (Invested with authority and deprived of a name: An anonymous period in the coinage of ancient Chorasmia), Numizmatika Tsentral’noĭ Azii (Numismatics of Central Asia) 6, 2002, pp. 3-5.

S. P. Tolstov, Drevniĭ Khorezm: Opyt istoriko-arkheologicheskogo issledovaniya (Ancient Chorasmia: Preliminary historical-archeological investigation), Moscow, 1948.

B. I. Vainberg, “Udel’nyĭ chekan rannesrednevekovogo Kerdera” (Coinage from the autonomous period of the early medieval Kerder), in V. N. Iagodin, ed., Voprosy antropologii i material’noĭ kul’tury Kerdera (Anthropology and material culture of Kerder), Tashkent, 1973, pp. 102-24.

Idem, Monety drevnego Khorezma (Coins of ancient Chorasmia), Moscow, 1977.

Idem, “Pervye vypuski mednykh monet v drevnem Khorezme” (Early issues of copper coins in ancient Chorasmia), in A. V. Vingradov, ed., Etnografiya i arkheologiya Sredneĭ Azii: Posvyashchaetsya pamyati S. P. Tolsteva (Ethnography and archeology of Central Asia: Memorial volume S. P. Tolstov), Moscow, 1979, pp. 47-48.

Idem, “Monetnye nakhodki iz raskopok gorodishcha” (Coin finds from the excavations of the ancient town), in E. E. Nerazik and I. A. Rapoport, eds., Gorodishche Toprak-kala: Raskopki 1965-1975 gg. (The archeological site of Toprak-kala: Excavations of 1965-1975), Trudy Khorezmskoĭ arkheologo-etnograficheskoĭ ekspeditsii 12, Moscow, 1981, pp. 123-35.

B. I. Vainberg and E. A. Novgorodova, “Zametki o znakakh i tamgakh Mongolii” (Notes regarding the signs and tamḡās of Mongolia), in B. G. Gafurova and B. A. Litvinskii, eds., Istoriya i kul’tura narodov Sredneĭ Azii: drevnost’ i srednie veka (History and culture of the peoples of Central Asia: Antiquity and the Middle Ages), Moscow, 1976, pp. 66-74.

(B. I. Vainberg)

Originally Published: July 20, 2005

Last Updated: July 20, 2005

Cite this entry:

B. I. Vainberg, “CHORASMIAN COINAGE,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2005, available at (accessed on 20 September 2016).