Bull & Horseman Jitals
What I Know vs. What I'd Like to Know - A look at some mysterious coins
Among my favorite common silver coins over a thousand years old are the bull and horseman jitals of the regions we now call Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India. The Shahi kings from Kabul and Gandhara are credited with a long series of coins to support what must have been flourishing trade from the 8th to 13th centuries A.D. The type was issued by many authorities over at least five centuries but many, including most of the early ones, lack the names of issuers in a format that we can comprehend today. Above the bull, the earliest ones have Nagari legends reading Sri Spalapati Deva or Honorable Chief Commander. Right of the horse is a legend in cursive Bactrian (perhaps reading the same?). Finding a specimen with both legends will take some luck. These early coins show the figures modeled in higher relief than the later coins which become more line drawings. My two examples are from the third issue or the first following the weight reduction to about 3.3g. I regret I have no coin of the first two phases when the weight was above 4g. As seems common with jitals, I had to show two coins to give any idea of how the coin should look. The bull on the right coin and the horseman on the left would combine to be a reasonable specimen but I feel fortunate to show even these poor examples of a series not easily found well struck.
Later Spalapati coins eliminated the cursive legend to the right of the horse and reduced the flowing banner to the left of the horseman to allow room for a single letter. While several letters are known in this position, I do not know their meaning or purpose. I also fail to understand the symbol right of the horseman. Did I mention that the purpose of this page is not just to show the coins but to encourage contact by those who know more about them than I do? These later Spalapati issues are not as roundly modeled as the first pair shown but still not as completely line drawings as would come later. They are also a hundred times more easily found than the early ones. Well struck specimens with clear legends remain elusive but coins equal to these are common. My photos are labeled with catalog numbers from the standard reference for these: Jitals by Robert & Monica Tye. I was unable to find a reference match for the coin in the center of the bottom row which appears (to me - one completely illiterate in this script) to have an E left of the horseman and a circled dot between the front legs of the horse. The final coin in the lower right shows the unread legend or decoration right of the horse more clearly than most but lacks the letter to the left required to identify it by Tye number. Coins like this with small flans and poorly struck legends are common. Spalapati coins are dated between 750 and 900 A.D. but organization within that range is conjectural. Much is based on the theory that earlier coins will show rounder relief while later ones will be more line drawings but the entire field is one in need of more study. Finds of these coins tend to be farther west than some of the later coins which is also a sign of earlier date as the Shahi culture was pressured by the eastward advance of Islamic forces. References suggest that the main mint of this period may have been Kabul but I am not certain of the reasoning behind this assignment.
| Samanta Deva:
The most common of the Shahi bull and horseman coins are those with the Sarada legend Sri Samanta Deva above the bull. This is also a title rather than a name and could be taken as the same "Honorable Chief Commander" as listed for Spalapati Deva. References suggest that these were made farther east, perhaps at Ohind, after the Shahi influence farther west had been forced out by Muslim conquest. The dates are given as 850-1000 A.D. which overlaps the Spalapati dates but individual coins are not dated within either of those ranges. Ohind was located on the Indus river in the region known as Gandhara (now in northwest Pakistan). Sarada characters Bhi is left of the horseman with another symbol to the right. The most common of these ("Ma"?) is shown on the top left and center coins while "Ta" is shown on the lower left. The top right coin shows a bit of a variation on the character left of the horseman but I believe this is just a 'handwriting' variation of the normal Bhi. The bottom center coin matches the normal Tye 14 coins but is either plated (fourree) or a poorly mixed allow with large areas of copper showing. Generally such a coin would be considered unofficial but I have no knowledge or references regarding fourree Shahi coins. Finally the bottom right coin shows a very different style on a smaller but slightly thicker flan. Most interesting to my eye is the face of the horseman which reminds me of the profile face on South Indian coins of Rajaraja Chola but is, at least, very different from the thin, facing heads of the normal Shahi horsemen. It is shown here just to make the point that there are many coins just a bit different from the ones illustrated in the references. The details here are not at all understood by me.
While there is variation on the Samanta Deva coins, most are more a line drawing that the average Spalapati coins. This is consistent with the idea that they are slightly later. Being more common, they are slightly easier to find in moderately acceptable condition but most are still poorly struck on flans too small to show the entire design. Many are struck unevenly from right to left so either the head or rump of the bull is flat. Due to my aversion to poorly struck heads, rather few of these examples have nicely detailed tridents on the bull's rear. Similarly the three dots on the horse's rear suffer on many of my coins. In addition to being poorly struck, many Shahi jitals are worn suggesting they circulated for many years. This, also, is consistent with the fact that the weight standards of the coins were maintained reasonably well for many years (especially when compared to the situation with Roman coins over the same number of centuries).
Other than the above major groups, there are a few less common legend varieties from the early period with spread flans and better silver. Our example is in the name (above bull) of Khudarayaka who ruled c. 870 A.D. These are not really rare but seen much less frequently than the common Spalapati and Samanta coins. There are a few minor variations with different characters right of the horseman or between the horse's front legs. Khudarayaka is an epithet used by the governor of Kabul under Yaqub ibn Layith of Seistan but the exact circumstances of his rule or issuing coins is unclear to me. As I find examples of other Shahi varieties from the early period, I will add them to this space.
Silver jitals of the early period were sometimes accompanied by bronzes of similar size but bearing the images of an elephant and lion. I have no idea what fraction of the silver jital they represented. While considerably less common than the silver, the most common bronzes are in the name of Samanta Deva. Coins are usually seen crudely struck which explains why I am showing two examples of the same type, each with different strengths. Again, as I find examples of other types, they will be added to this space but the number of Shahi bronzes available on the market even in the condition of those shown here is not high. There is almost no demand for them in the market so it is hard to know whether they are actually rare compared to the silver or just ignored by the trade.
|Late Bull and Horseman types:|
|A||Ananga||1130-1145 A.D.||Delhi||Deyell 187 Tye 44||Intermediate diameter|
|B||Madana Pala||1145-1167 A.D.||Delhi||Deyell 201 Tye 45|
|C||Prithvi III||1191-1192 A.D.||Delhi||Deyell 225 Tye 52|
|D||Mohamed bin Sam Ghori||1193-1206 A.D.||Delhi||Deyell 260 Tye 185|
|E||Mohamed bin Sam Ghori||1193-1206 A.D.||Budaon||Deyell 254 Tye 187||dies much larger than flan|
|F||Yildiz||1206-1215 A.D.||Kurraman||Deyell 264 Tye 200||bull only|
|G||Yildiz||1212-1214 A.D.||Lahore||Deyell 265 Tye 201||horseman only|
|H||Jalal Mangubarni||1220-1224 A.D.||Nandana?||Deyell 349 Tye 318|
|I||Iltutmish||1210-1235 A.D.||Delhi||Deyell 311 Tye 386|
|J||Mahi Pala||after 1266 A.D. ?||?||Deyell 232 Tye 39||flan half die diameter|
| Following the Islamic conquest of the Hindu Shahi lands one might expect the end of the bull and horseman coins but that was not the case. The coins were well established in the region as the definition of good money so Muslim rulers continued the issue of bull and horseman varieties for a few more centuries (at least to 1300 A.D.) Our group of ten examples is not by any means a complete set. Most amazing to me is that the weight standard remained rather constant with most coins weighing 3-3.5g. Diameter, however, was reduced mostly resulting in rather thick 14 to 16mm coins. Over time, silver quality fell from the early level around 69% to 18% and finally to a billon with so little silver that the coins appear to be copper. These later rulers were less shy about placing their names on the coins so, unless the language is a barrier, it is possible to attribute at least those coins well enough centered to bear significant parts of the legends. Unfortunately good centering is not a common characteristic of these coins. Flans range from slightly smaller than the dies to less than half the size of the dies. It is next to impossible to find a single coin with all of the detail. My examples are not random selections but were picked for their readable legends. Most of these were struck by the Delhi Rajahs but a few were produced at branch mints. Some late issues (examples F & G above) replaced either the bull or the horseman with Arabic legends. The final step was taken when coins were made in the standard Islamic fashion with legends on both sides and no bull or horseman. These, however, do not fit the theme of this page.
As a group, late jitals are common and low priced but it is not always possible to find identified or high quality examples without some looking. The series is ignored by most coin dealers.
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(c) 2011 Doug Smith