Mughal Coinage

The Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605–1627) wrote in his diary of his new coinage bearing signs of the zodiac:

Previous to this the rule of the coinage was that on the face of the metal they stamped my name, and on the reverse side the name of the place and the year of the reign. At this time, it entered my mind that in the place of the month they should substitute the figure of the constellation which belonged to that month.

(Williams, 1997)

One of Jahangir’s coins bore a resemblance to himself with a cup of wine in his hands, a significant departure from Islamic coinage practice.

Evidence of Indian coinage prior to Alexander the Great’s invasion (329–325 b.c.) is scanty, but Indian coinage may have appeared soon after the invention of coinage in Lydia. Whatever the date, early Indian coinage seems to follow Greek models, and Alexander can be credited with spreading the techniques of Greek coinage in India. Indian coinage spread eastward in the wake of Indian culture and religion, and by the thirteenth century could be seen as far away as Indonesia and the Philippines.

In the sixteenth century the Mughals descended upon India from the northwest, establishing an Islamic kingdom. Under Islam a new ruler could expect to have his name mentioned at the daily Mosque prayers, and have the privilege to issue coinage bearing his name.

The money of account of the Mughals was the silver rupee, which also dates back to sixteenth-century India. To be accepted as money, coins had to bear the name of the current Mughal emperor, a custom that persisted even after the Mughal emperor existed in name only and the Mughal empire had splintered into autonomous kingdoms. Roughly 300 types of rupee circulated when the British reformed India’s currency and standardized the rupee early in the nineteenth century.

Under the Mughal system moneychangers, called shroffs, played a prominent and necessary role in monetary transactions. All large transactions required the presence of shroffs to count each coin and assign discounts according the wear of each coin and the time and location that each was struck.

Late in the eighteenth century the British introduced mechanical coinage into India. Mechanical coinage had been universal in Europe since 1700. In 1835 the British reformed India’s currency and standardized the rupee, ending the multitude of rupees and the need for shroffs. The British continued the practice of issuing coins in the name of the Mughal emperor, a necessary condition to make coins acceptable. Under the prestigious influence of the British Empire, the rupee became the standard unit of currency in the Persian Gulf and southern Arabia, and spread as far south as British East Africa, and Natal in South Africa.