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Non-Roman coins in 300 AD

Coinage in the non-Roman world, circa 300 AD

Reading most histories of the ancient ancient world around 300 AD—and even numismatic publications—it's easy to get the idea that society consisted of the Roman empire, and not much else. The reality is that a great many states in 300 AD were economically sophisticated enough to strike coins, ranging from the Persian empire—which at this time rivalled Rome in economic power and prestige—to a variety of small Indian satrapies.

During the 7th and 6th centuries BC, coinage developed in India and China more or less contemporary with the Greek world and the Mediterranean/Aegean/Black Seas. By Roman times, coinage was a well-established institution throughout northern Africa and Asia. There was a great deal of direct trade between the Roman empire and India, as well as extensive trade routes overland between China, central Asia, India, and the Persian empire. In addition, the more organized barbarian tribes in Germany and the Balkans struck local imitations of Roman coins to facilitate their own trading.

The chart below represents most of the coin-producing states of this period. Click on each coin to see a larger picture or more information.


In the decades before Diocletian, Celtic and other tribes throughout non-Roman Europe often struck imitations of official Roman coinage. These were often a response to shortages of official coins in circulation. Diocletian's monetary reforms largely remedied this, so barbarous imitations of tetrarchic coinage are relatively rare.


Comple-menting the bronze coin to the left is this barbarous imitation of an argenteus struck in the name of Maximianus. It was found in the Balkans, most likely imitating a coin from the Rome mint.

Click here to see my page on barbarian coins from this period.

Taman Goths

These coins originated as imitations of Roman denarii from the 3rd century. The design gradually degenerated until it became completely abstract. The Goths around the Crimea and the Taman peninsula strongly influenced the Bosporos kingdom before subsuming it later in the 4th century. More coin info...


The Bosporos Kingdom was a client kingdom of Rome for centuries. Their coins in the Roman era typically featured portraits of both their own king and the Roman emperor. Unusually, they were allowed to strike gold coinage.

By 300 the kingdom was increasingly influenced by the Gothic tribes who were settling on either side. The crude simplistic style of this coin foreshadows that of post-Roman, barbarian Europe. More coin info...


As the Sassanid empire grew in power, it assumed control over the western part of the Kushan empire. This was governed by semi-autonomous rulers called Kushanshahs. Their coins were typically crude versions of either official Sassanian coins or Kushan coins.

Jin dynasty cash coin


Most Chinese coins—called cash coins—were bronze, with a very simple inscription and no other ornamentation except for a characteristic square hole so they could be easily gathered on rods. These coins were stuck in essentially the same form through the 19th century.

The coin shown above is from the Jin dynasty, which controlled China in 300 AD. The outer rim has been removed, thereby creating two coins, inner and outer. This picture shows a more typical cash coin from an earlier era.

World c. 300AD
Sassanid silver drachm

Persia (Sassanid)

In the middle of the third century, a new dynasty of Sassanid Persians took control of Persia from Rome's traditional enemy, the Parthians. They were a true empire that dominated all of Asia between the Roman empire and India until the rise of Islam.

The Sassanids had a well-developed tri-metallic coinage of gold, silver, and bronze, struck at mints throughout their empire. While the Romans had trouble maintaining a stable silver coinage, the Sassanids struck literally billions of silver coins. Click here to see more of their coins.

Axumite silver unit


The Kingdom of Axum thrived as the middle-man for Roman trade with India. Once Egypt became a Roman province, trade with India increasingly originated in Egypt and went to India via the Red Sea, replacing the older overland route through Asia and bypassing the Persian empire. Axum was ideally located to profit from this trade.

Axum, not Rome, actually became the first officially Christian state in the 320s, just before Constantine converted to Christianity. Axum thrived until the spread of Islam resulted in new trade routes. This coin is from the last pagan king, Wazeba, c. 300. Here's a better example of another contemporary coin(CNG).

Kushan gold stater


The Kushans had for several centuries governed an extremely wealthy kingdom in northern India. Their power filled the vacuum left by the decay of the Parthian empire; by 300, however, their power was much reduced as the Sassanian empire grew (see Kushanshahs above). It would disappear completely by 400.

Kushan wealth was fueled by Silk Road trade between Persian, Central Asia, and China. While not as rich as Persia, their plentiful gold coins attest to their wealth. Click here to see more of the above coin. (picture from CNG)

Visvasena silver drachm

Indo-Saka satraps

The Western Kshatrapas, or Western Satraps, (35-405 AD) were Saka rulers of the western and central part of India. This coin was struck by Visvasena in 295 AD. The reverse shows a hill with three arches, with river below and sun and moon above. The surrounding legend in Brahmi script gives the ruler's name and title.

The Indian coast from this point south was the destination for much of the trade with Rome. It is significant that their silver coins, such as the one shown here. resemble the Roman denarius much more than they do the Persian silver coins. (See more Indian coins of this period.)

Visvasena silver drachm

Yaudheya republic

The Yaudheya republic had been a reasonably powerful state since the days of Alexander. (The frontier of their state was actually where Alexander turned back.) In the 3rd and 4th centuries they had a renaissance of sorts, but seem to have disappeared in the middle of the 4th century as the Guptas rose to power to their east.

Their coins feature their war god and patron deity Karttikeya holding spear, peacock to right, with his wife on the reverse. Their common bronze coinage suggests that they were one of more powerful of the many states in India in this period, but the relative lack of gold or silver coins indicates that they were nevertheless a level below the Kushans or Guptas on either side.

Bihar tetradrachm


Bihar is the region in north-east India in which the Gupta dynasty was just establishing itself. Like the Yaudheya coin to the left, this coin marks the end of the post-Kushan, pre-Gupta coinage from the region.

The first Gupta king, Sri-Gupta, came to power in 240; in 300 his son, Ghatotkacha, was king, but neither struck coins in their name. Ghatotkacha's son, Samudragupta, became the first great Gupta king and struck extensive coinage beginning in about 330 AD as the Gupta power increased rapidly.

The Gupta coinage was modelled on the Kushan coinage and marked the Guptas as the successors to the Kushans as the next great Indian power. Click here to see an example of early Gupta coinage. (picture from CNG)