Wēś in Early Kushan Coinage

Taasob, Razieh. 2020. Representation of Wēś in early Kushan coinage: Royal or local cult? Afghanistan 3(1). 83–106.

Wēś on a coin of Huvishka (© American Numismatic Society, 1944.100.63654)

The religious significance of Wēś is a widely debated topic in the historical and numismatic study of Central Asia, including contributions from several scholars who claimed that the representation of Wēś in early Kushan coinage, particularly in the coins of Vima Kadphises (ca. ce 113–127), was an allusion to the conversion of the king to Shivaism. This paper contests the claim that the certain attributes depicted with Wēś should not be construed as belonging to the Indian god Śiva or the Greek god Heracles. The royal portrait on the obverse of the coinage of Vima Kadphises shows the king taking part in the Iranian practice of sacrificing at a fire altar, which further supports the claim that the depiction on the reverse is of the Iranian god Wēś. This paper also challenges recent studies, which suggest that the representation of Wēś may have served only as a royal cult or merely to announce the personal faith of the king. Therefore, this account seeks to remedy this misconception by pointing to the absence of other types of coins used for normal transactions by ordinary people which could have likewise represented their religious cults. Consequently, this article shows that Wēś was a religiously syncretic phenomenon that displays the religious practice of all levels of Kushan society including both the king and the locals who were mostly Bactrian-Iranian during the early Kushan period rather than Indian.