Five Coins with Signs of the Zodiac (99.35.7402, .7403, .6552, .7401, .2391)
These gold coins were minted in India during the reign of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (r. 1605–27). On the reverse of each there is an image of the constellation corresponding to the month of issue, and on the obverse a poetic inscription, a number for the year of Jahangir’s reign, and the corresponding year in the hijra calendar. The Metropolitan Museum owns ten of these rare coins, five gold and five silver; shown here are the gold mohurs corresponding to the months Urdibihisht (Taurus), Murdad (Leo), Mihr (Libra), Day (Capricorn), and Isfand ( Pisces).
Jahangir took a strong interest in the coins to be minted during his reign, specifying their names, denominations, weights, and inscriptions.In his memoirs, one can find mention of several decrees he issued regarding the designs of new coins, including the following, which relates to his decision in April 1618 to create this unique issue:
Prior to this, it has been the rule that on one side of gold coins my name has been engraved, and on the other side the name of the minting place, the month, and the regnal year. Around this time it occurred to me that instead of the month a figure of the constellation representing the month should be depicted. For example, for the month of Farvardin a figure of Aries could be made, and for the month of Urdibihisht the figure of Taurus, and so on for every month in which a coin was minted, one side would bear a picture of the constellation in which the sun rose. This method is peculiarly my own and has never been used before.
There are slight variations in the zodiac coins issued between 1618 and 1625 (when production stopped), which indicates that different dies were used to strike them.
These coins are quite unusual in the context of both Indian and Islamic numismatics because those issued by Muslim rulers tend to have no figural decoration, and no other Indian coins have astrological imagery. Together with the portrait and figural coins issued during Jahangir’s reign, these specimens provide a fascinating complement to the other works of art related to this emperor’s exacting patronage.
Marika Sardar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. The dates provided here differ slightly from those given in earlier publications because determining exact Gregorian equivalents for the dates that appear on Jahangir’s zodiac coins is complicated by several factors. The dies used to create them were reused over several years, and the regnal and hijra years were not always accurately or identically updated. In addition, the coins appear to have been minted in each city only when Jahangir was present; therefore the obverse and reverse dies were sometime incorrectly matched to keep up with his itinerant schedule. See Kulkarni, Prashant P. “Die Linkage of the Zodiacal Mohurs of Jahangir.” The Journal of the Numismatic Society of India 66 (2004), pp. 68–84.
3. Other examples are held by the British Museum, London; the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen; the National Museum, New Delhi; the Indian Museum, Kolkata; and the State Museum, Lucknow.
4. See, for instance, Jahangir. The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India. Translated, edited, and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Washington, D.C., New York, and Oxford, 1999, pp. 27, 123–24, 241.
5. Ibid., p. 260.