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Coin featuring image of Zeus
Minted in Saka northeast provinces, Bannu mint
Circa 58 - 35 BCE (reign of Azes I)
Diameter: 1.8 cm
Weight: 2.22 grams

Copyright © T. K. Mallon-McCorgray, 1996

The image on this coin is usually interpreted as a portrait of Zeus wielding a long staff in one hand, and a U-shaped object (a thunderbolt?) in the other. On the reverse side is the winged goddess of victory, Nike, who stands with her right arm extended, holding a wreath and a bundle of palm fronds. The coin dates to the reign of Azes I, the most powerful of the Saka rulers during the mid to late first century BCE.

The presence of Greek deities on Saka coins is probably best interpreted as evidence of Saka interest in retaining the Greek system of coinage and its symbols of power, rather than evidence of an adoption of Greek religious traditions. Similar patterns are seen in the adoption of other Greek administrative and political institutions by Saka kings, particularly the rulers of the Gandhara and Sakastan kingdoms.

Yet this reliance on Greek models of statecraft should not be interpreted as evidence that the Saka culture as a whole modeled itself entirely on the Greek model, as did the Seleucids. Sakas adopted cultural, social and religious patterns and systems from numerous sources, though we cannot be sure they assigned the same meanings to the forms they chose to follow. As B. N. Puri has noted, though images of the divinities found on Saka coinage are Greek in form and iconography, these gods and goddesses may have been identified by Saka rulers and their subjects as deities from any of the other religious traditions tolerated by the Sakas, including Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Brahmanism.1

(1) B.N. Puri, "The Sakas and Indo-Parthians," History of Civilizations of Central Asia, volume II (Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1996), p. 207.