Tamil Nadu

Rediscovering Roman connection through antique coins

History can be charming. Fashionable ladies of Roman aristocracy imported peacocks from South India and Sangam poetry reveals the lovely ships of Yavanas (Romans) brought sweet-scented teral (wine).

And Pliny's Natural History, one of the principal Graeco-Roman works dealing with trade, notes: “India, China and the Arabian peninsula take one hundred million sesterces (an ancient Roman coin) from our empire per annum at a conservative estimate: that is what our luxuries and women cost us.”

These Roman coins scattered across South India, have gradually found their home in Government Museum, Chennai, where a special exhibition of Roman coins and other antiquities found in South India is on.

The Romans came to India in search of gemstones, silk, cotton, ivory, peacocks and spices, especially pepper and cardamom. In return, India obtained coral, wine, olive oil and metals such as gold, silver and copper from Rome, mostly in the form of coins and medals, says S. Suresh, State Convenor, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

The government museum has the largest and richest Roman collection outside Europe, says T.S. Sridhar, Commissioner of Museums. The most unusual feature of Roman coins found in India is the slash marks, generally 1 to 2 mm long effected by a knife or a chisel or a file, as found in Pudukottai and Soriyapattu in the State. Yet another characteristic is the countermarks on some of the coins of which over a 1000 coins have been found at Budhinathan near Udumalpet.

“The commercial, cultural and romantic links lasted for several centuries without any break,” said Angela Trezza, director, Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, inaugurating the exhibition. The Italian Embassy was consistently trying to promote awareness of the ancient trade ties between Rome and South India, she added.

“The cultural cross-fertilisation in antiquity has not percolated into school text books,” says Suresh.

Sangam poetry has quite a few references. Purananuru details the Malabar port of Muziri where Yavanas paid in gold for pepper; Manimekalai reveals that the Yavanas helped to build the splendid city of Kaveripattinam and there is a mention of a Yavana settlement in Silapadhikaram.

In the verses of Perumpanatrupadai and Nedunalvadai, there are observations about Yavana lamp with a steady flame without a flicker, something similar to paavai vilakku found in many houses till this day. Ancient Roman coins were used as jewellery as discovered in Soriyapattu hoard, resembling the presentday ‘kaasu maalai'.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 5:04:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Rediscovering-Roman-connection-through-antique-coins/article15523542.ece

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