Multilingual coin of the Yuan dynasty

Vladimir Belyaev
last edited 31-May-2003
      China, Yuan dynasty, period Zhi-yuan (1335-1340AD).
      Rare large 45 mm cash coin - #1778 from Ding Fubao or #904-1 from Hua Guangpu catalogs.
      Obverse legend zhi yuan tong bao (obverse image is not shown here).

      The reverse draw is shown on Pic.1 (Hua #904-1). Most popular current version is that the reverse legend repeats the legend of the obverse, but in 3 different languages. David Jen writes:

    "One source claims that the top character is in Mongol script, the bottom one Jurchen, the left one Tangut, and the right Uighur; another saying has it that both the top and bottom characters are in Mongol script, the left one Tangut, and the right one Chagatai. ... This kind of arrangement must hve been for the solidarity and good will between the various ethnic groups concerned, the backbone of such a vast empire, the largest land empire the world has ever seen."
      This is the reason why the coin have its own name - "4-lingual coin".
      Pic.2 shows the reverse of another type of this coin (thanks to Gilbert Tan for the image). Obverse have charm-like design with Dragon and Phoenix. The bottom reverse character is different from the character on Pic.1.

      When I first time tried to understand the above quote from Jen, I was surprised that bottom character by different sources was accounted as Mongol or Jurchen. Now after careful learning (with a help of different people) of the reverse legend I can state that this is indeed "5-lingual coin" - Chinese, Mongol, Uyghur, Sanskrit and one more (Tangut or Jurchen or Kidan).


      In the right part of the below table were placed so named 'Middle Chinese' phonetical transcriptions, which must be more closely to sounds of words in medieval China. We can see that the idea about the same obverse and reverse legends (not by words meaning but by sound) can really take place, but it needs more investigations.

      Current questions:

  1. Is it possible that Devanagari script characters Ghu and Gha in XIII-XIV Centuries were written in the same way as on the discussed coin?
  2. Is it possible that characters Gha or Ghu were used as phonetical replacement of the Yuan character?
  3. What is the script of the left character?
Char. Language/Script Transcription (sounds) Reading Comments
zhi yuan tong bao
Modern Chinese Middle Chinese
top Mongol
phagsba (square script)
Ja-I Ji

bottom Sanskrit
Devanagari script

Ghu (coin 1)
Gha (coin 2)
thanks to Ballabh Garg and Kalyana Krishnan yuan
right Uyghur
Arabic script

thanks to V.Nastich

left Tangut, Jurchen or small Kidan script ? ?