A large amount of Epigraphy and various types of coins are circulated in ancient Sri Lanka are scattered in various areas of the island. The backing extended by these documents and coins which give correct information on various historical events to build the history of Sri Lanka is really praiseworthy.
Legal possession of these documents and coins enriched with invaluable historical importance has been entrusted to the Epigraphy and Numismatics Division. To inculcate awareness among the public that a more rationalized history can be written embodying the events and activities that are hidden in these archives and coins and to preserve then for posterity is the role of the Epigraphy and Numismatics Division.
- Identification and registration of all archives and coins.
- Taking stumpage of archives
- Preserving and maintenance of field data and facsimiles collected.
- Reading of Archives
- Conducting research
- Preparation of basic work required to declare results of research
- Forwarding necessary recommendations and data to relevant sections for the protection of archives.
- Implementation of various projects by the Epigraphy and Numismatics Division.
- Project of indexing inscriptions of Sri Lanka at district level.
- Project of recording historical Epigraphy
- Project of indexing coins.
- Publication of inscriptions project.
- Inscriptions, translations and name boards preparation project
- Copying and Registration of Inscriptions Project.
|Telephone number||-||0112 - 2695609|
|Address||-||Epigraphy and Numismatics Division,
Sir Marcus Fernando Avenue,
Department of Archaeology,
Any writing or symbols written on any surface is known as epigraphy. Sri Lankans very often have used surfaces of stones for writing letters. Further, clay, paper, wood and metals such as gold, silver, copper etc. have also been used as media for writing. Periods of evolution of Sinhala letters;
- Early Brahmi
- Late Brahmi
- Transitinal Brahmi
- Medieval Sinhala
- Modern Sinhala
Letters written in languages such as Tamil, Chinese, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Pali have also been found. These letters reveal the strong foreign influence Sri Lanka had to undergo.
Expansion of Inscriptions
Evolution of Letters in Sri Lanka
Majority of epigraphics mention the donations made to Buddhist monasteries and the Sagha by ancient kings as well as common people. The epigraphy offer praiseworthy contribution in revealing the economic, political and social status of ancient Sri Lanka.
Dagabas, painting, statues, tanks, anicut etc. created by our forefathers reveal important milestones of our history to the rest of the world. During the process of constructing these colossal creations, they also manufactured small coins which illustrate the excellence of our heritage. Archaeological research have revealed the ancient coins hidden underneath the earth as results of activities of ancient humans, are so numerous as to prepare a directory of coins and these coins help immensely to interpret our history.
The oldest evidence regarding the basic transactions that occurred in our country comes from the Messolithic society.
Use of coins in Sri Lanka had taken place by the 3rd century B.C. Designations relating to manufacture of coins such as “Rupadaka” (Director of coins), “Rupavapara” (Officer approving coins) found in cave inscriptions bear testimony to the fact that the manufacture of coins took place according to an organized plan. The oldest record on circulation of coins in Sri Lanka comes from the cave inscriptions.
Sri Lanka’s involvement in local and foreign trade was a strong factor that contributed in circulation of coins in the country. Coins used in the past reveal a lot of information about the contemporary society. Several types of coins used in ancient Sri Lanka have now been identified and classified as local and foreign coins in chronological order.
With the production of metal, pieces of metal of varied shapes have been used as media of exchange. Subsequently coins of systematic shapes evolved.
- Punched coins
- Swastika coins
- Coins with the figure swastika
- The coin with tree and swastika
- The coin with lion and swastika
- Lion coins
- Bull coins
- Lakshmi coins
- Ran kahawanuwa and its parts
- Medeaval copper massa coin
- Sethu coins of Jaffna
- Massa coins
- Angutumassa / hook coin
Sri Lanka even in the distant past had been a trade centre to both Eastern and Western countries. Apart from trade activities, Sri Lanka was frequently subject to foreign influence due to diplomatic relations, tourism and imperialist invasions. This fact is further established by coins found in various parts of Sri Lanka.
- Chola-Pandya coins (Chola-Pallava)
Punched Kahapana can be identified as the oldest coin used in Sri Lanka. These coins were made of copper and silver. Originally iron splinters cut to the required size had been used. Later using circular, oval and rectangular moulds, coins of different shapes with identical weight had been made. Size of a coin was about 1-1.5 centimeters and the weight was 45 grains. There had been many designs on the obverse. These coins had been in use during the period, 3rd century B.C. to 1st century A.D.
Size of a coin is about 2-2.5 centimeters and the weight is 250 grains. Appearance of swastika design on the reverse is a special feature. These coins had been in use from the second century B.C. upto about the 4th century A.D.
This coin has a figure of a lion with man on the obverse and three or four dots on the reverse. It is guessed that the number of dots denoted the value of the coin. It is made of copper and the size is between 1 and 1.5 centimeters. It was in use during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.
The coin is made of copper.
Coins with the figure of Goddess Lakshmi and two elephants, known as Gaya Lakshmi coins, have been found in Sri Lanka. The coins had been in use from the 1 BC to 4 AD.
(Figure of Goddess Lakshmi)
(Symbol of swastika)
This coin, made of copper, has a symbol of bull on the obverse. Its size is between 1 and 1.5 centimeters. It had been in use during the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.
This coin was either made of gold or gold painted and it had several sub divisions known as kahavanuwa, ada kahavanuwa, deaka and aka.
|Obverse||-||Figure of Kuvera, God of Wealth.|
|Reverse||-||Figure of Sankha and Padmanidhi and severa. Nagari letters.|
|Perimeter||-||Between 1 and 1.5 centimeters|
Coins used from the beginning of Polonnaruwa period up to the Dambadeniya period are known as medieval (Dambadeniya) coins. When the Raja Rata Kingdom was in the hands of Cholas in the 11th century A.D, Chola rulers imitating the “Rankahavanuwa" gold coin, used during the Anuradhapura period, manufactured coins made of copper. These coins were of rough finish. Names of the rulers who issued the coins are mentioned on the coins.
A type of coins used during the Kandy an Kingdom (1454-1506)
|Obverse||-||There are two vertical lines and a horizontal line crossing them.|
|Reverse||-||There are curved lines and several naughts.|
These coins had been used during the Kotte period.
|Obverse||-||A figure in seated posture with a lion’s figure in front of it.|
|Reverse||-||A figure in seated posture with “Sri Parakramabahu" written in Nagari letters.|
This coin had been in use during Kotte and Kandy periods. It is made of silver in a curved shape. (in the type of a hook)
The coins are made of gold and copper. Used during 4th and 5th centuries A.D.
|Obverse||-||Roman emperor’s figure.|
|Reverse||-||Emperor’s figure with a spear in hand.|
The coin is made of copper and Silver. (0985 - 1012 A.D.)
|Obverse||-||A figure in seated posture.|
|Reverse||-||A figure in seated posture with the name "Sri Raja Raja” written on its left side in Ardha Nagari letters.|
This coin is made of gold and had been in use during the period of 12th to 14th centuries A.D. Coins of various types have been found.
|Obverse||-||A star in the empty space.|
|Reverse||-||A large number of small noughts are found.|
This coin made of copper had been found in three main types. It had been in use during the years 1505-1658 A.D.
|Obverse||-||Portuguese state symbol.|
A picture of “gini messa” used specially in Colombo administrative area.
These coins used during the years 1640-1796 A.D. have been made of metal mixed with copper. Four kinds of coins have been identified.
|Obverse||-||Combined letters appear with the English letter G above them and the figure 2 below them.|
|Reverse||-||The year has been mentioned. The sinhala letter “ඉ” is there to denote the value of the coin.|
This has been made of metals such as copper and silver. About four types of coins had been used during the years 1796-1801 A.D.
|Obverse||-||The words “Ceylon Government” with the figure 48 in the middle.|
|Reverse||-||A figure of an elephant with the year mentioned below it.|
These coins are made of copper and copper alloys and coins of different sizes have been made in different periods mentioning the emperor’s name in them.
|Obverse||-||In the middle of the circular coin there is a square. Name of the Chinese Emperor has been mould on four sides of the square in Chinese picture letters.|
|Reverse||-||No figure or letter.|
These coins have been made of metals such as copper and silver.
|Obverse||-||Some titles written in Arabic.|
|Reverse||-||Year of manufacture has been given in Arabic figures.|