Historical studies compile limitless amounts of written data from various sources to create snapshots of bygone civilizations. Over time, artifacts are destroyed, cities are lost, and whole cultures change. This is also the case for the empire of one of the largest figures in history, Alexander the Great.
Stretching from Greece to Egypt, India to modern Turkmenistan, the pre-Islamic empire quickly collapsed into an innumerable amount of states. Thousands of years after the Roman empire, Islamic invasions, and Mongolian hordes, what little remained of many of these kingdoms, namely those in the far East of Alexander’s empire in modern India and Afghanistan, came from Ancient sources musing about how Alexander had gone to the edge of the world, while few primary sources existed from the empires at all. From here, at least one group emerged after Alexander’s death, an empire known as the Bactrians. Without the ruins of cities or passed-down history, researchers began to rely on what’s known as numismatics to learn more about the lost empire.
Numismatics is the analysis of coins and currency, which were found in huge treasure caches buried around Alexander’s empire for reasons unknown. The inherent issue with numismatics is that the currency must be hidden, as the material value of whatever was used would have been reminted if it was still actively traded. Even today, what’s known about the Bactrians is less than other ancient empires. The ancient cities of Greek Bactria were only excavated within the 20th century, and what was excavated was destroyed in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, or the subsequent instability that continues even today.
With numismatics, archaeologists are able to piece together lengthy histories from simple coins. In the same way that US currency prints the heads of state on its money, ancient peoples would normally print either kingly seals or even portraits on currency as a statement of quality assurance, as well as a way of power projection. From here, the hope is that archaeologists are able to get a distinct list of rulers, or even dates of rule.
So next time you find some spare change in your couch, instead think about saving thousands of pieces of spare change and burying it in your back yard in a massive treasure horde, if only to help the numismatists of the future.