Originating in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the "horse coin"
was not actual currency. Although
Chinese literary figures have made mention of horse coins throughout
the centuries, few have made it clear exactly how the
coins were used. Collectors today believe horse coins were either
pieces used on game boards or counters for gambling.
Images of horses also appear on old Chinese chess pieces and examples
can be seen at Ancient Chinese
coins are usually made of bronze or copper although, in
some rare cases, ivory and horn were used. Most common horse
measure around 3 centimeters in diameter with a square or circular
horses depicted on the coins vary in position. Some are lying on
the ground sleeping. Others are turning their head and
Or, as in the example shown here, the horse is shown galloping forward
with its tail raised high. Unfortunately, the horse's saddle
always seems to be at the central hole of the
coin which prevents us from learning more about this aspect of ancient
Among all the horse coins, those made in the Song
Dynasty (960-1279 AD) are considered to be the finest. They were made
metal and with fine detail. The coin shown at left is
representative of the Song horse coins although it would be
difficult to confirm that this particular piece dates from that period.
Horse coins display many of the most famous horses in
history. For instance, in the early Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th
century-771 BC), King Mu (穆王) once rode on a chariot with eight
names of the eight horses can be found on horse coins although there is
some disagreement as to which set of eight names passed down through
history is correct. The names of King Mu's horses described their
outstanding characteristics and included "Beyond Earth", "Rush by
Night", "Windswept Plumes", "Finer than Flashing Light", "Faster
than Shadow", "Wing Bearer", "Faster than Light" and "Rising
Mist". Other historical texts list King Mu's horses as "Bay
Steed", "Smoked Ebony", "Skewbald Chestnut", "Great Yellow" and "Green
There are also horse coins depicting the victorious, yet
ruthless, General Bai Qi of the ancient Kingdom of Qin during the
Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
When Qin Shi Huang put an end to the Warring States Period
and united China into the first empire (221-207
BC), he chose the seven best horses from the thousands of military
had fought in the battles.
In order to improve the quality of his stable, Emperor
Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD) searched for the best
stallions outside his empire. To get the mysterious hanxue (sweating
blood) horse which he believed were the divine "Horses of Heaven" that
could be ridden to immortality, he fought a three-year war beginning in
101 BCE against a small kingdom
(Ferghana) located in today's Uzbekistan. While
the emperor's army captured some 3,000 hanxue horses, only about 1,000
survived the long trip home. Many legends and historical records state
that when such horses
galloped, their sweat was the color of blood. Some
modern scientists now attribute the "blood" sweat to the parasites
infested the tissues beneath the skin of the horses. After
strenuous movement, the blood would flow out with the sweat.
set of famous horses depicted on horse coins is associated with
Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin)
of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). These horses are also
celebrated in a famous relief sculpture outside his tomb and are known
as the "Six Chargers of Emperor Taizong".
Finally, a very few horse coins will display a rider on the
horse in order to commemorate famous battles
from ancient Chinese history.
Please see the "Battle
Horse Coin as an example.
obverse side of this old horse coin read da song jin qian (大宋金钱) which
means "Great Song (dynasty) metal money".
The reverse side shows a galloping horse with the inscription song qi (宋骑) which means "a rider
of the Song
The coin is
37.7mm in diameter and weighs 18.1 grams.
The inscription on this horse
coin is qin jiang san qi
Qin jiang (秦将) refers
Qin during the Warring States
period (475-221 BC).
The general referred to is General Bai Qi (白起), a ruthless military
leader, who won more than 70 battles. Following each victory, he
would order his men to slaughter the defeated soldiers.
Historical records credit him with the slaughter of hundreds of
thousands of enemy soldiers.
General Bai Qi was forced to commit suicide by the King of Qin in the
year 257 BC.
San qi (散骑) in
ancient Chinese has the meaning of shi
cong (侍从) which means "followers".
The inscription therefore refers to the attendants or followers of
General Bai Qi who would advise or counsel him.
The reverse side of the coin depicts a galloping horse.
The coin has a diameter of 27.5 mm and a weight of 9 grams.
horse coin depicts Qu Huang
(渠黄), meaning "Great Yellow", which was one of the eight great horses
mentioned above of King Mu of the Western Zhou Dynasty.
particular specimen is 35 mm in diameter and weighs 11.9 grams.
This is another horse coin honoring one of King Mu's
The obverse side of the coin, at the far left, displays a galloping
The two character inscription, with one Chinese character above and one
character below the square hole, reads lu er (绿耳).
The heavy green patina on the coin is appropriate because lu er translates as "Green Ear".
The reverse side of the coin is blank.
The coin has a diameter of 28 mm and weighs 7.4 grams.
The inscription on the obverse side of this horse coin reads piao niao (骠袅) which translates as
"fast and slender".
The reverse side is blank.
The coin is 27 mm in diameter and weighs 6
"double obverse" horse coin has the inscription wu zhui (乌骓) which means a "black
The diameter of the coin is 30mm and the
weight is 9 grams.
obverse of this coin
reads tang jiang qian li
(唐将千里) which literally means "Tang General 1,000 li ".
The coin is 27mm in
diameter and weighs 5.5 grams.
The inscription on the obverse side of this horse coin is read top to
bottom and right to left as zhen
guan shi ji (贞观十骥)
which means "ten thoroughbreds of Zhen
Guan". Zhen Guan
refers to the era during which Emperor Taizong (Li Shimin)
of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) ruled.
The Chinese characters on the reverse side are jue bo (诀波) which was the name of
one of these horses. Jue Bo
would roughly translate as "bursting as a wave".
The coin is 30mm in diameter and weighs 9.7 grams.
research is required to identify this horse coin.
The coin is 31mm in diameter and weighs 9.5
characters qian li
on this horse coin mean "1,000 li
". The li (里)
was a measure of distance in ancient China which varied over
history. One li was
equal to roughly 300 - 400 meters.
The term qian li or "1,000 li" refers to the ancient
accomplishment of Zhaofu who was the carriage driver of King Mu of the
Western Zhou Dynasty. Zhaofu was able to cover a distance of 1,000 li in a single day in order to
return King Mu from a hunting trip in time to put down a rebellion in
coin is 28mm in diameter and weighs 6.4 grams.
This old horse coin shows considerable wear.
The inscription is similar to the above coin and reads qian li zhi ma (千里之马) which
translates as "1,000 li
The coin has a diameter of 27mm and a weight of 5.2 grams.
The inscription on the obverse side
of this old Chinese horse coin is long
ju (龙驹) which translates as "Dragon's Colt".
The reverse side depicts a "dragon colt" horse.
Dragon colt usually refers to a horse that is white and tall.
The term long ju
(龙驹) can be traced back to the ancient Chinese text the "Rites of Zhou"
(zhou li 周礼) which dates to
the second century BC and is considered one of the classics of Confucianism. This ancient ritual text
describes a "dragon colt" as a horse which is "more than eight chi (尺) tall" measured from the
front hoof to the shoulder. One chi,
The coin has a diameter of 23 mm and a weight of 3.4 grams.
Horse coins typically honor only
famous horses but a few of these coins display a rider on the horse in
order to commemorate famous battles from ancient Chinese history.
The horse coin at the left has the inscription yan jiang yue yi (燕將樂毅) which
translates as General Yue Yi of the State of Yan. (Sometimes
is translated as General Le Yi.)
The reverse side of the coin shows General Yue Yi carrying a weapon
while on horseback.
General Yue Yi played a major role in one of the most famous battles of
This coin and the "Battle of Jimo" which it commemorates is discussed
in detail at "Battle
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