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Auction 92  26 Apr 2018
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Lot 12

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Estimate: 140 000 GBP
Price realized: 132 000 GBP

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ARAB-BYZANTINE, TEMP. 'ABD AL-MALIK B. MARWAN (65-86h). Solidus, without mint or date (struck circa 72-74h). OBVERSE: No legend. Three standing figures, that in the centre taller than those on either side, as on Byzantine solidi showing Heraclius and his two sons; each crowned and holding in his right hand an orb surmounted by a globe finial (in place of the cross on the Byzantine prototype). REVERSE: In margin: bismillah la ilaha illa Allah wahdahu Muhammad rasul Allah, staff, surmounted by globe finial, fixed vertically on four steps; in field to left and right: B – I. WEIGHT: 4.40g. REFERENCES: Qatar 198, same dies; Barber Institute of Fine Arts, coin AB30, same reverse die; Artuk 5; Lavoix 26; SICA 1, 607; Walker p.18, B.2; Miles, Earliest Arab Gold Coinage type B; Bernardi 5. CONDITION: Scratches both sides (especially on the reverse), otherwise very fine to good very fine, extremely rare and historically important. Ex Baldwin's Islamic Coin Auction 19, 25 April 2012, lot 7. THE FIRST ISLAMIC GOLD COIN TO BEAR RELIGIOUS LEGENDS WRITTEN IN ARABIC . The Arab conquests in the first decades of Islam are astonishing for their speed and their scale, and their impact changed the Middle East forever. By 31h/AD 651, campaigns in the East had brought about the conquest of Iran and Iraq as the Sasanian empire collapsed, while Syria, Jordan and Egypt had been seized from the Byzantines in the West. Vast areas which had been culturally, politically and religiously different for centuries were now suddenly brought together under the banner of Islam. Coinage, part of daily life as well as vital for paying troops and collecting tax revenues, was a crucial element of this process. In the former Sasanian lands, the Muslims seem at first to have allowed the mint-towns they conquered to continue striking Sasanian drachms without changing the legends or design. From the 30s/650s onwards, the coins were subtly modified to include a brief Arabic legend marking them as an Islamic issue, and during the 40s/660s we find the name of an Arab governor or caliph replacing that of the long-dead Sasanian monarch. But in other respects the design changed little for some fifty years until the great reforms of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan in the late 70s. In the West, however, the situation was rather different. Syria, Jordan and Egypt had been part of the Byzantine currency system, based on gold dinars and copper folles. Unlike the Arab-Sasanian drachms, which all bear the date and mint of issue (a feature also adopted for the post-Reform Islamic silver coinage), Byzantine gold and copper is seldom dated in this way. This means that the chronology of the Arab-Byzantine coinage is less well understood, and scholars continue to disagree over some points, but there are good reasons to accept the broad scheme outlined by Tony Goodwin (Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean, Volume 1, p.106). On this analysis, until the late 30s/650s it appears that the local demand for coinage was met by importing Byzantine copper coins – and that this import was officially sanctioned by the Arabs. In or about 40h, it seems that these imports almost completely stopped, and local cities in Syria, Jordan and Palestine began to issue their own copies of Byzantine folles to fill this gap. From 55h or so, the first copper fulus with Arabic legends start to appear and this represents the inception of what may be termed the Arab-Byzantine coinage. Over the next fifteen or twenty years we find more and more mints beginning to produce these coins, duringwhich period we can also see a move away from local types being issued on local initiative towards ever greater standardization and central control. In or about 70h this culminates in the introduction of a new, uniform type at virtually all mints, with the Standing Caliph image on the obverse and the modified cross-on-steps on the reverse; this was to endure for another decade until it was in turn replaced by post-Reform fulus. By contrast with Arab-Byzantine copper coins, which were clearly produced in very large quantities, it seems that gold coins were never issued in significant numbers. Why was this so? One answer is that the Arab-Byzantine copper fulus were essentially a local coinage, produced on local initiative. This attitude survived the coinage reforms of 'Abd al-Malik, and so post-Reform fulus may carry any or all of a mint-name, a date, and the name of a local governor or official – although many in fact have none of these and bear purely religious legends. This kind of variety is not found in the silver and gold coinage, which was far more tightly controlled, and indeed the degree of uniformity between coins struck thousands of miles apart is remarkable. So while the caliph was apparently content for governors to strike Arab-Byzantine copper coins to meet local demand, issuing a gold coinage would have been another matter entirely and one which would have required official approval. There are nevertheless indications that the need to replenish the supply of gold coins available within the former Byzantine provinces was being felt during these early decades. A small number of 'de-Christianized' Byzantine solidi have survived, all very close copies of seventh century Byzantine prototypes with the bare minimum of modification to remove overtly Christian symbols. Thus the crosses on the emperors' crowns have been removed, and the cross-on-steps is transformed into a T-shape with the top arm removed, but in other respects the designs and legends are unaltered. There are good reasons to regard these as local issues: Bernardi lists only some fifteen specimens extant (which is less than half the number of 'year 77' dinars known today) but these nevertheless copy four different prototypes. This lack of standardization seems to fit better with the idea of a local governor recognizing the shortage of gold coins and so striking solidi which were sufficiently Islamic to be acceptable to the caliph while otherwise attracting as little attention as possible. The coin offered here is a very different proposition from these earlier copies, and is surely to be regarded as part of the first stage of 'Abd al-Malik's series of reforms which ultimately led to the adoption of a uniform silver and gold coinage throughout the Islamic world. The obverse is still a close copy of a Byzantine solidus, but it is noteworthy that a type without legend should have been chosen meaning that there is no Latin to be seen. The choice of three standing figures also forms a clear visual contrast with the single figure of the Standing Caliph which featured on virtually all fulus then being struck. The reverse, however, with its Islamic marginal legend written in Arabic around a modified cross-on-steps, is a much bolder statement, unequivocally announcing that the coin has been struck to circulate in a province which is part of an Islamic empire. The coin is still recognisable as the successor to the old Byzantine solidi, but the legends are no longer intended to be familiar to Greek or Latin speakers. Anyone who wished to read the coin had to learn Arabic – which 'Abd al-Malik had adopted as the official language of the new empire. The coin is undated – the 'B –I' on the reverse is a Byzantine indictional year copied from the prototype along with the rest of the reverse design, and no longer represents a meaningful date. But it is generally thought that these first attempts at a gold coinage with Arabic legends were issued between 72-74h, after which dated Standing Caliph gold dinars are known for the years 74-77h, followed in turn by post-Reform dinars issued from 77h onwards. They are best understood as the gold counterpart to an experimental series of Arab-Sasanian type silver drachms which do bear both mints and dates; these are unambiguous in stating that they were issued at Damascus from 72-74h, and it seems difficult to imagine that these gold coins could have been produced elsewhere. Like these silver drachms, it seems that they were never produced in large quantities, and their great rarity today may be explained by the actions of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan after the introduction of his new, purely epigraphic dinars in 77h: 'The Caliph issued a command that...all of the formerly-used Byzantine and Arab-Byzantine pieces were to be recalled to the mint for restriking. All those who ignored this order were to be punished by death.' (from The Coinage of Islam: Collection of William Kazan, Beirut, 1983, p.22).
(150000-180000 GBP)
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