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Auction 92  26 Apr 2018
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Lot 65

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Estimate: 35 000 GBP
Price realized: 35 000 GBP

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ABBASID, AL-MUSTA'SIM (640-656h). Dinar, Madinat al-Salam 656h. WEIGHT: 8.37g. REFERENCES: Treasures of Islam 437; Miles, RIC 219. CONDITION: On a slightly ragged flan, some weak striking but almost extremely fine for issue with unit and decade of date extremely clear, excessively rare. THE LAST ABBASID DINAR STRUCK IN BAGHDAD. Al-Musta'sim became caliph in 640h and proved to be an ineffectual and weak ruler, surrounded by advisers who also disagreed among themselves. Unfortunately for the Islamic world, he was particularly ill-qualified to deal with perhaps the greatest threat the Abbasid caliphate had ever faced: the arrival of the Mongols under Hulagu. Mongol raiding parties had reached parts of Iraq during the early decades of the 7/13th century, on occasion possibly penetrating as far as Baghdad itself. It seems that the caliphs had begun sending annual tribute to the Mongol Great Khan under al-Mustansir (623-640h), but there were still at least occasional Abbasid victories over Mongol raids and early in his reign al-Musta'sim had felt able to refuse an order from the short-lived Mongol ruler Güyük Khan to leave Baghdad and submit to him personally in Karakorum. But in 655h Möngke, the Great Khan, resolved to establish firm control over several Islamic states, including the Caliphate, and dispatched his brother Hulagu at the head of a huge army to carry out this plan. Although Möngke had no specific plans to overthrow the caliph, he ordered Hulagu to destroy Baghdad and kill al-Musta'sim if the latter failed to meet his demands: these being personal submission to Hulagu, and agreeing to supply a detachment of troops to fight in the Mongol army. Hulagu left Hamadhan for Baghdad on 10 Ramadan 655h. The city was particularly ill-prepared to resist him, having suffered a major flood during the previous year causing unrest which had proved beyond beyond the caliph's authority to quell. Nevertheless, on receiving Möngke's message demanding his surrender, al-Musta'sim not only refused but did so in a manner which so infuriated Hulagu that he broke off any further negotiations. Even worse, al-Musta'sim seems to have made little effort to strengthen the city's defences, nor did he seek aid from the other major Muslim states. He may have believed that they would rush to defend the home of the caliphate without being asked, but it is also possible that his authority was now so weak that they would not have obeyed him in any event. To complicate matters further the caliph's wazir, Ibn Alqami, certainly downplayed the Mongol threat when advising his master. Whether this was through incompetence, treachery, or both is difficult to say, although Ibn Alqami managed to become governor of Baghdad after al-Musta'sim's death. A Shi'ite, he was rumoured to have colluded with the famous scientist and philosopher al-Tusi, also a Shi'ite, whom Hulagu had taken prisoner the previous year when he subdued the Isma'ili fortress of Alamut. Al-Tusi was entrusted with conducting some of the negotiations between Hulagu and al-Musta'sim, and when these failed gave his Mongol master advice on the most astrologically propitious timing of the final assault. By the last days of 655h Hulagu's vast army was beginning to encircle Baghdad. Finally showing a degree of initiative, al-Musta'sim sent out a force of 20,000 cavalry but was comprehensively defeated, with Mongol engineers cutting off their escape by flooding the countryside behind them. A little over two weeks later the siege of Baghdad began on 14 Muharram 656h, with the Mongols using a variety of siege-engines against the city walls. A week later they had already made significant inroads against the city's defences. Far too late, al-Musta'sim tried to negotiate. Hulagu refused, and five days later the city surrendered. A week of looting and destruction, described in lurid detail by our historical sources, began on the final day of Muharram. Conservative modern estimates suggest that 100,000 people may have died in the destruction; others place the figure much higher. It was said at the time that the Tigris ran black with the ink from the books thrown into the river, and red from the blood of the slain. Al-Musta'sim himself was captured alive, and forced to watch the destruction of his city before finally being executed on 14 Safar of that year. One well-known version relates that the caliph was killed rolled in a carpet and trampled to death by horsemen, allegedly because the Mongols considered it a mark of respect to kill a captive without spilling their blood. Another, reported by Marco Polo, claims that the Mongols locked the caliph in a room with the gold he might have used to buy his city's safety, and left him to die of hunger and thirst. More intriguing, and less well known, is a version which once again features the philosopher al-Tusi. Hulagu, it is said, was excessively superstitious, and had heard from another astrologer that great disasters would come to pass if the Abbasid caliph was killed. Al-Tusi dismissed this as nonsense, and suggested that the caliph be wrapped in a carpet and rolled around the floor until he eventually died. This, he explained, would allow Hulagu to call off the execution if any dread portents should appear. Apparently satisfied by this unconventional piece of experimental philosophy, Hulagu agreed – and the unfortunate al-Musta'sim duly met his end in this way. Discussing this extremely rare issue in RIC, Miles wrote: 'I am aware of only one other specimen of this last of 'Abbasid coins. It must have been struck in the first six weeks of the year, for al-Musta'sim was put to death and the 'Abbasid empire brought to an end by the Mongol Hulagu on the 14thof Safar, 656.' Given the circumstances in Baghdad at the time, however, it seems most unlikely that the mint could have been active during the first two weeks of Safar, and these extremely rare dinars were probably struck during the four weeks of Muharram while the Mongols were camped around the city walls. The present coin is thus an extremely rare survivor of these events, escaping the destruction which befell so much else in the ruin of Baghdad.
(35000-40000 GBP)
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