Morton & Eden Ltd
Auction 99  2 May 2019
View prices realized

Lot 25

Estimate: 200 000 GBP
Price realized: 180 000 GBP
Find similar lots
Share this lot: Share by Email
ABBASID, AL-MU'TAZZ (251-255h) Donative double-dinar, without mint-name, 255h Obverse: al-Mu'tazz billah – amir al-mu'minin – al-'izzat Allah (sic). Stylized bird, possibly a quail, walking left. Reverse: sanat khams – wa khamsin – wa miatayn. Rabbit or hare crouching to left with flower in its mouth. Weight: 9.15g (including loop-mount) Reference: cf David Museum, Copenhagen, C516 [a similar silver dirham dated 254h] = Morton and Eden auction 27, 14 June 2007, lot 210. Gold mount affixed at 2 o'clock on obverse and faint traces of previous mounting on rim at 12 o'clock, has been harshly cleaned in the past with numerous hairlines and scratches in fields, otherwise very fine to good very fine and of the highest rarity. Unique, and important both numismatically and historically, this is the earliest surviving Islamic gold coin struck as a multiple denomination; all earlier donative issues known today being struck at the same weight as regular currency dinars. It is also the earliest known Islamic gold donative which bears images of living things, and indeed one of only a tiny number of extant Abbasid presentation coins of any kind which include animals in their design. ABU 'ABDALLAH MUHAMMAD B. JA'FAR was born in 232h, a younger son of the caliph al-Mutawakkil and his favourite slave concubine, Qabiha. Along with two of his brothers, al-Muntasir and al-Mu'ayyad, he was named as an heir to the caliphate early in al-Mutawakkil's reign. At first al-Muntasir, the eldest son, was designated heir apparent, but al-Mutawkkil's favour soon shifted towards al-Mu'tazz, who is named on the coinage by his personal name Abu 'Abdallah from 235-240h and with the title al-Mu'tazz from 240-247h. During the latter years of al-Mutawakkil's reign the rivalry between al-Muntasir and al-Mu'tazz became a proxy for the struggle between two competing court factions. Al-Mu'tazz was supported by the traditional Abbasid aristocracy including the Tahirids, while al-Muntasir was backed by the Turkish troops and commanders of the Palace guard. Matters came to a head in 247h when al-Mutawakkil struck two decisive blows against al-Muntasir and the Turkish guard. Firstly, he drew up orders that the personal estates of one of the Turkish commanders, Wasif al-Turki, were to be confiscated and bestowed on al-Mutawakkil's favourite adviser, al-Fath b. Khaqan. Shortly afterwards, when al-Mutawakkil was too unwell to lead the Friday prayers at the end of Ramadan, he initially designated al-Muntasir to officiate in his place, but was soon persuaded to appoint al-Mu'tazz instead. Al-Mutawakkil continued to humiliate al-Mustansir ever more publicly, to the extent that he even threatened to kill him. Finally, a band of Turkish guards murdered al-Mutawakkil in the audience hall of the palace. Al-Fath b. Khaqan attempted to shield the caliph with his own body, but they were both cut down together. Al-Muntasir was named caliph, backed by Turkish swords, and so began the nine-year period known as the 'Anarchy at Samarra,' which nearly brought about the collapse of the Abbasid caliphate. Al-Muntasir's reign was short-lived. Al-Mu'tazz and al-Mu'ayyad both swore oaths of loyalty to him on his accession in 247h. The Turkish commanders repeatedly urged al-Muntasir to compel both to write formal letters of abdication, fearing for their own position should al-Mu'tazz become caliph in future. Al-Muntasir eventually acquiesced, and both al-Mu'tazz and al-Mu'ayyad publicly renounced their claims to the caliphate in 248h, although al-Tabari reports that al-Muntasir only ordered this because he feared that his brothers might be killed by the Turks if he refused. In the event, however, al-Muntasir himself died later that year - probably from natural causes - without leaving a designated heir. His successor, chosen by the Turks, was a twenty-eight year old grandson of al-Mu'tasim, who became the new caliph al-Musta'in. Al-Musta'in's caliphate began unpromisingly. On the very day that he received the oath of allegiance as caliph he had to contend with a serious riot in Samarra, during which his Turkish guards eventually subdued a mob shouting 'Victory to Mu'tazz!' There were serious losses on both sides, and al-Mu'tazz was kept under house arrest thereafter. These did not prevent further riots in Baghdad in 249h, because as al-Tabari explains: 'The people of Baghdad...had already been appalled by al-Mutawakkil's death at the hands of the Turks, and by how the Turks assumed control over the affairs of the Muslims. The Turks killed any caliph they wished to kill, and appointed instead whomever they wished. The people of Baghdad gathered together, shouted out in protest, and demanded action.' Meanwhile, rivalries between individual Turkish commanders now surfaced. Wasif al-Turki, al-Musta'in and a number of other Turkish leaders left Samarra for Baghdad, where they joined forces with the city's Tahirid governor. Their position threatened by this coalition, the remaining Turks in Samarra decided to release al-Mu'tazz and appointed him as their own caliph. Al-Mu'tazz quickly dispatched his brother to lay siege to Baghdad, which was invested for ten months before a settlement was negotiated whereby al-Musta'in would abdicate, in exchange for a lavish annual pension. By the end of 251h, al-Mu'tazz was finally sole caliph. In spite of being another appointee of the Turkish soldiery, al-Mu'tazz proved a decisive and capable ruler. His potential rivals al-Musta'in and al-Mu'ayyad were both killed – al-Mu'tazz of all people surely knew that formal abdication was no barrier to becoming caliph – and he also took decisive action against several powerful Turkish commanders. However, the dire political situation left him chronically short of funds, and this was to prove his downfall. The settlement at the end of the siege of Baghdad had included an agreement to divide tax revenues between Baghdad and Samarra, and al-Mu'tazz found himself unable to meet these obligations. Meanwhile, his Turkish guards were demanding 50,000 dinars, In his desperation al-Mu'tazz approached his mother, Qabiha. Qabiha demurred, claiming that she only had a few promissory notes which would take time to redeem, and the Turks duly deposed al-Mu'tazz in yet another palace coup. He died of his injuries soon afterwards. How does this remarkable coin fit into this picture of civil war and palace intrigues? It seems difficult to imagine that a gift intended for a governor or wazir, let alone a medallion to be worn by a hard-boiled Turkish mercenary to show his loyalty, would have depicted a quail and a rabbit with a flower in its mouth. It seems more likely, as the notes accompanying the similar silver example in the David Museum Collection argue, that these pictorial donatives were made for presentation to the women of the caliph's court: '...The 'ulama (religious scholars) made sure that no depictions of animal life appeared in public view. Behind the scenes, however, the lives of the rich, in particular those of the ruler and his court, were concealed from the public gaze and censor. What went on in the harem was private and exempt from public examination. It is clear that this piece was struck as a special issue for the caliph to give to his wives and concubines... Both the quail and the rabbit are known for their fecundity and the large number of offspring they produce. This coin was probably seen as an inducement and reward for the ladies who were to give the caliph sons to add to his sense of security.' []. Yet this explanation raises yet another intriguing question of its own. The David Museum coin is made of silver and of standard dirham weight, while the magnificent piece offered here is a double-weight specimen in gold. It seems difficult to imagine that the two pieces were intended to have equal status, in which case we are left with the conclusion that the present coin was intended for a female recipient of particularly high rank, and one who was close to al-Mu'tazz during his final weeks and months. It is impossible to do more than guess at who this may have been, but after al-Mu'tazz's death, when the Turkish commander Salih b. Wasif finally uncovered part of the treasure which Qabiha had amassed, he is said to have exclaimed, 'May God do such-and-such to her! Al-Mu'tazz's mother condemned him to death for want of the miserable sum of fifty thousand dinars, when she actually had in only one of her treasuries such wealth as this!' As a further indication of her colossal wealth, al-Tabari also reports that the sale of further treasures from Qabiha's holdings raised the sum of 500,000 dinars, which was sufficient to maintain the finances of both Samarra and Baghdad for several months. Stories such as these demonstrate that women at the Abbasid court could wield great political and financial power in their own right, and make their influence felt far beyond the harem. Al-Mu'tazz, who was born in Samarra and grew up in the court there, surely appreciated as well as anyone this kind of power was every bit as deserving of recognition as the swords of his Turkish guards.

(200000-250000 GBP)
Question about this auction? Contact Morton & Eden Ltd