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CNG Islamic Auction 1

Lot nuber 61

Umayyad Caliphate. temp. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. AH 65-86 / AD 685-705. AV Dinar (20mm, 4.15g, 6h). Without mint-name. Dated AH 77 / AD 696/7.

CNG Islamic Auction 1
Lot: 61.
 Estimated: $ 40 000

Post-Reform Umayyad Coinage, Gold

Sold For $ 44 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

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Umayyad Caliphate. temp. ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. AH 65-86 / AD 685-705. AV Dinar (20mm, 4.15g, 6h). Without mint-name. Dated AH 77 / AD 696/7. Obverse margin: Muḥammad rasūl Allāh arsalahu bi’l-hudā wa dīn al-haqq lī-yuzhirahu ’ala al-dīn kullihi. Obverse field: lā ilāha illā Allāh waḥdahu lā sharīk lahu Reverse margin: bismillah duriba hadha al-dinar fi sanat saba‘ wa saba‘in. Reverse field: Allah ahad Allah āl-samad lam yalīd wa lam yalūd. ICV 155; Walker 186; Bernardi (2001), dies c/A; Sotheby’s London, 18 April 1994, lot 290 (same dies). Pin marks and light scratches, trace of double strike, minor edge scuff, holed for suspension. Good VF. Extremely rare, especially with addition of pellet in obverse marginal legend, and the key date in the series.

The Muslims issued virtually no gold coins until the final years of the seventh century AD. Instead the early caliphs imported huge quantities of Byzantine solidi – a solution whose deficiencies became increasingly apparent with time until, in the words of a modern scholar: ...’Abd al-Malik perceived the inconvenience and economic loss that resulted from the absence of minting in Syria and proceeded to remedy the situation. Without a mint, bullion could be turned into gold coins only by selling it to merchants...The remarkable aspect of the matter is not that ‘Abd al-Malik instituted minting, but rather that half a century elapsed after the Arab conquest before a mint was set up in the capital of the caliphate.’ (Bates, M.L., ‘History, Geography and Numismatics in the First Century of Islamic Coinage,’ Revue Suisse de Numsimatique 65 (1986), pp. 231-262.).

One way by which the caliphs obtained supplies of these solidi was by selling papyrus to the Byzantine court. According to one episode, recounted with minor variations by several medieval Muslim historians, ‘Abd al-Malik began adding strongly Islamic legends to the seals used on these shipments. This offended the Byzantines, prompting a threat from Justinian to retaliate by putting anti-Islamic inscriptions to the gold solidi which the Muslims would receive as payment for the papyrus. Rather than remove the Islamic legends from the seals, as Justinian had demanded, ‘Abd al-Malik was advised that it would be better to introduce a new, purely Islamic gold coinage himself, and to ban the circulation of Byzantine solidi within the Islamic lands.

It is highly unlikely that this episode alone provoked ‘Abd al-Malik to introduce an Islamic precious metal coinage.  Indeed, we now know that several experimental coin types were struck in both gold and silver between AH 72 and AH 77, all still closely related to Byzantine and Sasanian prototypes (see lots 24-26 above), showing that the need for such a reform was already perceived, and that steps were already being taken towards that goal. But the story of the papyri nevertheless illustrates several important points. Firstly, that for all the decades of fighting between them, trade arrangements had been established between the Byzantines and the Muslims. Secondly, it reveals the Muslim dependence on Byzantine gold; the absence of an Islamic gold coinage meant that ‘Abd al-Malik could not simply accept Justinian’s new solidi, melt them, and use the gold to make dinars. Thirdly, it shows an appreciation of the economic benefits of introducing a new Islamic gold coinage; most versions of this story include a trusted advisor (his name varies between accounts), who urges ‘Abd al-Malik not merely to strike his own coins but to ban the use of Byzantine solidi in the Islamic lands. Charging to convert the prohibited solidi into dinars could have raised additional funds for the treasury. And, fourthly, it demonstrates the paramount importance attached to coins as symbols and instruments of religious and imperial status and expression. ‘Abd al-Malik’s adoption of Islamic slogans on the papyrus seals mattered – and mattered enough for Justinian to make a formal protest and threaten to modify his own coinage in retaliation.

Modern scholarship tends to regard ‘Abd al-Malik’s introduction of the reformed gold and silver coinage as the culmination of a process rather than a stroke of innovation.  But this risks minimising just how radical ‘Abd al-Malik’s new dinars were. The coin offered here is a very rare survivor from the first year in which purely Islamic precious metal coins were struck, and represents the genesis of a gold coinage whose weight and fineness was carefully maintained in accordance with Qur’anic precepts. The type lasted unchanged until the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in AH 132, and the enduring power of ‘Abd al-Malik’s design was such that three of the four inscriptions which feature on these first Islamic dinars were also used on the last coins of the Abbasids, struck nearly six centuries later. Instead of the modified crosses and imperial images found on previous gold issues, these new dinars were purely epigraphic in design, bearing verses from the Qur’an which stress the oneness of God in conscious opposition to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. It is hardly surprising that the present piece, one of the very first gold coins to bear such proudly Islamic legends, handsomely rendered in Kufic script, should have been pierced to be worn as jewellery. 

The final winners of all CNG Islamic Auction 1 lots will be determined at the live online sale that will be held on 25 May 2022, beginning at 10:00 AM ET.

Winning bids are subject to a 20% buyer's fee for bids placed on this website and 22.50% for all others.

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