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CNG Islamic Auction 1

Lot nuber 198

Great Seljuks. Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad I Tapar. AH 491-511 / AD 1105-1118. EL Dinar (20.7mm, 3.34g, 8h). Harat mint. Dated AH 498 / AD 1104/5.

CNG Islamic Auction 1
Lot: 198.
 Estimated: $ 5 000

Pre-Mongol East, Electrum

Sold For $ 7 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Go to Live

Great Seljuks. Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad I Tapar. AH 491-511 / AD 1105-1118. EL Dinar (20.7mm, 3.34g, 8h). Harat mint. Dated AH 498 / AD 1104/5. Obverse: Six-line legend citing the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mustazhir billah and the Seljuk heir Sanjar b. Malikshah within a double linear border surrounded by two dragons, with open mouths, approaching a facing bucranium; traces of Qur’an ix:33 around. Reverse: Five-line legend citing the Seljuk ruler Muhammad b. Malikshah mint and date legend around; all within a border formed by two dragons, with open mouths, with a triangular object between them; traces of shahada around. ‘The Shah Firzan Heritage of Islamic Coins’, p. 53 (this piece). Good VF.  Excessively rare.

The legends on this remarkable coin are relatively conventional.  The names of the two Seljuk brothers, Muhammad I and Sanjar, appear on the reverse and obverse respectively, and that of the ‘Abbasid caliph is prominently positioned above that of Sanjar on the obverse.  Neither is there anything very unusual or surprising about the religious legends, which are much as one might find on any other Seljuk dinar of the period.  But the imagery and symbolism, bewildering in their variety and richness, are radically different from what one finds on standard Islamic coins.

On both obverse and reverse, two dragons converge above the field, their jaws gaping.  Those on the obverse are approaching a facing bull’s head as if to devour it; the shape of the horns is matched by the stylised lam-alifs in the kalima on the top line of the field.  To the left of the field is what appears to be an elaborate bow, which was the Seljuk symbol of sovereignty, and to the right is what appears to be either a branch or, possibly, a stylised arrow.  The bow symbol appears on other Seljuk dinars, but the depiction here is particularly ornate. Between the mouths of dragons at the top of the reverse field is a triangular object containing a pellet, whose significance remains unclear.  At the top of the field, what appears to be a tamgha is superimposed on the word Allah.  Another tamgha, or possibly a stylised human figure, is to the left of the legends in the field, while another branch-like symbol is placed to the right. At the bottom of the field is another object which resists precise identification: it may simply be decorative, but it has also been suggested that it may depict the horned head of another animal.

Various parallels for the dragons have been suggested, including possible influence from China, Sufi mysticism, and the symbol of the ouroboros serpent.  But it is the way in which this complex array of imagery intertwines with the coin’s otherwise orthodox Islamic legends which is particularly fascinating, exemplifying the many strands of thought which met in mediaeval Afghanistan. 

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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