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CNG Islamic Auction 2

Lot nuber 82

Umayyad Caliphate, Gold coinage. AV Dinar (19.5mm, 4.29 g, 5h). Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin mint. Dated AH 93 (AD 711/2). Superb EF.

CNG Islamic Auction 2
Lot: 82.
 Estimated: $ 750 000

An Umayyad dinar from the ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’, Gold

Sold For $ 575 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

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Umayyad Caliphate, Gold coinage. AV Dinar (19.5mm, 4.29 g, 5h). Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin mint. Dated AH 93 (AD 711/2). Obverse margin: Muhammad rasul Allah arsulahu bi’l-huda wa din al-haqq li-yuzhirahu ‘ala al-din kullihi Obverse field: la ilaha illa / Allah wahdahu / la sharik lahu / Ma‘din amir / al-mu’minin / Reverse margin: bismillah duriba hadha al-dinar sanat thalath wa tisa‘in; pellet below b of duriba Reverse field: Allah ahad Allah / al-samad lam yalid / wa lam yulad. Bernardi 47 (this date not recorded); cf. Morton & Eden 54 (23 April 2012), lot 34 (dated AH 89, same obverse die). Lustrous. Superb EF. Of the highest rarity, believed to be one of only two specimens known.

Of the greatest rarity, desirability, and historical significance, Umayyad dinars from the ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ occupy a unique place in Islamic numismatics.

Two types of these coins are known. The first issue, to which this coin belongs, was struck under the caliph al-Walid I (AH 86-96) and examples are now known for almost all years between AH 89-93. These dinars carry the legend Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin, ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful,’ positioned in the fourth and fifth lines of the obverse field. The second type, issued by the caliph Hisham (AH 105-126), is attested for the year AH 105 only. These coins carry a longer inscription, Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin bi’l-Hijaz; unlike the first type, this appears in the fourth and fifth lines of the reverse. The addition of bi’l-Hijaz gives these dinars the distinction of being the earliest coins, and quite possibly the earliest dated objects, which name a location in the present-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, while these special dinars were first recorded by numismatists more than a century ago, many aspects of their issue and significance have yet to be fully understood. The present coin, an excessively rare and beautifully-preserved example from a previously unpublished date, helps shed further light on the history and significance of this fascinating coinage.

Amir al-Mu’minin, ‘Commander of the Faithful,’ was the formal title used by the caliph. It was first adopted as such by ‘Umar b. al-Khattab (AH 13-23) some fifty years before the term khalifa, ‘successor’, began to be used by ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan (AH 65-86). Because Umayyad post-Reform gold and silver coins were anonymous, these ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ dinars are the earliest Islamic gold coins which preserve the caliph’s ancient title. The title Amir al-Mu’minin does not otherwise appear on Islamic gold dinars until the caliphate of Harun al-Rashid (AH 170-193).

Ma‘din means ‘a mine.’ As in English, the word can be used literally and metaphorically, but when seen on early Islamic coins it is used in its literal sense of a place from which natural resources are excavated. By way of example, there can be little doubt that Ma‘din al-Shash and Ma‘din Bajunays, which appear as mint-names on ‘Abbasid dirhams struck in the late second century, mean ‘the mine at Tashkent’ and ‘the mine at Bajunays’ respectively, As well as denoting denote the place where these dirhams were struck, the addition of Ma‘din also indicates the source of the silver used in their production.

Thus the literal meaning of Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin, ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful,’ denotes a physical location: a mine belonging to the caliph. The first scholar to study these coins in detail, Paul Casanova, took this interpretation for granted, concluding that the gold used to strike them came from a mine which belonged to the caliph himself (‘J’en ai conclu que l’or dont cette monnaie avait été frappée appartenait personnellement au Chef des Croyants’). Casanova identified this as the Ma‘din Banu Sulaym, located between Medina and Mecca. This mine was recorded as having been purchased by the caliph ‘Umar (AD 99-101) from the heirs of Bilal b. al-Harith, who had in turn been granted the mine by the Prophet himself. Casanova did not present any direct evidence that the Ma‘din Banu Sulaym was ever known as the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin, but argued that it would be natural for the mine to acquire this name after being bought by ‘Umar in AH 100 and, presumably, inherited by two further caliphs thereafter. But since Casanova’s study was confined to the later dinars dated AH 105, which carry the additional phrase bi’l-Hijaz, his argument was convincing enough: the coins mentioned a mine in the Hijaz belonging to the caliph, and Casanova had successfully identified one.

More than fifty years after Casanova’s study appeared, George Miles published a much shorter article describing a second Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin dinar, this time dated AH 91 and without the additional bi’l-Hijaz. Except for the date, this coin is identical to the piece offered here. Drawing heavily on Casanova’s work, Miles asserted that the phrase Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin on this coin must also refer to the Ma‘din Banu Sulaym, even though it lacks the phrase bi’l-Hijaz and was struck eight years before ‘Umar became caliph acquired the mine in question. This is clearly problematic, and more recent scholarly thinking is clearly expressed in the words of Lutz Ilisch who, discussing a similar coin dated AH 92 in the Turath Collection, concluded that ‘Whatever was meant by the term ma‘ seems clear that no relation to the Ma‘din Bani Sulaym was meant by the inscription.’

However, Miles was on much surer ground when pointing out that the reverse die of his coin, dated AH 91, had also been used to strike ordinary dinars at the Damascus mint. He was also able to find an obverse die-link between the ANS’s Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin bi’l-Hijaz coin and a standard Damascus dinar dated AH 105. From this, Miles concluded that all Ma‘din dinars were in fact struck at Damascus, and that the Ma‘din legend denoted the source of the gold rather than the place of striking. While the currently accepted explanation is somewhat more complex, Miles was right about two important points: that the Ma‘din dinars were either struck at Damascus or a satellite mint dependent on it, and that the Ma‘din inscription does not signify a mint-in the conventional sense, as Casanova had assumed. Mint-names on Umayyad Post-reform gold and silver coins are, without exception, placed in the marginal legend before the date. But on the present coin we find that Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin is positioned in the field rather than in the margin, and is even on the other side of the coin from the date legend. Taken together, the placement of the Ma‘din legend and the die-link with Damascus dinars allow us to reject suggestions such as those of Samir Shamma, who argued that Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin denoted an Umayyad gold mint situated at Medina in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Miles did not address the question of why these special dinars should only have been struck in certain years and in such small quantities. Lutz Ilisch, however, has noted that the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin dinars dated between AH 89 and 93 coincided with al-Walid embarking on a series of major building works in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. These included the reconstruction of the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina (AH 88-90). Al-Walid is recorded as having undertaken the Pilgrimage in AH 91, when he took the opportunity to inspect the building work. Al-Tabari records that the Caliph distributed gifts in Medina, which are described as including slaves, gold and silver vessels, and also money. It is clear from al-Tabari’s account that al-Walid took a strong personal involvement in events in Mecca and Medina during these years; we hear of messengers travelling between the Holy Places and Damascus, governors and other officials being appointed and dismissed, and several reports of measures being taken to weed out elements in the region who were opposed to al-Walid’s caliphate. Similarly, we find that the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin bi’l-Hijaz dinars dated AH 105 were struck when the new caliph Hisham visited the Holy Places immediately after his accession. In other words, it seems that these special Ma‘din dinars were issued during periods when the caliph was particularly concerned with, and personally present in, the Holy Places. They were not issued at other times, even though we can only assume that the mine which ‘Umar purchased in AH 100 must have yielded gold in other years than AH 105 alone.

Because the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin inscriptions denotes the source of the gold rather than the place of striking, the question of where these coins were physically manufactured remains uncertain. Miles, as we have seen, argued that the coins were struck at Damascus, and Album has pointed out that the high quality of their manufacture might also indicate that they were products of the main Umayyad gold mint. Lutz Ilisch, however, has proposed that they were in fact struck at an itinerant mint, dependent on and supplied by the main facility at Damascus, which could accompany the caliph on his travels when needed, and has stated that ‘an origin from Medina in the Hijaz is generally accepted.’ Some support for this view comes from the circumstances surrounding the strking of the Hijaz dinars dated AH 105. While we know that the dies used for these coins were prepared at Damascus, we know Hisham himself went straight to Arabia after his accession and did not enter Damascus as caliph until the following year. Thus these dinars at least were almost certainly struck at a travelling mint rather than the Umayyad capital.

The connection between the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin dinars and caliphal involvement with the Holy Places gives a possible answer to another question: if this inscription denotes the source of the gold, why was it felt necessary to mark this explicitly on the coins? Gold must have reached the Damascus mint from many sources, including mines, taxation, trade, tribute, and treasure captured in great military victories. Why did two small issues of dinars struck from gold excavated from a mine merit public recognition, while great military victories did not? The answer, we must assume, is that it was felt necessary to emphasise that these coins were struck from gold which belonged to the Caliph personally, and this was probably for symbolic rather than practical reasons. There may have been economic considerations behind identifying coins struck from the Caliph’s personal resources, although we can only assume that other mine owners simply sold their gold or brought it to the mint to be coined, and it is not clear why the caliphs, who often had great personal wealth, should have been any different in this respect. But the symbolic value of special gold coins which were marked out as coming from the Caliph’s personal wealth would have been considerable. We know from al-Tabari that al-Walid gave out gifts during his stay in Medina, and these will have come from his personal possessions rather than state funds. What could have been more appropriate than to present special gold dinars with the ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ inscription, imbued with greater significance by being marked as a personal gift?

If we accept that the Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin dinars were struck for presentation and distribution by the Caliph himself, this would also explain why they were clearly only struck in very small numbers. The present coin exemplifies this point because its obverse die, which carries the special ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ legend, was evidently in use for at least five years. We have surviving coins paired with reverse dies dated AH 89, 91 and 92, and this newly-discovered dinar now allows us to extend this sequence further to AH 93. Being undated, there would have been no reason to stop using these special obverse dies until they were no longer serviceable. But it is exceptional for a die to survive for at least five years without breaking, and this strongly suggests that they were only used to strike very small quantities of dinars. Nor is this an isolated case: the other two known ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ obverse dies must also have remained in use for at least two years, since we have dinars dated AH 91 and 92 struck from each.

Intriguingly, therefore, the very ambiguity of the term Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin, which has caused so much confusion to modern numismatists, might be deliberate and reflect an intentional double significance. On one level, ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ would have been an inscription which simply denoted the source of the gold from which the coins were made, and which was entirely consistent with the kind of practical information one might expect a coin to carry. But anyone who was given one of these coins by the caliph himself must surely have appreciated another level of meaning: that the coin was a personal gift from the caliph’s own personal ‘mine’ - not only a physical location, but a metaphor for his personal resources. If so, these remarkable dinars are the earliest gold presentation coinage from the Islamic world.

Specialist Bibliography

Album, S. Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean. Volume 10. Arabia and East Africa, Oxford (1999).

Album, S. Checklist of Islamic Coins. Third Edition. Santa Rosa (2011).

Casanova, P. ‘Une mine d’or au Hidjaz’, Ministère de l’Instruction Publique at des Beaux-Arts (Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques), Bulletin de la Section de la Géographie, Tome XXXV (1920), pp. 69-125.

Ilisch, L., The Turath Collection. Leu Numismatics Ltd Auction 64, Zurich, 27 March 1996.

Miles, G.C. ‘A unique Umayyad dinar of 91 H./A.D. 709-710,’ Revue Numismatique, 6e Série, Tome 14 (1972), pp. 264-268.

The final winners of all CNG Islamic Auction 2 lots will be determined during the live sale that will be held on 27 October 2022.

Winning bids are subject to a 22.5% buyer's fee for bids placed on this website and 25% for all others.

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