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Dirham

Object Name:
Coin
Date:
dated A.H. 93/ A.D. 711–12
Geography:
Iraq, Wasit
Culture:
Islamic
Medium:
Silver
Dimensions:
Diam. 1 1/16 in. (2.7 cm)
Classification:
Coins
Credit Line:
Gift of Darius Ogden Mills, 1904
Accession Number:
04.35.3343
Not on view
For the first few years after the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty, its coins were based on those of its predecessors— the Byzantine emperors in the western part of its empire and the Sasanian kings in the east. In 697, however, the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705) issued new gold dinars bearing only writing, which included phrases from the Qur’an and the statement that there is only one God and Muhammad is his messenger. The following year silver dirhams in the same style were minted in the eastern provinces. Although earlier Umayyad coins had had Arabic writing and versions of the affirmation of faith on them, neither the Qur’an nor any other holy text had ever appeared on the coins of this region. Images such as fire altars, crosses, and portraits, rather than written statements, had always been the standard indicators of the issuing authority’s religious and dynastic affiliations.

Many scholars have speculated about why the switch to all-epigraphic coins was made. Most recently it has been suggested that ‘Abd al-Malik settled on an iconographic system that did not borrow too heavily from symbols associated with the earlier Byzantine and Sasanian rulers yet was understandable in both of these cultural realms where the coins would circulate, resulting in one unique Umayyad creation to be used across his domains. Another hypothesis, based on the historical context of the specific moment in which these coins appeared, proposes that their message was aimed directly at ‘Abd al-Malik’s greatest rival at that time, the Byzantine Empire: the coins bear a version of the affirmation of faith stating that God has no partner, a refutation of the Christian doctrine of the trinity, most relevant in the political arena of the western Umayyad empire. Ultimately, however, their success and their continued use have been ascribed to market factors over other considerations.

The dinar illustrated here (cat. #8) has the same format as the earliest known all-epigraphic coin, which it postdates by two years; this dirham, from fourteen years later, reflects changes that resulted from the differences between the denominations of the two coins and their dates of issue. While both coins bear essentially the same text, the dinar, as a smaller coin, includes neither the name of the mint (but believed to be Damascus) nor the full text of the Qur’anic verses of Suras 9:33 or 112 on it. On the dirham, Sura 9:33 appears on the margin of the reverse rather than the margin of the obverse. In addition, on the obverse of the dirham the writing is located within three serrate circles, with five annulets in the border, while on the reverse the field text is surrounded by a solid circle, and the marginal text by a serrate circle with five annulets. Although these elements are borrowed from the silver Sasanian coins that they were meant to replace, they are markers of the mint administration and differ from issue to issue.

Marika Sardar (author) in [Ekhtiar et al. 2011]
Inscription: Obverse:
Inscription in Arabic in field:
لا اله الا الله وحده لا شريك له
There is no god but God alone. He has no associate.

Inscription in Arabic in margin:
بسم الله ضرب هذا الدرهم بواسط في سنة ثلث وتسعين
In the name of God, this dirham was struck in Wasit in the year A.H. 93.

Reverse
Inscription in Arabic in field:
الله احد الله الصمد لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن له كفواً احد
God is one. “God, the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, and
has not been begotten, and equal to Him is not any one.” (Qur’an 112)

Inscription in Arabic in margin:
محمد رسول الله ارسله بالهدى ودين الحق ليظهره على الدين كله ولو كره المشركون
Muhammad is the Messenger of God, who sent him “with the guidance
and the religion of truth, that He may uplift it [Islam] above every religion,
though the unbelievers be averse.” (variation of Qur’an 9:33)
Darius Ogden Mills, New York (until 1904; gifted to MMA)
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 9, pp. 22, 32, ill. p. 32.



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