The first Muslim rulers relied on older Byzantine and Sasanian mints to keep a constant supply of coinage in the newly converted lands. Modifications to older types occurred gradually over the first century of Islam. Crosses on Byzantine-style gold coins, for example, were the first visual elements to disappear. ‘Abd al-Malik’s gold reform in 696–97 resulted in totally new coin styles without figural imagery of any kind. Instead, coins like this one made during his reign feature the shahada (profession of the faith) in stately kufic script: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
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.
This dinar has the same format as the earliest known all-epigraphic coin, which it postdates by two years; the dirham (04.35.3343), 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 in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. Important analyses of Umayyad coins include Walker, J. 1941, Walker, J. 1956, and Bates 1986. The last several years of scholarship on this subject, including a new chronology of the silver issues (previously thought to have appeared starting in A.H. 79), is summarized and augmented in three recent studies of Umayyad coins: Treadwell 2009, Heidemann 2010, and Bacharach 2010. I would like to thank Dr. Bacharach for sharing the text of his article with me before its publication.
3. Treadwell 2009, p. 379.
4. Bacharach notes that although scholars often mention that the "affirmation of faith" appears on certain coins, we cannot assume what the exact text is because there are differences between the seventh- and twenty-first-century versions, as well as between various seventh-century formulations. Based on the evidence of coins from the east, he suggests that there the formulation no god except God, Alone, Muhammad is the Prophet of God"; based on coins, architectural inscriptions, and milestones in the west, the formulation there was "There is no god except God, Alone, He has no partner." See Bacharach 2010.
5. For Bacharach’s application of Gresham’s Law to this situation, see Bacharach 2010. He stresses that the ultimate success of these coins, and the adoption of their basic format by almost all subsequent Muslim dynasties, cannot be applied backward to our understanding of the circumstances of their appearance and acceptance of these coins in the market at that time.
6. American Numismatic Society, New York (no. ANS 1002.1.406), published in Bates 1982, p. 14.
7. This format became standard after A.H. 79/698–99 A.D. See Orientalisches Munzkabinett Jena (no. 305-H10), dated to that year; published in Heidemann 2010, p. 185.
8. This pattern of borders and annulets is standard until the year A.H. 99/ 717–18 A.D. Possible reasons for the later changes are discussed in DeShazo and Bates 1974.
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:
محمد رسول الله ارسله بالهدى ودين الحق ليظهره على الدين كله
Muhammad is the Messenger of God, who sent him “with the guidance,
and the religion of truth to show that He may uplift it [Islam] above
every religion.” (variation of Qur’an 9:33. Only the quoted phrase is from the Qur’an; it also appears in Sura 25:14 and Sura 61:9)
Inscription in Arabic in field:
الله احد الله الصمد لم يلد ولم يولد
God is one. “God, the Everlasting Refuge, / who has not begotten,
and has not been begotten.” (excerpt from Qur’an 112)
Inscription in Arabic in margin:
بسم الله ضرب هذا الدينار في سنة تسع وسبعين
In the Name of God, this dinar was struck in the year A.H. 79.
Joseph H. Durkee, New York (until d. 1898; bequeathed to MMA)
Walker, John. "Vol. 2, A Catalogue of the Arab-Byzantine and Post-Reform Umaiyad Coins." In A Catalogue of the Muhammadan Coins in the Collection of the British Museum. London, 1956. Important analysis of Umayyad coins.
Bates, Michael. Islamic Coins. ANS Handbook 2. New York: American Numismatic Society, 1982. p. 14.
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. 8, pp. 22, 32, ill. p. 32 (color).