Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Dirham of Ghiyath al-Din Kai Khusrau II (r. 1239–46); Astrological Device (Sun-Lion)

Object Name:
dated A.H. 638/ A.D. 1240–41
Mint Turkey, Konya
Diam. 7/8 in. (2.2 cm) D. 1/16 in. (0.2 cm) Wt. 0.1 oz. (2.8 g)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee, 1898
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 460
Gold and silver coins were considered high-value money, used and traded over long distances. It was the principal form of currency used by high-ranking officials to pay land tax or iqta‘ (revenue from grants of land). In Rum Seljuq lands very fine dirhams and a few gold coins were minted. They are exceptional in Islamic coinage for the presence of figural imagery. The two main themes are the astrological sun-lion, such as on this coin and the equestrian, embodiment of power and control and a symbol of an ideal ruler in the Great Age of the Seljuqs.
Little and often low-content silver coinage is attested from the eleventh and most of the twelfth centuries, suggesting a "silver famine" for a large part of the Islamic Near East, including the regions controlled by the Artuqids, Zangids, and Rum Seljuqs. As a consequence, the first silver coins minted from the first quarter of the twelfth century by the Seljuq successor states were dirham aswad (black dirham), rather small and murky coins with a low silver content. It is not clear if the phenomenon was related to a scarcity of silver or if the metal was being used to make other types of objects, of which only a few have survived or are known to scholars. Whatever the reason, the situation changed drastically in the last quarter of the twelfth century, owing not only to relevant coinage reforms but also to the massive importation of silver to the Levant by the northern Italian mercantile republics following the discovery of new silver mines in Saxony (Freiberg, Germany), Styria, and Carinthia (alpine Austria). The earliest large, nearly pure, regulated dirhams were issued in Syria, first by Salah al-Din, in Ayyubid Damascus, in A.H. 570/A.D. 1174, and then by Nur al-Din, in Zangid Aleppo, in 571/1175–76. Beginning in 580/1184, full-size silver coins were also produced by the Rum Seljuqs in Anatolia. As for the various branches of the Artuqids, they were probably using the new silver coinage of their overlords, the Rum Seljuqs and the Ayyubids. Only the Mardin line minted dirhams, beginning in 624/1227, first in Dunaysir and later in Mardin.
Unlike dirham aswad, these purer silver coins better fulfilled the Islamic law that prohibited illegitimate profit (riba) and were therefore legally more suitable for economic and monetary exchange. In Rum Seljuq lands the discovery of Anatolian silver mines at the beginning of the thirteenth century led to a "silver flood." The great number of Rum Seljuq dirhams issued in Anatolia suggests that here, as in Ayyubid Syria, silver rather than gold coinage was the principal high-value money. In comparison, the Zangids produced much less silver; in and around Mosul the high-value money was gold, although the Zangids of Syria were probably also using Ayyubid gold and, overall, silver money. Most silver coins of the Zangids, Artuqids, and Rum Seljuqs are epigraphic and follow standards of design and content similar to the gold coinage discussed above. However, Rum Seljuq dirhams are comparable in their finesse to dinars; very often the same dies were used to strike both. The quality and preeminence of dirhams made Seljuq silver coinage one reason for the wealth of the dynasty in the first half of the thirteenth century, and helps explain its being a sort of anchor for the regional "currency community." In fact, Rum Seljuq standards of fineness and weight were emulated by Trabzon Rum and Armenian Cilician silver coins.
Also exceptional is the presence of figural imagery on several dirham types issued before the mid-thirteenth century when, under Mongol rule, Rum Seljuq silver coinage became more traditionally Islamic — that is, aniconic, with inscriptions of the shahada and the titles and name of a fictive caliph or other ruling authority.
The two main themes of the Rum Seljuq figural repertoire are the equestrian and the sun-lion. The combination of the sun and a lion was used only by Ghiyath al-Din Kay Khusraw II (r. 1237–46), who from A.H. 637/A.D. 1239 to A.H. 643/A.D. 1246 minted several issues, usually a single lion below the sun. The device must certainly have impressed the Rum Seljuq ruler’s contemporaries, as it is mentioned by the erudite Syriac bishop Bar Hebraeus (1225–1286), one of the most relevant sources for the history of the Seljuq successor states: "He married the daughter of the king of Georgia and was passionately in love with her. He was so madly in love with her that he wanted an image of her on the dirhams, but was advised to depict the image of a lion above which was a sun in order to refer to his tali‘ (ascendant star, nativity) and by this means the goal was achieved." Succeeding theories by both Ottoman and modern historians essentially originate from Bar Hebraeus’s account and/or interpret the sun-lion as the sultan’s "coat of arms." Recent scholarship proposes that the device, placed on coinage, architecture, and elsewhere, refers to Kay Khusraw’s personal ascendant, the zodiacal Leo in the house of the sun, but also to his personal predilection for lions as guardians and hunting animals: "the sun with the human face represented the sultan — casting ‘the shadow of God on earth’ — who was supreme over man and beast."
Deniz Beyazit in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
Inscription: Inscribed in Arabic, in kufic on the obverse field:
السلطان الاعظم/غياث الدنياوالدين/كيخسرو بن كيقباد
Al-Sultan al-A‘zam / Ghiyath al-Dunya wa-l-Din / Kay
Khusraw Kay Qubad.
In naskhi on the reverse field:
الامام المستنصر بالله امير المؤمنين
Al-Imam al-Mustansir bi-illah amir al-Mu‘minin. / This
dirham was struck in Konya.
On the reverse margin:
سنة ثمان ثلثين ستمائة
In the year 638
Joseph H. Durkee, New York (until d. 1898; bequeathed to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 14b.

Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 14b, pp. 66-71, ill. p. 66 (color).

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