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.

Silver Coins of the Seljuk Successor States (MMA 99.35.2379, British Museum 1853,0406.100, and American Numismatic Society 1917.215.911)

As elsewhere in the premodern Islamic world, coinage of the Seljuq successor states had two basic functions: as currency and as a symbol
of power, by means of the inscribed name of the ruler and/or ruling authority.[1] Coins of the Artuqids, Zangids, and Rum Seljuqs are nevertheless particular for their figural imagery. While the exact meaning and function of the iconography on these coins remain a subject of debate, the figural depictions, relating to a broad range of models and traditions, form an important part of the material production of Anatolia, the Jazira, and Syria, and testify to the artistic and cultural exchanges that took place during Seljuq times.

Gold and, to a certain extent, silver coins were considered high-value money, used and traded over long distances for wholesale, fiscal administration, and state expenditure. It was the principal form of currency used by high-ranking officials to pay land tax or iqta‘ (revenue from grants of land). Traded between regions, it competed with other high-value money. The coin’s worth was usually bound to its metal content but was, in principle, higher in value than the same amount of unworked metal.

Copper and highly alloyed silver coinage was considered petty money, circulated locally and used for daily purchases by merchants, artisans, and workers in the urban market.[2] According to Islamic law, only gold and silver money could legitimately be used in the exchange of goods and services.[3] Nevertheless, gold and silver coinage was more restricted by law than copper coinage. In that regard, in a society where figural representation was negatively received by the same Islamic theologians who interpreted and wrote the law, the
existence of figural imagery on Rum Seljuq silver and gold coins is even more noteworthy.

After about 150 years with little coin production, economic growth in the late eleventh to the first half of the twelfth century led to increased minting in the territories and cities controlled by the Seljuq successor states, to meet the heightened demand for currency.[4] The Zangids, Artuqids, and Rum Seljuqs struck gold (dinar), silver (dirham), and copper (fals or copper dirham) coinage. However, neither each dynasty nor each ruler had coins in all three metals in circulation at the same time. With few exceptions, minting of copper coins began in the 1140s.[5] At the same time, Fatimid, Great Seljuq, and Crusader Arabic gold, Byzantine copper, and other coinage were still being used in the regions controlled by the Seljuq successor states. From the second half of the twelfth century, these alternate currencies were gradually supplemented and replaced by new gold, silver, and copper coins minted by the successor states.[6]

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.[14] 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).[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

The two main themes of the Rum Seljuq figural repertoire are the equestrian and the sun-lion.[20] The equestrian holding taut his bow in the British Museum coin, two more arrows at the ready, is an embodiment of power and control and a symbol of an ideal ruler in the Great Age of the Seljuqs (examined in the following chapter, “The Courtly Cycle”). The image was introduced to Rum Seljuq coinage in the late twelfth century, appearing first in copper.[21] Rukn al-Din Sulayman II (r. 1197–1204) was the first to extend equestrian imagery to coins in silver and even gold.[22] That he placed the image on all his coins raises the question of whether it was his personal symbol of power, a line of inquiry in need of further research.

The equestrian image continued to be used by other Rum Seljuq rulers, such as Kılıç Arslan IV (r. 1248–65; British Museum 1853,0406.100), as well as in neighboring Christian regions. The American Numismatic Society coin, for example, features an equestrian portrait of Het‘um I the Great, king of Armenian Cilicia. He wears a crown instead of a turban and holds a fleur-de-lis staff, a Christian royal symbol that replaces the Seljuq bow and triple arrows or mace.[23] A cross further distinguishes this coin from those of the Rum Seljuqs, in
which one often encounters small signs such as stars or the crescent, presumably another of the Seljuq regalia ( British Museum 1853,0406.100).[24] The composition is surrounded by an Armenian inscription, “Het‘um, king of the Armenians.” The reverse of the coin is purely epigraphic, inscribed in Arabic with “The greatest sultan Ghiyath al-Duniya wa-l-Din Kay Khusraw [b.] Kay Qubad.” Even though the coin was issued in a Christian territory, the message declares Het‘um’s political loyalty to the Rum Seljuq overlord. Both the British Museum and the American Numismatic Society's coins convey Armenian and Rum Seljuq traditions and were suitable for trade in Anatolia and beyond, as they share iconographic features with other regions and territories in the eastern Mediterranean (Byzantium, Crusader territories, and other Seljuq successor states).

The combination of the sun and a lion (MMA 99.35.2379) 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.[25] 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."[26] 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."[27] 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."[28]

Deniz Beyazit in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]


1. The right of the sikka, the prerogative of including the ruler’s name on the coin, similar to the khutba, in which the ruler is named during the Friday prayer, belonged theoretically to the caliph and eventually became in the early Islamic period a royal insignia of power; see
Bosworth, C[lifford] E[dmund]. “Sikka. 1. Legal and Constitutional Aspects.” In EI2 1960–2009, vol. 9 (1997), p. 592; Wensinck, A. J. “Khubayb.” In EI2 1960–2009, vol. 5 (1986), pp. 40–41.

2. Heidemann, Stefan. Die Renaissance der Städte in Nordsyrien und Nordmesopotamien: Städtische Entwicklung und wirtschaftliche Bedingungen in ar-Raqqa und Harran von der Zeit der beduinischen Vorherrschaft bis zu den Seldschuken. Islamic History and Civilization, Studies and Texts, 40. 2001. Leiden, Boston, and Cologne, 2002, pp. 355–63; Heidemann, Stefan. “Economic Growth and Currency in Ayyubid Palestine.” In Ayyubid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context, 1187–1250, edited by Robert Hillenbrand and Sylvia Auld, pp. 276–77. London, 2009.

3. Heidemann 2002 (note 2), pp. 355–57.

4. Ibid.

5. Bates, Michael L. “Crusader Coinage with Arabic Inscriptions.” In A History of the Crusades, vol. 6, The Impact of the Crusades on Europe, edited by Harry W. Hazard and Norman P. Zacour, pp. 421–41. London, 1989. Among the earliest examples are coins struck by Malik Ghazi Gumushtekin (r. 1104–34), ruler of the Turkmen Danishmendid dynasty in Anatolia, also a Seljuq successor state; see
Whelan, Estelle J. The Public Figure: Political Iconography in Medieval Mesopotamia. London, 2006, pp. 51–52. For early Artuqid and Zangid coins, see note 14 below.

6. Bates 1989 (note 5), pp. 421–41; Heidemann 2009 (note 2).

14. Per Bates 1989 (note 5), p. 431, silver coinage ceased almost entirely for some time in certain areas east of the Euphrates. The first Artuqid silver coins were minted in Aleppo by Najm al-Din Il-Ghazi I and Nur al-Dawla Balak Ghazi between 1118 and 1124; those of the Zangids by ‘Imad al-Din Zangi (r. 1127–46); and those of the Rum Seljuqs by Kılıç Arslan II (r. 1156–92); see Album, Stephen. Checklist of Islamic Coins. 3rd ed. 1993. Santa Rosa, Calif., 2011, pp. 132, 196, 199.

15. Heidemann 2009 (note 2), pp. 283–84, 289.

16. For the Ayyubids, Zangids, and Rum Seljuqs, see ibid. and Broome, Michael. A Survey of the Coinage of the Seljuqs of Rum. Edited by Vlastimil Novák. Royal Numismatic Society, Special Publication, 48. London, 2011, p. 16. For the Artuqids, see Whelan 2006 (note 5), p. 123.

17. Heidemann 2009 (note 2), pp. 277, 284; Schacht, J. “Riba.” In EI2 1960–2009, vol. 8 (1995), pp. 491–93.

18. Album 2011 (note 14), p. 132; Hinrichs, Johann Christof. “Dinare der Seldschuken von Anatolien.” In Morgenländische Pracht, Islamische Kunst a deutschem Privatbesitz, edited by Claus-Peter Haase, Jens Kröger, and Ursula Lienert, p. 37. Hamburg, 1993.

19. Broome 2011 (note 16), p. 17. A similar parallel can be drawn with the urban landscape of Anatolia, whose cities under Ilkhanid domination saw the erection of new buildings relevant to the functioning of an Islamic society; see Blessing, Patricia. Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest: Islamic Architecture in the Lands of Rum, 1240–1330. Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, Vt., 2014.
British Museum (1853,0406.100) represents the last figural Rum Seljuq silver coin.

20. For a rare example with a pair of rampaging lions, see Broome 2011 (note 16), p. 166, no. 274F.

21. Ibid., pp. 46−47, no. 21.

22. Ibid., pp. 57–63.

23. Redford, Scott. “A Grammar of Rum Seljuk Ornament.” Mésogeios, nos. 25–26 (2005), pp. 283–310. See also cats. 4a–h in this volume.

24. Ibid., pp. 290, 299.

25. See Broome 2011 (note 16), pp. 144–69, nos. 241–80. Leiser, Gary. “Observations on the ‘Lion and Sun’ Coinage of Ghiyath al-Dın Kai-Khusraw II.” Mésogeios 2 (1998), pp. 96–114, includes the gold coins for which doubts of authenticity have been expressed.

26. Leiser 1998 (note 25), p. 97.

27. Öney, Gönül. “Anadolu Selçuk Mımarısınde Arslan Figürü.” Anadolu 13 (1969), pp. 29–31; Gierlichs, Joachim. Mittelalterliche Tierreliefs in Anatolien und Nord-Mesopotamien: Untersuchungen zur figürlichen Baudekoration der Seldschuken, Artuqiden und ihrer Nachfolger bis ins 15. Jahrhundert. Tübingen, 1996, pp. 119–20. For a full historiographic discussion, see Leiser 1998 (note 25), pp. 97–102.

28. Quoted in Leiser 1998 (note 25), p. 108. On the continued use of the sun and lions as symbols of state from the later Artuqid period in Mardin into the Safavid period, see Ilisch, Lutz. “Continuity and Transformation of the Lion and Sun Device.” In At the Crossroads of Empires: 14th–15th Century Eastern Anatolia, edited by Deniz Beyazit, pp. 105–24. Varia Anatolica, 25. Paris, 2012.
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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