Morton and Eden

Morton and Eden | Auction 103 | 24 October 2019

Online bidding ends: 24 October 2019 11:00


  Arab-Sasanian and related issues

  • Starting price: £20,000 (GBP)
  • Realized: £20,000.00 (GBP)
ARAB-SASANIAN, BISHR B. MARWAN (governor of Kufa 73-75h) Drachm, AKWLA (Aqola, near Kufa) 73h Obverse: In margin: bismillah – la ilaha illa Allah – wahdahu Muhammad – rasul Allah; before bust, date in Arabic: sanat thalath | wa saba‘in Reverse: Fire altar with attendants; Pahlawi mint-signature akwla to left, bbm monogram to right Weight: 3.19g Reference: cf Baldwin’s of St James’s auction 4, 9 May 2017, lot 101 (with similar legends but with mint signature and monogram transposed). Almost very fine and excessively rare, an important transitional type. The Islamic conquests of the 7th century AD brought together lands which had never previously been united under a single ruling authority. Much of the Eastern part of the Islamic world had been under Sasanian rule, while much of the Western part had been under Roman and Byzantine control. Each had their own coinage traditions, with the Byzantines striking plentiful gold solidi and copper fulus but little silver, while the Sasanian coinage was based on the silver drachm with gold and copper produced in much smaller quantities. During the 70s Hijri, a series of reforms commenced which would culminate in the introduction of a single, distinctively Islamic precious metal coinage struck and used throughout the Islamic world. A number of experimental designs were introduced at Damascus, the UMAYYAD capital, but Kufa (which appears as Aqola on the coinage) also played a leading role in this process, possibly because the caliph’s brother, Bishr b. Marwan, was based at Kufa in his capacity as Governor of Iraq. At Damascus, silver drachms based on earlier ARAB-SASANIAN types were struck between 72h-75h. Several types were produced, but all shared the innovation of carrying a date written in Arabic, rather than the Pahlawi dates which had been retained from their Sasanian predecessors. The present coin shares this feature – the earliest such drachm known for a mint outside Damascus - with the Arabic date placed before the bust where a caliph or governor would normally have been named at this time. On the reverse, however, the coin reverts to the traditional Pahlawi, but once again the legends are disposed differently from the norm. The mint-signature is placed on the left, which is where standard ARAB-SASANIAN drachms carry the date in Pahlawi, but which is available for the mint on the present coin since the date has been moved to the obverse. On the right, in the place vacated by the mint-signature, is an intriguing Pahlawi monogram which has been read as bbm and interpreted as an abbreviation for the first letters of ‘Bishr Bin Marwan.’ The result is a remarkable hybrid, on which the three standard elements of an ARAB-SASANIAN drachm (mint, date, governor’s name) are all retained, but which demonstrates the gradual adoption of Arabic as the official language of the empire. The reduced prominence of the governor’s name, even of someone as important as Bishr b. Marwan, also fits with the broader trend of introducing a standard, pan-Islamic coinage rather than one struck by a number of different regional governors. Another type of transitional drachm was also struck at Aqola in this year, and is truly anonymous since it carries neither the name of a Muslim governor nor that of the long-dead Khusraw II. The reverse of this coin is of standard type, with Pahlawi date to left and mint-name to right, while the obverse features Muhammad rasul Allah before the bust in place of a ruler’s name. Like the present piece, Treadwell suggests that this type probably pre-dated the well-known Caliph Orans coinage of Bishr b. Marwan, introduced at Aqola in 73h and struck there for two years afterwards.