ARAB-BYZANTINE, TEMP MU‘AWIYA B. ABI SUFYAN (41-60h) OR ‘ABD AL-MALIK B. MARWAN (65-86h). Gold solidus, without mint or date (probably Egypt or Syria, circa 40-72h). Obverse: Three standing figures (based on Heraclius, flanked by Heraclonas and Heraclius Constantine), standing facing, each wearing crowns and holding globes with crossbars removed. Reverse: VICTORIA - AVУЧ B, modified cross potent with top limb removed, set on four steps, dividing I - B; in ex., CONOB. Weight: 4.41g. References: Bates 1986, type C = Miles 1967, p.209, 4 = Walker 1956, p. 18, 54; Bernardi 2010, 4; Album 2011, 3548. Faint edge marks and some weak striking, otherwise very fine to good very fine and excessively rare, one of the earliest Islamic gold coins struck. Provenance: Ex Triton auction XX, 10 January 2017, lot 1137. The early Muslim conquests during the first half of the first/seventh century crippled the Byzantines in the West and completely overthrew the Sasanian Empire in the East. Muslim expansion began in 12h/AD 633-4, with the first raids into Sasanian territory, swiftly followed by the first campaigns in Syria and Egypt. With these conquered, Muslim armies gradually expanded westward overland through Libya and northern Africa towards the Atlantic coast, while also establishing a navy based at Alexandria to engage the Byzantine fleet in a war at sea. Meanwhile, in the East, Mesopotamia was conquered in a series of campaigns culminating in the Battle of Nihawand (21h/AD 642). This sealed the fate of the Sasanian empire, which finally came to an end with the assassination of Yazdigerd III in 31h/AD 651. Having conquered huge swathes of Sasanian and Byzantine territory, the victorious Muslims showed little inclination to make significant changes to how these lands were governed. When a province came under Muslim control, its existing stock of coinage came with it, and depending on whether that province had been Sasanian or Byzantine those coins would be very different. Most coins circulating in the Sasanian East were silver drachms, which had been the dominant coin type in the region for centuries. But silver coins were uncommon in the Byzantine West, where the mainstay of the coinage was the gold solidus, supplemented by a plentiful copper coinage. The Byzantine taxation system, which the Muslims apparently retained, needed solidi to work efficiently, but because there was no active gold mint in the Byzantine provinces they conquered, they had to import huge quantities of solidi during the first decades after the conquests. But on a few rare occasions, probably on the instigation of a regional governor or commander rather than through any initiative from the caliph himself, the Muslims evidently did strike gold coins themselves. These have been described by Goodwin as ‘reasonable imitations of regular Byzantine coins, but with garbled legends and all crosses removed’ (Goodwin 2019, p. 17). The removal of the crosses served to ‘de-Christianize’ these new coins while maintaining types which were visually familiar and acceptable to the wider population. Such imitations, including the present coin, have the distinction of being the first gold coins struck by the Muslims. It is difficult to date these gold coins precisely. The ‘Maronite Chronicle,’ compiled circa AD 680, records in the entry for AD 660/40h that Mu‘awiya became caliph and ‘…minted gold and silver, but it was not accepted because it had no cross on it.’ This sentence has been the subject of much scholarly debate, but the only gold coins known today which might fit this description would be ‘modified cross’ solidi like the present specimen. It also seems highly unlikely that they could have been struck later than the early 70s/690s, when they were superseded by Arab-Byzantine coins with Arabic legends, and so scholars broadly agree that these ‘modified cross’ solidi were struck during the three decades between 40-70h. The present coin bears the letters I -B on the reverse, which Robert Darley-Doran has ingeniously suggested might denote the twelfth year of Mu‘awiya’s caliphate (51/2h), although most scholars have argued that these letters were copied from the Byzantine prototypes and have no meaning on the Arab imitations. The coins themselves tell us nothing about where they were struck. It has often been assumed that they were issued at Damascus, but they could have been struck elsewhere. But the significance of this solidus goes beyond its status as one of the first gold coins struck by the Muslims. It was this type of coin, with three standing figures on the obverse, which was used as the pattern for the first Arabic gold coins issued during the early 70s, which themselves– with the three standing figures rotated a quarter-turn - evolved into the famous reformed gold dinars of ‘Abd al-Malik. This extremely rare coin is not only one of the first gold coins the Muslims struck, but the type served as the genesis and prototype for the reformed, epigraphic, ‘purely Islamic’ gold coinage which came after.
Estimate: GBP 60000 - 80000