ARAB-SASANIAN, ANONYMOUS, TEMP. ‘ABD AL-MALIK B. MARWAN (65-86h). Drachm, without mint name (possibly Dimashq) 75h. Obverse: Bust of Khusraw II right; behind, duriba fi sanat; before, khams | wa saba‘in; In margin: bismillah – la ilaha illa Allah wa – hdahu Muhammad ra – sul Allah. Reverse: Standing figure of caliph facing, wearing elaborate robe and with right hand on sheathed sword; To left: amir al-mu’minin; to right: khalifat Allah. Weight: 3.53g Published: Malek 2019, p.336, fig. 9.62.5, this coin illustrated. Reference: Walker 1941, p.25, Zub.1. Better than very fine and of the highest rarity. Provenance: Shah Firzan collection; Gorny & Mosch auction 153, 11 October 2006, lot 4909. The Muslim conquests united lands from the former Sasanian Empire in the East with provinces captured from the Byzantines in the West. These two areas had their own distinct and very different coinage traditions. The Byzantines had struck plentiful gold solidi and copper fulus, but issued only modest quantities of silver coins. In the Sasanian East, however, the great majority of coins in circulation were silver drachms, supplemented by relatively small quantities of gold and copper coins. The Muslims continued production of silver and copper coins based on Sasanian prototypes, but no Arab-Sasanian gold coins are known. Damascus, the Umayyad capital, lay at the confluence of these two ‘currency zones.’ When the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan decided to issue both gold and silver coins there in the early 70s, his gold coinage was based on Byzantine solidi: an obvious choice since Damascus had been part of the Byzantine empire and such coins were familiar there. For his new silver coins, however, ‘Abd al-Malik looked to Sasanian silver drachms for a prototype. This was also a natural decision given that they had been the dominant silver coin in the East for centuries, and the Muslims had continued to strike Arab-Sasanian drachms at dozens of mints for more than forty years. Between 72-74h ‘Abd al-Malik struck several varieties of drachms at Damascus, all close imitations of the Sasanian originals. His first coins appear to have had purely Arabic legends, and it may reflect a fundamental flaw in the design that his later drachms bear the name of the long-dead Sasanian Khusraw II written in Pahlawi - a language with no relevance to Syria nor to the Arabs striking the coins. In 74h ‘Abd al-Malik began to strike new gold dinars and copper fulus at Damascus, all of which bore a standing figure of the Caliph on the obverse and a modified cross-on-steps on the reverse. It is generally accepted that Standing Caliph dirhams such as the present coin were also produced at Damascus to accompany these new gold and copper issues, although unlike the earlier drachms they lack a mint-name and production seems to have begun in the following year. Their design exemplifies the mixture of Byzantine, Sasanian and Islamic influences on the new Damascus silver coinage. On the obverse is the bust of the Sasanian king Khusraw II, shorn of all remaining Pahlawi inscriptions and accompanied only by Islamic religious legends and the year of striking, all rendered in Arabic. On the reverse is the figure of the Caliph himself, flanked by Arabic legends stating unequivocally that he is the ‘Commander of the Faithful’ and ‘Caliph of God’. The relationship between the iconography of the Umayyad caliph and contemporary depictions of the Byzantine emperor are clearly expressed by Miles: ‘It is, I believe, self-evident…that the standing figure on the Arab coins was designed with the thought of producing a rival…of the representation of the emperor…a figure of the same general appearance, but specifically Arab and Muslim as opposed to Byzantine and Christian. The emperor wears a crown; the caliph wears the kufiya. The emperor holds a cross; the caliph carries a sword and is prepared to draw it against the enemies of Islam.’ (Miles 1967, p.216). While the standing figure of the Caliph is a striking expression of the power of Islam, its position on the reverse, rather than the obverse as on the gold and silver Standing Caliph coins, may quickly have been seen as problematic. Treadwell notes that the gold and copper coins conformed to ‘the traditional numismatic formula that located the ruler on the obverse and a religious symbol on the reverse,’ while the ‘Standing Caliph’ drachm ‘contained two conflicting images of rulership…it is the Shahanshah’s imposing bust that dominates the imagery of the coin’ (Treadwell, p.11). Perhaps it was felt that removing the Sasanian bust was too radical a step, and one which risked the new coinage being rejected in the East. But if these excessively rare drachms feel like a slightly awkward hybrid, they are the physical expression of the processes whereby the Muslims were transforming Sasanian and Byzantine traditions under the banner of Islam, with all three influences present in the coins’ imagery.
Estimate: GBP 150000 - 200000