Morton & Eden

Auction 107

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Morton & Eden, Auction 107

Important Coins of the Islamic World

Th, 22.10.2020, from 01:00 PM CEST
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We, 21.10.2020, until 07:00 PM CEST

Description

ARAB-SASANIAN, TEMP. ‘ABD AL-MALIK B. MARWAN (65-86h). Drachm, without mint or date, possibly Damascus, c. 75h. Obverse: In field: Armoured bust to right, holding sheathed sword in right hand, with name of the Sasanian ruler Khusraw in Pahlawi to right and gdh apzwt (‘may his glory increase’) to left; In border: bismillah la i- laha illa Allah wa – hdahu Muhammad ra – sul Allah, divided by stars-in-crescents except above the bust, where the star-in-crescent is replaced by a pellet-within-annulet. Reverse: In field: Arch supported on columns, within which is a vertical barbed spear which has two pennants floating to the right just below the head; to right and left of the columns: khalifat Allah - amir al-mu’minin; to either side of the spear-shaft: nasr – Allah; In border: Four stars-in-crescents, with unread Arabic word at one o’clock. Weight: 3.22g; Published: Malek 2019, fig. 9.32.27, this coin illustrated. References: cf Treadwell 2005, 5; cf Walker 1941, p.24, ANS.5 = Gaube 1973, 2.3.2.4. Tiny edge chip, countermark in obverse margin at 2.30, otherwise about extremely fine and extremely rare. One of the greatest and most sought-after rarities of the Arab-Sasanian series, the ‘Mihrab and ‘Anaza’ drachm has been rightly described as ‘extraordinary’ (Grabar, O., The Formation of Islamic Art, revised and enlarged edition, Yale, 1987), and ‘a very valuable little archaeological document’ (Miles 1952). This remarkable coin lacks both mint and date. Most scholars have assumed that it was struck at Damascus, the Umayyad capital, where other experimental drachms were struck including the Standing Caliph type (see previous lot), with which the Mihrab and ‘Anaza drachms have often been compared. While this may be correct the cataloguer has previously suggested that other possibilities should be considered (vide Morton & Eden auction 85, 27 April 2017, lot 3 ), and the present coin offers further support for this view. The latest study of this issue is that of Treadwell (2005), who interprets the imagery on this coin as a response to perceived problems with the design of the Standing Caliph drachms. Treadwell argues that the Mihrab and ‘Anaza type modifies the Sasanian bust on the obverse so that it is recognisably that of the Caliph, replacing the standing figure on the reverse with an image of the Prophet’s spear mounted within an arch. If correct, the coin would then show the ruler on the obverse and a religious symbol on the reverse, a pattern which Treadwell points out is standard for the ancient world. This symbol has traditionally been identified as a spear or lance within a mihrab, and has visual similarities with the modified cross-on-steps on the Standing Caliph gold and copper coinage. It was Miles who identified the spear as the ‘anaza of the Prophet himself, and tentatively suggested the mihrab could be identified more precisely as the niche type (mihrab mujawwaf), which would be the earliest depiction of this important Islamic architectural feature. Later scholars have suggested other possibilities, however, and Treadwell points out that arches of this type are found on Christian and even Jewish coins also, suggesting a connection with the Christian sacrum in Jerusalem (the arch which stood over the True Cross). This remarkable coin might have played a part in the so-called ‘war of images’ between the Muslims and Christians at this time. However, Treadwell also reports that Miles himself ‘did not consider that the coin, as he had described it, fitted smoothly into the series of Damascus silver coinage of the mid-690s,’ and interpreting this coin as a direct successor to the Standing Caliph drachms does present difficulties. The absence of a date is inexplicable, especially since Khusraw II’s name in Pahlawi has been returned to the obverse where a date could easily be placed. This feature also conflicts with Treadwell’s assertion that the bust would be identified as that of the caliph. Furthermore, while clearly different from the familiar crowned image of Khusraw II, neither the unusual type of helmet, nor the cross-hatching across his breast, nor the sheathed sword (held rather awkwardly) actually resemble the figure on the Standing Caliph drachms struck in 75h. A closer parallel may come from another remarkable Arab-Sasanian type: the celebrated Arab-Ephthalite issue struck by Yazid b. Muhallab in 84h, whose reverse depicts a standing warrior wearing chain-mail and armed with sword and spear (see following lot). The obverse of this type has clear similarities with the bust of the Mihrab and ‘Anaza drachms, especially the domed helmet with the crest behind, represented as the ‘weather-vane’ on the coin of Yazid and by Miles’s ‘tassels’ on the present specimen. Having identified the headgear as a military helmet, there are no grounds for rejecting the cross-hatching on the Mihrab and ‘Anaza drachms as a representation of armour. Another curious feature of the Mihrab and ‘Anaza drachms is the large number of dies used: the seven specimens listed by Treadwell were struck from seven different obverse and six reverse dies. Is this consistent with a short-lived, experimental type concocted hastily in Damascus and quickly abandoned? Or might this be better explained as a coinage struck for a specific event such as a military campaign? The countermark on the present coin indicates that it certainly circulated in the East, the scene of much campaigning at this time. And the iconography of the Mihrab and ‘Anaza drachm seems fitting for a military coinage: an armoured bust on the obverse, helmeted and wearing a sword, while the reverse depicts a barbed spear accompanied by the phrase ‘Victory from God.’ Wherever and whenever this fascinating coin was struck, its overtly military imagery suggests that it may have been intended to play a practical role as a military coinage just as much as being part of a religious ‘war of images.’

Estimate: GBP 100000 - 120000

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