ARAB-HEPHTHALITE, YAZID B. AL-MUHALLAB. Drachm, ANBYR (Anbir) 84h. Obverse: Sasanian bust right, wearing helmet with ‘weather-vane’ crest; To right of bust, in Arabic: Yazid bin - al-Muhallab. In second and third quadrants of margin, in Arabic: bismillah – al-a‘zim. Reverse: Standing figure facing wearing armour and helmet with ‘weather-vane’ crest, holding spear vertically in left hand, right hand on pommel of sheathed sword at his waist. In field (in Pahlawi) ANBYR to left, date to right; In first and second quadrants of margin: Hephthalite legend; In fourth and third quadrants of margin (in Arabic): duriba jizya bi-l – Juzjan. Weight: 3.42g. Published: Malek 2019, fig. 9.58.2, this coin illustrated. References: Walker 1952, p.108, 3; Album 2011, E91 RRR; cf Morton & Eden auction 73, 25 April 2015, lot 13 (with a similar countermark in first quadrant of obverse margin). Hephthalite countermarks in first and fourth quadrants of obverse margin, flan slightly curved, otherwise extremely fine and of the highest rarity. It was We who taught him the art of making of coats of mail, to guard you from each other’s violence: will you then be grateful?’ (Qur‘an xxi,80). This extraordinary type is one of the very latest Arab-Sasanian drachms issued. It is exceptional in many respects, but the first and most obvious must be the remarkable depiction of the armed warrior on the reverse. On virtually all Arab-Sasanian drachms the imagery is copied from Sasanian prototypes without conscious modification. But the standing warrior on the reverse of this coin is an entirely different matter, giving us as it does an accurate and naturalistic impression of the weapons and equipment of a Muslim commander of the first century Hijri. The figure on the reverse is fully armoured, and depicted with sufficient accuracy that the armour itself can be shown to be chain mail rather than scale or lamellar plate. The tunic is clearly sufficiently flexible to fit the outline of the warrior’s body and extends down to his knees; below this, he wears greaves to protect his shins. Chain mail places almost all the weight of the armour on the wearer’s shoulders, and one way of counteracting this was to wear a wide, strong belt which pulled the armour in. Such a belt is clearly visible both on the present coin and also on the piece published by Walker. The warrior is not explicitly identified; he may be the caliph, the governor Yazid b. al-Muhallab, or perhaps an idealised depiction of an armed Muslim fighter. It seems unlikely that Yazid would have been so presumptuous as to place his image on a silver coin, particularly at a time when Arab-Sasanian drachms were being replaced by purely epigraphic post-Reform dirhams. The bust on the obverse has the same helmet as the standing figure on the reverse, but while it does have the governor’s name before it, in other respects the personal features of the bust are stereotypical and derived from their Sasanian prototype. It seems more likely that the figure is in fact the caliph himself, even though he is not labelled as on the celebrated ‘Standing Caliph’ drachms struck at Damascus in 75h. The obverse bust and the standing warrior on the reverse both sport the same distinctive pointed helmet, topped with what Walker termed a ‘weather-vane’ crest. There are plenty of precedents for this type of helmet both in Byzantium and the East, but it is exceptional and significant that the Sasanian royal bust on this coin should wear a military helmet rather than a crown. The impression is that the coin has a specific military purpose or significance, which the governor who issued it wanted to make as clear as possible. Yazid b. al-Muhallab succeeded his father, al-Muhallab b. Abi Sufra, as governor of Khurasan following the latter’s death in 82h. He had previously issued regular Arab-Sasanian drachms at six different mints in Kirman, all dated 78h (SICA 1, p.29, note 187), but otherwise does not appear on the coinage until this type was struck six years later. Walker tells us that ‘the Ephthalite leader Nizak…was actually besieged in his fortress at Badhghis, in Khurasan, by Yazid in the same year as that of our coin. All his treasures fell to Yazid after his capitulation. So Ephthalite tribute money is quite in historical perspective.’ This, Walker suggests, explains the reference to jizya in the reverse margin. He notes further that, while the terms jizya and kharaj were used in later times to mean a personal tax and a land-tax respectively, ‘in the early days of Islam they were interchangeable terms denoting tribute generally…According to Tabari, in Khurasan jizya was always said and not kharaj.’ Walker is surely right to link this issue with the siege of Badhghis and the capture of Nizak, although it seems more plausible to suggest that his ‘Ephthalite tribute money’ was struck by the victorious Muslims rather than the defeated Hephthalites. This would explain why the legends are given in Arabic and Pahlawi, as well as in the Hephthalite script, with the threatening warrior on the reverse placed there as an explicit warning and reminder to the defeated Hephthalites. This coin was not only a practical object, struck from silver taken during campaigns in the East, but also highly symbolic token of Muslim military superiority.
Estimate: GBP 120000 - 150000