UMAYYAD, TEMP. ‘ABD AL-MALIK B. MARWAN (65-86h). Dinar, no mint name, 77h. Obverse: In margin: Muhammad rasul Allah arsulahu bi’l-huda wa din al-haqq li-yuzhirahu ‘ala al-din kullihi; In field: la ilaha illa | Allah wahdahu | la sharik lahu. Reverse: In margin: bismillah duriba hadha al-dinar fi sanat saba‘ wa saba‘in; In field: Allah ahad Allah | al-samad lam yalidu | wa lam yuladu. Weight: 4.27g. References: Bernardi 2001, dies c/A; Walker 1956, 186; cf Sotheby’s, 19 April 1994, lot 290, same dies. Faint marks in reverse field, otherwise extremely fine and extremely rare. Provenance: Roma Numismatics auction XIV, 21 September 2017, lot 894. ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan’s introduction of a single, unified and distinctively Islamic gold coinage in 77h has rightly been seen as a landmark in the early history of Islam. In the former Sasanian lands, the victorious Muslims began striking coins bearing Arabic inscriptions as early as 31h, and these Arab-Sasanian drachms were produced at dozens of mints for more than fifty years. But there was no active gold mint in the provinces the Muslims captured from the Byzantines, and for several decades this shortfall of gold coinage was met by the unsatisfactory expedient of importing Byzantine solidi until, in the words of a modern scholar: …‘Abd al-Malik perceived the inconvenience and economic loss that resulted from the absence of minting in Syria and proceeded to remedy the situation. Without a mint, bullion could be turned into gold coins only by selling it to merchants...The remarkable aspect of the matter is not that ‘Abd al-Malik instituted minting, but rather that half a century elapsed after the Arab conquest before a mint was set up in the capital of the caliphate.’ (Bates 1986, pp. 231-262.). After striking a few experimental types in both gold and silver which were still closely related to Byzantine and Sasanian prototypes, ‘Abd al-Malik finally made a clean break with the pre-Islamic past and introduced a completely new gold coinage in 77h. Instead of the modified crosses and imperial images found on previous gold issues, his new dinars were purely epigraphic in design, bearing quotations from the Qur‘an which emphasise the oneness of God in contrast to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Even the weight of the coins was changed from that of the Byzantine solidus to the Arabic mithqal, as noted by the historian al-Tabari (224-310h): ‘The pre-Islamic units of weight [mithqals] by which ‘Abd al-Malik struck his coins were twenty-two qirats minus a habbah’ (al-Tabari, vol. 22, trans. E.K. Rowson, New York, 1989, pp.91-92). But for most contemporary writers it was the symbolic nature of the new Islamic coinage which was of the greatest interest. According to one account, ‘Abd al-Malik’s new coinage was a reaction to threats from the Byzantines to put derogatory references to the Prophet on their solidi, which were still being imported into the Islamic lands. These threats came after ‘Abd al-Malik learned that rolls of papyrus being exported from Egypt to Byzantium were being marked with Christian inscriptions rather than Islamic ones. The historian al-Baladhuri reports this incident thus: ‘The Byzantines used to get papyrus rolls from Egypt, and the Arabs received dinars from the Byzantines. ‘Abd al-Malik bin Marwan was the first to inscribe on the upper part of these such phrases as: ‘Say: Allah is One!’ and others with the name of Allah. One day, he received a message from the Byzantine king, saying, “You have recently introduced an inscription on your papyri which is hateful to us. If you omit it, well and good; otherwise, you shall see on the dinars the name of your Prophet associated with things you hate.” This was too much for ‘Abd al-Malik, who…sent for Khalid ibn Yazid. Khalid replied, “Do not fear, Commander of the Faithful; declare the use of their dinars illegal, strike new coinage in place of them, and do not let these infidels avoid what they hate to see on the papyri.” (al-Baladhuri, trans. Philip Hitti, New York, 1916, pp. 383-384, slightly abridged and adapted). It is impossible to say how much of this account is historically accurate, although similar versions are given by several other historians. But the story does show that trade was already taking place between the Byzantines and the Muslims, while also revealing the latter’s dependence on Byzantine gold solidi. It is also noteworthy that the story has ‘Abd al-Malik advised not merely to strike his own coins but to ban the use of Byzantine solidi. This would have an economic function as well as an ideological once, since ‘Abd al-Malik’s new gold mint could then have followed the common practice of charging people to convert the prohibited solidi into acceptable dinars. The present coin is a very rare survivor from this first year in which a ‘purely Islamic’ coinage was struck. Of striking and beautiful simplicity, and obviously and uncompromisingly Islamic, it was to become the basis of a stable gold coinage whose weight and fineness was carefully maintained in accordance with Qur’anic precepts. The type lasted unchanged until the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in 132h, and it is a remarkable tribute to the enduring power of ‘Abd al-Malik’s design that three of the four inscriptions used on these first Islamic dinars are also found on the last coins of the Abbasids issued nearly six centuries later.
Estimate: GBP 180000 - 220000