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

FATIMID, AL-MUSTANSIR (427-487h). Dinar, Madinat Rasul Allah 450h, month of Dhu’l-Hijja. Obverse: In margin: Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim duriba hadha al-dinar bi-Madinat Rasul Allah min Dhu’l-Hijja sanat khamsin wa arba‘ mi’at; In field: al-Imam | Ma‘add Abu Tamim | al-Mustansir billah | Amir al-mu’minin. Reverse: In margin: Muhammad rasul Allah arsulahu bi’l-huda…al-mushrikun (Qur’an ix:33); In field: ‘Ali | la ilaha illa Allah | wahdahu la sharik lahu | Muhammad rasul Allah | wali Allah. Weight: 3.24g. Reference: cf Morton & Eden auction 92, 26 April 2018, lot 97, same obverse die. Very fine and excessively rare. ‘Madinat Rasul Allah’ is perhaps the rarest mint-place in the entire Fatimid series. The present coin is the second known of this date, while a third dinar dated 453h is now in the British Museum. ‘City of God’s Messenger’ is generally accepted as denoting one of Islam’s holiest places: Madina al-Munawara itself. It has also been suggested that the title could refer to Mecca, but Makka appears as a mint-name in its own right on a number of Fatimid dinars and this implies that ‘Madinat Rasul Allah’ should denote a different location. It is noteworthy that Miles (Fatimid Coins: ANS NNM 121, 1951) states ‘Madinat Rasul Allah (=Medina)’, without qualification or any mention of alternative suggestions. But how and why could a Fatimid dinar should have been struck at Madina al-Munawara in this year? We do not know for certain, but it seems likely that the answer is to be found in the activities of ‘Ali b. Muhammad al-Sulayhi, founder of the Sulayhid dynasty in Yemen. Born a Sunni, he became an Isma‘ili convert after meeting Amir al-Zawahi, the Chief Da‘i of Yemen, and it seems that by the late 420s al-Sulayhi was already serving as the amir al-hajj, protecting pilgrims travelling through Yemen en route for Makka. Having succeeded Amir al-Zawahi as Chief Da‘i on the latter’s death, al-Sulayhi summoned his followers to the mountain of Jabal Masar in 439h and announced his intention to establish a Shi‘ite state in Yemen. Unsurprisingly, the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir gave his endorsement to the new movement, and al-Sulayhi embarked on a series of campaigns against other local Islamic states including a lengthy conflict with the Najjahids of Zabid. The Najjahid ruler was killed in 452h, and soon afterwards al-Mustansir formally appointed al-Sulayhi as his recognized vassal in the Yemen. By 454h the whole of the country was in his hands – including Makka, which al-Sulayhi visited personally when undertaking the hajj in that year. Al-Sulayhi is known to have struck purely Fatimid coins elsewhere in the Yemen. Nicol records specimens struck at Zabid in 445h, 447h and 448h, which are of particular relevance here because it appears that Zabid was not in fact in Sulayhid hands when these coins were issued. Our written sources indicate that the city finally fell to al-Sulayhi in either 451 or 452h, and this is supported by the existence of dinars of Zabid 451h which carry specifically Sulayhid legends (Nicol 1741). Presumably, therefore, the Fatimid coins issued in the 440s bearing the mint-name ‘Zabid’ were produced by the Sulayhids or other Fatimid partisans in the region, promoting the cause not only financially but through the pro-Fatimid legends they bore. It seems likely that the ‘Madinat Rasul Allah’ dinars were issued in similar circumstances and for similar reasons. When they were struck, al-Sulayhi did not yet control the Holy Places directly, and as with the Zabid issues from the 440s their legends are purely Fatimid – although the positioning of ‘Ali at the top of the reverse field and separated from wali Allah may have been a deliberate reference to ‘Ali b. al-Sulayhi as the issuing authority. We also know that al-Sulayhi won a great victory over the Najjahids in the year 450h at the battle of al-Zara’ib, which effectively ended Najjahid power. Given the precedent of the Zabid dinars struck just a few years earlier, it seems plausible to suggest that Fatimid or Sulayhid partisans should have issued coins anticipating Makka and Madina al-Munawara being brought under Sulayhid control. We know that the local nobility of Makka had given its allegiance to the Fatimids by 454/455h, by which time al-Mustansir was named in the khutba there. But this coin raises the tantalising possibility that this may first have happened a few years earlier, in which case 450h may have been the year in which al-Mustansir was acknowledged in the khutba not only in Cairo, but also perhaps in Makka and Madina.

Estimate: GBP 100000 - 150000

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