Byzantine Coins, the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail

Byzantine bronze follis struck AD 969-976 and the face on the Shroud of Turin

Since I was a small boy, I have been fascinated by the Shroud of Turin, where the paths of history, science and faith combine in one unique artefact. Irrespective of your religious beliefs, any student of history or science will find much to captivate them in the faint image of a crucified man that appears on the ancient cloth. Whether the linen once wrapped the dead body of Jesus Christ or is the work of a more recent medieval forger, the mystery of how the image is imprinted remains unsolved, even with twenty-first-century technology. It is my view that the image of Christ that appears on Byzantine coinage provides compelling evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity and a plausible solution to one of history’s greatest enigmas – the location of the mythical Holy Grail itself.    

A New Acquisition

At some time during the short but distinguished reign of Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes (AD 969- 976), an artist working at the Constantinople Mint was entrusted with the task of engraving an image of Jesus Christ for a new bronze follis. Earlier emperors had depicted Christ on gold and silver coins, but this was the first time that his likeness would appear on a mass-produced circulating coin. 

The Emperor’s decision to depict Christ on his coinage instead of his own portrait may have been prompted by an exciting new acquisition. Constantinople had recently taken ownership of the holiest relic in Christendom, a mysterious image of Christ ‘not made by human hands’ but miraculously transferred onto a cloth, it was said, by Christ himself. Although it was considered too holy to go on public display at the time, our coin engraver would almost certainly have been granted the privilege of entering the Pharos chapel of Constantinople’s Imperial Palace for a special viewing in order to capture a good likeness.

The cloth had arrived in Constantinople amidst much rejoicing on 15th August 944 after being acquired from the city of Edessa (today, Urfa in Southern Turkey).  According to local legend, it had been presented to King Abgar of Edessa by Jesus’ disciples when he became the first ruler to convert to Christianity. However, when the King died, the city reverted to paganism, and the cloth was hidden to protect it.  Workers repairing the city walls in AD 525 stumbled upon it in a niche high above one of the main gates. 

Images of the Mandylion


The rediscovery of the Edessa Cloth (or Mandylion) sparked considerable excitement throughout the Christian world.  One contemporary account described the image as “a moist secretion with no paint or artistic craft transferred with no artistic intervention on the cloth”.

Since the New Testament provide no clues about Christ’s physical appearance, pilgrims flocked to Edessa to observe what they believed to be His true likeness. From the Sixth Century onwards, artists increasingly depicted him with the distinctive facial features that appear on the cloth – long hair with a centre parting, large owl-like eyes, a long prominent nose, a full moustache and a slightly forked beard. 

Contemporary paintings made of the Mandylion suggest that it was kept in a wide rectangular frame with a hole cut into the centre through which the bearded face could be viewed. It is interesting to note that artists who painted the face often framed it within a circle. Could this be the origin of the halo, or nimbus that became a popular symbol of holiness in medieval art?   

The First Depiction

Gold coin of Justinian II (AD 692-695)

The first coins to depict Christ were struck almost three centuries earlier during the reign of Emperor Justinian II (AD 692–695). On that occasion, the coin engravers may have made the 800 mile trip to Edessa to see the Mandylion for themselves. Both the gold solidus and the smaller gold tremissis (one third the weight of the solidus) incorporate many intricate details present in the mysterious image. However, political instability in the region may have restricted future access to the cloth, and later designs appear to have been copies of the first strikes. During the Eighth Century, a fierce debate raged through the Eastern Church about whether it was heretical to make images of the Son of God. Many paintings of Christ were destroyed, and no coins were struck bearing his image for over a Century until the debate was resolved. 

The mass circulating bronze coin of Emperor John I Tzimiskes marked the first in a series of what has become known as anonymous Byzantine folles. For the next 123 years, successive emperors chose to depict Christ on their circulating coins instead of their own portraits, which is why they are collectively described as anonymous. Whilst doing so may have been no more than an act of piety, it also allowed them to promote their holiest relic throughout the ancient world. On the reverse of the coins, several different inscriptions boldly identify the face that appears on them. The most common is the four-lined IHSUS XRISTUS BASILEU BASILE (‘Jesus Christ King of Kings’). There is also a popular cross symbol with two letters in each quarter, IC XC NI KA (‘May Jesus Christ Conquer’). 

Anonymous Bronze follis (AD 969-976)

The Engraver’s Art

Engraving a portrait directly onto a small circular die required formidable talent, consummate patience and perfect vision.  Given the large number of circulating bronze coins required to circulate through the empire, a relatively simple design would have been required so that the Mint could replace the dies quickly as they wore out.  This posed another challenge to the Mint engravers as there would be no time to create the intricate and exquisitely detailed dies which had been crafted for the more prestigious gold coins.  They had to work quickly using a design that was relatively easy to replicate over and over again to keep the coins coming. 

I am going to suggest, for reasons which will hopefully become apparent, that our engraver took a novel approach to create his coin design for the bronze follis. Unable to create a beautiful portrait incorporating detailed facial features, he instead carefully copied the faint lines that make up the image. The result may have lacked the elegance of the gold coins but accurately replicated the mysterious face on Constantinople’s most important holy relic, which was presumably his brief.

The Mandylion Stolen

So, how successful was the coin designer in copying the image from the Cloth of Edessa?  To answer that, we have to determine whether it has survived to enable us to make a comparison. In 1204, Constantinople was attacked and plundered by the French-led Fourth Crusade.  It was later reported that the crusaders had” taken many relics, including the linen in which our Lord was wrapped’.  The Mandylion, with its mysterious ghost-like image, slipped quietly into legend. 

The attack on Constantinople by the French led Fourth Crusade in 1204

Without the original cloth, inferior copies made of the ‘true image’ (Latin: vera icon) soon took on a mythical quality of their own. A new origin story emerged in the 14th Century in which a woman from Jerusalem wiped Christ’s face with her veil as he carried his cross to his crucifixion, only to find a supernatural image of his face imprinted on it. The event does not appear in any of the New Testament accounts, and the name Veronica is most likely a corruption of the words ‘vera icon’. Several churches claim to possess either the true veil or an ancient copy. In reality, they are most likely early copies of the image on the Edessa Cloth made before it was stolen from Constantinople in 1204.

The Templar Connection

There is strong evidence that the real Mandylion was entrusted to the safekeeping of the warrior monks known as the Knights Templar, who were fiercely protective of their most precious treasure and kept its location a closely guarded secret.  A Vatican researcher recently claimed to have unearthed a Templar initiation rite from 1287. In it, a young Frenchman called Arnaut Sabbatier testified that he was “shown a long piece of linen on which was impressed the figure of a man and told to worship it, kissing the feet three times“.

The Templar leaders are executed

When the Knights Templar fell out of favour with the Pope, the Grand Master Jacques de Molay was arrested with sixty of his knights in a dawn raid on Friday 13th October 1307. Charged with heresy, which included worshipping the image of a bearded man, years of torture and imprisonment followed, but they refused to divulge the whereabouts of the treasure they guarded.

Eventually, the King of France lost patience and had Moloy and his deputy, the Templar ‘draper’ Geoffrey de Charny, burnt at the stake in Paris on 18th March 1314. 

From Lirey to Turin

In 1349, a distinguished French Knight, also called Geoffrey de Charny, requested permission from Pope Clement VI to display the burial shroud of Christ in his hometown of Lirey. It is highly probable that he was a descendant of the man who died alongside Moloy in Paris, although the family always refused to explain how such a remarkable object had come into their possession. This led one local bishop to denounce the shroud as being “cunningly painted … a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed“.

After Charny was killed fighting the battle of Poitiers in 1356, his family displayed the Shroud to the public and struck special souvenir pilgrim badges, depicting its distinctive double imprint of a human body and bearing the Charny family’s heraldry.

Souvenir pilgrim badge struck by the Charny family

In 1453 Geoffrey de Charny’s elderly grand-daughter Marguerite de Charny, knowing she would die childless, passed the Shroud to the pious Duke Louis I of Savoy. His successors installed it at their then capital, Chambery where it was folded up and placed in a silver casket. In 1532 a fire swept through the chapel, and a drop of molten silver from the casket burned a hole through the folded layers of fabric within. Fortunately, the image was left more or less intact, and in 1578 the Savoy family moved the cloth to their new capital Turin, where it resides to this day. In 1983 ownership of the Shroud was officially transferred to the Roman Catholic Church.

Scientific Investigation

The Shroud of Turin
Photographic negative

Today, the Shroud of Turin is the most studied historical artefact in the world. The scientific community began to take an interest after amateur photographer Secondo Pia photographed the face for the first time in May 1898. As he developed the image in his darkroom, he nearly dropped the photographic plate in shock. The negative revealed details of the face that had never been seen before. Pia was accused of tampering with the image and had to wait until the Shroud was publicly displayed again in 1931 before another photograph could be taken to validate his startling discovery.

In October 1978, an international team comprising over 40 scientists was granted unprecedented access to the Shroud for five days. Calling themselves the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), they included a nuclear physicist, a thermal chemist, a biophysicist, an optical physicist, a forensic pathologist and specialist photographers. They brought over eighty tonnes of scientific equipment to Turin to determine how the image had been formed and where it had been.

Three years later, STURP published their findings, concluding that “there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image“.

The image shows the anatomically correct human form of a scourged and crucified man with wounds consistent with the Biblical accounts of Christ’s crucifixion. These include a bleeding scalp, a severe scourging with multi-pronged whips, wounds in the wrists and feet and an elliptical wound in the side that appears to have been made by a spear.

No pigments, paints or dyes were found on the linen fibres that would account for the image, meaning that the image cannot be the work of an artist. The bloodstains that cover the cloth are human and contain a high concentration of bilirubin, produced when a body is suffering extreme stress and pain. Curiously, the blood was present on the linen before the image formed around it. Pollen grains taken from the cloth have been identified as coming from plants that flower in Jerusalem, Edessa and Constantinople, suggesting that the Shroud has spent time in these locations.

More Than A Face

One problem with linking the Shroud of Turin with the Cloth of Edessa is that the latter was often described as bearing an image of Jesus’ face while he was still alive and not an image of his whole body laid out in death. However, it would have made practical sense for the original custodians of the cloth to disguise the fact that it once wrapped a dead body. Grave clothes were considered untouchable and unclean by the deeply superstitious population, and it would have been far more palatable to display the face only and claim that the image had been miraculously transferred when Jesus was alive.

This might explain why the cloth was displayed in a wide rectangular frame with a hole cut into the centre to display only the face. The frame would have allowed room for a much longer cloth to be folded up inside it. Intriguingly, the original Edessan account of the cloth refers to it as being “tetradiplon“, which means four-folded. Analysis of fold marks on the Shroud of Turin confirms that it was indeed folded in this way for a considerable time.

There are also eyewitness reports that suggest that the Mandylion was a full-body image and not just a face. In the Eighth Century, Pope Stephen III (reigned AD 752 to 757) stated that Christ had “spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvellous as it is to see… the glorious image of the Lord’s face, and the length of his entire and most noble body, has been divinely transferred.” 

Later, an English monk called Orderic Vitalis, writing in about 1130, confirmed that the cloth bore “the majestic form of his whole body… supernaturally transferred“.

In 1203, a French knight called Robert de Clari visited Constantinople and described seeing “the Shroud in which the Lord had been wrapped raised upright so that one could see the figure of our Lord on it“.

Carbon Dating

Undoubtedly the greatest obstacle for linking the two cloths came in 1988 when laboratories in Oxford, Tucson and Zurich were granted permission to conduct a destructive Carbon 14 test on a sample cut from the Shroud of Turin to determine its age.  They later declared that the Shroud was a medieval forgery, made between 1260 and 1390.

Regrettably, the laboratories showed no interest in understanding how a medieval forger had imprinted a full length anatomically correct image of a victim of Roman crucifixion complete with unique photographic properties onto the linen. At the Press Conference, Professor Edward Hall, Director of the Oxford Research Laboratory, suggested that “someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it” as if this would have been an easy thing to do. Irrespective of when the linen was made, how the image came to be imprinted on it remains no less of a mystery.

Public exposition of the Shroud

In recent years, serious doubts have been cast on the validity of the 1988 test results. The test samples were cut from a corner of the cloth that priests had held up for hours at a time when displaying it to the faithful during outdoor expositions. We now know that smoke damage, prolonged exposure to the elements, and repeated handling can seriously affect the outcome of a Carbon 14 test.

Furthermore, in 2005 one of the original STURP scientists, Ray Rogers, examined a control sample cut for the test that was not destroyed and concluded that cotton had once been expertly woven into the ancient linen to repair the area and then dyed to disguise the repair. If correct, this would invalidate the 1988 results because it means that the samples cut from the corner “were not representative of the main Shroud“, which contains no cotton.  

New Research

In 2013, a team of scientists from several Italian Universities led by Professor Giulio Fanti published the results of their non-destructive chemical and mechanical tests on the Shroud. Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Raman Spectroscopy, and other tests to measure the micro-mechanical characteristics of flax fibres such as tensile strength, the team was able to date the linen to “33 BC ± 250 years”.

To date, all attempts to date the Shroud using scientific methods have provoked controversy and accusations of bias, and the Catholic Church has wisely refused to have an official position regarding its authenticity. However, the new test results open up the genuine possibility that the Cloth of Edessa and the Shroud of Turin are the same historical artefact.

Facial Comparisons

I believe that the anonymous bronze follis struck between AD 969 and 976 make this connection even more compelling. The coins circulated throughout the Byzantine empire for many decades, meaning that surviving examples are often heavily worn. Frustratingly, the highest points on a circulating coin are inevitably the first to wear, so coins that still display clear facial features are rare. Fortunately, well-preserved examples exist, and we can see what the coin designer engraved onto the die simply by flipping the image that appears on the struck coin. When flipped and viewed alongside an image of the face on the Shroud, the similarities are extraordinary, especially when you consider that our engraver was working on an area little more than a centimetre in diameter.

Byzantine Follis (AD 969-976) compared with the face on the Shroud of Turin

Most striking of all is the distinctive cross shape incorporating the eyebrows, forehead and nose. There is a long horizontal band above the eyes, bisected by a long vertical line that starts at the hairline and extends downwards to become a long nose. The base of the nose connects to a smaller horizontal line that forms the moustache, which slopes down slightly on the left-hand side. There is a distinctive mark on the right cheek, and beneath the moustache is a small square and a forked beard. The long hair, which hangs down on both sides of the face, has two parallel strands of hair at the bottom left of the image. These features can be seen clearly on the Shroud image, and the result is a coin that resembles the Shroud image far too closely to be dismissed as a coincidence.

Byzantine Follis (AD 1028-1041) showing detail on the forehead that matches a bloodstain on the Shroud

A later bronze follis struck in Constantinople about fifty years later incorporates additional details that suggest that coin artists continued to have access to the original image. Intriguingly, there is a tiny mark in the centre parting of the hair in the forehead that resembles the inverted “3” shaped bloodstain that appears on the Shroud in the same area. In addition, the coin artist has replicated the way that the long hair appears to bunch at the shoulders. The eyebrows are represented with a long horizontal line, and there is the suggestion that the right eyebrow is slightly higher than the left. There is also a wound-like mark on the right cheek, a moustache that appears to slope down to the left and, most striking of all, a horizontal band across the throat.

Once again, I would suggest that the similarities are too many and too specific to be a coincidence.


So, if we are to consider these startling similarities to be compelling numismatic evidence that the coin artists working at the Constantinople Mint saw and copied the face on the Shroud of Turin, then the ramifications are significant. It means that the Shroud is considerably older than the flawed Carbon dating results indicate. It also provides compelling evidence that the Cloth of Edessa and the Shroud of Turin are one and the same. It is frankly inconceivable that there were two linen cloths present in Christendom at the same time, both containing a mysterious image of Jesus not made by human hands.

There is an additional, intriguing implication of this research. According to legend, the holiest relic protected by the Templars was the Holy Grail, a mysterious vessel that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, used to collect Jesus’ blood in at his crucifixion.  The grail is often associated with the cup that Jesus used in his last supper with his disciples before his death.  But why the Romans executing Jesus would have permitted one of his followers to catch his blood in a drinking cup makes no sense at all.  So, could this vessel be something else? 

The New Testament may provide us with the answer. Could it be that the vessel that Joseph of Arimathea used to contain Jesus’ blood in was not a drinking cup at all, but the blood-stained linen cloth that wrapped around Jesus’ crucified body in the tomb?    

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate (the Roman governor), he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.” (Matthew 27:57-60 NIV)

Does the face of Jesus struck onto the coins of the Byzantine Empire reveal that the lost Cloth of Edessa, the legendary Holy Grail and the mysterious Shroud of Turin are, in fact, the same historical artefact? 

Announcing a new Dirhem book by Jani Oravisjärvi

The Coins & History Foundation is proud to announce the publication of a major new work explaining the history and impacts of the Islamic silver coins called “Dirhems.” The author, Jani Oravisjärvi, is an archaeologist currently working as a project researcher (University of Oulu) on The Silver and origins of the Viking Age -project. Jani is a former keeper of the numismatic collections at the National Museum of Finland and a former executive secretary and board member of the Finnish Numismatic Society.

The book is available for purchase at Suomen Moneta in Helsinki, Finland:

Here is a short excerpt from the book’s introduction:

“One group of coins was issued during the period 1300 years ago, which we we know today as the Viking Age. The coins that started it all are dirhems. Those Islamic silver coins weighing just under three grams changed the direction of history and ushered in a whole new chapter in coins and currency. Dirhems formed a continuous stream of silver flowing along the eastern road through Europe to the North for two hundred for a year from the early 800s to the early 1000s. Without dirhams, the Viking Age and others to follow would have looked very differently.”

“Despite their importance, dirhems and other money of early Islamic culture are not very well-known among the general public. Early Islamic money is the oldest witness to Arab and Islamic identity so they can also be approached, for example, from a cultural and religious history point of view. In many matters related to Arab and Islamic history money is an excellent – and sometimes even the only – group of known objects, whose provable value cannot be underestimated or disputed.”

To read an entire chapter from this Dirhem book in English, click here:

To read that same chapter in its original Finnish, click here:

Dirhemin Synty (Finnish)


Kuva 1. Banijuridit: Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad (295-297h / 908-910). Dirhemin takasivulla viitataan samanidiemiiri Isma’il b. Ahmadiin. Lyöntipaikka ja -vuosi: Balkh, 292h (904/5). 2,95 g. Kuva 2x suurennos. Todellinen halk. 27 mm. © Heritage Auctions.

Tokharistanissa ryhdyttiin dirhemeitä lyömään paikallisten emiirien toimesta 870-luvulla. Alueen pääkaupunkina toimi tuolloin Balkh, mutta rahanlyönti oli keskittynyt Andarabaan, joka sijaitsi sopivasti kahden keskeisen hopeakaivoksen lähettyvillä. Samanidien ottaessa alueen hallintaansa vuonna 287h (900) rahapajat lisäsivät samanidiemiiri Ismailin nimen rahojen takasivulle vallan tunnustuksen osoittamiseksi. Tässä vaiheessa dirhemeitä ryhdyttiin lyödä myös Balkhin rahapajassa. Yleisesti erittäin vaativana pidettyyn leimasimen (meistien) kaivertajan tehtävään palkattiin vuonna 292h (904) poikkeuksellisen taitava käsityöläinen, jonka leimasimia pidetään yhtenä varhaisen islamilaisen historian kaikista kauneimpina (kuva 87). Tämä ei jäänyt myöskään muilta alueen rahapajoilta huomaamatta, sillä heti seuraavana vuonna muut rahapajat ryhtyvät jäljittelemään rahojen kaunista tyyliä.

Kuva 2. Samanidit: Isma’il I (892-907). Signeerattu dirhemi ilman rahapajamerkintää mutta todennäköisesti Andaraba, 303h (915/6). Nimi Mujib esiintyy takasivulla noin klo 5 kohdalla ulommaisen kehätekstin päällä hyvin pienellä kirjoitettuna. © Stephen Album.

Dirhemeiden tyylin muutoksen perusteella voidaan todeta, että vuonna 293h (905/6) Andaraban rahapaja irtisanoi siellä vuodesta 287h (900/901) asti työskennelleet leimasimen kaivertajat ja palkkasi näiden tilalle yhden tai mahdollisesti useamman taitavamman kaivertajan. Ainakin yhden irtisanotuista kaivertajista tiedetään siirtyneen samana vuonna avattuun Panjshirin rahapajalle, sillä siellä lyödyt tyyliltään kömpelöt dirhemit ovat täysin identtisia aiempien Andaraban dirhemeiden kanssa. Tämän kaivertajan ura leimasimien kaivertajana vaikuttaa kuitenkin päättyneen kyseisenä vuotena, sillä enää tämän jälkeen hänen kaivertamilla leimasimilla lyötyjä dirhemeitä ei tavata..

Uusien kaivertajien myötä laadullinen ero on välittömästi havaittavissa välittömästi Andarabassa lyödyissä dirhemeissä. Laadullisen eron ohella osaan rahoihin ilmestyy pienellä kirjoitettuna leimasimen kaivertajan nimimerkki ”Mujib”, joka sijaitsee yleensä takasivulla kehätekstin yhteyteen pienellä piilotettuna (kuva 88). Signeerattujen leimasimien perusteella hänen tiedetään työskennelleen Andaraban rahapajassa noin kymmennen vuoden ajan.

Andaraban ohella Mujibin tiedetään kaivertaneen leimasimia myös edellä mainitulle Panjshirin rahapajalle. Kyseisen rahapajan tekee poikkeukselliseksi kolmen eri nimen käyttö samanaikaisesti. Arabimaantieteilijä al-Hamdani (893-945) kertoo paikallisesta kaivoksesta kaivetun hopean jaetun kolmeen osaan: yksi osa kaivostyöläisille (Ma’din, suom kaivos), yksi osa paikallisille (’Askar Pansjhir) ja yksi osa paikalliselle rahapajalle (Pansjhir) rahaksi lyötäväksi. Näin ollen eri rahapajanimet vastaisivat todellisuudessa sitä, kenen laskuun Mujib kunkin leimasimen kaiversi. Signeerausten syy ei alkuaan välttämättä ollut erityinen ammattiylpeys, kuten oli esimerkiksi klassillisen kauden syrakusalaisten leimasimien kaivertajien kohdalla, vaan hyvin käytännöllinen syy. Mujib kaiversi leimasimia pienelle rahapajalle, joka löi rahaa lähinnä paikallisten tarpeisiin. Kaivertamalla nimensä leimasimiin hän varmisti saavansa oikean suuruisen palkkkion tekemästään työstä. Parhaiten tämä oli osoitettavissa nimimerkin avulla, joka kiistatta osoitti hänen valmistaneen kyseiset leimasimet.

Kuva 3. Samanidit: Nasr ibn Ahmad (301-331h 913-942)nimissä lyöty dinaari. Nishapur, 324h (935/6). Etusivun reunassa noin klo 9-10 kohdalla signeeraus “Abu Harith“.

Tapa signeerata leimasimia levisi myöhemmin, mutta se ei koskaan laajasti yleistynyt. Samanidien rahojen kohdalla tunnetaan yhteensä neljä eri leimasimen kaivertajaa, jotka ovat signeeranneet leimasimet. Volgan bulgaareiden keskuudestakin tunnetaan kaksi eri kaivertajaa. Rahojen yleisyyden perusteella kaikista tunnetuin leimasimien kaivertaja on todennäköisesti Nishapurin rahapajassa 930 luvulla työskennellyt Abu Harith, jonka signeeraamat samanidien dinaarit ovat kaikista yleisimpiä signeeratuilla leimasimilla lyödyt islamilaiset rahat (kuva 89).

Islamilaisessa taiteessa, arkkitehtuurissa ja käsitöissä teosten signeeraminen vakiintui hyvin varhaisessa vaiheessa vuosien 1050-1100 välisenä aikana. Rahojen osalta tämä käytäntö alkoi jopa sata vuotta aiemmin. Ensimmäinen signeeratulla leimasimella lyöty raha havaittiin vuonna 1938, jolloin Amerikan Numismaattisen Yhdistyksen (American Numismatic Society) islamilaisten rahojen kokoelmasta vastannut George C. Miles (1904-1975) havaitsi signeerauksen Isfahanissa vuonna 358h (968/9) lyödyssä bujidien dirhemissä. Signeeraus ”qabla ’amal al-Hasan ibn Muhammad” (suom. al-Hasan ibn Muhammadin työ) oli vain 1,5 millimetriä korkea ja 5 millimetriä pitkä.

Signeerausten perusteella al-Hasanin tiedetään työskennelleen kolmessa eri rahapajassa: Arrajanissa, Isfahanissa sekä al-Muhammadiyassa (nyk. Teheran). Näistä rahapajoista hänen tiedetään aloittaneen Arrajanin rahapajassa vuonna 354h (965-7), jolloin hänen signeerauksensa havaitaan ensimmäisen kerran. Hänen signeeramia rahoja tunnetaan vuosien 354-360h (965-971) väliltä. Tämän jälkeen hän siirtyi al-Muhammadiyan rahapajaan, josta tunnetaan hänen vuonna 362h (972/3) signeerama dirhemi. Hänen kohdallaan leimasimet ovat täydellisesti kaiverrettuja rahojen ollessa täydellisen kauniita (durust), joten al-Hasanin tapauksessa signeeraamisen avulla osoitettiin oman työn nousseen tavanomaisuuden yläpuolelle.

JANI ORAVISJÄRVI on arkeologi (MA), joka työskentelee tällä hetkellä projektin tutkijana (Oulun yliopisto) teoksessa The Silver and origins of the Viking Age (ERC-projekti). Jani on entinen numismaattisten kokoelmien pitäjä Kansallismuseossa ja entinen Suomen numismaattisen seuran pääsihteeri ja hallituksen jäsen.

Jos haluat lukea lisää Janin kirjasta, visit

Dirhemin Synty (English)


Figure 1. Banijuridit: Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad (295-297h / 908-910). On the back of the dirham reference is made to the samanidiemir Isma’il b. Ahmad. Place and year of issue: Balkh, 292h (904/5). 2.95 g. Actual diameter 27 mm. © Heritage Auctions

In Tokharistan, dirhems were struck by local emirates in the 870s. Balkh was the capital of the region at the time, but the money was concentrated in Andaraba, conveniently located near two major silver mines. Samanidien took control of the area in 287h (900), and the mints added the Samanid emir Ismail name on the back of the money to show recognition of his power. At this point, dirhems were also struck at the Balkh Mint. These coins generally required very good engraving skills. An engraver was hired in 292h (904) with exceptional skill – an artisan whose dies are considered among the most beautiful in all early Islamic history (Fig. 1). This was not overlooked by other mints in the region, for the very next year the other mints will begin to imitate this beautiful style of coins.

Figure 2. Samanidit: Isma’il I (892-907). Signed dirham without mint mark, but probably Andaraba, 303h (915/6). The name Mujib appears on the back page at about 5 p.m. on top of the outer perimeter text in very small print. © Stephen Album.

On the basis of the change in the style of the dirhems, it can be stated that in 293h (905/6) the Mint of Andaraba dismissed one or more engravers who had worked there since 287h (900/901) and hired one or possibly more skilled engravers. At least one of the dismissed engravers is known to have moved in the same year to the opening of the Panjshir Mint, where the clumsy-style dirhams struck there are completely identical to previous Andaraba dirhams. This engraver’s career appears to have ended that year, however, for later dirhems struck with his engraved stamps are not to be found.

With the new engravers, the qualitative difference is immediately noticeable immediately in Andaraba for minted dirhams. In addition to the qualitative difference, some of the money appears small written with the nickname “Mujib” of the stamp engraver, usually located on the back in connection with the perimeter text in small hidden form (Fig. 2). Based on this signed stamp, she is known to have worked at the Mint of Andaraba for about ten years.

In addition to Andaraba, Mujib is known to have engraved stamps for the Panjshir Mint as well. That mint is made exceptional by three different names used simultaneously. Arab geographer al-Hamdani (893-945) tells of a local mine mined silver is divided into three parts: one part for miners (Ma’din, Finnish.mine), one part for the locals (‘Askar Pansjhir’) and one part for the local mint (‘Pansjhir’) to be minted. Thus, different mint names would actually correspond to who landing Mujib engraving of each stamp. The reason for the signatures was not necessarily professional pride, as was the case with the classical period Syracuse stamps for engravers, but for a very practical reason. Mujib engraved stamps to a small mint that struck money mainly for the needs of the locals. Engraving his name stamps he made sure he received the right amount of reward for the work he did. This is further evidenced by a pseudonym which he indisputably made for those coins.

Figure 3. Samanidit: Nasr ibn Ahmad (301-331h / 913-942) dinar. Nishapur, 324h (935/6). Obverse on the edge at about 9-10 p.m.signature “Abu Harith”

This practice of signing stamps did influence others, but it never became widespread. For samanid money, a total of four different stamp engravers are known to have signed the stamps. Two different engravers are also known among the Bulgarians of the Volga. Based on the prevalence of coins, the most famous stamp engraver of all is probably Abu Harith, who worked at the Nishapur Mint in the 930s and whose samidani dinars are the most common of all is Islamic money struck with signed stamps (Figure 2).

In Islamic art, architecture and crafts, the signing of works became well established at an early stage between 1050 and 1100. In terms of coins, this practice began up to a hundred years earlier. The first money struck with the signed stamp was detected in 1938 by George C. Miles (1904-1975) from the American Numismatic Association (American Numismatic Society.) Miles was in charge of the collection of Islamic money signature in the Bujid dirham struck in Isfahan in 358h (968/9). Signature “Qabla’ Amal al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ”(work of al-Hasan ibn Muhammad) was only 1.5 millimeters high and 5 millimeters long.

Based on the signatures, al-Hasan is known to have worked in three different mints: In Arrajan, Isfahan and al-Muhammadiya (now Tehran). Of these mints he is known to have started at the Arrajan Mint in 354h (965-7), when his signatures are detected for the first time. The money he signed is known between 354-360h (965-971). He then moved to al-Muhammadiya’s mint, of which the dirham signed by him in 362h (972/3) is known. His stamps are perfectly engraved, and the coins are perfectly beautiful (durust), so in the case of al-Hasan, signing was used to show that his own work had become the norm.

JANI ORAVISJÄRVI is an archaeologist (M.A.) currently working as a project researcher (University of Oulu) on The Silver and origins of the Viking Age -project (an ERC project.) Jani is a former keeper of the numismatic collections at the National Museum of Finland and a former executive secretary and board member of the Finnish Numismatic Society.

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