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.
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.”
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.
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.