Specialist London auctioneers Morton & Eden
will sell three of the earliest and rarest Islamic gold coins in a sale of Important Coins of the Islamic World on Monday April 22. Struck only a few decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the coins tell the story of how the early Muslims created one of the largest and most influential empires the world has ever seen. Together, they are expected to sell for more than £350,000.
Two of the three coins look like Byzantine solidi and bear the portraits of Christian Byzantine emperors who ruled in the early decades of the 7th century AD. However, closer inspection reveals subtle differences from the thousands of regular solidi which survive.
In the present examples, all Christian symbols have been discreetly but thoroughly removed. In fact, these are Islamic coins, struck from subtly modified dies in the provinces which the Muslims had conquered from the Byzantines.
Stephen Lloyd of Morton and Eden said: In the first few decades of Islam, the Muslims conquered huge areas of the Near and Middle East in only a few decades. In places like Egypt, Syria and Jordan, people had been using Byzantine gold solidi for centuries, and there were still plenty in circulation for years after the Muslim conquests.
But this stock of Byzantine coins could not last forever and the Muslims eventually had to strike more gold to replace them. So, the Muslims simply de-Christianised Byzantine coins: large crosses lost the top limb to become a T-shape; smaller crosses on the emperors crowns were removed completely and the chi-rho monogram made up from the first letters of Christ was subtly changed into a letter P. The new coins were much more acceptable to Islam, but were still similar enough to standard Byzantine coins that they could circulate alongside them.
Scholars still debate exactly when these modified coins were produced. They are not dated, but there are good reasons for thinking that they were struck somewhere between 60-72h it seems very unlikely that they could be later. So they are definitely among the very first gold coins the Muslims ever made.
The two examples in the sale, one copying coins of the Byzantine emperor Focas (602-610AD) the other Heraclius (610-641AD), are estimated at £50,000-80,000 and £40,000-60,000 respectively
The extreme rarity of these fascinating transitional coins suggests that they were only ever issued in small quantities, possibly by local governors and commanders. Most were melted in the recall of all pre-Reform gold when the first truly Islamic dinars were struck in 77h, an example of which is estimated at £280,000-320,000 in the sale.
Generally considered to be the first purely Islamic gold coin ever produced, the famous 77h dinar coin reflects the growing Islamic reluctance to show images of living things, unlike the two earlier pieces which still have portraits of emperors and legends in Latin.
Instead, there are four short inscriptions written in Arabic: three quotations from the Holy Quran and a fourth giving the date in which the coin was struck: 77h (=696/7AD). The historical importance of this coin has been appreciated for many years, and it has featured on stamps, banknotes and even credit cards issued in the Middle East.
The introduction of a unified Islamic gold coinage under Abd al-Malik has rightly been seen as a landmark in the early history of Islam, Steve Lloyd said. This dinar marks the point at which the Islamic world began to use a truly distinctive Islamic coinage, rather than copying or adapting what had gone before.
It is an incredibly powerful statement of how the rulers of the Islamic world were now governing an empire rather than just conquering it. The Muslims took over all sorts of local laws and other arrangements during their conquests, including different coinage and currency systems, and understood that leaving these in place helped keep things peaceful and prosperous. But as the Islamic empire took shape, these were no longer appropriate an Islamic empire needed Islamic government with the Holy Quran at its heart.
Coins were an important part of this process they were vital for paying troops and collecting taxes. So in the year 77, the first of these new gold dinars were struck bearing religious legends in Arabic, which had recently been made the official language of the empire. They werent just economic tools, although that was certainly important they were also missionaries for Islam.
Morton & Edens sale of Important Coins of the Islamic World comprises 134 lots carefully chosen for their rarity, historical importance and aesthetic qualities. Together they cover much of the history of Islam from antiquity to the early 20th century. The auction includes coins of the Umayyad, Abbasid, Spanish Umayyad, Fatimid, Mamluk and Ottoman dynasties, including unique and unpublished pieces, as well as other rarities from other dynasties.
Among them is a run of 55 post-Reform Umayyad dinars comprising an example of each year from 78h to 132h inclusive. Assembling a complete set of Umayyad dinars from 77h until the fall of the dynasty in 132h has long been viewed as one of the great challenges in collecting and studying Islamic coins. The present coins have each been chosen for their excellent condition, notably the very rare 107h and 127h examples, and would make up a fine quality set in conjunction with the year 77 dinar also being sold in this auction. These 55 dinars from 78h to 132h are estimated at £80,000-100,000.
Viewing for the sale is at Morton & Edens London offices at 45 Maddox Street, London W1S 2PE on Wednesday April 17, Thursday April 18 and Friday April 19 from 10am-4.30pm or by appointment. Morton & Eden holds auctions in association with Sothebys and the sale will take place there on April 22, starting at 2 p.m.