Abbasid Coins (750-1258CE)


by Wijdan Ali

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The Abbasid Dynasty experimented with different kinds of coins. They improved the appearance of coins using a more elegant form of Kufic script and the legends and the size of the legends on the dinars were changed so that they could include two margins....

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It is likely that the earliest Abbasid gold dinars, minted in 750 and extremely rare, were struck either in Damascus before the Umayyad mint was closed down, or in Kufa, the first Abbasid capital (figure 4).

When Caliph al-Mansur built Baghdad (762), the gold mint was moved to the new capital, and it was in this period that names of persons responsible or the coins first began to appear on silver coins called dirhams.

When Caliph Harun al-Rashid came to power in 786, he minted dinars with the names of the governors of Egypt. During this period, at least two mints were active in the empire, one in Baghdad and the other in Fustat, the seat of the governor of Egypt. The Egyptian mint was particularly active, and the dinars bearing the names of governors and a dedication to the caliph must have come from there.

Caliph al-Ma’mun (813-33), Harun al-Rashid’s son, experimented with different kinds of coins. With his highly developed artistic taste, he improved the appearance of the coins by using a more elegant form of Kufic script. New gold mints were opened, viziers’ and governors’ names appeared on coins, and the legends and the size of the legends on the dinars were changed. The new dinars were struck on broader and thinner discs so that they could include two marginal legends (figure 5). The style begun in this period continued to be used for several centuries under the Abbasids and other dynasties that followed.

Figure 2: Early Abbasid Dinar, AH135/AD752-53.

From 833 to 946, no important changes in calligraphy or style occurred on the Abbasid dinar. Because of the weakening of the caliph’s authority and the carelessness of the local officials responsible for the mint, the weight and quality occasionally deviated from the high standard of the early Abbasid years. As the power of the caliph weakened, he was forced to add to his coins the names of those governors, heirs apparent, powerful brothers, commanders-in-chief of the army, or strong viziers who imposed their will upon him. Semi-independent dynasties such as the Tulunids in Egypt, the Saffarids (867-c.1495) and Samanids (819-1005) in Iran, and the Ikhshidids (935-69) in Egypt and Palestine all minted coins independently, yet they followed the Abbasid model, acknowledging the nominal leadership of the caliph. Thus, through the coins of the period, we get more detailed information about the weakening of the caliphal power and the development of the different small dynasties all over the empire.

Figure 3: Abbasid Dinar, Struck under Al-Ma’mun, AH 207/AD 822.

From 946 to 1055, the Abbasid caliphs lived in Baghdad as hostages of the Buwayhids, who had occupied the capital. Following them, the Seljuks marched in and took over, while in Egypt, the Fatimids formed an independent dynasty. Although only a few coins were minted in the name of the caliph during this time, true Abbasid coins could only have been minted in Baghdad, which was the sole city where the caliphs enjoyed any authority. The legends on all the coins were the standard text of al-Ma’mun’s dinar, except for a blessing upon the Prophet and his family added on the reverse.

Toward the end of the Abbasid reign, from 1160 to 1258, a series of poorly struck, light- weight coins were issued in Baghdad. Most of these coins were, in effect, no more than coin ingots and were not consistent with any definite monetary standard. Some of them bore attractive decorations, while all their legends followed previous texts (figure 6). The only addition was a longer blessing upon the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) on the reverse side.

Figure 4: Late Abbasid coin, 1160.