Andalusian Coins 711-1494CE

by Wijdan Ali Published on: 18th January 2004

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Muslims minted their first gold coins when they entered Spain in 711CE. The new coins were modelled in size and design after the Arab-Byzantine but their inscriptions were in Latin. A large star in the centre of the obverse field distinguished the Islamic Spanish coin from the Arab-Latin one.

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In contrast to earlier Arab conquests, where coins from previous regimes continued to be used, the Muslims minted their first gold coins when they entered Spain in 711. The new coins were modelled in size and design after the Arab-Byzantine coins of North Africa struck by the Muslims shortly after the second conquest of Carthage in 699, and were similar to those already in use by the Byzantines. Their inscriptions are in Latin and, like the ones from North Africa they translate Muslim religious formulas, often in blundered adaptations of the shehada, and give the name of the mint and the date. A large star in the centre of the obverse field distinguished the Islamic Spanish coin from the Arab-Latin one. A new, handsome, bilingual dinar was struck in 716 bearing an Arabic legend on the obverse that read “Muhammad is the Apostle of God,” and in the margin around it, “This dinar was struck in al-Andalus in the year eight and ninety”; its reverse bore a Latin legend.

In 720, the first purely Arab gold coins appeared. The style and wording of the legends were copied from the North African Arab dinars struck the year before. They were a copy of the half-dinar minted in Damascus in 719 and included the name of the mint in al- Andalus. Those coins, which were issued regularly until 728, and the ones that followed until 732 are extremely rare. No gold coins have reached us from the time of Abd al-Rahman I, most probably because he continued to use the same coins minted earlier. The first new Umayyad gold coin appeared during the reign of Abd al-Rahman III in 929, after his break from Abbasid authority. From then until the end of the Umayyad period in Spain, each caliph placed his name and titles on the reverse field along with the name of the mint and the year. In addition to the dinar, Abd al-Rahman III minted quarter-dinars following Aghlabid and Fatimid models.

The weight of the Andalusian Umayyad coin was less accurate than that of the classical eastern Umayyad dinar, and the dies were rather careless. The names of subordinate officials in the government appeared below the obverse and reverse fields. After 1010, during the years of Umayyad decline, various local rulers began to mint their own coins. Many of them copied those of the Umayyads, including the names of former caliphs. Later on, some of the more powerful dynasties of the Taifa Kings (1030-1086), such as the Abbadids in Seville, placed their own names and titles on the coins. These were mostly fractions of a dinar of low quality gold, which indicates the deteriorating economic and political conditions of the time.

Figure 1. Silver Nasrid Dirham of Muhammed I, Granada.

Almoravid (1088-1145) coins saw an unexpected flowering. From the plentiful and well-struck series of dinars from that time, we gather that the Almoravid reign must have been a period of great prosperity for both Morocco and al-Andalus. Their first Andalusian mint was in Cordoba, followed shortly after by one in Seville. Between 1096 and 1116, mints expand~ ed rapidly into practically every important town under Almoravid rule.

What is of interest during the Almohad period (1145-1232) is the coin struck by King Alfonso VIII of Castile, who wanted to challenge the Muslim rulers of Spain. He issued a Christian coin with Arabic script, and instead of copying the coins of the Almohads, he chose those of their rivals, the recently conquered Amirs of Murcia. These remarkable dinars were minted in Toledo, the first Islamic city to fall to the Christians. As we see below, their close resemblance is remarkable.

The remarkable feature is that the Christian coin has Arabic characters rather than Latin ones, and King Alfonso, in imitation of Prince Abd Allah, calls himself Prince of the Catholics and invokes the assistance of God. Both coins are called ‘dinar’ and mention their mint centre and date. The Pope is given the Arabic religious title Imam. Finally, the Bible verses quoted imitate the use of Qur’anic verses on the Islamic coin. Such coins were called maravedis, the name in Spanish of the gold dinars of the Almoravids.

Figure 2. Gold Nasrid Dirham of Muhammed XII, Granada.

The last Islamic gold coins to be minted in al-Andalus were made in Nasrid Granada (1238-1492) (figures 7 & 8). Relatively heavy, they were carefully struck and bore long legends containing passages from the Qur’an and genealogies of the rulers. None of the Nasrid coins show a date, but they are identifiable by their motto “None victorious save God.” Meanwhile, in the Christian kingdoms of the north, Arab and French currency were the only ones used for nearly four hundred years, from the early thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries.

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