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Fernand Braudel

Sassanid Arab Dirham

datation
7th century AD (50 H=670 AD)
provenance
Damascus, Baghdad Str.
area
period
materials
themes

Before the rise of Islam, the Arabs used Sassanid Persian silver dirhams and Byzantine golden dinars and copper fils for their commercial transactions. This reveals the close economic contact the Arabs had with these two empires. 

The Sassanid silver dirham was called the Kissranid, because it carried the image of Khusrau, the king of the Persians. This coin often appears with the image of Khusrau in profile view, bearded and crowned, with his name in front of him and a prayer for him inscribed behind him. The opposite face of the coin would show an image of the Holy Fire of the pre-Islamic Persian religion, surrounded by two guards or priests, and inscribed with Persian calligraphy (which is derived from the Aramaic script). Around the border, the year and place of mintage according to the reign of the king is inscribed. 

The usage of Byzantine coins and Persian Sassanian would continue in the early Islamic period, i.e. the epoch of the Prophet Muhammad (God's praying and blessing upon him) and the epoch of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. 

Some thirty years into the founding of Islam, new coins were minted which continued to use the Persian familiar style but featured an additional phrase around the margin, which would be written in Arabic, such as “In the Name of God” and “Praise God.” These are called the Arab Sassanid anonymous coins.

During the Umayyad period, the name of the caliph and names of the governors of cities begin to appear on the coins as well, where they replaced the name of the Persian Khusrau. A famous example is the coin featuring the name of the Umayyad governor of Iraq al-Hajjaj bin Youssef al-Thaqafi which appears on a Persian Sassanid-style coin in Arabic script.

As for the coin presented here, it is an example of a Sassanid Arab anonymous coin. As is typical, there is a profile image of the Persian king wearing his winged crown; his garment is ornamented with necklaces of pearl. His name appears inscribed in front of his face and a prayer inscribed at the back of his head. This image is framed by two circles of beads. The margin contains an outward pointing crescent and a star along the cardinal points of the circle, and there is an inscription “Bism Allah”, i.e., “In the name of Allah.”

On the back, there is the image of the Holy Fire place (relating to the Persian religion) in the middle of two priests guarding it. Briefly written in the space around the image is the name of the city in which the coin was minted and the Persian king ruling at the time. 

see also