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Arabian Gold Coins

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The history of Arabic gold coinage has strong ties with the history of Christian Byzantium whose standard gold coin, the solidus, helped to inspire the Islamic community to create coins of their own. When Byzantium adopted the solidus as the official coin of the Eastern Roman Empire after the defection of the aureus as Rome's standard gold coinage during the time of Constantine I, the production of gold coins (then only privy to the Roman Empire proper by imperatorial decree) was then transferred to Byzantium. As in the Western Roman Empire, the gold coins of Byzantium were not allowed to circulate outside of the city, but due to the ever-expanding growth of trade and commerce with other regions, some coins did get out and was circulated in minor regions under the Roman Empire for a time – among these regions were Islamic territories. [1] Because Rome under Constantine's rule adopted Christianity as its official religion, the solidus then carried distinctly Christian iconology that was not compatible with Islamic belief. Some solidii, along with the more commonplace silver denarius saw much use in the Islamic territories bordering Byzantium, but because they were not returned to the official mint, these coins slowly became worn through much use – a bonus for Islamic peoples who considered coinage bearing whatever likeness or image of man or beast contrary to their religious belief (haraam). [2]

A caliph of the time, one Abd al-Malik ibn Marawan, issued their own coinage by around 696 CE (77 AH in the Islamic calendar) from supplies of gold attained through trade from the Upper Nile. Made from 20 carats of refined gold, they called their coins dinar, an adaptation of the Latin word denarius into their own native tongue, due to the denarius being so commonplace as to be synonymous with the world money. [3] Weighing roughly four grams, this gold coin matched the weight of the then highly worn solidii which were still being circulated around the area, and the two disparate currencies circulated equally for a time. Dividing the denominations into gold (dinar) and silver (dirham; from Latin 'drachma / drachm'), with some fractional variances, they were used for general commerce. These gold and silver coins did not bear any image of their current rulers, nor did they feature any iconographic symbols, but were, instead, inscribed with names, sacred verses, and later on, dates of minting. Despite these Arabic minted coins roughly corresponded to the standard weights of the current Byzantine currency at the time, it was a matter of iconology and symbolism that made it difficult for the state of Christendom to accept the newly minted Islamic coinage, and vice versa. Coin wars arose where coins exchanged during trade were defaced and exchanged with the corresponding symbols of each side – with Islamic camps defacing Christian coins, and Christians doing likewise to Islamic coins. [4] Worst cases involved melting the coins and re-minting them to correspond to the 'proper' iconology of each camp.

With Byzantine's coinage slowly suffering the slow but inevitable debasement that all currencies suffer, Arabic gold coins remained strong despite the abolishment of Byzantium's gold standard after the end of the 1300s, the Arab's gold coinage continued to flourish. After conquering much of Byzantium, the Arabs simply adopted the monetary standard of the area and continued to mint their coinage. As their empire (Ottoman Empire) continued to expand, their coins became adopted by many nations that fell under the banner of Ottoman rule, and subsequently, Islamic influence. Islamic gold coins continued to be the standard coinage of all the Islamic countries until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1922. [5] In 1933, the formation of Saudi Arabia, through the amalgamation of four small states gave rise to new types of gold coins, although these are highly limited in its production. [6] The use of the gold standard was abolished along with the monarchy, although modern Islamic groups have proposed the revival of the gold coinage, with some areas – notably selected parts of Libya and Malaysia, undertaking the task of reviving the lost coinage for both secular and (planned) general use in the Islamic world. [7]

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for © 2012

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