Arab Byzantine Coinage - Brief History and Summary of Reliable Resources for Collectors

Arab Byzantine Coinage - Brief History and Summary of Reliable Resources for Collectors

 

Arab Pseudo-Byzantine Imitative Types are attracting renewed interest from collectors.

 

We are pleased to offer for sale a hand-picked selection of Arab-Byzantine coins, part of an extraordinary opportunity for us to acquire a large variety of excellent specimens we can offer at an affordable price in our store. View Coins For Sale. We encourage our customers to enjoy becoming educated on the history behind the stories these coins have to tell. When possible, we've included links to the best free downloads of sources referenced.

 

Minted in Syria and Palestine between the Arab conquest and 'Abd al-Malik's reforms in the 690s this series of coins are of exceptional interest as historical voices of a people from a period clouded by a scarcity of contemporary written sources. The figural art, inscriptions and minting of these imitative coins offer valuable insight into the economic, political, social, and religious aspects of ancient life during the rise of Islam and its spread throughout Byzantium and the Near East during the seventh century A.D. Initially, based on Byzantine prototypes, their iconography soon developed into what may be considered as the first Islamic figural images. Blog Link.

 

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In short; the best illustrated book to read is by Clive Foss; Arab-Byzantine Coins: An Introduction, with a Catalogue of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. For detailed research with no illustrations, Stephen Album; A Checklist of Islamic Coins.

 

Clive Foss offers collectors an illustrated handbook of Arab-Byzantine coins presents a concise history of the development of the coinage of the early Arab caliphate in the seventh century, tracing its transition from coins that closely resembled Byzantine issues with imperial images to purely aniconic specimens with inscriptions in Arabic. This so-called “Arab-Byzantine series” sheds light on a pivotal period in the history of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, as formerly Byzantine provinces were slowly Arabicized and Islamicized following the Arab conquests of the 630s and 640s. The historical introduction, which includes descriptions of all the basic types, is followed by a summary catalogue of the recently acquired collection of Arab-Byzantine coins at Dumbarton Oaks. [2]

The Byzantine Empire issued the gold solidus, or nomisma, used primarily for large transactions such as tax payments, and several denominations of copper coins, the money of daily business transactions. Mints in Antioch and Alexandria supplied the majority of the coinage, sometimes referred to as Cyprus follis, circulated in the southern provinces. The newly established Arab government inherited an efficient monetary system and made few changes during its first decades. The caliph 'Abd al-Malik (r. 685--705) introduced several issues of distinctively Islamic coinage.

 

Arab Pseudo-Byzantine type coins circulated only for the first few decades of Islam.

 

During the first decades of Islamic rule, Byzantine and newly minted Arab coins circulated together. The new coinage imitated Byzantine prototypes. These coins are the earliest coins of the first Islamic Caliphate - after conquering the Byzantine Middle East, they issued coins in the corrupted style of Byzantine folli (especially of Constans II). The type circulated for about a few decades, until the end of the 7th century. Known as Arab Pseudo-Byzantine type coins, the series was struck in the early years of the Islamic caliphate, during the Time of the Rashidun (AD 641-660), to remedy a shortage of small change after the supply of new Byzantine copper had been cut off and before an organized system of Islamic mints had been fully established. 

 

Arab Pseudo-Byzantine coinage offers a wide range of coin type varieties to collect.

 

With very few exceptions, the Arab Pseudo-Byzantine Imitative coinage was struck by hand, from hand-engraved dies on handmade planchets. When planchets were in short supply, Arab mints commonly over-struck onto cut down Byzantine folli rendering a crude half-coin appearance. Standards of quality control varied enormously from place to place and from time to time thus collectors are welcomed with enormous variety when attributing coinage. The copper coinage of the early period was essentially a civic coinage, with each mint producing its own sequence of types, though there were occasional attempts to regulate the copper on a regional basis. Ruler's names are rarely cited. Research has shown that these coins, without date or mintmark, were struck according to the declining weight standard of contemporary Byzantine coinage. [1] Coins from the reigns of Heraclius (r. 610--41) and Constans II (r. 641--68) provided ready models for early Arab coinage. Although this coin imitates an issue of Cyprus, examples are commonly found in Syria.[2]

 

Barbarous Imitations with artistic merit.

 

As an endlessly intriguing class of unofficial coinage, Pseudo-Byzantine imitations were more or less contemporary with the originals, struck outside the purview of the official mint system but intended to circulate alongside genuine coins (monetary imitations). These can generally be distinguished by their poor or deviant calligraphy. They are therefore sometimes known as barbarous imitations, though in fact many are of high artistic merit. They were struck by neighboring states, private profiteers, audacious governors, etc., and usually contained the full value of metal, whether it be copper, silver, or gold. They often passed conjointly with official issues. In some cases, the identity of the issuer can be ascertained. However, more typically, the identity of the issuer remains obscure. Imitations occur frequently when the monetary value of a coin was substantially elevated over its bullion value, as was commonly the case in pre-modern monetary systems. They occur from the earliest Islamic coinage until the 19th century, with a few examples in the 20th century as well. Both precious metal and copper coinage was imitated. Imitations are very much collectible. In a few cases they command higher prices than their prototypes.[5] 

Stephen Album, Checklist of Islamic Coins, 3rd edition, (Santa Rosa, CA, 2011)

 

Sources:

 

[1] The Met Museum, New York, New York, 2020; Web: www.metmuseum.org/art/collection.

[2] Clive Foss, Arab-Byzantine Coins: An Introduction, with a Catalogue of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection Publications).

[3] Clive Foss, Revue Numismatique 158 (2002) p. 353-365, pl. 37-38; Arab Byzantine coins from the Irbid hoard.

[4] Tony Goodwin and Rika Gyselen. - London : Royal Numismatic Society, 2015. - (Special publication / Royal Numismatic Society ; no. 53). - P. 1-60.

[5] Stephen Album. A Checklist of Islamic Coins. (Santa Rosa, CA, 2011). page 14. "Imitations". {Download free pdf}

[6] Stephan Album and Tony Goodwin. Sylloge of Islamic Coins in the Ashmolean Museum, Volume 1, The Pre-Reform Coinage of the Early Islamic Period. (Oxford, 2002) SIC Ashmolean.

 

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