Author Topic: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham  (Read 797 times)

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Offline THCoins

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The coin below is a scarce AE Dirham from the town of Balkh. Balkh in ancient times was known as Bactres and the capital of Bactria. Later it became the capital of Tokharistan. Because of its importance and geographic position it changed hands between many ruling dynasties over time. Of this i can just give a short simplified summary.
The rule in the region at the end of the first millenium was in the hands of the Samanid. After this, Samanid territory was split up between the Ghaznavid in the South and the Kharakhanid (/qarakhanid) in the North roughly divided by the oxus river. Balkh is just 70 KM south of this border and after some power exchanges fell under Kharakhanid rule. In the 11th and 12th century the local rulers of Balkh had to accept the suzerainity of Seljuks, Ghurid and the Khwarezmshahi for periods.
Around 1165AD the control of Balkh fell to the Kara-Khitan (/qarakhitay). This was a central Asian dynasty with roots in western China.

Now we have come to the era in which this coin was made. For this likely is a coin issued under the local authority of Kharakhanid ruler Ala-al Din Arslan Khan (bin Ilich Tafgbach Khan) from the late 1160's under Kara-Khitan overlordship.

The coin is very difficult to read, i only transcribed fragments. I enhanced the contrast of the picture quite a bit. In reality it is largely black. Readbility is actually a bit improved because the higher points likely lost some of the very dark patina from friction or cleaning.  At the top of the obverse is the mintname with part of the Kalima below. The other side starts with a reference to the Khaghan. I based the identification mainly on style and the uncommon property that there are 4 lines of text on both sides. On the internet i have seen very similar specimen listed under both the Karakhanid and the Karakhitan.

AE, 33 mm, 3.69 gr, Album-L1523.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2016, 01:04:32 PM by THCoins »

Offline capnbirdseye

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Re: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2016, 10:14:08 PM »
I have a number of these Qarakhanid coppers but they all appear to be rather worn or weakly struck and it's hard to get complete legends visible,
I think the reason is because the coins are so thin that the dies are engraved very shallowly to allow for this. They are also very brittle which is odd and I have one that's like a broken biscuit in several pieces  :o
Vic

Offline Pellinore

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Re: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2016, 12:05:58 AM »
Is it AE, or maybe billon? I have one of these large thin dirhems that's silver-washed (or in any case, washed with a greyish metal, might be lead, too).
-- Paul

Offline THCoins

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Re: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2016, 09:18:53 AM »
This one also is very thin and appears to be brittle. If you look at the left picture there are two diagonal regions which appear more black. This is due to depressions where the coin is even thinner. I suspect this may be because the flans were rolled out like pizza dough to make them thinner.
The core material looks like pure red copper. There are some spots that suggest it may have been silvered once, and some of that surface layer already flaked of while handling. Some of the specimen shown by Vaxtankava on Zeno also have the red spots one often sees on silvered copper.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2016, 02:24:16 PM »
The Roman empire already used techniques to drive silver to the surface of low grade silver (I dislike the word billon) coins. I suspect this technique was known in Bactria. As these coins circulated, the silver would disappear quickly and they'd look like (pale) copper. On this coin, oxidation (silver oxide is black) seems to have played a role.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline THCoins

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Re: Qarakhanid in Balkh: Ala al-Din Arslan-khan (ca1160-70AD) AE Dirham
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2016, 02:42:04 PM »
This coin does not look like surface silver enhanced billon. These techniques are known to make the metal matrix much more porous. That is not a good idea on very thin coins. The core here is very dense red copper, which may have been silver washed later.