Author Topic: Seljuq dragons  (Read 68 times)

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Offline Pellinore

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Seljuq dragons
« on: February 11, 2020, 11:35:36 PM »
And now for the pièce de résistance. Not being an experienced Arabic reader, I think this is one of the most interesting medieval Islamic coin types, and I would like to know more about its background. I read somewhere that the theme of dragons originated in Sufi mythology, but I couldn't find texts pointing to them.

It was issued as one of many dinar coin types of Ahmad Sanjar, the great sultan of the Seljuq Empire. Though it probably was only minted for a very short time.

On the coin, you can see the dragons are not portrayed, but they seem like - yapping with wide-open crocodile jaws to the outside, as guards, like Chinese temple dragons.

If the circle of the coin is a garden (for comparison I'm thinking of the Lion in the Garden of Holland), a sanctuary, a court, symbolizing the country, the dragons are there for protection. However, my 20th century Western European line of thinking is probably very different from the Sufi or Sunni Islamic thoughts that prevailed in the Turkic Seljuqs of the early 12th. I hope you can enlighten me here.

AV pale dinar Great Seljuq. Sanjar (512-552 AH = 1118-1157 AD). Herat, ND. Obv. Kalima with elaborate circle. Rev. shows two dragons at the top and two at the foot of the central circle. Lower grade gold. 24.5 mm, 3.86 gr. Album 1687.

I'm adding detail pictures of the dragons.

At the edge of the coin, left picture, about 4h, is a bit of lettering visible. I had the impression (or the hope) that this is part of the year of the coin. The last picture is a detail photo of this. I hope somebody will elaborate on this.

-- Paul





Offline numisquare

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Re: Seljuq dragons
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2020, 01:08:37 AM »
The meaning of the dragons varies depending on the source. Below are five sources. For the longer ones just search for the word 'dragons'. Thanks for sharing this interesting example.

http://journal.phaselis.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Pha.18024.pdf
Various explanations.

The Civilization of the Islamic World - Bernard O'Kane - Google Books
p156

Bahrām Gūr Slays a Dragon | Bahrām Gūr Slays a Dragon | The Morgan Library &

Qantara - Door handle with dragons

WHTL-tr.doc - UNESCO World Heritage Centre
starting on page 390.

Offline Pellinore

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Re: Seljuq dragons
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2020, 11:36:11 AM »
Thanks, Numisquare, for your informative answer. I have so far only read the first paper, but this brought to me the great artistic find of the Kubadabad palace, that was built by the Rum-Seljuq sultan Kayqubad I (1220-1237). I understand this was a summer palace built for pleasure and hosting the great hunts every medieval monarch was fond of.

It was richly decorated, and many exquisite blue tiles have been preserved, it really is a great wonder. Here's a panorama of the ceramics museum in Konya, the Karatay museum, put together by a photographer from the Netherlands, Dick Osseman.

I can't summarize the paper's ideas and conclusions: it's not about coinage, but about imagery. Once you know about the palace and its treasures, you may find hundreds of beautiful pictures on the internet and also interesting insights - for instance about how romantic Western orientalism, the biased science of the 19th century, has colored the Central Asian imagery, dragging Classical antiquity into it.  - For instance, a harpy of the West needn't have the same mythological or theological meaning as a winged and clawed woman of the East, see note 175 on p. 413 in the Phaselis text (that was written by T.M.P. Duggan).

But for the images of dragons in the Seljuq era, that I was looking for, I found two depictions quite comparable to those on the dinar of Sanjar. One is a relief (uncolored, it's not a tile) that may be found on the abovementioned link to the photographic account of Dick Osseman, in the middle, lower down. We see two serpents or dragns, untoothed but with wide open beaks. The other is a tiny photo from the Duggan article, it's fig. 6 on p. 411 (see the little picture under this post). Here are the same serpent-snakes as on my coin, this time with sharp teeth in their open beaks. Apparently they have no substantial body, let alone legs, probably the rest of their body is not so important. Duggan writes that the dragons are part of the army of Jinns, spirits destined to protect the sultan. According to mythology, a mix of Islam and Central Asian mystic lore, the sultan of the Seljuqs was to compare to the prophet-king Solomon (yes, the very same from the Jewish Bible), who commanded four armies: one of men, one of jinns, one of wild animals and one of birds.

Duggan's article shows at great lengths the nature of those jinns (and birds, and animals, and men), it is quite fascinating to read - and look at those beautiful blue tiles. But the gist of it is: there were dragons, part of the army of good jinns (fairies, magical beasts), believing jinns they are called as opposed to devil-jinns. The dragons were there to protect the sultan. And that clarifies their presence on this coin.

-- Paul



« Last Edit: February 15, 2020, 06:30:30 PM by Pellinore »