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Khwarezmian coins

Started by Finn235, June 05, 2018, 09:44:36 PM

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Khwarezm kingdom, Afrighid Dynasty
Sawashfan (Sawsafan, Sawrsafan, Shao She Fien)
Fl. 750's
AR Tetradrachm reduced to Dirhem standards (27mm, 3.17g)
Bust of king right in ornate crown, Sogdian SWSPRN before
King on horseback, raising whip, Chorasmian legend around MR'Y MLK S'YWRSPN (Sawashfan, King)

Larger Version Avalable! Click Image to Enlarge.

Khwarezm was historically situated around a fertile oasis to the south of the Aral Sea. They were friendly to the Greeks, although they were seen as kings of little but wasteland. Their history sadly is very poorly attested. They are believed to have an Iranian people, and practiced Zoroastriabism. They were self-governing, but usually tributary to the Bactrians, Parthians, Sassanians, Huns, Turks, and finally the Abbasids. Their coinage stems from imitations of Euthydemos, although they quickly adopted a very distinct artistic flair. The basic formula (King's bust in an ethnic crown / King on horseback) was established in the first century BC/AD as a tetradrachm of about 13 grams, but the weight was steadily reduced as the drachm came into better prominence under the Sassanians.

The original dynasty was toppled sometime in the 3rd to 5th century by Afrig, who established the Afrighid Dynasty that would rule until 995. The Abbasids attacked in the early 8th century during a time of internal political strife, but a complete takeover was avoided. Sawashfan succeeded his father Askajamuk II. Outside of his coins, he is only attesred by a single source - a letter sent to Tang China in 751, asking for aid and signed by a "Shao She Fien". He was succeeded by his son Torkasbatha. Torkasbatha was the last Zoroastrian king of Khwarezm; all subsequent rulers were Muslim and bore Muslim names until the collapse of the dynasty in 995.

There is a surviving king's list, but curiously few kings on that list have attributed coinage, and most names on the coins are not otherwise attested.

Despite prohibitions on depicting the human form, this design seems to have been retained until 995, and was accepted throughout the Muslim realm as a Dirhem, one specimen even finding it's way to a Viking hoard in Sweden!

Further reading and more types I could never hope to own:


An excellent exposé about a curious dynasty, far behind the Russian steppes. That coin of your is the most attractive type. But the others, in less good silver or plain copper, are expressive enough. Pity not much is known about the Afrighid dynasty.
The given link appears to be not working by the way.

Well, I bought this coin because I was much impressed by the design. My data: Khwarezm AR tetradrachm king Sawrshafan, about 700 AD. Obv. Head to right (w. mustache and a little beard (a 'soul patch'), with thick crown (fur hat?), topped with little curls. In the neck three little ringlets. Text in front. Rev. Horseman to right, brandishing a whip with his left hand. Text around in bold lettering, a tamgha at 10 o'clock. 26.5 mm, 2.73 gr. Vainberg Г 3.

The second: Khwarezm billon tetradrachm king Azkatswar (-712). 24.9 mm, 3.16 gr.
-- Paul


Major enjoyable thread with spectacular coin types.

Khwarezm is of course the area around modern day Kiva, still an oasis, no longer fertile due to horrendous water mismanagement. The climate is such that fur hats are not called for, but treating it as wasteland is not to understand the importance of land-based trade. Khwarezm was a vital element in China's westward trade, what was to become the silk road. Caravans that had crossed the mountains and reached Samarqand or Buchara could not proceed further without going to Khwarezm. Those tamghas Pellinore's coins show are straight out of Buchara and Chach.

The "curls" on the crown remind me of a popular Greek decoration theme that stands for waves. That in turn is reminiscent of the ripple effect of wind on the desert. King of the desert?

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


Thanks for the replies.

@ Paul - I have seen coins of a few different Afrighid rulers, but never one with a tamgha - very interesting!

@Peter - Interesting point about the curls on the crown, and one I hadn't really considered. Was the area a desert back then? I was under the impression that it was not exactly fertile outside of the few oases, but not a full-blown desert either.


Hey, I'm not THAT old! :) Consider this. Transport from Buchara and Samarqand was by camel. Say they travel 50 to 60 kilometres a day. There's some 450 kilometres (around 300 miles) between Khiva and Buchara. I am sure the Amu Darya river (about 50 kilometres from Khiva) had a green belt around it when the river hadn't been abused to death yet, but it runs 150 kilometres from Buchara. Therefore, following the river would have added 4 to 5 days to a trip that would have taken about a week to 8 days going straight through the desert. In other words, it's highly likely that the source of Khiva's wealth arrived through a largely arid area. Was it rocky or sandy? It's coarse sandy today and wind and rain will with time reduce any rock to sand. Plants grow in some areas and they even bloom, but most of it is dry sand and rock. See this thread

As for the Greek (or rather, Macedonian) influence, Alexander's armies were walking around merrily in Khiva and Samarqand, so it may just have been a pattern the Khwarezmians liked, but I'm a romantic ;)

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


Here's a companion to Paul's second coin in reply #1, so I can add some more detail. It's a broad drachm of Azkatsar I (? - 712 AD) of the Afrighid dynasty of Khwarezmia. Copper, 26mm, 2.24 grams. Compare Zeno 21238, Numista --; B.Vainberg, Coins of Ancient Khwarezm, type Γ 11.

Obv: bust with decorative crown right.
Rev: Tamgha. Legend in Khwarezmian script with king's name.


Azkatswar tried to accommodate the invading Arabs, only to be sidelined by the Khwarezmians, who apparently did not enjoy the prospect of changing their religion.

It is proposed that his lakab "Chegan" referred to his foreign, probably Chaganian origin. That proposal is supported by Azkatswar's tamgha. In contrast to all other Afrigid dynasty kings' coins, his tamgha looks Chaganian. (Source: Alex Fishman)

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


Congrats on this new aquisition Peter! Adds nicely to your central asian collection.