World of Coins

Medieval coins => Islamic world => Topic started by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 04:58:57 PM

Title: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 04:58:57 PM
"The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

                                         Omar Khayy?m

The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
By Richard Rosenhaft


The region between the Alporz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, in what is now Northeast Iran, was known by the Ancient Greeks as the Land of Wolves. Zadracarta was its capital during a time when Pharaohs still ruled Egypt.
Less than 40 km from the Caspian Sea, amidst orchards, fields of grain and cotton was the historically rich town of Astrabad, Iran, the Zadracarta of old. Once an important intellectual and commercial hub on the ancient silk road connecting China with the Mediterranean Sea, the urban center was centuries in decline when it was devastated by an earthquake in the 1930?s. The town was rebuilt; in 1937 its name was changed to Gorgan.
Sometimes when walls become rubble and homes are rebuilt, the past is unearthed. Perhaps the Astrabad quake was the cause that enabled a jeweler?s family to come upon a cache of gold coins. There were other upheavals in the ensuing decades in Gorgan: depression, civil strife and technological ones. Buildings were refitted for electricity and open sewers were placed underground. Whatever the reason, the jeweler was lucky. He had a gift from a wealthier time in Persian history. 
Nearly forty years after the catastrophe, Dr.GolamReza Taheri, on a return visit to the home of his birth, entered the jeweler?s shop and purchased a collection of these discovered pieces. He probably thought that the coins were of Persian origin but couldn?t decipher their text or guess at their age. Still, the weight and the gleam of gold suggested great wealth and Dr. Taheri was excited about his purchase.
Dr. Taheri studied medicine, married and raised a family in Vienna, Austria. It was there that he brought his Gorgan collection. Upon his death, the coins were bequeathed to his wife, Helene, who carried them with her to Berlin, Germany. 
One of these coins was recently sent by Dr. Helene Taheri to her daughter Heidi in Portland, Oregon for help in its identification. A thin medium sized coin, it was free of dirt and unmistakably gold in color. After investigation, the following story emerges about this coin?s provenance.
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:00:00 PM
Part II

The Coin
This Gold Dinar was minted in the city of Nishapur, the capital of the Great Seljuq Empire of nearly 1000 years ago. Traces of the name of the mint can be found in the circular outer margin on the reverse. Today Nishapur, or Neyshabur, has less importance than of old. An industrial city in the district of Khorasan, Western Iran, its population is now about 250,000. But at one time, Nishapur was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world.
We can guess that gold coins in the Great Seljuq Empire were not simply markers of value used in commerce to be passed from hand to hand. From lack of wear, we know this coin was not used often if at all in this way. Most people in that era were peasants, self-subsistent farmers and herders, who bartered for goods with each other as well as with merchants. But coins such as this Dinar were used for ceremonial distributions and tokens of royal largesse. They also were instruments of religious and political propaganda enhancing the Sultan?s status. The Nishapur Dinar calligraphically announced that Islam was the religion of the state, and that God?s Sultan on earth, validated and blessed by His Caliph in Baghdad, was the Lion of the Seljuqs, Alp Arslan. 
The coin was dated 465AH, or 465 years after the Prophet Muhammad's emigration from Mecca to Medina. The corresponding date in our calendar was 1072 AD, the last year of the life of the Great Seljuq Sultan, Alp Arslan.
When Alp Arslan embraced Islam, he became known as Muhammad bin Da'ud Chaghri or Muhammad, son of Da?ud Chaghri. But the name he adopted was Alp Arslan or ?a valiant lion? in his native Turkish language. This title of respect was bestowed upon him by the Seljuqs for his bravery in combat and for his military acumen. Both names, Muhammad and Alp Arslan, appear on the coin. 
Alp Arslan was the great-grandson of the originator of the Seljuq dynasty, Seljuq Bey. His people were a Turkish tribe that had long been ruled or enslaved by others more powerful. Their ancestral home was the steppes of Central Asia, modern day Turkmenistan. Recently converted to Islam, he and his Sunni tribesmen were passionately religious. They were militant but compared with other people of the steppes, they would prove not to be without compassion for those who would fall under their rule.
It was with the Great Seljuq Bey that the Seljuqs became the subjugators. Moving south, they conquered most of present day Iran. Arslan?s uncle Toghrul (990-1063)    extended the Great Seljuq Empire from the Oxus (the Amu River of today on the border of Afghanistan) to the Tigris in modern day Iraq. Toghrul?s nephew, the great Alp Arslan, subdued Armenia, Georgia and Anatolia and left a lasting legacy as patron of Persian culture. Today, Seljuq descendents are regarded as the ancestors of the Western Turks, the present-day inhabitants of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.   
Alp Arslan was by all accounts an amazing person. As his moniker suggests, he was a lion of a man even for a Seljuq, a plain?s people raised on an abundance of grass feed red meat. An athletic warrior king adept with the weapons of war and wise in the ways of military strategy, he led his cavalry into battle by word and by deed.   
Under the rule of his uncle, the Seljuqs had entered Baghdad, the then glorious urban center of the world. As a consequence, the humbled Caliph of Baghdad served as leader in a spiritual capacity only. Alp Arslan had this Caliph, al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah, anoint him as Sultan and included the Caliph?s name on his coinage along with his own.
More historically momentous, Alp Arslan, with cunning, skill and bravery, defeated the Byzantine army and captured their emperor Romanus IV in the battle of Manzikert in 1071. The lands of Anatolia were then ceded to Arslan?s Great Seljuq Empire.  Many historians would cite this battle as a pivotal one in a series of events that would lead to the Crusades as well as to an eventual Turkish State that today rules Anatolia.   
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:00:48 PM
Part III

In keeping with Arslan?s personality, Emperor Romanus was treated courteously and respectfully in captivity, much to the Byzantine?s surprise. According to legend, one conversation between the Sultan and the Emperor went as follows:
     Alp Arslan: "What would you do if I was brought before you as a prisoner?"
     Romanus: "Perhaps I'd kill you, or exhibit you in the streets of Constantinople."
     Alp Arslan: "My punishment is far heavier. I forgive you, and set you free."

The Seljuqs knew of the Byzantines as Romans and heirs of the Roman Empire?s invincible legacy. While only a battle and not a war, their victory over the Byzantines was incredibly significant to the Seljuq view of themselves as a world power.
On the other hand, before and after the battle, the Byzantines considered Alp Arslan and his Seljuqs culturally inferior. In contrast to the emperor?s treatment at the hands of a barbarian Sultan, upon returning to his own people, Romanus was tortured and blinded. A new emperor of the Byzantine Empire was considered as Romanus the Fourth lay dying of his wounds.   
Over a hundred thousand Christians would descend on the Holy Land a few years after Arslan?s death as a response to the threatened Byzantine Empire?s call for help.  It?s not surprising that the convoluted bureaucracy of the Byzantines was perhaps the first to wage a successful war through use of propaganda. Their descriptions of Seljuq barbarity and intolerance were carefully distorted to encourage the resulting victorious religious crusade. Jerusalem became Christian, for a while. Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire would not fall to the Turks for another 400 years.
Despite the propaganda, Alp Arslan was neither barbaric nor intolerant. Peerless as a military strategist, he recognized his limitations in ruling the state he so enlarged. Alp carefully chose as his Secretary of State a non Seljuq, the Persian Grand Vizier Nizam-Al-Mulk.
Tremendously intelligent, competent and loyal, Nizam developed theoretical tools of state tailored to fit the Great Seljuq Empire. Implemented, they enabled Alp Arslan to carry out his conquests and continual expansion of territory unimpeded by domestic rebellion. What?s more, the continual state of warfare was conducted without significant disruption of agriculture, the sacking and pillaging of urban centers, or the interruption of commerce. Nizam also designed and founded several educational institutions that would later become the predecessors and models of universities that were to be established in Europe. It was Nizam whose approval was needed for the design and content of the coin, and the authorization for its minting was his.  Alp Arslan recognized, appointed and trusted the right man for the right times; Nizam-Al-Mulk (1018?1092).
According to legend, Nizam had two close boyhood friends; Omar Khayy?m (1048?1122) and Hassan-i Sabbah (circa 1034-1124). Before Nizam?s rise to prominence, the friends had made a pact that all would benefit from the success of any one of them. As Vizier, Nizam would become one of the wealthiest men on earth and from that position of power, he made good on his promise. When Omar and Hassan petitioned Nizam, they received what they requested. 
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:02:27 PM
Part IV

Hassan was the more aggressive of the two and requested a powerful post in the government. In time he became the Chief of Intelligence of the Great Seljuq Empire. Not content with that post, Hassan plotted to replace Nizam himself. His schemes were uncovered, his reputation was irreparably damaged but with Nizam?s help (or was it Omar Khayy?m?s, variations of this legend exist) Hassan was banished from the Kingdom rather than executed. 
Hassan-i Sabbah started something of a cult with religious and political overtones in the mountains that became the place of his retreat. Legends abound about the exotic details: mysticism, drugged hypnotic states and religious theater. There seems to be an on going debate about the derivation of our word ?assassin?. Some think that ?assassin? derives from the Arabic ?user of Hashish?. But others think that ?assassin? is a cognate of ?Hashshashin?, the term disparagingly used to refer to Hassans?s followers. Certainly assassination was a characteristic tool of Hassan?s loyal disciples and perhaps revenge against Nizam was a motivating force. Hassan seemed obsessed with a deadly mix of envy and jealousy.  One of Hassan?s followers was eventually responsible for Nizam?s death in 1092. 
When Omar?s turn came before the Vizier, he merely asked Nizam for a place to live, pray and to continue the study of science. While the scenario of childhood friendship of the three might have been apocryphal, we do know Omar was in fact granted a yearly pension of 1,200 mithkals of gold from the treasury of Nishapur making him the court poet and scientist. There is even a possibility (why not?) that this very coin minted during the reign of Alp Arslan was received by Omar Khayy?m himself.
Omar Khayy?m became a mathematician and astronomer of great renown. He developed a calendar for the Sultan Arslan that was more accurate than the Gregorian one employed in the West. He was also a philosopher concerned with the here and now, The Present, which is at once both tangible and ephemeral. ?My friend?, he said, ?let's not think of tomorrow, but let's enjoy this fleeting moment of life.?
Omar is best known for the collection of poetry known to the West as the ?Rubaiyat of Omar Khayy?m.? Quatrains all, they dealt with themes of love, yearning, simple pleasures and the inevitable march towards death?s door:

     Whether at Nishapur or Babylon,
     Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
     The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop,
     The leaves of life keep falling one by one.

The splendid leaf that was Alp Arslan dropped before he experienced the autumn of his years. After another successful military campaign, the king of the vanquished was brought before Arslan while both were in battle dress. There, before a retinue of personal guards, Arslan presented the toppled king with a death sentence. With nothing to lose, the king pulled out his knife and charged the Sultan Arslan. Alp motioned to his guards to stay their weapons; he notched an arrow in his bow and took aim at the charging warrior. But Arslan?s footing faltered, the arrow sailed wide and the king?s knife plunged into Arslan?s chest. 
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:03:18 PM
Part V

It took four days for Arslan to die. His last words, whispered to his son (soon to be the new Sultan), were  "Alas, I was surrounded by great warriors devoted to my cause, guarded night and day by them, I should have allowed them to do their job. I had been warned against trying to protect myself, and against letting my courage get in the way of my good sense. I forgot those warnings, and here I lay, dying in agony. Remember well the lessons learned and don?t allow your vanity to overreach your good sense.?
Arslan died in his 42nd year and was taken to Merv in Turkmenistan to rest beside his father. Upon his tomb the following is written:
   ?O those who saw the sky-high grandeur of Alp Arslan, behold! He is under the black soil now...?
The coin continued in use after Arslan?s death but, from the look of its superb condition, not for long. The Seljuq Empire itself would only last another century and a half.  For some reason, at some time in the past, the coin disappeared from circulation.
Disaster was soon to befall Arslan?s capital of Nishapur. The Mongol Golden Horde, the first military to systematically use terror as an instrument war, was coming. As city after city from China to Poland fell to this unyielding tide, the horrifying news of the impending cataclysm preceded the onslaught. People in panic buried their wealth when and where they could. Many fled in terror. Their fear, remembered for generations, was enormous. Perhaps Arslan?s coin lay hidden for centuries amidst Nishapur?s rubble,  Less than 150 years after Arslan?s death, the Mongols under Genghis Khan killed every man, woman and child in Nishapur, one of the great cities of its age, and stacked the heads in the shape of one giant pyramid.
We don?t know how the coin of Nishapur made its way to Gorgan. Perhaps Nizam or Omar presented it to someone in that region as a way to give honor or thanks. We don?t know how the coin was discovered by a Gorgan jeweler. But we now know that 900 years (exactly?) from this coin?s inception, Dr.GolamReza Taheri purchased it in a Jeweler?s shop in Gorgan. Once this coin was just a coin. Now this small treasure has a history.

The Seljuq Ruler & His Reign: Alp-Arslan (AD -1072 AD)
Mint: Nishapur (Nishabur), the Seljuq capital in Khorasan, 463 AH (AD1072)
Metal & Denomination: one Gold Dinar
Size: 21 to 23 mm.
Weight: 3.9 gr.
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:04:33 PM
Mohammad                  Mohammad
Rasul Lallah                  The Messenger of God
Alsultan Almoazam        The Sublime Sultan
Shahanshah Malek         A King of kings
Alislam Alp Arslan         The Peaceful, Alp-Arslan
Mohammad                  Mohammad

La ilaha illa                   There is no Deity but Allah
Allah Wahdahu              The One and Only
La Sharika Lahu             There is no partner to God
Alqaem be Amrellah       (His Caliph is) Qa?m bi-Amr Allah

Acknowledgements : Peter (Figleaf), International Pensions Advisor and ?World of Coins?, made the identification of this coin possible.  Lutz Ilisch of T?bingen University, Jan Lingen, Regional Secretary Europe of the Oriental Numismatic Society  and Martin Purdy, freelance translator of oriental languages, provided their expertise. Without their assistance, the coins would have remained unread, and unidentified.
Reference:  Mitchiner, ?World of Islam?; illustration of a similar coin, #878. 
Notes: This gold Dinar was struck in the name of the Seljuq prince Alp Arslan (AH455-465/AD1063-1072) in Nishapur (or Neyshabur), the Seljuq capital in Khorasan. Arslan adopted the Islamic name of Muhammad bin Da'ud Chaghri (his father) when he embraced Islam. The name ?Nishapur? appears on the outside ring of the reverse side. The name of the caliph of Baghdad,  al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah (422-467AH), appears on the last interior line of the reverse.   The coin?s Old Persian was written in Kufic, the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts. It was in this script that the first copies of the Qur'an were written.The coin was dated, again in the outer margin of the reverse, in the last year of Alp Arslan?s life, 465AH.

Notes on the Research:
The story of the coin was not intended to be an academic one.  All historical information was pulled from various sources on the web without third party verification or appropriate citation. I offer my apologies to Alp Arslan and Omar Khayy?m for any erroneous information. 

Richie Rosenhaft, May 11, 2007

Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on June 19, 2007, 05:08:29 PM
PS:  Thank you Helene for allowing me to retain your gift.
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: platteauo on August 03, 2007, 12:12:27 PM
Thanks for this interesting story  :) !
Title: Re: The Story of a Gold Dinar from Nishapur
Post by: Rangnath on August 03, 2007, 04:37:14 PM
Your very welcome Platteauo.