Oriental Numismatic Society Events        News        Members articles
Publications        Book reviews        Site search        Internet
Membership        About ONS
by Stephen Album. Ashmolean Museum Oxford, 1999 (published 2000).
Hard bound, 92 pages including 34 plates; ISBN 1 85444 125 6;
Price GBP 35, USD 60.
E-mail: album@sonic.net

       The book under a review is the first of a planned series of ten volumes cataloguing the Islamic coins now in possession of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. There was a good reason for the last volume being published first and that is explained by the series editor, Luke Treadwell, in a foreword. The coins catalogued are not only those which are permanent holdings of the Heberden Coin Room, but also those in the Samir Shamma collection deposited in the Museum on long-term loan. Next come an introduction to the coinages of Arabian peninsula and East Africa from the beginning of Islam up to the introduction of machine-struck coins. The numismatic history of Yemen is given first. In an overview - after the quotation of some standard works on this subject known to the author - are listed the dates of striking of particular denominations, a discussion of the metrology, terminology, monetary systems and general history. As a reviewer I would like to make the following remarks and additions to the author`s statements:

       1. The first known published fals with mint-name San`a was struck in 139 AH (Augst, 1962); the silver coin of year 172 AH has, on the State Hermitage, SPb. piece (GE No. 1272) the name written as al-Ghitrif (not fully visible on the Ashmolean specimen) and the first gold dinar ascribable to Yemen (though without mint-name) is of 201 AH (Turath collection, Part I, Spink 133, # 37), that with mint-name San`a of 215 AH (Artuks, Part I, # 299, p.86, tab.V).

       2. The first series if dinars is known with the dates 201 (and names Muhammad and `Abdallah), 202, 203, 204 (all with name Muhammad only) and the last is 205 (with name al-Ifriqi). The identity of Muhammad was a matter of some confusion. Those coins were published for the first time by Kubitschek and Muller in 1899 without specific attribution. Later some numismatists (Darley-Doran 1988, Nebehay 1989) ascribed the coins with the name Muhammad to Muhammad b. Ziyad and recently a cataloguer of the Turath collection ascribed coins of 201 and 204 AH to Muhammad b. `Ali b.`Isa b. Mahan, with `Abdallah being his son and deputy at San`a in 201. In other sources the ism of this governor is given as Hamdavayh (Bikhazi, 1970); Muhammad b. Mahan is mentioned also by G. R. Smith in his list of San`ani governors in 1983. In SICA there is listed a silver coin, probably of 204 AH, with the names Muhammad and al-Ifriqi (# 221). The author connected the ism and nisba of these two persons to one, Muhammad al-Ifriqi. The ism of al-Ifriqi is given as Ibrahim (by both Bikhazi and Smith), so the mentioned coin was struck under joint authority.

       3. The name of the post-249 dinar is known as al-mutawwaq and its weight standard (norm) was 2/3 mithqal and 2 habbah (i.e. 2,9573 g); the post-303 gold coins were known as dinar as`adi with weight of 2/3 qaflah (i.e. 1,9833 g). There is no specific reason to describe post-313 dinars of distinctive type and calligraphy as dinar amiri, as almost all dinars struck without the name of a local ruler or `Abbasid governor were issued under the authority of a Yu`firid amir after the 30s of the 3rd century AH (but they do have the appearance of `Abbasid issues). Though there are no known coins with the names of the Yu`firids, rulers of the Ziyadid(?) and Tarfid(?) dynasties placed their own names on the coins in 346 AH and 350 AH respectively. The weight standard of their dinar was originally 2/3 mithqal (i.e. 2,8333 g) and was called `aththariyyah probably after the most widespread coins of the time (used also in al-Makkah).

       4. There is also a short discussion of Ottoman coinage in Yemen, though not a single coin is represented in either collections. Ottoman authority, at least nominally, was acknowledged in some parts of Yemen already in 922 AH since coins of that date are known from Zabid (Nadir Osmanl? Madeni Paralar?, Istanbul 1973, # 4 etc.) and probably from al-Hudaydah, too. Gold coins of Murad III (dhahab al-sultani or altun or alt?n) have been published from the mint of San`a (C. Olcer, TND Bulten No. 26, p. 18) and Muhammad (Mehmed) III. (Artuks, Part II, Istanbul 1974, # 1655, p. 566).

       5. The weight of waqiyyah/uqiyyah in Yemen certainly fluctuated at times according to area and purposes of usage in a similar way as they did in other parts of the Islamic world. There are known one waqiyyah weight of 33,2677g and two waqiyyah stamped by (imam Ahmad) an-Nasirlidin Allah and date (1)375 of 66,0284g.

       After the Yemeni chapter there is information on the so-called Asir hoard, al-Yamama and al-Hijaz coins and a study on East Africa Islamic numismatics (Shanga, Pemba, Kilwa, Zanzibar, Mogadishu, Mombasa, Lamu and Harar).

       The introductory essay is followed by a bibliography and indices of names, titles and dynasties which highly facilitate the usage of the catalogue.

       The catalogue itself is in sylloge format with short description of 728 coins illustrated on 34 plates. The coins are grouped into 2 sections - Arabia and East Africa. Arabian coins are listed chronologically within each mint, arranged according to the Arabic alphabet (but the mint-name is strangely given in English transcription only). East African coins are listed regionally in English alphabetical order. It is obvious that such an arrangement, though practical, has should also have been divided regionally into Yemen and `Asir, `Uman and the rest of the peninsula (al-Hijaz and al-Yamama).

       In the catalogue part are many remarkable, unique or previously unpublished pieces. It is noted, however, that many common coins are missing from both collection, so "not published in SICA" would not mean a rare coin.

       Some published coins are well below the average state of preservation available on the market (e.g. Rasulid dirhams etc.). The coins from the `Asir hoard were partially reattributed through comparison with previous listings and die-link studies for which the authour is to be congratulated.

       I have only a few remarks on the catalogue part:

       # 289: the coin has the same rev. as # 290 (in private collection).
       # 308: was published by Lachman in NI Bulletin, p. 156, fig. 1-2 and tentatively attributed to Ahmad b. Hashim, 1266-1267 AH, which, of course, does not mean that the attribution in SICA cannot be a correct one.       
       # 309: this is not the type published by Lachman in 1990, p.7, # 17 - on that coin (from private coll.) is clearly the legend al-imam al-Hadi on obv.; on coin # 309 there is only al-Hadi. This is a different type (and maybe a denomination, too) with at least 2 sub-types/variants - either with 4 dots or a circle in the centre of the side with the mint-name, most probably struck during different reigns or periods. The calligraphy of the coin with the circle is a bit better, so this could have been struck in 1256-1259 AH and those with 4 dots in 1265-1266 or 1267-1269 or even 1272-1276 AH by `Ali b. `Abdallah or Ghalib b. Muhammad respectively.
       # 552: the last word on the obverse is probably bi-San`a, so the coin could be attributed to this mint-place.

       The while work, as published, is masterly written by an esteemed specialist in Islamic numismatics and the book is highly recommended to anybody interested in this subject. It certainly give an impetus to further studies of those series, which are still not fully understood. need More research of other public and private collections is needed as is the cooperation of enthusiasts in this field. Finally, I would like to express my wish and hope that by the time this review is published, the author will be fully recovered from his recent injury and will continue his work on publishing further volumes of SICA as planned.

       Dr.Vladimir Suchy


Artuk, I. + Artuk, C.: Istanbul Arkeoloji Muzeleri Teshirdeki Islami Sikkeler Katalogu. Cilt I. Istanbul 1970.
Augst, B.: Inedita razeb umajjovskych a abbasovskych ze sbirky autorovy. (Tab. II). In: Numismaticky sbornik 7, Praha 1962; pp. 61-67 (Russian and French resumes, pp. 68-69; Quelques frappes inedites des Omeyyades et des `Abbassides de ma collection de monnaies).
Bikhazi, R.J.: Coins of al-Yaman 132-569 A.H. In: al-Abhath, vol. XXIII; Nos. 1-4; December, 1970.
Darley-Doran, R.E.: Examples of Islamic Coinage from Yemen. In: Yemen - 3000 Years of Art and Civilisation in Arabia Felix, ed. W. Daum; pp. 182-203. Innsbruck - Frankfurt/Main (published in conjuction with the exhibition at Munchen 1987-1988).
Kubitschek, J.W. + Muller, D.H.: Munzen. In: Sudarabische Alterthumer im Kunsthistorischen Hofmuseum, ed. D.H. Muller; pp. 65-79. Wien 1899.
Lachman, S.: The Coins of the Zaidi Imams of the Period 1224-1265 H/ 1809-1849. In: Spink Numismatic Circular, vol. 98; No. 1 (February 1990); pp. 1-7.
Lachman S.: The Coins of the Zaidi Imams of the Yemen in the 3rd Quarter of the 19th Century. In: Numismatics International Bulletin, vol. 25; No. 7 (July 1990); pp. 149-160.
Nebehay, S.: Muslimische Munzen aus dem Jemen. In: Jemen - Land der Konigin von Saba, ed. A. Janata, pp. 112-145 (Kat. Nr. N 32 - N 51, pp. 145-151). Wien (published for the exhibition 1989-1990).
Smith, G. Rex: List of Governors of the Yemen Resident in San`a`, pp. 53-54 of Chapter 7, The Early and Medieval History of San`a`, ca. 622-953/1515. In: San`a` an Arabian Islamic City, ed. R.B. Serjeant + R. Lewcock; pp. 49-67. London 1983.
Turath Collection Part I. In: Spink in Association with Christie`s Auction 133; Islamic Coins, London 25 May 1999.

       Dr.Vladimir Suchy

© 1999-2010 ONS