as-Sikka السكة
The Online Journal of The Islamic Coins Group 
as-Sikka is a peer reviewed publication
ISSN 1496-4414 

Summer 2000AD / 1421AH       Vol. 2.2


by Tony Goodwin

These notes summarise a talk given at the "Seventh Century Syrian Numismatic Round Table" held at the British Museum on 4th. March 2000, in which I gave some preliminary results of a die study on the Arab-Byzantine coins of Baalbek. This study is now almost complete and the full results should be published within the next year or so. The coins, which are relatively common, are undated, but were most probably produced in the few years before the introduction of the standing caliph coinage around 690 CE.

There are three main types of obverse:-
I. Two imperial figures holding cruciform sceptres, cross between. See Pl. 1, nos.1) -5)
II. Two imperial figures with a cross on steps between, globus either side. See Pl.1, nos.6),7)
III. A single standing imperial figure holding a long cross and globus. See Pl.1 no. 11)
With one minor exception there are no obverse legends, but there are a number of variants of types I and II which are illustrated in Plate I.

There is only one basic type of reverse, comprising a capital "M" with cross above , "officina" symbol below, HELIO-POLIS in Greek on either side, and BAALBEK in Arabic in the exergue. A number of officina variants occur (see Pl.2), and the Greek legend is often slightly blundered. In contrast the Arabic legend is usually correctly written.

Generally speaking the coins of Baalbek are quite carefully engraved, and well struck on reasonably neat round flans. Overall standards are rather better than at Damascus, and comparable to the Imperial Bust issue at Emesa. Unlike these two mints there appear to be no significant numbers of lightweight irregular Baalbek coins, and, whilst there may be a few unofficial coins in the corpus, my impression is that the vast majority of them are official.

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from l. to r.:- 1) Two standing imperial figures holding cruciform sceptres, globus cruciger to r. cross between. 2) No cross. 3) No globus. 4) No cross or globus. 5)L. h. figure bearded. 6) Long cross on steps between figures, globus crucigers l. and r. 7) Globus replaced by "potted palms". 8) Globus replaced by reversed "N". 9) As 1), but cruciform sceptres small and to r., globus to l. 10) Globus replaced by "LEO", downwards as at Damascus. 11) Single standing figure. 12) "Damascus style" , vestigial legend to r. 13) Same die as 12), but with Damascus reverse.

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From l. to r.:- 1) Simple reverse. 2) Bar below officina symbol. 3) Dot below officina symbol. 4) Dot and bar below officina symbol. 5) Symbols either side of cross. 6) Star officina (only found with cross on steps obverse). 7) and 8) Baalbek-Damascus die link. Reverses of Pl.1, nos. 12 and 13.

I have been carrying out a die study of these coins for a number of years, and this is now almost complete, in the sense that any new group of coins is likely to contain at least 95% known die combinations. So far the number of different dies identified is 33 Type I obverse, 10 Type II, 3 Type III and 70 reverse dies. Total numbers of dies might be expected to be 10% or so higher. These are relatively modest numbers compared to Byzantine or Umayyad post reform mints, but, of the Arab-Byzantine mints, only Emesa and Damascus have higher numbers.

Whilst about half the obverse dies are only paired with a single reverse die, a number of die chains have been identified

8 examples have been recorded of Baalbek overstruck on Arab Byzantine coins of Damascus, and 2 of Damascus overstruck on Baalbek.

The die study strongly suggests that there are two main phases of minting:-

Firstly a "main series", which accounts for over 20 of the Type I obverse dies, plus 8 or 9 the Type II dies. The pattern of die linking within the series seems to demonstrate that no great significance should be attached to the omission on some dies of globus crucigers and crosses, or to the different "officina" marks on the reverse dies . There is reverse die linking between two Type I and two Type II obverse dies, suggesting that one type closely followed the other, although in which order is uncertain. There are also two unusual Type I dies within this series: PL.I no.5 in which the l.h. figure is bearded, as on the Heraclean prototype ( conceivably the first Type I die?), and no.8, where the globus is replaced by a reversed "N". On one Type II die the crosses of the globuses have been replaced by palm fronds (Pl. I, no.7) and on another a star appears below the cross on steps.

Secondly an interesting group comprising around 8 Type I and 2 Type II dies, which shows a number of links to Damascus. For example the style of this group is quite variable , but in all cases rather different from the main series; the word "LEO" occurs on one obverse die ( Pl.1, no.10) as at Damascus; and some coins are overstruck on Damascus issues of the "ja'iz hadha dimashq wafiya" type ( Walker 26). However, most significantly, there are two obverse dies which link with reverses of both Baalbek and Damascus ( Pl.I, nos. 12 and 13; Pl.II, nos.7and 8 shows one of these die links). The two Baalbek and two Damascus reverse dies are all fairly normal in style.

What are we make of this second series? The reasonably good style and weight, plus the overstriking suggests an official mint, and the derivative nature of the designs suggests that this group followed the main series. As yet I have found no die links between the two series.

The relatively uniform style, fabric and weight of the main series, plus the rather small number of dies is consistent with a short period of minting of no more than a few years. The most obvious explanation for the second series is that minting ceased at Baalbek and was restarted at Damascus towards the end of the period when that mint was producing imperial image coins. At present this conclusion must be regarded as highly conjectural, but the identification of further die links within the series and overstrikes should help to clarify matters.

Finally there are a few dies which do not fit easily into either of the two series; for example a Type III die known from only one exceptionally heavy example (7.49g.) in the British Museum (Walker 6) which is die linked to a rather barbarous looking Type II die, also known from only one example.

Apart from identifying further die links, my main aim is to see if any evidence can be found for the order of types, particularly Types I and II in the main series. This may be possible where evidence of of die deterioration can be found.

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