|Winter 2000AD / 1421AH Vol. 2.3|
Islamic Bronze Weights from the Vicinity of Aleppo
Warren C. Schultz
Eight bronze weights which appeared in trade were made available for study courtesy of Mr. Fawzan Barrage of Montreal, Canada. The small objects were found near a small farming community north of Halab (Aleppo) in Syria along with a small cache of coins. Unfortunately, the coins were already sold prior to acquisition of the weights. While further information about the provenance and site-context of the objects is unlikely to be forthcoming, it is rumored that more weights have been found and may appear on the market.
The eight specimens fall in four categories of shapes. Four are multifaceted polyhedra, sometimes described as "faceted truncated spheres." Two are flattened rectangles, sometimes referred to in the literature as "brick weights." One has a cubo-octaŽdric shape. The last is a flattened circular lump, with bisecting lines on its flat bottom. I have thus far been unable to find a similar object described in the literature available to me. The objects are described in greater detail in the catalogue below.
In terms of condition, all share a dull and dark grayish patina, and feature varying amounts of the same accreted tan sediment, lending credence to the assertion that they were found in close proximity to one another. The degree and extent of wear varies, although it may be safely assumed that all are lighter now than in their original state. Once in hand, the objects were lightly cleaned with distilled water only, and not subjected to abrasion of any sort.
The objects bear no visible inscriptions. Tentative identification is therefore based on their resemblance to previously published weights. The objects described here for the most part are similar to types identified by Holland in his description of the Caesarea Maritima finds. Many feature the distinctive decorative "bird's eye" motif. They are thus likely to date from the eleventh and twelfth century of the common era.
The weights given are of course their current weights. Given the condition of the objects, it is impossible to label any of them with any certainty. However, armed with the knowledge that the "classical values" of the dirham and the mithq‚l (the two metrological units most commonly associated with money) were 2.97 and 4.25 grams respectively, possible unit values are suggested in the catalogue. Of course it must be stated that these "classical values" were not constant over time and place. The significance of the different shapes is as yet undetermined. It is tempting to link different shapes with the different basic units and their multiples, but this remains speculation at this point.
1. Faceted truncated sphere. 29.05 grams. Height: 15 mm. Diameter: 19 mm. Each of the facets contains a bird's eye design in incuse. The top and bottom faces of the object bear deeper conical indentations. A 10-dirham weight?
2. Faceted truncated sphere. 14.15 grams. Height: 12 mm. Diameter: 15 mm. Each of the facets contains a bird's eye design in incuse. Only the top (or bottom) face of the object bears a deeper conical indentation. A 5-dirham weight?
3. Faceted truncated sphere. 14.24 grams. Height: 12 mm. Diameter: 15 mm. Each of the facets contains a bird's eye design in incuse. Only the top (or bottom) face of the object bears a deeper conical indentation. The opposite face has the bird's eye motif with an extra ring. A 5-dirham weight?
4. Faceted truncated sphere. 14.34 grams. Height: 12 mm. Diameter: 14 mm. Each of the facets contains a bird's eye design in incuse. The top and bottom faces of the object have plugs inserted into their conical indentations. These plugs are clearly not part of the original object as cast. A 5-dirham weight?
5. Flattened rectangle. 2.84 grams. 8 x 8 x 4 mm. Each of the two square faces bears the bird's eye motif. The edges are slightly pyramidal. A 1-dirham weight?
6. Flattened rectangle. 2.93 grams. 10 x 10 x 4 mm. One square face has three bird's eye motifs, the other has four. The face with four is corroded. The edges are slightly pyramidal. This object has a hole drilled through it, leading to the speculation that it was likely used as a decorative object at some point after its manufacture. Given this mutilation, it is unwise to suggest an original value.
7. Cubo-octaŽdron. 57.55 grams. 18 x 18 x 18mm. Five of the six square faces of this object feature eight dot punches arranged in a square. The center of the square has a rectangular indentation. While it is possible that these rectangular indents may have contained an inscription, none are visible now. The sixth square face is badly marred by several deep gouges, making it unwise to suggest an original value. The eight triangular faces (made by slicing off the corners of the cube) each feature three dot punches (one in each corner) with a rectangular indentation in the center. Again, no inscription is visible.
8. Flattened circular lump. 40.29 grams. Height: 12 mm. Diameter: 24 mm. The bottom has a two incuse channels which medially bisect each other. The top bears the traces of two extremely slight intersecting grooves. A 10-mithq‚l weight?
Paul Balog, "Contributions to the Arabic Metrology and Coinage." Annali dell'Istituto Italiano de Numismatica (Rome, 1980-81): 115-54.
_____. "Islamic Bronze Weights from Egypt." JESHO 13 (1970): 233-56.
_____. "Pesi di Bronzo Islamici del XIII Secolo." Numismatica e antichita classiche (1973): 179-87.
_____. "Poids et estampilles en verre et poids en bronze musulmans du Musťe d'art et d'histoire de GenŤve." Genave n.s. XXI (1973): 297-311.
Lionel Holland, "Islamic Bronze Weights from Caesarea Maritima." ANSMN 31 (1986): 171-201.
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