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

Summer 2001AD / 1422AH        Vol. 3.1

 

Obverse and reverse in Murabitid coins
(with reference to an unrecorded half qirat)
Miguel Vega (Archivo Diocesano de Málaga, Spain)
Salvador Peña (Universidad de Málaga, Spain)

The pious Murabitid emir ‘Ali bin Yusuf[1] (A.H. 500-537/A.D. 1106-1143) struck a large number of silver coins. They are called qirats and display a remarkable variety of ornaments, calligraphic styles and legends. After the two major corpora of Murabitid coins were published[2], new qirats and fractions of qirat were reported by collectors and scholars[3].

The half qirat we present here (Figure 1) is unrecorded as far as we know, though it is similar to other well known pieces. One of its two sides is completely unepigraphic and lacks any kind of ornaments, while the other side shows a short legend consisting of the ruler’s and his heir’s title and name:

I.A                                                               II.A
Figure1s.JPG (21999 bytes)
Figure 1: Half qirat, mintless, undated, struck by 'Ali bin Yusuf. Obverse (epigraphic) and reverse (unepigraphic).
(Diameter: 10,75 mm. Weight: 0,44 grs.)"

Al-amir ‘Ali / al-amir Sir (“Emir Ali / Emir Sir”)

Numismatic literature standards have dictated that the unepigraphic side of this kind of coins is the obverse and the side containing legends, the reverse[4]. This strange way of describing these partly unepigraphic pieces has prevailed among collectors and scholars since Vives’ work in 19th century, and it is consistent with the description of most Murabitid coins.

The common Murabitid qirat (Figure 2) displays the Sunni creed or shahada, which includes the mention of God and Prophet Muhammad on one of its sides, while the other side shows the ruler’s or the ruler’s and his heir’s names and titles. Thus, collectors and scholars have assumed that the side with the shahada, being much more important, is the obverse.

I.A                                             II.A
FIGURE2.JPG (25791 bytes)
Figure 2: Qirat, mintless, undated.

(Diameter: 11,15 mm. Weight: 0,98 grs.)
Obverse: Ali / amir / al-muslimin / al-amir / Sir (“Ali / Emir of Muslims / Emir / Sir”).

Reverse: -Allah / la ilaha illa- / Muhammad rasul / Allah (“-God / There is no god but- / Muhammad is the Messenger of / God”).
(Archeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada, Spain. Used by permission.)

In our opinion, the obverse of the Murabitid coins is most probably the side with the ruler’s name. That would be a more logical way to view the fractions of qirats. The epigraphic side would be the first ‘page’ of the whole ‘text’ provided by each coin.

More importantly, though, Murabitid gold dinars and several silver qirats include the religious formula Bismi
[A]llah (In the name of God) or Bismi [A]llahi r-rahmani r-rahim (In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful), which has been the most conspicuous linguistic device for singling the beginning of any text in most Islamic societies after the revelation of Holy Quran[5]. The fact is that the formula is displayed on the same side where the ruler’s name is, not where the shahada is.

I.A                                                                                   II.A
FIGURE3Obva.JPG (41818 bytes)
Figure 3: Dinar, Algeciras, A.H. 507/A.D. 1113-4.
(Diameter: 24,45 mm. Weight: 4,00 grs.)
Obverse. Margin: Bismi [A]llahi duriba hadha d-dinar [...].
( "In the name of God: This dinar was struck...".)
Center: Al-imam / 'Abd / Allah / Amiru l-muminin.
("Imam / Servant / of God / Emir of the Believers").
Reverse. Margin: Quran 3, 85.
Center: La ilaha illa Allah / Muhammad rasulu [A]llah / Amiru l-muslimin 'Ali / bin Yusuf.
("There is no god but God / Muhammad is the Messenger of God / Emir of the Muslims 'Ali / bin Yusuf.")
(Archeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada, Spain. Used by permission.)

If we are right, there still remains one thing to explain: Is it conceivable that a ruler’s name plays such an important role in the structure of the legends of a coin struck in a theocratic society? The question could begin to be answered if we were to consider the religious notion of charisma.  ‘Ali bin Yusuf presented himself as a religious authority, not just as a political leader.



[1] The classical secondary source for Murabitid political history is Jacinto Bosch Vilá: Los almorávides, Tetouan, 1956.

[2] Antonio Vives y Escudero: Monedas de las dinastías arábigo-españolas, Madrid, 1893, and Harry W. Hazard: The Numismatic History of Late Medieval North Africa, New York, 1952.

[3] See, for instance, Rafael Frochoso Sánchez: “Nuevas aportaciones de quirates almorávides”, in NVMISMA (Madrid) 243 (1999), 7-23.

[4] See Hazard’s The Numismatic History of Late Medieval North Africa, nº 934, for example.

[5] It was not always like that. For instance, the Nasrids of Granada used Al-hamdu li-[A]llah (Praise to be God) at the beginning of their documents.

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