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


A Century  Old Numismatic Myth.
Tawfiq Ibrahim

Henry Lavoix´s three masterly executed catalogues published by  the Cabinet des Médalles of the Bibliothéque Nationale  are undoubtedly one of the high points of 19th century  study of Islamic coins. That a few errors could be found in such an extensive work does not tarnish, in any way, the brilliancy of this pioneering endeavor.

The minor error that concerns us here is in his volume on Espagne & Afrique (1891) and is simply a wrong guessing of the first digit of the date on an early coin  of ´Abd al-Rahman III.  Under the nº 188 of the referred volume he describes a coin of this ruler from the mint of Sikkat al-Andalus, that bears, for al-Andalus, the innovative and all important title of Imam. The date he proposes for this coin is 316H. A photograph of the same coin seen by Lavoix will show us that the place where the digit should have been (at 4 o’clock on the margin of the  IIA) is effaced, probably due to the combination of a weak strike and an uneven blank. In any case there is simply nothing there to be read and Lavoix must have just opted for the educated guess.[1]

lavoix.JPG (45989 bytes)

IIA                                                                            IA
317.jpg (62401 bytes)

This little peccadillo of Lavoix´s would have been of no transcendence had it not been dutifully and uncritically taken up more than half a century later by Miles (1950) as his nº 186 in volume II of his study of the coinage  of the Umayyads of Spain. In this way the error became dobly sanctified and was to be inadvertently and by now centennially perpetuated in a much later work by Frochoso (1996).[2]

At this point one should recall, if we are to believe Ibn Khayyan,  that it was precisely on the 13th of Ramadan 316 that the mint of al-Andalus was reestablished by ´Abd al-Rahman III after a hiatus of no less than forty years.[3] So if a “naive historian”, to use somebody else’s contradictory expression, were to use, for example Miles´s classification, he would  be faced with an ´Abd al- Rahman III striking coins as an Amir late in 316 (Miles nº 185), who then, sometime, in the three and a half months left of the same year  changes to Imam (Miles nº 186), and then in the first part of  317  would return to Amir (Miles 187 a, b, c & a.), only to again change, in the same year, to Imam (Miles 187 e, etc.....). All four changes in the space of a year or less! By now our very dizzy “historian” would have to conclude that either ´Abd al-Rahman III  had a highly unstable or whimsical personality or he would have to invent for himself some mysterious historical forces to explain this zigzag  of title changing.

What makes all the aforesaid rather amazing, aside of the evident foregoing of common sense, is the fact that Lavoix´s little error was, more than a century ago, quickly detected and corrected in Vives´s (1893) corpus. For his work Vives used Lavoix´s catalogue extensively and  correctly attributed the coin discussed and another similar to be of the date  317H.[4] See Vives nº 355 and his list page 481 were only two coins are given for this catalogue number, one belonging to Vives´s own collection  and the other is the coin of the Bibliothéque national we have just discussed.[5] Unfortunately, Lavoix died at the end of 1892, a few months before the publication of Vives´s corpus, and was therefore unable to see or incorporate this correction, an eventuality that would have saved Miles and others a certain  embarrassment.

Moral of the numismatic story  – don’t blindly accept what, even, an authoritative source says about a coin, but, above all, don’t forego old fashioned common sense.

[1] I am indebted to Francois Thierry de Crussol, conservateur of the département des monnaies, médalles et antiques of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France,  for this photograph.
[2] His number 316.2d M.186a page 20-21.
[3] Ibn Khayan, pg.243.
[4] Even though Vives´s corpus is the oldest one on al-Andalus coinage it has, in a strange way, suddenly become one of the most modern, in the sense of giving graphic proof of nearly all the coins catalogued. This is due to the recent discovery and publication of a  volume of the near complete and original plates of the work as used by the author for writing his corpus (a massive total of 222 plates, of mostly rubbings and some photographs). The original 1893 work had no plates at all.
[5] Vives´s collection, which is undoubtedly the best collection of coins of al-Andalus ever constructed, was eventually sold to the Museo Arqueologico de Madrid were it is deposited - minus  the gold coins lost in the Spanish civil war.

Abbreviations & Bibliography.

Frochoso (1986)  Las monedas califales.De ceca Al-Andalus y Madinat al-Zahra 316-403H.,
928-1013 J.C, R.Frochoso Sánchez. Córdoba, 1996.
Ibn Khayyan. Al-Muqtabis, Ibn Khayyan al-Qurtubi. Madrid , 1979.
Lavoix (1891) Catalogue de monnaies musulmanes de la Bibliothèque National, II:
Espagne et Afrique,  H. Lavoix. París, 1891.

Vives (1883) Monedas de la dinastías arábigo-española, Vives y Escudero. Madrid, 1893.

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