Featured 800 years ago: The Mongols are coming!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, May 25, 2020.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    This year sees the 800th anniversary of an event that, though seldomly taught in high school history classes, shaped world history to an extent comparable to Alexander’s conquest of Asia, the Punic Wars, or the expansion of the British Empire in the 18th century. In 1220, the Mongols under Genghis Khan annexed the Khwarezmian Empire, paving the way to becoming a world power whose realms eventually stretched from Beijing to Baghdad, and from the Volga to the Indus river:
    large_mONGOL_eMPIRE_1294.jpg
    Social isolation gave me enough time to read Peter Jackson: The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (Yale University Press, 2017), which I can strongly recommend to anyone interested in this part of history. While reading this book, I recognized that as a medieval coin collector, I could illustrate much of the history of the Mongol westward conquests with coins from my collection, especially since I recently developed a side interest in “Eastern” medieval coinage. Thus, I thought it might be time for a write-up! (Since I am still a beginner in this field, please excuse but feel free to correct all possible missattributions or mistranscriptions of Arabic legends.)

    When the Mongol westward expanse began in 1219, Genghis Khan already ruled a vast empire. Having first united, often by force, the nomadic peoples of the Mongol steppe, he had conquered the realms of the Jurched (Jin Dynasty) and of the Qara Khitai, a sinicized dynasty ruling over lands that today are mostly part of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and northwestern China. The Mongol empire now bordered the territory of the Khwarezmian dynasty, which controlled most of what today is Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and some neighboring regions.

    Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, the Sunni Muslim ruler of Khwarezmia, was in a position similar to that of Genghis Khan. Just as the latter, he had built vast Empire in only a few years. Having inherited the comparatively small province of Khwarazm as well as some only recently conquered parts of Khorasan from his father Tekish in 1200 AD, Muhammad soon had come into conflict with the Ghurids and other neighbouring dynasties, defeated them, and annexed their lands. Now, he ruled over a vastly heterogeneous patchwork of territories: “however impressive it appears on the map, moreover, Muhammad’s empire was in reality a brittle edifice, comprising territories which, apart from Khwārazm, had been accumulated only recently. Transoxiana had been annexed within the past ten years; Ghūr and the rest of Afghanistan, within the past six” (Jackson 2017, p. 77).
    Bildschirmfoto 2020-05-24 um 21.00.27.png
    It thus doesn’t surprise that a plethora of different local types of coinage was struck in his name. To some degree, this reflects the heterogeneity of the Khwarezmian Empire during Muhammad’s reign. My first example comes from Qunduz (today in northeastern Afghanistan). The type derives from the longstanding Asian tradition of bull-and-horseman jitals, but it is much larger than regular jitals and doesn’t seem to contain any silver at all. I can’t say I properly understand this coin:
    Orient, MA – Choresmien, Ala ad-Din Muhammad, AE Jital, Qunduz, Tye 243.png
    Khwarezmian Empire, under Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, AE large jital, 1200–1220 AD, Qunduz mint. Obv: stylized bull l.; legend around: "abu'l fath / muhammed bin / al-sultan"; circular marginal legend (mint and date) is completely off-flan Rev: stylized horseman holding spear l.; legend around and in margins: "as-sultan al-azam ala al-dunya wa ud-din," mostly off-flan. 23mm, 4.84g. Ref: Tye 243; Album 1740.

    My second coin only bears Arabic legends naming the ruler. It was struck at an unclear mint from low quality billon. Just as the next coin, it falls under the broad definition of “jital” proposed by Robert Tye but isn’t part of the bull-and-horseman tradition. I’ll adopt the term nonetheless and leave discussions about the limits of the category “jital” to those with more knowledge and expertise in this area:
    Orient, MA – Choresmien, Ala ad-Din Muhammad, –1220, BI Jital, Tye 286.png
    Khwarezmian Empire, under Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, BI “jital,” 1200–1220 AD, unclear mint. Obv: legend in three lines, including "as-sultan / ? / ?". Rev: legend in three lines, including "muhammad / as-sultan /?". Tye 286; Album 1727. 17mm, 3.00g.

    Here is a third coin minted for Muhammad, again in a completely different design, from copper, and struck in the city of Kurzuwan (today in Afghanistan). Remember the city of Kurzuwan – it will come up again further below.
    Orient, MA – Choresmien, Ala ad-Din Muhammad, AE Jital, Kurzuwan, Tye 246 (neues Foto).png
    Khwarezmian Empire, under Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, AE “jital,” 1200–1220 AD, Kurzuwan mint. Obv: "Kurzuwan" in circle, legend around "as-sultan al-azam muhammad bin as-sultan". Rev: Kalima. 16mm, 2.49g. Ref: Tye 246.

    The conflict between the Mongols and the Khwarezmian Empire probably was a tragic escalation of historical contingency. As Jackson argues, “it is far from certain that the original decision to attack the Khwarazmian empire was inspired by a programme of world- conquest” (Jackson 2017, p. 75). In fact, seems as though the Mongols initially even tried to establish friendly diplomatic relations with their western neighbours, probably because their main military ambitions pointed eastwards to China. Yet, a governor of Muhammad II had a group of Mongol merchants killed, assuming, maybe correctly, that they were spies. In response, Genghis Khan sent a group of envoys to Muhammad II, asking for the responsible governor to be handed over. In an ill-advised move, Muhammad had the envoys and an accompanying trading party executed.

    The reasoning behind this is quite unclear. Maybe, Muhammad, protecting his governor, saw a need to aggressively demonstrate his power and underestimated his eastern neighbors. Possibly, he also wasn’t aware that “the Mongols were extremely sensitive to the treatment of their ambassadors” (Jackson 2017, p. 75) and might have taken their execution as a provocation that could only be answered by fully-fledged war. On the other hand, the threat to Mongol commerce posed by Muhammad as well as swelling territorial conflicts might have played a role in the unfolding of events, too. It is also imaginable that Muhammad simply regarded a future military conflict with the Mongols as inevitable and assumed that his chances of winning it were quite good at this point.

    In any case, executing the Mongol emissaries proved to be a terrible decision. In response, Genghis crossed the Tien Shan mountains and invaded with extreme brutality in 1219. After a series of military misjudgements and defeats, the Khwarezmian Empire was no more. Muhammad II died in December 2020 on an island in the Caspian Sea where he had taken refuge after the fall of his capital Samarkand had fallen. By spring 1221, the Mongols controlled all of Khorasan and had massacred the inhabitants of the cities who had resisted them.

    Muhammad’s heir Jalal ad-Din Mangubarni assembled the surviving Khwarezmian forces and retreated into Afghanistan. Mongol forces pursued him and, after an initial Khwarezmian victory at Parwan, finally defeated Jalal al-Din and drove him and his remaining followers into exile to India. It is in this context that the coin below was struck in the abovementioned city of Kurzuwan in May or June 1221, probably while the city was under siege by Genghis. These coins were minted by an anonymous local malik, probably some local governor left behind by the retreating Khwarezmian forces, just a short time before the city fell into Mongol hands:
    Orient, MA – Choresmien, Malik of Kurzuwan, 1221 n. Chr., Tye 324.2.png
    Khwarezmian Empire, struck by an anonymous local governor, AE “jital,” June or July of 1221 AD (Jumada of 618 AH), Kurzuwan mint. Avers "al-malik" ("the ruler") in central circle; around: "tarikh jumada sanat thaman asbar wa sin mi'at" ('dated to Jumada, of the year 618'). Rev: inscription in four lines "kurzuwan / la ilah illa allah / muhammad rasul / allah" ('Kurzuwan. There is no God but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God'). 20mm, 2.78g. Tye 324.2; Album 1971.

    Originally, the Mongols themselves didn’t use coinage for trade but relied heavily on barter. Yet with time, they adapted and started to strike coins in the tradition of the lands they had conquered. These two jitals were struck in the province of Nimruz in southern Afghanistan, which had been ruled by a Nasrid vassal of the Khwarezmian empire – but by the late 1220s or 1230s, when the second coin was struck, it already was under the control of the khan:
    Orient, MA – Nasriden:Saffariden von Sistan, Taj al-Din Harb, 1167-1215, Jital, Tye 123.png
    Nasrid Dynasty of Sistan (Khwarezmian vassals, also known as the Saffarids of Sistan or Maliks of Nimruz), under Taj ad-Din Harb, citing caliph al-Nasir, AE/BI jital, 1167–1215 AD, Sistan mint. Obv: "harb" in circle; partially struck legend in margin. Rev: "[unclear word]/ la illah illa / muhammad rasul / al-nasir ud-din / muhammad." 14.5 mm, 2.96g. Ref: Tye 123, Album 1427.1.

    Orient, MA – Mongolen, Dschingis Khan, Jital, Album 1973, Foto 2.png
    Great Mongols, under Genghis (Chingiz) Khan or slightly later, BI “jital,” 1220s/1230s AD, Nimruz (Sistan) mint. Obv: "qa’an / al-‘adil" ('the just khan'). Rev: " zarb i/ nimruz" ('struck in Nimruz'). 14.5mm, 3.42g. Ref: Tye –; Album A1973.

    After the Mongol annexation of Khwarezmia, the Mongol empire bordered the rich Islamic territories in Anatolia, controlled most of the Silk Road, and had learned of its rich neighbors to the West and their weaknesses. This set the fundament for the Mongol conquests and raids into Asia Minor, the Levante, and Eastern Europe in the following decades. Central Asia became Mongol core territory, as this coin of the Golden Horde struck in the former Khwarezmian heartland almost a hundred years after Genghis' conquest illustrates. By that time, the Mongol rulers had widely adopted the Muslim faith of the people they had conquered:
    Orient, MA – Goldene Horde, Uzbek Khan, dang, Khwarizm, 714.png
    Golden Horde, under Uzbek Khan, AR dirham/dang, 1314–1315 AD (714 AH), Khwarizm mint. Obv: "al-sultan / al-adil / uz bek" in square. Rev: mint and date formula for Khwarizm 714 AH in polylobe. 16mm, 1.80g. Ref: Album 2025C.

    Please post your coins related to Khwarezmia or the Mongols!
     
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  3. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Wow, what a great write up, and wow again... SUPER coins, @Orielensis

    I enjoyed reading the dynamic history, including some dumb mistakes of worlds colliding. Very cool.

    GENGHIS KHAN

    [​IMG]
    Great Mongols, Genghis (Chingiz) Khan,
    AH 603-624/ AD 1206-1227,
    AE Jital (4.12gm, 2h),
    Ghazna type, undated, citing Genghis as Khaqan and
    citing on the reverse, the 'Abbasid caliph al-Nasir. O: 'adl / khaqan / al-a'zam("the Just and Supreme Khaqan" or "Just [coin] of the Supreme Khaqan"). R: al-Nasir / li-Din Allah / amir al-mu- / -minin ("al-Nasir li-Din Allah, commander of the faithful").
    SICA-9, 1008; Tye 329; Album 1969
    Ex: David L Tranbarger
     
  4. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    Very nice review, much more than beginners level !
    The history of this region before the invasion of the Mongols is a bit neglected part of world history. Partly, but not only, by the destruction of normal society and infrastructure by the Mongols.
    Agree on your second coin being Tye#286. The entire legend is; obv: "al-Sultan / al-a'zam / abu al-Fath", rev: "Muhammad bin / al-Sultan / Tekish".
    It is actually a quite rare type. To illustrate that i can show you another one which was struck by the same dies:
    T286.jpg
     
  5. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Excellent post @Orielensis! I have two jitals from Kurzuwan to share. The first is of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II (1200-1220) and has no date:
    Khwarezmshahs.jpg
    Note the line between the elephant's legs. I had assumed it was a die crack (hardly surprising given the holed and cracked flan), but @THCoins thinks it is supposed to show chains binding the elephant's legs, probably some sort of political statement whose exact meaning is unfortunately lost to us.

    I also have one of the siege coins from the siege of Kurzuwan in 1221, the same type as yours except mine is dated to Rabi' II 618 AH (May-June 1221 AD):
    Kurzuwan.jpg
     
  6. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Very nice! Excellent t and very informative write-up. I have been working on a similar side project off and on for the past couple of years (nothing new to share), but have yet to snag any Mongol coins. The closest I can come is a mongol coin (which I cannot identify) which was counter-marked by the Genoese in Caffa:
    Med-16-IGCaf-1360-Anon-Pul-01.jpg Latin East - Genoese Caffa
    Italian States, Genoese Caffa, 1360s?
    AE Pul, 17.29mm x 1.3 grams
    Obv.: Christogram countermark, from Genoese Caffa
    Rev.: ? anonymous Jujid
    Ex Andy Singer
    Note: countermarked on Jujid AE.

    I posted my reasoning for buying this coin here
     
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Wow! Informative and entertaining write-up, @Orielensis ! This one should be featured!
     
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Khnum-Hotep

    Nice write up and cool coins. I took a Central Asian history class in college and covered some of this material. Indeed the Mongols were brutal. Later in the 1250's they executed the caliph in Baghdad by covering him and his family under carpets and then running horses back and forth across the carpet until they were all dead.
     
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  9. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    To demonstrate that there also was some continuity, with al those changing regimes, i can show these three examples:

    The first is Ghorid in name of Taj al-Din Yildiz. On the coin he declares himself as the devoted slave of former ruler Mu'izz al-Din Muhammad bin Sam.
    T200.2w.jpg
    The second is the same basic design. But now a little later under Khwarezmshah Ala al-Din Muhammad:
    T292w.jpg
    And the third was likely struck during the transition period to Mongol rule. Possibly to be non-offensive to any possible local victor, this coin was issued only under the name of the far away Abbasid caliph from Baghdad, al-Nasir.
    T326w.jpg

    These also illustrate that it does come in handy to learn to read a little Arab if you plan to focus on the coins from this region.
     
  10. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I remember that in my class too!
     
  11. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    While I have no coins to share, thank you for the engaging introduction to the history and associated coins. A couple of themes that seem to be common for those building extensive empires: know the opposition (also works the other way - underestimate them at your peril as learned by Mohammad II), adapt to local customs.

    The coin minted in Kurzuwan "just a short time before the city fell into Mongol hands" and others you share become compelling eyewitnesses with your context.

    I agree with @Roman Collector should be a "Featured".
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
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  12. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Khnum-Hotep

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  13. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the kind comments and for posting your coins, everyone!

    Thanks so much for your help with the legend! I honestly had kind of despaired when trying to decipher especially the last word of the reverse legend. For some reason, I had read the initial character as a nun and thus was on the completely wrong path, but now I see that it is a tha – and "tha–kha–shin" is Muhammad's father Tekish, of course!

    I find it quite interesting that your third coin cites the Abbasid caliph al-Nasir, though the Mongols by that time were not primarily Muslim. In fact, as @ancient coin hunter pointed out above, Genghis' grandson Hulagu Khan didn't hesitate to execute the last Abbasid caliph al-Musta'sim in 1258 after the sack of Baghdad. Al-Musta'sim is cited on this coin minted by the Ayyubid prince Al-Nasir Yusuf, who in 1260 was also defeated and subsequently executed by Hulagu:
    Orient, MA – Ayyubiden in Aleppo, al-Nasir Yusuf II, Dirham Quadrat.png
    Ayyubids of Aleppo, under al-Nasir Yusuf II (“al-Nasir Yusuf II”), AR dirham, 1250–1259 AD, Dimashq (Damascus mint). Obv: regent’s title in square: “al-malik al-nasir / salah ad-din yusuf / ?”; circle with partial legend around. Rev: title of caliph al-Musta‘sim in square: “al-imam al-musta'sim / billah abu ahmad / amir al-mu'minin,” circle with partial legend around. Ref: Album 843.1. 23mm, 2.7g.

    Yet, though Hulagu Khan wasn't a Muslim and had just killed the politico-religious head of this faith, he also had no problem to mint coins in the Islamic tradition showing the kalima (creed) on the reverse, probably in an attempt to make them more acceptable to his Muslim subjects. This illustrates the remarkable pragmatism of the Mongols when it came to religious matters:

    Orient, MA – Ilkhanat, Hulagu, Dirham, Mardin?, Album 2122.2.png
    Ilkhanate, under Hulagu (possibly a posthumous issue), AR dirham, ca. 1261–1265 AD (659–663 AH; also struck posthumously until c. 1281 AD/ 679 AH), Mardin mint (?). Obv: "qa'an/ al-'azam/ hulagu ilkhan/ al-mu'azam;" in margin, fragmentary mint and date formula. Rev: kalima: "la ilah illa allah/ wahdahu la sharikalahu/ muhammad rasul allah;" in margin, fragmentary Qu'ran 3:26. 22.5mm, 2.69g. Ref: Album 2122.2.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2020
  14. THCoins

    THCoins Well-Known Member

    I think many aspects of the events of this time period centered around honour and respect.
    The Khwarezmshah was not really involved in the daily lives of his subjects, nor in their petty local coinage for daily use. He did however think very highly of himself and demanded that people also expressed their respect, also in coinage.
    Two examples of this:
    First: Horseman Jital where the Kwarezm shah is named as "Iskandar al-Thani", which means "Alexander (the Great), the second".
    T233w.jpg
    Second, where he takes an even more grandiose title: Obv text: “السلطان / ظل الله في / الأرض “ “Al-Sultan / Zil Allah fi / al’ard”. Which translates as: “The Sultan, the shadow of Allah on earth”.
    T285w.jpg

    Giving in to demands of some Mongol envoy would have been an insult to his honour.

    The Mongols were not that different. The Khan commanded respect. Resistance was seen as disrespectfull and was repressed with brute force. Ofcourse there also were cultural differences. At the onset the Mongols did not really see the value of precious metals. If the ruler of a city though he just could buy of the Mongol army with some gold and silver but did not show sufficient diplomacy and respect he had a problem.
    There was largely a tolerance for religious matters, as long as it did not question the power of the Khan. The religious authority of the Abbassid caliph was not perceived as a danger. A confrontation only became unavoidable because the caliph also claimed political power which opposed Mongol supremacy.
    Conversion of Mongol rulers to Islam took several decades. This would not have been possible if they would have completely distroyed the society they conquered. Instead, social structure stayed largely intact. The ruling class of administrators and advisors to the ruler consisted largely of Muslim Persians who had major influence in the "assimilation" of the Mongols.
    The Mongols did have their own religious system, with belief in a creator. There is also numismatic evidence that local authorities tried to bridge Islamic and Mongol religious beliefs:
    PostQJitalW.jpg

    The obverse text here reads: "بتوفیق پروردگار ", “be-Taufiq-i Parwardigar”, Which translates as: “By the grace of the Omnipotent”. There is a similar type which has the text “be-qovvat-e aferidegar-e 'alam”, = “By the power of the creator”. So, there is a reference to a highest authority, but the name of Allah was avoided.
     
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