Arab Byzantine? Not so fast...

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by medoraman, Jul 16, 2019.

  1. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    At first glance I bought a couple of coins yesterday many would consider Arab Byzantine. Makes sense, since they imitate Byzantine coins and we all have seen Arab Byzantine issues. However:

    Sassanian Byzantine.jpg
    ARAB-SASANIAN. Abay. Ca. AH 72-95 (AD 691-714). AE Pashiz (0.54 g; 19 mm). Bishapur mint. No date. Two facing busts (“Heraclius and son” type), the smaller with three pellets to left and star above, the larger with single pellet to left and pellet-in-crescent above; “May xvarrah increase” in Pahlavi to left, the name “Abay” to right; circle border / Crowned Gopatshah to right; three pellets at end of diadem and at end of tail, pellet between forelegs, Pahlavi letter “P” and star to right, “May Bishapur be prosperous” in Pahlavi around; circle border. Gyselen 8. Nice red-green patina. Choice Good VF. Very Rare.

    The auction listed it as Arab Sasanian, but I disagree. This is an imitation of a Byzantine coin for Sassanian occupation. The arabs had nothing to do with this coin, that came 20 years later. I would properly call this a Sassanian Byzantine. While at first glance it sure looks like an arab byzantine, the writing is Pahlavi, (Persian). What I love is the reverse, a gopatshah, a winged bull with the head of a man, (a very Persian image).


    While I like this one for the very distinct Persian influence, here is my favorite Sassanian Byzantine I picked up yesterday:

    Sassanian Byzantine2.jpg

    ARAB-SASANIAN, Anonymous. ca. AD 695-710, local AE Unit (1.40 gm; 20 mm), without mint and date. Obv. Facing crowned Byzantine style bust, diadem left & globus cruciger right, traces of Latin legends around. Rev. Normal cross-on-steps, ornate cross left & right. Rev. Two Imperial figures standing facing, holding between them patriarchial cross set up on three steps; traces of 'pzwt in Pahlavi to right; illegible inscription in Pahlavi to left. Gyselen -, Miles -, Album- unpublished. RRRR. Brown patina. Choice Good VF.

    I am not an expert in these, but am interested. I have seen a few examples of the first coins for sale, but never have seen this coin. I think it is in excellent condition for these.
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Cogito Ergo Sum

    Really interesting coins @medoraman - I was completely unaware of these types. I wonder what kind of cross-cultural interactions led to the striking of these coins.
    galba68 likes this.
  4. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    This was before the Arab invasions. The Sassanian were on the verge of completely conquering the Byzantines. They took over Egypt, the Levant, all the middle east, and had Constantinople surrounded. Then Khusro II made a fateful error, ordering the killing of the general leading the invasion, fearing he was gaining too much power. Unfortunately, he asked the general's cousin to do it, the cousin told the general, and promptly turned around and killed Khusro II. This shattered Persian power, allowing the Arab invasions.

    The entire area would have been different. The arabs would never had been successful against the Persians, and we would live in a world where the Persians and Zoroastriism was the dominant middle ages civilization and religion.
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  5. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Nice detective work, @medoraman, and cool coin!
  6. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Not something I have ever seen either, neat coins!
  7. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    ??? I'm confused here. The last Sasanian emperor, Yazdegard III, was killed in 651. At this point, essentially all of the former Sasanian territory (except for Tabaristan and some Central Asian bits) was under the control of the Rashidun Caliphate. The Rashiduns were then overthrown by the Umayyad Caliphate. Are you arguing that the accepted date of c. 691-714 for the coin is incorrect? Possible, I suppose, but the coin still doesn't make much sense. Why does it name a city (Bishapur) that is nowhere near Byzantine territory, if it is intended as coinage for occupied Byzantine territory? True, the reverse symbolism is very Persian, but that is hardly unusual for Arab-Sasanian coins (including those with dates that clearly place them in the Islamic period). Persians were extremely proud of their culture (and still are, talk to any Iranian if you don't believe me) and continued using traditional symbolism on their coins for decades after the Islamic conquest. Here's another one of their bronzes from my collection:
    man-headed bull.jpg
    I think it's a good idea to question accepted ideas about when and where particular coins were minted, but right now I'm not sold on your particular interpretation. But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, if you can muster more evidence.
  8. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Good discussion sir. Your coin I could easily see it as an interpretation of a Sassanid issue, looking very much like the famed Khusro II facing bust coins. However, mine is clearly a Byzantine derivative of a Heraclius and son type, with no known Sassanid issues looking anything like this.

    You are right, the Bishapur had me stumped, and my assertion was completely based upon the obverse style yet Pahlavi legends. Do you think it could possibly be a Byzantine Sassanid issue, when the Byzantines conquered the Sassanids in return? It sure looks a lot like yours, but enough significant differences remain that they could be very different issues. Or, do you think they are just different varieties issued for Bishapur? If so, it would seem very strange to use Byzantine style obverses for a Bishapur local issue, especially when they had issues like yours that DID look like Sassanid designs.

    What do you think of my second coin? It is very much more Byzantine than anything, yet is written in Pahlavi. I am fine classifying this first one as a true Arab Sassanian struck for local commerce in Bishapur, yet the obverse is very confusing to me then.

    Btw, when I first saw this coin I thought exactly what you said, local Bishapur Arab Sassanid, (which I love, believing the coppers to be fascinating and underappreciated, maybe because they are so rare), but the obverse, being such a good Byzantine imitation, threw me off.
  9. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Btw, just to throw this out there. I believe the coin references Bay-Sapur, which in English becomes Bishapur. However, Bay-Sapur means Lord Shapur, having been founded by Shapur I (the Great). this was the leader of the Sassanids who killed Gordian III, captured the emperor Valerian, and force Phillip to surrender.

    So, given the Sassanians were finally fulfilling Shapur the Great's goal of Byzantine domination, is it positive it is Bay-Shapur the city that these coins refer to, or Lord Shapur?

    Yes, it very well may be a stretch, its just something my mind was wondering given the iconography of this coin and where the name Bishapur actually comes from.
  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I noticed these in the auction and was very tempted! (Especially by the second one.) Congrats on a pair of very intriguing coins!

    Here is my Sassanian-Byzantine issue from Syria around the time of the Persian occupation. It's overstruck on a follis of Anastasius:

    This is a pretty crude one, usually they replicate the Byzantine style better.

    Your first coin's design is apparently derived from Heraclius solidi, which I don't think is found on either Sassanian-Byzantine issues or Arab-Byzantine issues in Syria. Steve Album seems to always attribute them to the Arabs. It makes sense to me that the Arabs wouldn't care much about iconography, so would mix-and-match Byzantine and Sassanian types even in territory that wasn't originally Byzantine. It would seem less probable for the Sassanians to issue a Byzantine type in Bishapur. But who knows! There seems to be lots of guesswork in this vicinity...

    Now that is a neat suggestion! But I don't think Heraclius made it as far as Bishapur. (That's setting aside your idea that it's not the name of the city on your new coin.)

    Related to your second coin, here's a somewhat similar piece that Steve Album sold:
    Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 10.47.23 AM.jpg
    One tends to forget about the Christian communities located in former Sassanian territory. (Or at least I do.) Another interesting idea!
  11. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I agree the second is interesting, yet is anepigraphic where mine clearly has Persian writing. Not that it proves anything, but definitely different.

    Interesting ideas, especially the Christian's. Don't you just love unclear history?
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  12. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    @medoraman: What I find potentially important here is the fact that essentially the same reverse- Gopadshah facing right with inscription referencing Bishapur- is found with at least three different obverses: your coin (obverse derived from Heraclius gold), my coin (Sasanian flaming head/Anahita facing bust), and a coin currently being offered on VCoins by Pars Coins (janusoid bust):
    Based on the very similar reverses, it makes sense to assume that all three types were struck at around the same time and place. So, if the "Heraclius" type was issued for conquered Byzantine territory, why were the other types issued at the same time?

    Your second coin is intriguing. I would be more likely to agree that that might have been an issue by Khusro II for conquered Byzantine territory (like the Alexandria bronze coinage).

    Right now, what I really want is to read Gyselen's book, unfortunately I don't have it and it seems very hard to find a copy. Maybe more detailed analysis by an actual expert would help, as well as datable coin finds that could nail down an approximate time when these were issued (early vs. late 7th century). Meanwhile, enjoy this other Arab-Sasanian bronze from my collection, featuring a simurgh:
    And one more thought: I think "Arab-Sasanian" is kind of a misleading term. Bronze coinage in the early Caliphate seems to have been basically a local affair, and even the early "Post-Reform" bronzes show great variability (and quite a few pictorial types!), so it's hardly surprising that coins from the newly Islamicized Sasanian territory would still use lots of Persian imagery, with little or no detectable "Arab" content. I don't know why a clearly Byzantine obverse pops up there; but then again, Byzantine types do show up in some of the Turkoman figural bronzes too, from territory that had not been Byzantine for centuries.
  13. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    True. Turkmen bronzes are a stretch, though, since they imitated all ancients far and wide. I think I have about half of all S&S types. Seems like we have very similar tastes, but admit I am far behind you on these. :)

    Btw, just ordered Geyselen. :)
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  14. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    That's a very interesting coin, connecting several cultures. You can hardly call this a 'normal cross', these are Nestorian crosses I think. In the Eastern world, as far as Western China, Nestorianism had spread in Late Antiquity-Early Middle Ages.

    The obverse imitates Byzantine coins, but here is a Soghdian coin with the same type of Byzantine imitative portait. Not with a cross-on-steps but a tamgha-on-steps. A tamgha is the badge of a tribe.

    5687 Sog byz im.jpg

    Chach (Taskhent). Obv. Facing portrait Byzantine style, left a slender tamgha or a word, right two letters. Rev. Large M-like tamgha on steps. Sh & K 32 var. 16 mm, 1.77 gr.
  15. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Cool coin. I have a few Sogdian imitations of Byzantine coins, including a gold one listed as unique by a well known Russian dealer.

    Crosses on many different types of Sogdian coins are a sub-specialty. About half of Sh &K types can be found with a cross snuck in the design somewhere. I am suspicious if this was done by Nestorian Christians, but no way to prove it. Most are very rare, being common on only a couple of types.
  16. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    This thread addresses a special subject that is close to my heart. These delicate coins, so thin! fascinate me since I discovered them. They are local types, produced at a time when Islamic authority in Iran was very tolerant, or let's say uninterested. One's belief, be it Zoroastrian, Jewish, Nestorian or Christian, was one's own business, as long as taxes were paid peacefully. Churches and other religious buildings were left alone. People in the conquered lands were considered second-rate, and the authorities never cared what they thought.

    Little is known about these coins, but they are not so rare anymore as they used to be. Gyselen's book can get a revised edition by now, I think.

    Arab-Sasanidic currencies are part of the development of tiny coppers from the Sasanian empire, but many of these are much thinner than the old imperial coinage.



    As for this coin (I was the happy buyer), see also here on Zeno. The learned commentator remarks "Traces of mounts, as on all other similar items on Zeno." That's right, and moreover these coins have medal alignment (12h): if you turn the coin horizontally, the tops of the obverse and reverse have the same position. These coins in fact might be pendants, maybe used as grave goods.
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