Samanid coins (c. 864 - 1005). Multiple dirhams.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Oct 11, 2021.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Samanid coins. Multiple dirhams.

    The fabled Silk Road cities of Balkh, Samarkand, and Bukhara were large and prosperous cites that were centers of trade, culture, and scholarship until the Mongols destroyed them and killed most of their inhabitants in 1220. The whole region never recovered. It hard for westerners to think that cities in this region were once among the most beautiful, advanced, and glorious in the world. "If it is said that a paradise is to be seen in this world, then the paradise of this world is Samarkand."-- quoted by 'Ata-Malik Juvaini (Boyle translation.)


    This region, called "Transoxiana," and additional territory including Tajikistan and parts of Iran, was ruled by the Sunni Samanid dynasty c. 864 to 1005. They had many very productive silver mines and the large volume of silver produced required mints to convert it into a useful form--coins. (Balkh, the most common mint, is at the red marker on the google map, in northern Afghanistan. Samarkand and Bukhara are in Uzbekistan north of Balkh.)

    Silk road trade sent very many dirhams (of c. 3 grams of silver each) to Vikings lands. Remarkably, about a hundred thousand Samanid dirhams have been discovered in large hoards in Scandanavia and Russia!* Also, very large "multiple dirhams" were minted. Their weights are irregular, centering around 11-12 grams (the weight of 4 dirhams), but with some were significantly lighter and some significantly heavier. There are many Samanid coins broader and heavier than dirhams that don't seem to be any particular multiple of the dirham. Therefore scholars have argued these large coins were effectively a way to move bullion and must have been weighed for each transaction. They apparently only traveled within the Samanid empire and are rarely found elsewhere. They were rare until the 1970s when a large hoard was discovered. Now they are common, especially when compared to the number of collectors who want them.

    How big are the multiple dirhams? A US quarter is 24 mm and seems a good-sized coin, but the large multiple dirhams are much larger at 45 mm. Take a look; it is huge!


    Here is an image of both sides:

    45 mm. 11.49 grams.
    Note: Many coins with much smaller diameter weigh more than this. 27 mm tetradrachms of Alexander the Great weigh c. 17 grams. This coin is thinner than Greek and Roman coins (but not paper thin).
    3:00 die axis (like Sasanian coins)
    Struck in the name of Nuh II, 943-954 (AH 331-342). (The ruler named "Nuh" with these dates used to be called Nuh I.)
    Album 1455. "Believed to have been struck posthumously, after c. 367" [Album 4th edition, page 210.]

    Steve Album says this variety is unpublished with obverse as SNAT-246 but with Allah.
    Sylloge Numorum Araboricum Tübinghen, Balkh und die Landschaften am oberen Oxus, XIVc, by Florian Schwarz).

    This example is particularly well-centered and the edges of the dies are clear. The force of the strike was spread out over a broad 45 mm disk making relatively few pounds per square centimeter resulting in, almost always, weak strikes. This strike, even with its weakness, is better than most. This piece might have been minted at Balkh.

    Here is another piece, not so large:


    33 mm. (A US half-dollar is less than 31 mm.) 4.96 grams. (Which is not a clear multiple of the dirhams which were about 2.97 grams.)
    Attributed to ibn Mansur, 976-997 (AH 366-387)
    and struck at Balkh.
    Mitchiner, World of Islam, 710, page 139.

    Again, the typical weak strike is evident.

    The most accessible source for identification of Samanid coins is The World of Islam by Michael Mitchner (1977), pages 132-149, with 59 examples of this large diameter illustrated and identified (The coins are difficult to decipher and attributions, especially to mints, are often uncertain. Not all scholars agree with Mitchiner's readings). The coinage was so vast that far from all of the types are illustrated. The coin above is similar to Mitchiner 728, but not the same. Mitchner also wrote the hard-to-find book, The Multiple Dirhems of Medieval Afghanistan (1973) which has 169 pages and discusses over 800 pieces classified into more than 120 types. (The book was reviewed by Steve Album in NC 1976.) More up to date is a book by Florian Schwarz, Sylloge Numorum Arabicorum Tübingen: Balkh und die Landschaften am oberen Oxus, Tubingen, 2002, which is described as "180 pages, 77 plates, softcover. Volume 14c. 1500+ coins listed. The volume describes and illustrates on 181 pages and 79 b/w plates 1,526 Islamic coins minted in what corresponds to modern northern Afghanistan and Tadjikistan; about half of the coins were minted in Balkh, the other mints are Andaraba, Badakhshan, Tashqurghan, Tirmidh, Hisar, Khuttal, Rasht, Saghaniyan, Tayiqan, Kishm, Wakhsh, Walwalij / Qunduz, and al-Yun/Khust ("lands on the Upper Oxus", as the German title translates). It contains sections on multiple dirhams (ca. 170)."

    Digital images can be enlarged to any size, making it hard to grasp just how large a 45 mm coin really is (Silver dollars are only 38.1 mm.) Perhaps the comparison with a US quarter helps, but holding one in the hand is far more impressive.

    * Islamic Coin Hoards and the Trade Routes: How Dirham Reached the North by Dr. Aram Vardanyan. He notes, by country, hoards totaling over 100,000 coins. Also, "The Vikings brought their goods southwards by Volga and exchanged or sold them to oriental merchants. From the narrative sources one can conclude that the Vikings brought to the South slaves, furs, honey, leather, ivory, fish and other goods. On their way back the Vikings took with them to the North both goods and Islamic coins, mainly in silver, and then buried the coins in their lands for further purposes. The coins were accumulated in such big numbers, that the Vikings buried them as hoards. Today, the number of hoards of Islamic silver coins revealed in Scandinavia and Baltic Sea area, as well as in Eastern Europe exceeds several hundreds." "The proportion of Samanid coins in the hoards can demonstrate how intensively was the trade between the Vikings and Middle Asia between 900 and 960 AD."
    "in the Viking period there were at least three main routes that provided an inflow of Islamic dirham to the North. One was taking from the Middle Asia, the important cities of Mawarannahr, such as Samarkand, Bukhara, al-Shash. ... Another important trade route was going from Iraq, through Mesopotamia and Armenia to Darband and then through the northern Caucasus up to Volga. ... the third important way how Islamic coins could become a part of hoards buried in the North was connecting the merchants of Mesopotamia, Syria and Levant with the Rus and Vikings lay through the Byzantine Empire."

    I put this post on a web site here:
    As I learn more I will update the site.

    Please show us some "Silk Road" coins.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
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  3. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Is there a guide that helps to identify the caliph and mint city of multiple dirhams for non-Arabic readers? I have been unable to identify this:

    Samanid multiple dirham, perhaps Nuh III b. Mansur, AH 366-387; 8.12g, 41mm
  4. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Very nice write-up @Valentinian . Here's an AE fals of the Samanid ruler Mansur I, struck in Bukhara and dated 356 AH (AD 967):
  5. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Yeah, too bad so softly struck.

    Warren we would be here all day if I posted my Silk Road coins. :) Its one of my favorite areas, along with Persian and hunnic coins. Glad to see others appreciate the history, geology, and contribution to human society of the region. Excellent post sir.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  6. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Mitchiner's World of Islam is the most available source. However, it is far from complete and even has some errors (according to reviewers). By the way, the side of your coin (the side on the right) with two legends around is upside down.

    Part of the appeal (to a very select subgroup of ancient-coin collectors) of Silk Road coins is that they are obscure and you can enjoy learning to figure out what's what. As far as I know, they have not been the subject of an introduction for beginners. However, for most of us Roman and Greek coins are already complicated enough and Silk Road coins will remain obscure and neglected.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Valentinian, Many thanks for contributing this valuable OP and thread, replete with typically solid research.
    Here are the two examples I can find pics of at the moment. They're both reposts, but are fun for confirming what you said about the nature and scope of the Viking /Rus' trade.
    First, emphasizing the fact that as of the earlier 10th century, the Vikings were engaging in long-range, transcontinental trade in the effective absence of a monetary economy --and, as you noted, using Samanid dirhams as bullion-- here's my example of Rus' /Samanid 'hacksilver.' Regarding the contrast with, for instance, Anglo-Saxon cut fractions of pennies, common from later in the century, the raggedness of the cut has everything to do with the fact that, once they got into a Viking merchant's hands, the coins summarily ended their status as a known denomination, and literally became their weight in silver. This example was from a dealer based in Estonia, on the eastern Baltic --a neglected field of Viking activity, if there ever was one.
    A Danish friend sent me the link to this website, auf Dansk (sorry for the linguistic mixed metaphor); from around p.132, you get a responsible overview of the known distribution of Samanid dirhams across the Viking world, including a map. til daler_Danmarks mønthistorie indtil 1550_Danmarks Nationalbank.pdf
    ...This is a fun one. Another Samanid dirham, ostensibly issued (according to people who knew Much more than I did) by a scarce emir (a usurper who only lasted a year or two) in maybe the 920's CE. Maybe a forgery.
    The fun part, though, is that the detectorist on UK ebay who sold me this insisted that it was found in Worcester.
    Anywhere in the British Isles, Samanid dirhams are very thin on (or even, up to now, in) the ground. Including Norse Dublin and Hiberno-Norse York-- although isolated examples have turned up as far afield as Iceland. Back to Worcester, neither the town nor the county were anywhere near the 'Danelaw,' or any other part of England conspicuous for Scandinavian settlement. ...Except that, roundly a century after the issue of this one, Cnut /Knut of England (1016-1036) actively encouraged the settlement of this and neighboring parts of the East Midlands by first-generation Scandinavians. ...Hypothetically, that kind of interval might explain the level of wear.
    ...Right, Samanid dirhams only reached Scandinavia by way of Kievan Rus'. Here's a map I found:
    KIEVAN RUS, MAP, Rus-1015-1113.png
    One impression I get is the remarkable level of cultural cohesion in the Viking world over the 10th and into the 11th centuries. This isn't reducible to the numismatic evidence, or its economic connotations. The Rus' prince Jaroslav the Wise, of Novgorod and Kiev (1019-1054)st half of the 11th century, harbored three future kings of Norway: Olaf II, Magnus the Good, and Harald Hardraada, of 1066 fame. Likewise, some of Knut's best friends were Norse, rather than Danish. And as late as the aftermath of Hastings, never mind Stamford Bridge, Waltheof, the half-Danish earl of Huntingdon and Northumbria (including York), employed an Iceland skald (court poet), who is quoted in Snorri Sturlusson's Heimskringla, an earlier 13th-century cycle of sagas about the Norse kings.
  8. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    I believe you are correct, Nuh III b. Mansur, also citing the 'Abbasid caliph al-Ta'i and the local governor Muhammad. Compare this example at Zeno, attributed to the Badakhshan mint:
    Interestingly, the Samanid emir is named on both the obverse and the reverse. On the reverse, the name at first glance appears to be Nuh II b. Nasr (cited posthumously). Album suggests that the most logical explanation is that what appears to be Nasr نصر is actually a poorly written Mansur منصور.
  9. spirityoda

    spirityoda Coin Junky Supporter

    Very interesting coins for sure.
  10. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting thread! I don't have a multiple dirham, but here is a fals minted for Isma’il ibn Ahmad:
    Orient, MA – Samaniden, Ismail, 288 AH, falus.png
    Samanid Dynasty, under Isma’il ibn Ahmad, AE fals, 901/2 AD (288 AH), Samarqand mint. Obv: “la ila illa / allah [isma’il / ibn ahmad?]; marginal legend. Rev: lillah / muhammad / rasul / allah / ?”, marginal legend with mint and date. 26mm, 3.6g. Ref: Album 1444.

    I also have a Ghaznavid dirham citing the Samanid ruler Mansur II:
    Orient, MA – Ghaznawiden, Isma'il, dirham, 997–998 AD, Album 1601.png
    Ghaznavid Dynasty, under Isma’il, citing the Samanid ruler Mansur II and the Abbasid caliph At-Ta’i; AR dirham, 997–998 AD (387–388 AH), Farwan mint. Obv: “la ilah illa/ allah wahdahu/ la sharika lahu/ al-ta’i billah/ farwan,” tamgha or ornament above. Rev: “lillah/ muhammad rasul/ allah mansur/ bin nuh/ isma’il/ farwan.” 18.5mm, 2.48g. Album 1601.

    Here is a much earlier "silk road coin" from what would later become the first Samanid capital:
    Orient, Antike – Sogdien, Samarkand, Porträt und Schütze, 300–500 n. Chr..png
    Sogdia, Samarqand, AR "obol," 4th–5th c. AD. Obv: stylized bust l. Rev: archer standing r. 9mm, 0.3g. Ref: Senior A8.7i; HGC 12, 512.
  11. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Certainly an interesting field of collecting. Although they are often hard to read and understand - maybe just because they were only used locally.

    This was a particularly hard nut to crack, it is Zeno 269478, dating from 370AH = 980-981 AD. 38-41 mm, 10.07 gr.

    6143 wo.jpg

    And this is my largest, in fact a it's my broadest coin of all, Zeno 270005, issued in Ma'dan after 363 AH = 973 AD. 45.5 mm, 10.26 gr.

    6144 mult ect.jpg

    I have only 4 multiples, a.o. this imitation in slightly smaller format. It's in better condition, maybe also better silver and better technique, although dubbed a contemporary 'local imitation'. It's Zeno 185763, a pity that it has drawn no learned comments on Zeno, so far. Nuh II (or III) bin Mansur (976-997), no date. 38 mm, 6.45 gr.

    6142 multip ect.jpg

    In fact I prefer the smaller dirhams and other coins of the Samanids, for they are (often) much better in calligraphy and minting technique, and also easier to read and interpret. Here are some favorites:

    6148 SA ect.jpg

    AR dirham Samanids, Ismail b. Ahmad (892-907), dated 291 = 904. Mint Balkh. 27 mm, 2.85 gr. Splendid style. Album 1443. Zeno 47057.

    And a copper coin:

    6173 Samanid sharpened.jpg

    AE fals Samanids. Abd al-Malik I b. Nuh. + Ashath b. Muhammad. Mint Quba 349 AH = 960 AD. Obv. Three concentric circles, in the second the Kalima, in the centre, a cruciform monogram formed from 4 x the name Muhammad, the centre ringlet being the first M! 26.5 mm, 3.16 gr. Zeno 69828.
  12. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    While we are on the subject of Samanid bronze allow me to mention a puzzle. Here are two falus, dated just a year apart:

    shash254.jpg samanid-fals.jpg
    Both of these seem to be Samanid fals from Shash, Nasr b. Ahmad. Identical inscriptions and orientation. The first one dated to 254 AH, the second just a year later. Yet the lettering style couldn't look more different!

    The first one looks like fine calligraphy, the second like it was done with a pencil. (I don't know the proper terminology for the styles.) The die cutters worked together and I bet each hated the other and thought the other's artistic style was terrible.
  13. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    I have one of these multiple dirhams and I spent some time researching it in 2020.

    Samanid Multiple Dirham Nuh II Kurat (No date)
    Silver, 44 mm, 11.17 gm

    Ruler: This coin was minted under the rule of Emir Nuh II whose reign was AH 365 to 387 (AD 976-997).
    Mint: Kurat, located near Fayzabad, Badakhshan province, northeast Afghanistan

    Field: Islam Kalima "There is no god except Allah. He is Alone. There is no partner to Him"
    Ring outer: Quran Surah 30:4 "Of Allah is the Command from before and from after and on that day the believers shall rejoice in the victory of Allah"
    Ring inner: In the name of God, this dirham was struck in Kurat
    Ring outside top: Ayyar (warrior)
    Ring outside bottom: Jayyid (good)

    Field: Allah / Muhammad / Messenger of Allah / Nuh2
    Ring outer: Quran Surah 9:33 "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. He sent him with the Guidance and a religion of the truth in order that he might cause it to be bright over the religion, although the polytheists disliked it"
    Ring outside top: three dots
    Ring outside bottom: one dot

    These coins, called multiple dirhams, were minted in the 10th century AD in northeast Afghanistan in an area located on the north slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains where a lot of silver was discovered and mined.

    A situation developed similar to the 1850's when the US mints began minting larger size gold coins to accommodate the gold coming from California.

    The ultimate customer for these coins were the Scandinavian Vikings via Russian trading posts, and large hoards of Samanid dirhams have been found in Sweden and Norway, and small hoards in England and Ireland.

    From Afghanistan to Ireland is quite a trip.

  14. PeterD

    PeterD Member

    This dirham of the Volga Bulgars, imitating those of the Saminids, was found near Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland (not by me). I happen to have been to Newcastle. It is situated on a broad sandy bay entirely suitable for beaching a Viking longboat. Volga Bulgars.jpg

    Dynasty: Volga Bulgarians
    Ruler: Anonymous
    Reigned: Circa AH 285-310 / AD 898-922
    Denomination: AR Dirham (imitating Samanid coin)
    Mint: al-Shash (Samanid mint)
    Date of Issue: AH 296 (AD 908/9)
    Obverse: Arabic (Kuffic) incription. Citing Samanid Isma'il ibn Ahmad.
    Reverse: Arabic (Kuffic) incription
    Reference: Album Q1481; ICV 1549.
    Weight: 2.7 gms
    Diameter: 26.7 mm
  15. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Wow, @PeterD, I've never seen one found in Ireland before. Cool how three centuries later, the Balkan Bulgars were imitating Latin trachys (...wish I had a link to the thread where that was discussed in some detail --it's recent).
    PeterD likes this.
  16. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    Just a note. As suggested in the op, there were several Samanids named Nuh and not all sources number them the same. @willieboyd2's "Nuh II" is actually the same individual as @Ed Snible's "Nuh III". The numbering depends on whether the early Samanid Nuh ibn Asad, 819-841, a governor of Samarqand, is counted among later members of the family who were independent rulers. As listed by Album the Nuhs are:

    Nuh I b. Asad at Samarqand, 819-841
    Nuh II b. Nasr, 943-954
    Nuh III b. Mansur I, 976-977

    Nuh (نوح) is the Arabic spelling of the biblical name 'Noah' who appears in the Qur'an as well as in the Bible.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2021
  17. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Even Album has changed his numbering between the second and fourth editions.
    The Nūḥ with this listing in the fourth edition:
    "Nūḥ II (b. Naṣr), 331-343 / 943-954"
    used to be numbered Nūḥ I.
    Parthicus and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  18. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    An excellent post @Valentinian, I do not have a multiple dirham to post, so I will add this Ghaznavid dirham (2.75g).
    Ghaznavids. Mahmud Abu'l-Qasim (389-421 AH / 999-1030 CE), AR Yamini Dirham
    Obv: In the circle, first part of the Kalima لا اله الا الله وحده لا شريك له; outside mint and year.
    Rev: In the circle محمد رسول الله القادر بالله يمين الدوله و أمين المله محمود, second part of the Kalima; outside naming of the caliph
    Ref: Album 1609
    Edit: adding map for context
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  19. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

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  20. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Zeno has a category for Nuh III b. Mansur multiple dirhams,

    There are 84 coins on that page. Many look a lot like mine.

    There is no consensus on that page for obverse and reverse.

    Some are dated, some dateless, some name mint cities. Some of two lines of circular inscriptions, others one.

    I have Richard Plant’s book and could probably puzzle out the inscriptions, given time. I do not have the ability to enter Arabic text on my computer keyboard. I desire something like showing the inscriptions in Arabic that I can cut-and-paste from, alongside translations.

    Multiple dirhams have words at the top and the bottom outside the circular inscriptions. A list of the possibilities would help. Are there hundreds of words or just a dozen? If I drop $350 on Mitchiner or $100 on Sylloge Numorum Arabicorum Tubingen: Balh would I find such lists there? Or is there a web site?
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the link, @Ed Snible. After it had, well, been a long minute, it was good to see that that site is still with us. I've done the same thing from there for Andalusian coins.
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