International Conference on Late Sasanian and Early Muslim Coins in Iran

by Stuart D. Sears

The ANS and Columbia University hosted “The Heritage of Sasanian Iran: Dinars, Drahms and Coppers of the Late Sasanian and Early Muslim Periods” at Columbia University on June 8 and 9. The conference presented a wide range of papers on the coinages of greater Iran from the fifth to eighth centuries CE. It also featured a workshop on the reading of the Pahlavi and Soghdian coin legends. The American Numismatic Society and Columbia’s Center for Iranian Studies and Middle East Center co-sponsored the meeting with additional support from Middle East Medievalists. More than twenty people attended from as far away as Japan, Georgia, Egypt, France and Belgium.

The papers discussed the reading and interpretation of the legends and iconography on the different Iranian coinages of these periods, their use by governments in meeting administrative needs and legitimizing authority and their subsequent use and circulation. Michael L. Bates, Curator of Islamic Coins at the ANS, gave the plenary lecture entitled “The Coinages of Iran and Its Neighbors in the Seventh Century.” The lecture traced the development of the late Sasanian coin type and its imitations in countries neighboring the Sasanian empire and later in Iran itself.

The first panel, entitled ” Iconography, Imitations and Unusual Coins,” treated the use of symbolism and legends on Sasanians coins and their imitations. Francois Gurnet (Independent Scholar) discussed the alternating emphasis in Sasanian iconography of religious and dynastic symbols, culminating in the sixth century in the creation of a relatively constant dynastic type. Stuart D. Sears (The American University in Cairo) gave arguments, relying on both numismatic and literary evidence, for the attribution of the mint legend WH to Veh-Ardashir, one of the Sasanian Empire’s capital cities. Aleksandr Naymark (Hofstra University) spoke about imitations of drachms minted under Varahran V in Merv.

The second panel, “Monetary History of Transcaucasia”, addressed coins and hoards of the Caucasus. Georges Depeyrot (CNRS, France) discussed his remarkable encounter with dozens of such hoards in Georgia and Armenia. Medea Tsotselia (The Janashia Georgian State Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia) gave an overview of several of these hoards recovered in Georgia. Dr. Sears traced the evolution of several series of Muslim drahms struck in this region shortly before the introduction of Arabic dirhams.

The panel “Monetary History of the Eastern Frontier,” raised issues in the monetary history of eastern Iran. Parvaneh Pourshariati (Ohio State University) discussed the struggle between provincial elites and the Sasanian monarchy in sixth and seventh century Iran with special emphasis on Khurasan. Richard Frye (Harvard University) pointed out new avenues of needed research on the coinage of the Silk Route. Dr. Naymark described coinage of Sogdiana and its circulation from the first Arab to invade the country, Qutayba b. Muslim to Abu Muslim, generalissimo of the Abbasid revolution..

The last panel, “Money and its Uses”, treated the ways early Muslim governments employed coins in the organization of the Islamic state and the legitimization of its authority. Kameya Manabu (Hokkaido University, Japan) tied the striking of Arab-Sasanian coins to payment of stipends to Arab soldiers, the ‘ata system, while Dr. Sears examined legends on the coinage of al-Hakam b. al-‘As promoting an absolutist conception of government for the first time on Muslim coinage.

A high point of the conference was a delicious dinner at the beautiful Turkuaz Restaurant on upper Broadway.

The abstracts of many of these papers will be posted on the ANS web site. Participants have been invited to submit their papers for publication to the Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies, The American Journal of Numismatics and Al-Sikka. The conference will meet again in June of 2003. Abstracts for proposed talks and inquiries should be sent to Dr. Stuart D. Sears (sears@aucegypt.edu) or Michael L. Bates (bates@amnumsoc.org).