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Khusro I with uncommon, "forgotten" mintmark


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Sasanian Persian Kingdom. AR drachm 30 mm, 3.93 g). Khusro I (531-579), Year 46. Mintmark BH. Obverse: Bust of king right, name before. Reverse: Fire-altar with two attendants, crescent and star symbols above, to right mintmark BH, to left date 46. Cf. Mitchiner MACW 1046. This coin: Purchased from Zurqieh, 2023.

(Historical section contains re-used text.)
Khusro's father, king Kavadh I (488-531 AD), had favored a radical Zoroastrian sect called the Mazdakites. The Mazdakites preached a doctrine with some resemblance to socialism, including sharing the resources of the aristocracy with the lower classes. (Kavadh may have supported the Mazdakites as a way to break the power of the nobility, leaving the central monarchy in control.) The Mazdakites also practiced wife-swapping, though some killjoy historians claim this aspect was over-emphasized by their enemies. Upon Kavadh's death, he named his younger son Khusro as successor. The Mazdakites supported the oldest son, Kawus; but Khusro soon defeated his sibling, executed the leader of the Mazdakites and many of his followers, and was successful in reestablishing Zoroastrian orthodoxy. Politically, Khusro continued to fight the powers of the aristocracy and minor nobles, removing the exemption from taxation that many of the wealthy families had enjoyed and installing government employees as tax collectors, instead of leaving local tax collection to the corrupt nobles. He also encouraged small landowners, and was strict in punishing any corruption by government officials. He fought a number of wars against the Byzantines, and also campaigned against the Hephthalites in Central Asia and established a military presence in Yemen. Overall, he is considered one of the greatest kings of the Sasanian dynasty, and is still revered in Iran as Anushiruwan (Immortal Soul).

I already had several coins of Khusro I; what drew me to this one was the mintmark. While browsing through listings of bare-bones-identified Sasanian drachms, this mintmark stood out in that it was very easy to read (as BH) but unfamiliar to me. It was not listed in my quick go-to for mintmark ID, the page at NumisWiki based on the late Tom Mallon's pages (https://www.forumancientcoins.com/numiswiki/view.asp?key=Sasanian Mints) so I quickly purchased the coin as worthy of further research. Checking through print references showed that the BH mintmark was in fact reported, for both Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian coins. Gobl's "Bible" of Sasanian coins lists the mintmark as an unknown location, while Mitchiner's "Ancient and Classical World" also lists the mintmark, though only under Khusro I. Mitchiner even illustrates an example, dated Year 42 (coin #1046 in the book) and identifies the mint location as "Behkobad" in Iraq, near the Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon. As for the Arab-Sasanian series, Album, in the second edition of his Checklist, suggests the location as "uncertain, perhaps Bihqubadh in Iraq" and gives the rarity of the mint as "RR" ("Very rare. Seldom available. Collectors may have to wait years to locate one."). The most recent, third edition, however, reverts to "uncertain location (RR)." Heinz Gaube's "Arabosasanidische Numismatik" has a two-paragraph discussion of the mintmark, ultimately concluding that its location is unknown. (Actually, given the gap between the known Sasanian use of BH mintmark and its reappearance on Arab-Sasanian coins some decades later, I'm not so confident that the mintmark necessarily meant the same thing in those two different time periods.)  

My conclusion: The mintmark BH seems to be scarce in general (both Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian), and we're really not sure where it was issued. Also, this illustrates why it is important not to rely on just one source. whether online or print. Please post whatever related coins you have.

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That's a very neat find!  The moment I read 'barebones listings', I knew where it was from 🫠 . I don't have any photographed Khrusro I, but there's bound to be a scarce mintmark on one of these.


I thought I might have a Kavadh, but it's a Peroz.  I don't have many of the pre-skeletal style Krusru II's.

Why did earlier issues (except for the very early ones) have such a thin bust?


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Well spotted. Sasanian mints are confusing at their simplest, with transliteration differences and uncertainty over which mint the letters represent anyway.

I can't even manage Khusro I, so here's his successor.

Hormazd IV Drachm, 582
Yazd. Silver, 29mm, 4.06g. Crowned bust to right, wearing mural crown with frontal crescent and korymbos. Fire altar with ribbons and attendants; star and crescent flanking flames; YZ (Göbl Type I/1).

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  • 4 months later...

Oh, nnnNo, @Parthicus, serious apologies for overlooking this OP and thread for so long.

Two caveats.  I'm sure these are all reposts; I can only hope they go back, at least, to the old forum; but without looking, I can't even promise you that.  Meanwhile, I remain hopelessly illiterate in the series, even to the extent of looking up the mintmarks in Göbl.  Lazy me.  Any help anyone would care to provide on that front --and, for that matter, any misattributions, likelier due to my clerical errors than the dealers involved-- would be cordially appreciated.

But even with that as a starting point, the series is, for one, compelling on an unapologetically esthetic level.  (A lot for a medievals guy to admit!)  Beyond that, the dynamism of the history, both politically and culturally, and in the broad regional context no less than reign by reign, is beyond serious dispute.  ...Anyway, these are just in regnal order, with ACE dates (and transliterations) lifted directly from Göbl's family tree.  (...Some day, it would be really fun to find one of Shapur I, with a module and composition at least evoking antoniniani, c. temp. Valerian --whether or not those were literally overstruck on Roman examples, as is sometimes claimed.) 


Hormizd II, 303-309 CE. 


Yazdgard I, 399-420.


Peroz, 457; 459-484.


Xusro I, 532-579.  (Two pictures; the first one digitally enhanced by the American numismatist Alan DeShazo (cf. esp. The Celator, esp. 2009-2010), who steered me toward the series, provided lots of coaching, and gifted me with a couple of them.  ...If you go back far enough, this was the reign I found my first example of, at the only local coin shop, as a kid.)


Hormizd IV, 579-590.


Vahran VI, 590-591.


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On 1/17/2024 at 12:23 AM, JeandAcre said:

  (...Some day, it would be really fun to find one of Shapur I, with a module and composition at least evoking antoniniani, c. temp. Valerian --whether or not those were literally overstruck on Roman examples, as is sometimes claimed.) 


Well, I do have a drachm of Shapur I that does seem to be struck in billon rather than the good silver normal for the Sasanian series.  It is, however, of the standard Sasanian format of large diameter and thin, rather than the smaller-but-thicker Roman standard.  I've never seen a piece that showed evidence of a Valerian (or other Roman) under type.  If the story is true, either Shapur's coins were struck on captured unused Roman blanks, or else Roman coins were melted down produce new Sasanian blanks for striking.  Anyway, here's my piece:


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Thanks, @Parthicus, for so cogently dispatching that theory!  And an interesting example, epiphanously between the two extremes. 

Alan DeShazo, another American numismatist, suggested that drachms of Shapur with both a Roman module and composition may have been minted for specific, recently conquered Roman areas, which, obviously enough, already had an established history of that combination being in circulatlon.  He was careful to point out that that much was effectively informed speculation.  And I never got savvy enough about the mints --or Shapur's issues-- to triangulate them with the parts of the empire that were involved. 

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