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An Arab-Sasanian governor with flexible loyalties


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Arab-Sasanian. AR drachm (33 mm, 3.43 g). Herat mint. Governor Salm ibn Ziyad (c. 61-65 AH/680-684 CE), dated 67 AH. Obverse: Bust copied from Sasanian issues of Khusro II, name before, in margin "bism Allah" (in the name of God) and 3 pellets. Reverse: Copy of Khusro II reverse, to right mintmark HRA (Herat), to left date 67, star in margin at 11:30. Album 18. This coin: Stephen Album Internet-only Auction 23, lot 51 (October 30-31, 2023).

While the date of Salm's birth is uncertain, we know he was one of the sons of Ziyad ibn Abihi, the Umayyad governor of Iraq who controlled most of the eastern portion of the Caliphate. When Ziyad died in 673, Caliph Mu'awiya divided Ziyad's former territories among three of Ziyad's other sons, Ubayd Allah (Iraq), Abd al-Rahman (Khurasan), and Abbad (Sijistan). Mu'awiya died in 680 and was succeeded by his son Yazid I, the first hereditary succession of the caliphate, which was, to say the least, controversial. In 681 Yazid sent Salm to replace his brothers as governor of Kurasan and Sijistan. Salm in turn, appointed another brother (confusingly also named Yazid) as deputy governor in Sijistan, while maintaining control of Khurasan for himself. Salm won some military victories at the edges of his territory, and instead of sending all the captured booty back to the caliph in Damascus, distributed the greater portion of it to his troops, which naturally greatly increased his popularity. The death of Caliph Yazid I in late 683 created a power struggle, and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, based in Mecca, emerged as a powerful challenger to the Umayyads. Salm initially tried to keep his troops loyal to the Umayyads, but they declared for the Zubayrid side, and Salm fled to his brother Ubayd Allah in Basra. Salm then changed his mind and attempted to join the Zubayrid cause, but the Zubayrids took him into custody and held him prisoner at Mecca until he paid a hefty ransom. He then lived in Mecca until the Umayyads besieged the city. Salm received a pardon from the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik, who restored his title as Governor of Khurasan, but Salm died in 692 in Basra before he could travel to take up his office.

Coins of Salm ibn Ziyad are rated as "Scarce" in Album's catalogue. The mint is Herat, a major city in Khurasan and which is still a city of nearly 600,000 population in Afghanistan. This coin bears the date 67 AH, even though Salm had fled in 65 AH; Album notes that coins with dates up to 70 are known for Salm. There was a Zubayrid-appointed governor of Khurasan, Abd Allah ibn Khazim, who issued coins during this period, so it's rather mysterious why coins continued to be struck in the name of the former governor. Regardless, it's a nice addition to my Arab-Sasanian collection, and an interesting relic of a soldier and politician whose loyalties proved flexible. Please post whatever related coins you have.

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