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A Pseudo-Arabic bronze of Bela III of Hungary


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Hungary. AE follis. Bela III (1172-1196). Loosely imitating an Almoravid dinar. Obverse: Pseudo-Arabic inscription. Reverse: Pseudo-Arabic inscription. This coin: Dirty Old Coins (via Agora Auctions) Sale 2, lot 577 (December 20, 2023).

Bela III (reigned 1172-1196) was born around 1148, a son of the Hungarian king Geza II. In 1161, Geza granted Bela a duchy including territory in Croatia, Dalmatia, and Sirmium. Geza died the following year and was succeeded by his eldest son Stephen III, and Bela was sent to live in Constantinople. There, he was betrothed to Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos' daughter, Maria. Stephen fought several battles to try and prevent the Byzantines from taking control of Bela's duchy, but unsuccessfully. Bela was designated as Manuel's heir in 1165; but when Manuel had a son, Alexios, born in 1169, the Hungarian was no longer necessary and the betrothal and heirship were dissolved. Stephen died in 1172 and Bela returned to Hungary to take up the throne, after swearing that he would never wage war against the Byzantines. However, after Manuel died in 1180, Bela would reclaim his territories in Croatia, Dalmatia and Sirmium for Hungary. Other notable features of his reign were his bringing organized record-keeping to the royal court, and the introduction of Gothic-style architecture. Bela died in 1196 and was succeeded by his son Emeric.

Notably, this coin type has a pseudo-Arabic inscription as the sole design, and the format is (roughly) based on contemporary gold dinars of the Almoravids, who ruled in North Africa and Spain. The reason for using an Arabic-imitative design in this case is not clear. I've seen speculation that the coins were meant for Hungarian soldiers being sent on the Third Crusade in 1189 to spend in the Levant, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence for this idea. There also doesn't seem to have been a significant Muslim or Arabic-speaking population in Hungary that Bela would have wanted to appeal to with familiar-looking coins. This seems like it could be a fruitful question for further research by numismatic scholars. Regardless, it's an interesting coin from an area that I know very little about. Please post your related coins.


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Nice example! I picked up a matching set of Bela III rezpenz a few years ago- the pseudo-fals


And he also made another inspired by Byzantine trachea, which he probably enjoyed during his stay in Constantinople.


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