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A coin of a rebel Caliphate


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Arab-Sasanian. AR drachm (30 mm, 4.11 g). Darabgird mint, dated Year 60 [AH]. Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr (680-692). Obverse: Sassanian-Style bust right, inscription in Pahlavi Persian script "apdwla-i zubiran amir-i-wurrishnikan" (Abdallah ibn Zubayr, Commander of the Faithful), in margin Arabic "Bismillah" (In the Name of God). Reverse: Sassanian-Style fire altar with two attendants, to right Pahlavi mintmark "DA" (Darabgird), to left date 60. Album 16. This coin: Pars Coins eSale 14, lot 78 (January 16, 2024).

(note: historical section below has reused text)
Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr was born in 624 AD in Medina, and was reportedly the first child born to the earliest wave of Muslim converts who had fled from Mecca to Medina. He also had numerous family ties to leading early Muslims, including to Muhammad. Ibn al-Zubayr had a successful military career in the early expansion of Islam, particularly in North Africa and northern Iran. While he did not oppose Mu'awiya's ascension to the Caliphate (the start of the Umayyad Caliphate), in 680 he refused to recognize Mu'awiya's chosen successor and son Yazid, as he did not think the caliphate should be hereditary. Ibn al-Zubayr fled to Mecca, while another rebel, Husayn ibn Ali, fought against Yazid's forces at Karbala and was killed. (The martyrdom of Husayn is a key event for Shia Muslims to this day.) In 683, Ibn al-Zubayr seized control of Mecca and gathered allies from other parts of Arabia. Yazid sent forces against Ibn al-Zubayr, but Yazid's death in late 683 led to the soldiers withdrawing. Yazid's son and successor died just a few months later, leading to a period of confusion known as the Second Muslim Civil War. Ibn al-Zubayr proclaimed himself Caliph, and was acclaimed as such in much of the Muslim world. This map shows the areas giving allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr in green (map courtesy Wikipedia):


However, by 685 the Umayyad caliphate had started to recover under Marwan I, and Zubayrid control outside of Arabia was largely in name only. Ibn al-Zubayr refused to leave the city of Mecca to lead from a more militarily advantageous locale, which harmed his long-term prospects, and his provincial governors were virtually independent. Umayyad troops finally killed Ibn al-Zubayr at Mecca in 692, ending this short-lived caliphate.

One puzzling aspect of this coin is the date of 60 AH. This would correspond to 679-80 CE, the first year of al-Zubayr's refusal to accept further Umayyad rule. However, the obverse gives him the title "Commander of the Faithful", normally only used by the Caliph, and al-Zubayr didn't claim this until 683 CE. On the other hand, I've seen claims that some provincial or local leaders with loyalty to al-Zubayr started using this title for him as early as 680, even though al-Zubayr himself hadn't officially claimed the office yet, so this could be a provincial official giving his "boss" a premature upgrade in title. Also, there are many examples of frozen dates in Arab-Sasanian coinage, especially from the Darabgird mint, so it's also possible that this is just another example of that phenomenon. I think the Arab-Sasanian series is the only one where having a date on a coin actually makes us less sure of when it was struck.  An interesting and historic coin, in essentially mint condition, rated "Scarce" in Album's checklist, so an excellent addition to my collection. Please post any related coins you have.

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Thanks for this really interesting discussion!  I find these Arab-Sassanian coins so fascinating, though I don't have any to share myself. I know this has been remarked on many times here and elsewhere, but it boggles my mind to know that early Caliphs continued issuing coins with Zoroastrian symbology on them, even as they were obviously updating the dies to include the Hijri date in Arabic on the reverse and the Arabic/Islamic text on the obverse.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Very cool example, @Parthicus, (2nd edit:) never mind your bracingly erudite commentary.  You give some really resonant context for the coin itself, which kicks some stuff around the block.  Starting, from here, with the markedly early (and demonstrably still very fluid) interval of the Caliphates, and the terrific convergence, as you and @Sol_Invictus note, of Arabic legends on an otherwise wholesale, not to mention creditable, Sasanian imitation.

The best I can do is this one of Tabaristan, on the southeastern coast of the Caspian Sea on @Parthicus' map.  It's 60 years and change later than his /your fantastic Zubayrid one.  But Tabaristan was a part of the early Islamic sphere from the mid-7th c. CE, while maintaining political autonomy as late as this.  ...And, yes, just starting with the strike, nothing in my Sasanian collection per se holds a candle to it.  From Pars, VAuction 30, 26 Sept. 2022; lot 257.  Yes, I'm happy to crib the description from the listing.

Listing Image

(Instant edit:) https://www.vauctions.com/Event/LotDetails/463011/TABERISTAN-Umar-ibn-Ala-year-125-AR-hemidrachm

TABERISTAN. Umar ibn A'la, year 125. AR hemidrachm (2.03 gm; 24 mm). Obverse: Sasanian style bust to the right, name Umar in Kufic in front of the face, phrase “ARS” (Ar(u)s? Meaning Stunning?) or Arun(?-per Pakzadian) on the 3rd quarter and Pahlavi phrase APD on the second quarter. Reverse; fire altar with attendants, mint TPURSTAN (Tabaristan) on the right, date: 125 to the left. Choice FDC. Fully lustrous. Perfect strike.

For anyone tuning in (as) late (as I am), here's the Wiki article on Tabarastan.  Well documented, but without including AH dates (pleeease, cut us a break!).



Edited by JeandAcre
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