Pictured is a fine example of the iconic "bullseye" type Islamic medieval gold dinars struck by the Egyptian Fatimid dynasty during the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Fatimid Egypt was quite wealthy due to its strategic position on the busy trade routes between India and Europe.
Our daily lives can be monotonous affairs. We drag ourselves out of bed every morning, suffer a punishing commute, grind it out at work all day and then trudge home. Then we are expected to repeat this routine daily for the next 40 years straight. One possible way to avert this disagreeable lifestyle is to become a connoisseur of the fine arts. Pursing such a rewarding avocation allows the aspiring art aficionado to experience splendidly fascinating items in his daily life.
And there are few kinds of art more alluring, exotic and accessible than the medieval gold dinar coins of the early Islamic caliphates. They are glittering pieces of the distant past - tangible reminders of a bygone era of shimmering oases, ancient cities and dazzling palaces in faraway lands.
Unlike Europe, which fell into the Dark Ages after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Islam experienced a centuries long cultural flowering. The Islamic golden age spanned from circa 650 AD to 1258 AD, when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols. This enlightened period featured religious toleration as well as significant advances in the fields of philosophy, science, mathematics and medicine.
A major intellectual center for the Islamic world called the House of Wisdom was founded in Baghdad during this time. Muslims also established the world's first degree granting universities in the 9th and 10th centuries. Countless ancient Greek and Roman texts were translated into Arabic during Islam's golden age, preserving the priceless knowledge of those classical civilizations. Muslim mathematicians developed advanced maths such as algebra and algorithms. Innovative Muslim chemists of the 8th century even invented the distillation process that made hard liquors possible!
The Islamic dinar, a nearly pure gold coin of about 4 grams, was a high denomination piece widely used in medieval international trade. Europe, in contrast to the Muslim world, was an impoverished backwater in this era, with little trade outside the Byzantine Empire. As a consequence, almost none of the European nations struck gold coins during this time, with the exception of the Byzantines.
Affordable Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
The early Islamic caliphates, on the other hand, were obscenely wealthy due to their extensive trade relations with sub-Saharan Africa, India and even China. Because of this robust commerce, gold dinar coins of the early Islamic Caliphates had relatively high mintages and thus survived in reasonable quantities to the present. In addition to the dinar, fractional gold coins were also sometimes struck in quarter and half units.
Islam has a general prohibition on displaying images in art - human or otherwise. Most Islamic art is therefore non-representational in nature, instead consisting of intricate, geometric patterns or elaborate, ornamental calligraphy. Consequently, the coinage of Muslim kingdoms was struck with highly stylized Arabic (or Persian) calligraphy on both sides.
This style of Islamic coinage was a distinctive break from the ancient Greek and Roman tradition of placing rulers, gods or animals on coins. This resulted in a breathtakingly beautiful, as well as tantalizingly exotic Islamic-style coinage that was minted for hundreds of years across dozens of Muslim dynasties.
Medieval Gold Dinars of Other Dynasties For Sale
Muslims use their own unique dating system known as the Hijri calendar which is based on a lunar calendar of approximately 354 days. This Islamic calendar commenced in the year 622 AD (on the Western calendar) when Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina in the event known as the Hijra. This event also gives the Hijri calendar its name. The abbreviation for the Hijri calendar is "AH" and will oftentimes be found in date descriptions of Islamic coins put up for sale online or in dealer catalogues.
Islamic coins were some of the first coins to be struck with dates, something that didn't regularly happen on European coinage for almost another 800 years. Mint names are also often encountered on medieval Islamic coinage, allowing a collector to identify the city where a coin was struck.
The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 AD) was the second great Islamic state after the death of the prophet Muhammad and controlled a massive territory, stretching from Spain in the west to Afghanistan in the east. The ancient metropolis of Damascus was the Umayyad Caliphate's capital city. The first uniquely Islamic coinage, stylistically speaking, was minted starting in 696 AD during the reign of the 5th Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.
Umayyad Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
During the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 AD), Islamic civilization reached the pinnacle of its golden age. Extending from Tunisia in the west to Pakistan in the east, the Abbasid Caliphate's capital was Baghdad. The greatest ruler of the dynasty, Harun al-Rashid (reigned 786-809 AD), not only founded The House of Wisdom but also featured prominently in the classic Arabic literary work "One Thousand and One Nights". Gold dinar coins of the famous Harun al-Rashid were struck in substantial numbers and can frequently be found today at reasonable prices.
Abbasid Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
The Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 AD) was a splinter dynasty from the Abbasid Caliphate that ruled from Morocco in the west to Syria in the east. The Fatimid's center of power was in Egypt. This led them to found the city of Cairo specifically to be their capital.
Most gold dinar coins of the Fatimid Caliphate, although adhering to the canonical Muslim tradition of Arabic script on both sides, have a style of calligraphy that is readily identifiable as uniquely Egyptian. The calligraphy of Fatimid coinage is often strongly reminiscent of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, even though it is in Kufic (medieval Arabic) script. The iconic Fatimid "bullseye" type gold dinar coins are especially coveted by discerning collectors for their attractive appearance.
Fatimid Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
A desirable specimen of an early Islamic gold dinar should have modest wear; aim for a grade of Very Fine (VF) or better. In addition, a crisp strike, good centering and fine style are all highly desirable. Examples that have been bent, holed or excessively clipped should be avoided.
Clipping was an ancient form of fraud in which shears were use to shave off very thin strips of metal around the edge of the coin. If done properly, the coin was almost imperceptibly smaller in diameter and could be easily passed back into circulation at full face value. The coin clipper kept the metal shavings from the coin and eventually, after clipping many coins, would have pilfered a substantial amount of gold.
Coin collecting has been called "The Hobby of Kings" because it was once the exclusive domain of royalty and other wealthy nobles. If coin collecting truly is the hobby of kings, then gold coins are surely its zenith. Islamic medieval gold dinars are among the most advantageous ways to invest in the burgeoning Islamic art market. Prices range from about $250 for common, but still desirable, pieces to well over $1,000 for pristine or rare examples.
Keep in mind that there are countless other Islamic dynasties beyond the three major caliphates that have been highlighted in this article. Many of these smaller kingdoms also struck gold coins that are very collectible. While gold coins from these minor dynasties are especially undervalued in today's marketplace, all medieval gold dinars represent a beguiling, exotic gateway to the refined and profitable world of the hobby of kings.