Feb 13, 2007

Coinage of the Fatimids

Coinage of the Fatimids

“Coins and the discipline of numismatics which deals with them, lie at the crossroads of so many historical, cultural and artistic concerns that hardly anyone studying a traditional civilization or an earlier period of history has been able to avoid handling or dealing with these thousands of small gold, silver or copper objects. Economic historians see in them the abstract standards used for maintaining regional or international exchanges, and draw from them important conclusions about inflationary practices, or the presence or absence of gold and silver. To political historians the primary interest of coins derives from their official character. Manufactured under strict governmental control in state-run mints, coins exhibit signs of power and authority, and changes in those signs usually imply major political or ideological changes. Historians of art have many reasons for being fascinated by coins, but a methodologically important one is that most are dated and thus provide benchmarks for the art historian’s maniacal passion for chronological sequence. In addition, coins are visual messages carried to a vast public, and their sheer number gives a sense of what was meant to be part of the natural visual language of a culture or of a historical moment. Social historians and ethnographers know how much coins were part of the complex system of gift-giving which characterises any human group.”
Oleg Grabar, Centuries of Gold: The Coinage of Medieval Islam. London: Zamana Gallery, 1986, “Introduction”, p. 6.

The Fatimid caliphate was established in 909 in North Africa, and soon extended into Sicily, Egypt, Palestine and Syria reaching the peak of its power during the long reign of the 8th Fatimid Imam-caliph al-Mustansir bi’llah (d. 1094). During this period of almost 2 centuries, the Fatimids created a prosperous state with a remarkable intellectual, economic and cultural vitality.

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The selection of Fatimid coins presented here are important documents providing unique chronological and historical details. Further, the fine, elegant epigraphy, the more open design characterised by its circular emphasis, and the myriad of stylistic and artistic variations makes Fatimid coinage particularly interesting.

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