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COINAGE AND HISTORY IN THE

SEVENTH CENTURY NEAR EAST


2

EDITED BY
ANDREW ODDY

Proceedings of the 12th Seventh Century Syrian


Numismatic Round Table
held at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
on 4th and 5th April 2009

Published in 2010 by the Seventh Century Syrian Numismatic Round table, an informal group of
numismatists and historians whose convenors are Tony Goodwin (a.goodwin2@btopenworld.com),
Andrew Oddy (waoddy@googlemail.com), and Marcus Phillips and Susan Tyler-Smith
(senmerv@hotmail.com).
2010: Copyright is held by the individual authors.
Produced and Distributed by Archetype Publications Ltd, 6 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 5HJ
www.archetype.co.uk
Printed by MPG Biddles Ltd, 24 Rollesby Road, Hardwick Industrial Estate, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
PE30 4LS

ISBN 9781904982623

The publication of this volume has been made possible by generous grants from
Tony Goodwin, Ingrid and Wolfgang Schulze, The Royal Numismatic Society, The
UK Numismatic Trust and the Samir Shamma Fund of Oxford University. The
convenors are extremely grateful to them and to the advertisers:
A H Baldwin & Sons Ltd, London
Jean Elsen & ses Fils s.a., Brussels
Morton and Eden Ltd, London
Simmons Gallery Ltd, London
Tim Wilkes, Sussex

ii

CONTENTS
Preface

iv

The Rise of Islam and Byzantiums Response


James Howard-Johnston

Symbolism on the Syrian Standing Caliph Copper Coins: A contribution to the discussion
Wolfgang Schulze

11

The Standing Caliph Type the object on the reverse


Stefan Heidemann

23

Die Links between Standing Caliph Mints in Jund Qinnasrn


Tony Goodwin

35

A Standing Caliph Fals Issued by Abd al-Rahmn at Sarmn


Tony Goodwin

41

New Fakes of Standing Caliph Coins


Ingrid Schulze

45

Heraclean Folles of Jerusalem


Steve Mansfield

49

New Evidence for Coin Circulation in Byzantine and Early Islamic Egypt
Tasha Vorderstrasse

57

The Single Standing Figure Type of Tiberias/Tabariya


Marcus Phillips

61

More about the coinage in Syria under Persian rule (610-630) (summary)
Henri Pottier

79

Numismatics and the History of early Islamic Syria


Robert G. Hoyland

81

Constantine IV as a Prototype for Early Islamic Coins


Andrew Oddy

95

The al-waf lillh Coinage: A study of style (work in progress)


Ingrid Schulze

iii

111

PREFACE
This volume contains all but one of the papers presented at the 12th meeting of the Seventh Century
Syrian Numismatic Round Table held in Cambridge in April 2009. The Round Table is a forum for
the presentation of new, and not always complete, research, and, as such, for many years was not
formally published. Many of the papers given at these meetings were subsequently published in the
Newsletter, subsequently the Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society. In fact, the first six
meetings at the British Museum in April 1992, July 1993, December 1995, December 1996, April
1998, March 2000 were held under the auspices of the Oriental Numismatic Society. By the London
meeting of March 2000, however, the Round Table was operating independently and went on to
hold the next meeting, also in London, in October 2001. The meeting of November 2002 was held
in Birmingham and was spread over two days, as have been all the subsequent meetings in
November 2003 at Oxford, April 2005 in Cambridge, May 2007 in Birmingham, and the meeting
reported here in Cambridge.
The study of the so-called Arab-Byzantine coinage struck in Syria (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel,
The Palestinian Territories and Jordan) has made great strides forward in the last 30 years with the
publication of catalogues of collections in the Ahli Bank in Amman, the Ashmolean Museum in
Oxford, the Khalili Collection in London, the Dumbarton Oaks Collection in Washington DC, and
the University Collection in Tbingen. These monographs, together with innumerable papers in
journals, have revolutionised the study of the coinage struck in Syria following the fall of the
Byzantine Empire in that region. Most rewarding is the increasing attempts to relate the coins to the
known history of the early Islamic State and the Umayyad Empire.
Not least, a number of die studies have shown that the coinages of Scythopolis/Baisan, Baalbek,
Emesa/Hims, and pseudo-Damascus were prolific and clearly produced in well organised mints.
For instance, only a few years ago the coins of Scythopolis were regarded as very rare with only
about 30 recorded. Now that number is well into three figures with new specimens appearing all
the time.
Of course, the growing popularity of Arab-Byzantine coins has its downside in the appearance of
modern forgeries, as exemplified by one paper in this volume. Forgeries of the earliest Islamic gold
dinars have been known for decades, but now numismatists are having to contend with modern
copies of bronze coins, and very convincing some of them are too.
The one great lacuna in the subject is the dearth of coins from excavations or with secure
provenances as a result of field walking. Sadly, most coins available for study can only be localised
according to the origin of the dealer offering specimens for sale, and that is far from reliable as the
number of Arab-Byzantine coins currently offered by a dealer in Dubai testifies. Hence it is not
safe to assume that coins have not crossed modern frontiers before being offered for sale in Europe
or the USA.
On a practical note, I must express my heartfelt thanks to Ingrid and Wolfgang Schulze who
carefully read the final text and discovered numerous mistakes and inconsistencies. Those that
remain are the fault of the editor.
Andrew Oddy

28 June 2010

iv

A. Oddy (ed.): Coinage and History in the Seventh Century Near East II, Proceedings of the 12th
Seventh Century Syrian Numismatic Round Table held at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
on 4th and 5th April 2009 (2010), pp. 11 - 21

Symbolism on the Syrian Standing Caliph Copper Coins


A contribution to the discussion
Wolfgang Schulze 1

Fig. 1
In the early 690s (AH 70s) more than 50 years after the Arab conquest of Syria Abd al-Malik
(685-705 65-86 AH) introduced fiscal, administrative and military reforms and religious policies.
In many respects he founded the Muslim state itself.
One of his reforms was the introduction of the Standing Caliph coinage in gold and copper. For the
first time in seventh century Syria we see a standardisation at 18 known mints evidently
supervised by a central administration sharing Islamic images and legends throughout. This was
the first experimental and short-lived money reform of Abd al-Malik. It was followed by the
second reform at the end of the seventh century introducing purely epigraphic coins.
The Standing Caliph coins show a lot of new features of which the symbol on steps on the reverse is
the most prominent. We find the symbol on steps mainly in two forms:
a small globe on a staff on the gold coins2 and
a circle or ellipse on a staff on the copper coins, usually with an additional globe above.
Besides the symbol on steps at most mints, there are also the traditional cursive m (for follis) on the
reverses of the Standing Caliph coins of the jund Filastin (Iliya, Yubna and Ludd) and a capital M
on a Standing Caliph coin attributed to Amman and on a twin Caliph coin attributed to Baisan or
Jerash3.
Before developing some new ideas concerning the symbol on steps I will briefly present the main
theories that have been published so far.4

Wolfgang Schulze is an independent scholar. schulze@wg-s.de


The earlier Arab imitations of Byzantine gold coins are not discussed here.
3
A Oddy, The Twin Caliph Fals, ONS Newsletter 179 (2004) 10 f.; C Foss, Arab-Byzantine Coins, An introduction,
with a Catalogue of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Washington DC, 2008, 60 f.
4
The theory of Andr GRABAR (LIconoclasme byzantin, Paris, 1957, p.75), reading the symbol on steps as the Greek
letter theta for Theos = god, can be dismissed as well as the theory of Volker Popp (Die frhe Islamgeschichte nach
inschriftlichen und numismatischen Zeugnissen, in: K-H Ohlig and G Puin, eds., Die dunklen Anfnge , 2nd edition,
Berlin, 2006, 70) interpreting the symbol on steps as Beth-El (house of god) in the form of the jegar-sahaduta (pile of
testimony), the Aramaic name which Laban gave to the pile of stones erected as a memorial of the covenant between
him and Jacob (Genesis 31:47).
2

John Walker in his ground-breaking book about the Arab-Byzantine coinage was very cautious
about interpreting the symbol. He only remarked that it resembles the Greek letter phi.5 Furthermore
he saw the possibility that it is a transformed cross on steps borrowed from a reverse type of a
Byzantine solidus. But he was not convinced and put the words cross on steps in parentheses.
Nevertheless the idea of the transformed cross on steps imitating Byzantine prototypes found its
way into the numismatic literature and remained there for long-time6, although the meaning of the
symbol on steps, which does not look like a cross, remained unclear. In other words, the Christian
cross was transformed, but into what? Or was there no transformation and did the Arabs invent
their own symbolism?
To follow this line of thought I will start with a quotation from Chase Robinson:
Abd al-Maliks intense (and short lived) period of experimentation in design, which began with
the standing caliph issues and ended with the purely epigraphic coins of the reform shows that the
Marwanids were now pressing coinage into service for ideological purposes.7 Following this
premise and the consequent idea that the Standing Caliph coins were the first coins with purely
Arabic symbolism, we should not classify them as Arab-Byzantine but we must seek a new - that
means Arabic - interpretation of what we are seeing on them.
Elizabeth Savage was the first to dismiss the old theory of the transformed cross on steps derived
from Byzantine prototypes. She interpreted the pole on steps on the gold coins as anazah on steps,
the spear of the prophet symbolizing the supreme authority of the Muslims God. On the copper
coins she saw the symbol on steps as spear and shield.8 Nadia Jamil, however, has tried to interpret
the symbol on steps using Islamic poetry. She thinks that the Byzantine cross on steps was
transformed by Abd al-Malik into the qutb, a very complicated, polyvalent concept of the Islamic
world view. The pole is seen as a spear surrounded by an ellipse symbolising the central, religious
authority of the caliph.9
For both these interpretations of Savage and Jamil I concur with the comment of Tony Goodwin:
They have their attractions and are certainly more convincing than the old not a cross
interpretation. However, neither author has been able to produce convincing evidence,
documentary, archaeological or in the form of other contemporary artefacts, to support their case.10
Possibly both interpretations are too complicated to be understood by the contemporary population
having the coins in their hands. If the Standing Caliph coins were meant to be a medium for
disseminating Islamic ideology, then that ideology had to be clear and evident for everyone. The
symbol on steps was even more important than the shahda written around the circumference of the
coin. The interpretation of both authors as spear is not convincing. Why was the spear not clearly
pictured as on a contemporary Arab-Sasanian coin, the so called mihrb and anazah dirham? Apart

J Walker, A Catalogue of the Arab-Byzantine and Post-Rreform Umaiyad coins, (A catalogue of the Muhammadan
coins in the British Museum), vol. II, London, 1956, xxiii and xxxii. Recently Stefan Heidemann has revived this
association in a German exhibition catalogue (Die Kunst der frhen Christen in Syrien, Mainz, 2008, 205) interpreting
the symbol possibly as a declaration of value for fals/fulus.
6
See, for example P Grierson, The Monetary Reforms of Abd al-Malik, JESHO 3 (1960) 246 and Byzantine Coins,
Berkely and Los Angeles, 1982, 146; G C Miles, The Earliest Arab Gold Coinage, ANS MN 13 (1967) 215.
7
C F Robinson, Empire and Elite after the Muslim Conquest, Cambridge, 2000, 52; cf. also Abd al-Malik, Oxford,
2005, 49 ff.
8
E Savage, Arab-Byzantine Symbols of Victory, unpublished paper given to the Royal Numismatic Society, London,
1996.
9
N Jamil, Caliph and Qutb. Poetry as a source for interpreting the Byzantine cross on steps on Umayyad coinage, in: J
Johns, ed., Bayt Al-Maqdis. Jerusalem and Early Islam, (Oxford Studies in Islamic Art IX, Part two), Oxford, 1999,
11-57
10
S Album and T Goodwin, Sylloge of Islamic coins in the Ashmolean, vol. 1, The Pre-Reform coinage of the early
Islamic period, Oxford, 2002, 93

12

from this we can suggest other problems with Jamils numismatic interpretation. She is referring to
two Standing Caliph copper coins, published by Walker.11

Fig. 2
At first glance these coins clearly show a spear. But compared with other coins of this series it is
evident that the spearhead is nothing else other than the letters lam-alif of the margin legend. Due to
the fact that the die cutter started the shahda at 12 oclock instead of the normal 1 oclock, the
ligature found its place at the top of the pole.

Fig. 3. Aleppo. lam-alif at 12 oclock Fig. 4. Aleppo. lam-alif at 1 oclock


It is interesting to observe that there is a small series of irregular Damascus Standing Caliph coins
showing different decorations at the top of the staff not spearheads.

Figs. 5-8
Summarising so far, we have no convincing explanation for the symbol on steps. The following
reflections take into account three main premises:
First, within the framework of the administrative reforms of Abd al-Malik, Christian symbols were
banned from public life. About 60 years after the death of Muhammad in 632, and following
decades of religious tolerance in conquered Syria after 636, Islam developed gradually and mainly
for political reasons became more important for the government. The introduction of the Standing
Caliph coins is an example for this development. But we have other evidence too. Another
interesting example can be found in the Roman/Byzantine settlement of Umm al-Rasas (Kastron
Mefaa) situated about 30 kilometres south-east of Madaba in Jordan. On a mosaic in the church of
bishop Sergius, dating from the end of the 6th century, we recognize a cross on steps on a public
monument (Fig. 9), whereas on a mosaic of the church of Saint Stephen (Fig. 10) dating from the
middle of the 8th century, the cross has been removed from the same monument.12

11

Walker, op. cit. 29 and Pl. VII, no. 97 and 34 and Pl. VII, no. 108
Cf. M Picirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan, (American Center of Oriental Research Publications No. 1), Amman, 1992,
337 and 347. Many thanks to Andrew Oddy for this reference.

12

13

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Second, objects raised on steps are usually objects of worship. This phenomenon is known from the
whole ancient world and as an example it is only necessary to cite the Greek/Roman temples which
are built on steps. Even Abd al-Maliks dome of the rock has the traditional steps in front of the
entrance. And today the altar in Christian churches is raised on steps.
Third, if Abd al-Malik, during his first monetary reform, used a symbol on steps, it must have been
a symbol of worship. This copies the Christian cross on steps not transforms it. Therefore it was
the first attempt to create a symbol for Islam.
Hence I am starting from the idea that the symbol on steps is a religious one. Keeping in mind the
three premises, we have to think about the religious meaning of the symbol. To anticipate my
answer, I think it possible that it is an astral symbol, reflecting the tradition of worship of heavenly
bodies in the Near East and in the Arabian peninsula.
I will now present some numismatic and archaeological facts to support this idea.13
We know that Muhammad, after having conquered Mecca in 630, destroyed all the statues of the
pagan gods and created a monotheistic Umma, that means a community worshipping Allah, the
single god. Before this event, the most important God in the Arabian peninsula was the old Syrian
moon god Hubal (or Sin).14 The sun was his wife and the stars their children.15 In addition there
were many other cults of heavenly bodies in pre-Islamic Arabia.
Consider, for instance, the coins of the kingdom of Hadramaut in South-Arabia. These coins were
struck during the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. In 1937,16 and later in an article of 1952,17 Walker

13

In this connection I will not deal with the bitter theological disputes which are currently held. Some are fighting for
the idea that Islam is, in truth, a Christian religion - cf. K-H Ohlig and G-R Puin, eds., Die dunklen Anfnge, Neue
Forschungen zur Entstehung und frhen Geschichte des Islam, 2nd edition, Berlin, 2006. Others are claiming that
Islam is merely the continuation of the old pagan moon cult. They call it sometimes moon-o-theism - cf. R Morey,
The Islamic Invasion, Montreal, 1992; Y Nathan, Moon-o-thesism, 2 vols, Lulu-Press (books on demand), 2006. For
an extensive reply to both authors from M S M Saifullah, M E N Juferi and Abdullah David see http://www.islamicawareness.org/Quran/Sources/Allah/moongod.html.
14
R Aslan, Kein Gott auer Gott, Mnchen and Zrich, 2008, 23, 28, 127; P Hitti, History of the Arabs, revised 10th
edition, New York, 2002, 100
15
D Nielsen, Handbuch der arabischen Altertumskunde, Copenhagen, 1927, 193; H I inar, Die Religionen der
Araber vor und in der frhislamischen Zeit, Wiesbaden, 2007, 152
16
J Walker, A new Type of South Arabian Coinage, The Numismatic Chronicle 17 (5th series) (1937) 260-279, plate
33
17
J Walker, The Moon-God on Coins of the Hadramaut, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,
(University of London) 14 (3) (1952) 623-626

14

identified the letters on these coins as reading SIN, the moon god, and interpreted the eagle on the
reverse to be a symbol of an eagle cult with lunar associations (Fig. 11).

Fig. 11

Fig. 12

The radiate head on the obverse of another coin (Fig. 12) was interpreted by Sedov as a Hadrami
solar or lunar deity derived from the representation of Helios in Hellenistic and Roman coinage.18
The symbol on the reverse, however, has nothing to do with our symbol on steps; it seems to be a
caduceus.
Other Hadramaut coins19 repeat the SIN letters and show a bull, sometimes with a crescent moon
between his horns. Later we will see that in ancient Syria (and not only there) the bull was regarded
as the weather god (Hadad or Baal) symbolizing the sun and the moon.

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Similar symbols to those on the coins of Hadramaut (for example the bulls head or Antilopes
head? - and the half moon) are to be found on the Himyarite and Sabean coins. The bulls head in
combination with the moon disk may have been adapted from the Egyptian pantheon.
Summarizing, we can state that the coins of pre-Islamic Arabia show a lot of symbolism devoted to
the pantheon of astral Gods.
The archaeological evidence of the sun and moon cults in Mesopotamia and Syria is overwhelming
through the millennia. We find corresponding depictions on stelae, figures, figurines, cylinder seals,
metalwork, mosaics, and pictures. One of the earliest examples is the famous Sumerian stela of UrNammu (Lower Mesopotamia) dating from around 2200 B.C. and showing symbols of the main
deities: the crescent moon for Nanna, the moon god, later called Sin, and the sun symbol for his son
Utu.
18

A V Sedov, A, (English summary: Coinage of Ancient Hadramawt),


Russian Centre of Strategic and International Research, Moscow, 1998, chapter II, 1. Cf. too: W Zich, Die
vorislamische Mnzprgung Sdarabiens: Eine kritische Analyse des Forschungsstandes, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts
fr Numismatik und Geldgeschichte der Universitt Wien 33 (06) 33-38 and P Schwinghammer, SonnengottDarstellungen in Hatra und Sdarabien im Vergleich, Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts fr Numismatik und
Geldgeschichte der Universitt Wien 36 (08) 18-21
19
For the broadest material basis of the ancient Yemen coins cf. S Munro-Hay, Coinage of Arabia Felix, The PreIslamic Coinage of the Yemen, Milan, 2003

15

Another famous example is the neo-Babylonian stela of Nabonidus from Babylon dating from
around 550 B.C. (Fig. 15). The Babylonian King Nabonidus is pictured possibly during a religious
ceremony. Above him are the divine symbols of the moon god Sin (closest to him), the planet
Venus of Ishtar, and the winged disk of the sun-god Shamash.

Fig. 15. Stela of Nabonidus 20


The stela illustrated in Fig. 16 was found at Tell Ahmar in Syria, 20 kilometres south of
Carchemish, and is dated to the 9th century B.C. In Assyrian times there was a centre of worship of
the weather god here symbolised by a crescent moon on steps. The depiction has some
resemblance to our symbol in question.

Fig. 16.
Stela of Tell Ahmar

Fig. 17.
Stela of Aai Yarimca

Fig. 18.
Stela of Atargatis

The stela from Aai Yarimca, not far from Harran in the Jazirah, is comparable (Fig. 17). The lateAssyrian text twice mentions the moon god Sin. On the top of the pole the crescent moon is
enclosing the disc of the full moon.
The stela illustrated in Fig. 18 was made about a millennium later in Dura-Europos in southern
Syria. It is from the Roman temple of Atargatis, which was built by Tiberius Gemellus, a son of
Drusus and Livia, during the first decades of the Christian era. Again we see the crescent moon

20

Picture The British Museum

16

combined with the symbol of the full moon. This symbolism has survived a millennium in Syria.
The pole on the staff of our symbol on steps is reminiscent of the full moon on the stelae.
The symbol on steps was used in Christian times too; on a mosaic from a church in Salamiye
(Syria), dating from 440 A.D., two bulls are standing on either side of a fountain of life which is
raised on steps.
To summarise, in both Arabia and Syria there was a long tradition of astral cults21 and the depiction
of astral symbols on steps also had a long tradition. The symbol on steps on the Standing Caliph
coins echoes these traditions.
Returning to numismatics, let us have a look at the coins in seventh century Syria from the time
before the introduction of the Standing Caliph coins. In the series of Pseudo-Byzantine coins,
usually garbled imitations of Byzantine prototypes of Heraclius and Constans II, we find astral
symbols only sporadically. But there is one exception; within the so-called ITOI group, first
published by Andrew Oddy22, which can be dated to the latest phase of the Pseudo-Byzantine
coinage,23 we find the crescent moon and a star on the reverses for the first time, sometimes
replacing the usual cross.

Fig. 19
During the following phase of minting of the Umayyad Imperial Image Coins astral symbols appear
in the same way on the coins of Hims.

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

In addition, 6- and 8-pointed stars are now to be found on obverses and reverses of the coins of
Damascus and also on the Standing Caliph coins of Aleppo, Baalbek, and Amman.

21

For further reading see T Green, The City of the Moon God. Religious traditions of Harran, Leiden, New York and
Kln, 1992, and J Tubach, Im Schatten des Sonnengottes. Der Sonnenkult in Edessa, Harran und Hatra am
Vorabend der christlichen Mission, Wiesbaden, 1986
22
A Oddy, The Christian Coinage of early Muslim Syria?, ARAM 15 (2003) 185-196
23
H Pottier, I Schulze and W Schulze, Pseudo-Byzantine coinage in Syria under Arab rule (636-c.670). Classification
and dating, Revue Belge de Numismatique 154 (2008) 87-155, esp.132 f.

17

Fig. 22. Pseudo-Damascus mint

Fig. 23. Amman

Furthermore on coins of Tabariya24, the al-waf lillh mint and even on post-reform copper coins
we recognize a bulls head, which can as already mentioned be seen as a symbol for the weather
god or the moon god.

Fig. 24. Tabariya

Fig. 25. al-waf lillh mint

Figs. 26 and 2725. Post-Reform coppers with bulls head and


half moon on a short pole respectively
The same subjects appear on Arab countermarks in seventh century Syria. Both the 6-rayed star as
an astral symbol and the bulls head are recorded.26

Fig. 28

Fig. 29

Fig. 30

Summarising again, in the time before the introduction of the Standing Caliph coins we find
increasing evidence for the use of astral symbols on the coinage in Syria.
A short digression concerning the connection between the bulls head and the moon worship is
relevant at this point. There are some Syrian basalt stelae dating from the 9th/8th century B.C.
depicting an anthropomorphic horned bull with astral symbols:
24

M Phillips, Islamic legends on pre-reform coins of Tabariya, XIII Congreso Internacional de Numismtica,
Madrid-2003, Actas I, Madrid, 2005, 1633 and 1638 no. 16
25
Information and picture courtesy of Lutz Ilisch, Forschungsstelle fuer Islamische Numismatik of the University of
Tuebingen, Inv. No. AD10B2
26
T Goodwin, Countermarks from after the Arab Conquest, Part II of: W Schulze and T Goodwin, Countermarking
in seventh Century Syria, Supplement to ONS Newsletter 183 (2005) 42

18

Fig. 31. Betsaida

Fig. 32. Tell el-Aari

Fig. 33. Standing Caliph coin

The stela of Betsaida was found one kilometre east of the Jordan, not far from the Sea of Galilee.
The stela of Tell el-Aari is from Tafas, 20 kilometres south of Damascus. Both stelae show a
stylised horned bull with a sword. The rosettes between the horns in the form of a crescent moon
and over the sword were interpreted as astral symbols, and the whole figures are said to be cult
objects for worship the moon god Sin.27 It seems that both stelae had survived a long time,
eventually being destroyed or put to secondary use in Roman times. The way of representation and
the similarities to the reverses of the Standing Caliph coins are astonishing, but at present it would
be speculative to draw too many inferences from this.
We can, however, state that there are a lot of astral symbols on the coins minted during the second
half of the 7th century in Syria. In addition to that we should not forget that at the same time the
representation of the Standing Caliph, as well as the symbol on steps, are appearing on consumer
goods. Julian Raby has published both images on contemporary Umayyad glass jugs from Spain
and Palestine.28 Raby notes: The glass vessels belong to a moment when the Umayyads were
defining a new language of imagery for Islam Abd al-Maliks visual propaganda combined
figurative and symbolic imagery29.
As we have seen this imagery echoes the old astral cults in both pre-Islamic Arabia and Syria.
Taking into account this diverse imagery we have to ask what the Muslim population in 7th century
Syria believed? What was their idea or image of Muhammads single god? Did they still associate it
with the old god Hubal or Sin? We have no answer to these questions. There are no contemporary
sources; the first written sources are about 200 years later and dont help.30
Islam in 7th century Syria was the property of the conquering aristocracy31, writes Gerald
Hawting, and Daniel Brown states that The Arabs were living in a bubble, isolated from the
cultural and religious forces of the conquered lands32. There were no attempts of Islamisation or
Arabisation of the local population. As far as we know the Koran was codified for the first time in
27

M Bernett and O Kehl, Mond, Stier und Kult am Stadttor. Die Stele von Betsaida (et-Tell), Gttingen, 1998; for
myths and cults around the bull cf. S Athanassopoulou and Y Tzedakis, eds., The Bull in the Mediterranean World,
(exhibition catalogue), Athens, 2003
28
J Raby, In Vitro Veritas, in J Johns, ed., Bayt Al-Maqdis. Jerusalem and Early Islam (Oxford Studies in Islamic
Art IX, Part two) Oxford, 1999, 113-183
29
Raby, op. cit. p. 181
30
The Koran declares Allah as creator of sun, moon and stars sura 7, 54. For the Islamic idea of God cf. A T Khoury,
Der Islam und die westliche Welt, Darmstadt, 2001, 49-71
31
G R Hawting, The first dynasty of Islam, 2nd edition, London and New York, 2000, 4
32
D Brown, A New Introduction to Islam, Malden and Oxford, 2004, 38

19

the middle of the 7th century. But the first manuscripts date from the 9th century. We can start from
the idea that Islam in 7th century Syria was not yet a fully developed religion but remained still
Muhammads imagination of a monotheistic Umma, a Muslim community.33
One of the revolutionary ideas of Abd al-Malik was to form a theocracy a state that claimed to
effect gods will. At the heart of the theocratic state was a religious office, the caliphate and
Abd al-Malik represented god on earth and exercised wide-ranging authority as a result, explains
Chase Robinson34. At first this step was not a religious but a political one.
For the Umayyad monuments of the late 7th and early 8th century Oleg Grabar noted: Together
with various administrative and other practices there appeared the first elements of a visual
symbolic system which will serve to identify the Muslim world.35
To invent a symbol on coins for Abd al-Maliks theocracy it might seem obvious to fall back
initially on the old astral symbols which were well-known to most people in Syria. Possibly in this
way the new symbolism with familiar elements was easily accepted.

Fig. 34. Yubna

Fig. 35. Ludd

If we follow this idea that the new symbol was supposed to represent Islam for everyone, we can
turn to the previously mentioned numismatic problem that in Palestine, on a coin attributed to
Amman and on the twin Caliph coin of Baisan or Jerash, the traditional cursive m and the capital M
respectively remained on the reverses of the Standing Caliph coins and were not replaced by the
new symbol.36
The traditional places of astral cults like Haran, Nayrab, Hazor, and Beth Yerah were all situated
north of Palestine, whereas the centres of Christian worship were in Palestine itself. The mints of
the Standing Caliph coins show the same distribution as far as the reverses are concerned; the
coins with the symbol on steps are exclusively from mints situated north of Palestine, while all the
reverses with m or M are from Palestine. It is clear that the distribution of the symbol reverses
and the m reverses is identical with the centres of pagan and Christian worship. Possibly the
first, and short-lived, monetary reform of Abd al-Malik took into account the Christian
predominance in Palestine and wanted to avoid coins with the new Islamic symbol not being
accepted there.
To complete the picture I have to raise a further issue; can we know more about the symbol on steps
from the so-called Arab-Sasanian coins minted in the eastern Umayyad provinces? Here too we
sometimes find the Standing Caliph and symbols on steps.

33

Aslan, op. cit. (fn.14), 121 f., 132


C F Robinson, Abd al-Malik, Oxford, 2005, 105
35
O Grabar, Islamic Art and Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18, Washington DC, 1964, 79
36
Tony Goodwin considers the possibility that the Standing Caliph coins of the jund Filastin preceded the other
Standing Caliph issues by a few years, cf. Goodwin, op. cit. (fn. 10) 98 and Arab-Byzantine Coinage, Studies in the
Khalili Collection, Vol. IV, London, 2005, 27 and 92
34

20

Figs. 36 and 37. Arab-Sasanian copper coins from Susa


Apart from the fact that these coins are excessively rare, they are very diverse in their iconography.
Rika Gyselen has shown the different depictions of the symbol on steps on the Arab-Sasanian
Standing Caliph copper coins as yet only known from Susa.37 We can see that there is no centralised
or uniform minting as in Syria and - following Gyselen - it seems unlikely that the Iranian mints
used the Syrian copper type as their prototypes.38 Against this, Luke Treadwell has argued that the
design of the Syrian Standing Caliph coins could well have influenced the Iranian issues.39
Recently Nikolaus Schindel has discussed a small symbol which is added in front of the bust on an
Arab-Sasanian silver drachm (Khusro II/posthumous type) minted in Damascus 74 AH/693 AD. He
thinks that it is the same symbol (but without steps) which appears on the contemporary Standing
Caliph coppers. Furthermore he mentions a lead bulla showing the upper part of the symbol,
flanked by two palm branches, which will be published in the near future. Schindel concludes that
the symbol links the 74 AH drachms with the Standing Caliph coins and is to be regarded as an
Umayyad symbol in its clearest form.40
Summary:
During the reforms of Abd al-Malik, Christian symbols were removed from public life. As part of
the reforms, the Standing Caliph coins were introduced. The symbol on steps on their reverses was
not a modified cross on steps, and not an adaptation of Byzantine prototypes, but a first attempt to
create a religious symbol for Islam at a time when the Arab government in Syria was developed into
a theocracy. The introduction of the new Islamic symbol was not imposed in Christian Palestine.
From archaeological and numismatic evidence we can compare the new symbol with elements from
pre-Islamic astral cults in Arabia and the astral cults in Syria, which had a long tradition. Even
today the half moon is the most prominent symbol for Islam, appearing on a lot of many national
flags and decorating the top of every mosque.
This all is a new approach to an old problem, an initiative for new thinking. It is not proven but is
currently a hypothesis. Further research is necessary. As we have seen, the Standing Caliph and the
symbol on steps do not appear exclusively on coins but also on objects of daily life. More
archaeological evidence is necessary to obtain a greater degree of certainty.

37

R Gyselen, Arab-Sasanian Copper Coinage, Vienna, 2000, types 39 and 40


Gyselen, op. cit. 38
39
L Treadwell, The copper coinage of Umayyad Iran, The Numismatic Chronicle 168 (2008) 168
40
N Schindel, Sylloge Nummorum Sasanidarum Israel, Wien, 2009, 18, 28-32 and Pl. 17 no. 225; J Walker, A
Catalogue of the Arab-Sassanian Coins, London, 1941, 23, Pl. XXXI, 4.
38

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