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Iranian Coinage

iranian coinage

In ancient times, coins were minted primarily as a means of manifesting governmental or religious rule and secondarily as a means of doing business.

Gradually, people realized money’s economic importance, as they increasingly exchanged goods and services, and used it to measure their value in the market.

Later, money minting was undertaken by central governments to facilitate trade and development.

Earliest Coins

At about 515 BC in Iran, the first Iranian coins were ordered to be minted by Darius I, the Achaemenian emperor. The front side of the coins depicted a warrior holding a bow and a quadrangular sign on the back.

The Achaemenian gold coins were called darick that equaled 20 silver coins. This lasted for 200 years.

Parthian kings, as a result of Hellenization, minted 4.25-gram silver coins called drachmas. They also minted copper coins. Most governments had a typical original pattern for coins and later implemented other modifications.

The minting of Sassanian coins dates back to 499 AD. These coins were innovative and authentic in that they did not follow or imitate their predecessors. For the first time in the history of coinage, these coins were thin, flat and circular. These coins showed the profile of the king, as he looked toward the left.

The back of coins has always been used to highlight religious or national themes, which trend continues in present-day Iran.

On Sassanian coins, a fire altar in the middle with flames patterned this side. There were often two fireguards on both sides as well. Coins were used later in Arab regions, Byzantine Empire and Europe.

In Post-Islam Period
Coins minted during the long reigns of Khosrow II and Yazdgerd III were widely used even after the invasion of Arabs, especially those minted during the reign of Khosrow II. The latter was in use with little modifications till the end of 7th century as the main model for silver coins.

In post-Islam period, some coins, called Arab-Sassanian, were in use till around 650 -700 AD. The name and title of Arab rulers replaced the Iranian king’s in Pahlavi and a religious word or prayer formed the Arabic lettering on coins.

The dates on the coins were from three calendars: a lunar calendar and two Yazdgerd calendars--one beginning with the date of his coronation and the other with his death.

Around 100 years after the Arab invasion, the Muslim world started to mint coins experimentally.

Between 696 and 699 AD, Abdolmalek, an Arab caliph, made a radical change in coins and introduced Islamic doctrine in coinage by saying no to idols, banning the picture of living beings and prohibiting luxury.

Instead, religious words filled the whole surface of coins except for the date and place of coinage. Arabic measurement standard were used for gold dinars and silver drachmas. The Arabic language was also constantly used for lettering.

Another major change happened during the third century. Gold dinars minted in Iran, Iraq and Egypt mentioned the place of coinage.

The Muslim world used a single economic currency that was creditworthy even in very remote areas of the empire.

Tahirid, Saffarid and Samanid governors as well as other dynasties in Iran minted a great deal of coins and used them in their trade with North Europe.

Admiring titles started to appear on coins to the extent that three or four titles were used on Buwayhid coins or the Achaemenian title of “King of Kings” was used on Daylamites’ coins.

Seljuks minted precise and well-decorated gold coins for some time, but later the precision, uniformity and even credibility of coins began to undergo drastic decline.

During 130 years after the death of Sanjar in 1156, no coins were minted even in very active mint houses of Isfahan or Rey. After the invasion of Mongols, some pictorial and non-pictorial coins were minted in silver. In addition, the language and writing system of Mongols were used beside Arabic ones.

During the Timurid rule and afterwards, the date of coinage was mentioned not in words, but in numbers.

The Safavid government minted gold Ashrafi and silver Abbasi coins in compliance with the duka currency used in Venice. Later, Nader Shah, the Afsharid king, ordered gold mohr and silver rupee coins to be minted on the basis of India’s monetary system.

There were no pictures on early Qajar coins, but they added them later. After more than half a century, Reza Shah’s profile appeared with an aigrette hat on gold coins in 1926. A few years before him, during the rule of the last Qajar king, Muhammad Shah, the national emblem of “Red Lion and Sun” appeared on coins for the first time.

In the Pahlavid Dynasty, this pattern was combined either with the king’s face or an inscription commemorating the first coinage of Persian Empire.

In February 1979, the Islamic Revolution took place and in March 1979, Pahlavi gold coins were replaced with Bahar-e Azadi (meaning Spring of Liberty) and the style of coins in Iran changed completely. They depicted national landmarks and monuments.

Source: Iran Daily

Other links:

Turquoise: An auspicious gemstone

History of Headgear in Persia

Iranian civilization: Contribution to Silk Road

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