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Coins of the Silk Road

Today's post shares more coins than usual. All of these coins are linked to the Mongol khans. Perhaps the best known Mongol leader is Genghis (Chingiz) Khan (circa AD 1162–1227), who unified Mongol tribes to found an Empire. He was proclaimed as the ruler of all Mongols in AD 1206. The Mongols extended their control over the largest contiguous landmass in history in the 13th/14th centuries.

Great Mongols during the reign of Genghis (Chingiz) Khan, 1206-1227, AE jital (4.15g), A-1969, Tye-329, anonymous, with title al-khaqan / al-'adil / al-a'zam on obverse, the 'Abbasid caliph al-Nasir on reverse. According to Stephen Album: "This and other jitals of the period probably contain a small amount of silver and may also have had a very light silver-wash. This type is the only coin that is reasonably common and can be securely assigned to the lifetime of Genghis Khan, though of course, without his name. This type is believed to have been struck AH618-619 / 1221, during the Mongol chase of Mangubarni to the Indus River, when a Mongol military base was established at or near Ghazna."

Disclosure: while interesting as artifacts, none of the coins in today's post are classically beautiful, they are mostly poorly struck, chipped, worn, off-center, and perhaps reflect the harsh times in which they were minted.

The Mongol Empire

A map of the Mogol Khanates AD 1300-1405 with the largest extent outlined in orange. Public Domain image via WikiMedia Commons.

Ghengis Khan and the end of the Khwarezm Empire

The next coins that I will show are from Kurzuwan, a city in the Khwarezm Empire. This was a Turkish dynasty that originated as Seljuq governors in Khwarezm. These come from the time of the penultimate ruler of Khwarezm and his son. During this time, Genghis Khan crossed the Tien Shan mountains and invaded the Khwarezmian Empire (AD 1219). The invasion resulted in the destruction of the Khwarezm Empire and the deaths of millions of people within 2 years. Genghis Khan had been provoked in 1218 CE by the execution of a ~450 person trade delegation in the Khwarezmian city of Otrar, likely endorsed by 'Alā' al-Dln Muhammad II Sultan of Khwarazm. For more on this see: Farrokh, K., & Khorasani, M. M. (2012). The Mongol invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire: The fierce resistance of Jalal-e Din. Medieval Warfare, 2(3), 43–49.

This coin is a Jital from the city of Kurzuwan at the time of the penultimate ruler, Khwarezmian Shah Muhammad ‘Ala al-Din Abu’l-Fath (a.k.a. Mohammad II). He reigned AD 1200-1220. He was defeated in 1218 by one of Ghenghis Khan's sons, Tushi, and then in 1219 Ghengis Khan invaded, destroying cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Muhammad II died on an island in the Caspian sea as the Mongol armies destroyed the cities of Taliqan, Kurzuwan, Bamiyan and others.

Muhammad II, AH 596-617 / AD1200-1220, ‘Ala al-Din Abu’l-Fath, b. Takish, AE jital
Obv: elephant, without rider, mint name above
Rev: inscription
Ref: Album 1735.1, these coins were minted mainly at Kurzuwan (elephant left or right) and Shafurqan (elephant left), Tye 228-231

This jital is from Nimruz in southern Afghanistan ruled by Nasrid, a vassal of the Khwarezmian empire. The Mongols initially didn't use coins as they bartered for trade, but they adapted to local customs and started minting coins similar to those they found in the region.

Nasrid Dynasty of Sistan (Saffarids of Sistan or Maliks of Nimruz), under Taj ad-Din Harb, citing caliph al-Nasir, AE/BI jital, 1167–1215 AD, Sistan mint.
Obv: "harb" in circle; partially struck legend in margin.
Rev: ".../ la illah illa / muhammad rasul / al-nasir ud-din / muhammad."
Ref: Tye 123, Album 1427.1.

These next two coins are also coins of Muhammad II:

Islamic, Persia (Post-Seljuk), Khwarezm Shahs, time of Ala al-Din Muhammad II or his son, AD 1200-1221, Æ Jital (13mm, 2.47g) , Kurzuwan mint
Obv: "Kurzuwan" in circle, legend around "as-sultan al-azam muhammad bin as-sultan"
Rev: Kalima
Ref: Tye 246.3
Islamic, Persia (Post-Seljuk), Khwarezm Shahs, time of Ala al-Din Muhammad II or his son, AD 1200-1221, Æ Jital (13mm, 2.47g) , Kurzuwan mint
Obv: "Kurzuwan" in circle, legend around "as-sultan al-azam muhammad bin as-sultan"
Rev: Kalima
Ref: Tye 246.6

Kurzuwan Siege coin

This coin was struck by an anonymous "Malik", a city governor who remained in Kurzuwan with the city under seige by Ghengis Khan weeks before the city was taken and destroyed by the Mongol army. Stephen Album describes this coin as "one of the very few identifiable siege coins of the Islamic world". The siege lasted for a few weeks, the city fell in July 1221.

This coin was issued during the reign of Muhammad's son Jalal-ud-Din. He was the last Shah of the Khwarezm Empire as he fought back against Ghengis Khan and had some victories over the Mongols after his father's death in 1220. He occupied the Kurram valley (north-west Pakistan) and issued coins from 1222-24, and became a legendary fighter for his persistence in resisting and challenging the Mongols until his death sometime near AD 1231/2.

Islamic, Persia (Post-Seljuk), Khwarezm Shahs from the time of Jalal al-Din Mangubarni b. Muhammad, AH 617-628 / 1220-1231 CE, Æ Jital (3.63), a siege issue from the Kurzuwan mint dated Rabi’ II AH 618 (May-June AD 1221)
Obv: “al-malik” across field; date in outer margin
Rev: Kalima in four lines across field "kurzuwan / la ilah illa allah / muhammad rasul / allah" translated as "Kurzuwan. There is no God but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God"
Ref: Tye 324.1; Nyamaa 31; Album 1971

The Spread of the Black Death to Europe from Crimea

Shifting about a century later, this is a coin of Uzbek Khan, counter-marked "khan" after his death - a worn little coin of 0.95g.

Juchid, ca. 650-886, Black Sea region, Qrim mint, Uzbek Khan (Sultan Giyas al-Din Mohammed Öz Beg) AH 712-741 (AD 1312-1341), AR dirham, AH720 (frozen date).

Stephen Album suggests that this might have been countermarked by ‘Abd Allah Khan, who ruled 762-771, with the caveat that this remains theoretical and unproven. These coins may have been issued for as many as 30-40 years with a fixed date. (Ref: Album A-2025G, host coin Zeno #166658)

Caffa (today: Feodosija, Ukraine) is often described as the first European controlled city to be afflicted with the Black Death in AD 1346 - it is cited as an early example of biological warfare. Caffa was a Silk Road trading post on the northern shore of the Black Sea in Mongol territory controlled by Genoa. This account comes from Gabriele de’ Mussi (writing circa AD 1348/9), who tells of the Jani Beg's siege of Caffa in which they catapulted plague infected bodies into the city - an interesting article here at cdc.gov.

This coin is from Jani Beg (son of Öz Beg/Uzbek), the year of his siege of Genoese city of Caffa AD 1343.

Golden Horde, Jani Beg, 1341-1357, AR dirham (1.54g), struck only at Saray al-Jadida (“New Saray”), AH743 (AD 1342/3), ruler's name in Uighur together with his titles in Arabic
Obv: Sultan, the Just, Jani Beg, Jalal al-din Mahmud خلد الله ملكه [...] السلطان العادل
Rev: minted in Saray al-Jadida 743 ضرب سراي الجديد في سنة ٧۴۳
Ref: Sagdeeva 217, Album A-2027

Here are several other coins for Jani Beg - the first and AE Pul:

Islamic, Mongols, Golden Horde, Jani Beg (1341-1357 AD), Saray al-Jadida, AE Pulo AH 752 (AD 1351).
Jani Beg Khan, AR Dirhem, dated AH 747 AD 1346
Jani Beg Khan, AR Dirhem, dated AH 748 AD 1347
Jani Beg Khan, AR Dirhem, AH 742-58, Saray al-Jadida mint

Jani Beg Khan, AR Dirhem, AH 742-58, a rare issue

An article this year offered a revised view based on additional sources, of the spread of the plague. See Hanna Barker, "Laying the Corpses to Rest: Grain, Embargoes, and Yersinia pestis in the Black Sea, 1346–48", Speculum, The journal of the Medieval Academy of America, Volume 96, Number 1, January 2021, University of Chicago Press

These are some later coins from Ghiyas-ud-din Baraq a great grandson of Chugai Khan, son of Ghengis. He reigned from 1369 about 3 years after the death of Jani Beg.

Golden Horde, Muhammad Bulaq Khan (Ghiyath al-Din), 771-782 / 1369-1380 AD, Ordu, AR Dang, struck 777
Zeno #199720: 777 AH (AD 1369). Dang. Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad. Urdu.
Zeno #154765: 773 AH. Dang. Giyath al-Din Muhammad. Urdu.

Milan in control of Kaffa

Moving again a century later, a coin from Caffa, now with Milan in control of Genoa and Caffa.

Genoese Caffa, Filippo Maria Visconti (AD 1421-1435), AR Asper. 0.77g, 15mm.
Obv: DV_M.D.:CAF; the arms of Genoa in a beaded oval of four arches, three dots to side and below of portal.
Rev: Small Jujid tamga with 1 dot - tamga of the ruling Mongol Khan. Circular Arabic legend, السلطان العادل محمد خان (The Just Ruler, Muhammad Khan).

This coin was issue under the rule of Filippo Maria Visconti. The Visconti family took control of Genoa (and with it Caffa) for Milan.

References (in addition to those linked above)

  • Peter Jackson: The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (Yale University Press, 2017)

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