A Coin Hoard from Ras al Khaimah

A Coin Hoard from Ras al Khaimah

by John Nisbet

In 1966 I obtained a small hoard of 43 Islamic silver Dirhams of the 10th Century AD from a goldsmith in Sharjah who told me that he had purchased them from a well digger in Ras al Khaimah. I have no reason to doubt this provenance as Ras al Khaimah was a probably haven for sailing vessels trading between the Gulf and India, when prevented from navigating the Straits of Hormuz during inclement weather.

The coins, when delivered to me, had obviously been subject to quite a fierce fire and required cleaning. Some of the worst affected coins had become very brittle and fractured easily. Islamic silver coins of this period are usually very thin, between 1 and 1.3 in. in diameter and weighing on average between three and five grams. The quality of the silver coined by the powerful rulers is normally quite good but the coins of the subject rulers can be of very debased silver.

All the coins contain all or most of the following information:

  1. the place of minting
  2. the date in words
  3. the name of the Caliph of Baghdad
  4. the name of the rule or overload
  5. the name of the subject ruler
  6. the Kalimah, i.e. the Islamic profession of faith
  7. extracts from the Koran

The coins are dated from 309 A.H. (921 A.D.) to 370 A.H. (17th July 980 to 7th July 981 A.D.). This latter date is represented by four of the coins and we may infer that this is the terminal date of the hoard and the year in which it was deposited or lost.

The attached map shows the locations of the mints represented in the hoard together with some modern place names for ease of reference.

No. of coins
Ruling family
Al Shash 13 Samanid now Tashkent
Samarkand 8 Samanid
Bukhara 7 Samanid
Balkh 1 Samanid
Ma'dan 1 Samanid "the mines"
Isfahan 3 Buwayhid
Suk al Ahwaz 2 Buwayhid
Arrajan 1 Buwayhid
Al Askar min al Ahwaz 1 Buwayhid
Janabah 1 Buwayhid
Madinat al Salam 1 Khalifat now Baghdad
Firim 1 Bawendid subject to Buwayhid
Sariyah 1 Ziyarid subject to Buwayhid
Uncertain mint 2 one Samanid coin

It should be noted that good Islamic silver of this period enjoyed a circulation much wider than the area for which they were minted and were much used in trade. Samanid coins in particular have been found in many European countries, as far away as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Russia as well as neighboring Asian countries. This hoard, however, is the first and so far only hoard from Arabia with such a mixed composition. The Buwayhids in this period ruled the Oman and in fact several of their coins with the mint name "Oman" are known. The location of this mint is not known but could possibly be Buraimi.

But how did the coins arrive in Ras al Khaimah and when were they lost? I would conjecture that they were carried by a merchant from al Shash probably carrying carpets from Turkestan to India, to trade for spices, etc. He would have to use the Gulf route as the normal route from Turkestan to India via Afghanistan was at that time blocked by Ghuzz Turks who were wrestling Afghanistan from the Samanid rulers. The terminal date of the hoard, 370 A.H., is sufficient in that of the four coins so dated two came from the mint of al Shash, one from Samarkand, both mints in Turkestan and one from the mint of Suk al Ahwaz near the head of the Gulf. Our hypothetical merchant could have made the journey from al Shash to Ras al Khaimah within this year. Seeking shelter at the latter point, he lost his carpets, his money and probably his life in a fire.

The coins have now been presented to the Ruler of Ras al Khaimah for his new museum and can be seen there on display on application to Major T. Ash.



Numismatic Chronicle, 7th Series, Vol. 8, 1968. An article by N.M. Lowick and J.D.F. Nisbet.


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