Caliphate Dirhams in Latvia

Eastern silver coins - dirhams - appeared in Latvia like in other Eastern Europe countries since late 9th century. These coins were struck in a huge territory: Middle East, Iran, Transcaucasia, Mesopotamia, North Africa and even in Arabic part of Spain. All of these countries were included in Caliphate, which was created by Arabs, occupying these countries. Caliph Abdelmelic from the first dynasty of Umayyads made monetary reform in AD 695. He released the new coins, which became as a sample to other coins in Muslim world for several centuries. There are known several dirhams in Latvia, struck in the 7th century, but they are found in hoards related to the 9th century.

Dirham, AD 713 Dirhams are big, relatively thin coins. Their weight and fineness were changing during the time, but the average weight is approximately 3 grams. The coins are very nice and specific. Dirhams never have a picture, only legends, according to the rules of Islam. Normally the obverse of coins has a sentence from the Koran, religious symbol, testimony that Allah is the only God. The reverse has a continuation of religious symbol, followed by the name of Caliph, then the name of emir - ruler of country, where the coin was struck. The obverse also includes the name of the coin, date (written as sentence), and also the name of the town, where the coin was struck. The names of the Caliphate coins were brought from Iran of Sasanids - the country, which existed in territory of Iran, and was later conquered by Arabs. The gold coins were called dinars and the copper coins - felss. The silver dirhams were the main currency in Eastern Europe during that time. The Caliphate dirhams, struck until the 12th century, numismats usually call kuphic dirhams. This name is based on the font style, created in Kupha. Dirhams has the date according to the Hijra calendar system.
Picture: Dirham, AD 713, al-Walid I, Tashkent (Shasha).

Dirhams flew to Eastern and North Europe during several centuries. The fact, that the museums of Petersburg, Moscow, Tallinn and Stockholm have more dirhams, then the museums of Arabic countries, is evidence about the size of trading in Europe. There are known 300 hoards of dirhams in territory of Eastern Europe. Especially large amount, more than 40 000 coins, was found on Gotland island. Approximately 2200 coins in 30 hoards were found in Latvia and most of them (approx. 2060) are as a part of hoards. Other coins were found separately in castlehills, graveyards, e.t.c.

Dirhams came to Eastern Europe by the 2 main roads. The first road began at Levant (Near East) and led through Caucasus to Dnyepr country, then by Dnyepr River up to Ladoga Lake. The second, the main road began at Iran, then led to Volga River and then through Bulgar (town at Volga River) to Ladoga Lake, further by Neva River and Finnish Bay to Scandinavia - Gotland, Sweden, Denmark.

It is believed, that the first dirhams came from West through Gotland to Latvia thanks to Vikings. They even had a colony at Grobina (near Liepaja town). Inhabitants of Courland, so called kurhsi, had trading relations with Denmark, Aland, Gotland and they went there also to fight.

Dirhams to Latvia came by different roads during centuries. The oldest hoards, dated from 9th century, were found in Courland (West part of Latvia) at Ilgi (near Grobina town), Saraji (near Libagi village). No hoards from the 9th century are found in the rest of Latvia.

Hoards related to the 10th century, are concentrated already in two areas - still in Courland at Grobina and also at downstream of Daugava River. Separate coins were found along the whole length of the river till castlehill of Dignaja, but hoards only between Riga and Naves Island at downstream of Daugava River. There are known several separate coins found at Gauja and Lielupe Rivers, but not any hoards. Movement of coins into Latvia like in the rest of Eastern Europe decreased and finally ceased late 10th century. The reason for that was the silver crisis in East. The coins from this period are found mostly at eastern part of Latvia, where they came from Northwest Russia, and not anymore by waterway. Only few coins were found at Daugava River near Aizkraukle, Lielrutuli, at Salaspils Laukskola, Salaspils Lipshi.

The most of all dirhams, found in Latvia, were struck early 10th century, when the movement of coins was the most intensive. More than 40 towns of the Caliphate struck these dirhams. Most of them arrived from Tashkent (Shasha), Samarkanda, Baghdad, Buhar, Balha, Anderaba, Rey (Muhamedia), Basra, Vahsita and others. Dirhams, struck at Baghdad Caliph residency in Samara, are more rare on the territory of Latvia, than Baghdad dirhams. The most of the coins were struck during the reign of Ismail Ibn Ahmed (892-907), Ahmed Ibn Ismail (907-914) and Nuch Ibn Nasr (943-954), which belonged to the dynasty of Samanids. The second widespread coins were struck during the reign of Mutavakil and Caliph Harun al Rashid (786-809), which belonged to the dynasty of Abasids.

Drachm, AD 615 One of the most rare coins, found in Latvia, is drachma of Sasanids. These coins came to Eastern Europe together with kuphic dirhams not before the 8th century, but they were struck already during the 5th-7th centuries under the reign of Sasanids. These drachmas are found quite often in hoards on territory of Russia, but only 1 coin was found in Latvia. It was struck by Khosrow I (531-579) and was found in the graveyard from the 9th century at Salaspils Laukskola. The obverse of the coin has a bust of ruler in profile, around the edge are titles of the ruler. Reverse has burning victim tray, because the official religion of ancient Iran was zoroastrism - praying to fire. Two men are staying at each side of the victim tray; one of them is the ruler, another is prayer. The coin has also moon and the star, symbols of god and power of ruler. The shape of the crown and victim tray was changing, when rulers changed, but overall picture remained the same. The pictures of the coins of the last Sasanid rulers were already quite schematic. The evidence for that is the coin found in Latvia.
Picture: Drachm, AD 614, Khosrow II, Veh-Kavad, Central Iraq/Southern District.

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