Islamic coins in the middle ages24.04.2015-22.03.2016
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Between the East and the West. From Damascus to Andalusia. Islamic Coins in the Middle Ages.
We decided to do this exhibition to invite visitors to the world of the Oriental fairy tale, Jacek Budyn, one of its curators, says. The coin is probably the only ancient object of material culture that one can own today, holding in his hand the same dinar that may have clinked in Harun al-Rashid’s pocket as the caliph walked around a noisy bazaar. In addition, Arab coins are extremely mysterious and beautiful because of the inscriptions in an exotic alphabet. On top of that, they bear witness to a history that is distant from us Europeans, as the newest objects date from the period of the Crusades. Explore the world of the caliphs at the height of its development, when it served as an inspiration and began to have an enormous impact on our culture.
The exhibition Between the East and the West. From Damascus to Andalusia. Islamic Coins in the Middle Ages features several hundred of carefully selected coins which illustrate the history of the Arab world from Muhammad to the fall of the Abbasid empire, i.e. from the 7th to mid-13th centuries. The exhibition begins with a display of the oldest, Byzantine coins from the 7th and 8th centuries as well as coins minted in the same period by the Persian Sassanid dynasty.
The next part of the display is dedicated to the so-called transitional coinage from the years 640–699. At the time, the world was changing, but money was still necessary for trade, Budyn says. This led to the minting of interesting bilingual coins with an image of the Byzantine emperor and additional Arabic inscriptions on the obverse or the reverse.
The results of the Arab monetary reform are presented in another section of the exhibition, gathering together gold dinars, silver dirhams and copper falus issued by the Umayyads and the Abbasids. In the early 8th century the former dynasty extended the Arab empire from India in the east to the Atlantic in the west. The reign of Harun al-Rashid (the late 8th and early 9th centuries) and his son al-Mamun (the first half of the 9th century) is described as the Golden Age of Islam: a time when Arab culture, art and science flourished, exerting great influence on the Western world.
The story of the Abbasid Empire, told by the obverses and reverses of its coins, came to a close in 1258, when the same Mongol invasion that destroyed Krakow put an end to the dynasty’s rule. But it was not the end of the fascinating story of the coinage created by that civilization.
Already in the early Middle Ages, silver dirhams found their way into Poland via Ruthenia and Scandinavia thanks to the Vikings and Slavic merchants, says Dorota Malarczyk from the National Museum in Krakow, an expert in Oriental numismatics and curator of the exhibition. The dirham was regarded in Europe not as a unit of currency but as a standard. In Poland, Arab coins dated to the 8th-10th centuries have been found in numerous hoards, which also contained such objects as Western European coins and silver ornaments. They are often preserved in the form of broken or cut-up fragments.
On display at the Emeryk Hutten-Czapski Museum is a loan from the Museum of the Jagiellonian University, a hoard found in Drohiczyn on the Bug River. Discovered outside the city by one of its residents in 1939, the find comprised over 300 coins, the oldest being an Umayyad dirham struck in 713, and the youngest an Abbasid dirham from 894.
The event is accompanied by the book Między Wschodem a Zachodem. Od Damaszku do Andaluzji. Pieniądz islamski w wiekach średnich, by Dorota Malarczyk and Jacek Budyn, which is not so much a guide to the exhibition as a compendium of knowledge about the coinage of Islamic dynasties that played a major role in the Arab world in the years 661–1258.
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