Muhammad ibn Ahmād – A New Governor on Dirham Minted in Armīniya in 331AH

By Alexander Akopian (Moscow) & Aram Vardanyan (Tübingen)


In summer 2005 during the examination of one collection of early Islamic coins one hitherto unpublished silver dirham minted in Armīniya and dated 331AH (AD 942/3) was found. This coin (3.41 g; 25 mm)* has the following legends:

Inner circle

ﻻﺍ ـــــــــــﻟﺍ
ﻭﺤــــــــﺪﻩ ﻪﻠﻟﺍ
ﻻ ﺸﺭ ﻴــــﻚ ﻟﻪ
ﺍﺤﻤﺪ ﺑﻦ ـﻣﺤﻤ

ﺑﺴﻡ ﻟﻟﻪ ﻀﺮﺏ ﻫﺬﺍ ﺍﻟﺩﺮﻫﻢ ﻔﻰ ﺑﺎﺮﻤﻴﻨﻴﺔ ﺴﻨﺔ ﺍﺤﺪﻯ ﻮ ﺛﻠﺛﻴﻥ ﻮ ﺛﻠﺙ ﻤﺋﺔ

Qu‛ran, XXX, 3-4
lā īlah illā Allah wah) dahu lā sharīk lahu Muh) ammad bin Ah) mad bismallah d'uriba hadha al-dirham fī bi-Armīniyya sanat ah'id wa thalathīn wa thalath mi'at (331)  


· ﻪﻠﻟ ·
ﻪﻠﻟ ﻗﺘـــــﻣﻟﺍ
Qu‛ran, IX, 33
Allah Muh)ammad rasūl Allah al-Muttaqīllah

The Bismillah legend shows that the coin was struck in the mint of Armīniya (obviously, in Dvin, arab. Dabīl) in the year of 331AH. On the reverse, the name of the contemporary caliph al-Muttaqī lillah (329-333AH) is given, while on the obverse the name of an individual named Muhammad ibn Ahmād is found. Apparently, this is the name of the person who was a governor of Dvin, or perhaps the whole province of Armīniya. Unfortunately, neither the years of ruling nor the origin of this person are available in any historical sources of that time. The work of Miskawayh, which is the most important and valuable source on the history of the northern provinces of the Caliphate of the first half of the fourth century AH, does not tell anything about this Muhammad ibn Ahmād either. [1] What we know from Miskawayh concerning the history of Armenia of this period is that around 326AH the Kurdish Daysam ibn Ibrahīm al-Kurdī (325-341AH) [2] captured Adharbayjān [3] and Armenia. [4] He took control of the biggest cities of the region such as Ardabīl, Barda‘a, Marāgha and later Dvin. The numismatic material confirms this data; starting 325AH, Daysam undertook minting his own coins. He struck his coins in mints that had formerly served the ‘Abbāsids and then Sājids. All his coins were struck according to one simple type; the name of Daysam ibn Ibrahīm was always cited on the reverse under the name of the caliph and no other names were ever placed on the obverse side, filled in solely with Kalima. Daysam had secretaries and later viziers, however their names were never engraved on his coins.

Trying to find out who might be Muhammad ibn Ahmād we learned first who had served for Daysam as viziers. The first mention of persons who served for Daysam as vizier is told by Miskawayh, about the events of 330AH. That year, Daysam had to defend his realm from new invaders, the Sallārids, who possessed Daylam and aspired to establish their control over Adharbayjān and Armenia. During this time Daysam had a secretary whose name was Abū-l-Qāsim ‘Alī ibn Ja‘far Sulī, who was a clerk in Adharbayjān. However, as soon as the Sallārids appeared in the region, ‘Alī ibn Ja‘far betrayed Daysam and came into the service of the Sallārid Marzubān ibn Muhammad (330-346AH). Very soon Daysam was defeated and had to flee to Vaspurakan when his territories were captured by the Sallārids. Withinh the same year Daysam nevertheless undertook an attempt to take his principality back and attacked Ardabīl. Miskawayh says that by that time Daysam appointed someAbū ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmād Nu‘aimī his secretary. [5] Miskawayh mentions neither who was that Muhammad ibn Ahmād nor whom he served for before. History shows that this person was a great diplomat of his time. He could serve for two different masters even when they were strongly involved into a war against each other. In different times Muhammad ibn Ahmād served both for Daysam (330, 337-8, around 341AH) and Marzubān (330AH-onwards) and afterwards, he spent several years (346-around 349AH) as vizier for the eldest son of Marzubān Justān ibn Marzubān (346-349AH) until the latter arrested him. [6] Thus, the career of Muhammad ibn Ahmād as vizier was rather long and lasted around 20 years from 330 till ca. 349AH.

As Daysam came out to Marzubān in 330AH and the siege of Ardabīl was over, Marzubān arrested Daysam and sent him into exile to his domain in Tarm (Tarum), but appointed the same Abū ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmād Nu‘aimī his vizier. [7] After mentioning that Miskawayh makes a stop in his narration and further tells nothing on the history of the region until 337/8AH. Accordingly no comments are left about how long Muhammad ibn Ahmād served as vizier for Marzubān. Theoretically, it might have been several years. In this connection, we may carefully accept that the vizier Abū ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmād Nu‘aimī can be identical with Muhammad ibn Ahmād cited on our coin. There is no other Muhammad ibn Ahmād mentioned in the Arabic or Armenian historical chronicles of that period. [8] Basing on that, the ex-vizier of Daysam Abū ‘Abdallah Muhammad ibn Ahmād Nu‘aimī can be considered as the only potential owner of our specimen.

As an addition to said above one should also pay an attention on what the contemporary coins say. The numismatic material from 330-333AH is not rich. All known early Sallārid coin issues are dated 333AH and appeared obviously in Urmiya. On them the names of Muhammad ibn Musāfir and his son Marzubān ibn Muhammad were cited. No Sallārid coins are known so far issued between 330-332AH. At the same time the dirhams struck in Armīniya exactly in 331 and 332AH are known as well. They were first published in XIX century but left only half-identified because of their bad state. The dirham of 331AH from the mint of Armīniya was firstly published by Bartholomaei in 1859. The coin had a part of Kalima on its obverse and the name of the caliph al-Muttaqī lillah on the reverse. There was something else placed under the name of the caliph, but the author could not read it properly and left it unidentified. [9] Another dirham of Armīniya struck in 332AH was mentioned by Markov in 1896. [10] The coin had the same legends as the specimen which had Bartholomaei in his disposal but only another date. Finally, an interesting dirham is kept in the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. The late Dr. Dobrovolsky kindly sent to us last year an image of that dirham. The coin was struck in Barda‘a in 330AH. [11] Both sides of the coin were struck by using the same obverse coin die. It has a part of Kalima in the center and an unclear name beneath the obverse area. Dr. Dobrovolsky suggested that the coin nevertheless should had been attributed as the Sallārids. From what was written under the Kalima only ﺍﻟﻤﻌ...ﻟﻪ can be read. It does not look like as a part of the name of the contemporary caliph al-Muttaqī lillah.

The discussed dirhams of 330-332AH from Armīniya and Barda‘a unfortunately do not help much for attributing our coin. It is still unclear whether these coins have to be attributed to the Sallārids or the ‘Abbāsid ordinary issues. That is why the dirham of 331AH from Armīniya is of a special interest; it provides the name of a completely new ruler who established his power in the northern parts of the Sallārid principality. The coin is also unique because it does not bear the name of any dynastic ruler. We do not find the name of Marzubān or his father on the coin, although it is widely accepted that after 330AH the power of the Sallārids in the region was not disputed by anyone and they ruled alone. We do not know either whether this Muhammad ibn Ahmād was a Sallārid governor. In its turn Muhammad ibn Ahmād might be one of the followers of Daysam who did not accept the Sallārid power. But in this case still remains unclear why he did not engrave the name of his lord while striking his coins. All these questions remain open so far. This paper of course does not give an answer to the question of who struck coins in his own name in Armīniya. It is only an occasion to bring to your attention a new coin type which, among the others, appeared in the northern parts of the newly-created Sallārid state in the early 330's. We do not of course exclude other interpretations and hope that the enrichment of finds of similar coins will give an answer on the question of who was Muhammad ibn Ahmād. However, there is one obvious fact that one should be noted. The coin issues of the 330th show that after Daysam was defeated and sent to Tarm in 330AH, the Sallārid control over the northern lands was nevertheless weak. According to numismatic facts, at least in Armenia and neighboring Arrān, the power of the Sallārids was not stable. The coin minting was undertaken by local governors or the viziers who did not even mention the name of the lord on the coins. The coin we have described in this paper may serve as a proof for such statement.  

* Today, in the private collection of Alexander Akopyan (Moscow, Russia).

[1] Ahmād ibn Muhammad ibn Miskawayh. Eclipse of the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate: Original Chronicles of the Fourth Islamic Century. Ed. & trans. by H. F. Amedroz. Vol.V.

[2] This Daysam was a son of the Kharijite lieder in Mawsil and one of the commanders of the Sājid Yūsuf ibn Dīwdād (289-315AH).

[3] Important to note, that historical Adharbayjān located to the south from Araxes river. This province is apart of present territory of Azerbayjan Republic, located north of Araxes.

[4] Due to dirham of 325AH from Barda‘a firstly published by Bykov in 1971 (Bykov A. A. Dva novykh dirkhema Daysama ibn Ibrakhima al-Kurdi // Epigrafika Vostoka, XX (1971), p. 74) one can now state that Daysam captured Adharbayjān that year.

[5] Miskawayh, II, pp.34-40.

[6] Ibid., pp.34-40, 157-8, 179 and 192.

[7] Ibid., p.40.

[8] Ibn al-Athīr in his al-Kāmil fi-at-Tā'rīkh under the year 331AH remembers one Nūh Muhammad ibn Ahmād but to our opinion this person can be hardly considered as an owner of our dirham (Vol.VIII, p.404).

[9] Bartholomaei J. Description d'une trouvaille de 200 dirhems koufiques, faite aux environs de Tiflis, en 1857 // Bull. Acad. Imp. des sciences de St. Petersburg, №3 (1859), p.237, no.105.

[10] Markov A. Inventarnyj katalog musulmanskikh monet iz sobranija Imperatorskogo Ermitazha. St. Petersburg, 1896, p. 56, no. 1083 (2.88 g).

[11] State Hermitage, inv. no. 6579 (3.51g, 26.5mm).