Central Asia in the Early Middle Ages,
Coins of the regions

Merv and its surroundings

The main regions of Turkmenistan (apart from these on the right bank of Amu Darja) did not belong to the Transoxiana-Maverannakhr and they had different from the other parts of Central Asia early medieval as well as ancient history. This led to great differences in the coin production and coin circulation in early medieval Turkmenia. Captured by the Sassanians as early as in the III c., at the time of Ardashir I, Merv was not only the main Iranian stronghold in the east and the centre of a recreated administrative region marzban, but also a mint centre of the Sassanians, which kept producing coins (with some interruptions) till the mid-VII c. Its mass production (drachmas of the common Sassanian types and copper coins of small denominations) followed completely the iconographical and metrological standards of Iran at that time, so that there is no need to describe these coins in details. The existing publications on Sassanian coins (Gobl, 1971) describe the letter signatures on the coins of the Merv mint. In contrast to the main problem encountered with the early medieval coins of Central Asia, the coin finds from Turkmenistan can be easier attributed, chronologically and historically, on the basis of the well studied numismatics of the Sassanian Iran.

As established by Loginov and Nikitin, the period of intensive production of the mint at Merv in the first third of the V c. (a large series of drachmas from the second half of the rule of Varakhran (421-439 AD)) and his copper coins; the drachmas from the first years of Yasdigerd II (439-457 AD) was followed by a long pause, connected with the bitter struggles between Sassanians, Kidarites and Hephthalites for the possession of the former Kusahn territories in Tokharistan [Loginov, Nikitin, 1985, 1988] The period between 440-510 AD is known only by the drachmas of Kavad and Valash with stamps/countermarks of the Merv mint on the obverse (these drachmas were produced at other mints, and only were countermarked at Merv). The Sassanians restored their position in Merv only during the middle part of the reign of Kavad I (488-531 AD): his drachmas had been minted at Merv since his 22-th year of reign, the small copper coins since the 31-th year. After that the Sassanian mint at Merv resumed its regularity: at the time of Khosroe I (531-579 AD) there were produced drachmas, copper coins with the monogram of Merv and small copper coin with no legends; during Khormizd IV (579-590 AD) drachmas; during Khosroe II (590-628 AD) drachmas and copper coins without legends; during Ardashir III (632-651 AD) drachmas. It is possible that the completion of the processing of the numismatic materials of JuTAKE (V.K.: Russian abbreviation for "South-Turkmenian Archaeological Complex Expedition") will bring greater details and clarity about the activity of the Merv mint.

Mints and coin circulation

(pp. 25-25 of Chapter 1, "Severnyj Khorasan", G. Koshelenko, V. Gaibov,  A. Gubaev)

The numismatic material recovered from the oasis of Merv provides most of the information about the mints and the type of coin circulation in the region of Northern Khorasan. In Parthian times most f the coins in circulation were bronze coins produced at the local mint. It seems the transitional step between the Parthian and Sassanian mints in Merv is represented by coins depicting a rider of the reverse and the bust of the ruler looking to the right on the obverse [Loginov, Nikitin, 1984, 1986].

The local coins of Ardashir were made exclusively of bronze in the traditional for this ruler style: a bust of the Shakh looking to the right on the obverse, and a fire altar, without inscriptions on the reverse. All coins belong to the final period of his reign [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993a].

Much more complicated is the picture under Shapur I. The Merv mint minted golden denarii: well known is the unique example in the collections of the Hermitage, first published by V.G. Lukonin [Lukonin, 1969. p. 169; 1977. p. 161]. It is thought that it was produced in the beginning of the reign of Shapur I. Silver drachmas and bronze coins of different nominations were also locally produced [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993a. p. 228 sq.]. Among the other early Sassanian Shakhs on Varakhran II (276-293 AD) used the mint of Merv: two drachmas of this king are know, both of them from the early period of his reign [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993a. p. 230]. It seems Merv was very active under Shapur II (309-379 AD). Merv issued golden denarii, silver drachmas and bronze coins [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993b]. The successor of Shapur II Ardashir II (379-383 AD) did not mint coins in Merv, but under Shapur III (383-388 AD) it against resumed production [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993c. p. 271 sq.]. The mint was still active under Varakhran IV (388-399 AD) and Yazdigerd I (399-420 AD). Peculiar was the situation under the next Shakh Varakhran V. Judging from the monograms indicating the various mints, almost half of the coins produced during the second half of his reign, was the work of Merv. Probably, this is explained by the war against the Hephthalites at that time, when Merv was the main base of the Sassanian armies [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993c. p. 272].

Under Yazdigerd II (438-457 AD) the Merv mint was not so active. Under Peroz I (457-484 AD) there were issued only bronze coins, in not numerous quantities. However, there is a very significant presence of the Tabaristan mints, which would point out that here had been transferred troops previously in service in Tabaristan [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993c. p. 274].

During the first period of the reign of Kavad I, the successor of Peroz, Merv virtually did not produce silver coins. Only after his 20th year of reign were they minted regularly (together with the bronze coins). The practice continued under Khosroe I (531-579 AD) and Khormizd IV (579-590 AD). The coins from the very end of the Sassanian empire are still poorly studied and no particular conclusion could be drawn for now, although there are coins of Khosroe II (590-628 AD) among the local finds.

There is also a number of coins minted between the mid-VII c. till the beginning of the VIII c. by the local rulers of Merv who were vassals of the Arabs [Loginov, Nikitin, 1993d].

The coin circulation in the belt below the Kopetdag mountains is still poorly studied. In the early part of the Sassanian period there were used both Merv bronzes as well as local imitations [Loginov, 1986; 1991. p. 12; Gubaev, Loginov, Nikitin, 1993. p. 72]. Later in coin circulation were coins minted at Merv as well as in other Sassanian mints (Rej, Stakhr, Gaj, Bishapur). Besides this, there were found imitations of coins of Yazdigerd O and Varakhran V, issued at Merv [Gubaev, Loginov, Nikitin, 1993. pp. 72-74].

Similar was the situation in the early Sassanian times in the oasis of Serakh. We have no data about the later period.

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