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

(pp. 192-207 of Chapter 12, "Monety rannesrednovekovoj Srednej Azii", E. Zejmal')


The Early medieval coins of the different regions of Central Asia are currently studied in varying details, depending on the thoroughness of the archaeological studies. The numismatic material treated here is classified in numismatic "provinces" which, as a rule, coincide with the historical-geographical regions. The stress will be on the problems which have been poorly covered up in the literature or have remained debatable. The more firmly established numismatic facts will be only mentioned in brief, providing references to the correspondent publications.

There is not a comprehensive publication on the coins and coin circulation in Early medieval Central Asia, even if the accumulated data for each of its regions are numerous and representative enough to reflect the conditions of the monetary economies and the processes therein [Davidovich, Zejmal’, 1980, pp. 70-80].

The beginning of the Early medieval period of coin circulation in Central Asia was in the second half of the V-VI cc. AD, and its end – at the time of the ceasing of the minting and circulation of local coins. The latter happened in the mid-VIII c. AD (and a little bit later in Khorezm, Ustrushan, and, apparently, Chach), when Central Asia was incorporated into the financial and economical system of the Near East. The conquest of Central Asia by the Arabs in the first quarter of the VIII c. brought changes mostly in the political and public life and facilitated a mass influx of coins of the Ummayad Caliphate, but it was not accompanied by a sudden disruption of the local minting traditions and circulation. The time between the 20’s and the 60’s of the VIII c. is a period of co-habitation between local mints and Arab dirhams and fulus on the Central Asian market. By the end of this period the minting of the local pre-Muslim coins ceased completely (save for the so called black dirhams – the gitrifs) and they disappeared from circulation.

The coins of most parts of Central Asia in the preceding period were predominantly locally produced "barbaric imitations" [Zejmal’, E., 1975, 1978, 1983, 1985] – copper as well as silver, whose value was determined not on the basis of the metal content but following established by the circulation "exchange rates". This type of coins were not different from the token coinage and were not money in the politico-economical meaning of this term, being strongly restricted to a particular area in which this "exchange rate" was acknowledged. We do not know how the value of these coins was guaranteed, apart from the authority of the rulers.

The monetary circulation in early medieval Central Asia was built on a completely different principle: in all (or almost all) regions the silver coins were the money (save for Khorezm where this role was played by Sassanian drachmas or their imitations), while the local copper coins, not having value in themselves, were used as a token coinage, related to the silver coins by a certain exchange rate. The right to mint such copper coins was not only with the large regions (such as Bukhara Sogd, Samarkand Sogd, Chach, etc.) but also with the big politico-administrative units within them – Pancha-Pendzhikent in the Samarkand Sogd, Pajkend in the Bukhara Sogd, etc. The territories of circulation of the local copper mints roughly coincided with the limits of these minting centres.

The coin finds (together with the pottery, the items of metals, etc.) are widely used for dating purposes in the archaeological excavations of early medieval archaeological layers, buildings, settlements, etc. in Central Asia. However, many coin groups have too wide and poorly defined age limits. Further archaeological investigations are necessary in order to put better constrains on such series. For example, the detailed stratigraphical profiling of ruins of the early medieval town of Pendzhikent improved significantly the dating of several coin series [Belenickij, Marshak, Raspopova, 1980; 1984, pp. 225-262; 1986, pp. 305-313]. Unfortunately, no other archaeological sites with a preserved V-VIII c. sequence of layers have been studied up to now.

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*. "Gitrif" must be a Russian term that we don't use in English numismatic jargon. I also realized another twist on black dirhams that fits in with the token coinage theme.  A dirham is a silver denomination.  However, there were several types of copper dirhams issued by the Chingizid Mongols (Chingiz Khan and his successors), the Chaghatayid Mongols, and the Khwarizmshahs. Apparently these coins were silver plated when leaving the mint, although I have never seen one with silver on it.  These are mostly what the Russians refer to as black dirhams.  The U. S. literature mostly just refers to them as copper "broad" dirhams.

  /The explanation kindly provided by Mr. Jim Farr, Florida/