Living Witnesses Of The Millennia

Article: Hasan Kireç Photo: İdris Çelik Date: January 2014


Living Witnesses Of The Millennia
Living Witnesses Of The Millennia

The invention of coins paved the way to great changes in the history of mankind and in the individual and social life of human beings. Money has never been a mere element of economic value. Coins rapidly evolved into a medium expressive of everything from culture, religious belief and political power to war and peace, unity and separation, patience,
resistance, even art and aesthetics.

Phenomena such as production, trade, geopolitical importance and mines show it is no coincidence that the first coin was minted in Anatolia in the 7th century B.C. Whether in terms of the products they produced or their geopolitical position, the fertile lands of Anatolia were always an important center commercially speaking, and Assyrian traders are known to have had commercial relations in Anatolia already in the 3rd millennium B.C.

A common misconception is that the first coin was invented by the Lydians. As for the knowledge handed down to us since childhood that the first coin was invented by the Lydians, this is a misconception stemming from Herodotus, who says of the Lydians, “They invented the first coins in history, made of gold and silver.” This statement is interpreted today to mean that the Lydians invented the first coin, when in fact the first coins, known as elektron, were struck in a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver. The first coins that can be dated were discovered in the foundations of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a temple known to have been commissioned by the Lydian King Croesus in 560 B.C. Based on the geometric its decorations, the vessel in which the coins were found is thought to date to around 650 B.C.

Among the coins produced in antiquity, Greek coins are without a doubt the most ostentatious and aesthetically pleasing in appearance. Scores of depictions of themes and heroes whose names are familiar to us from mythology and ancient history adorn Greek coins. Indeed, it is thanks to them that some legends have come down to us today.

Before going to war with the Persians, Croesus sent messengers bearing rich gifts to the Oracle at Delphi seeking prophecies about the war. The reply from Delphi: “It is going to be the end of a very great state.” So the war with the Persians erupted. The Lydians were routed before they realized what was happening, and Croesus only saved himself from the already burning pyre thanks to the forgiveness of the Persian King Cyrus. Pleading with Cyrus, he dispatched yet another messenger to Delphi: “I sent you kilograms of gold, I prostrated myself before you, why did you deceive me?” The reply that came back was unambiguous: “We said it would be the end of a great state. Was it not?”

Alexander the Great of Macedonia is one of the greatest conquerors in history. Putting an end to Persian rule in Anatolia, Alexander the Great conquered all the known lands in the short time he lived. He took the Persian capital of Persepolis and advanced as far as India and Afghanistan. The commanders who succeeded him founded great kingdoms in India, Egypt, Syria and Anatolia. Alexander the Great also introduced important changes in the system of coinage.

One of history’s greatest civilizations, the Roman Empire produced scores of different types of copper, bronze, silver and gold coins for hundreds of years in the vast territory over which it spread, virtually writing the history of Rome on coins. Emperors and empresses, dictators and senators as well as victories, religions and legends all found a place on Roman coins, which are therefore among the primary reference sources today for experts in the fields of archaeology, history and art history.

When the Pharisees wanted to taunt Jesus, they said:
“You are always speaking of God and the heavens and saying, why should we pay taxes to Rome? Should we not pay them?”
Holding up a coin, Jesus asked?
“Who is this?”
The reply, “Caesar.”
“Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s….”

A bust of the emperor appeared on the obverse of these coins, and on the reverse architectural structures, founding legends and athletic contests representative of the local life of that city. One of the most important properties of such coins is that they were inscribed not in Latin but in Greek. Although the period is known as the Roman Era, the people who lived here were Anatolians under the influence of Hellenistic culture.

After Constantine the Great made Byzantium his capital and founded a new city here, the city would be remembered by its founder’s name as Constantinople and remain the capital for 1,600 years. The Eastern Roman Empire, which came in time to be ruled by Greek culture under the influence of the Orthodox church, is an important period in the history of Anatolian coinage due to the unique types and denominations of coins it produced.

The first Islamic gold coin was struck by the Umayyad Caliph Abdulmalik ibn Merwan in A.H. 77. The year they were struck is inscribed on these coins, on which Suras from the Holy Quran and the basic tenets of Islam appear on both the obverse and the reverse. Silver coins began to be struck as well starting in A.H. 78. Both the date and place where they were struck appear on these coins. Following the Umayyads, the Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Seljuk, Ilkhanid, Mamluk and all other Islamic states struck hundreds of coins of different types and denominations.

The Turks entered Anatolia at the Battle of Malazgirt in 1071 but were unable to gain a foothold due to the Crusades, which commenced in 1096. Withdrawing in the direction from which they had come, they retreated as far as Konya. During the Crusades, which lasted for around two hundred years, the Crusader armies established four kingdoms, two of them in Anatolia (Urfa and Antioch).
The Anatolian Seljuk and other principalities - the Artukid, Danishmendid, Saltukid and Mengujek - that were founded following the Turks’ entry into Anatolia all adopted the Byzantine coin tradition more or less lock, stock and barrel.

When the Anatolian Seljuk state lost the Battle of Kösedağ in 1243 and gradually waned in strength, Anatolia came under the domination of the Ilkhanids in the time of Hülagu. Subject to the Ilkhanids for 50 years, the Seljuk state came to an end in 1308 with the death of Mesud II. Commanders attached to the Seljuk state on its periphery, such as Menteşe Bey, Aydın Bey, Saruhan Bey, Karesi Bey and others, acted on their own, founding new principalities in their areas of influence.

The coins of the Ottoman Empire can only be given proper treatment in books of multiple volumes. For one thing, the Ottoman Empire had a total of 36 sultans. And when coins come into the picture, this number goes even higher since the sons of Beyazıt the Lightning Bolt (Emir Süleyman, Musa Çelebi and Mustafa Çelebi) as well as Mehmet the Conqueror’s son Jem Sultan must be taken into account during the period of the Interregnum. There are over a hundred and twenty known Ottoman mints today. And this number may of course increase as new coins are discovered.

The first gold coin, or sultani, was minted in the time of Mehmed the Conqueror, toward the end of his reign. It was only natural that this coin, weighing 3.5 g, would be minted at the same weight as the Venetian gold coins that had already been in use in the Ottoman lands for 170 years.

The first tughra (stylized imperial signature) on the coins of the Ottoman Empire was used in the time of Emir Süleyman. In the case of gold coins, the tughra was first used during the reign of Mustafa II. The tughras of the Ottoman sultans, both the illustrious and the not so illustrious, appeared on the majority of the Empire’s coins for some 500 years. Coins with tughras went out of circulation about 100 years ago, but even today when a coin is tossed, one still hears the question: Inscription or Tughra? Heads or Tails? An invaluable source of knowledge about the art, culture, economy, politics and many other aspects of their time, coins are the most precious documents to have survived the ravages of time.