Islam: Medieval Square Dirhams, Almohads & Marinids

Date: 1121 - 1465 CE
Islamic Spain & Africa

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Item Description:

These curiously shaped silver dirham coins date back to the medieval period, during the Islamic control of Spain and North Africa. Though the coins look nearly the same, one dates from the Almohad Caliphate (1180–1212 CE) and one is from the following Maranid Sultanate (1244–1465 CE).

The story of Islamic rule in Spain and Northern Africa began with Arab Muslim forces conquering Byzantine-controlled Africa in the mid-600s and taking Spain from the Visigoths in the early 700s CE. This ushered in 800 years of Islamic rule in Spain, a period known as Al-Andalus.

The Almohad Caliphate's greatest territorial extent in the early 13th century (Source: Wikimedia)

The Almohad Caliphate was a Berber Masmuda Muslim tribe that took control of the area in the late 1100s. They professed the ideas of the religious scholar Ibn Tumart, whose followers were called al-Muwaḥḥidūn or Almohads; literally, those who profess the unity of God. Therefore, coins minted under the Almohads bear the declaration ”al-mahdi imamunâ” (al-Mahdi is our Imam).

Tribal revolts whittled away at the Caliphate’s control over its African territories, paving the way for the success of the rise of the Marinid Sultanate, a different faction of the Berber Tribes, who overthrew the Almohads in Morocco in 1244. They proceeded to mint nearly identical coins, but replaced the declaration above with “al-qur'an imamunâ” (the Qur'an is our Imam).

Many theories have formed to explain why these coins were made square instead of round. While it certainly made them easier to cut from a larger piece of metal, most agree that the square symbolism was an intentional design choice. The Almohad incorporated squares into other designs as well, and the coins were likely made square to further project the empire's power.

Each includes a Certificate of Authenticity.

An illustration from a 13th century Spanish book of poems depicting the Almohad caliph Abu Hafs Umar al-Murtada.

An illustration from a 13th century Spanish book of poems depicting the Almohad caliph Abu Hafs Umar al-Murtada.

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