The Arab-Byzantine “Standing Caliph” Dīnār From The Time Of Umayyad Caliph ʿAbd al-Malik, 76 AH / 695-696 CE
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
First Composed: 29th August 2007
Last Modified: 5th September 2007
Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
An example of the "standing caliph" gold coinage from the time of the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik bin Marwān minted in the year 76 AH.
76 AH / 695-696 CE.
Obverse field: Image of the caliph standing in the centre, bearing a sword in a scabbard. Obverse margin: bism Allāh lā-ilaha il-Allāh wa / ḥdahu Muḥammad rasūl Allāh ("In the name of God. There is no god but God alone. Muḥammad is the messenger of God").
Reverse field: Mutiliated cross on steps. Reverse margin: bism Allāh ḍuriba hadhā al-dīnār fī sanat sitta wa sabʿīn ("In the name of God, this dīnār was struck in the year 76").
Weight = 4.03 gms. Although there is no mint name, the coin was most likely struck in Damascus in Syria.
The obverse centre of this coin has an image which may represent the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik. He is shown here dressed in traditional Arab robes and bearing a sword in a scabbard. Around the margin is the shahadah. On the reverse field, the cross-on-steps common on Byzantine coins, has been modified to transform the Christian symbol, which would have been inappropriate on an Islamic coin. The Arabic legend written in the Kufic script around it contains the date.
The background for the introduction of the "standing caliph" coins by ʿAbd al-Malik is quite interesting (q.v. Hoyland). In 72 AH / 691-692 CE, having just successfully ended a long-running civil war (66-72 AH / 685-692 CE) and completed the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with its message to Christians to respect God's Oneness and Muḥammad as God's Messenger, the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik decided to Islamicise a little the coins used in his rule, which had up till then been copies or imitations of the Byzantine and Sassanian coin types. During the process of Islamicisation, he removed the transverse bars of the crosses and introduced the Muslim profession of faith: "There is no god but God alone; Muḥammad is the Messenger of God". The Byzantine emperor Justinian II (685–95 CE, 705–711 CE) responded with an even more startling innovation: he relegated the image of himself to the reverse of the coin and put on the front a human effigy of Jesus Christ, both unprecedented moves. In retaliation, ʿAbd al-Malik placed an image of a standing human bearing a sword in a scabbard on the front of his coins, the earliest dated is 74 AH / 693-694 CE. This is generally taken to be a representation of the caliph himself and so the coins are known as the "'standing caliph" coins.
The "standing-caliph" coin was only minted for three years (74-77 AH / 693-697 CE) before giving way to a wholly aniconic form, that is, engraved only with words and no images at all; now quotations from the Qur'an proclaiming God's Oneness and Muḥammad's mission replace the standing figure. The period of experimentation to find an aesthetic suited to an Islamic style of coinage had come to an end, the conclusion being that the simple and elegant beauty of the Arabic script alone, the vehicle of God's message to the Muslims, best provided this aesthetic.
The "standing caliph" motif was also used in the mixed Arab-Sassanian and Arab-Byzantine coinage.
The British Museum, London.
We thank the British Library for providing the image of the coin.
 J. Walker, A Catalogue Of The Muhammadan Coins In The British Museum, 1956, Volume II - Arab-Byzantine and Post-Reform Umayyad Coins, British Museum: London, pp. 42-43, Plate VIII (P. 14).
 R. Hoyland, "Writing The Biography Of The Prophet Muhammad: Problems And Solutions", History Compass, 2007, Volume 5, pp. 13-14.
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