Two Seals From The Time Of Muʿāwiya Bin Abī Sufyān, c. 44 AH / 664 CE
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
First Composed: 24th August 2012
Last Updated: 5th April 2013
Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
(a) Uniface lead seal and (b) Cuprite seal from the time of Mu‘awiya b. Abi Sufyan announcing the dismissal of ʿAbd Allāh b. Amīr, Governor of Baṣra.
c. 44 AH / 664 CE.
(a) The seal is made of lead. Weight = 21.53 g; Thickness = 3 mm; Diameter = 35 mm. (b) The seal is made of cuprite. Weight = 25.20 g; Diameter = 34 mm.
These two seals, identical in content, are perhaps the earliest known examples from the Umayyad caliphate, extremely fine and unique. Unlike most seals, the lead seal was not attached with a cord through a drilled hole but rather by a ring attached at 12 o’clock, traces of which can be seen by examining the edge of the seal at the top of the inscription where the mount has been skilfully removed. In the case of the cuprite seal, edge cracks are seen and they are most likely the marking attachment spots for a metal ring.
- mimma amara bi-hi
- amīr al-mu’minīn
- Muʿāwiya bi-ʿazl a-
- l-amīr ʿAbd Allāh bin A-
- mīr min wilaya fī-
- Among those things ordered by
- the Commander of the Faithful
- Muʿāwiya to dismiss the
- amīr ʿAbd Allāh bin
- Amīr from the rule of
Umayyad caliph Muʿāwiya established two diwans in his administration - Diwan al-Rasa‘il and Diwan al-Khatam. The former looked after correspondence received by caliph and drafted his replies. This was handled by his katib (secretary). Once a document had been drafted, it was passed on to the Diwan al-Khatam, or “office of the seal”, where two or more copies of each document were made and sealed, at least one to be deposited in the archives while the other was checked, sealed and dispatched to its recipient. This arrangement was set up as a means of preventing forgeries. Unfortunately, over the succeeding centuries the Umayyad archives were dispersed and destroyed, and until the discovery of this object no first hand evidence has survived to corroborate Muʿāwiya’s administrative innovations. The dating of this seal is based on the fact that ʿAbd Allāh b. Amīr b. Kurayz al-Hadrami was dismissed by caliph Muʿāwiya as Governor of Baṣra in 44 AH / 664 CE.
ʿAbd Allāh b. Amīr was a maternal cousin of the caliph ʿUthmān who appointed him Governor of Baṣra for the first time between 29 AH and 35 AH, then, still as a partisan of ʿUthmān, he served briefly as Governor of Makka between 35 AH and 36 AH. He became a supporter of Muʿawiya b. Abi Sufyan during the period of civil war. After Muʿāwiya was recognised as head of the Muslim community he named ʿAbd Allāh b. Amīr Governor of Baṣra for the second time in 41 AH, where he served until his dismissal in 44 AH. The reason for his dismissal by Muʿawiya are unclear, although jealousy has been stated as a reason. The lead seal would have validated both the documents delivered to ʿAbd Allāh and the official copy that was kept in the Diwan al-Khatam. The cuprite seal may have been attached to a chest which contained said documents ordering ʿAbd Allāh's dismissal.
Careful observation reveals the script on both seals, including their spacing, distribution, size and proportionality are identical. This is not entirely unexpected given they must have been produced at the same time and the diameters of both seals are the same. A small but important observation is the concern for standardisation of the script on these two small objects. This has ramifications for scholars investigating ancient Qur'anic manuscripts where apparent standardisation of the earliest script has been taken as a sign of late Umayyad production.
These are the earliest known surviving objects documenting Muʿāwiya’s name in Arabic. It also provides contemporary evidence that Muʿawiya’s name was spelled with an alif after the ʿayn (compare it with the inscription on a dam). The few known coins struck in his name show it in Middle Persian. One dedicatory inscription exists with the name Muʿāwiya in Greek at a public bath in Hammat Gader (el-Hammeh) in Golan (Syria). Furthermore, it would appear that this is the only contemporary incidence where both Muʿāwiya’s and ʿAbd Allāh’s names are inscribed in Arabic rather than in Pahlawi script, as was used on their coins.
(a) Displayed at Baldwin’s Islamic Coin Auction - 19. Asking price £250,000-300,000 (not sold). (b) Sold for $29,375.
 Classical Rarities Of Islamic Coinage, Wednesday 25 April 2012, 2012, Baldwin’s Islamic Coin Auction - 19, A. H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd: London (UK), Lot 5. The description is taken from here.
 Ancient & World Coin Signature Auction - New York (Heritage Auctions), 2013 January 6-7, Lot 21575.
The images above are reproduced from the stated sources under the provisions of the copyright law. This allows for the reproduction of portions of copyrighted material for non-commercial, educational purposes.
With the exception for those images which have passed into the public domain, the use of these images for commercial purposes is expressly prohibited without the consent of the copyright holder.
Back To The Islamic Inscriptions