Thursday, February 21, 2008

Iran's National Museum and the British Museum Team Up on “Sasanian Coins”

Information from Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS):

LONDON, (CAIS) -- The first volume of the catalogue titled “Sasanian Coins” will be published in the near future in a collaborative effort by Iran’s National Museum and the British Museum.

Iran’s National Museum’s Curator of Coins Marzieh Elaheh Asgari and Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, the Curator of Islamic and Iranian Coins, in the department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum, have studied more than 5000 coins in the collections in Tehran and London.

The results of Sasanian Coin Project will be published in three volumes according to a Memorandum of Understanding which was signed between the museums 10 years ago.

Sasanian coins present the political, social and cultural conditions of the dynasty, and these volumes will be a valuable resource for the academic community and cultural enthusiasts. Each coin will be illustrated and described in the catalogue and the information will also go online. The following volumes are due to be published next summer.

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis is responsible for the British Museum’s collection of pre-Islamic Iranian coins (from the third century BCE until the middle of the seventh century CE), which includes both Parthian and Sasanian dynastic coins. She also looks after coins of the Islamic era beginning with the Samanid and Buyid, Seljuk, Ilkhanid and Timurid, Safavid and Qajar dynasties of Iran.

Dr Curtis apart from the Sasanian Coin Project, she is also involved in a major Parthian Coin Project, which is a multi-institutional project with will catalogue coins of the third century BCE to the third century CE in Vienna, Tehran, Paris and Berlin.

The fourth Iranian dynasty, the Sasanians came to power in 224 CE, when Ardashir, a local king from Pars in southern Iran, seized the crown and became the new King of Kings of Iran. The Sasanians remained the most powerful empire in the ancient Near East until the advent of Islam and the Arab invasion of Iran in 651 CE.

Sasanian coins:
Sasanian coins are an important primary source for the history, economics and religion of this dynasty. From the beginning, the image of the king with his elaborate crown appears on the front and a Zoroastrian fire altar is shown on the back. The crowns incorporate symbols, such as wings, which are associated with the Zoroastrian religion and idea of kingship. The coin inscriptions, which are in Middle Persian (Sasanid-Pahlavi), give the king’s name, his religious affiliation as a worshipper of Ahuramazda, the Zoroastrian Wise Lord.

From the sixth century onwards, important information on the mint and date within the king’s reign appears on the back. More than fifty mint centres are known through abbreviations in Middle Persian but not all can be identified with certainty. Sasanian were minted in gold, silver, bronze and occasionally lead. There were two women sovereigns in the Sasanian period. These were Boran (Purandokht) (r. 630-31) and Azarmidukht (r. 631). Both were daughters of emperor Khosrow II Parviz (r. 591-628).
The image (top) is from the CAIS article and is labeled "Two of King Ardashir's coins." Ardashir was the founder of the Sasanian Dynasty and ruled 224-241 CE. The top coin is interesting for the skull on top of the King's crown! The second coin is interesting because that looks like a cornucopia tower incorporated into the center portion of the king's crown.

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