Coins From Nippur

By: Leon Legrain

Originally Published in 1924

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Ancient coins have the double charm of history and beauty. A special interest is attached to the present coins, which have all been recovered in the ruins of Nippur, from 1891 to 1895, generally from the debris on the slopes of Mount X. There are 57 coins, including 6 silver coins, one alloy of lead and silver? and 50 copper coins. They cover about one thousand years from circa 400 B. c. to 744 A. D. The best specimens, as far as legible, have been identified with the help of the various and excellent catalogues of the British Museum. They are as follows:

1 Coin of Athens, about B. c. 400. Alloy of silver and lead?
1 Coin of Tarsus, about B. c. 300. Silver.
2 Coins of Seleucus I, B. c. 311-281. Copper.
1 Coin of Demetrius I, B. c. 161-157. Copper.
1 Coin of Alexander Bala, B. c. 152-144. Copper.
1 Coin of the Parthian King Gotarzes, A. D. 40-51. Silver.
1 Coin of the Parthian King Volages II, A. D. 111-112. Copper.
4 Coins of the Parthian King Osroes, A. D. 116-128. Copper.
1 Coin of the Sassanian King Varahan IV, A. D. 386-397. Silver.
1 Mohammedan Coin of the Omayyades dated A. H. 90 = A. D. 709. Silver.
1 Mohammedan Coin of the Omayyades dated A. H. 127 = A. D. 744. Silver.

A short description of the coins will help to understand their devices and to realize their historical value.

1. Coin of Athens, about B. c. 400. Obv. Head of Athena with helmet, and laurel crown. Rev. A0E, the owl and the olive branch in an incuse square. Impure silver. Size .9 to 1. — CBS. 4497.

Even before B. c. 400, the Athenian coinage had a large circulation in Greece, Europe and far East, and was renowned for its pure metal and accurate weight. The present alloy may be an early counterfeit.

Obverse and reverse of ten round coins
Coins from Nippur.
Museum Object Numbers: B14552B / B14553B / B14553A / B14555B / B14557A / B14554
Image Numbers: 7657, 7658

2. Coin of Tarsus, about B. c. 300. Obv. Zeus of Tarsus on a throne. He holds a scepter, his left rests on an angle of his throne. There are two lines of five dots between the legs of his seat, and a circle of dots around the device. Rev. A passing lion, above which is the anchor, the symbol of the Seleucid kings and below in exergue a crab. Circle of dots around.

Tarsus the head of the Cilician gates from Asia Minor over the mountains toward Antioch and the Euphrates was before the expedition of Alexander under the control of Mazaeus Satrap of Cilicia. After the arrival of Alexander his name is still found inscribed in Aramaic characters, on a silver coin of the Attic standard and of the same type as the present coin. Zeus on the Mazaeus coin has also his name BAAL TARS inscribed in the Aramaic character. Zeus Tarseios may have been the model of the reverse type on many of Alexander’s Cicilian coins. After Alexander, the Aramaic inscription is replaced by the Seleucid anchor, certainly taken from the device on the signet of Seleucus I Nicator, B. c. 311-281.

The lion is the symbol of Astarte, Atergatis the great goddess of Syria, to whom Seleucus built a new temple in Hieropolis, the old Bambyce, a sacred city, northeast of Aleppo toward the Euphrates. Zeus is the Greek rendering of the god Baal worshiped in Tarsus, or in Hieropolis under the name of Baal Kevan. Hieropolis was a mint of the Seleucid kings, and coins with lion and bull may have been struck there. But the crab in exergue on our coin, as well as on the coin of Mazaeus, calls for a city on the seashore like Tarsus, or is perhaps the counter mark of a Greek artist originating from Cos, which had a crab on its coins. Silver. Size .85 to .95. — CBS. 14551.

3. Copper Coin of Seleucus I, B. c. 311-281. Obv. Head of Apollo facing with laurel and long hair. Rev. ΣΕΛΕYKΟΤ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ. Seleucus facing, armed, holds his spear in the right. To the right Nike places a wreath on his head. Size .6 — CBS. 14552.

Many coins of the Seleucid kings are found in Nippur. One century earlier the large silver coins of Sidon, Tyre, Aradus began to circulate along the caravan routes as far as the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris. The coin of Tarsus in Nippur shows the trade active along the same lines. But soon after Alexander autonomous states ceased to issue money, and only a few independent cities would strike coins in his name.

4. Copper Coin of Seleucus I, B. c. 311-281. Obv. Head of Apollo with laurel and long hair. Rev. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣEAEYKOY. Tripod supporting a lebes with round cover. Size .55. — CBS. 14553.

5. Copper Coin of Demetrius I, B. C. 161-157. Obv. Head of Apollo facing with laurel and long hair. Rev. ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔHMHTPIOY. Cornucopiæ. Serrated edge. Size .6 — CBS. 14554.

6. Copper coin. Time of Alexander Bala? B. c. 152-144. Obv. Head of Alexander on the right, with radiating diadem. Rev. Perhaps Zeus seated on a throne and holding Nike in the extended right hand, and a scepter in the left. Incomplete inscription. . . . ΛΕYΚΕΛΙ . . . 1 . . . . . . . TITIEI. Size .65. — CBS. 14555.

7. Silver Tetradrachm of the Parthian King Gotarzes, A. D. 40/41-51. Obv. Bust of Gotarzes I, with long pointed beard and hair in formal rows. He wears a diadem, a spiral necklace and a cuirass. Rev. The complete inscription reads: ΒΑCΙΛΕΩC BACIΛΕΩΝ APCAKOY EVEPTEYOY ΔIKAIOY ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟYC ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟC. Gotarzes seated on his throne receives the diadem offered by the Tyche of the city who stands before him. The king wears the loose trousers and the tunic of the Persians. Tyche wears the chiton and peplos and holds the diadem in the right and a cornucopia in the left. In the field BΞT are an indication of the month off the flan, 362=A. D. 50/51. Size 1.1. — CBS. 14556.

8. Copper Coin of the Parthian King Volages II. Date 423 = A. D. 111/112. Obv. Bust of the king, with a long pointed beard. He wears a helmet with flaps, a diadem, a necklace and a cuirass. The helmet has spiked appendages and hooked device. Behind his head is the letter A. Rev. The Tyche of the city, wearing chiton, peplos and turreted headdress is seated facing left on a short column, her right hand is raised to her head. In front of her TKY. Size .7. — CBS. 14557.

9. Copper coin of the Parthian King Osroes. Date 428=A. D. 116/117. Obv. Bust of Osroes with pointed beard, hair arranged in bunches, diadem, earring, spiral necklace and cuirass. There is a border of dots. Rev. Bust of the Tyche of the city with turreted headdress and looking to the right. In front of her the date. HKY. Size .7. — CBS. 14558.

Obverse and reverse of five round coins
Coins from Nippur.
Image Numbers: 7655, 7656

10. Copper Coin of the Parthian King Osroes. Date 429=A. D. 117/118. Same type as above. Rev. in front of Tyche the date ΘKY, and a border of dots. Size .7. — CBS. 14559.

11. Copper Coin of the Parthian King Osroes. Date 439.A. D. 127/128. Obv. Bust of Osroes as above. Rev. Tyche of the city wearing turreted headdress, chiton and peplos, stands facing to the right. She holds in the right a palm branch tied with a fillet, and in the left a scepter. Behind her the date ΘAY. Size .75. — CBS. 14559.

12. Copper Coin of the Parthian King Osroes, or Pacorus II? Date A. D. 106/107? Obv. Bust of the king facing to the left, with pointed beard and hair in formal rows. Part of the diadem, earring, necklace and border of dots are visible. Rev. Head of Tyche of city. Size .35. This smallest of all coins is the obolos or mite. — CBS. 14560.

These Parthian coins from A. D. 50 to A. D. 128 represent the time of the occupation of Nippur by the Parthian troops and fix the date of the construction of the huge Parthian fortress on the top of the old stage tower.

13. Thin silver coin of the Sassanian king Varahran IV, A. D. 386-397. Obv. Head of the king with the elegant tiara officially recognized as his device. It is adorned with wings and the projecting front part terminates in the head of a bird. The king has his hair tied in bunches, earrings and a necklace with a pendant. The legend in front reads in the Pehlvi characters: Mazdísan Bagí Valahlán Markán (Marká): The Ormazd worshiper divine Varahran King of Kings. Rev. A Persian fire altar with an Ormazd head issuing from the flames. Two supporters coarsely defined face the altar with swords at guard. They may be a duplicate representation of the king with his conventional crown. The bust issuing from the flames is not the genius or feruar of the king but the divinity existing amidst flames.

Above the altar on the left of the fire were inscribed the initial letters As of the mint, probably Dárábgerd, famous as the first capital of Ardashir Pápakán the founder of the Sassanian Dynasty of Persia, A. D. 226 and metropolis of an important district in the South of Fars. The shaft of the altar has not the usual inscription Rásti, Truth, but is divided in two columns by a deep line. There is a circle of dots around Obv. and Rev. Size .95. — CBS. 14561.

14. Thin silver Mohammedan coin, dated A. H. 90=A. D. 709. Obv. The field and margin are occupied by sacred texts from the Koran: lâ ilâha ill Allâh, there is no God but Allah, etc.; bism’illah, in the name of God. The margin has moreover a record of the date and the place of mintage.

Script from coin

“At Wasit in the year 90.” The margin is inclosed by a triple serrate circle outside of which are 5 annulets and finally a single serrate circle. Rev. Field and margin are occupied by texts from the Korán. The margin has the famous profession of faith Muhammedar rasûlu’llâh: Mohammed is the Prophet of God. There is a serrate circle around the field, a second around the margin and a third enclosing 5 annulets outside the margin.

This is a very early Mohammedan coin. Pure Mohammedan money, with no names of priests or kings, and only sacred texts from the Koran, in the Kufic writing of pure Arab origin, was first coined 14 years before. The revision took place under the reign and by order of Abd-el-Melik the fifth ‘Omayyade Khalif, A. H. 76=A. D. 695. Previously the Arabs used the old Sassanian coins with a fire worship device to which were added the names of the companions of the Prophet or of their associates and successors, and also the year of issue and the place of mintage. The writing was still a late form of Pehlvi. But in A. H. 60 the monarchy became hereditary under the Khalif Mo’áwiyeh, and henceforth the name of the Khalif replaces on the coins the name of the various governors. Next, religious contest brought about a rupture between the Khalif and the Byzantine Emperor whose mints had hitherto supplied the entire gold currency of the Syro-Arab dependencies. In A. D. 694=A. H. 75 a thorough reform was ordered by Abd-el-Melik, and new devices and superscriptions in the sacred Arab Kufic characters were supplied by Hejáj ben Yusaf to satisfy the scruples of the Orthodox Mohammedans. An important innovation in the dating of the new coins was the adoption of a single new cycle, the Hegira.

The place of mintage, Wasit, is a city 60 miles east from Nippur, as the crow flies, on a large canal, the Shatt-el-Wasit derived from the Tigris at Kut-el-Amara. It was then an important Arab city previous to the foundation of Baghdad 60 years later by the Khalif El-Mansûr the second Abbasside, A. D. 764 to 767.

The present coin was struck under the reign of the Khalif El-Welíd the sixth ‘Omayyade and successor of Abd-el-Melik. The silver coins of the ‘Omayyades have no reference to the Khalif during whose rule they were struck, and the advent of a new Khalif to the throne caused no alteration in the coinage. And their gold coins, presumably struck at Damascus, are even without any name of the mint. The only exception to this rule is to be seen in the three varieties of annulets arrangements on the silver coins struck at Wasit in the year A. H. 126, a year in which three Kalifs successively occupied the throne, as will be noted with the next coin. Size .95. — CBS. 14562.

15. Mohammedan silver coin of the ‘Omayyade type as above, but dated A. H. 127 = A. D. 744, under the Khalif Merwán II, the last of the ‘Omayyades.

script from coin

“At Wasit in the year 127.” The only difference with the usual coins is the presence on the obverse round the margin of 7 annulets instead of 5 or 6. It is yet a doubtful question whether the change of annulets on the Wasit coinage coincide with the change of Khalifs. But it is a curious coincidence that the three varieties of arrangements should be found on the Wasit coins of the year A. H. 126 when the three last ‘Omayyades, Yezîd III, Ibrahim and Merwán II successively occupied the throne. Our coin dated on A. H. 127 belongs certainly to the reign of Merwán. In A. D. 750 this Khalif, the last of his dynasty, fled to Egypt where he was put to death. The ‘Ornayyades were exterminated with the exception of ‘Abd er-Rah-mân, who fled to Spain and founded an independent Khalifate at Cordova. Size 1. — CBS. 14563.


Cite This Article

Legrain, Leon. "Coins From Nippur." The Museum Journal XV, no. 1 (March, 1924): 70-76. Accessed March 04, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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