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The Numism atic

Chr nicle
Editorial Committee

UAI<nun XJ

Circassian Monetary Policy: Silvee

THE sources for a study of Circassian Mamluk Egypt and Syria (A.H. 784-
922/ 1382- A.D. 1517) are more abundant than for any other earlier period in
Islamic history. The relative availability of textual evidence-printed and
manuscript- and numismatic sources has permitted detailed investigations
of Mamluk coinage. Numerous books and articles have referred to some
extent or another to these monetary developments. 2 The purpose of this
study is to bring together all the modern and medieval sources dealing with
changes in the Circassian silver issues and to explain why various policies
were followed at different times.
For the purposes of this study Circassian rule has been divided into four
time periods each representing a different trend: (1) 784-805/1382- 1403 (con-
tinuation of the earlier Bal:lri system); (2) 805- 15/1403- 12 (failure to protect
Egyptian silver); (3) 815- 57/ 1412- 53 (introduction of a 'new' standard due
to Venetian competition and then reduction of the weight of the coin);
(4) 857- 922/1453- 1517 (reintroduction of the 'new' coinage followed by
reductions in its fineness). Certain assumptions as to the nature of Mamluk
rule have been made for this study. Since it is in the interest of the sultan to
maintain control over the mint, changes in the currency are interpreted as
reflecting governmental policies. The relative unity of the Mamluk empire
and the importance of gold and silver should lead to parallel developments
in Syria and Egypt. Unless contradictory evidence is presented it will be
assumed that the coins minted in Egypt were similar to those in Syria and
the policy held in Cairo was true for Damascus.

The Ba)Jri sultans had issued dinars (gold), dirhams (silver), and fuliis
(copper) and all three currencies had been exchanged by weight. The exchange
rates for gold were announced as if each dinar weighed one mithqal, 4·25 gm.,
although individual coins weighed from 4 to 14 gm. In theory the dirham was
I wish to thank the American Research Center in Egypt for making available a fellow-
ship which enabled me to collect most of the textual references, and I wish to thank Dr.
George C. Miles and Dr. Paul Balog for all the aid they have given me in dealing with the
numismatic problems.
For a general bibliography for Mamluk history, l ra Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the
Later Middle Ages (Cam bridge, Mass., 1967), 217-42. For a bibliography of numismatic
references, Paul Balog, The Coinage of the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt and Syria, ANS
Numismatic Studies No. 12 (New York, 1964), 59-63.

to be a silver coin of pure silver, weighing seven-tenths of the mithqiil, that of fineness. 1 This is an important change as it is much harder for contempor-
is 2·975 gm. In Bal;ri and Ayyubid Egypt 20 dirhams of 66~ per cent silver aries to detect this type of movement than weight variations or manipulation
were worth 1 dinar. Thus the gold: silver ratio, not the exchange rate, was of the exchange rates. However, the Egyptians were aware of the debasement
I :9·3 (one unit of fine gold was equal to 9·3 units in the same weight system as exchange rates increased from one dinar for 20 dirhams to 23~ and then
of fine silver). The most common silver issues were called the Kamili and 30 dirhams. This meant that the amount of pure silver equal to a unit of pure
Zahiri for al-Malik al-Kamil (d. 635/1238) and al-Zahir Baybars (d. 676/ gold remained constant although the actual coins in circulation had less
1277) respectively. silver in them than in the Ba)J.ri period. 2 The sultan discontinued the Ba)J.ri
The Kamili and Zahiri dirhams continued to circulate in Egypt, Syria, and standard of fineness because of the pressure of increased expenditures,
the Hijaz under the first Circassian, Barquq (784-801 /1382- 99). The date of primarily associated with his brief deposition in 790-2/1388-90 when large
their actual replacement by a new style Circassian coin and/or a coin with sums were needed to buy troop loyalty, and a decline in the supply of silver.
a lower silver content is not clear. The noted contemporary Egyptian his- When Barquq died in 801 /1399 and was succeeded by his son al-Na~ir Faraj
torian, al-Maqrizi, wrote in his Shudhitr that the Bal)ri coins ceased circulat- (801-15/1399- 1412), al-Maqrizi wrote that gold, silver, and copper coins
ing in 781- 1379. 1 This date is said to coincide with the appearance of a new were in circulation but dirhams were rare and eventually ceased being
dirham, minted in I:Iamah and called the I:Iamawi. Modern scholars have traded. 3 For the next two years dinars were cited in Cairo as worth
repeated this account but supporting e¥idence is weak. The few published 30 dirhams which meant that their degree of fineness was the same as
specimens minted in l:lamah are undated and no other contemporary source Barqiiq's last issues.
relates a similar tale. 2 Thus the actual impact of the l:Jamawi is still open to The shortage of silver and silver coins which al-Maqrizi mentioned applied
question. to Syria as well as Egypt. Al-Qalqashandi recorded that a bad Syrian coin
A second date for a change in the circulating silver coinage is 794/1391. was issued at tltis time with only one-third silver. 4 According to the Egyptian
The director of the mint in Alexandria, the amir Mal:lmud b. 'An ai-Ustadar, method of calculating 40 dirhams of 33 per cent (twice the Ba)J.ri rate)
was accused of flooding the Egyptian market with copper and selling silver to would be wmth 1 dinar. In 803{1400 the gold-silver rate of exchange in
the Europeans which led to the disappearance of the silver currency.3 The Cairo was 1 to 40. Therefore coins of this low percentage of silver were
importance of the latter charge will be examined below but as for issuing large circulating in Egypt as well as Syria. At the same time numismatic and textual
quantities offulfls, Mahmud was not starting a new policy. The Bal).ri sultans evidence indicates that there was a growing demand for and use of gold,
had already set an example and the amir only followed it for his own profits. particularly the Venetian ducat or ifranti. The quantity and use of copper
Finally a third date given in the Arabic sources for a new coinage is 26 was also being expanded. It appears that the Egyptian demand for silver was
Rabi' II, 789/16 May 1387, when the Sultan al-Zilhir Barqiiq ordered the decreasing.
amir Jarkas al-Khalili to have a new style dirham struck with his name,
Barqiiq, inscribed in the centre. 4 A few days later space was cleared in the II
Citadel and the minters struck the new coin. The existing Cairo issues of
The traditional dinar-dirham system of calculation for Egypt finally col-
Barquq fit the contemporary descriptions. 5
lapsed during the great economic crisis of 805-6/1403. An extremely low Nile
The Arabic sources do not give very much information on the nature of
flood led to famine conditions which created a tremendous inflation with
the dated changes except for the new style. The published co ins of Barquq
prices and exchange rates skyrocketing in terms of dirham units. There was
weigh a little less than their Ba)J.ri predecessors but as they were traded by
neither enough silver coinage in circulation nor could it be debased and minted
weight and not number this would not have been a significant change.
fast enough to meet the tremendous demand. The silver coin ceased to be
Non-destructive analyses of Barquq's issues indicate a decline in the degree
the monetary unit in which transactions were calculated although the word
'dirham' was maintained as a technical term. From Rajah, 805/February 1403,
al-Maqr!zi, Shudhur a/-' Uqud, P. Anastoise-Marie, ed. (Cairo, 1939), 62.
• Balog, no. 553.
1 Jere L. Bacharach and Adon A. Gordus, 'Studies on the Fineness of Silver Coins',
Shudhur 62. References to copper can be found in lbn al-Furat, Ta'rikh (Beirut, J 939),
ix, 6; ai-Maqrizi, al-Suliik !i-Ma'rifat Duwal al-Muluk, MS. (Cairo), Dar al-Kutub ai- Journal of the Econ. and Soc. Hist. of the Orient xi (1968), 311.
2 It is possible that the silver was in greater demand than the gold: silver ratio of I: 9· 3
Mi~riyy a, Ta'r!kh no. 339, iii, 695; lbn Jfajar ai-'Asqalani, lnba' al-Ghumr bi Anba', MS.
(Cairo), Diir al-Kutub a l -M i~riyya, Ta'rikh no. 2476, i, 340. indicates as this ca lculation does not include the cost of minting or of copper.
• Jbn ai-Furat 6-8. 3
ai-Su!tlk, MS. (Paris), Bibliotheque nationale, no. 1727, 9a.
Balog, no. 551. • al-Qalqashandi, a/-Sub/:1 al-A'shii (Cairo, 1914- 28), iii, 467.
at the earliest, all calculations for the value of money, goods, and services wanted to issue a fine silver coin the necessary raw material was not available
were given in units of dariihim min al-fulus.l These 'dirhams of copper' were in large enough quantities to permit it.
neither silver nor copper coins but rather a name for a fictitious unit of One of the assumptions of this paper has been the critical role played by
account. This meant that dinars, dirhams, and fuliis were calculated as worth the sultans in determining monetary policies. Only in a negative sense does
so many 'dirhams of copper' or trade dirhams as the late William Popper this statement hold for Faraj. There is no evidence that he authorized any
called them. 2 of the monetary changes which took place during his reign. 1 In fact it is
Much of the confusion in contemporary sources and in modern scholarly possible that his failure to support the use of silver helped create an atmosphere
works can be attributed to the fact that the term 'dirham' had four meanings in which silver, a scarce metal, was not desired resulting in a gold : silver
after 805/1403 and it is not always clear which definition is approp1iate. ratio which implies silver was in abundant supply.
Thus a Circassian dirham could be (1) a unit of weight outside the gold- There are two types of silver cited in the Arabic sources for the remainder
silver system (and the scope of this paper); (2) a specific silver coin such as the of Faraj's reign. One is the /:!ajar or 'stone' of silver which was 'neither struck
Kamili or Z,ahiri dirham; (3) a silver coin weight of 2·975 gm. which could nor debased' and the other is the Kamili which now meant any coin of two-
be equal to one or more individual silver coins; and (4) a fictitious unit used thirds silver. 2 The /:!ajar was infrequently cited. The Kamili, mentioned nine
for accounting. A theoretical example from a contemporary source would times until 813/1410, steadily rose in value. What is more important was
read 'on such and such a day a dirham or dirhams were worth so many that the value of the Kami!I was controlled by its relationship to the dinar.
dirhams', meaning that 2·975 gm. of specific silver coins were worth so many In those examples where rates for the dinar and the Kamiii are both available,
fictitious units. the dinar was always worth 30 Kamilis. Since 20 Kamilis of the same degree
The critical question is why did the silver coinage for all practical purposes of fineness were worth one dinar before 806/ 1403, the new rate reflects the
disappear from Cairo at this time when Egypt had suffered other economic decline in the value of silver vis-a-vis gold. After 813/ 1410 the gold:silver
crises under the Mamluks possibly as severe without similar results? Cer- ratio dropped to about 1 : 11 which reflected an adjustment to the relative
tainly internal developments, particularly the political instability associated scarcity of silver and the demand for it by non-Egyptians.
with the reign of Faraj, played an important role. Although there are no Did Syria suffer a silver shortage, severe price rise, a change in the account-
references to hoarding of silver as had been done by Barqiiq, it is possible ing system, and a major shift in the gold: silver ratio such as Egypt had
that this took place. 3 A more important cause, however, was a demand for experienced? Unfortunately the contemporary data are very scattered com-
the ifranti at the expense of local silver. Therefore gold in general became pared to that for Cairo and a well-documented argument cannot be given.
more highly valued than it had been and the gold: silver ratio rose from I : 9· 3 As noted above there are textual references to a shortage of silver and the
to 1:14 for the year 806/ 1403 to 813/1410, at least. This meant that in terms circulation of coins of one third silver. 3 The year after Damascus was sacked
of gold:silver ratios it was more profitable for European merchants to by Timiir, 804/1401, a chronicler speaks of the scarcity of silver in Damascus
obtain silver in Egypt than it had been in the past. 4 and another reference, written under the year 813/ 1410 referred to a Syrian
By the reign of Faraj, in fact, the demand for silver among the Europeans silver coin of one tenth silver. 4 Syria also suffered a serious inflation at about
was very high and there was an unwillingness to supply Egypt with a metal the same time Cairo experienced her crisis. However, there was enough
which was in great demand in Europe. Both al-Maqrizi and al-Qal.qashandi money In circulation to meet the resulting price rise in the sense that prices
felt that the Europeans cut off the supply of silver and this was a major cause continued to be given in terms of silver and copper coins, not in trade
for the disappearance of the silver coinage. 5 Whatever silver reserves the dirhams. AI Maqrizi differentiated the two methods of recording prices
Egyptians had, they were not adequate to redress the increased pressure for when he wrote, under the year 806/ 1403, of a Syrian silver (jir!t;la) 'dirham'
export associated with the high gold: silver ratio. Thus even if Faraj had as opposed to a 'dirham' of the money (naqd) of Egypt.5 Later references-
both Arabic and European-speak of Cairo and Damascus as having differ-
1al-'Ayni, 'Iqd al-Jumiin fi Ta'rikh A/11 al-Zamiin, MS. (Cairo), D~r ai-Kutub ai- ent units for accounting purposes. 6 Since silver coins were used in Syria
Mi~riyya, Ta'rikh no. 1044, iv, 187.
2 William Popper, 'Egypt and Syria under the Circassian Sultans, 1382- 1468 1
The Na!liri gold coin attributed to al-Na~ir Faraj was instituted by the amir Mal}mOd
University of Califomia Publications in Semitic Philology xvi (1957), 52. al-Ustadar. al-'Ayni 323.
Ibn al-Furat 132. al-Sulitk, Paris, 43b. 3
See p. 269 n. 4.
4 For a discussion of
the use of gold: silver ratios to analyse East- West trade see • lbn J:Iajar ii, 45a. 5 al-Suluk,
Paris, 41b.
Andrew M. Watson, 'Back to Gold and Silver', Economic History Review xx (1967), 1- 34. • al-Asadi, al-Taysir wa-1-'Jtibiir (Cairo, 1968), 127; Reinhold Rohricht and Heinrich
5 al-Qalqashandi iii, 467. Metsner, ed., Das Reisebuch der Familie Rieter (Tiibingen, 1884), 158-9.

during the reign of Faraj there was a demand for them. This demand is The Mamluk sultans could have j.,~u u
11 r 1111 rl

reflected in a gold: silver ratio of about 1:9 to 1 : 10.1 If the calculated gold: and unstable purity, the value of which increas d tr 111 1 trr 11 11111 11 •
ever, a careful study of all the contemporary eviden t tu I .urd 1 111111
silver ratio is accurate, and Egypt's ratio was 1:14, then there would have
been a movement of Egyptian silver to Syria in exchange for gold whether matic- indicates that the changes which took place during this peri d ' •r~
it was in the form of bullion, Syrian or European coin. This internal gold- very systematic and reflect a very tight control over the silver coinage by the
silver flow cannot be documented. However, there is evidence that Syria was sultans. It would have been possible to reach the conclusions presented below
receiving European silver. (It is assumed that both Egypt and Syria were by use of the sources cited by most of the other scholars, but the task has
always receiving European gold to pay for spices and local commodities.) been made much easier by the discovery of pertinent material in the Kitiib
a/-Taysir wa-l-'ltibar. 1 The manuscript was written in 855/1451 by a Syrian
In A.D. 1407 (A.H. 809-10) the Venetian Senate lifted its interdict on exporting
silver to Syria and by 815/1412, at the latest, large quantities of Venetian al-Asadi and includes a detailed section on changes in the silver from the
grossi, called Bunduqi, were circulating in Syria but not Cairo. 2 Thus Syria time of Sultan-Caliph al-Musta'in Billiih. 2 The key to the problem is that
used silver coins, had a demand for silver, and maintained the traditional the purity and exchange rate remained constant while the weight of the
gold- silver system of exchange. specific issues was systematically lowered.
In an earlier work Professor Adon A. Gordus and this author demon-
Ill strated by means of neutron activation analysis that the purity of the silver
In political terms Faraj was continually faced with revolts centred in issues from Shaykh to Jaqmaq was 95 per cent silver.3 This scientific data
Syria. This struggle culminated in the victory of two amirs, Nawriiz and only supported contemporary evidence as related in the report on an assay
Shaykh, and the murder of Faraj in 815/ 1412. While Nawriiz in Syria and held in 861 /1457.3 Did the Nawruzi, the first of the series, have as high a
Shaykh in Egypt struggled for the sultanate, a unique event in Mamluk percentage of purity and why are there different estimates to its fineness in
political history took place. The Caliph al-Musta'in Billah was named sultan. the modern literature? The answer to this double question lies in the fact
Within eight months Shaykh had removed the caliph from the sultanate, that there were three silver coins known as the Nawriizi. The first of these
seized the office for himself, and took the title al-Mu'ayyad. He ruled until was a coin of 10 per cent silver which circulated in Damascus in 813/1410.
824/1421 although Nawriiz was not defeated until 817/1414. Upon Shaykh's It was called by one contemporary historian, the debased Nawriizi. The
death a political crisis arose in which four men succeeded one another as second coin was a dirham of half silver and half copper which Nawriiz
sultan within a year. Finally al-Ashraf Barsbiiy (825-41 /1422-38) success- ordered to be minted in Rabi' I, 815/June 1412 while he was viceroy of Syria.
fully consolidated his position and imposed his will on the various Mamluk When lbn Taghri Birdi summarized the information for this year in al-
forces until his death. The last major sultan for the third time period, 815- 571 Maqrizi's Su/Uk, he only copied the line referring to the order to mint this
1412-53, was al-Zahir Jaqmaq (842-57/1438-53). coin of 50 per cent silver and not the following directive to immediately
During the years cited above the major silver coins were the Nawriizi cease production and mint a new type of Nawriizi. 5 The only chronicle which
issued by the amir Nawriiz, Shaykh's Mu'ayyadi, Barsbiiy's Ashrafi: and has been published covering this historical period is lbn Taghri Birdi's. The
Jaqmaq's Ziihiri. In analysing these issues three variables are important: third Nawriizi is the most important of the coins with that name and when-
weight, fineness, and exchange rate. The following statements can be made ever the term Nawriizi is used in this paper it will refer to this third type.
in summarizing the data on these three factors found in modern scholarly The new coin was minted of pure silver (95 per cent) and it weighed half a
works. 3 (1) There is no agreement on the weight nor purity of the Nawriizi dirham coin weight. The theoretical weight of a ni.if, the technical term for a
and its exchange value is unknown. (2) Shaykh's Mu'ayyadi is worth 7 trade coin of a half weight, is 1·488 gm . The average weight of the Nawriizi is
dirhams; the Ashrafi: 20 dirhams,and the Ziihiri 24 but (3) estimates differ l-45 gm., extremely close to the theoretical standard. (See Table I.) Thus the
as to the weight and purity of these three issues. degree of purity of the silver issues during the third period was very high
In calculating this ratio it was assumed that the dirham was 33! per cent silver. 1 ai-Asadi. It is fortunate that this important work which had only been used for historical
al-Suluk, Cairo, iv, 135. In a reference written under $afar 830/December 1426, al- studies by Professor Labib and this author is now available in a printed edition.
Maqrizi stated that the Venetian grosso had circulated in the Near East since 813/1410. 2 ai-Asadi 126- 8.
Ibid. 539. 3 Bacharach and Gordus 3 I 2.
Balog, pp. 249- 393; Popper 51--67; Ahmad Darrag, L'Egypte sous le regne de Barsbay
• Jbn Hajar ii, 45a.
(Damascus, 1961), 98-102; Subhi Labib, Handelsgeschichte ;fgyptens im Spdtmittelalter, 6 al-Suiuk, Cairo, iv, 86-7 ; Jbn Taghrl Bird!, ai-Nujtim al-Zcihirah fi Muhik Mi~r wa-1-
(Wiesbaden, 1965) 427-34; Eli Strauss, 'Prix et salaires a l'epoque mamlouk', Revue des Qcihirah, William Popper, ed. (Berkeley, 1915- 60), vi, 315.
etudes islamiques (1949), 50-4.
c 820:! T
and constant, and the first of the series, the Nawnlzi, weighed a ni,sfand not a All the sources agree that al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh defeated Nawriiz in
full dirham coin weight. Ramac;lan, 817/December 1414 and returned to Cairo with large quantities
Although scholars have written about the weight, fineness, and value of of Nawriizi and Bunduqi which were then reminted as Mu'ayyadi. The
the Nawnlzi, they have not dealt with why Nawniz issued it. It would have immediate effect of Shaykh's action of flooding the market with silver was to
been easy for him to order a coin weighing a full dirham coin weight with cause a brief inflation. A second effect was to redress the difference in the
100 per cent or even 50 per cent silver as he did for a very short period. silver holdings between Syria and Egypt. The latter was no longer deficient
There was the earlier tradition of a coin with 66% per cent silver which in silver compared to the former. The equalization of holdings must have
Nawriiz could have copied, but did not. The model which the amir used created similar gold: silver ratios for the two regions although this cannot be
for his coinage was not an Islamic but a European one. The Venetian directly documented. 1 The gold: silver ratio for the Mamluk empire until
grossi which were circulating in Syria at that time were issued by the Doges 872/1468, at least, was primarily between 1 :8·8 and 1: 10·6. Therefore the
Antonio Venier (1382- 1400) and Michel Steno (1400- 13). The average pre-Faraj pattern of silver flowing from west to east must have been re-
weight of the former's issues was 1·87 gm. while the latter's was l ·7 J gm. established.
and both had a purity estimated at 95 per cent silver. 1 The Nawriizi had a Al-Asadi wrote that the Nawriizi was of pure silver, weighed a ni,sj, and
similar degree of fineness, as good a uniformity of weight but weighed slightly was worth n trade dirhams in Egypt. The coin was originally meant to be
less. Therefore the intent of the reform was to issue a Muslim coin which traded by n~mber but the difficulty of maintaining a precise standard of
could successfully compete against the European issue. For an economist weight necessitated exchanges by weight. When Shaykh issued his Mu'ayyadi,
Nawruz's policy is a simple case of applying Gresham's Law where the lower in 817/1415, al-Asadi stated that it was also of pure silver and was worth
weight coin (the Nawruzi) was to drive out the heavier one (the Venetian 7! trade dirhams in Egypt. However, its weight was one qirat (f:tabba in text)
grosso) assuming the fo rmer were minted in a large enough quantity. or 0·186 gm. less than the ni,s_f2 A coin which is {6 of a dirham coin weight
Nawruz's reform differed in one important way from the later and more should weigh 1·302 gm. ; the weights of the Mu'ayyadi averaged 1·30 gm.
famou s reform of the coin gold coinage by Bars bay when his new dinar, the (Table I). A double Mu'ayyadi of 14 qira(s and a half of 3~ qirtl{s were also
Ashrafi, competed successfully against the ifranti: the Nawri1z's weight fitted issued. A re-reading of the chronicles in light of al-Asadi's remarks indicates
into the Muslim metrological system while the gold Ashrafi's did not. As that the Syrian was not the only contemporary source to record the unusual
the ni,sfis composed of eight qira{s (0·186 gm.), very small reductions in the weights of the Mu'ayyadi. 3
weight of the coin, equal to one qirat, could be authorized and the resulting As in the case of the Nawriizi, the more important question is not what
coin weight would still fit the system of weights available to Islamic minters. the Mu'ayyadi weighed but what Shaykh's purpose was in issuing a coin of
This is what took place. such an odd weight. The obvious answer was suggested by al-Asadi who
While Nawruz initiated the reform in Syria, Shaykh copied it in Egypt as wrote that losses due to wear and clipping necessitated slightly lower stand-
two Nawriizi type dirhams issued during the sultanate of the Caliph ai- ards with each new sultan. By minting a coin which weighed slightly less
Musta'in Billah were attributed to Cairo by Dr. Paul Balog. 2 The only than its predecessor the sultan could issue more coins from the same quantity
published pre-817 /1415 dirham issued after Shaykh became sultan is inscri bed of bullion without tampering with the purity, and Gresham's Law would
with the date A.H. 815 and the mint Cairo. 3 Engraved in the centre of the operate where the newer but lighter coin would drive the older but heavier
obverse is the word ni,sf indicating its intended weight. However, the total one off the market.
production of these Cairene coins was limited as the textual sources record The Sultan ai-Mu'ayyad Shaykh hoped to restore the old gold-silver
exchange rates for only the /:!ajar and Bunduqi and thus it is unlikely that the system and he ordered all prices b ~ given in Mu'ayyadi and not trade dirhams.
Nawriizi could have replaced the Venetian coin in the Mamluk capital. The The fact that there was not enough silver available to meet local needs to
historian al-Maqrizi explained the failure of the Nawriizi by writing that replace the trade dirham system spelled the failure of his programme.
the people were not familiar with using silver coins. 4 Another aspect of his policy was announcing exchange rates for a single coin,
The Arabic sources record the weight of the grosso as a ni.yf(l-488 gm.) which does not usually the 7 qira{ one, as though transactions could be done by number.
correspond with the known weight of the coins. One exception, written under 819/ 1415, 1 The activities of Jacques Coeur in Syria in the
second quarter of the fifteenth century
said the Venetian grosso weighed the equivalent of 1·77 gm. which is very close to the imply a gold: silver ratio of l :9. Watson 21, 25.
numismatic evidence. al-Su!Uk, Cairo, iv, 155. 2 Al-Asadi said the Mu'ayyadi weighed a rub'
(t) and a thumn (!)and a ~wbba ( i!r) or
Balog, no. 673-4. f.r of a dirham coin weight. ai-Asadi 127.
Balog, no. 686. 4
al-Suliik, Cairo, iv, 135. 3 al-Suliik, Cairo, iv,
152-4; ai-'Aynl, 402; Ibn tlajar ii, 776b.
However the problem of maintaining a I~i standard plus losses due to wear,
in Cairo; the Mu'ayyad1, $alil)I (Sultan al-$alil)), Ashrafi, Qaramani
clipping, etc., required exchanges be done by weight. Thus it appears that
(An ato lia), 'Uthmani (Ottoman), l;lijazi (Mecca), Takruri (Mali Kingdon.1 of
Shaykh hoped to have his 7 qirtit Mu'ayyadi accepted as an 8 qirti{ ni$_[.
Western Sudan), and Bunduql (Venice).! Eventually the Lankiya (Pers1an)
He failed. The exchange rate of the Mu 'ayyadi dropped from 9 to 8 to 7
and Qubrisi (Cypriot) were added to the list. Nine times between. 826/ 14~3
trade dirhams per coin. The last rate, the most common one during his
and 837 /1433 the sultan o utlawed all the non-Egyptian currenc1es. Wh1le
reign, meant that coins could be traded by weight, as they must have been,
many of these orders were directed again st the Bunduqi, its high degree of
at 16 trade dirhams per dirham coin weight of Mu'ayyadi. The legacy of
purity did not make it (in th at context) a threat to the Ashrafi and by 834i 1430
Shaykh's policy was (1) the issuance of a standard silver coin with multiples
it was officially accepted on a par with Barsbay's coin. 2 It should also be
which was continued by the later Circassians, and (2) the term Mu'ayyadi
noted that the average weight of the grossi minted in the name of Doge
and ni$_{ eventually beca me sy non ymous and later European references to a
Francesco Foscari was l · 36 gm., a drop similar to the change in the weight
medyn or madini (from Mu'ayyadi) referred to any Muslim coin of a ni,~f
of the Muslim coin . However, the Lankiya, Qubrisi, an d Qaramani, which
weight. 1
were outlawed, were only 60 per cent silver and could have undermined the
During the brief reign of al-$aliiJ Mul)ammad (824- 5/1 421 - 2) a meeting
better Mamlu k coinage.
of the money changers was held in the Cairo Citadel to discuss the weight
A second threat to Barsbay's programme was the dra in on the bullion
losses in the Mu'ayyadi. 2 Tt was announced that the coin was to be traded
supply from intern al pressures. The loss of silver through its shipment to the
by weight and not number a nd a dirham coin weight of them was to be worth
Hijaz (and by extension India) and its use for the manufacture of vessels (a
20 trade dirh am s. This rate of exchange was the same for Barsbay's reign.
meth od of removing si lve r from circulation by hoarding) were so great that
One of the published dirhams of al-$alil) has a weight similar to the Mu'ayyadi
Barsbay forbad both practices in 839/1434. 3 The sultan o rdered all silver to
but there are three others which are very close to the standard associated
be carried to the mint where it was to be reissued as coin.
with Barsbay. 3 Thus the weight standard a nd exchange rate used by Barsbay
The norm al losses in th e weight of indi vidual As hrafi as well as the limited
were establ ished befo re he ascended to the sultanate.
bullion supply fo rced Jaqmaq to issue his Zah iri at a slightly lower weight.
The Syrian commentator, al-Asadi, wrote that Barsbay's Ashrafi weighed
Al-Asadi claimed that the Zahiri was to weigh 5~ qirti{s and was worth
~s and i;s of a dirham coin weight or 6 qirti{s (1·116 gm.) an d 12 qlrii{s
8 trade dirhams per coin.'1 Although the theoretical weight stan~ard is _very
(2·232 gm.) respectively. 4 As with the Nawriizi a nd Mu'ayyadi, the actual
irregular, t he ave rage weight of Jaqmaq's published dirhams 1s re l a~tvely
average weight of the Ash rafT as listed by Balog is ve ry close to the theoretical
close to it (Table I). As with Shaykh and Barsbay there were :wo ser.te~ .of
weight predicted by ai-Asadi (Table I). These iss ues are unu su al in that
coins with the heav ier one weighing about 10 or 11 qirti{s. The tmposstbll!ty
Barsbay acknowledged hi s reduction in the weight of individual pieces by
of maintaining a uniform weight necessitated exchange rates at 24 trade
inscribing the actual weight on a number of the specimens : rub' wa thumn
dirhams per dirham coin weight of Zahiri. The Ara bi c sou rces onl~ recorded
(± plus k) and ni$/ wa rub' (l plus t ). 5 Barsbay's action indicates that he gave
this exchange rate for the Muslim years 843, 847, and 854, an d 111 .the firs;
up any hope of seeing them traded by number as opposed to the policy of
and last insta nce the chronicles also listed the Ashrafi at 20 trade d1rhams ."
Shaykh. The exchange rate listed in a!-Tay sir is 7k trade dirhams which is
It is difficult to imagine that most of those invo lved in tran sactions could
equal to 20 trade dirhams per dirham coin weight ; the rate found in all the
have read the inscriptional changes from the Ashrafi to the ~ahiri, but ~he
other Arabic sources. Therefore the substantial jump in the exchange rate
relative differences in the weight of individual pieces would tdentlfy wh1ch
between the Mu'ayyadi and the Ashrafi fou nd in man y contemporary and
modern sources is due to a change in the definition of the term 'dirham'. was which.
The monetary changes which took place during thi s tl~ird chronologic~l
In comparative term s the exchange rate only went from 16 to 20trade dirhams.
period can be analysed in two ways although the econom1c effect of both ts
Barsbay wished to reap the maxim um profits from the exclusive use of his
the same. Using al-Asadi as a guide, it appears that the ~amluk .sultans
silver coin as well as protect it from the competition of other currencies.
systematica lly lowered the weight of their silver coins wlule keepmg the
In 826/ 1422 the Arabic sources li sted the following silver coins in circulation
For example, Rohricht 146. Fclix Fabri , Evagatorium in Terrae Sanctae, Arabiae et 1 Popper 53- 5; al-'Aynl 541.
Egypti Peregrinationem, (Stuttgartiae, 1849). iii . 101 ; Berna rd de Brcydenback, Les Saintes
2 al-Sulilk, Cairo, iv, 55 1- 2; Nujiim vi, 667- 8.
3 al-Sultlk, Cairo, iv, 771;
Peregrinations de ... (Cairo, J 905), 64. Jbn l:lajar ii, 326a.
2 ai-Suliik, 4
Cai ro, iv, 410. 3
Balog, no. 701 ·-2. ai-Asadl 128. .h D 1 - r · M d -•
4 a i-Asadi 5 al-Sulilk, Cairo, iv, 975; ai-'Ay nl 740; lbn Taghri Birdl, Ha wddtt a1- u1ur 1 l a a
128 . 5
Balog, no. 71 5- 17.
al-A yyiim wa-1-Shuhtir, William Popper, ed. (Berkeley, 1930), 11 , 76.

degree of fineness and exchange rate relatively constant (Table II). This The pressures to increase the profits from silver and the demands to supply
meant that each ruler could mint more coins than his predecessor from the coins from a limited if not diminishing quantity of bullion meant some type
same amount of bullion; in other words, he could increase his profit from of change would have to be initiated. During the third period purity had been
the mint. The difficulty of minting with extremely minute weights as well kept constant while the weight was lowered (constant) and value constant
as other loss factors resulted in market exchanges by weight rather than by (increased). Now the most common policy was for the sultans to keep the
number. Thus the second pattern was a steady increase in the exchange rate weight and value relatively constant and to lower the degree of fineness. 1
while purity and weight remained constant (Table Il). Each sultan would The first reference to this development was related to a crisis of confidence
call in the old currency at one rate, issue his coin at a higher rate, and the in the coinage of Aynai.2 In 861 /1457 a public assay was held and Aynal's
difference minus cost was his profit. Whichever way the changes are analysed Syrian issues were found to be only 50 per cent pure while those minted in
the net result is the same, an increase in the income for the sultan and the Cairo were 96 per cent. The resulting juror on the part of the sultan raises
replacing of the older money by the newer 'inferior' issue as predicted by questions as to his responsibility for the issuance of the bad coins. T?is
Gresham's Law. would have been only the second time a sultan had not set monetary pohcy
These developments in Egypt and Syria also illustrate the impact of inter- and unlike the earlier case of Faraj, Aynal rectified the matter. Within a year
national monetary movements. The dominant role played by Venice and her new coins of a high degree of fineness were being issued throughout the
currency in Mamluk trade led to the -adoption of the Venetian grosso as empire. .
the model for Nawruz's reformed silver coin. The threat from inferior Neutron activation analysis indicates that a debasement began durmg
foreign currencies necessitated their outlawing and the losses due to the Qayitbiiy's reign but supporting textual evidence is scarce. 3 Contemporary
exportation of silver to the East caused its prohibition. references to rates in Syria and Palestine of one (Ashrafi) dinar for 50
'dirhams' refer to quarter-weight coins and not debased ni$/ 4 A report of
an assay held in Damascus in 877/ 1472 stated that Qayitbay's dirhams were
IV 95 per cent si lver. 5 However the necessity of holding this test is impo~ant.
The coinage of the first ruler of the final chronological segment, al-Ashraf During the same Muslim year Qayitbay had written to the Do~e Ntcol~
Aynal (857- 65/ 1453- 61) represents a transition between the two periods. Trono complaining that a 100 dirham coin weights of Venetmn grosst
His issues were the natural culmination of the developments since Nawruz in yielded only 60 of silver. 6 As if to confirm the sultan's complaint, Sebal~en
the sense that his lightest coin weighed 4 qirii{s and its multiple was the ni~f Rieter who travelled in the Near East in 1479-80, recorded that Venetlan
which had begun the series (Table I). In the same pattern the exchange rate silver ~as not readily accepted although the ducat was. 7 Father Felix Fabri,
before 862/1457 for a dirham coin weight of Aynali was 32 trade dirhams. who visited Cairo in 1483, wrote about money changers biting the silver
In that year Aynal announced a new exchange rate which was followed by coins to check thei r purity. 8 What made Fabri's remarks even more important
most of the succeeding sultans. 1 The Ashrafi dinar, mentioned above, was to is that these 'teeth' tests were applied to Mamluk silver as well as foreign
be worth 25 silver coins which in turn were to weigh a ni~f The value of the coins. lf the Venetians were issuing poor coins or if Europeans were selling
ni~f in trade dirhams was rarely given but when it was the coin was worth debased bullion to the Mamluks 9 the degree of fineness of the Circassian
12 trade dirhams or a dirham coin weight was worth 24 (Jaqmaq's rate). coins would have declined. At the same time the increased military costs
Only during the reign of Qi:in$fih al-Gawri (906- 22/ 1501- 16) was the weight under Qayitbiiy and Qi:in$fih al-Gawri would have led them .to deb.ase
of the Mamluk silver coin significantly lowered and then to about 1·20 gm. their silver, as they did with their gold coins, irrespective of Venettan policy.
although the term ni,if was retained. Therefore, although contemporary monetary data are very scarce for the first
Fortunately the Arab chroniclers did not continue referring to the silver
r It is possible that attempts were made to manipulate ~he e~~har:ge rates but the evi~e~ce
issues of the sultans by their honorific titles. For example, Sultan al-Ashraf is not clear. Ibn lyiis ii, 167; al-Jawharl, Inbti' al-Ha,~r fz Anba al- A$r, MS. (Pans) Btbho-
Qayitbay (872-901 / 1468- 98), o rdered in 885/1480 the cessation of the use of theque Nationale, no. 1791, 202b.
2 Bacharach and Gordus 312-13.
all dirhams circulating in Damascus. 2 The order spoke of the post-Jaqmaq 3
coins as the Aynall, Khushqadami, Yalbayi, Tamburghi:iwri, and Qi:iyitbi:iyi Ibid. 316- 17. - - · 63
4 Waqf of Sultan Qiiyitbtiy, Archives, Ministry of Awqaf, no. 885, p. 44; Ibn Tu1un 1, •
rather than as two types of Ashrafi (Aynal and Qayitbay) and three ~ahiri. 5 ai-Jawhari 193a.
• John Wansbrough 'A Mamluk Letter of 877/1473', Bull. School of Or. and Afr.
lbn Iyiis, Bad{/i' al-Zuhur fi Waqii'i' al-Duhzlr (Bulaq, A.H. 1311), ii, 61-2. Studies xxiv (1961), 206, 212. t Rohricht 146- 7.
2 9
lbn TUiiin, Mufakahah al-Khillanfi al-Zamiin (Cairo, 1962), i, 24. s Fabri 102. Watson 21-2.
decades of the tenth/sixteenth century, with only a few references to the use
of ni,if, numismatic evidence indicates that these ni,if were neither half a
dirham coin weight nor of pure silver.
Circassian rule ended almost as it had begun in terms of its silver coins.
In both cases the weight and purity were dropping from an earlier standard. Weight of the Coins
Between these two dates the sultans had initiated a series of policies to meet
their financial needs as well as attempt to increase their personal income. Wt. in Theoretical Mean wt.
Coin qirats wt . in gr. in gr.
The reign of Faraj was the great turning-point for monetary developments.
The sign ificant shift in the gold: si lver ratio worked against Egypt's holding Nawriizi 8 1-488 l-45
its silver at a time when it was already short of silver. The economic crisis Mu'ayyadi 7 1-302 1·30
Ashrafl (Bars bay) 6 1·116 1·03
of 805-6/1403 and the creation of the trade dirham system allowed for new Zahiri 5:\ 0·992 0·81
opportunities for the sultan to increase his income by setting high exchange Ashrafi (Aynal) 4 0·744 0·75
rates for his own new coinage and low rates for that of his predecessors.
Considering the economic, and by extension monetary, dependence of the
Mamluks on Europe, especially for bullion, the Muslim rulers were very
successful in meeting the chal lenge of the Venetian grosso . The systematic TAilLE II

changes from Nawriiz to Aynal have an almost artistic quality about them. 1 Value (~f the Coinage
The ultimate failure of the Mamluks to preserve a silver coinage of uniform
weight, fineness, and value was guara nteed. On one hand, they never had Wt. in Value of Value of a
the natural resources to maintain such a policy nor did international monetary Ruler Coin qirats a coin dir. coin wt.
forces allow them to act in isolation. On the other hand, the Mamluks were al-Musta'in Billah Nawrf1zi 8 7~- units 15 units
scheming, ruthless rulers who wished to maximize their immediate incomes (815 / 1412)
with a minimum regard for the long-term consequences of their actions. ai-Mu'ayyad Shaykh
(815- 24/ 1412-2 1)
Mu'ayyadi 7 n 20- 16
The Circassian era was one of economic stagnation and decay coupled with ai-Ashraf Barsbay Ashrafl 6 7~ 20
increased military costs to buy troop loyalty and to fight foreign adventures. (825-41 / 1422-38) "
In this light it is very impressive that the silver coinage of Circassian Egypt al-Zahir Jaqmaq Zahiri 5! 8 24
(842- 57/ 1438-53)
and Syria was as good as it was for so long. al-Ashraf Aynal Ashrafi 4 8 32- 24
(857- 65/ 1453-61)
Since submission of this article two works have appeared which deal in
part with monetary changes in Circassian Egypt. Professor Eliayahu Ashtor
in his Histoire des prix et des salaires dans !'Orient medidva/, Paris, 1969,
summarizes some of the data, corrects a few of the errors found in earlier
works, and obliquely suggests the application of Gresham's Law without
detailing his argument. Professors Robert Lopez, Harry Miskimin, and
Abraham Udovitch in an article entitled 'England to Egypt, 1350- 1500:
Long-term Trends and Long-distance Trade', in Studies in the Economic
History of the Middle East, M. A. Cook, ed., London, 1970, state that
Gresham's Law had almost no application in the medieval Islamic monetary
context but unfortunatel y they did not elaborate upon their argument.
A recent article by John M. Smith on silver changes in Ilkhanid Iran indicates certain
parallel developments particularly in terms of the reduction in the weight of the silver coins.
However, Professor Smith states that in the Iranian case these changes represented in-
creased economic activity. John M. Smith, 'The Silver Coinage of Mongol Iran', JESHO
xii (1969), 16-41.