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Abjad and its use to mark dates on Muslim coins

The Abjad numerals are a decimal alphabetic numeral system in the Muslim world, in which the 28 numerals of the Arabic alphabet are assigned numerical values, and then the final numerical value is obtained by adding the component numerical values (by analogy with Hebrew language and its gematria).

These 28 letters of the Arabic script stand for: units 1 → 9; tens 10 → 90; hundreds 100 → 900; and, finally, one thousand (1,000). Therefore, we have: 9×3 + 1 = 27 + 1 = 28 letters with assigned numerical value.

The letters of the Arabic alphabet came from the Phoenician alphabet, and originally their order was not the same as it is today. The table below shows the order of Arabic letters by analogy with Phoenician letters (and other Semitic letters). Letters for which there were no analogies in Phoenician were placed at the end. Thus, 22 letters have analogies (for them the analogy of reading the corresponding Hebrew letter is presented), and 6 letters do not have analogies.

أ ب ج د و ص
Its numerical
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000
Arabic letter
ʾalif bāʾ jīm dāl hāʾ wāw zayn ḥāʾ ṭāʾ yāʾ kāf lām mīm nūn sīn ʿayn fāʾ ṣād qāf rāʾ shīn tāʾ [θ]āʾ khāʾ [ð]āl ḍād ẓāʾ [ɣ]ayn
Reading of the
Hebrew letter
alef bet
gimel dalet he waw zayin het tet yod kaf
lamed mem nun samekh ayin pe(i)
tsadi(k) qof re(y)sh shin

It should be clear now that the word abjad got its name from the first four letters of the table above, i.e.: alif, ba, jim, and dal.

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The earliest use of abjad on coins is attributed to the year 556 of the Lunar Hejira (i.e. 1160/1161 A.D.). To illustrate this example, consider a bronze dirham of the Artuqid dynasty minted in the specified year A.H., issued by Kara Arslan (reigned 11441174 A.D.), mint name Hisn Kayfa and Amid (Zeno 226485 | Zeno 79501 | lot 4-D6O8L6 on CNGCoins):

Artukid dirham coin year 556 indicated using abjad system

The date on the coin above is written from top to bottom between the head and the right arm of the depicted ruler. The record of the year is written according to the scheme [ ▪] (the ▪ sign in the scheme indicates the starting point of the reading): {سنة ثنو}. The letters of abjad follow the word sanat (year), also from right to left, and continuously (without spaces left between them). Thus, the year is calculated as follows: Year 500+50+6 = 556.

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Slightly differently the date is written on the bronze fels of Saltukids (rulers of the Anatolian beyliks of the Seljuk Empire) minted in the year 575 A.H. under Nasiruddin Muhammed (also known as Muhammad b. Salduq; reigned 11681191 A.D.). E.g., let's take a look at the coin Zeno 218045:

fels of Saltukids year 575 indicated using abjad system

Here, the year is specified on the top right above the archer rider. Here, the record of the year is written according to the scheme [ ▪]: {سنة ﻩ ﻉ ﺙ}. The letters of abjad follow the word sanat (year), but in the present example the abjad group is directed left to right (i.e. the direction which is opposite to the direction of the word sanat (year)); and besides, isolated form of writing abjad, instead of the merged form, is used. Thus, the date goes: Year 5 + 70 + 500 = 575.

 * * * 

Dates written using the abjad system were also indicated on some coins of the Juchid ulus, specifically which bear the name of the minting place Khwarazm. Such coins are described, for example, in the articles published by Ph.D. in history Pavel Nikolaevich Petrov (see sources [1] and [2] for more info). The above articles provide examples of coins that were minted in 660s and 670s A.H. (≈ 1260s 1270s A.D.) and discovered in 2000s A.D. in the area of the Dev-kesken-kala settlement.

The illustration below shows an anonymous dirham with a tamga, mint name Khwarazm and date written using abjad: 665 (see [1]: coin 25 from the summary table on page 122, detailed description on page 125, photo on page 146 (Plate 5)):

Khwarazm dirham year 665 indicated using abjad system

The date is indicated on the side with the tamga, at the bottom of the field of the coin, according to the scheme [ ▪]: {سنة خسه}. Thus, the date goes: 600 + 60 + 5 = 665 A.H. (1266/1267 A.D.).

 * * * 


1. Pavel N. Petrov, article Hoard from Dev-kesken-kala and problems of the beginning of silver coinage in the ulus of Juchi: collection of articles The Golden Horde civilization (Zolotoordynskaya Tsivilizatsiya), issue 3, 2010 pages 121149.

2. Pavel N. Petrov, article Finds of dirhams of the end of 13th century from Dev-kesken-kala: collection of articles The Golden Horde civilization (Zolotoordynskaya Tsivilizatsiya), issue 4, 2011 pages 218237.

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This article was published on April 11th, 2024.

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