We handle coins every day of our lives and barely give them a second thought, but to Trent Jonson they are goldmines of information.
Thanks to the generous support of a scholarship programme established by Yousef Jameel, Trent has been able to undertake a DPhil at the Faculty of Oriental Studies (Khalili Research Centre) in the Ashmolean. His dissertation is on the monetary history of the Umayyad Dynasty in North Africa and Spain.
“Coins can tell us a lot about a society in a very small package. Where there is little archaeological evidence or written records, we can discover the names of rulers, mints and issuing authorities by reading the religious inscriptions. We can get some idea of the economy from metal content, and the circulation patterns of coins tell us how far they travelled. Islamic coins are particularly good because they often carry a lot of documentary evidence.”
Trent has created a database of over 2000 early Islamic coins from museums and private collections in Copenhagen, Berlin and Madrid. This evidence will be used to create a monetary history of the Umayyad Caliphate in North Africa and Spain during the earliest period of Islam.
“Coinage is a way of standardising exchange because the coin can be of a particular size, shape and weight and can bear inscriptions that validate it as the issue of the ruler. They are documents on which rulers asserted their credentials as leaders of the community.”
Trent also looks at the metrology of the metals and weight standard, using specific gravity and Laser Mass Spectrometry tests that measure the composition of the gold content and trace elements. These can tell us things about the precious metal content of the coins which can in turn answer questions about the monetary policies of the early Arab governors of these regions.
“This coin is a one third dinar or a tremissis that was minted between 84 and 87 hijri. These coins are tiny, typically 10 to 11 mm and the legends are highly abbreviated, making it hard to decipher them. The evidence is not very forthcoming but they are still extremely important pieces of archaeological evidence.
“I’m constructing what I hope will be a complete monetary history of the period from approximately 685 to 750 AD. I believe this research will be ground breaking and I could not do it without the scholarship.”