|Summer 2001AD / 1422AH Vol. 3.1|
A Century Old Numismatic Myth.
Henry Lavoix´s three masterly executed catalogues published by the Cabinet des Médalles of the Bibliothéque Nationale are
undoubtedly one of the high points of 19th century study of Islamic coins. That a few errors could be found in such an extensive work
does not tarnish, in any way, the brilliancy of this pioneering endeavor.
The minor error that concerns us here is in his volume on Espagne & Afrique (1891) and is simply a wrong guessing of the first digit of
the date on an early coin of ´Abd al-Rahman III. Under the nº 188 of the referred volume he describes a coin of this ruler from the
mint of Sikkat al-Andalus, that bears, for al-Andalus, the innovative and all important title of Imam. The date he proposes for this coin
is 316H. A photograph of the same coin seen by Lavoix will show us that the place where the digit should have been (at 4 o’clock on the
margin of the IIA) is effaced, probably due to the combination of a weak strike and an uneven blank. In any case there is simply
nothing there to be read and Lavoix must have just opted for the educated guess.
This little peccadillo of Lavoix´s would have been of no transcendence had it not been dutifully and uncritically taken up more than half
a century later by Miles (1950) as his nº 186 in volume II of his study of the coinage of the Umayyads of Spain. In this way the error
became dobly sanctified and was to be inadvertently and by now centennially perpetuated in a much later work by Frochoso (1996).
At this point one should recall, if we are to believe Ibn Khayyan, that it was precisely on the 13th of Ramadan 316 that the mint of
al-Andalus was reestablished by ´Abd al-Rahman III after a hiatus of no less than forty years. So if a “naive historian”, to use
somebody else’s contradictory expression, were to use, for example Miles´s classification, he would be faced with an ´Abd al-
Rahman III striking coins as an Amir late in 316 (Miles nº 185), who then, sometime, in the three and a half months left of the same
year changes to Imam (Miles nº 186), and then in the first part of 317 would return to Amir (Miles 187 a, b, c & a.), only to again
change, in the same year, to Imam (Miles 187 e, etc.....). All four changes in the space of a year or less! By now our very dizzy
“historian” would have to conclude that either ´Abd al-Rahman III had a highly unstable or whimsical personality or he would have to
invent for himself some mysterious historical forces to explain this zigzag of title changing.
What makes all the aforesaid rather amazing, aside of the evident foregoing of common sense, is the fact that Lavoix´s little error was,
more than a century ago, quickly detected and corrected in Vives´s (1893) corpus. For his work Vives used Lavoix´s catalogue
extensively and correctly attributed the coin discussed and another similar to be of the date 317H. See Vives nº 355 and his list
page 481 were only two coins are given for this catalogue number, one belonging to Vives´s own collection and the other is the coin of
the Bibliothéque national we have just discussed. Unfortunately, Lavoix died at the end of 1892, a few months before the publication
of Vives´s corpus, and was therefore unable to see or incorporate this correction, an eventuality that would have saved Miles and
others a certain embarrassment.
Moral of the numismatic story – don’t blindly accept what, even, an authoritative source says about a coin, but, above all, don’t forego
old fashioned common sense.
 I am indebted to Francois Thierry de Crussol, conservateur of the département des monnaies, médalles et antiques of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, for this
 His number 316.2d M.186a page 20-21.
 Ibn Khayan, pg.243.
 Even though Vives´s corpus is the oldest one on al-Andalus coinage it has, in a strange way, suddenly become one of the most modern, in the sense of giving graphic
proof of nearly all the coins catalogued. This is due to the recent discovery and publication of a volume of the near complete and original plates of the work as used by
the author for writing his corpus (a massive total of 222 plates, of mostly rubbings and some photographs). The original 1893 work had no plates at all.
 Vives´s collection, which is undoubtedly the best collection of coins of al-Andalus ever constructed, was eventually sold to the Museo Arqueologico de Madrid were
it is deposited - minus the gold coins lost in the Spanish civil war.
Abbreviations & Bibliography.
Frochoso (1986) Las monedas califales.De ceca Al-Andalus y Madinat al-Zahra 316-403H.,
928-1013 J.C, R.Frochoso Sánchez. Córdoba, 1996.
Ibn Khayyan. Al-Muqtabis, Ibn Khayyan al-Qurtubi. Madrid , 1979.
Lavoix (1891) Catalogue de monnaies musulmanes de la Bibliothèque National, II:
Espagne et Afrique, H. Lavoix. París, 1891.
Vives (1883) Monedas de la dinastías arábigo-española, Vives y Escudero. Madrid, 1893.
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