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The Dirham: Spain’s First International Currency

Room 23, showcase 16 Dirham of ‘Abd al-Rahman III. Al-Andalus, 316 after Hijra (AD 928–929). Silver. Pulse para ampliar Dirham of ‘Abd al-Rahman III. Al-Andalus, 316 after Hijra (AD 928–929). Silver.

Unlike the Visigoths and the early Christian kingdoms, the society of Al-Andalus made extensive use of coins: they were essential for the tax system, maintaining the army, trade routes, everyday life and paying tributes or parias to the Christian kingdoms.

When ‘Abd al-Rahman III founded the Caliphate of Córdoba in 929, he ushered in a period of stability whose monetary reflection was the minting of massive quantities of silver dirhams. The earliest issues officially proclaimed the political change, mentioning a Hispano-Islamic ruler with his name and titles for the first time: “Abd al-Rahman, Prince of Believers.”

The obligatory payment of all kinds of tributes and taxes in coin made the dirham an indispensable item for every social class. We often find perforated or broken dirhams: the perforated coins may have been used as jewellery or, judging by the archaeological evidence, strung on cords for easy transport; in the second case, dirhams were fragmented to obtain pieces of lesser value for making daily purchases in the souks.

Their international presence was also tremendous, circulating throughout the Christian realms of Iberia and the entire Islamic Mediterranean and even travelling as far as Russia and Asia.

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