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The Evolving Representation of the Early Islamic Empire and Its Religion on Coin Imagery
By Stefan Heidemann
The Qur’an in Context, edited by Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai and Michael Marx (Brill, 2010)
Introduction: How did the theology of Islam and its idea of an empire evolve, based on the Hellenistic Romano-Iranian foundation, in the face of Christianity, Judaism, Neo-Platonism and Zoroastrianism? This much debated question has once again raised much scepticism and polemic against ‘established’ knowledge and its sources. The extreme points of view taken in this controversy at large are possible to maintain because there are few undisputed Arabic sources on the first decades of Islam.
In this discourse, imagery and text messages on coins became more important than ever, because the knowledge of these coinages has grown tremendously since the 1990s. Coins offer the only continuous and contemporary independent and primary source for the period of the genesis of the new religion and its empire from Spain to Central Asia. Frequently interpretations of the Islamic coin imagery by political and art historians disregard the proper numismatic context of the seventh century AD. The present contribution attempts to provide a brief overview on the development of the coin imagery, as it is discussed today.