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Coins of faith and power at the British Museum

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, British Museum curator of Islamic and Iranian coins, talks through the messaging on some Persian coins. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

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Video transcript

Sappho bitcoins in a way continue a tradition that has been there for centuries they are important both from an economic point of view from a monetary point of view they were used for trading and of course their inscriptions give messages to those who handle them to the public and the rulers use the inscriptions to talk about their religious affiliations then gradually the language changes from arabic to persian and all this information comes through on these tiny little pieces that may look very boring actually to the ordinary person this is a gold coin of shah abbas it's very small as you see but it hides an awful lot of information on both sides now normally in Islamic coins you have in the center la ilaha illallah muhammad rasool allah there is no god but allah and muhammad is his messenger his prophet but here the bit about the Prophet is actually around the center it says la ilaha illallah around the central part but bang in the middle in the center it has the name of Imam Ali the son-in-law of the Prophet and the successor to the Prophet seen by the Shiite Muslims so it's quite a message quite an important message that is given here back of the coin you have information about the ruler whose minted the coin and it says in Persian Shah havilah yet the ruler of the kingdom of Ali Imam Ali and here again Shah boss is actually emphasized his allegiance to Imam Ali the first Shiite Imam the son-in-law of the Prophet now this is an example of the most exquisite Persian osterlich calligraphy on a coin the date is 11:21 hydro which corresponds to 1709 and the front always shows the proclamation of faith so that's how you know what which is the front which is the back and again beautiful Persian nastily la ilaha illallah muhammad rasoolullah I'd leave Ali hola so there is no god but Allah Muhammad is His Messenger and Ali is his friend so beautifully decorated also with flowers and dots the back gives the name of the ruler the Safavid ruler hussein and here like all this half of it titles that the Kings use the ruler calls himself bandy ashore hvala yet the servant or the slave of the kingdom of ali and right at the end at the bottom of the coin written beautifully zarbor Isfahan minted at Isfahan in 11:21 Hedra which corresponds to 1709 there's a clear message that sort of the the persian aspect the iranian aspect of the Safavid dynasty and the staff of it house plays an important role and persian is a very important part of the national identity of the servants