Historical roots of Yemeni coin minting: An ‘Abbasid Legacy’ [Archives:2007/1068/Culture]

July 16 2007

Nisreen Shadad
The process of minting coins in Yemen spans back thousands of years. The use of currency in the Arabian Peninsula dates back to the end of the fifth century B.C. Minting of local coins began in the fourth century, with manufacturing of Athenian coins. Adoption of Athenian currency was a direct result of the trading relationship in areas between the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea. Evidence of coin minting within Yemen has been found in connection with many time periods, particularly during the Abbasid period.

Yemen became an Islamic province in 628 A.D, and the first Islamic coins were issued under the 'Abbasid Caliphate. No evidence has been found to confirm the exact date of minting of the first Islamic coins. “It is very hard to specify the particular year as a result of the lack of evidence and information on this issue,” Abdul Aziz al-Gendari, general trustee of the national museum in Sana'a. From the limited information currently available, evidence of the oldest Islamic coin dates back to 156 Hijri, during the Caliphate of Abi Ja'afar al-Mansour. It carried the name of the crown prince al-Mahdi and was displayed in a museum in Istanbul, Turkey.

Minting of coins has existed within various Yemeni kingdoms of the past, such as al-Zaydya kingdom in Sa'ada, al-Zyadia and al-Najahya kingdoms in Zabeed, and al-Rasulya and al-Taherya kingdoms. In addition, coins where manufactured during the Mamaleak and Othmani periods, during the rule of Hamead al-Dean, and within the two Yemeni republics.

The Global History of Currencies (GHOC) mentioned that silver coins were issued in Sana'a in 788 A.D and gold coins were produced in 835 A.D. During the second half of the 11th century, the Sulayhi rulers (1047-1138 A.D) began to issue coins in the Egyptian Fatimi style. In 1174 A.D,Turanshah, the brother of Saladin, conquered Yemen and began issuing Ayyubid-style silver coins.

The Ottomans issued gold, silver and copper coins in the Ottoman style, Ottoman coins from Egypt and Syria, as well as Maria Theresa thalers. Maria Theresa was the Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria (the title of Empress came in 1745 A.D. when her husband, Francis Stephen, was elected Holy Roman Emperor). The silver thaler was the currency of the Roman Empire and the Austrian hereditary lands. It was very important for trade with the Levant (parts of Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria) and became the best-known and most popular silver coin in the Arabian peninsula.

Al-Gendari revealed that during periods of Islamic rule, people continued to use similar coins; however, they strove to inscribe several Islamic statements, such as “There is no God but Allah,” on the coins. In 76 Hijri, the Amawi Caliph Abdul Malik Ibn Marwan started to translate all inscriptions into Arabic. There is no evidence of the minting of coins in Yemen during the Amawi period.

When Yemen unified, coins had been issued in Northern Yemen in denominations of 1,5,10, 25 and 50 fils and 1 R.S. However, the fils denominations have all disappeared from circulation. In 1993, new coins were introduced by the Central Bank of Yemen in denominations of 1 and 5 R.S. These were followed by 10 R.S. coins in 1995 and 20 R.S in 2004.

At the time of unification in 1990, the Central Bank of Yemen issued notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 R.S. In 1993, the 1 and 5 R.S notes were replaced by coins, with the same happening to the 10 R.S notes in 1995. In 1996, 200 R.S notes were introduced, followed by 500 R.S in 1997 and 1000 R.S in 1998. The 20 R.S notes were replaced by coins in 2004.

Illustrations of Yemeni Currencies


Buqsha is a former monetary unit of the Kingdom of Yemen. This term came from the Turkish word Bagja or Bgja and it indicates a bundle of dirhams. In Sana'a, buqsha means a piece of cloth in which clothes are placed and tied up. The term buqsha did not indicate a particular amount of money. One riyal during the periods of the Imamate in Yemen, as well as after the revolution is equivalent to 40 buqsha, according to al-Gendari.

Abbasi period (750 – 1258)

On the coin's front is written, “Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, al-Mahdi Muhammad; Caliph's son and Mohammad is the messenger of Allah sent with guidance.” On its back is written, “There is no God but Allah, who has no partners.”

The oldest Abbasi dirham manufactured in Yemen, in Sana'a was in 169 Hijri and it is kept in the national museum of Qatar. Written on the front of the dirham is, “There is no God but Allah who has no partners,” and on the back, “Al-Abbas, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

Another dirham, manufactured in Sana'a, dates back to 173 Hijri. It carried the name of Harun al-Rashead and his governor in Yemen during the period (170-173 Hijri), 'Al-Ghatreaf bin Atta'a al-Canadi'.

The Abbasi dinar was produced during the period of the Caliph Mahdi in 167 Hijri. Another dinar was produced in the period of Harun al-Rashead, dating back to 171 Hijri. It included an inscription of al-Rashead's name as well as the name of his governor in Yemen, al-Canadi. Al-Canadi is the first governor to have his name inscribed on a coin.

Yemeni kingdoms and Imam Currencies

During the Rassuli period (626-858 Hijri/1229-1454 A.C), mintage started under the auspice of Sultan Omar bin Rasul, also called Nor al-Dean.

During the Yahya Bin Hamid al-Dean period, various coins were produced, such as quarter of the tithe, one-eighth of tithe and one tenth of the tithe. They were mostly made of copper. The inscription on the front stated, “There is no God but Allah,” and on the back, “Allah's advocacy.”

Ahmed bin Hamid al-Dean manufactured copper buqsha similar to that produced under his father, however, he also manufactured coins made of aluminum. Similar inscriptions were written on the front and back. The main difference, however, is what was drawn on the outer space of the coin, which would usually include the name of the ruler and some type of drawing, such as stars.

Indian rupees were used in Aden, while both Indian rupees and Maria Theresa thalers were used in the protectorates of southern Arabia. Some smaller coins were issued by local states. British Indian currency was the official legal tender in Aden from 1839 to 1951.