Old Yemeni coin record issued [Archives:2005/817/Last Page]

February 18 2005
A collection of old & new Yemeni coins and banknotes
A collection of old & new Yemeni coins and banknotes
Mohammed bin Sallam
A book has been issued by the Central Bank of Yemen, headed by Ahmed Abdul-Rahman al-Samawi, on Yemeni coins throughout the ages.

Metal coins provide evidence of Yemen's history and civilization, giving an indication about key aspects of the nation's pre-Islamic economy. Many of the coins remain intact, some made of cast silver, bronze, copper or gold.

Trade relationships with other civilizations such as Egypt and Greece are reflected in the images are sometimes apparent from the images on the coins.

It is believed that Yemenis sometimes used shells and gemstones in bartering for other products in pre-historic times. People continued to deal in the same materials until the discovery of metals (copper, bronze, silver) at the beginning of the third millennium B.C. and the commencement of dealing in silver.

Shells, as a type of currency, had been used in earlier times in the history of Yemen. This is probably because shells have similar shapes but with different sizes. Shells also were used by other nations for the same purpose. Some sources claim that the yellow shell was the most widespread and famous ornamental coin.

It was used as a type of payment in India, the Middle East and China for many thousands of years.

The oldest of the coins dates back to around 400 B.C. The mention of some of these coins was linked to Sabai and Qatabani kings in agricultural contracts or tax instruments to specify the kind of payment required.

They are proof that Yemenis took up trade and many of them depended on it for their livelihood. They bought and sold, imported and exported, and set up seasonal markets.

There are many silver coins of this type of which is a collection of different types distinguished by an image of a man or woman turning to the left. The face has prominent features with the hair bound with a circular band. The head has no neck. On the other face, there is the owl perching on a horizontal twig.

The body faces the left while the head faces the front, with wide circular eyes, and pointed peak. The owl has its head and body prominent while the wings are lowered with discernable outline. In some coins, the body appears to be erased and three letters (sh, ain, ra) are written on the left side of the owl between the leg and the head.

Other letters are written right behind the owl in an empty space such as (ya) juxtaposed with a small image of a crescent. This kind of coins feature manifold images and scripts.

Woman head and owl:

Dirham (made of silver). Diameter: 15 cm. Thickness: 5 cm.


A woman's head with prominent physical characteristics . the coin is square in shape which caused the exclusion of the lower part of the face including the mouth and part of the forehead.

The head seems to be wrapped with a band that holds hair locks together at the middle. Two locks swing over the brow. They are circular and each of them contains three circles. And three small locks appear above the ear. The head hair ends from behind in spiral locks. Concerning the face, eyes are in the form of small spots over which eyebrows are seen diverging upward and downward forming something like a gaping snake. The nose bridge meets with the eyebrow and on the right-hand cheek, two letters are discernable in Musnad script: the letter “ya” the higher part of which touches the ear and in inverted “noon” in the center of the cheek. The hair locks on the forehead resemble the letter “noon”.


It bears the image of an owl posing while facing the left and its head to the front. The square shape of the coin also has made a loss in the head and the ground on which the owl stands. In front of the owl there are three letters: a portion of the letter “sheen”, and two other letters “'ain” and ” ra'” making up the word equivalent for “poetry”.

Head of a woman and an owl:

Dirham (silver), circular in shape with a rugged edge. Weight: 5.1 ounce. Diameter: 15 mm.

The face: the head and the face has a smooth face and features like the previous one. However, in this one, the position of the eye is lower and the nose is snubbed. There appear also the mouth and the lips and the cheeks bear the letters “ya” and “noon”. The coin reflects different faces when held at different angles and shows different Musnad letters.

The back: the owl whose characteristics seem to have been eroded has lost its tail. The letters “'ain” and “ra'” remain but the letter “sheen” is lost.

A woman's head and an owl:

Half dirham (silver), weight: 2.4 gm. Diameter: 12 mm.

The head and face features have smooth surface and the hairstyle is similar to the previous coins. The position of the eye is lowered and the nose is pointed. The letter “ya” stands besides an unrecognizable letter. When the coin is held and moved from left downwards, an animal with a lion head is seen on the left side of which a fox stands on a head facing the front. Around the image several Musnad letters can be read.

On the back there is an owl in the same position and with the same letters. There is a small shape of a crescent behind the owl.

Sabai coins:

Shahr Hilal Thi Yathu'

Dirham (silver), weight 2.5 gm. Diameter: 2.6 mm.

Face: the King's head is facing the left-hand direction with visible characteristics. A turban is set on the head and head hair is drawn to the back in plaits behind the ear and back onto the neck. The hair on the brow, and the plaits as well as the facial features form the name of the King in Musnad reading “Shahr Hilal Thi Yathu'”


An owl stands on what appears to be a dagger. A row of letters is seen beside the owl on the left side starting at the bottom upwards: It seems to represent the three first letters of the King's name. Over them, there are yet other three letters (sha, ain, ra'a) which always occur next to the owl. Another phrase can also be read with the letters arranged from up to down which says “habar bilail”(he attacked at night), may be alluding to the night activity of the owl. A pattern is repeated along the coin's edge consisting of a line and a dot.

Yarim Ayman:

Dirham (silver). Weight: 2.2 gms. Diameter: 16 mms.

Face: The king's head is in the middle with conspicuous characteristics with a bloated face exuding vitality, clean-shaven chin and moustache and a fine nose facing the right-hand direction. The hair is drawn backward and plaits dwindle in the form of arranged dots to the back of the neck covering the ear. Lines of the hair head form the name of the king (Yarim Ayman).

On the back of the head, there is the symbol of the spear and in the middle a line biased upwards. In front of the face, there is a vertical line curved in the middle like a bow. The symoble of the moon and the crescent are seen over the head.

Back: an image of a two-horned ox image appears in the center. Resembling those of an ibex, the horns meet below the images of the crescent and the moon. on the right-hand side of the head, the letters “meem” and “ha” are seen, while on the left-hand side, there is a religious symbol resembling a tilted ladder, and the same dot-and-line pattern is found on this coin at the edge.

Metal coins:

Ancient people of Maeen, like other peoples in the world, dealt in bartering. They paid the state and the temple in kind and so were paid officers, employees, peasants, and laborers. This habit was practiced until the days when money came into currency. Governments started to mint money. Yet the state was not able to produce enough quantities due to insufficient raw materials.

Maeeni people knew money and minted it. A dirham was found bearing the image of the king sitting on the throne with clean-shaven chin, and his hair goes down in plaits. His right hand holds a flower or a bird while his left hand grasps a long stick. To the back of his head, his name is written in clear letters (Ab Yathu'a), and in front of him, the first letter of his name is written (alif) in Musnad. This indicates that he was the one who gave orders to cast the coin. Such coins have great importance in the study of commercial relations between the Arabic Peninsula and the external world.

The coin named “Ab Yathu'a” must have been inspired by a Greek coin that had reached the Arab Land because it was minted very accurately and with vivid letters suggesting the presence of experience on the part of the mint workers which enabled them to skillfully depict names of kings on coins.

Coins from Hadhrami State:

It is known that Hadhramout State's coins were minted from bronze and an alloy of other metals. They have cracks and holes on them. Usually one face of the coin reflects the head of a person (male/female) with the hair spreading like sunrays forming Musnad letters. The other face bears the image of a standing ox with three letters (sheen, qaf, ra'), the name of palace in Shabwa (capital of Ancient Hadhramout at the time) above it. this coin also contains many inscriptions, and natural images of people, animals and birds. They date back to unknown periods. They are purely Yemeni and have no foreign element.

Coins from Qataban:

Shahr Hilal: found in Hareeb. Dirham (silver). Weight: 1.1 gm. Diameter: 11 mm.

Face: the king's head faces the left-hand direction with a turban on his head and hair drawn backward covering the ear. Facial features are clear.

Back: small-size king's image in the center with Musnad letters surrounding it. at the bottom, there are the words “hareeb” and “shahr” written in Musnad.

This coin was minted under the reign of Qatabani king Shahr Hilal. It is a size smaller than the coin with the same name. Positions of the head and the style of writing are similar to those of Himiari coins such as the coins of king Amdan Bain, King of Saba and Thi Raidan.