The Umayyad Caliphate, 65-132 H/685-750 AD,
Unnamed ruler, time of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan,
mint, 79 H/ 698-699 AD, Silver Dirham,
2.87 g / 26.5 mm
Field: la ilah illa / allah wahdahu / la sharik lahu
“no god but God, unique, He has no associate”
Margin: bism allah duriba hadha’l-dirham bi’l-basra fi sana tisa‘ wa sab‘in
“in the name of God this dirham was struck in al-Basra in the year nine and seventy”
Field: allah ahad allah / al-samad lam yalid / wa lam yulad wa lam yakun / lahu kufuwan ahad
“God is one, God is eternal, He does not beget nor is He begotten and
there is none like unto Him” Sura 112 (al-Ikhlas)
Margin: muhammad rasul allah arsalahu bi’l-huda wa din al-haqq li-yuzhirahu ‘ala al-din kullihi wa law kariha al-mushrikun
“Muhammad is the messenger of God who sent him with guidance and the
religion of truth that he might make it supreme over all other
religions, even though the polytheists may detest it” Sura 9 (al-Tawba), v. 33
The coins of the Umayyad caliphate have been the subject of some of my work recently, and I thought I would share one example with you, along with a highly entertaining story about how these coins came to appear in this way: namely, how they developed as aniconic (imageless) coins, featuring only text and, specifically, lines from Islamic religious texts, a form that would remain for at least 7 centuries.
The earliest Umayyad coins, struck after the islamic conquest of Persia and Syria, were simply imitations of the local currencies. There had not previously been extensive use of coinage in the Arabian peninsula, and there was little incentive for the conquerors to institute innovative designs.
According to a medieval Arab historian,
Ibn al-Athir, this was the reason that the Caliph, Abd al-Malik, decided to change the coinage within the caliphate to look like the example shown above:
Ibn al-Athir, Mention of Striking the Islamic Dirhams and Dinars: Year 76 AH Translated by Fawzan Barrage
“In this year ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan Struck Dinars and Dirhams and he was the first to innovate them in an Islamic manner and that benefited people. The reason for this innovation was that he ['Abd al-Malik] ordered that paper shipments to the Romans be stamped with [a Koranic Aya] "qul huwa Allahu Ahad” and that mention the Prophet PBUH be made with the date.That displeased the Roman King who wrote back: “You have made certain innovations which if you don’t rescind, you will find
our Dinars struck with a mention of your prophet that will displease you.” That was a threat that 'Abd al-Malik would not accept. He sent for Khalid bin Yazid bin Muawiyah to consult him. Khalid’s council was: “Forbid their Dinars and strike a new coinage which mentions Allah”. And thus the Dinars and Dirhams were struck.”
As ever, the best reason to innovate is out of pure spite for bigoted, irritating people who think they rule the world.
Today I went to Jericho to see the uncovered mosaic at Hisham’s palace (also known as Khirbat bayt al-mifjar). It was exquisite, the details, the colors of the mosaic and the different complex patterns.
The country in my fantasy novel is mostly inspired by Moorish Spain. I was wondering, would scimitars make sense to give to the basic low-level infantrymen in the army or would only the more wealthy/higher ranked people have those?
The cavalry have those. The scimitar is a blade specifically designed to be used from horseback. It’s the grandfather of most cavalry blades, including those used in Europe down through the centuries. The curved design and single edge meant it could slash enemies with less risk of losing the blade as you traveled past at high speeds. A stabbing weapon that buries itself in an enemy and you’re at risk of it getting stuck as the horse races past, then you lose your weapon. It was so successful a design that it traveled throughout the world.
The scimitar is a very visually distinctive weapon which is why you see
it everywhere, but it’s not an infantry sidearm. It also wasn’t the only sword in use.
The basic rule of thumb
for swords in the (mostly) western world is curved for cavalry and
straight for infantry.
The curved, single edged sword like a saber is also the weapon of choice for boarding actions in naval combat. The reason being that the single edged blade can’t be forced back into you when in tight quarters. (I know someone out there is crying, but katana. The Japanese thought that too about British/Naval sabers, they were wrong.)
It’s probably worth remembering as you begin your investigation that “Moor” was the European term for Muslim, and that covers a vast variety of different ethnicities and cultures from Persia to North Africa; many of whom practiced distinct variations of their religion. Because these cultures are so different, it’s important that you narrow your search down to specified groups. This will help you when it comes to determining weapons, troop movements, battle strategies, and tactics.
Some things to remember, the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula was one of the (many) factors that kicked off the Crusades. The Muslims of the period were more scientifically advanced than the Europeans. If you wanted to see a doctor in the Middle Ages, and wanted to live, you went to see a Muslim. It’s one of the many inventions we can thank the Middle East for, including our numerical system and the survival of Aristotle. You know, an interesting period in history.
However, in the beginning, at least, the conquered Spain was part of a larger empire that spanned the Middle East and North Africa. So, if you really want to know what weapons were carried then its important to look to the invaders and their culture. Whether the scimitar was even in use really depends on the period you want to reference. 711 A.D? 1011 A.D? 1212 A.D? Or when the last Muslim foothold on the Iberian Peninsula finally came to an end in 1492, around the same time Columbus sailed the ocean blue?
It’s a huge period in history that covers a lot of ground. Try to remember that military evolution happens very quickly, and is influenced heavily by the enemies engaged.
When it comes to Moorish battle tactics, I know very little about them. I can tell you they tended to favor lighter armaments and light horses/coursers rather than the heavy. Here’s an overview of the Umayyad conquest that includes troop movements.
The answer to your question, though, of what did the infantry use is spears.
More nerds discussing Medieval Arab warfare, strategy, and tactics on the Historum forums. (Love your nerds.)
Always remember: Wikipedia is a jumping off point for research, it is not the end. It’s a decent overview that will give you a grounding to start from but, as any good college professor will tell you, you want the citations at the bottom not the article header or the words in the middle.
The subject of warfare is complicated, to say the least, and covers a vast array of
cultures across both Europe, the Middle East, Eastern
Europe/Byzantine/Ottomans, and, occasionally, Central Asia.
Hopefully though, this gives you a jumping off point for more specified research into the time period and the armor worn/weapons wielded/tactics used.
Built by Byzantine workers, the Dome of the Rock was constructed by the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik between 689 and 691.
It was the oldest islamic building we have and the site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to some Islamic scholars, the rock is the spot from which the Islamic prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven.
A holy struggle or striving by a Muslim for a moral or spiritual or political goal
People of the Book :
The name for Jews and Christians for whom the Muslims had religious tolerance; called this because each religion had a holy book with teachings similar to that of the Qur'an.
The first dynasty of Arab caliphs whose capital was Damascus.
A dynasty that ruled much of the Muslim Empire from 750 to about 1250.
Turkic people who advanced from strongholds in Asia Minor during 1350s; conquered large part of Balkans; unified under Mehmed I; captured Constantinople in 1453; established empire from Balkans that included most of Arab world.
Dome of the Rock:
Muslim shrine containing the rock from which Mohammad is believed to have risen to heaven; Jews believe Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on the rock.
Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem, Israel. 692. Constructed under the Umayyad Caliph Abd al Malik.
The interior mosaic decorations have remained since the 7th century, as opposed to the building’s facade. In the 16th century the exterior mosaic was replaced with magnificent tile, then again in the 20th century.
These decorations feature crowns, jewels, jeweled vases, trophies, non-terrestrial trees, and honorifics (crowns of defeated/converted rulers).
The motifs avoid figural representations, solely utilizing Quranic verses to convey religious narrative, unlike early Christian architecture that displayed dogma through figures of Christ. Islam’s preference for aniconism hardens and slacks throughout its history.