Islamic Numismatics online seminar at Hamburg University

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March 22, 2012 – Beginning on April 13, 2012 Professor Stefan Heidemann of Hamburg University will offer a seminar on Islamic Numismatics as a Source for Economic, Political and Art History of the Middle East. The web class will cover various topics of Islamic numismatics.

Islamic Numismatics as a Source for Economic, Political and Art History of the Middle East

Beginning 13 April 2012, Friday 2-4 PM CET

Islamic coins are the most prolific epigraphic sources for pre 1500 history in the Middle East. Nevertheless their potential for understanding urban or regional history is often neglected, even in comparison to other material sources, such as ceramics and pottery, which usually get much more attention. This course is designed to introduce historians and archaeologists to the main issues of working with Islamic coins and coins finds.

Why are Islamic coins so important for history?
For the period prior to the fifteenth century, historians of Islamic societies have almost no primary documents or archives at hand. In contrast to scarce primary documents, the secondary sources – literary and historical accounts especially from the ninth to the tenth century – are abundant. This gross imbalance between the primary documents, produced in the course of the events, and chronicles written much later, has led scholars to depend greatly upon medieval but secondary authors. Coins offer the often needed primary independent evidence produced in the course of events.

Islamic coins as bearers of texts – there can be up to 150 words on one coin – are unique in the history of civilization. They are in fact a condensed form of text document which needs to be deciphered in various ways, serving different fields such as political, economic, industrial, social and legal, Islamic art and material culture, and metallurgy. As groups coins constitute a source of their own – such a sequence of coins from a single mint as historical narrative, as hoards and as archaeological coin finds form a single location they serve as a source for an economic and urban history.


  • The class will explore topics such as
  • definition and terminology of coins and coinage
  • production and organization of a mint
  • coins as means of economic exchange
  • coins in a legal context
  • history of coinage and economy in the Middle East
  • reading and analysing of coins from different periods
  • archaeological coin finds and their interpretation
  • coin hoards and their interpretation 

The web class explores these dimensions of the coins and coinages. The class will be held in English, via the internet. Registration in advance with the lecturer is mandatory for the preparation and setup of the equipment.

The class meets once a week for 90 minutes, in a small group, online. Lessons will be progressive. Estimated time to prepare the lessons will be at least 2 hours per week. Cancelled sessions due to illness of the lecturer (or unanticipated circumstances preventing him or her from teaching) will be made up (normally added at the end of the semester).

Application process and deadlines
Applications from outside of Unversität Hamburg must be emailed to Stefan Heidemann at the Asien Afrika Institut by March 20, 2012. They should include a statement of interest, and a brief CV.

For students of Universität Hamburg this course is part of their regular study. For students from other universities a recommended tuition fee will be asked of $250 or 200 euros for the semester. Means of payment for participants from countries without hard currency are available. The course includes 12 on-line sessions. If a student has to cancel his or her participation before the first session, he or she will be reimbursed the whole amount less a charge of 100 euros. Once the course is in session, no reimbursement will be paid for cancellation.

Students must have a firm knowledge of Standard Arabic and English. The command of English will be assessed in a personal online meeting before the semester starts.
Students need a computer, internet access, and a headset. In a personal online meeting at the end of March 2012, we will check whether all technical assets are working. Technical problems showing up during the semester that prevent a student from attending the class are his or her own responsibility and classes missed due technical difficulties will not be able to made up. However, if there is a technical problem preventing all students from participating, the class will be made up (normally added at the end of the semester). Further information and instruction will follow after registration.

For Students from universities other than Universität Hamburg a certificate of participation will be issued if the student has attended at least 10 meetings and if he or she has met the expectations as defined by the lecturer at the beginning of the semester (might include presentations in class or written exercises).

For further information visit the website at Hamburg University.