The Seljuqs in Baghdad

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by Ursula Kampmann

August 1, 2013 – From Hindu Kush to East Anatolia, from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf – the Seljuq Empire in the High Middle Ages surpassed everything in Europe back then. In 1055, Tughrul Beg, grandson of the eponymous hero, conquered Baghdad. This is the starting point of the exciting book written by Yahya Jafar, which Ursula Kampmann introduces you to here.

Yahya Jafar, The Seljuq Period in Baghdad 447-552 H. A Numismatic and Historical Study. Spink London 2011. In English and Arabic. 2 x 77 p. 12 pl. 21 x 30.5 cm. Hardcover. Thread-stitching. 50 pounds. ISBN 978-1-907427-12-1.

It is a tragedy how little many of us know about the history of the Near East. This is partly due to the hardly comprehensible names that are written in a new way time and again and that are unfamiliar to us, partly due to the fact that there is hardly any truly exciting and yet easily accessible academic literature on that subject available. This is all the more reason to welcome this book, published in 2011 by Spink. In an exemplary manner, it combines numismatics and history, and is quite suited to fill a little knowledge gap because the author is a highly gifted narrator, who is a pleasure to follow on the devious routes of Seljuq history.

This opus, however, is more than a history book – it is a special catalog of Seljuq coinage between 447 and 552 after the Hijira and 1055 after the Christian era. The author follows two paths here. There are the plates, on the one hand, where all coins discussed are illustrated. Not every piece, though, is in such a good condition that the inscription can be fully read. Hence, Yahya Jafar adds the description of the Arabic inscriptions of the pieces to the text – parallel to the history of the Seljuqs.

When occidental Europe was confronted with the Islamic empires on a large scale during the First Crusade, the Seljuq Empire was too concerned with its own interests to make a stand. Admittedly, the conquest of Jerusalem wasn’t the Seljuq’s fault but that of the Fatimids, who had retaken Palestine from the Seljuqs only a few years before. Nevertheless, the continuous fights at the borders cost much energy, almost as much as the fratricidal wars between the various aspirants to the throne.

The Seljuq Empire had been split into individual parts. And when Sanjar prevailed as the last Sultan of the Seljuqs in 513 – or 1119, respectively – no one would have guessed that he was to outlive his empire, because, at first he managed to unite the Seljuq Empire again. That, however, came to an end with a single battle in summer 536 or 1141, respectively. Expenses had been high. The expedition is said to have cost 3 million dinars. And then, the soldiers of the sultan were wiped out, all but a few men of his elite horsemen. It was a grace of five years before Bagddad was conquered and Sanjar captured. It is that year’s coins the catalog of Yahya Jafar end with.

I would like to recommend this book to everyone. Reading the text is a pleasure. And with the precise descriptions even I would dare to identify Seljuq coins even though I haven’t got a clue of Arabic language.

And this is why, unfortunately, I can’t give a professional opinion about the book’s Arabic translation that is included in its entirety as second part. But one thing I am absolutely sure of: this book is highly likely to make a lot of friends amongst collectors of Islamic coins.

You can order this book online at Spink.