Ancient Arabian treasure trove unearthed in Germany

From The National.

Archaeologists in northern Germany have unearthed a treasure of Arabian silver dirhams dating back to the first half of the seventh century in a spectacular find that proves brisk trade between the Middle East and northern Europe already existed more than 1,200 years ago.

Some of the silver dirhams found by archaeologists in Germany bear the King of Persia’s portrait (Stefan Sauer/EPA)

A total of 82 coins were found in a field near the town of Anklam, a few kilometres from the Baltic Sea coast, in excavations completed on September 2. They come from regions that are now Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and northern Africa. The oldest coins, about an inch in diameter, were minted around 610 AD and bear the portrait of Khosrau II, the 22nd Sassanid King of Persia who ruled from 590 to 628 AD.

Other coins in the trove were minted around 820 AD and have inscriptions in Arabic. “They are little works of art with delicately engraved writing on them,” Fred Ruchhöft, an archaeologist and historian at the nearby University of Greifswald who has analysed the find, said in an interview. “It’s good silver. It just needs a clean and then it’s like new.”

Archaeologists using metal detectors discovered the coins together with a silver bracelet and three small bars of silver scattered over an area 20 by 30 metres while examining the site of a former Slavic settlement from around 800 AD. They believe the treasure had been buried underground in a ceramic pot by a wealthy trader or craftsman. They also found remnants of the pot.

Centuries of ploughing had disturbed the soil, broken the pot and scattered the treasure through the earth.

“Viking raids there were common at the time, which may be one reason why the treasure was hidden,” Mr Ruchhöft said. “It may be that the owner was killed before he could retrieve it.”

This part of north-eastern Germany near the border with Poland has suffered from depopulation and economic decline in recent decades, but it was a boom region in the early Middle Ages because of its proximity to a 6,000km trading route.

The route led across the Caspian Sea, up the Volga, north-west across Russia towards what is now St Petersburg, and along the Baltic coast towards Scandinavia and northern Germany.

The traders were Slavs, Vikings and Arabs, and the goods were mainly transported by river and sea. Viking longboats could navigate both seas and rivers because they had a shallow draught which allowed them to sail in waters just one metre deep.

“Fur, amber and slaves from here were traded for pearls, rock crystals and silver from the Orient,” Mr Ruchhöft said. The dirhams were not legal tender in Europe but their intrinsic silver value made them a common means of exchange. That explains why most of the coins from the Anklam find had been cut in half or into quarters. Only seven dirhams were found intact.

“The find shows how global trade was already going on 1,200 years ago,” Mr Ruchhöft said. “It’s unclear if deals took place face to face with Arab merchants. There is no concrete indication that traders travelled the entire length of the route.

The trade is more likely to have taken place in stages at market towns along the way.”

The silver bracelet found at Anklam was made in the Volga river region of Russia, which supports the theory of interim trading stations because it suggests that a trade took place at some point along the Volga.

Michael Schirren, of the regional department of archaeology, said: “Coin finds from this era are extremely rare and this one is really significant because of the volume.”
Arab coins have been found as far north as Sweden and as far west as the British Isles.

The coins, bracelet and silver bars together weigh some 200 grams and were worth four oxen, or one horse plus one ox plus one young slave, Mr Ruchhöft said. “One dirham was worth around 75 daily rations of wheat or one pearl.”

From The National.


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