Ottoman Coins in the Attic

Our regular Mesopotamian correspondent has been looking at a different aspect of life in the area during World War One for this post

Ottoman Coins in the Attic

Tragically, as we observed in a recent posting, many of the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Norfolk regiment who served in Mesopotamia now rest in modern-day Iraq. As the calamity of Kut al Amara unfolds that number will increase dramatically. But the 2nd Battalion were not alone in the Norfolk Regiment in serving in the war against the Ottoman Empire; the territorial and yeomanry battalions, too, saw action in  Gallipoli, Palestine and Salonika (which had been restored to Greece from Ottoman control only in 1912 during the First Balkan War).

Those soldiers who returned to Norfolk would have brought home souvenirs of their service overseas, and hidden away, perhaps unrecognized and unregarded, there might be the coins, the change, that they picked up in Ottoman lands. It can be no surprise that these small treasures are sometimes found particularly by families in Australia and New Zealand, brought home by returning ANZACs, many of whom, like their British compatriots, were in transit through Cairo and later were reassembled in Egypt following the evacuation of Gallipoli.

At that time, Egypt was still nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, although in 1867 the Sultan had acknowledged a local viceroy, known as the Khedive, governing in the Sultan’s name, while after 1882 effective management of the country lay with the British.

Ottoman coins fall roughly into two kinds: those minted in Constantinople for circulation throughout the empire, and those minted in semi-autonomous Egypt, which also circulated widely.

A small cupro-nickel coin, 18mm in diameter, value 2 kurush (kuruş), from the reign of Sultan Mehmed V and dating from 1912/13 (AH 1327 Year 3) (image may be freely used)

A small cupro-nickel coin, 18mm in diameter, value 2 kurush (kuruş), from the reign of Sultan Mehmed V and dating from 1912/13 (AH 1327 Year 3) (image may be freely used)

Turkish coins from the  First World War are quite easy to recognise:

  • they have arabic script (Turkey did not adopt Latin script until 1929, as one of the reforms of the government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk);
  • they do not have any images, in accordance with Islamic practice;
  • they have a tughra on the obverse side of the coin instead of the Sultan’s profile.

A tughra is the monogram of a sultan designed in fine calligraphy. It has a special meaning for each sultan (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tughra).

The tughra of Sultan Mehmed V (1909-1918) (public domain image)

The tughra of Sultan Mehmed V (1909-1918)
(public domain image)

The basic unit of the Ottoman currency was the lira which was issued in gold. The lira was subdivided into 100 kuruş issued in silver, but by the time of the First World War mostly in cupro-nickel like a modern British 10 pence piece. One kuruş was further subdivided into 40 para issued in copper and later in cupro-nickel. (For more detailed information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_lira)

A gold 500 kuruş, ½ lira coin, minted in Constantinople in AH 1336 Year 1 (1918/19) and displaying the tughra of Sultan Mehmed VI (public domain image)

A gold 500 kuruş, ½ lira coin, minted in Constantinople in AH 1336 Year 1 (1918/19) and displaying the tughra of Sultan Mehmed VI (public domain image)

The gold coins are quite scarce and it would be unusual to find them among family keepsakes, but we can tell a lot about the lower denomination coins which might turn up by understanding a little of the inscription or legend on the coin. We can find three pieces of information fairly easily:

  • the currency amount or denomination;
  • the year it was minted;
  • the sultan in Constantinople at the time of minting.

The last of these is the easiest, since the tughra on the obverse of the coin (where HM The Queen’s head would be on our coins) is as distinctive as a portrait, because each sultan had his own. A good reference for this is the list of Ottoman sultans at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sultans_of_the_Ottoman_Empire

The dates on Ottoman coins were shown according to the Islamic calendar in years AH, that is ‘Year of the Hejira’ (anno hegirae) or the year when the Prophet Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina, which we take to be AD 622 in the Christian calendar, or CE 622 as it is sometimes now written.

The coin below is a cupro-nickel coin, 28 mm in diameter: the tughra is of Sultan Abdülhamid II, and the date can be calculated using the numbers shown circled in red on the reverse of the coin and in yellow on the obverse.

(image may be freely used)

(image may be freely used)

 

Firstly, we need to recognise the Arabic numbers minted on the coin:

mes coin 5

The number circled in red gives the AH year of the accession of the sultan: in this case 1293. The number circled in yellow gives the number of years into the sultan’s reign when the coin was minted: in this case 32. Thus, by adding the regnal year (32) to the accession year (1293), we get a minting year of AH 1325. Converting the AH year to the AD year is best accomplished by using this converter recommended by the U.S. Middle East Librarians’ Association: http://www.mela.us/committees/hegira.html

Entering a date of 1/1/1325 and converting from Islamic to Christian gives a date in 1907, which is the year of this coin, and which would certainly have been in circulation when troops from Norfolk were in the Near and Middle East.

There are many complications in computing the precise date, so the result should be seen as 1907/08, since the first day of the Islamic calendar (1 Muharram) does not coincide with the 1 January, and the regnal year of the sultans began at various dates.  Here is a list of the years mostly likely to appear on coins brought home by servicemen:

AH year AD year AH year AD year AH Year AD year
1298 1880/81 1311 1893/94 1324 1906/07
1299 1881/82 1312 1994/95 1325 1907/08
1300 1882/83 1313 1895/96 1326 1908/09
1301 1883/84 1314 1896/97 1327 1909
1302 1884/85 1315 1897/98 1328 1910
1303 1885/86 1316 1998/99 1329 1911
1304 1886/87 1317 1899/00 1330 1912
1305 1887/88 1318 1900/01 1331 1913
1306 1888/89 1319 1901/02 1332 1913/14
1307 1889/90 1320 1902/03 1333 1914/15
1308 1890/91 1321 1903/04 1334 1915/16
1309 1891/92 1322 1904/05 1335 1916/17
1310 1892/93 1323 1905/06 1336 1917/18

 

Converting between Gregorian AD and Hejira AH years is complicated because the Gregorian calendar is based on solar cycles and the Hejira calendar on lunar cycles; the Gregorian year has 365 days whilst the Hejira year has just 354 days. If you really want to convert manually, here  is one way:

where G = Gregorian year and H = Hejira year:

G = H + 622 – (H/33)

So, for the coin above: G = 1325 + 622 – (1325/33) = 1907

H = G – 622 + {(G – 622)/32}

So, for a coin minted the year war broke out: H = 1914 – 622 + {(1914-622)/32} = 1332

This 1 qirsh (kuruş) coin was minted in Egypt. The design of Egyptian coins of this date includes the denomination mark on the obverse below the tughra, with the regnal and accession years on the reverse. In this case the mint mark for Misir, the Turkish name for Egypt, is also shown on the reverse. It was minted in 1914/15.

(image may be freely used)

(image may be freely used)

NB ش in Arabic script means qirsh or  kuruş.

This is a tiny Egyptian 1 para or 1/40th qirsh coin – the lowest denomination of the time, about the size of a modern British 5 pence piece but in copper. It would have been in the change of every soldier shopping in Cairo. In this case the regnal year is on the obverse, and the accession year on the reverse. The mint date shouldn’t be difficult to calculate.

(image may be freely used)

(image may be freely used)

Coins do not have the personal intimacy of letters and medals, but they can be a link with times past and places to us unknown but which were familiar and important in the lives of the men who served in distant lands.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s