|Coins and Commerce: the numismatics of the Indian Ocean's trading networks, 10th-13th centuries|
|It has been argued that the circulation of monetary instruments was one of the strands holding together the Indian Ocean trade networks and the regionís nexus with the Mediterranean world from the 13th century onward (Haider 2006). But what of the earlier period, when trade networks connecting the two worlds were already in place? Documents from the Cairo Geniza testify to the use of Mediterranean Islamic currency in Dahlak in the Red Sea, Aden in Arabia, and in the port cities of Western India in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. Coin finds from the Indian Ocean littoral attest to both what the documents suggest, i.e. the circulation of Mediterranean Islamic currency in the region, and to the simultaneous use of locally minted, sometimes imitative, coins, most remarkably in places about which the documents are silent. In sum, coin finds and currency-related documentary evidence can illuminate the workings of trade networks before the 13th century in the following ways:
1. Coins signal relationships of exchange between traders, and incorporation of local economies into transregional networks. For example, equivalencies of Yemeni and Egyptian dinars recorded in Geniza documents point to the integration of Jewish tradersí networks with Muslim, Hindu and other partners in Egypt, Yemen and India. Fatimid coin finds in East Africa constitute witnesses to the little known means and mechanics of the Swahili branch of the India trade.
2. Local issues of coins at port cities bear on the nature of the polities involved. Thus the striking of coins by port administrations may indicate specific claims of sovereignty, as is the case for the city state of Dahlak in the Red Sea. Similarly, the textually attested founder of an Islamic dynasty that ruled over the East African trading center of Kilwa has been demonstrated by silver and copper coin finds to have minted coinage in his name, coins whose circulation and density of deposition suggests the extents of the administrative sway of Kilwa.
3. Coining practices may signal artisan networks across the Indian Ocean; such a connection has been postulated from the early Islamic coins found at the Lamu archipelago and their equivalents in the Sindhi port of Daybul.
4. Presence of Islamic coins beyond the geographical confines of Islamic rule (e.g. Western Indian Ocean port cities) begs questions of reception and acceptance of their form and message. Recent scholarship on the reception of public epigraphic material in India and Arabia (Patel 2004, Lambourn 2004) may provide a suitable theoretical framework from which to derive the pertinent questions and possible answers.
This paper aims at surveying and synthesizing the textual and material numismatic evidence from the port cities of the Western Indian Ocean (in Arabia, East Africa and Western India) in an effort to elucidate the above-mentioned four themes as they relate to the proliferation of networks across the geographical, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural divides that Indian Ocean networks often straddled.