Sasanian Minting Practices


Fig. 2. Map of Sasanian mint locations throughout the duration of the empire: ca. 224-628 CE. Click to enlarge.

The Sasanian Empire's minting practices

While Iranian kings had minted coins from the early Achaemenid period, the Sasanian dynasty mastered the art of coin-making. The first Sasanian coins were minted by Ardashir I after his rebellion against the Arsacids. He modified the Arsacid design, placing an anchoring image on each side: a royal portrait on the obverse and a Zoroastrian fire altar flanked by soldiers on the reverse. By doing so, he created a clear association between state and “church,” or more accurately, the office of the king and the Zoroastrian faith. Ardashir's successors used this template for their own coins, though each modified it in some way to reflect his accomplishments and values. While the fire altar image remained largely unchanged, the royal portraits evolved to mark each new reign. Incoming Sasanian monarchs chose a new crown for themselves, often featuring architectural, animal, or astral symbols. The minor differences between the royal crowns make each member of the dynasty easily identifiable (check out our "Activities" page to view a chart depicting every Sasanian crown).

The Sasanians built a sophisticated mint network to produce their coins. Under their rule, coin minting operations were highly centralized. This is reflected not only in the unique designs created for every ruler, but also in the remarkable consistency found throughout the Sasanian monetary system. In addition to stylistic benchmarks, Sasanian coins were nearly identical in terms of design, denomination, material, and weight. The only thing differentiating a coin minted in the empire's western regions from one minted in the east was the "mint mark" - an abbreviation, in Pahlavi (Middle Persian), of the coin's place of origin. The increasing number of mints which were established and incorporated into the coin-minting network, demonstrated the organizational efficiency and administrative power wielded by the Sasanian king and his court. 

Sasanian Minting Practices