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FIGURATIVE ARTUKLU COINS
2000 / FEBRUARY
Since ancient times people have been fascinated by the heavens, and interpreted patterns of stars and planets as signs of the zodiac. These human and animal figures of astrology appear in decoration on all kinds of objects made by many different civilisations, including the Turkish Artuklu principality and Seljuk state from the 12th century onwards.
The mystic science of astrology began with the Babylonians, and influenced works of art among the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese. Occult and astrological meaning was invested in figures of animals, angels, mythical creatures such as dragons, and scenes of combat between animals. In medieval times scholars became particularly fascinated by these subjects, which were described and illustrated in many 12th and 13th century manuscripts. The biographical memoir of Nasr-el-Din Sivasi and the first part of Cezeri’s book of automatons have illustrations which reveal the fascination of the Islamic world at this time with astrology and the occult.
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FIGURATIVE ARTUKLU COINS
2000 / FEBRUARY

The motifs of these sciences embodied metaphysical values thought to bring good luck, ward off the evil eye, or work spells, and hence they were used in both secular and sacral architecture and artefacts of all kinds, applied to wood, stone, pottery, fabric, and metal. They also appear on coins, such as those of the Artuklu.

The Artuklu principality ruled over an area of southeastern Turkey which included Hasankeyf, Mardin and Harput from the late 11th century until the 15th century. Their coins show Roman, Byzantine and Islamic influences as well as Turkish, but above all they were influenced by the Seljuks. They produced mainly copper and a small quantity of silver coins.

Their designs include Byzantine style busts with curly hair, angels, two-headed eagles, dragons, the sacred trees deriving from Shamanistic beliefs frequently used by the Seljuks,

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FIGURATIVE ARTUKLU COINS
2000 / FEBRUARY
olives, dates and the pomegranate, symbol of abundance and fertility. There are motifs symbolising sovereignty and power, subjects from daily life, motifs of mystic significance and others referring to mythological stories.

One interesting example is a coin bearing the figure of an angel belonging to the ruler of Hasankeyf, Nureddin Muhammed. Where the coin was struck is not known, but it is dated 1175. The winged figure of an angel in the centre has a halo symbolising the light of heaven and rank. Art historian Robert E. Darley-Doren believes that the angel is a messenger bringing news of the ruler’s sovereignty.

Among the Seljuks, angels were seen as both bringers of good news and as guardians. Two angels carved on the walls of Konya Castle are clearly there in the capacity of guardians, while angels depicted on coins together with hunters may be intended to bring good luck to the hunt.
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FIGURATIVE ARTUKLU COINS
2000 / FEBRUARY

So we see that, as illustrated by those of the Artuklu, coins were not merely functional objects of exchange, but reflected concepts of the state, religious beliefs, and culture. They are a valuable source of information for historians and art historians, telling us when particular rulers reigned and the titles they assumed, about economic life, recording names of cities which no longer exist, plants of the time which perhaps are not known today, historical events, and the influences of other civilisations on the art and culture of the people to whom they belonged. In other words these tiny objects are remarkable documents with far more to reveal than meets the eye at first sight.

 


* Gündegül Parlar, sanat tarihçisi.

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