North Cyprus  

The Ottoman Coinage of Cyprus

  by Dr. Gyula Petrányi  
First published in Arkeoloji ve Sanat, July-August 2000, p. 45-48.
Reproduced here with kind permission of the editor.
  Part 2

The first part of this article dealt with the different types of akçes produced in Cyprus during the Ottoman period (1). Although these coins are considered rarities, there are a number of specimens in various museums and private collections around the world. The second part of the article covers the only other known coin denomination struck in the Ottoman mint in Cyprus, another silver piece-larger and much rarer than the akçes. A report prepared by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities in 1934, one of the first publications to present coins with the KIBRIS (Cyprus) mint name, provides examples of this denomination (2).

The Antiquities Department report briefly details a hoard of Turkish coins discovered during a partial demolition of the Tripoli bastion of the medieval walls of Nicosia in the early 1930s. There were a number of gold and silver pieces in the hoard, many of which, according to the report, "did not find their way to the Museum." The catalogued specimens were primarily small silver coins of Selim II (A.H. 974-982/A.D.1566-1574), Mehmed III (A.H. 1003-1012/A.D. 1595-1603), and Ahmed I (A.H. 1012-1026/A.D. 1603-1617), and the report only lists their mint place and diameter, failing to provide further information or photographs.




Based on the diameter measurements of the coins published in the report, it appears that the hoard contained one akçe of Selim II minted Constantinople, 13 akçes of Mehmed III struck in Bursa, Novaberda, Aleppo, and other uncertain mints, and 56 silver pieces of Ahmed I-of which two different sizes were identified. Thirty-eight of the coins in the latter group were undoubtedly akçes, a number of which bore the mint names Constantinople, Edirne, and Canca. The other 18 specimens were larger than the akçes, measuring 16-25 mm. in diameter. Canca, Aleppo, Amid, Kara Amid, and KIBRIS were identified as the mint places of these silver pieces. The two coins attributed to the Cyprus mint (entry no. 22) measured 20 mm. in diameter, and a footnote to their entry cited the following remark: "Mr. Walker [curator of coins at the British Museum] informs me that No. 22 with the mint mark KIBRIS is unusual and if it should represent Cyprus, it is a new mint. The hoard represents the Turkish currency after the conquest of Cyprus and it is to be regretted that the gold coins were not available to the Museum."

Unfortunately, the fate of the coins described in the 1934 report is unknown. The existence of similar large Ottoman silver pieces from the Cyprus mint has been confirmed in subsequent publications, however. The catalogue of Islamic coins in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum (3) lists specimen no. 1669 as a silver coin of Ahmed I minted in Cyprus, weighing 1.4 gr. and measuring 19 mm. in diameter. Kenneth MacKenzie also published a photograph of this silver piece in his 1981 article on Ottoman Cypriot coinage (4). By courtesy of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum a sharper picture of the same specimen is presented here.

The obverse of this Cypriot silver piece displays a tugra (imperial monogram) with the name Ahmed clearly legible in the main left loop and bin Mehmed Han ("son of Mehmed Han") in the lower part of the tugra. Traces of a linear border and an outer border of dots can also be seen. The reverse contains the standard legend 'azze nasruhu/duribe/KIBRIS ("may his victory be glorious/struck/Cyprus"), with the word duribe in a hexagonal arabesque. Ahmed I's accession year, A.H. 1012 (A.D. 1603), is partly off-flan below the mint name. Due to certain irregularities in the field, this piece might be an overstrike on another, so far unidentified, coin. Rolf Ehlert, a German numismatist specializing in Ottoman coinage, has a similar silver piece in his collection, weighing 1.268 gr. Although the mint name on Ehlert's coin is not as clear as that on the Archaeological Museum specimen, it can be accepted as KIBRIS.

Classification of these rare Cypriot silver pieces presents a problem. No primary documentary evidence mentioning such a denomination exists, and various numismatists have used different names to describe similar contemporary coins from other Ottoman mints.

Of the four large Cypriot sliver pieces of Ahmed I recorded to date, the two that are available for examination display the same tugra/horizontal, hexagonal arabesque design on the obverse and reverse faces respectively. These coins are much bigger and heavier than the akçes and are also different from contemporary medinis. Medinis of Ahmed I never have a tugra, their diameter is smaller than the KIBRIS coins, and their mean weight is lower than 0.8 gr., as calculated from a description of a large hoard published in 1977 (5).

Although the tugra did not appear on medinis, it was stamped on contemporary dirhems produced in eastern Ottoman mints. These silver pieces measured around 20 mm. in diameter, weighed approximately 2.5 gr., and were engraved with a variety of reverse designs. Other coins stamped with the tugra and ranging 16-20 mm. in diameter-but weighing only 1.0-1.5 gr.-are listed in various catalogues of Ottoman coinage as dirhems, half-dirhems, and gümüs ("silver") without further explanation. Specimens of such silver pieces dating from the reign of Ahmed I have been recorded with the mint names Amid, Kara Amid, Canca, Erzurum, Haleb, and Van. Some of them have a reverse design resembling that of the coins struck in Cyprus, but their reverse legend contains the honorific phrase hullide mulkuhu ("may his reign be everlasting") rather than 'azze nasruhu, making them a bit different than the Cypriot silver pieces.

After the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1571, four sanjaks located in nearby mainland coastal areas were annexed to the island, which became the new provincial and tax collecting center for these territories (including Alanya, Ichil, Zulkadir, and Tarsus). (6) One can assume that the same types of coinage circulated throughout this region, and it is unfortunate that we do not know the precise weights and designs of the coins in the Nicosia hoard. Perhaps the large specimens were dirhems, or even coins of uncertain denomination like the Cypriot silver pieces.

Without the evidence of additional hoard descriptions, it is also unclear exactly how representative the specimens in the Nicosia hoard are of the coins circulating in Cyprus in the early seventeenth century. If dirhems were commonly used for commercial exchange on the island and nearby areas on the mainland, it can be conjectured that the large Cypriot silver pieces are a half-dirhem denomination. It is also possible that they are besliks, or five akçe pieces. This theory is perhaps more plausible since their weight, measurement, and designs resemble Type 2 besliks of Murad IV (A.H. 1032-1049/A.D. 1623-1640) (7). The rare Cypriot silver pieces might represent an early small-scale trial launch of the beslik denomination by Ahmed I before its mass production commenced in Constantinople under Murad IV. This theory fits well with the sequence of Ottoman monetary developments in the period following Ahmed I's rule, which witnessed the introduction of the ten-akçe piece, or onluk, and the transition of the medini into the para (two-akçe) denomination, creating a single, logical system for Ottoman silver currency based on the akçe as the unit. Hopefully, fresh discoveries and publication of Ottoman coins from this era will clarify these suppositions and cast new light on Ahmed I's rather enigmatic silver pieces of Cyprus.  

  1. Petrányi, G., "The Ottoman coinage of Cyprus," as-Sikka 1.1 Fall 1999.
2. du P.T.J., "Hoard of Medieval Coins from Tripoli Bastion, Nicosia," Cyprus Department of Antiquities, Report No. 2, Nicosia, 1934.
3. Artuk, I. and Artuk, C., Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Teshirdeki Islâmî Sikkeler Katalogu, vol. 2, Istanbul, 1971.
4. MacKenzie, K., "Ottoman Silver Coins from Cyprus," Numismatic International Bulletin, 364, 1981.
5. Lachman, S., "A Hoard of Medins," Spink Numismatic Circular, 35, 1977, pp. 423-425.
6.  Hill, G., A History of Cyprus, vol. IV, "The Ottoman Province, the British Colony, 1571-1948," Cambridge, 1972.
7. Yenisey, E. and Ehlert, R., "The Introduction of the Para and Beshlik in Constantinople under Murad IV," Newsletter of the Oriental Numismatic Society, 160, 1999, pp. 3-4.
  Arkeoloji ve Sanat (Archaeology and Art) is a bimonthly periodical published in Istanbul, Turkey. Dr. Brian Johnson is the editor of foreign material. It contains also numismatic articles. I am grateful to him for his support to bring out the most of this topic and for the arrangement that a photo of the museum piece could also be published.