19 Temmuz 2007 Perşembe

Devarya, an unknown Ottoman Mint in Eritrea


During the last ten years or so there have been some discussions about an Ottoman copper coin with an enigmatic legend, as to whether this represents the coin's denomination or the name of its mint. The coin concerned is known from perhaps half a dozen specimens present in a few collections. It shows distinct similarities with 16th - 17th century (10th - 11th century AH) Ottoman copper coins from the Yemen and is therefore thought to originate from that part of the world. As it is unknown for any pre-19th century Ottoman coin to have its denomination or value shown as part of its inscription, it may be safely assumed that the inscription on this particular coin represents its mint name, and not its denomination. Having said that, this then leaves us with the identification of the mint name of these coins.

The Coin

The legend in Arabic script on the coin's obverse from the top downwards shows the usual dhuriba (it was struck), where the letter ba forms a horizontally drawn-out line below the letters dha and ra; (dha is used to decribe the Arabic letter that is normally transcribed by a d with a dot below it, which I cannot do in my computer) below this horizontal line of the letter ba there are the naturally unconnected letters: dal-wau-alif-ra-ya; below these letters is the word sanah (year) again in a horizontally drawn-out line, below which there is the year 974, the year of Sultan Selim II's accession.

The coin's reverse shows a hexagram of two superimposed triangles with dots and accents, very similar to the reverse of the large Ottoman copper coins from Malhaz in the Yemen which, incidentally, show the same year.1) Thus the coins under discussion look like a fraction of the Malhaz coin. See illustrations Fig. 1-5.

The coin's weights are around 2.8 g, its diameter 12-14 mm and its thickness 1-1.5 mm. Its metal composition visually appears to be pure copper. The existing coins are generally fairly well struck

The proper reading (e.g. the letter ra might also be read as zay) and voweling, and therefore the pronunciation of what should be the mint name, appears not to relate to an existing or known topographical name in the Yemen, and has sofar remained an enigma.

Interested numismatists have tried to identify the coin's inscription as dawari, dawariya or dawazia etc. with known names in the Yemen, using historical literature and narrative sources, not only going thorough indexes, but also checking texts. As no corresponding place name is recorded for this coin, an alternative meaning, e.g. the coin's denomination came to mind.

The denomination dawari has apparently been recorded from a 17th century Yemeni source 2) and it is said to be known from an Iranian coin too3), but clear references fail. To solve the enigma, it was suggested that on this coin perhaps the denomination rather than the mint name is shown. So far the reading of this word has remained a problem to which this presentation proposes a fitting solution

Dr. Vladimir Suchý has always insisted that the coin's legend represents its mint name and suggested to attribute it to a so far unknown mint place. In 2000 he published an article in a Turkish numismatic journal on Selim II s coinage in Yemen, where he has provided a drawing and a photo of this enigmatic coin and mentioned two of these coins in the Tuebingen collection which originate from the former Album collection.4) Since then several more of these coins have come to light in private collections.

During the last five years I have also tried hard to find a proper mint place for this enigmatic coin. It is well known that the Ottomans did not mint copper coins in small villages or unimportant places. The coins should have been minted in important administrative centers. Eventually I came across this relatively unknown place, Devarya or Dawariya, an Ottoman fortress, in today’s Eritrea on the west side of the Red Sea, instead of in Yemen. I found this information in the book ”Habes Eyaleti” by Cengiz Orhonlu5). The mint place of this enigmatic coin was Devarya (Dawariya, Debaroa......etc.) without any hesitation.

When I wrote to Dr. Suchy about this discovery, in return he immediately sent me copy of a letter by the late Samuel Lachmann6), dated 20th November 1990 (see attached). As you will find in this attachment, Lachmann was not as lucky as I, to read Orhonlu’s book but he had cleverly suggested 15 years before me, that this coin was struck in Debaroa.

Solving the problem

Debaroa was located in present day Eritrea. It was briefly the capital of the Ottoman Habesh Eyalet (province) during the early period (later the seat of that Ottoman administration was moved to Sawakin on present day Sudan's Red Sea coast). It was a fortress named variously as Debaroa, Debarva,and Devarya . In Orhonlu’s book, although the author himself has used Debaroa and Debarva rather than Devarya, in official documents given in the book7), the name of Devarya has been used instead of Debarva. Documents have been written with divani calligraphy. In divani line (dal) is written like and sometimes (ti) is used instead of in Ottoman Turkish. But normally as it is the case on the mangir, has been used. Devarya in one official document was written8) but in an other one was written9). In all cases it is normally read Devarya (Dawariya).

Historical Context

In the middle of the 16th (10th AH) century, as a result of an economic crisis due to a shortage of precious metals (specially gold) in the Ottoman Empire, the Porte followed an active policy of searching for and exploiting sources of wealth in Africa, starting from the Egyptian border southwards to Mombasa in East Africa including today’s Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. The Ottomans decided to establish a province in Habeshistan (Abyssinia / Ethiopia), in order to control the trade in gold, ivory and slaves which were available there in regular supply. The Ottomans started a military action in southern Egypt under the command of Özdemir Pasha, when Khadim Sulayman Pasha was beylerbeyi in Egypt (1524-1535). As a result quite a large portion of this area came under the control of the Ottomans (Qasr Ibrim and Derr in southern Egypt) and later also the port of Sawakin on the Red Sea coast.

On occasion the Ottoman military authorities in Yemen had supported the Muslim Sultanate Adal across the Red Sea with Ottoman soldiers armed with muskets, in their struggle against the Christian Amhara and Tigre rulers of Ethiopia, further to the north, who in turn, had called on Portuguese assistance against the Muslim invaders.

In 1554 (962 AH) the Ottoman army under former Yemeni beylerbeyi Özdemir Pasha started military actions in and managed to take control of the Red Sea ports of Massawa and Arkiko in 1557 (965 AH) in order to counter Portuguese influence there.

“The Ottomans estimated and expected nearly 60.000 sultanis worth in gold in return by establishing a province in Habeshistan". It is also documented that they intended to strike coins, sikke, in the Sultan's name, and mention his name in the khutbah.10)

"The Ottoman Turks under Özdemir Pasha seized Massawa and Arkiko [Harkiko] in 1557 and fought their way up into Hamasien, where they built a fortress at Debarwa, south of Asmara.This provoked strong Tigrayan resistance. The Tigrayans drove the Turks back toward the coast but could not dislodge them from Suakin, Massawa and Arkiko, and the Turks made repeated incursions into northern Ethiopia during the remainder of the century, at times gaining the support of rivals of the [Ethiopian] emperors."11)

Devarya (Debarva, Davaro, Debaroa, Debarwa etc.) and its environs were under the control of the Ottomans in 1559. Devarya (Dawariya) had a strategic importance for military action and for controlling the region. The Ottomans built a strong fortress with a big mosque (jam'i) and many mescids (masajid) there. It was a central and strong fortress to keep the spoils safely. After Özdemir Pasha died in Devarya from a serious illness in 1560, the Ethiopians captured Devarya and destroyed everything there. Özdemir's son Uthman Pasha took back Devarya and its environs again from King Minas in 1562. In 1576 the Ethiopians captured Devarya again but the Ottomans took it back again in 1577. In 1579 Sarsa Dengel, King of Ethiopia attacked the Ottomans and took back Devarya again. Devarya was in the hands of the Ottomans again from 1582 till 1588. After this date political relations were established between the beylerbeyi of the Habesh Eyalet and the Ethiopian kings. In the middle of the 18th century the Habesh Eyalet lost its importance as there was not sufficient revenue for its administration.12)

From the 1820's onwards, a much reduced Habesh Eyalet became part of the Egyptian controlled territories along the western Red Sea coast after Mehmet Ali assumed the rule of Egypt as its Khedive. From the middle of the 19th century the western Red Sea coast ports became much contested territory by the expansionist policies of the European colonial powers (France, Britain, Italy mainly), especially so after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

From the numismatic point of view there is no better attribution for this coin than the Devarya fortress. Clear proof of this would come in new finds of such coins or other denominations / metals for the same mint in Eritrea or Ethiopia. Apart from these copper coins, up to now only one Ottoman gold sultani from the mint of Tacura (Tajoura) is known, presumed by some to be from the western Red Sea region.13)

General Note

The location of Debarwa / Devarya in present day Eritrea is still known. It is shown as Debaroa, at coordinates 15o 5' North by 36o 33' (map) East approximately, according to an old map of the area produced by Werner Munzinger in 1862 and published in his book Ostafrikanische Studien (Schaffhausen, 1864). There are several publications by early European explorers of those lands from the middle of the 19th century onwards, who mention the name Debaroa / Debarwa as an existing settlement, but without any further information on its status or condition. However, on Munzinger's map it is shown in extremely small letters, and does not even merit a dot for its exact location, just west of the upper reaches of the river Mareb, which eventually flows into Sudan near Kassala under the name Gash.

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