History of coins in Iran


Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenides, was well-informed about the importance of minting and establishing a mint but unfortunately he was deprived of this opportunity due to his rather early demise. Cambyses (529-521 B.C.E) was engaged with various wars and conflicts during his short period of rule and consequently he could not get any chance to deal with issues such as mintage. However, Darius I (521-458 B.C.E.) embarked on organizing domestic affairs, administrative distributions in the mainland and satellite states after establishing order in the vast empire of the Achaemenides. He paid studious attention to improving financial and economic status of his territories. Having establishes and solidified the administrative and financial order, Darius I addressed the issue of mintage. Under his decree, a mint was established. Consequently, gold and silver bullions were transferred from the treasury to the mint under a specific procedure. Probably, the mint was established after 514 B.C.E. as per the decree of Darius I, since some coins of Croesus and other Greek cities had been placed in the foundation of Darius’s Palace in Persepolis whose date of establishment dated back to 517-514 B.C.E. It indicates that there were no coins of the Achaemenides at that time.

Gold coins of the Achaemenides were called Dereyk and silver ones were called Shekel that weighed 8.42 and 5.60 grams respectively. Modern chemical analysis of Dereyk coins has revealed that it was 97% pure gold and there was just 3% alloy. Hence, these coins were well-known across Asia and Greece and they had gained importance as well. Other reasons for popularity of Dereyk included the order of their weight and easy transaction in businesses and trade. On all of Dereyk coins was a figure of the king standing and wearing a winged crown while his right knee was pointing forward and his left leg was oriented backwards together with an arch and a ball-head spear in the hands. This figure and image depicted him as an archer.

Alexander of Macedon

Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great and called as Alexander the Cursed in Persian Zoroastrian scripts, was the king of ancient Macedon. He studied under Aristotle by the age of 16 years old. He managed to establish one of the largest empires of the ancient world before the age of 30 years old. After the murder of Philip II of Macedon who was Alexander’s father, he assumed leadership and was enthroned in 336 B.C.E. Having inherited a powerful country and a skillful army from his father, Alexander attacked Minor Asia in 334 B.C.E. that was ruled by the Achaemenides. He managed to defeat Darius III, the last king of the Achaemenides, in a ten-year war and consequently he conquered all the Persian kingship. Alexander established new cities across his conquered territories, the most famous of which is Alexandria located in modern Egypt. Alexander’s conquest in Persia did not result in stoppage of activities of mints and they continued their operation by his coins. Alexander’s coins were so beautiful with lots of artistic intricacy and delicacy. Gold and silver coins were designed with various designs such as the figure of Athena and the head of Hercules draped in a lion skin on the obverse and the goddess of Nike and a seated Zeus on the reverse together with the name of Alexander. He died at the age of 32 in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon


After the death of Alexander, his territories were divided among his army commanders. Consequently, ancient Egypt was handed over to the Ptolemaic dynasty, Pergamon in Minor Asia together with Greece and European parts of Alexander’s empire was given to the Macedon, and Persia together with eastern territories were controlled by Seleucus I Nicator. Seleucus I was the founder of an independent kingdom that was named after him as the Seleucids. The beginning date of his rule was later established as the epoch for this dynasty.  Having defeated Antigonus, Seleucus called himself the Nicator that meant the victor and was enthroned in 312 B.C.E. The capital city of the Seleucids was initially the city of Seleucia that was located on the eastern side of Tigris and was built by him. Then, he constructed the city of Antioch close to the Mediterranean Sea and made it his capital. Successors of Seleucus couldn’t preserve the power and majesty he had established. Factors such as establishment of the Parthians, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in the eastern part of Persia and the victory of the Romans over the Seleucids in Syria in 64 B.C.E. resulted in the demise of the Seleucids. Seleucid’s numismatics were unique in terms of their artistic beauty and delicacy and paying attention to details of signs and inscriptions since the Seleucids had great skillful sculptors at their disposal. Alexander of the Macedon and the Seleucids were so influential in Hellenization of the Orient. Effects of such Hellenization could be seen during the rule of the Seleucids on their coins.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

Bactria or Bactriana which is called Tokharistan in the modern age, was the name of a vast territory in the eastern part of the ancient Persia. To the north, it was bordered by Sogdiana and the Oxus river (modern Āmū Daryā). To the east, it was bordered by China. On its southern side, the region was bordered by India. The capital city of the Kingdom was Oxus which is presently called Balkh located in the north of modern Afghanistan. Diodotus I Soter, was the first Greek king of Bactria. Diodotus became independent of the Seleucid empire around in 261 B.C. and established the Diodotid Bactrian Kingdom. Two categories of coins were used during that time as follows:

  1. Northern coins (Bactrian coins):

These coins were minted in the northern parts of Hindu Kush under the impact of Greeks. They imitated the Seleucids coins. Titles of the kings were made into the reverse in Greek.

  1. Eastern coins (Indo-Greek coins):

These coins were issued as they were shaped of four angels. Mintage of Indian and Greek coins began during the reign of Menander the Greek commander of Bactria whose date of coinage date back to 180 BC onward. These coins were bilinguals as some inscriptions were in Greek or Roman and another part was a translation of the Greek/Roman inscriptions in The Prakrits language and the Kharosthi script.

Parthian Empire

Arsaces was the founder of the Parthian Empire who was enthroned in 248 BC. The Parthian Empire brought a very glorious period in the history of the ancient Persia. By prudence, valor and courage, rulers of the Parthians managed to push out Alexander’s successors from Persia and founded a government that remained for five centuries. Coins used during the Parthians are considered as valuable documents and evidence of Iranian history, art and culture. Rulers’ images included on these coins are regarded as parts of Iranian artistic masterpieces. Parthian coins were made of silver and bronze which were called Drahm and Calco respectively. Real images of Parthian rulers looking leftward could be seen on the obverse. Rarely have coins of early Parthian kings been discovered where their faces directing towards right. In some occasions images of Parthian kings have been printed as full face images.

Elymais Kings

Elymais or Elamais referred to a part of the ancient Elamite located between Bakhtiari Mountains bordering the eastern part of Susa. The road passing through modern Ahvaz and ending to Elamite was one of the royal economic and commercial roads during the reign of Parthians and Seleucids. This road connected Persian Gulf to Persian Plateau. Having conquered the Medes, Mehrdad I who was one of the Parthian kings, occupied this territory and annexed to the Parthian Empire. Since it was not easy to control this area directly, the local king was reinstated in his position. Elymais kings continued to their social and political life until the emergence of Ardashir I‌, also known as Ardashir the Unifier, who overthrew this local kingship as he did with other local governments. Consequently, ‌Elamite was annexed to the Sasanian Empire. Local kings of the Elymais embarked on coining silver and bronze coins.

Kings of Persia

The region of Persia was of great importance during the rule of ‌ kings of the Achaemenides. Rulers of this region were of royal family and enjoyed special privileges. Upon the collapse of the empire of the Achaemenides, rulers of Persia pledged the oath of allegiance to Alexander. Consequently, the conqueror of Macedon retained them in their positions. As the birthplace of the Achaemenides, Persia has preserved lots of religious traditions and beliefs of the ancient empire. During the reign of the Seleucids (in the third century BC), four kings ruled Persia in sequence. They were called Fratarka meaning the governor of more specifically sub-satrap governor.  They were the first kings of Persia. Most probably, they assumed more power after the temporary exist of the Seleucids from Persia during the rule of Antiochus I Soter (280-261 BC) and minted silver coins.

Kings of Characene

Alexander intended to build a city called Alexandria at the cross section of Tigris and Karun rivers. After his death, this plan was forgotten for a while; however, a city was built in the same location during the rule of Antiochus dubbed ‌ Epiphanes, the Seleucid king. The city was called Antioch. It was of great economic and military importance and it was a bridge that linked important areas of Fars and Sistan with Babylon and Mesopotamia. Control and supervision exercised over this region prevented activities of pirates and guaranteed security of marine routes in the region. After handover of the rule of this region from the Seleucids to Parthians, this city and adjacent areas preserved their status and consequently their rulers attained more power. According to existing documents, local governments of this region could be categorized into three separate kingdoms as they ruled there.

These kingdoms were as follows:

  • The Hyspaosines
  • The Atambelous
  • The Mega

Sasanians or Sassanids

Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Empire rose to power after defeating and killing the last king of the Parthian Empire in Hormozgan located in Khuzestan and established the Sasanian dynasty in 224 BC. Ardashir was crowned at the Temple of Anahita in Istakhr. He founded a dynasty that ruled for some 428 years. This powerful dynasty collapsed when Arabs invaded their territories and killed Yazdgerd III, the last Sassanid king in 652 BC. During the rule of Sasanians, gold and silver and copper coins were called Dinar, Dirham and Pashiz respectively. Each of these coins had some denominations and decimals. Each of these kings had different crowns. Usually, names and titles of kings appeared in the circular inscriptions on the coins. Sassanid coins were so diverse in terms of designs and motifs. Through careful study of these coins, one could identify and get information about the real faces of Sassanid kings, types of hair and bears styles and accessories they used. Locations and years of minting the coins were included on the reverse together with the design of the fire vase as of the middle of their reign.

Sasanian seals

Sasanian seals somehow signal the social status of their owners. These seals are categorized into three types as follows:

  • Seals of kings, politicians and members of the armed forces which were mainly made of precious gemstone such as rubies, emeralds, desirable garnets, turquoises of Nishapur (or Nishabur), all fixed on a golden or silver ring.
  • Seals of ordinary people which were mostly made of semi-precious stones such as agates, pearls, hematite and jaspers which had a hole and shank through which a thread passed.
  • Seals of workers, farmers and stockbreeders which became current during the reign of Khosrow I (Anushirvan). Most of these seals bore images and some of them bore inscriptions. Inscriptions included the owner’s name, the father`s name and in some cases his positions, or names of places and sometimes pieces of adages. Some of these seals belonged to Zoroastrian clergies.


The Hephthalites were nomads who lived in Central Asia. They conquered Tokharistan, Balkh and Marv and ‌formed an empire, the Imperial Hephthalites, in the eastern part of Persian Plateau in 425 BC. The modern territories of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Khorasan were parts of territories of ‌ the Imperial Hephthalites. Names of the Hephthalites have been recorded as Xyon in Avesta. They have been referred to as White Huns or the Kidarites, too. The heyday of the Hephthalites was from 530 to 460 BC. The Hephthalites considered themselves heirs and descendants of the Kushan Empire. To revive the Kushan Empire toppled by Ardashir or Shapur I, ‌ the Hephthalites were engage in a war with Sasanian kings.

Kushan Empire

The Kushan rulers were nomadic people who rose to power in the second and first century BC. They have been referred to as Yuezhi in Chinese and Greek references. These nomadic tribes conquered Bactria and one of them named the Kushan or ‌ Kuei-shuang assumed power. Probably, they were members of Turks from Central Asia and/or Sakas.   The founder of the dynasty, Kujula Kadphises, defeated the whole of the kingdoms of Puda, conquered the ancient Kandahar and formed the Kushan dynasty. Within a short period of time, they managed to dominate modern-day territory of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.

Ispahbads of Tabaristan

After the fall of the Sasanian kingdom and the murder of Yazdgerd, the last Sassanid king in Marv in 625 BC, mintage of Sassanid coins continued in norther parts of Iran by a large local tribes called ‌ the Dabuyid or Gaubarid tribe. They were decedents of Jamasp, the Sassanid king and they ruled over Tabaristan from 761 to 489 BC. The first ruler of the Gaubarid dynasty was known as Gil Gavbarih who founded the dynasty and ruled over Ruyan and Gilan. He claimed that the rule over that territory had been assigned to him by Yazdgerd III. Gil Gavbarih was succeeded by his son, ‌Dabuya and he was followed by other rulers named Farrukhan, Dadhburzmihr, and Khurshid in sequence. No coins have been found from the tenure of Gil and Dabuyeh. Probably, the mintage of coins began during the rule of Farrukhan. Numerous beautiful coins have been found dating back to days of Farrukhan, Dadhburzmihr, and Khurshid.

Arab-Sassanid coins

Before the rise of Islam, the Arabs used common silver Dirhams of the Sassanid and the gold Byzantine coins (Dinars) in their trade and commercial activities. Dirhams and Dinars were purely used based on their weight values by Arabs and they did not pay much attention to the physical appearance of the coins. Arabs called gold Dinars and silver Dirhams as Ein and Varagh respectively. This trend continued after the advent of Islam during the rule of first three rulers after the prophet. Arabs began minting coins during the reign of the third ruler and made little modifications on the molds of Sassanid Dirhams. The first coins minted of this type bore some images of Yazdgerd III, Khosrow II and rarely Hormoz IV. They all bore features of Sassanid coins and the only difference made in the appearance of these coins was writing some Islamic terms such as such as Bismillah (in the name of God) and Jayyed (nice) in Kufic script on the edge of these coins.

Arab-Tabaristani coins

After death of Ispahbad Khurshid and the fall of Tabaristan to the Abbasids, the new rulers ruled this territory for 52 years and minted coins as the Gaubarid dynasty did. The Gaubarid dynasty minted coins according to styles of the Sassanid and this pattern was followed by the Abbasids for another 52 years. Consequently, these coins were common for some 102 years in Tabaristan.  The probable reason for continuation of minting these coins like the Sassanid style was the desire and commitment of people of this region to the past traditions and customs.

Ḳarā Ḳoyūnlū or Qara Qoyunlu Dynasty

Ḳarā Ḳoyūnlū Muhammad, the chieftain of Ḳarā Ḳoyūnlū tribe, who was residing around Lake Van together with his tribe during the rule of Abusaed, rose up using the existing chaos and conquered Azerbaijan and Iraq. He formed a dynasty that remained for more than 94 years. They incorporated an image of a black sheep on their flags and according they were called ‌ Ḳarā Ḳoyūnlū (meaning owners of black sheep). They were defeated by Uzun Hasan, the chieftain of the Aq Qoyunlu tribe (meaning owners of white sheep).

Aq Qoyunlu Dynasty

AQ Qoyunlu Turkmans were a Turkman tribe whose main living place was Diyar Bakr. They were named AQ Qoyunlu (owners of white sheep) due to the sign and color of their flags. Their real founder was Qarayuluk Osman. Uzun Hasan was the most famous ruler of this dynasty who defeated Abusaeed, one of the Timurid rulers and consequently conquered Azerbaijan, Fars, Isfahan and Khorasan. As the result of internal scuffles, AQ Qoyunlu Dynasty declined and finally its last ruler, Alvand Mirza, was defeated by Ismail I, also known as Shah Ismail I, who was the founder of the Safavid dynasty. It occurred in a region close Nakhichevan ‌in 1501 that resulted in the demise of AQ Qoyunlu Dynasty. Coins of AQ Qoyunlu were made of silver and bronze. The coins of this age could be divided to two groups namely countermark coins and common coins.

Qajar Dynasty

The Qajar dynasty was an Iranian tribe ruling over Iran from 1789 to 1925. The ancestors of the Qajar tribe were of the Turkic origin in north east of Iran who migrated to Iran from Central Asia following the invasion of Mongols. This dynasty was founded by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar (Romanized Âqâ Mohammad Xân-e Qâjâr). He chose a village named Tehran as his capital. The last king of Qajar Dynasty was Ahmad Shah whose government was toppled by Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1925. Having declared independence, ‌ Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar minted coins in spite of all wars and conflicts. His mintage of coins was a political ploy. The main currency during this dynasty were Rial, Toman, Qiran, Dah Shahi and Panj Shahi. Coins were made of copper, gold and silver. Gold coins included 2 Ashrafi, 1 Ashrafi, 5 Hezari and 2 Hezari. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Naser al-Din Shah’s rule, the first modern Iranian mint was established.

Pahlavi Dynasty

Reza Khan Mirpanj, also known as Reza Shah, rose to power via a coup in 1920 and became the minister of war. Then he was promoted to the position of the prime minister and finally he was become the king. He was crowned in 1925 and ruled for 16 years till 1941. He founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. He was succeeded by his son, Mohamad Reza Pahlavi in September 1941 who ruled Iran until February 1979. During the reign of Reza Shah the currency of Iran changed to Rial which has retained its position as the official currency up to now. During the rule of the first and second kings of Pahlavi, various coins made of gold, silver, bronze, copper and nickel were minted. Additionally, some coins and medals were minted on special occasions. Some of these coins were minted as part of the formalities of those events.