Iran has a coinage history as long and diverse as the land that makes up the modern-day republic. On the crossroads of several trade routes and being ruled by a large number of successive dynasties, kingdoms, caliphates, and other empires, the coins of Iran (traditionally Persia) offer a history of central and south Asia like no other.
Today, Iran borders the countries of Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and shares its coinage history at times with those direct neighbors as well as other nearby lands, such as India, China, and Russia. To understand the coins of Iran and Persia is to understand the history of all these nations over the last 2,500+ years.
Iran coins in antiquity
Some of the earliest coins used in modern-day Iran were from the Achaemenid Persian Empire, during the 500s-300s BC. This empire stretched over all of modern Iran and beyond, extending as far as northern Africa and into Europe. Silver coins were used by the Achaemenids. In 312 BC, following Alexander the Great’s death, Iran and its neighbors became part of the Seleucid Empire, which also used its own coins in the Hellenistic tradition.
Another main era of Iranian coinage history was the Parthian Empire, an Iranian (not Greek) power that lasted from the 200s BC until the 200s AD; they were overcome by the Sassanids and then the Umayyad Caliphate based in Syria. From 750 until 1258, the Abbasid Caliphate controlled much of northern Africa and the Middle East, including all of Iran.
The coins of these various empires and caliphates were not only silver, but gold. Several gold coins from many different Iranian powers are seen for sale to collectors these days, and can be the subject of fierce competition and significant interest to collectors of all types.
Medieval Iran coins
The Ghaznavid Empire, based in Afghanistan, ruled much of Iran for part of its history, as well as lands stretching to the east of Iran. Over the next couple hundred years, rulers of Iran included the Great Seljuq Empire, the Khwarezm Empire, and the Ilkhanate Empire. Subsequent dynastic rule was shared at various times between the Chobanids, the Jalayirids, the Muzaffarids, and the Sarbadars. Although coins from these entities were used, some are hard to find for sale nowadays, being quite rare.
Modern Iranian coins
The Afsharid Dynasty, at its height in the eighteenth century, and the short-lived Zand Dynasty saw the end of pre-modern Iran. In 1796, the Qajar Empire began. Its borders, though changing from time to time through conflict, were basically the same as modern Iran is, though at times parts of Pakistan and other countries were included under the Qajar area.
In 1925, the Pahlavi Dynasty began, lasting for roughly fifty years and establishing itself as an enthusiastic issuer of gold coins, which are much beloved by buyers these days. (There are also quite a few silver Pahlavi coins available.)
In 1979, following the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of the Pahlavi shah, a new republic was decreed: The Islamic Republic of Iran. Thus began the most recent issuance of coins in Iran; these coins use the country’s only unit of currency, the rial.
Units of currency on Iranian coins
Although there are no subdivisions of the modern rial, a toman is not exactly an official unit, but is widely used colloquially to refer to 10 rials.
Unsurprisingly, there have been many other units used for Persian coins throughout the centuries. These include the ubiquitous dinar, the shahi of the Samanid Dynasty, the abbasi of the Safavid Empire, and the naderi of the Afsharid Empire. The long-lasting Qajar Empire used the units qiran, dozari, and panjzari. Finally, the Pahlavi Dynasty used a unit named after itself, the pahlavi.
Collecting Iranian coins can be an endless source of excitement and satisfaction. The marketplace is full of great pieces and there are new ones for sale all the time. Check back for daily updates.
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