At its zenith during the 11th century, the Fatimid Caliphate with its later royal capital based in Cairo (al-Qāhira), spanned most of North Africa (also known as Maghreb), the sea-bordering Hijaz (west of the Red Sea), Levant (by Asiatic Mediterranean) and even Sicily. The Shia faith-fueled empire was mostly known for its cultural achievements, religious tolerance and wealth. Pertaining to the last part, divers have been able to fish out a massive, thousand-year old gold coin treasure trove from the ancient harbor of Caesarea, off the coast of Israel.
Quite oddly enough, the initial find was discovered by divers of an amateur scuba diving club, who first thought that these coins were just toy specimens. However, on closer inspection, they could comprehend the ‘true’ glistening of gold, and at once reported their findings to the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Then the actual archaeologists arrived at the underwater scene with their advanced metal detectors, and found over a whopping 2,000 gold coins in incredibly well preserved conditions. Such ‘mint’ conditions were presumably due to the chemical property of actual gold – which being a noble metal, doesn’t react with either water or air.
As for the historical side of affairs, the ancient port city of Caesarea was originally founded by Herod the Great, almost two millenniums ago. But as we mentioned before, the Fatimid Caliphate held sway over Levant during the 1th century, and as such these gold coins are of Fatimid origin. In terms of dating, the earliest coin from the stash was actually minted in Palermo, Sicily (from late 9th century). Most of the other specimens were forged during the reigns of caliphs Al-Ḥākim (996–1021) and his son Al-Ẓāhir (1021–1036). All of these coins were found to be in various denominations of the famed dinar – with historians also discovering their continued circulation phase even during the later Crusader period (after 11th century).
Interestingly, the archaeologists had identified teeth-marks on a range of coins from this underwater treasure trove. This obviously pertains to the traditional method of inspecting gold, with the marks being only impressionable on pure gold, as opposed to its adulterated counterpart. However, the historians are still baffled by the magnificent archaeological find itself, given its submerged state (when explored). As Kobi Sharvit, director of the aforementioned Marine Archaeology Unit, said –
The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed. There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected. Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city. Another theory is that the treasure was money belonging to a large merchant ship that traded with the coastal cities and the port on the Mediterranean Sea and sank there. In the Marine Archaeological Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority they are hoping that with the salvage excavations that will be conducted there, it will be possible to supplement our understanding of the entire archaeological context, and thus answer the many questions that still remain unanswered about the treasure.
Image Credits: Israel Antiquities Authority