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Ghaznavid Coinage: Narrow Dirham of Sebuktegin

This is a silver dirham of Amir Sebuktegin who is considered as the first ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty, which ruled the eastern lands and frontier of the medieval Islamic world.


Cryptic Tamgha at the top

Lines 1-3: La ilaha illa Allah wahdahu la sharika lahu

Line-4:     Al-Ta’i Billah (The Abbasid caliph al-Ta’i Billah)


Top:     Lillah (For Allah)

Line-1: Muhammad Rasul (Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)

Line-2: Allah Nuh bin (Nuh bin Mansur i.e., Nuh II the Samanid ruler from 976-997)

Line-3: Mansur

Line-4: Sebuktegin

On both the obverse and reverse, the sequence of characters engraved in the last line forms a  crude rendering of the mint name: Farwan.

Farwan is an ancient town, that lay to the north of Kabul and Ghazna, near the Hindu Kush, in present day Parwan province of Afghanistan. Farwan is mentioned as the city of Sultan Mahmud the Ghaznavid by Ibn-Battuta in his travelogue. However, the association of this city with the Ghaznavids goes all the way back to the dynsaty’s founder: Sebuktegin

This issue is known as the narrow dirham, and its catalog reference is Album-1599. These silver dirhams of Sebuktegin were mostly struck at Farwan, and their structure and design seems heavily influenced by the local coinage of the Hindu Shahi rulers of Kabul, who controlled Ghazna prior to its conquest by the Samanid general Alptegin. Dated specimens of this type are difficult to find being somewhat rare while the bulk of these issues are either date-less or the date is illegible.


The name Sebuktegin is of Turkish origins and can be translated differently based on how the first word i.e., ‘Sebuk’ is constructed. If formulated as ‘Sebuk’ then it can be translated as ‘beloved/amiable prince’, however it can also be read as ‘Su-beg(k)’ in which case it would translate to ‘military-commander prince’ i.e., a warrior prince.

Sebuktegin was a Turkish slave (mamluk, ghulam) of Alptegin, who was a Turkish slave general of the Samanids. In Tabqat-e-Nasiri, Sebuktegin’s lineage is traced back to the last Sassanid emperor Yazdigird III. In reality, however, Sebuktegin was of Turkic (probably one of the tribes within the Qarlugh confederation) origins. He was captured as a slave from the Barskhan region (in modern day Kyrgyztan) during a raid by the neighboring tribe of Tukhs (also part of the Qarlugh confederacy). Sebuktegin’s pagan birth has remained a controversial issue amongst the Muslim historians and genealogists, most of whom have covered up this fact by linking his ancestry to the last Sassanid emperor, thus making him of noble and possibly imperial birth.

Succession as Governor of Ghazna:

Alptegin (Alp is a Turkish name that translates to ‘brave’ or ‘hero’) who was the commander of the Samanid forces in Khorasan, bought Sebuktegin from Nishapur and inducted him into his personal retinue of slave guards.

Around 961 C.E., Alptegin had to distance himself from the Samanid court at Bukhara, after his bid to install Nasr bin Abd al-Malik on the Samanid throne after the death of the latter’s father, the Samanid Amir, Abd al-Malik ibn Nuh I was foiled by other Turkish-slave generals who raised the deceased Amir’s brother Mansur ibn Nuh I to the Samanid throne. At this period in time, Alptegin was commander in chief of the Samanid troops in Khurasan, and as a consequence of this failure he fled the Samanid capital of Bukhara to Balkh along with his personal guards, and successfully defeated a Samanid contingent sent in his pursuit by the new Samanid Amir.

Subsequently, Alptegin with his forces of ghazis (volunteers) and Turkish troops set out towards the eastern frontier of the Samanid empire and subdued the local ruler of Bamiyan and the Hindu Shahi ruler of Kabul. He then proceeded to wrest control of Ghazna from the local Hindu Shahi governor who is named as Abu-Bakr Lawik (also read as Anuk) who despite having an Arabic kunya¹ (if the reading of the name is accepted as such) was not a Muslim and was related to the Hindu Shahi rulers of Kabul by marriage. Even though, Alptegin had rebelled against his Samanid overlords, he was granted a manshur (trans: investituture) by the Samanids. Alptegin died in 352 A.H. (963 C.E.). Sebuktegin was a senior military figure within the personal guards of Alptegin throughout his campaigns before and after the capture of Ghazna. Sebuktegin was also married to a daughter of Alptegin, and in 366 A.H. (976-977 C.E.) he was selected as the Amir of Ghazna by the Turkish troops.

Rule of Sebuktegin:

Sebuktegin, became the Amir of Ghazna in 366 A.H. (976-977 C.E.) and ruled for the next twenty years. As soon as he became the Amir of Ghazna, Sebuktegin adopted an expansionist policy and was able to expand his dominions to include, Bust, Zamindawar, Kusdar and Ghor. After bringing much of the eastern holdings of the Samanids under his control, Sebuktegin looked eastwards into al-Sind and al-Hind. In 369 A.H. (979-980 C.E.), Jayapala (of the western Hindu Shahi dynasty) marched on Ghazna, and retired after a settlement was reached between him and Sebuktegin. However, in 376 A.H. (986-987 C.E.) Sebuktegin conducted raids on the western frontier of al-Hind and carried away substantial number of captives and booty. In 378 A.H. (988-989 C.E.) Sebuktegin defeated Jayapala who was forced to acknowledge Sebuktegin’s authority and a tribute comprising control of some frontier fortresses and one hundred war elephants.

Sebuktegin provided military support to the Samanid ruler Nuh bin Mansur (Nuh II) to defeat the Simjurids (382 A.H. (992-993 A.H.)), and as a recognition of his services he was conferred the governorship of Khurasan in 384 A.H. (995-996 A.H.) along with the titles of Nasir al-Din (trans: helper of the religion)  and Nasir al-Dawlah (trans: helper of the state/empire), and his son Mahmud was given the title of Saif al-Dawlah (trans. Sword (warrior) of the state) and was made the commander of the Samanid forces in Khorasan. Sebuktegin died in 387 A.H. (997 C.E.) at Balkh.

Until his death, Sebuktegin acknowledged the Samanid ruler as his overlord and never asserted his independence. Hence, all of his coins cite the contemporary Samanid ruler (Nuh bin Mansur on this coin) in addition to the Abbasid Caliph (al-Ta’i billah in this case). When the Abbasid caliph al-Ta’i billah was deposed by the Buyid Amir Baha al-Dawlah in 381 A.H. (991 C.E.) and replaced by al-Qadir billah, the Samanids refused to acknowledge the suzerainty of al-Qadir billah and instead continued to cite al-Ta’i on their coins. As a Samanid vassal, Sebuktegin followed suit and continued to cite al-Ta’i billah as the Abbasid caliph on his coins.


  1. Kunya: refers to the honorific title given to a person as a nickname. Mostly, the kunya takes the form of “father/mother of ….” (Arabic: “Abu/Umm (al-) ….”). This naming convention was used mostly by the Arabs, and was adopted as a part of the royal titulature of Muslim rulers.


  1. Siraj al-Din Juzjani, Tabqat-e-Nasiri (Farsi Edition by Lees, W.N. 1864, Calcutta)
  2. Siraj al-Din Juzjani, Tabqat-e-Nasiri (English Translation by Raverty, H.G. 1873)
  3. Bosworth, C.E. (1963). The Ghaznavids:994-1040. Edinburgh University Press.
  4. Stephen Album (2011). Checklist of Islamic Coins.
  5. Litvinsky, B.A. and Dani, A.H. (1998). History of Civilizations of Central Asia: Age of Achievement, A.D. 750 to the end of the 15th-century. UNESCO

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