AŠRAFĪ, term used from the mid-15th century for a gold coin first minted in Mamluk Egypt in 810/1407-08; the name probably refers to the Mamluk sultan Ašraf Barsbay (r. 825-41/1422-38). The original coin weighed about 3.45 gm and corresponded in standard and fineness to the Venetian ducat (zecchino) or Florentine fiorino. The Italian coins had gained favor because of their constant weight and fineness, and so equivalent issues came to be struck in the Islamic world. The Egyptian ašrafī was clearly distinguishable from the usual gold coin, the dinar, and was disseminated to the Islamic east along with the ducat; the new coin quickly penetrated the small Turkmen states of eastern Anatolia, northern Syria, and northern Mesopotamia, which had close relations with the Mamluks. Farther east the ašrafī had to compete with the gold tanga-ye ṭelā (or tangača-ye ṭelā), based on an Indian standard, which was widely circulated under the Timurids. The Timurid gold tanga weighed 4.6 to 4.7 gm, and it served as the dominant standard for gold issues of the eastern Turkmen princes. However, early ašrafī issues may be discerned in a 3.9 gm coin of Jahānšāh Qara Qoyunlū (841-72/1438-67) and the 3.4 gm gold coins of the Āq Qoyunlūs.
Under the Safavid Shah Esmāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24) ašrafī coins of 3.52 gm were minted, and quarter-ašrafīs on the same standard. Safavid gold issues of the 10th/16th century still somewhat reflect the standard of the tangača-ye ṭelā, but by ca. 1600 the ašrafī had completely replaced the gold tanga. (The Timurid coin survived in the Transoxanian khanates, however, without significant change, until the end of the 19th century.) From ca. 1600 to 1737 the ašrafī provided the dominant standard for Iranian gold coins, the ʿabbāsī issues were of less importance. The ducat and the fiorino were known to be the prototypes of the ašrafī as late as ca. 1700; the Italian coins were called ašrafī-e dobotī (lit. ašrafī with two idols) into the post-Safavid period (Taḏkerat al-molūk, p. 59). The weight of the ašrafī remained constant; the coin of 1718 (3.498 gm, 54 grains) scarcely differs from that of Shah Esmāʿīl. But the nominal value of the coin in terms of silver dinars changed greatly, due to the devaluation of the latter, in 1552 an ašrafī was worth about 200 dinars; in 1718, 1,800 dinars.
Nāder Shah Afšār (1148-60/1736-47) introduced into Iran in 1737 the mohr-e ašrafī, following exactly the standard of the Mughal gold mohr minted in India since 970/1562-63 at 11.016 gm (171 grains). Half and quarter denominations of the mohr-e ašrafī also were issued. Nāder Shah and his successors, notably Karīm Khan Zand (1163-93/1750-79), struck the older ašrafī of 3.498 gm only sparingly, and it stood in a ratio of about 1:3 to the mohr-e ašrafī. In the second half of the 18th century the abundant quarter mohr-e ašrafī (2.768 gm, 42.75 grains) was called in popular usage ašrafī-e Karīm-ḵānī, Karīm-ḵānī, or simply ašrafī.
In 1768 the mohr ašrafī of 11.016 gm was valued at 10,000 silver dinars and thus was made equivalent to a tūmān. But the dinar suffered further devaluation, and from 1786 a shift is found to an issue of 2.915 gm (45 grains) valued at 3,000 dinars; this coin reflected a standard of 9.72 gm (150 grains) for a gold tūmān. In effect, the mohr-e ašrafī and its fractions were superseded, and thereafter they were rarely minted. In place of the traditional ašrafī and of the mohr-e ašrafī were issued gold tūmāns (and fractional denominations) whose weights decreased over time in proportion to the devaluation of the dinar. The term ašrafī continued, however, to be popularly applied to gold coins.
In 1830-34, late in the reign of the Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qāǰār, the standard of the old 54-grain ašrafī reappeared, valued at 10,000 dinars and thus identical with the tūmān. But the continued decline of the dinar caused a lightening of the tūmān coins, and the ašrafī issue was abandoned for good. The name ašrafī was applied to gold coins worth one tūmān from 1834 into the 20th century. But in 1926-27 the traditional tūmān was replaced by a new gold coin one-third lighter, the pahlavī of 1.92 gm. The pahlavī soon was transformed into an 8.134 gm issue, and the designation ašrafī finally became obsolete.
In the 16th century ašrafīs corresponding to the ducat were also issued by the Portuguese in control of Hormoz. This ašrafī (called xerafim by the Portuguese) was valued at 2,000 local dinars in the first quarter of the century. The local gold hazār (i.e., worth 1,000 dinars) therefore was called also nīm-ašrafī (half-ašrafī). But by the mid-16th century, the hazār had been converted to silver because of the dinar’s devaluation. Two hazārs were equivalent to a gold pardão worth 2,000 dinars, but the latter had only two-thirds the weight of the traditional ašrafī. The contemporary Hormoz ašrafī (or xerafim, sarafino) then weighed 71 percent of a ducat, and in 1580 the coin was reduced to 62.6 of the ducat’s weight. This special issue ended with the Safavid annexation of Hormoz in 1622.
See also J. L. Bacharach, “The Dinar Versus the Ducat,” IJMES 4, 1973, pp. 77-96.
A. Dīānat, “Ašrafī,” Āyanda 9/3-4, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 177-83.
B. Fragner, “Social and Internal Economic Affairs,” Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 491-567.
W. Hinz, “Die spätmittelalterlichen Währungen im Bereich des Persischen Golfes,” in Iran and Islam, ed. C. E. Bosworth, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 303-14.
Idem, “The Value of the Toman in the Middle Ages,” in Yād-nāma-ye Īrānī-e Minorsky, ed. M. Mīnovī and Ī. Āfšār, Tehran, 1348 Š./ 1969, pp. 90-95.
ʿA. Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī-e man yātārīḵ-eeǰtemāʿī o edārī-e dawra-ye qāǰārīya I, Tehran, 1321 Š./1942, p. 28.
F. H. Rabino di Borgomale, Coins, Medals, and Seals of the Shâhs of Irân 1500-1941, Hertford, 1945.
Idem, “Coins of the Jalāʿir, Ḳara Koyūnlū, Mushaʿshaʿ, and Āḳ Ḳoyūnlū Dynasties,” The Numismatic Chronicle, 6th series, 10, 1950, pp. 94-139.
Idem, “Coins of the Shahs of Persia,” The Numismatic Chronicle, 4th series, 8, 1908, pp. 357-73; 11, 1911, pp. 176-96; 15, 1915, pp. 243-48, 351-56.
F. von Schroetter, Wörterbuch der Münzkunde, Leipzig, 1930 (s.v. ʿAbbāsī, Ashrafī, Muhr, Muhr-Ashrāfī, Tillā, Tōmān).
R. Vasmer, “Zur Münzkunde der persischen Schahe,” Islamica 6, 1933-34, pp. 137-81.
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 17, 2011
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Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 797-798