Economic Growth and Currency in Ayyūbid Palestine

Economic Growth and Currency in Ayyūbid Palestine

By Stefan Heidemann

Ayyūbid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context, 1187-1250, edited by Robert Hillenbrand and Sylvia Auld (Altajir Trust, 2009)

Introduction: In 583/1187 Saladin conquered Jerusalem. This occurred in a period of renewed economic growth in Syria and northern Mesopotamia, which lasted until the Mongol invasion. The economic recovery after the political and economic collapse of the Abbasid empire began slowly in the Saljuq period in the late 5th/11th century with political and fiscal reforms, and accelerated in the time of Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zangi (who reigned 541-569/1150-1174) and the Ayyubids. It then blossomed in the first half of the 7th/13th century. This growth is still visible in the splendours of Zangid and Ayyubid art and architecture.

At the same time it was a period of transition for coinages in western Asia, as it supported and fostered economic development from the last remnants of the monetary systems of the early heights of the Islamic empire to the monetary system of the Ayyubids. Syria has no metal resources of its own for the production of coins. This evolution of the monetary system would not have been possible without close economic relations with the neighbouring regions of Byzantium and Egypt in the early phase, and later with Italy and central Europe.

The study of the currency situation in Ayyubid Jerusalem and Palestine has to be placed within the medieval framework of the economic and monetary evolution in historic Syria. Emphasis is laid on the situation in Jerusalem which changed its government several times, from being the political capital of the Crusader Kingdom to a provincial town under the Ayyubids, then once again coming under Frankish control, and finally back to Ayyubid sovereignty.

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