Silver and Gold Coinage
In the year 948 [C.E.] an Arab traveller named Ibn Hawkal visited Spain. About twenty years later he composed a geographical handbook, ambitiously called the Description of the World, which included an account of Spain based on his travels there. He was an intelligent and observant man, and if we wish to discover what al-Andalus was like in the tenth century we can do no better than to put ourselves in his hands.
Ibn Hawkal was struck in the first place by the general prosperity of al-Andalus:
There are uncultivated lands, but the greater part of the country is cultivated and densely settled…. Plenty and content govern every aspect of life. Possession of goods and the means of acquiring wealth are common to all classes of the population. These benefits even extend to artisans and workmen, thanks to the light taxes, the good state of the country and the wealth of its ruler—for he has no need to impose heavy levies and taxes.
He correctly saw an indicator of this prosperity in the great amount of money in circulation. From the eighth century [C.E.] the only coin struck in Muslim Spain was the silver dirhem, but in the 920s ‘Abd al-Rahman III inaugurated a period of bimetallism by undertaking the minting of gold coins called dinars. The ratio was seventeen dirhems to one dinar, which was in line with the ratio in the rest of the Islamic world and in the Eastern Roman empire—in itself an indication that al-Andalus was now part of a larger commercial community. The state mint at Cordoba exercised control over the weight, fineness and design of the coinage. The volume of coin in circulation seems to have been very large, and this is another indicator of commercial prosperity, for only a favourable trade balance could account for the inflow of bullion to sustain an ample monetary circulation.