Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Here's some important knowledge that is likely to come in handy at some point in your life.

In the British Museum there is a coin minted at Canterbury by King Offa of Mercia (d. 796), the greatest of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the first to style himself "Rex Anglorum" or "King of the English." The strange thing about this coin is that it has Arabic writing on it. The even stranger thing is that the text reads, in part, "There is no deity except Allah, He is the one and only, He has no partner" " and "Muhammed the Messenger of Allah, sent him with guidance and true religion to make it victorius over all (other) religions." An odd thing for a supposedly Christian king to be putting on his coins. It is even said that he used some of these coins to pay his tribute to the Pope in Rome. Oops!

Some put this forward as evidence that King Offa converted to Islam. But it's far more likely that the king's minters copied the text without having the foggiest clue what it actually said. King Offa's name, after all, is written upside down relative to the Arabic text. Oops again!

"The Canterbury mint evidently regarded the Arabic as mere ornamentation," writes Churchill. Come now, Winston, you cranky old sot, think about that for a second: If they thought it was mere ornamentation, wouldn't they have just made a bunch of Arabic-looking swirls? Instead, the copied the text verbatim -- or at least tried to -- down to the year the coin was ostensibly minted. (Or was it the year the coin they were copying was minted? The year is in the Islamic calendar, not the Christian one.) Alas, they misspelled the word "year." Oops again!

Perhaps they wanted the coins to be accepted as currency in Muslim Spain? I blog. You decide!!


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