Dirhem: The Drachma Of The East

Collecting Ottoman Dirhem history


The Dirhem (also spelled Dirham) was a silver coin used throughout North Africa, The Middle East, and Persia. This article will cover the dirhem’s name, history, the ottoman dirhem, obverse and reverse, and a bit about collecting dirhems.

Dirhem Name

The Dirhem gets its name from the “Drachma.” The Drachma was a silver coin and national currency used in ancient and modern Greece. Throughout pre-Islamic times the drachma was used in trade with various Arab, Persian, and other traders. The word Dirhem, at this point in time, was used as a weight of silver before becoming a coin.

In classic Islamic History, Dirhem was used as a name for any silver coin. It was also used to measure items, although this is different from the monetary use of the name. Some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, still use the Dirhem as their currency’s name.


Dirhem Early History

As stated previously, the Dirhem was initially used as a weight of silver before becoming a coin. The Byzantines would use the greek Drachma when trading in pre-Islamic times. Eventually, this led to the creation of the first official Dirhem minted under the Sasanian Empire. A coin that was genuinely separate from its greek counterpart.

The pre-Islamic dirhem retained a weight of 4 grams of silver throughout the pre-Islamic period. This led to steady economic growth and security. The set value of the coin was changed under Islamic rule to approximately 2.9725 grams of silver.


Many influences for Islamic coins came from the Persians. The Persians were minting coins from about 546 BCE after conquering Lydia (Lydia being a site where some of the first coins in history were struck). The Persians based their coinage on Lydian coinage by copying the minting techniques and weights.

The Ottoman Dirhem

The Ottoman Empire had its version of the Dirhem. Ottoman coinage originated in the Sultanate of Rum. The Sultanate of Rum was a breakaway state that would centuries later become the Ottoman Empire as we know it. The religion of the Sultanate Of Rum was Sunni Islam. Since the Islamic Dirhem was based on the Sassanian Drachma, then so was the Sultanate of Rum Dirhem and the later Ottoman version. The Ottoman Dirhem did have a slightly different weight than previous versions, equal to 3.207g(0.1131 Oz) of silver.

This isn’t the only way the Sultanate of Rum influenced the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire adopted many Persian arts, social, and governing practices that the Sultanate of Rum had also previously adopted, including their coinage and minting process.


Obverse and Reverse

Both sides of the coin are typically covered in Arabic writing. This is different from western coins, which usually have some portrait on them. Often it is some Royalty claiming to be connected to God somehow.

Islam as a religion does not participate in this. The reasoning for this practice when designing coins can be found in Islam’s Laws of Idol worship. It can be seen how seriously this was and is taken throughout Islamic history since most Islamic coins, including gold coins, never display a portrait of an individual.

collecting dirhem history

Collecting Dirhems

Many people love collecting Dirhems. The ability to create such beautiful coinage while making it culturally their own is always impressive. Below is a link to the silver middle east coinage we currently have in stock. Feel free to see if we have a dirhem for your collection or portfolio.

Example of a Dirhem from the Sultanate of Rum

Published by Invest in History Co.

We specialize in high-quality gold and silver coins. Focusing on Middle East, Eastern European, and Ancient coins. We carry Roman, Greek, Parthian, Phoenician, Celtic, Byzantine, Russian, Jewish, Islamic, and many other culture's coins.