Mint of Poland sneaks around the Medieval Middle East with its new Assassins silver coin

There are no shortage of ultra-cool and very high quality high-relief coins from the Mint of Poland that are themed around ancient times, so many in fact that we feel one of our new Thematic Guides coming on, but most look at the fantastical parts of the cultures of the times. This new series takes an alternative path by choosing something very specific to tell a story about. In this case, the mint is delving into the shadowy world of the Assassins.

What better place to start than the people that gave us the word ‘assassin’ in the first place. The Nizari Ismaili of the time were a Shia Islamic sect based in Syria, who employed a small army of acolytes using asymmetrical warfare to fulfil their objectives. They did this by killing individual enemies, usually important people, and they often made the ‘hit’ as public as possible, just to instil fear. Until finally destroyed by the Mongol Horde, the Nizari Order kept more powerful enemies at bay for centuries.

The coin spec will be familiar to all by now. A 2oz, fine-silver, rimless, ultra high relief, and antique finished coin has become the de facto format of choice. As usual, we only have ArtCAM renders at present, but we remain completely unconcerned about the transition from this to finished article, as previous issues have managed it with great success. The coin looks quite outstanding. The trio of fida’i (the group that carried out the attacks) look suitably menacing and the gilded finish to the swords is a neat touch. The fortress of Alamut in the Elbrus Mountains, the political centre of the sect from 1090-1256, is depicted in the background, and it all sits inside an attractive border.

The obverse face has the usual Ian Rank Broadley effigy of Queen Elizabeth II in the middle, but it’s placed in a Middle-Eastern style window, surrounded by Arabic-style tracery and a couple of period swords. The Mint of Poland has done more to spice up the obverse face of their Niue issues than anyone and we hope that continues. We haven’t seen packaging yet, but it’s usually of a good quality, if unadventurous, and contains a certificate of authenticity.

While the mintage is set at 999 pieces, we’re being told that 500 were pre-sold outside of the coin market, so we’re back to just 499 for general sale. Hard to see this coin as anything other than a hit. The subject is a rare one on coins, the design is exemplary, and the finished strike will likely put it in the top tier with its counterparts. Shipping in early September, the coin is being distributed by the Mint of Gdansk, but will likely be available in all the usual places. As we normally try to do, we’ll revisit when we get actual coin images.

WHO WERE THE ASSASSINS?

Assassins is the name given to the Nizari Ismailis in the mountains of Persia and Syria between about 1090 to 1275. The name was not used by the Nizaris themselves, but was given to them by their opponents in Syria. Nizarism formed in the late 11th century after a split within Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam.

Based on texts from Alamut, their grand master Hassan-i Sabbah tended to call his disciples Asāsiyyūn (أساسيون, meaning “people who are faithful to the foundation [of the faith]”), but some foreign travellers like Marco Polo misunderstood the name as deriving from the term hashish.

The Nizaris posed a strategic threat to Sunni Seljuq authority by capturing and inhabiting several mountain fortresses throughout Persia and later Syria, under the leadership of Hassan-i Sabbah. Asymmetric warfare, psychological warfare, and surgical strikes were often a tactic of the assassins, drawing their opponents into submission rather than risk killing them. While “Assassins” typically refers to the entire sect, only a group of acolytes known as the fida’i actually engaged in conflict. Lacking their own army, the Nizari relied on these warriors to carry out espionage and assassinations of key enemy figures, and over the course of 300 years they successfully killed two caliphs, and many viziers, sultans, and Crusader leaders.

During the rule of Imam Rukn-ud-Din Khurshah, the Nizari state declined internally, and was eventually destroyed as the Imam surrendered the castles to the invading Mongols. The Mongols destroyed and eliminated their Order. Mentions of Assassins were preserved within European sources – such as the writings of Marco Polo – where they are depicted as trained killers, responsible for the systematic elimination of opposing figures. The word “assassin” has been used ever since to describe a hired or professional killer, leading to the related term “assassination”, which denotes any action involving murder of a high-profile target for political reasons.

The Nizari were acknowledged and feared by the Crusaders. The stories of the Assassins were further embellished by Marco Polo. European orientalist historians in the 19th century – such as Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall – also referred to the Nizari in their works and tended to write about the Nizari based on accounts by medieval Sunni Arab and Persian authors. (Source: Wikipedia)

SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION $2 NZD (Niue)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams
DIMENSIONS 45.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS Ultra high-relief, gilding
MINTAGE 999
BOX / COA Yes / Yes
MINT OF POLAND