Bookmark and Share

Jelling and ’The Arabian Nights

By Steen Wulff Andersen

An Arabic coin, which was found in Jelling by Peter Hyldgaard in connection with last year’s archaeological investigations east of the North Mound at Thyras Have, has now been closely identified. It proved to be a coin struck by the Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid, probably in the year 193 of the Islamic calendar. This corresponds to 808-809 after Christ. 

Arabic coin found in Jelling in 2009. Photo: the National Museum.

Harun al-Rashid’s reign was a high point in the history of the Baghdad caliphate, but otherwise we are mostly familiar with Harun as one of the main characters in the famous collection of stories “The Arabian Nights”, also known as “The Thousand and One Nights”. However, it is doubtful that “The Arabian Nights” and Harun al-Rashid meant anything to the Jelling Viking who owned the coin. A hole bored through the coin reveals that it was used as an amulet or piece of jewellery and it was probably so long in transit on its journey from currency coin in the Middle East to piece of jewellery in Jelling that the memory of the powerful caliph had completely faded away. 

To us the coin is first and foremost an exotic item in Viking Age Jelling, which tells us about the Vikings’ numerous overseas connections– in this case with the Muslim world.


Nadia Haupt and Gert Rispling, Copenhagen, identified the coin.


June 23 2010

The Caliph of Baghdad Harun al-Rashid. Illustration from The Arabian Nights.