3. Fanam, 12th-Century CE

These accounts are given in two types of Indian gold coinage, namely: fanam and Kūlamī fīlīs from the famous port city Quilon (today Kollam) on the Malabar Coast. Although this document is not in the hand of the well-known merchant Avraham Ben Yijū, it is likely connected to his commercial activities along the Malabar Coast across the twelfth century CE. The scribe's anonymous associate, whose account is registered here, was charged for the receipt of various commodities, including both Indian products and items usually imported for personal use from Yemen and the West. The commodities include: civet, cinnabar, a copper pot, glass vessels, raisins, a lamp (or Indian horse chestnut[?]). Assuming the merchant was careful with his sums, an uncommon ratio of value emerges through these calculations– in this context the fanam was worth 0.236 of a gold fīlī [1]. The term "fīlī" takes its name from "fīl/elephant" in Arabic for the figurative portrayals of the animal on medieval gold coinage of the Malabar Coast. The coin is known commonly in English as a "pagoda." The fanam was produced at various weights across the medieval and early modern periods. The variant pictured from the Princeton Numismatic Collection dates back to the turn of the nineteenth century.

[1] This calculation yields a higher ratio of value than was conventionally the case, as Phillip Wagoner notes: "[the] hon, varāha or gadyāna (the 'pagoda' of European sources).... [was] provided with four fractional denominations in the form of half, quarter, tenth and twentieth units, the tenth unit was known as the fanam…. 'Fanam' represents a Portuguese corruption of the Indic terms paṇa (Sanskrit) and haṇa (Kannada)." Phillip B. Wagoner, "Money use in the Deccan, c. 1350–1687: The role of Vijayanagara hons in the Bahmani currency system," The Indian Economic & Social History Review 51.4 (2014): 463. Likewise, Dineshchandra Sircar offers the conventional medieval weight of these coinage types as 87 grains (pagoda) to 6.87-8.37 grains (fanam). Dineshchandra Sircar, Studies in Indian Coins (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1968), 243, 247.

"Accounts," JTS ENA 1822A.66r, 12th-century CE, Judaeo-Arabic.

Images provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary Library (JTSL)


1 In the n[ame] of the M[erciful] | בשמ רחמ

2 His credit: Kūlamī fīlīs | אלדי לה פ[י]ליה כולמי

3 thirty-nine Kūl[amī] fīlīs | תסעה ותלתין פילי כול[מי]

4 out of seven and 6⅛ | //ען סבעה וסתה ותמן//

5 and two fanams. Of that he received: | ופנמין קבץ מן דלך

6 civet — ten fīlīs | זבדה עשרה פיליה

7 cinnabar and a copper pot | וקבץ זנגפר וברמה

8 fifteen fīlīs | צפר כמסה עשר פילי

9 and 1½ fanams, and he received a glass | ופנם ונצף וקבץ זגאג

10 one fīlī and ¼ fanam, raisins | פילי ו[ר]בע פנם זביב

11 two bottles ⅛ fanam, a lamp | קנינתין תמן פנם קנדלי

12 one and ¼ fanams, sugar 1½ fanams | פנם ורבע סכר פנם ונצף

13 honey and sugar 2¾ fanams | עסל וסכר פנמין ונצף

14 a bottle of sugar | ורבע קנינה סכר

16 one fīlī and six fanams, the rest | פילי וסתה פנם בקיה

17 of the price of the civet two fīlīs | תמן זבדה פילין

18 and six fanams, the price of | וסתה פנם תמן

19 two farāsilas of myrrh one fīlī | פראסלתין מר פילי

20 and one fanam, the price of three | ופנם תמן תלתה

21 farāsilas of storax | פראסלאת מיעה


22 four fīlīs and ⅛ fanam, the price of 1 farāsila of Egyptian sugar 1¾ fīlīs | ארבעה פיליה ותמן פנם תמן פראסלה סכר מצרי פילי ונצף ורבע


1 glass vessels two fīlīs, his combined | זגאג פילין אלגמלה

2 debts for various goods | אלדי עליה תמן אצנאף

3 forty-two | אתנין וארבעין

4-5 Kūlamī fīlīs and 2½ fanams | פילי כולמי ופנמין ונצף

6 What he still owes | אלבאקי עליה

7-8 three fīlīs and ½ fanam | תלתה פיליה ונצצף פנם

(eds. and trans. into Hebrew, S.D. Goitein and Mordechai Akiva Friedman; trans. into English, Alan Elbaum)

Fanam from the Princeton Numismatic Collection (Coin: 16471)

Denomination: fanam

Metal: Gold

Region: India

City: Kochi

Date: 1795 to 1850

Obverse Figure Description: Sun and moon, above dots

Reverse Figure Description: Conch shell

Size: 8 in mm

Die Axis: 12

Weight: 0.39 in grams

Shape: round

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