Morocco seems to present a curious double image
to the world - at once accessible and mysterious. It is a land that
welcomes tourism and investment, receiving less of each than it wishes.
A staunch ally of Western style democracy, it's government serves a monarch
who rules through a constitutional framework in an essentially absolute
manner. Luckily for everyone, the king is possessed of a liberal
and progressive outlook, at least as far as the welfare of his people is
concerned. As a result, Morocco has been fundamentally at peace with
itself for the past several decades, while civil conflicts (some of which
Morocco has played a part in) have racked its neighbors.
A center of culture since before the Romans, Morocco has been left with a long and complex written history, and it's soil is littered with a rich record of early human and prehuman life. The fossils and artifacts feed the voracious intellectual appetites of archeologists and paleontologists, as well as a thriving collector market in treasures of the past. This abundance of ancient material naturally lends itself to the inclusion of the first 500 million years of the Moroccan story in this survey, especially as prehistoric artifacts and fossils have become a popular sideline for numismatic dealers and collectors of late.
Morocco differs from the rest of North Africa in the fact that it possesses mountains. Actually, most it is covered with several mountain chains. The Rif back up the Mediterranean coast, while the Atlas range, descending the length of the nation from northeast to southwest, forms the country's spine. More southerly still is another chain - the Anti-Atlas. Beyond lies the Sahara Desert. The formation of the mountains has brought to the surface rocks of several distinct geological eras. There are areas where fossils can be found dating from both shortly before and shortly after the disappearance of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, as well as from the time of the trilobites almost a quarter of a billion years earlier. Fossilized bones of a carnivorous dinosaur larger than tyrannosaurus rex were found in Morocco a few years back. Moroccan trilobites are a well known staple of the today's fossil market, and within the last couple of years fossil dinosaur teeth from Morocco have become
available to collectors. The teeth are attributed to the newly described spinosaurs, large meat eaters with tyrannosaur-like bodies and crocodile-like heads. Morocco is today one of the major suppliers of fossils to the collector market.
Early hominids roamed the hills of Morocco, and their relics are fairly abundant. One finds stone artifacts of many styles from the early Paleolithic to the late Neolithic periods, which is to say from about 100,000 BC forward. Interestingly, as far as I know, though the land was occupied by homo erectus, there seem to have been no Neanderthals there. Modern humans, homo
sapiens, probably arrived around 30,000 BC, possibly from the east, bringing with them such innovations as stone-tipped spears. Pottery began to be produced during the Neolithic period, perhaps 6,000 BC, perhaps earlier. These
Neolithic people seem to have evolved, with many genetic additions from other groups, into the people known today as the Berbers.
There are many different groups of Berbers, bearing widely different genetic markers and speaking many dialects of the same language, some of them mutually unintelligible. Though they are an ancient people, they have never united into an ethnically based nation, and they have never effectively resisted immigration by others. Many peoples have come to Morocco over the
centuries, almost all by way of the Mediterranean Sea. The newcomers traditionally occupied the coast, while the Berbers retired south to the mountains.
The first large scale settlement by outsiders was the Phoenician infiltration. The original Phoenicians inhabited the Lebanese coast. Under Egyptian control until the weakness that followed the reign of pharaoh Ramses II around 1200 BC, the Phoenicians thereafter embarked on a period of extensive exploration and trade throughout the Mediterranean. Along the North African coast they found several convenient and salubrious locations on which to make settlements. The most famous of these of course was Carthage, founded in the 9th century BC more or less on the site of modern Tunis, but other small towns
were established further west and on the southern coast of Spain.
Phoenician towns within the territory of modern Morocco included Rusadir, near modern Melilla, Tingis (Tangiers), Zilis (Asilah), Lix (Larache), and Sala (Sale), by the modern capital Rabat. It turned out that the shores of region contained an abundance of the murex, a small snail from which was made the prized crimson dye known as "Tyrian purple."
Carthage became rich and powerful, with settlements all over the western Mediterranean, including the parts of the island of Sicily. The rest of Sicily was controlled by Greeks. In the 5th century BC, around the same time that the Persian fleet was destroyed by the Athenian navy at the battle of Salamis, Carthaginian forces were routed by the combined forces of the Sicilian Greek cities of Syracuse and Akragas. Thereafter, the rulers of Syracuse became overbearing towards their Greek neighbors, and some of the oppressed came to Carthage for support. Forty years of warfare ensued, but in the end Carthage
came away with no gains. Twice again unsuccessful attempts were made to control the island.
One result of the Carthaginian ventures in Sicily was the adoption of coinage, probably initially to pay for Greek mercenaries in their employ. Before this the Carthaginian economy had been conducted by barter and in-kind payments. But once familiar with the use of coinage, the new aid to trade spread throughout the Carthaginian region.
In the 3rd century BC some Italian mercenaries, formerly employed by the Syracusan tyrant Agathocles, seized the town of Messina, on the coast of Sicily facing the Italian coast. Placed in difficulties by their former master they appealed for aid simultaneously to both Carthage and Rome. When the two forces found themselves thrown together they came to blows, and the first Punic War ensued, which, after various turns of fortune, Carthage lost. Faced with high indemnity payments to Rome, Carthage launched an invasion of the Spanish hinterland, occupied by hitherto independent Celtic tribes, where they hoped to exploit new soures of income. Rome intervened, and warfare between the two major powers resumed.
The latter stages of the second Punic War were conducted on the Carthaginian side by the famous Hannibal Barca, who took the fight over the Alps from Spain into Italy. But Rome rallied and eventually pushed the armies of Carthage out of Europe entirely, definitively trouncing them on their own soil at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC.
Down but not out, Carthage endured another half century, when Roman pressure forced a third war. This time the Roman legions took the great city itself, razing it to the ground, enslaving the survivors, and symbolically sowing the earth with salt, that it should remain a wasteland forever. A hundred years later they refounded it, and it became one of the great cities of the Roman Empire.
During its heyday Carthage loosely controlled a zone that took in the Mediterranean littoral from Libya to Spain. In its weakness after the first Punic War several parts of the Punic region organized into kingdoms and independent
city-states. Chief among them was the "kingdom of the Moors," called Mauretania by the Romans.
Ancient Mauretania encompassed most of the Mediterranean coast of modern Morocco, with extensions eastward a little bit into modern Algeria, and a small strip of the Atlantic coastline as well. There was a royal coinage, mostly of copper, with a few silver coins as well. Only four kings are known to have issued: Syphax and his son Vermina late in the 3rd century BC, and Bogud II and his brother, the usurper Bocchus III, in the middle of the 1st century BC.
The extent of centralized control in the independent Mauretanian kingdom is unknown, but it was general practice at that time for cities to strike copper coinage for local use. This was the case in Mauretania, and coins are known from the towns of Sala, nearby Tamusida, Lix, Tingis, and Rusadir, as well as Camarata and Timici in modern Algeria. The artistry of these coins is crude, after the utilitarian and unesthetic style of Carthage, and despite the low prices quoted in catalogs such as Sear's "Greek Coins and their Values," in fact these coins are very hard to find.
Now Bochus III seized the throne of his brother Bogud, who went off to fight for Mark Antony, in whose service he died. Bochus died in 33 BC, and, as was common at that time, his kingdom was annexed by Rome. The emperor Augustus restored the kingdom in 25 BC, giving it to a friend of his, son of a former king of neighboring Numidia (the modern eastern Algerian coast), who ruled as Juba II. This very Hellenized man, with Roman backing, embarked on a civic building spree which made over old towns on Roman models and constructed new ones such as Volubilis, his new capital, which lay near the
modern city of Meknes.
Juba's first wife was Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt. In 23 AD Ptolemy succeeded the throne. After a rule of 17 years he fell afoul of the insanity of his cousin and erstwhile friend, Caligula, who invited him to Rome and had him put to death, essentially for no reason at all. That was the end of the kingdom of Mauretania.
Both Juba II and Ptolemy struck coins; silver denarii and bronzes of various sizes. There is a wide variety of types, including the portrait of Cleopatra Selene. Some of the coins, especially of Juba, were minted in large quantities and are fairly common.
Several years after the execution of Ptolemy the territory was reorganized by emperor Claudius into two provinces, the old name retained in the eastern zone, while the western region was named Tingitana after the town of Tingis (Tangiers). In 69 CE Tingitana was placed under the government of the province of Baetica in southern Spain. A century later, in the reign of Marcus
Aurelius, the Mauritanians overran much of Spain, from which they were expelled by Septimius Severus, who later became emperor himself.
In the reorganization of the empire under Diocletian, 284-305 CE, the southern reaches of Mauretania and Tingitana were abandoned to the Berber nomads, and Carthage became one of the authorized mints for the new, standardized imperial coinage. Aside from a few rare bronzes of Tingis made early in the imperial period, there were no coins struck in Roman Mauretania.
With the energy of the empire focused on Carthage as the light of North Africa, Mauretania became something of a backwater, and a haven for those religious upstarts, the Christians. Adherents of the new faith became so numerous that four bishoprics were established late in the 3rd century. Loosely guarded, the provinces were invaded and conquered by the Vandals in their sweep through Spain to Africa. They landed in Ceuta in 429 CE and quickly proceeded on to Carthage.
The Vandals struck coins of course. Most of them were imitations of Roman coins, probably struck in Carthage, most of them rare. Though they controlled the Moroccan coast during their tenure, there is no indication that they thought much of their western marches, and no coins can be attributed to Tingis or Ceuta. The region was reconquered for Roman culture by the Byzantines, who held it, firmly in the time of Justinian, and increasingly weakly thereafter.
The preiminent cities of Byzantine Africa were Alexandria in Egypt and Carthage in what is now Tunisia. The Byzantine writ ran along the coast, in theory, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, though oversight west of the town of Ceuta, directly across from Spain, was rather hypothetical. The old Mauretanian capital of Volubilis, inland from the Atlantic coast, was on its way to becoming a picturesque ruin, and inland, in the western mountains, Berber nomads held anarchic sway.
Coinage-wise, if you were living then on what is now the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, you would be spending crude coppers made in Carthage, Alexandria, Constantinople, or really anywhere, because who cared about coppers anyway? Your gold, if you were a bigshot, would be almost entirely from Constantinople, and silver was pretty much missing - it had all drained to the east in the caravan trade.
Meanwhile, about 2500 miles east in Arabia, a middleaged midlevel businessman named Muhammad began having conversations of overwhelming power with a divine messenger. From his experience of these supernatural events he developed a charisma that attracted people to him, and a new community of believers began to form. These people were persecuted by the local power structure in Arabia, and where some might turn the other cheek, they fought back brilliantly, and consistently as it turned out, for over a hundred years. They came to call themselves "the God Surrendered," in their language
The religion was missionary from the start, self defined as the capstone and seal of all religions, and destined to convert the world. War was considered a legitimate tool of conversion, and this form of proselytization was begun even in the time of Muhammad. Under his successors Arab armies proceeded both east and west, overrunning Byzantine Syria and North Africa, and after that destroying the mighty Persian state.
Nine years after Muhammad's death in 632 CE Egyptian Alexandria was taken, and shortly thereafter the Muslim realm was extended as far west as Tripoli. But political problems began to become evident among the Muslims. Muhammad had established an order of life, but he had not established a method of succession of power. Arguments as to who should rule and how began immediately after his death and never stopped. And because the religion of Islam was designed to embrace every aspect of life, these political disagreements inevitably took on a religious character. Divine judgement can never be wrong, went the reasoning, thus the arguments became bitter and violent.
The successors of Muhammad were called just that, "successors," ("khalifa" in Arabic, which we Romanize to "caliph"). Such was the turmoil of the times that three of the first four caliphs were murdered, and schismatic sets proliferated. Eventually a guy named Mu'awiya, commander in Syria, won out against rivals, deposed the elected caliph Ali, grandson of Muhammad, and had himself proclaimed caliph. Thereafter the caliphate became hereditary. Mu'awiya was the first of the Umayyad line.
Notwithstanding the infighting, the Muslim conquests continued both east and west, which is the part we're concerned with here. In 682 CE Uqba ibn Nafi commanded an army that penetrated the far west of North Africa (Moghreb in Arabic, Romanized as Morocco). Byzantine count Julian in Ceuta surrendered. Unlike the Byzantines, the Arabs extended their sway far into the hinterland, bringing the Berbers, after some tribulation, into the Islamic fold. In 711 CE the Arabs used Morocco as a springboard for the invasion of Spain, which was substantially accomplished in that same year.
The Umayyad caliphs were rulers of an empire that stretched from Spain to eastern Iran, but they were subject to the usual diseases that affect rulers: they became corrupt and nepotic and pleasure loving. Discontent crystalized into a revolutionary coalition in the middle of the 8th century CE, culminating in the overthrow of the old dynasty and the installation of a new one, the Abbasids, who ruled from a new capital, Baghdad.
Though the new guys did their best to wipe out the Ummayads, one of them got away to Spain, where he set up a rival caliphate that endured for several centuries. Morocco was never part of the Abbasid domain, remaining in flux for several decades as Berbers and Arabs of several sects fought for dominance, or just to be left alone.
In 788 a supporter of the Ummayads, Idris bin Abdullah, a descendant of Muhammad through Ali, set up a government in the neighborhood of Roman Volubilis. His dynasty, known both as Idrisid and as Alid, endured for about a century. Idris and his son, Idris II, who made Fes his capital and a center of Islamic culture, are revered as the founders of Morocco as it is known today.
Aside from reports of an Ummayad copper from Tanja (Tangier) that no one I talked with has ever seen, Idrisid coinage is the first Islamic style emission from Morocco. Gold dinars, silver dirhams, and copper fulus were struck by nine rulers at more than 20 mints. All are at least scarce, most rare. Not wanting to miss out on a good thing, some neighboring polities put out a few rare coins imitating Idrisid types as well.
All of these coins look generically Islamic to a neophyte. You need to be able to read them to find out what they are. The necessary books, should you be illiterate in Arabic, are out of print, and are not outstandingly helpful anyway. Some Idrisid coins are well struck with nice dies, but others are crude and would be hard to read even if you did know the language. So - rare, expensive and ugly.
While the Idrisids held sway in the south the coast was part of the domain of the Spanish Ummayad caliphs, who produced a few rare coppers at mints in Tanja and Sabta (Ceuta). The Idrisid family obeyed the laws of dynastic decadence, and their realm deteriorated. By the 10th century their holdings were incorporated into the empire of the Shiite Fatimid caliphs, whose capital was initially in Al Mahdiya near Tunis. When the Fatimids moved their capital to Egypt in 969 CE their hold on the west weakened and some decades of shifting borders ensued. No Fatimid coins are known to have been struck in the territory
of modern Morocco.
The realm of the Spanish Ummayads started to disintegrate in the 11th century, when the Hammudids of Malaga seceded, taking the Ummayad holdings in Africa with them. Hammudid coins are mostly Spanish, but a hoard of rare billon dirhams and a few halves has turned up from Wadi Lau, near Tetuan in Morocco, citing the local ruler Hasan, who in turn acknowledges the
Hammudid Muhammad I as overlord.
The anarchy was ended in the mid-11th century with the advent of the Murabitun (Almoravids). These were a reformist religious sect of Berbers who got their start far to the south in what is now Mauretania. Overrunning Morocco, the founder of the dynasty, Abu Bakr Ibn Omar (1056-73), set up his capital in Marrakesh. His successor, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, was invited to interfere in Spanish politics by one of the little states that had developed in the wake of the Umayyad decay. Yusuf crossed over in force and took most of Muslim Iberia.
Almoravid coins were struck in gold and silver only, initially at the Algerian mint of Sijilmasa, but later at a number of mints including Fes, Marrakesh, and Nul Lamta in Morocco. The silver, instead of the normal dirham, was usually the smaller qirat. Both gold and silver are usually found nicely struck from well prepared dies. Most Almoravid types are scarce or rare, and priced accordingly.
The Almoravids started out as rural ascetics, but when they got to Spain and saw all the nice culture they quickly developed a taste for luxury. Of course they needed money to fund their new habits, and so went on a tax-and-spend spree, which alienated their base. Resistance grew, in the form of another puritannical sect, the Muwahhidun (Almohades), who took Marrakesh from the effete Almoravids in 1120 and went on to incorporate the rest of their holdings, including Spain, during the succeeding decade.
The Almohades set up two capitals: Seville in Spain and Fes in Morocco. After half a century the Christians got their act together and expelled them from Spain, leaving only a few small Islamic enclaves to struggle on in Iberia.
Almohade coins are distinctive, consisting of beautiful broad gold dinars and square silver dirhams. The gold is often surprisingly reasonable pricewise, while the square dirhams, mostly anonymous and without mint name, are very common and cheap. Christian states in Spain made imitations of these coins, which can usually be distinguished from their prototypes by the fact that their legends, in "pseudo-Arabic," are meaningless.
After their expulsion from Spain the Almohade government continued to weaken. A military free for all became general early in the 13th century, and the Almohade realm disappeared, replaced in the east (Tunisia) by the Hafsids, the center (Algeria) by the Berber Ziyanids, and in the west (Morocco) by another Berber dynasty, the Merinids.
The Merinids gave aid to the Muslim kingdom of Granada, but were unable themselves to maintain a presence in Spain. Though their dynasty endured for about two centuries, Merinid rule became tenuous early on and their territory continued to shrink throughout their tenure.
Merinid coins continue the Almohade types, with broad gold dinars and square silver dirhams. Generally speaking, the Merinid efforts are cruder than their Almohade prototypes, scarcer, and more expensive.
In 1465 the Merinid line expired, replaced by the family of their majordomos, the Wattasids, who ruled for 84 years. Wattasid coins continue the Almohade traditions, only being scarcer still than those of the Merinids whom they supplanted.
During the Wattasid period the last of the Spanish Islamic enclaves, Grenada, fell to the Christians. A large number of refugees came to Morocco, bringing both culture and money, and briefly boosting the fortunes of the realm.
When the Wattasids became weak another Berber family came to power, claiming descent from Muhammad through a grandson Hasan, which gave them the right to call themselves "sharifs". The new dynasty, called both Hasani and Sa'dian, quickly overthrew the last of the Wattasids, and proceeded to unite the entire region. After only half a century of administration three brother quarrelled over the succession, a conflict from which the Sa'dians never really recovered.
Sa'dian coins began around 1549 as continuations of the Wattasid types, which is to say in the Almohade tradition, though at this remove there is some evolution. There are broad dinars, single dinars, silver dirhams both square and round, and rude coppers, obviously struck by people who did not care. A few Sa'dian coins are merely scarce, but most are rare.
At the dawn of the 17th century Sa'dian weakness accellerated with that previously mentioned fraternal quarrel over succession. By the 1630s another group of sharifs, the Filali family centered in Tafilalt in eastern Morocco, began to assert itself. The last of the Sa'dians died in 1659, and during the decade of anarchy that ensued in the formerly Sa'dian regions a few very rare gold coins were struck, by whom it is at this time unknown. Under the leadership of the third of the Filali (also known as Alawi) line, Al Rashid (1664-72), the bulk of the territory of modern Morocco was consolidated. The Filali/Alawi is the current ruling dynasty, and thus the history of modern Morocco can be said to begin with their advent.
The seventeenth century was an era of explosive growth and turmoil for Europe. Spain began to reap the rewards of her colonization of the New World, bringing back thousands of tons of silver, gold, and commodities. The Spanish king used this sudden access of stuff to throw his weight around, fighting wars against the Protestants wherever feasible. Virtually all the Spanish treasure went down the drain of these wars.
Not to be outdone in military ventures, the French under the Sun King, Louis XIV, went marauding around the continent, making glorious carnage. England undertook a civil war and revolution, then a counter-revolution, while the Netherlands emerged from Spanish domination as a major power. Austria had to fend off the Ottoman Turks, who advanced through the Balkans all the way to Vienna. Germany and Italy, where much of the fighting between the various belligerents took place, were big messes.
The Ottomans had most of the eastern Mediterranean sewed up, save for a few islands and strips of coastline, mostly in or near modern Greece, held by Venice. The Ottoman writ extended across North Africa more or less to the modern Morocco-Algeria border. Across that border was an independent kingdom - the land of the Alawi (or Filayli) Sharifs.
Being sharifs, which is to say that they could claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, the Alawi family carried built in charisma, and had developed social position that made it well placed to take over from another family of sharifs, the Sa’dians, whose rule had become weak. Fez was occupied in 1649, and by the 1670s the entire country, more or less as we know it today, was under Alawi control. The dynasty has endured through thick and thin until this very day, when the twentieth of the line has just succeeded to the throne.
The first two sultans busied themselves with the consolidation of their realm. No coins are known of these sultans, and of the third, Al-Rashid, 1664-72, only a rare silver coin, called mazuna. But the third sultan, Moulay Ismail, 1672-1727, felt sufficiently secure, and had the resources to attempt to throw his weight around. Standing off the Ottomans, he devoted energy to diplomacy with Europe, entering into correspondence with both France and England, and engaging in more martial exercises with Spain. Fruits of these engagements were the capture of Larache from Spain and the peaceful return of Tangier from Britain, which had aquired it by marriage from Portugal. But Ceuta, across from Gibraltar, remained in Spanish hands, and the French princess whose hand he hoped to win from king Louis remained within her country and her faith. For an enduring legacy in stone he built a new capital for himself at Meknes.
The coinage struck during Moulay Ismail’s fifty five years on the throne consisted of gold dinar benduqis, silver mazunas, and very crude copper falus. The appellation "benduqi" is Moroccan Arabic for "Venetian," and indicated that the coin was the equivalent of the Venetian zecchino, which is to say a ducat. Ismail's coins are not too easy to find, especially the coppers, which begin the tradition of casting instead of striking, which practice continued into the 19th century. His coinage, like most Alawi coins before the 20th century, is anonymous, and in his reign began the interesting practice of writing the date in
A period of unrest ensured, during which a few rare coins were made, the attribution of which is at the moment questionable. Order returned when Sidi Muhammad III ascended the throne in 1757 (coincidently the same year as a new Ottoman sultan, Mustafa III). He suspended privateering, took Mazagan/El Jadida from Portugal, and founded Mogador/Essaouira on the coast south of Casablanca. At odds with Britain during the 1770s-80s, he was one of the first to recognize the independence of the United States, for which action he received a letter of appreciation from George Washington.
The coinage of Muhammad III shows more variety than that of previous rulers, with fractional gold, silver mazunas and dirhams (4 mazunas) of several weight standards, and copper falus. Most unusual are the silver multiples up to the size of the mithqal (ounce), and even a crown sized 10 dirham coin equal in value to the contemporary French ecu. Needless to say these big coins are rare, but Muhammad III's little silver dirhams are not too hard to find.
Some social disruption occurred following the death of Muhammad III in 1790. Al-Yazid ruled for two years, overlapping the reign of Moulay Hisham, who controlled Marrakesh until 1794, when he was driven to Safi by Moulay Husain, All of these people struck gold, silver, and copper, in the usual denominations, no ecus or mithqals from these guys. Needless to say, all of
their coins are rare.
The guy who won out in this fraternal squabble was Suleyman II, who was the only one still standing at the dawn of the 19th century. He managed to stay out of the Napoleonic wars, and returned some semblance of order to his country. The coinage was somewhat regularized as well, with full weight gold benduqis and halves, silver dirhams and mazunas, and several denominations of copper coins. In his reign one begins to see the seal of Solomon on the copper, a type that became the norm for that metal later in the century. You might find a Suleymani dirham lurking in some dealer's stock, and possibly a copper, but his coins are not particularly common.
The close of the 18th century marked the end of any pretense of Moroccan power measured against the European yardstick. The scientific and technical progress in Europe eclipsed the old power relationships in the rest of the world, making them irrelevant and opening up entire continents to colonization and exploitation. Africa, being right next door, was too convenient to ignore.
In 1830 neighboring Algiers was taken by the French. The western Algerian province of Tlemcen (Tlimsan) seceded from the Ottoman Empire and declared fealty to Moroccan sultan Abd Al-Rahman, 1822-59. This was followed by the defection of the emir Abd Al-Qadir, who also looked to Abd Al-Rahman for protection. But the French protested these declarations, and the sultan, overawed, engaged in vacillation for 14 years. When he was finally forced by popular sentiment to send aid to fellow Muslims the French responded by bombarding Mogador and Tangier, finally defeating the Moroccan army at Isly on the Algerian border. In the ensuing treaty the sultan was required to refrain from interference in the politics of his eastern neighbor, now held by France.
Abd Al-Rahman's coinage continued the styles of Suleyman, with gold benduqis and halves, silver dirhams, and several sizes of coppers. One finds his coppers a bit more commonly than earlier coins, but often the mint is illegible or missing. His silver is about as scarce as that of Suleyman, and the gold is pretty hard to find.
As the 19th century progressed changes continued to be forced on Morocco by outside circumstances. Great Britain, always looking for markets for its industrial products, forced a trade treaty in 1856 that essentially opened the country to the unrestricted import of British goods. Where large areas of Morocco had formerly operated on a self-supporting, non-cash economy, the entire country switched over to cash to pay for the imported cloth, tea, guns, et cetera. The changeover exacerbated poverty in the rural areas, creating inflation within the nation and a growing balance of payments problem without.
The situation deteriorated during the reign of Muhammad IV, 1859-73. Ceuta, which had passed from Spain to Portugal and back again to Spain, became the focus of a boundary dispute. Recognizing an easy mark, Spain invaded in 1860, capturing nearby Tetouan and advancing on Tangier. British intervention prevented the capture of that major port, but the imposed treaty
stipulated a large indemnity by Morocco and the cession “in perpetuity” of a strip of Atlantic coastline in the south that became the enclave of Ifni.
As far as the coinage is concerned, the coppers of Muhammad IV are quite common, enough so that they may tend to give the whole series of cast Solomon's seal coins an air of ubiquitous boredom. Actually, though, only a few date-mint combinations are seen over and over again. Try collecting over, say, 25 different. See how far you get. His silver is no more common than that of his predecessors, and his gold is very rare.
In the late 19th century sultan Moulay Hasan I, 1873-94, fought a losing battle to maintain his country’s equilibrium in the face of the ongoing European threat. He sent a contingent of scholars to study abroad, but they were too few to make a difference. In the last year of his reign another conflict with Spain resulted in an enlargement of that nation’s holdings around Mellila and the imposition of a large indemnity.
Hasan's coinage started out in the traditional pattern with cast bronze and hammered silver. These old style coins are all rare. Starting in 1884 machine struck coins began to be introduced. Silver of several denominations were struck on contract at the Paris mint in France, and most of these coins can be found in various criculated grades, and occasionally the odd uncirculated piece shows up. Some coppers were also struck, using imported machinery set up in Fes, and these are akk rare.
Moulay Hasan’s successor, Moulay Abd Al-Aziz, 1894-1908, attempted to modernize, but lacked the charisma and resources to do accomplish anything significant. French incursions and internal insurrections kept the pot boiling. Then, in 1904, Britain and France agreed to ignore each other’s doings in Egypt and Morocco respectively, and France and Spain concluded a secret protocol dividing Morocco between them into spheres of influence. Not to be outdone, Germany’s kaiser Wilhem II visited Tangier and delivered a speech on the subject of German interest in Moroccan affairs.
Mirroring the jockeying for power of the various European interests, Hasani coins were mostly contracted to foreign mints, not just Paris, but also Berlin and London. Struck copper began to be struck in large quantities in 1902, with issues from Paris, Berlin, Birmingham in England, and Fes. There are scarce dates, but all of the types can be found.
The Europeans at that time would not leave any territory uncontested. In 1906 15 nations propounded the “Act of Algeciras,” which, while formally recognizing the integrity of the Sultanate of Morocco, also laid the groundwork for frank occupation by France and Spain. This bitter pill did not go down well at home, where one of the sultan’s brothers, Moulay Abd Al-Hafiz, 1908-12, mounted a coup. The new sultan was immediately faced with a Berber revolt, and had to ask the French for military assistance. The following year the French occupied Casablanca. In the next few years Spain consolidated its territory in the north, and in 1912 the sultan was forced to sign the Treaty of Fez, making Morocco into a protectorate of France.
Abd Al-Hafiz was too busy to do much with the coinage, and only managed to put out three silver coins. They're not rare, but they're not particularly common either. The Protectorate endured for 44 years, with most of the country occupied
by France, the northern zone and the Ifni enclave by Spain, and a multinational administration for Tangier and its surrounding countryside. Sultan Al-Hafiz abdicated a few months after signing the Treaty of Fez, to be succeeded by another brother, Moulay Yusuf, who was content to be a tool of the French.
Yusuf's coinage began before the establishment of the protectorate, with a range of copper mazuna denominations and a silver dirham and multiples. The dirham and 2½ dirhams are rare, but the others should be findable if you're of a mind to do so. The protectorate coins bear the legend "Empire Cherifien," which I guess was a snide joke on the Moroccans, and are denominated in francs for the convenience of the overlords. The coins are not rare, but don't bother trying to find them in uncirculated.
Moulay Yusuf died in 1927, succeeded by his 16 year old son, Sidi Muhammad V. The French ran everything for the first few decades of his reign, and they made coins for the Moroccans at their Paris mint that matched the metropolitan module, though of course they were only good in Morocco. In keeping with French traditions, essaies and piedforts were struck for many of these coins, for the pleasure of connected French collectors. There's one rarity among the Muhammad V coins, the 1370 (1951) 100 francs. Good luck.
In the 1920s a major rebellion had broken out among the Berbers of the Rif mountains, which spread through the hinterland and was not completely suppressed until 1934, the year of the formal organization of the Spanish enclave of Ifni. Meanwhile, French protection, under resident-general Louis Lyautey, was producing material progress, with the building of road, rail, and
port infrastructure, large population growth, and the establishment of industrial zones in Tangier and Casablanca. An increasing number of university trained people formed the nucleus of a future ruling class.
As soon as the new intellectuals became aware of the greater world they immediately began to organize and agitate for independence. This anticolonial movement parallelled developments throughout the European colonies all over the world at the time. All of these movements received a great shot in the arm by World War II, the “war for democracy.” The great movements of people around the world, and the dislocation and destruction of old systems all over made the old colonialist regimes increasingly untenable.
In Morocco the independence forces united to form the Istiqlal party, which recieved support from the sultan. The party grew in strength until 1953, when a reactionary coup, with French support, deposed the sultan, forcing him into exile in Madagascar. This only spurred on the independence forces, and they succeeded in returning Muhammad V from exile in 1955.
A year later independence was granted. There is a coin that obliquely marks the transition - the silver 500 francs of 1956 - a nice looking crown, easy to find in grades up to AU, but tough in perfect. The country changed its styling in 1957 from "Empire" to "Kingdom," and Muhammad V stopped being "sultan" and became a "king." In 1960 he got off the franc and gave his country back its traditional dirham, though the new version had about twice the silver of the early 20th century version.
Though no gold was struck for circulation in Morocco from the start of the machine era, a few medallic issues were created in 1955 and 1956, the former to mark the 25th anniversary of the reign, and the latter to note the conversion of the sultanate to a kingdom. The portrait used on the1956 pieces is basically the same as that used on the 500 francs. These pieces hardly ever show up.
Far more available is a gold ounce struck in 1954 for the First Banking Corporation of Tangier. Made out of the same alloy as British sovereigns and bearing a device of a naked Hercules leaning on his club, this item shows up fairly frequently in grades ranging from XF to soft uncirculated.
Political and economic problems became apparent immediately after independence. There being no preexisting democratic institutions, the parliament put in place after independence lacked crucial powers that remained with the ruler. Several attempts to give the parliament teeth over the years have failed, and to this day the powers of the ruling family have remained absolute in
many crucial respects. The economy at independence was sharply divided into a modern sector operated with foreign capital for mostly foreign benefit, and a local sector largely cut off from the outside world. Such arrangements are breeding grounds for social unrest, and various untoward incidents, ranging from riots and local rural insurrections to assassination attempts against the ruler, have occurred.
Muhammad V was succeeded in 1962 by Hasan II, who just died. He's put out a few circulation coins, and a small bunch of commemoratives. Only one coin, the 1975 10 santimat, has been widely distributed among the numismatic dealers. And the 1965 dirham is fairly easy to fing. All the others are surprisingly hard to find. Withal, the Moroccan political experience since independence has been notably more successful than that of its neighbors. While Algeria was born in the midst of a bloody war, endured decades of quasi-Marxist dictatorship, and is currently embroiled in a civil war, and Mauretania has a primitive economy based partially on slavery, presided over by an indolent oligarchical dictatorship, Morocco, if only by default has become the regional yardstick of stability and progress. Indeed, Morocco was sufficiently powerful to force an unwilling Spain
to relinquish its hold on the territory of Western Sahara, and in the ensuing long conflict to force Mauretania to abandon its claim. But although Morocco’s claim of ownership of the territory is accepted by most nations, the inhabitants of that
territory, the Saharauis, remain unsubdued, and are still fighting for their freedom over two decades later. We numismatists are familiar with their “coins,” which are actually fund raising vehicles rather than circulating money.