It is well-known that after the death of Yazdgerd III, the last Sasanian Shahanshah (king of kings) in 651, an attempt was made by his sons Peroz and Wahram to recover at least a part of his empire with the help of the Chinese. These attempts, however, were not successful and finally resulted in the withdrawal of the remnants of the Sasanians royal family to the Tang’s newly built capital of Chang’an 長安, where Peroz died in 678/679. He was buried in the mausoleum of Gaozong of the Tang and an inscription naming him king of Persia 波斯王 and Commander of Persia 波斯都督 was included on a nearby pedestal. Before his death, Peroz had managed to secure the permission to build a temple for the exiled Persian community in China, although we aren’t quite sure of this was a Zoroastrian, Manichaean, or Christian temple.
Before meeting his end, Peroz had put up a fight against the invading forces of the nascent Islamic caliphate and keep at least an illusion of ruling his father’s territories. Specifically, following Yazdgerd’s death in 651 in Marw (Merv), Peroz had set up a minor kingdom in a city that the Chinese call Jiling 疾陵, which is usually thought to be the city of Zrang/Zaranj in Sistan. Considering that Sistan was not really invaded until the caliphate of Mu’awiyya (661-663), we can imagine that it was the conquest of Sistan that drove Peroz out of Sistan and to Tukharistan around 663. This would also support Daryaee’s suggestion that all of those Yazdgerd year 20 coin issues were in fact minted in Sistan, presumably in the 10 years of so when he ruled after his father there.
On the other hand, Peroz’s appearance in Chang’an happens between 673 and 674, meaning that he had spent the previous decade or more in the west. Based on Chinese sources (which might very well be exaggerations), he ruled in Tukharistan, under Chinese auspices, trying to recover his kingdom. Presumably, it is after his arrival in Chang’an that his son, Narseh 涅涅师, was raised to the throne in his stead by the Chinese general in Tukharistan. But Narseh too, after a 20 year struggle, could not recover any territories and returned to China in 708-709 and died in Chang’an. Now, apart from the year 20 issues of Yazdgerd III that we can assume were continually re-issued by Peroz, we have very little evidence of coins from either Peroz or Narseh, while we can only assume that some should have existed as coinage was firmly established in this region both as a sign of authority and for means of circulation. However, no certain coins can be attributed to either authorities, leaving us puzzled.
If we don’t consider the claims of Tang chroniclers as pure fabrication, we should then look at the selection of coins that we do have and consider that they might in fact contain some coins that can be attributed to either Peroz or Narseh, or both. Somehow, these coins have escaped the attention of the scholars somehow, mainly in any clear indication of the name of either authority. The issue is that the inscriptions on the coins of East Iran are written in a maddening variety of scripts, ranging from cursive Bactrian to Pahlavi, Brahmi, and Arabic. A few coins have clearly legible inscriptions, and given the frustrating ambiguities of both the Pahlavi and the Bactrian scripts, all sorts of readings can be proposed. To make things even more complicated, the coins in the region were often issued based on established prototypes, thus coins of the previous authorities – many of them originally based in Sasanian issues of the fourth and fifth centuries. So, it is not too much of a surprise if a coin does not immediately jump out or can be attributed to an authority otherwise known from the pages of standard historical narratives.
The available array of coins from the Hindukush region in the post-Sasanian period is quite bewildering, with many local authorities issuing silver and copper/bronze coins. Many of these coins, for example those of the iltäbär, or Zhulad Gozgan belong to authorities whom we know from historical sources. Others, such as Tegin Khurasan Shah and his son Phrom Kesar, are mainly known from their coins but are entering the gaze of history through discovery of newer sources such as inscriptions. Others such as “Spur Martan Shah,” or “Sero” or “the Bactrian Yabghu” are completely unknown and still waiting identification. So, I would like to venture into a group of these, namely the last named Yabghu, to find some coins that might be connected to Peroz and his son Narseh, the last claimants to the Sasanian throne in the East.
The Yabghu of Balkh/Bactrians
The ultimate source, in English, for the coins that I like to consider here is the monumental two volumes produced by the Austrian numismatist, Klaus Vondrovec, who I can also call a friend and a mentor. In these volumes, Klaus has done a magnificent job of studying the coins from east Iran from the end of the Kushano-Sasanian period to the complete control of the area by the Muslims in the eighth century. His meticulousness has rendered a wonderful resource, detailing typologies, iconographies, and inscriptions of each coin, and providing his own innovative groupings and analysis, mainly based on the previous work by Robert Göbl, but furthering the study of these coins manifold.
Section 9 of Klaus’ work is devoted to the coins produced under the suzerainty of the Western Turk (Gök Türk) Empire, originally founded on the second half of the sixth century and continuing until the late 7th/early 8th century when it was destroyed and temporarily merged into the Tang Empire of China. It was in fact the Chinese advances westwards to destroy the Western Turk that brought them into contact with the Islamic caliphate, resulting in the cataclysmic Battle of Talas that checked both the western ambitions of the Chinese and the eastern expansion of the Caliphate.
The early coins of this period are the continuation of what Klaus, following a suggestion by Göbl, has called the “Alkhan-Nezak Crossover” series. These are the coins of the period before the Western Turk take over of the Hindu-Kush region and show elements of both the Nezak Shah group (rulers of Kabulistan and Zabulistan), as well as those of the Alkhan group (a group of “Iranian Huns” who had gone over to conquer northern India in the fifth and sixth centuries). By Klaus’ estimation, a part of the Alkhans had returned to the region of Kabul and Zabul and somehow integrated into the Nezak Shahs, and merging their distinctive coinage style with that of the Nezak Shahs, establishing their own Alkhan-Nezak Crossover group.
The first authority that Klaus Vondrovec assigns to the Western Turk period is an authority on whose coins inscriptions in Bactria and Brahmi render his name as Sri Shahi (a mix of Indian and Iranian titles: “the Perfect/respected King”). This is respectively written as σριο þαυιο (with spurious Bactrian final -o) in Bactrian and as śrī ṣāhi in Brahmi on two different sets of coins which share the same iconography and typology. On the Nezak and Alkhan-Nezak Cross over coins, the name of the authority, Nezak Shah, was written in the Pahlavi script as nycky’ MLK’. But in these coins, the Sri Shahi inscription has replaced the Pahlavi legend. The dual languages, one showing influences from the northern slopes of the Hindukush, historical Bactria and Tukharistan, and the other from the southern side, Kabul and Gandhara, is interesting and might suggest that Sri Shahi, whoever that he was, had influence over a wide range of area on both sides of the Hindukush, possibly making him a sub-king of the Western Turk, or an independent ruler – if the second half of the seventh century date that Vondrovec gives him is correct.
Another type of coin that Vondrovec mentions bears a Pahlavi legend on it that reads ybgw bhlk’n, so the Yabghu of Bactrians/Balkh. This title would indicate the authority of the issuer in Balkh and Tukharistan, to the north of the Hindukush. However, Klaus reads a reverse legend on the coins as z’wlst(’n) and speculates that these coins might gave been issued in the area of Zabulistan, to the south of the Hindukush. There is an analogy that is suggested here in comparison with the coins of another authority called “Pangul” (who I have suggested is the same person as Amir Banji mentioned by Minhaj Seraj) who seems to call himself both a ruler in Balkh, while issuing coins with the mint signature of Rakhvad (al-Rukhaj) in the area of modern Lashkar Gah in Afghanistan. I am not sure if this can be entertained though, and have a really hard time reading the inscription there as z’wlst the way Vondrovec does. But aside from the mint, the iconography of two of the coin types is interesting and worth looking into.
Specifically, these are Klaus’ types 265 and 266, both showing a beardless man (Vondrovec p. 528). Klaus suggests that these might be a reference to the teenage Ardashir III who ruled the Sasanian empire for a bit more than a year in 628-629/630 and whose coins show a beardless man. But I don’t quite understand why Ardashir III coins should be reissued, with a whole new iconography added, after his death and much later, in the area of Balkh, where he never held any authority. The beardless bust showing an immature person though, that I understand and support!
So, who could this beardless man be? My suggestion here is that this is Narseh, the son of Peroz, who has been left in charge of the Tang Command of Persia after his father’s move to Chang’an. We have no idea of Peroz’ age. Presumably his father, Yazdgerd III, was a teenager himself when he was installed in the throne in 632. We might assume that Peroz was born after this, say 635 to have a round number, and when he died in 678/79, he was about 43-44, a respectable age to die in the 7th century, although quite early. Narseh could have been born quite early and be in his early to mid-twenties, or if we assume a later birth (say while his father was “securely” ruling in Sistan in the 650’s and early 660’s), he would be a teenager indeed. So, the young bust for him would be quite appropriate.
The two types that show the beardless man bear a very elaborate crown. This crown carries the wings on the crown of Yazdgerd III, the father of Peroz, but also has a buffalo’s head on top of an elongated “pedestal”. These buffalo heads were first introduced by the Nēzak Shahs and seem to be their invention, so their appearance on these coins say something about the “local” nature of these issues. While they are very Sasanian in style and bear a Pahlavi legend, they also add a local flavour (and thus authority and circulation) by adding a local piece of iconography. The single border reverse also means that these coins are pre-687 (the shared terminus post quem by which Vondrovec dates the relative date of the later coins) and belong to a period before the introduction of Arab-Sasanian coin types to this region. On some of these issues, I read the legends n(?)rsyh’ in Pahlavi, a name that could clearly point to the identity of the authority as Narseh, the son of Peroz.
A related type, 265A, using the same iconography but showing an older, bearded man, in silver and copper drachms. In addition to being bearded, the bust on the reverse is also wearing a crown with a crescent and a star in the front, something that had become associated with the outside margins on the coins of Khosrow II where they appear in four cardinal points. In front of the bust on some of the coins, a Pahlavi inscription can be read, an I provisionally and with much uncertainty propose the reading of kd(y) bwhl(‘)n for it, possibly to be read as Kay Wahram, although the spelling would be significantly different than the normal spelling of Wahram as wlhl’n, so I have great reservations about it. as One thing that unites all these coins, aside from the iconography, is the presence of “tamga S 61”, a sign consisting of a half circle with another sign, resembling an open V with wings. These tamgas appear in the same places that a crescent and a star would appear on the coins of Khosrow II, on the outside margins of the obverse, except one example of it occurring on the reverse as well of the type 265A, variant 3. Coins of type 265A also carry a mint year of 15, although it is not specified based on which calendar. The coins also mainly carry the mint name of LHW, localising them in Rakhwad/Al-Rukhaj, in Sistan. We can only assume that this is a reference to the regnal year of the authority it depicts. I would attribute this related type as either issued by Narseh himself when he was older, or possibly belonging to Peroz, or his brother Wahram?, issued before he had to leave for China.
The question remains as why the names of the authorities cannot be found on the coin. In my opinion, there are two answers to be given here. One is that these Yabghus, bearing a title that we known from the Hephthalite period onwards, were actually governors of Peroz and Narseh, ruling over some of the dudufus 都督府 of the Tang Persian (Anxi) Protectorate 安西都護府, and thus issuing coins using their title and the position. Alternatively, these are Peroz and Narseh themselves, but that living under Tang suzerainty, they only mention their position as Yabghus of Balkh, on their coins. However, the extension of their power to the southern Hindukush, observed from the spread of the coinage circulation to Zabulistan – much like Sri Shahi – is an indication of their wider influence beyond Balkh, perhaps even expressing their claim to Sistan, from which Peroz had escaped to Balkh.
 Quite a few studies of these, some with more care than others, have been published. The sources are still most easily available in Chavannes, Edouard. 1903. Documents Sur Le Toukiue (Turcs) Occidentaux. St. Petersburg: Commissionnaires de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences. Daffina’s short, but monumental work remains one of the best studies of the subject, Daffinà, Paolo. 1983. “La Persia Sassanide Secondo Le Fonti Cinesi.” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 57: 121–70. A brief discussion of all these plus newer observations is Compareti, Matteo. 2003. “The Last Sasanians in China.” Eurasian Studies 2 (2): 197–213.
 Comparetti 2003, 206. However, see Hamidreza Pashazanous, Ehsan Afkande, “the Last Sasanians in Eastern Iran and China” Anabasis 5 (2014), 139-153 for an argument against this, rather putting Jiling in Tukharistan.
 Daryaee, Touraj. 2006. “Yazdgerd III’s Last Year: Coinage and the History of Sistan at the End of Late Antiquity.” Iranistik: Deutschsprachige Zeitschrift Fur Iranistische Studien 5 (1 & 2): 21–29.
 Comparetti 2003, 207
 For an example of this, see my article identifying certain coins from the area of western Tukharistan as belonging to characters said to be the ancestors of the Amirs of Ghur by the famous 13th century historian, Minhaj Siraj Jowzjani in his Tabaqat-e Nasseri: K. Rezakhani. 2020. “Pangul and Bunji, Zhulad and Fulad: a Note on the Genealogy of the Shanasbid Amirs of Ghur.” In Dinars and Dirhams: Festschrift in Honor of Michael L. Bates, edited by Touraj Daryaee, Judith A. Lerner, and Virginie Rey, 219–30. Irvine: Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture.
 For the newest example of this, see Nicholas Sims-Williams. 2020. “The Bactrian Inscription of Jaghori: A Preliminary Reading.” Bulletin of the Asia Institute 30.
 Klaus Vondrovec. 2014. Coinage of the Iranian Huns and Their Successors from Bactria to Gandhara (4th to 8th Century CE). Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
 For a general review, see Denis Sinor. 1990. “The Establishment and Dissolution of the Türk Empire.” In The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, edited by Denis Sinor, I:285–316. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 For these, see the excellent work produced by another brilliant Austrian scholar, Matthias Pfisterer, 2013. Hunnen in Indien. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
 The reading of this inscription, previously read as Napki Malka and long known as that, is one of the more exciting stories of ancient studies. See J. Harmatta. 1969. Late Bactrian Inscriptions, Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 17, 408, and Richard N. Frye, “Napki Malka and the Kushano-Sasanians,” in Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, ed. Dikran K. Kouymjian (Beirut, 1974), 115–22.
 There is some debate as how to read this, either as Bactrians or Balkh (see Vondrovec p. 527 and other places). I prefer to consider this “that of Balkh” (in analogy to Ērān) and don’t get too worried if this is a reference to the people or the land.