History and Origin of Azerbaijani Manat

(Article was originally published in Science and Applied Engineering Quarterly Journal, 2017, 13(3), ISSN 2054 - 2763)

Manat is a name for the national currencies of Azerbaijan (since 1918), Turkmenistan (since 1993), Georgia (1918–1923), North Caucasian Emirate (modern Dagestan-Chechnia-Ingushetia, 1919–1920), and Provisional National Government of the Southwestern Caucasus (1918–1919). Manat was also the designation name for the Soviet ruble in Azerbaijani, Turkmen and Georgian languages. Azerbaijani manat is subdivided into 100 qapik. The purpose of this article to analyze the origin and prove the relationship to the ancient Sumerian word ma-na (𒈠𒈾), a measurement of unit of weight equivalent to 60 siklu. Mana derives from word 'mani', which translates into English as 'to count'.

According to Wikipedia the origin of word ‘manat, is in a Russian word ‘moneta’ (монета), which is a loan word from Latin ‘moneta’. It might seem a plausible explanation, but it has serious flaws. Georgians and Azerbaijanis and Turkmens have numerous names for currencies and coins, and they all used to mint own coins prior becoming part of the Russian Empire, and then Soviet Union. The old Georgian coins had names such as ‘dinar’ and ‘abazi’. ‘Abazi’ is equivalent to the Azerbaijani ‘abassi’, the coin launched during the reign of Safavi Shah Abbas I and then minted by the Azerbaijani khanates. The word money, or ‘moneta’ means ‘puli’ (ფული) in Georgian and ‘pul’ in Azerbaijani, and it also used to be the smallest coin (copper) of Golden Horde. Assumption that ‘manat’ came into the Azerbaijani language from Georgian ‘maneti’ (მანეთი) through the Russian word ‘moneta’ is unlikely, because its Azerbaijani transcription would have been written either as ‘manet’ (مانَت) or ‘monet’ (مُنَت) in Old Azerbaijani Script (based on the Arabic Script). And it is absolutely different to the original ‘mnat’ (منات), where the first ‘a’ is omitted. Besides, Georgians themselves call ‘manat’ as ‘manati’, which is similar to ‘maneti’.

Azerbaijanis have a long history of using 'manat' to indicate the paper money. The first example, when the term ‘manat’ is mentioned it is in Gulistani-Iram by Abbasgulu Bakikhanov (1794–1847): "…Irakly Khan [King Irakly] of Georgia in order to protect his territories from him [Umma-Khan of Avaria] agreed to pay annually 5000 manat in silver." Another Azerbaijani great poet Mirza Alakbar Sabir (1862–1911) also provides detail about ‘manat’ in his masterpiece Hohopname (1906–1911): "…Mən anlamıram kim, nola mənayi-müəllim? Qırx-əlli manat pul ala hər ay müəllim?" Here, in his poem "Vay, Vay! Nə Yaman Müşkülə Düşdü İşim, Allah!" he questions how a teacher can survive on small salary of 40–50 ‘manat’. Those are all evidence of the word ‘manat’ being used in Azerbaijan prior 1918 when it was first mention on The bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat, and latter when it became a national currency of first Azerbaijan republic.

The archaic meaning of Azerbaijani ‘manat’ was a rectangular piece of paper (notes from bank or goldsmith), used as draft to exchange for silver or gold coins. The practice of issuing a draft was known to the Azerbaijani traders for a quite while even before Russia annexed Azerbaijan in 1813 (Treaty of Gulistan). It was done along with the Islamic financial judiciary system. The word ‘manat’ is closely related to the word ‘amanat’, which translates as a deposit, savings and treasure in Azerbaijani. According to Redhouse's Ottoman Turkish Dictionary ‘amanat’ which means ‘anything placed in trust, either to be returned to the giver, or be given to a third party’ is written as ‘amant’(امانت), here the last ‘a’ is omitted.

Figure 1. The 1 manat (منات in red square) worth coupons issued at the Alat grocery shop of Julfa-Baku railway issued circa 1918.
Figure 2. The 1 qapik (قپک in red square) worth coupons issued at the Alat grocery shop of Julfa-Baku railway issued circa 1918.

Although, Azerbaijanis did not have a paper currency but they did use foreign paper currencies except Ottoman Turkish and Persian. The modern banking system did not exist in Persia prior 1889, when the Imperial Bank of Persia was found by the English businessman Paul Reuter. The Imperial Bank of Persia issued the first paper banknotes in 1906. The Ottoman Bank was founded 1856 also by a venture of the English and French capitals. The Russian did not have currency in form of ruble as we know. The first Russian money were called ‘bilet’ (draft), and they could have been exchanged for certain amount of silver or gold coins upon demand, which is in some form entrusting gold and silver money to the state for some time and then claiming it back. Neither Persians nor Ottomans did have a translation or a designated word for Russian ruble, or used the word ‘manat’ with the respect to the financial exchange. There is no reference to the Russian ruble in the English-Persian dictionaries issued prior 1918 or English-Turkish issued prior 1918. Although, the Persians did have a word ‘manat’, but it was written differently (مناط) to the Azerbaijani ‘manat’, and it actually meant a distance; another definition of ‘manah’ (مناة) also written differently to Azerbaijani ‘manat’ was a one weight of two pounds [weight].

Figure 3. The Draft of Russian Empire issued before XIX century which resembles ‘amanat’.
Figure 4. The bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat worth 1 manat (منات in red square) issued in 1918.

When the first time manat went into circulation it was as the Bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat (22 April – 28 May 1918). The bond was issues on four languages Azerbaijani, Georgian, Russian and Armenian. The denominations were 1, 3, 5, 10, 50, 100, 250 manat. The bon had an inscription on it on four languages saying ‘the Bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat accepted into circulation along with the state credit notes’. This bon had the exactly the same meaning like any currency issued at that time, it was an obligation by the government to return bearer a specific amount on demand. The bon became a transitional financial instrument between the promissory note and the banknotes The Bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat is a precursor of the banknotes to the first Azerbaijani banknotes (‘əskinas’ in Azerbaijani). A bon is different to a bond (‘istiqraz’ in Azerbaijani), which another financial tool.

The Georgian word ‘maneti’ (მანეთი) on the Bon of Transcaucasian Commissariat is almost exactly the same as Azerbaijani ‘manat’. The Armenian side shows the word ‘ruble’ written in the Armenian script. Although, Georgians did not have a problem using a term ‘manat’ for their national currency, but the Armenians did. So they decided to stick with the term ‘ruble’ (present Armenian currency is called dram, which is derived from drachma). Since the moment ‘manat’ became a currency of the first Azerbaijan republic, the official exchange rate is required to conduct financial transactions and exchange of goods. At that time Azerbaijani ‘manat’ was pegged to the Russian ‘ruble’. One crucial difference, all international currencies have plural nouns, such as one dollar, two dollars, where manat is always used in singular form, like one manat (bir manat), two manat (iki manat), etc. If you look carefully on the banknote of the first Azerbaijan Republic, you see the Russian 500 ‘rubles’ (plural) on the left hand side of the banknote (Cyrillic is written from left to right), and Azerbaijani 500 ‘manat’ (singular) on the right hand side of the banknote (Arabic script is written from right to left). In such way, a new democratic republic wanted to make sure that a new currency is fully accepted by all Russian and Azerbaijani speaking layers of the society.

Figure 5. The 500 manat (منات in red square) of first Azerbaijan republic issued between 1918–1920.
Figure 6. The Draft of North-Caucasian Emirate worth 100 manat (منات in red square) issued in 1919.
Figure 7. The Draft of British (TransCaspian) Military Mission worth 500 manat (منات in red square) issued in 1919.

The name ‘manat’ also appears on the note of the North-Caucasian Emirate (1919-1920). As you can see on the picture the Turkish word ‘kurush’ (قروش) and Russian ruble appear on the left side just below 100, and the Azerbaijani word ‘manat’ (منات) on the opposite side. Once again, Wikipedia mistakenly states that the official currency of North-Caucasian Emirate was ruble, where the Arabic script precisely shows both on front and back that it was 'manat'. Unlike the Azerbaijani manat, the North-Caucasian Emirate 'manat' was pegged both to the Turkish 'kurush' and the Russian 'ruble'. The British (TransCaspian) military mission, based in Ashgabat (Turkmenistan) only lasted from 1918 till July 1919, with a head of mission being Major-General Wilfrid Malleson. The draft issued in January 4, 1919 and certified by MG W.Mallerosn states: ‘On behalf of the British Government I promise to repay in rubles notes on or before the end of six months the sum of FIVE HUNDRED ROUBLES’. At the bottom left corner you can see 500 ‘manat’ written in the Arabic script. This draft is a prototype of the current Turkmenistan manat.

Figure 8. The USSR ruble issued in 1923 (front and back), Ruble in Arabic Script (روبلی in red square).

From there on the word ‘manat’ was designated specifically for the Azerbaijani currency, and it was not a translation of the Russian word ‘ruble’. Because, the USSR ‘ruble’ issued in 1923 does not have its Azerbaijani equivalent name ‘manat’. The ruble is given by its name only in the Arabic script (روبلی). The word ‘manat’ was introduced on the USSR ruble much later.

It is established that ‘manat’ have an initial purpose of draft, rather the currency. It was a convenient way to keep and carrier a cash, without being afraid of getting robbed or loosing the bag of coins. A draft could have been change for a specified amount of silver and gold coins in nearest bank or post office, if it is small town. Now, we are going to look at the origin of the word ‘manat’. Even if the purpose of manat was depositing gold and silver coins, however, the word ’manat’ in the Old Azerbaijani Script is written differently than ‘amanat’.

The second meaning of ‘manat’ is related to a pre-Islamic context. The name of goddess Al-Manat is mentioned in Quran and the Book of Idols (Kitab Al-Asnam) as the one of three chief goddesses of Mecca and Medina, along with Al-Lat and Al-Uzza. She is was considered a guardian of Black Stone in Kaaba. Her name is associated with the ancient Egyptian goddess Manat. She worn a protective amulet in the form of a metallic disc called ‘manat’ which symbolizes fortune, luck and fertility. Manat is also title given the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna (Ishtar). It should be note that Azerbaijani version on name ‘Manat’ (منات) in Old Script is different to the Arabic version and Persian (مناة) before 1918. Although, there is Roman goddess Juno Moneta but her story is quite irrelevant in this case, since Koranic text had much more bigger impact on the Azerbaijani that the Roman story.

But how the female goddess Manat is related to the paper money?

The Bank of England was established in 1694 to raise money for King William III’s war against France. Like the goldsmiths’ notes – means of exchange, the Bank of England notes were the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. From 1725 the Bank was issuing partly printed notes for completion in manuscript. The first fully printed the Bank of England notes appeared in 1853 relieving the cashiers of the task of filling in the name of the payee and signing each note individually. During all this time they were putting the image of Britannia (female) on all notes issued by Bank of England. According to Bank of England, the tradition of using Britannia goes back to 1662 when Charles II appointed John Roettier, a Flemish engrave, to the Mint. Since then British banknotes have had an image of Britannia as some goddess. The similar tradition of using female image can be observed on French frank (Marianne), US dollar (Columbia) and German mark, and Russian ruble. So it was natural for the Azerbaijani Muslim traders to call that female image on note by name of Koranic Manat (منات). Sometimes those images were issued along the pictures of reigning monarch, like Queen Victoria in UK and Ekaterina II in Russia. Obviously, the term stuck with the paper money and it was continued to be used as reference to the paper money and Russian ruble in particularly until 1918, when ‘manat’ became the national currency of the first Azerbaijan republic.

Figure 9. The female images seen as Koranic Goddess Manat (منات) by Azerbaijanis on British pound, German mark, Russian ruble.

However, there are also many records which shows that the word ‘manat’ predate even the Koranic Goddess Manat (Koranic Arabic مناة). First time the word ‘manat’ as the measure of weight of the pure ‘kaspi’ silver (as a form of currency), actually appears in "Assyrian and Babylonian contracts; with Aramaic reference notes" ( J.H.Stevenson, 1902, pp.74-75): "1 mani 30 siklu kaspi". Mani or Ma-na (𒈠𒈾, means ‘to count’) was an ancient Sumerian units of weight widely used across Mesopotamia and Near East, 1 mana is equivalent to 60 siklu.

Hence, we would like to conclude the first part, even the word Manat might came from the reference to the female image on the paper draft note, it actually has much more older origin.

Qapik, or ‘qəpik’ (قپک) as it is known in Azerbaijani, can trace its origin back to Kebek Khan (1318–1326), a ruler of Chagatai Khanate who introduced ‘kebek dinar’ as a result of the financial reform. He introduced a much simpler and standardized financial system to control minting in his realm. So, 1 ‘kebek dinar’ (6.0g of silver) was equal to 6 dirhams (1.0g of silver). The similar system was used by Timur Khan (1326–1405), who introduced 1 tengi (4.8g of silver) which was equal 6 ‘kebek’ (0.8g of silver). And those ‘kebek’ were the exactly the same ‘qapik’ we know. Although, the Chagatai Khanate did not stretch till Caucases, but the Timurid Empire did. And after that Aq-Qoyunlu and Kara Koyunlu used the same monetary system across their empires.

The Timurid Empire was very vast and powerful, it defeated the Golden Horde and took a campaign against the Russian lands. Although, the Golden Horde used own currencies such as ‘tengi’, ‘altyn’ (means ‘the sixth part’ in the Common Turkic) and ‘pul’, the impact from trade with the Central Asia for less developed Russian lands was massive. Arbat district of Moscow probably was the heart of the financial influx. So the idea that the Russian ‘копейка’ have its origin in ‘spear’ is pure speculation and is not backed by any substantial historical sources.

The reader might have a genuine question where the number six is stands in this old financial monetary system? Wikipedia tells story about Mycenaean using verb ‘drassomai’ to define grip. The six nails (‘obol’ in Ancient Greek) in one hand meant drachma, which became the currency of Ancient Lydia, Greece and Macedonia. It should be noted that one ‘drachma’ contained six ‘obol’, ‘obol’ was also the measure of weight and in the Ancient Greece it was equal to 0.72 grams. Considering the spread of the Empire of Alexander the Great, it will be normal to think that 6 (six) became such an important element of the trade and finance to measure and exchange goods. This story might seem plausible, but it has one crucial flaw the number of nails one hand can hold strictly depends on the diameter of the nail and size of the hand. Besides, the Mycenaean number system, just like the Ancient Egyptian, was based on 10, and the Ancient Greek (Attic) was based on 5 (quintal). Therefore, that story could have been a great bed time story, but it can not be used as the logical explanation why number six was used so extensively in the monetary system.

Before the Ancient Greeks, the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, such as Sumerian and Babylonian, used the sexagesimal (based on 60) numeral system. The number 60 is still used as units of time and angle (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 360º=6x60 in circle) because of them. The number 60 is a superior highly composite number, having factors of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60, facilitating the operations with fractions. Now, the a superior highly composite number is a natural number which has more divisors than any other number scaled relative to some power of that number. The first four superior highly composite numbers are 2, 6, 12, 60. So six is the basic superior highly composite number. The way number six is depicted in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform tables, it resembles nails. If we look carefully we will see that 1 is shown as one nail, 2 as two nails, and finally 6 as six nails. Now, we can draw a parallel between Ancient Greek ‘obol’ and Mesopotamian cuneiform for six. Let’s not forget that Sumerian and Babylonians invented abacus, the useful tool for doing basic calculations, which were also based on the sexagesimal number system. This number system were used as base for measuring weights, area, volume and lengths. And since the ancient coins were made primary of gold and silver, the precision and minimal error was paramount, and the expertise in doing those weighing and calculations were crucial.

Manat went through the oppression of Stalin’s dictatorship to become a national currency of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Knowing what it means gives a sense of pride in history and traditions of our financial and monetary systems, which can be traced back to the ancient civilizations.

Since the second independent Azerbaijan Republic, the Central Bank of Azerbaijan was an important institution in securing the trust in future of that currency. There were made important artistic contributions like by the Austrian artist Robert Kalina, who designed the current symbol of manat ₼, and the series of 2006. The Azerbaijani Manat is an important financial instrument for the Caucasus region, the guarantor of its financial stability and progress, a beacon of civilization.


1. The bon issued in the Russian Empire [http://www.fox-notes.ru/z_rus_chastnik/aljat_16927.htm]

2. Dictionary Persian Arabic And English Vol.3 published in 1852 [https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.530106/2015.530106.dictionary-persian#page/n269/mode/2up/search/manat]

3. The President library. Administrative Department of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan [http://files.preslib.az/projects/remz/pdf_en/atr_pullar.pdf]

4. The Catalogue of Banknotes of Azerbaijan Republic 1919-1920 [http://www.fox-notes.ru/img_rus/k8_6_azer.htm]

5. The History of the National Currency, Central Bank of Azerbaijan Republic [https://www.cbar.az/pages/national-currency/history-of-the-national-currency/]

6. A Brief history of banknotes. Bank of England [http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/Pages/about/history.aspx]

7. Britannia and Bank, 1694–1961. Bank of England [http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/archive/Documents/history/britannia.pdf]

8. History of History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4 [http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001116/111664eo.pdf]