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The Ashrafiya catalogue has been preserved in a unique manuscript in the Fatih collection in Istanbul, presently housed in the Süleymaniye Library (Fatih 5433, folia 246b–270a). Fatih 5433 is a multiple- text manuscript with texts that, judging from the binding, were most likely bound together in the Ottoman period. The shared characteristic of these texts is that they are all linked with Damascus and that they were all composed in the late Ayyubid/early Mamluk period. The manuscript thus starts on folia 1b to 53b with an anonymous summary of the chronicle The Mirror of Times (Mirʾat al- zaman) by the Damascene scholar SibtIbn al- Jawzi (d. 654/1256), who was closely attached to the city's Ayyubid rulers, among them al- Malik al- Ashraf. Epistles, anecdotes, poems and historical material appear on the following folia up to the Ashrafiya catalogue. These are most likely from the early Mamluk encyclopaedia of the Damascene administrator and adib ʿAli b. al- MuÕaffar al- Wadaʿi (d. 716/1316). The summary and the encyclopaedia are repeatedly interlaced with other texts, such as the ‘spiritual testament’ (wasiya) by the Sufi al- Suhrawardi (d. 632/1234) on folia 104a–105a. After the Ashrafiya catalogue we find on folia 271b to 282b again material from a minor untitled manual by the low- ranking early Mamluk administrator Sulayman b. Musa Abu al- ʿAlaʾ (d. 713/1314).
The Ashrafiya catalogue has no colophon but was, as discussed in Chapter 1, most likely written in Damascus in the 670s/1270s by the librarian Ahmad al- Ansari. The manuscript consists of twenty- five folia of differently coloured wove paper. It is in a very good state of preservation with no lacunae and only occasional stains. The catalogue is written in naskh with partially pointed letters and occasional use of vocalisation. The script is of decreasing quality as the catalogue progresses from a very clear hand in the beginning to a rather sloppy script towards the end. Even though the hand changes, the entire catalogue was written by one scribe. The text is monochrome in black ink. For rubrications, wider word spacing and larger letter sizes are employed. The manuscript is bound in an Ottoman full leather binding on pasteboard without fore-edge flaps. The front and back cover are identically decorated with a framed square.
With its large library collection the Ashrafīya had to have some system of how to arrange and organise its books. This was paramount for two reasons: first, space was – as we will see below – a scarce resource in such an endowment and the books had to be stocked in an efficient way to avoid unnecessarily wasting it. Perhaps even more importantly a collection holding more than 2,000 books had to provide some reliable system to retrieve specific titles in order to be of any use to its librarian and readers. Smaller collections could afford the luxury of organising their books into rough categories and could also, arguably, afford to use comparatively inefficient library furnishings such as book chests. The only other surviving catalogue from this period pertaining to the mosque library in the North African city of Kairouan only listed 125 books. On account of its small size, there is no real organisation to speak of apart from grouping the copies of the Koran. However, a library such as the Ashrafīya required a sophisticated and highly developed system for storing and retrieving its books. Its catalogue of forty-eight pages was a crucial tool in achieving these goals and the present chapter will analyse its structure to present the organisation of this library and its spatial arrangement. As the catalogue was most likely written by the librarian al-Ansārī in the 670s/1270s, I will in the following repeatedly talk of al-Ansārī's role in organising the library. This is not meant to imply that he completely reorganised the library on his own, but rather to put a name to a process, which certainly began with the foundation of the library some four decades earlier and involved more than one individual in subsequent years.
So far the document at the heart of this book, the fihrist, has been consistently called a ‘catalogue’. This conscious choice was made in order to argue against the assumption that a medieval library's ‘fihrist is a legal register’ in the first place and functions as a catalogue as a by-product, if at all. In this vein the Ashrafīya catalogue has been described as a ‘failure in being a veritable tool for retrieving books, but it rather leans towards being a mere tool for listing them’.
This chapter presents the data contained in the Ashrafīya catalogue in a standardised form. The central challenge in preparing this list, and in working with medieval book lists and catalogues in general, is the identification of titles. In many cases this is a straightforward endeavour, as titles are given with a reasonable degree of detail and are sufficiently well known: an entry such as Adab al-dīn wa-al- dunyā (On Conduct in Religious and Worldly Matters) by al-Māwardī is unequivocal and requires no further research. Easily identifiable titles are especially found whenever al-Ansārī provides the author's name, which is the case for almost half of the catalogue's entries (965). In these cases modern reference and overview works such as the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Baghdādī's Ī∂āa al-maknūn, Sezgin's Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, al-Ka hhāla's Muʿjam al-Mu ʾallifīn, Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur and al-Ziriklī's al-A ʿlām are generally sufficient if combined with early modern bio-bibliographical works such as Oājjī Khalīfa's Kashf al-Ounūn as well as subject-specific and author-specific works such as Ullmann's Die Medizin im Islam, Gutas's Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition, Pellat's Nouvel essai d’inventaire de l’oeuvre ĞāaiOienne and Alwajī's Muʾallafāt Ibn al-Jawzī. However, in many other cases the identification is far from straightforward and rather resembles, as quoted in the Introduction, a fiendish species of crossword. In these cases the information on the author is generally absent and the title given poses particular problems. From my experience of working with the Ashrafīya catalogue and other medieval book lists, the titles of these problematic cases broadly fall into four main categories: the generic title, the popular title, the ‘book-in- the- making’ title and the key word title.
The first category of generic titles includes entries such as Multiple-Text Manuscript with Poems and Reports (Majmūʿ ashʿār wa-akhbār), Stories, Poems and Anecdotes (Akhbār wa-ash ʿār wa-nawādir) and Persian Correspondence (Tarassul ʿajamī).
This is the story of a medieval Arabic library. Positioned in the centre of seventh-/ thirteenth-century Damascus, part of an educational institution and endowed by members of the political and social elite there is nothing too unusual about the Ashrafīya library. In many ways it is a run-of- the- mill library of which dozens probably existed in Damascus and hundreds more in the various Syrian and Egyptian cities. Yet this library differs in one significant way from all of its counterparts: its catalogue has come down to us. Library catalogues do not sound like the most exciting documents we can lay our hands on and this book is certainly not the Middle Eastern equivalent to Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose (although the first shaykh to preside over the library's mother institution did fall victim to a highly suspicious and unsolved murder). Rather this library catalogue is so valuable because it opens a door into a pre-print world of books and shelves, which was at the very heart of society but was hitherto largely inaccessible.
For the first time we are able to gain a detailed insight into what books were held in such a medieval Arabic library and thus its intellectual profile. William of Baskerville would not have found Aristotle's Book on Comedy on the library's shelves, but at least eighteen other titles ascribed to Aristotle, Plato, Galen and Socrates would have been available to him among the 2,000 books in its stock. The catalogue also allows us to understand for the first time how the books were actually organised on the shelves (How do we make the books retrievable?) and it allows us to grasp the spatial dimensions of a medieval library (How do we cram all of these books into such small places?). Finally, for the first time one can follow the nuts and bolts of founding a medieval library in the Arabic Middle East (From where do we get the books?) and of running it in the subsequent decades and centuries (How do we prevent those folks from running off with the books?). The catalogue was known to the great scholar of manuscripts Ramazan Şeşen, who briefly cited it in some of his publications from the 1970s onwards.
We have seen who put the books on the Ashrafīya's shelves and how these books were organised; the present chapter will now turn to the books themselves. The Ashrafīya catalogue provides the first opportunity for scholarship to access and gain an insight into the thematic profile of a large-scale medieval Arabic educational library and this discussion centres on just that: what kind of texts were available and what the library's thematic profile tells us about its function within the literary topography of a medieval Middle Eastern city. Until now scholarship has not recognised the originality and breadth of the collection and its potential contribution to understanding medieval libraries and this is for two main reasons: the Ashrafīya's eponym has had a rather ‘anti-intellectual’ reputation in modern scholarship, so without this catalogue the library's diet of books would have been assumed to be rather meagre. Yet, as will be seen in the following, a rather colourful mixture of books surrounded al-Malik al-Ashraf in his final resting place. More important for Middle Eastern history beyond the case of this one specific ruler and his intellectual outlook is that the library was part of a run-of- the- mill mausoleum-cum- madrasa, which scholarship has not considered to have had particularly interesting book collections.
Al-Malik al-Ashraf's reputation in modern scholarship – not that there is much of a reputation – has been dented by his dismissal of the leading theologian and theoretical jurisprudent Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī. Louis Pouzet considered this as a pivotal moment of ‘the “traditionalist” and anti-intellectual reaction, which accompanied the accession [of al-Malik al-Ashraf]’ in Damascus. In a similar vein, Stephen Humphreys argued that al-Malik al-Ashraf did not share the ‘tolerance’ of his brother and predecessor al-Mucazzam, but that he rather pursued a ‘constant policy to rid his capital of rationalist philosophizing in its madrasas and of “extremist” Sufis in its popular life’. In consequence, ‘his patronage extended only to the narrowest form of scholarship, the study of hadith’ in line with ‘the strict and puritanical tone of his public administration’.
The Ayyubid period was one of extensive building activity during which many cities of Syria and Egypt were substantially redeveloped. Damascus was at the very centre of these activities and the city continually witnessed the erection of new edifices, especially educational institutions. The patrons of these ‘constructions of power and piety’ belonged mostly to the military and political elites. Al-Malik al-Ashraf was no exception and when he passed away in 635/1237 he had prominently inscribed himself into the urban texture of Damascus. His most visible legacy was two Dār al- aadīths, institutions dedicated to the study of the Prophetic tradition, which al-Malik al-Ashraf had built in the decade that he ruled the city. The inaugurations of the two institutions were important moments in the city's life and the buildings were to remain focal points of scholarly and devotional activities in the decades and centuries to come.
Their position within the urban landscape of Damascus was carefully chosen: Al-Ashraf built his first Dār al- hadīth intra muros and close to the citadel, the seat of military and political might in Damascus (number 164 in Map 1.1). Its significance went well beyond the scholarly and social elite as it housed a relic that al-Malik al-Ashraf had brought to Damascus, the Prophet's sandal. This sandal was a central element of the increasing Muaammad veneration that characterised the religious life of Damascus and Syria during this period. It remained for almost two centuries, until it was carried off by Tamerlane (Tīmūr (d. 807/1405)), one of the city's major attractions. Al-Malik al-Ashraf's second Dār al- hadīth was placed outside the city walls on the slope of Qāsyūn Mountain to the northwest of the city.
In the previous decades the Sālihīya suburb on Qāsyūn had witnessed rapid development and was a flourishing part of Damascus when he was ruling the city. Al-Malik al-Ashraf further deepened his devotional footprint by building or rebuilding several mosques across the city.