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5 - The Law of the Market

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 October 2020

Yaacov Lev
Affiliation:
Bar Ilan University, Israel
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Summary

Ḥisba Manuals

There is a long Middle Eastern tradition of regulating and supervising commerce and market life embodied in the post of market supervisor known in Greek, Persian, Aramaic and Hebrew as agoranomos, vazarbad, rabb shūk and baʿal ha-shūk. One can argue that practice in Late Antiquity continued under the guise of Islam, and in the Egyptian context, one of the earliest references alluding to such continuity is from the eighth century. The jurist Ḥarmala ibn ʿImrān ibn Qurrād, known as Abū Ḥafṣ (699–776), was appointed in charge of sūq Miṣr, meaning a market supervisor in Fusṭāṭ. In ninth-century documentary sources the term ṣāḥib al-sūq appears. One document is a letter addressed to the ṣāḥib al-sūq, concerning the delivery of vinegar to a certain person and his six companions. In late literary sources the term muḥtasib is widely used, and Maqrīzī, for example, refers to the jurist Abū Muzāḥim (d. 818) as muḥtasib. What the range of the ṣāḥib al-sūq’s/muḥtasib's duties could have been is perhaps reflected by the responsibilities held by Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī ibn Mūsā al-ʿAddās (d. 935), who was in charge of ḥisba, daqīq (flour) and sūq Miṣr. The account should not be understood as indicating three different posts, since the term ḥisba subsumes supervision of the markets and the grain/bread trade.

The epigraphic evidence is essential for the early history of the ḥisba institution, since both terms, ṣāḥib al-sūq and muḥtasib, appear on glass weights and measures issued by officials in late Umayyad and early Abbasid Egypt. The earliest appearance of the title ṣāḥib al-sūq cannot be securely established, but the title muḥtasib is engraved on a stamp inscription of a wuqiyya weight from the time of the governorship of ʿAlī ibn Sulaymān (786–7). Alexander H. Morton has suggested a link between this epigraphic reference to a muḥtasib and the characterisation of ʿAlī ibn Sulaymān as a governor who followed the ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong’ doctrine, which eventually became the motto of the ḥisba institution. Other stamp inscriptions on glass weights which bear the names of governors and muḥtasibs are from the second half of the ninth century.

Type
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The Administration of Justice in Medieval Egypt
From the 7th to the 12th Century
, pp. 184 - 201
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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