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A copy of a decree from the archives of the Fāṭimid Chancery in Egypt1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


The medieval registers of the papal Chancery and of the royal Chanceries of Western Europe, which have preserved archival copies of outgoing documents, are an invaluable source for students of medieval European history and diplomatics. Analogous sources from medieval Islamic Chanceries are practically non-existent. We know from literary works, especially the handbooks for government secretaries, that the medieval Islamic Chanceries kept records of the documents they issued by meticulously copying them and filing them in an archive. Some of the surviving documents which emanated from the Egyptian chanceries also attest to this practice. These often contain annotations made by copyists certifying that the document had been copied in the Chancery and/or in other government offices. We also have a report by a clerk of the Ayyūbid Chancery concerning the search in the archives for the copy of a decree which had been issued several years previously. To this report is attached a reproduction of the archival copy. The original contents of the archives of the medieval Egyptian Chanceries, however, have perished almost without a trace.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1986

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2 Al-Ṣūlī, , 'Adab al-Kuttāb, ed. M., Bahjat al-'Atharī, Cairo, 1341/1922–3, 118, 120, 158Google Scholar; Ibn al-Ṣayrafī, Qānūn Dīwān al-Rasā'il, ed. 'All, Bahjat, Cairo, 1905, 133, 137, 140, 142Google Scholar; al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ al-A'shā, Cairo, 1913–19, I, 132, 135–6, 139Google Scholar. Cf. also Ibn Mammātī, Kitāb qawānīn al-dawāwīn, ed. Atiya, A. S., Cairo, 1943, 302.Google Scholar

3 cf. Stern, S. M., Fāṭimid decrees, London, 1964, Nos. 2, 5, 8Google Scholar; idem, ‘Two Ayyūbid decrees from Sinai’ in idem, ed., Documents from Islamic Chanceries, Oxford, 1965, No. 2Google Scholar. Also in documents quoted in literary sources, e.g. al-Maqrīzī, al-Mawā'iẓ wa-'l-I'tibār bi-Dhikr al-Khiṭaṭ wa-'l-'Āthār, Būlāq, 1853, I, 398; al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ, x, 466; XIII, 136.

4 Stern, S. M., ‘Petitions from the Ayyūbid period’, BSOAS, XXVII, 1, 1964, No. 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The report and the reproduced copy of the decree are contained on the back of a petition which was returned to its senders, the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai.

5 The copy on the back of the Ayyūbid petition referred to in n. 4 does not strictly belong to the same class of document since it is a reproduction of an archival copy and not the archival copy itself. It should also be pointed out that in this paper we are only concerned with copies which were made by the Chancery for its own record and not with copies of a document which were made by the Chancery for the recipient. These were produced when someone required more than one copy and/or when it was necessary to send the document to more than one person. For this practice cf., for instance, J. Wansbrough, ‘A Mamlūk; commercial treaty concluded with the Republic of Florence 849/1489’, in Stern, ed., Documents, 49. Also excluded from consideration are the copies of medieval Arabic documents which were made in Europe by their recipients. Some of these are extant in European archives, e.g. Wansbrough, ibid., 48, 50, and pl. XX.

6 Document No. 3 in Stern's article, ‘Three petitions of the Fāṭimid period’, Oriens, XV, 1962, 172209Google Scholar; and the document from St. Catherine's monastery published by Richards, D. S., ‘A Fāṭimid petition and “small decree” from Sinai’, Israel Oriental Studies, III, 1973, 140–58Google Scholar. Note that the Geniza document T-S 13J 17.29 which was published by Goitein, S. D., (‘A caliph's decree in favour of the Rabbinite Jews of Palestine’, Journal of Jewish Studies, V, 1954, 118–25)CrossRefGoogle Scholar is not a decree but the copy of a letter which was sent by a Fāṭimid caliph to the governor of Palestine informing him of the issue of a decree, cf. Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 31.

7 Handbuch der Urkundenlehre, Berlin, 1931, I, 116–17.Google Scholar

8 For instance, Ibn al-Ṣayrafī states (p. 114) that the supervisor of the Chancery should write the date of outgoing manshūrs with his own hand, but in the extant documents the date is in the same hand as the rest of the text. Cf. Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 119.

9 Henceforth the decrees published by Stern in Fāṭimid decrees will simply be referred to by the number which they have been assigned in this corpus.

10 I am grateful to the Syndics of Cambridge University Library for allowing me to publish this fragment. I should also like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to Dr. S. C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Geniza Research Unit, for his constant readiness to give advice and encouragement on all aspects of research into Geniza manuscripts.

11 This restoration is demanded by the content of the following text, cf. especially 2 recto: 4. The added material clearly cannot fit into the space available on the same line. We must assume that the outer edge of the paper was trimmed at some stage.

12 These words have been inserted between the lines.

13 The adjective mutanāhī does not agree in gender with the feminine noun which it qualifies (ṭā'a). A possible explanation is that this adjective, which is from a root with a final weak consonant, was treated analogously to nisba forms on account of the parallelism of termination (both end in -ī). Nisba forms frequently do not agree in gender with the noun they modify in medieval Middle Arabic texts (cf. J., Blau, A grammar of mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic, Jerusalem, 1961, 133–4.Google Scholar and references cited there) and in modern Egyptian colloquial Arabic (cf. Mitchell, T. F., Colloquial Arabic, London, 1962, 43–4Google Scholar). If this is so, the failure of the writer to use the feminine form would have arisen through interference of the vernacular and not by a simple lapsus calami. For the same phenomenon in the Arabic papyri cf. S., Hopkins, Studies in the grammar of early Arabic, Oxford, 1984, 141.Google Scholar

14 One would expect rusima bi rather than rusima fi. The text, however, seems to read the latter.

15 This interpretation of the expression al-'a'māl al-Nastarāwiyya wa-mā ma'ah' is supported by phrases such as al-Burullus wa-mā ma'ahā in Ibn Mammātī (Qawāwīn, 95), which are paralleled by phrases of more specific content, e.g. Mantūt wa-kufūruhā (p. 192), Barhīm wa-jazā'iruhā (p. 116).

16 tilāwati-hi has the sense of ‘being read out in public', cf. the use of the verb from the same root in a Fātimid document quoted by al-Qalqashandī (Ṣubḥ, x, 459): wa-'l-yutla hādhā 'l-manshūr 'alā al-kāfa bi-'l-masjid al-jāmi'. The verb qara'a is employed in the extant decrees to describe the reading of the document by or to an individual official, cf. the phrase man qara'a-hu 'aw quri'a 'alay-hi in Nos. 1, 5, 7, 8, and 10. The same usage occurs in documents quoted by al-Qalqashandī, e.g. Ṣubḥ, XIII, 134, 138.

17 This interpretation of the expression al-shadd min-hnm fi is supported by another Geniza fragment (T-S Ar. 39.387) which is part of a preliminary draft of a Chancery document addressed to a government official. It contains the text: ⃛bi-'l-shadd min-ka fī istikhrāj al-māl 'alā 'l-kamāl⃛wa-'l-tamām wa-qasr yad man yudawwim al-'ihtimā' ‘alay-ka wa-‘l-man' min 'iḥdāth rasm lam tajri bi-hi 'l'āda. An order has been issued in favour of the addressee: ‘for you to be granted the power to levy the money in its entirety, for the hand to be restrained of whomsoever continually defaults (on his payment) to you, and for the prevention of an unwonted practice.

18 The lacuna probably contained a second epithet of al-qanūn, the first three letters of which are visible. This was immediately followed by ba'd.

19 This is a common epithet of dīwāns, cf. Stern, , Fāṭimid decrees, 172Google Scholar; idem, BSOAS, XXVII, 1, 1964, 28,Google Scholar; al-Maqrīzī, Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet, M. G.), Cairo, 1911–13, II, 17Google Scholar, al-Qalqashandī Ṣubḥ, VI, 185, 188.Google Scholar

20 Muyassar, Ibn, 'Akhbālr Miṣr, ed. Massé, M. H., Cairo, 1919, 76–7Google Scholar; al-Maqrīzī, Itti'āẓ al-Ḥunafā', ed. J., Shayyāl, Cairo, 1948, 285, 319.Google Scholar

21 Ibn Muyassar, ibid., 76.

22 Ṣāliḥ, Abū, The churches and monasteries of Egypt and some neighbouring countries, ed. and tr. by B. T. A. Evetts, Oxford, 1895, fol. 8a.Google Scholar

23 Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet), I, 306.

24 Mutajaddidāt, cited by al-Maqrīzī, Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet), II, 18.

25 Qawānīn, 95, 149, 189, 194.

26 Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet), I, 312–13.

27 Kitāb al-Intiṣār li-Wāsiṭat 'Iqd al-Amṣār, Cairo, 1893Google Scholar; it is not included in the list of provinces, V, 43, yet towns are enumerated under the rubric of al-Nastarāwiyya, V, 113, 116.

28 Kitāb al-Tuḥfa al-Saniyya bi-Asmā' al-Bilād al-Miṣriyya, Cairo, 1898, 137.Google Scholar

29 al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ, III, 308.

30 Yāqūt, , Mu'jam al-Buldān, ed. Wustenfeld, F., Leipzig, 1866–73, IV, 780;Google Scholar

31 cf. J., Maspéro and G., Wiet, Matériaux pour servir à la géographie de l'Égypte, Cairo, 1919, 211.Google Scholar

32 Later called Lake Nastarāwah (cf. quotation from Ibn Duqmāq infra) and now known as Lake Burullus.

33 Kitāb al-Masālik wa-'l-Mamālik, ed. M. J. Goeje (Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, II), Leiden, 1873, 90.

34 Mu'jam, IV, 780.

35 Kitāb Taqwīm al-Buldān, ed. M., Reinaud, Paris, 1840, 117.Google Scholar

36 Intiṣār, V, 113.

37 T-S 10J 11.25, which mentions the murder of a certain Jew in the town, cf. N., Golb, ‘The topography of the Jews of mediaeval Egypt’, JNES, 33, 1974, 146Google Scholar. There is no evidence of Jewish settlement in Nastarāwah in the Middle Ages (ibid.).

38 Maspéro-Wiet, Matériaux, 212.

39 See Guest, A. R., ‘The Delta in the Middle Ages’, JRAS, 1912, map.Google Scholar

40 Qawānīn, 95; Intiṣār, V, 113. Under the rubric of the province of Jazīra Banī Naṣr, Ibn Mammātī lists the town Bamṭīm min al-Nastarāwiyya (p. 116). The phrase seems to imply that the two provinces were coterminous. This is hardly possible since Jazīra Banī Naṣr, situated on the east bank of the Rosetta arm, extended north only as far as Ṣā. Ibn Mammātī himself refers to the province of Fūwah wa-Muzāḥamiyyatayn (pp. 99, 138, 150, 195), which lay along the northern stretches of the east bank of the Rosetta arm and so separated Jazīra Banī Naṣr from al-Nastarāwiyya. Evidently the town Bamṭīm was erroneously identified with the similar sounding Balṭīm.

41 Abū Ṣāliḥ, Churches, fols. 7b–8a; al-Maqrīzī, Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet), I, 306.

42 Maspéro-Wiet, Matériaux, 34.

43 Khiṭaṭ (ed. Wiet), I, 312–13.

44 See Maspéro-Wiet, op. cit., ad locum and Abū Ṣāliḥ, Churches, map.

45 Ṣubḥ, III, 409–10.Google Scholar

46 cf. W., Bjorkman, Beitrāge zur Geschichte der Staatskanzlei im islamischen Ägypten, Hamburg, 1928, 99, 102, 162, 164.Google Scholar

47 Khiṭaṭ (Būlāq), I, 405 (cited by H., Rabie, The financial system of Egypt, Oxford, 1972, 151Google Scholar). The same passage, with slight changes, occurs in al-Nābulsī's Kitāb Tajrīd sayf al-himma, cf. C., Cahen, ‘Histoires coptes d'un cadi médiéval: extraits du Kitāb tadjrīd saif al-himma li'stikhrādj mā fī dhimmat al-Dhimma’, B1FAO, LIX, 1960, 144–5.Google Scholar

48 Al-Nuwayri, (d. 732/1332), Nihāyat al-'arab fī funūn al-'adab, Cairo, 1931, VIII, 298Google Scholar, al-Subki, (d. 771/1370), Mu'īd al-nī'am wa-mubīd al-niqam, Leiden, 1908, 41–2Google Scholar; cf. Rabie, op. cit.. 66–7.

49 Die mamlukischen Sultansurkunden des Sinai-Klosters, Wiesbaden, 1960; see index.Google Scholar

50 Ḥawqal, Ibn, Masālik, 90Google Scholar; Duqmāq, Ibn, Intiṣār, V, 113Google Scholar; al-Qalqashandī, , Ṣubḥ, III, 308.Google Scholar

51 ibid.

52 Løkkegaard, F., Islamic taxation in the classic period, Copenhagen, 1950, 97Google Scholar; C. Cahen, art. ‘Bayt al-Mal, El (2nd ed.).

53 Rabie, , op. cit., 88 and idem, al-Nuẓum al-Māliyya fī Miṣr zaman al-'Ayyūbiyyīn, Cairo, 1964, 52.Google Scholar

54 Cahen, ibid.

55 Ṣubḥ, III, 470.Google Scholar

56 Ṣubḥ, III, 495.Google Scholar

57 shakka ‘to string together, cf. Dozy, Supplément, s.v. The corresponding passage in al-Qalqashandī (I, 136) uses the term 'iḍbāra: ḍabara ‘to stitch leaves of a book together.

58 No space, however, was left between the basmala and the beginning of the text.

59 Stern, ‘Three petitions (No. III); Richards, ‘A Fāṭimid petition’.

60 cf. Richards, ibid., 153.

61 cf. the reverse of documents Nos. II and III of Stern's ‘Petitions from the Ayyūbid period’, 27.

62 cf.Ernst, H., Die mamlukischen Sultansurkunden des Sinai-Klosters, pp.xxv–xxvi.Google Scholar

63 Ṣubḥ, VI, 220Google Scholar (cited by Richards, ibid., 154).

64 cf. the decrees published by Ernst; also the document edited by Professor Wansbrough: ‘A Mamlūk commercial treaty concluded with the Republic of Florence 849/1489’, and the texts referred to on p. 70 there. This feature of the Mamlūk decree is described by al-Qalqashandī, , Ṣubḥ, XI, 107–12.Google Scholar

65 cf. Stern, Fātimid decrees, 85–90. The phrase 'amri-hi bi ⃛ tilāwatihi in our decree (2 recto: 2) and the use of the same verb in the manshūr quoted by al-Qalqashandī which was alluded to above (n. 16) suggest that manshūrs were sometimes read out in public.

66 Stern, S. M., ‘Two Ayyūbid decrees from Sinai’, No. I.Google Scholar

67 Ṣubḥ, VI, 187.Google Scholar

68 cf. the documents published by Ernst, in which karīm only occurs as an epithet of a high dignitary or as a modifier of a word referring to his ordinance (II/64; VII/3; XI/16; XIII/C10; XIX/38; LXXVI/24; LII/15; LVII/3, 8; LX/16; LXIII/19, 24; LXV/14, 23, 42; LXVI/12, 18; LXIX/13, 19).

69 e.g. decree No. 4, lines 1 ('ābā'ihi al-kirām), 8 (sijillāt mukarrama), 9 ('aslāfihi al-kirām).

70 Stern, ‘ Petitions from the Ayyubid period ’, No. Ill, 26–7.

71 For the use of the verb thabata with the same meaning, cf. al-Asqalānī, , Fath l-Bārī, iv, Cairo, 1929–30, 2: thabata ‘l-basmala lijamါ’ ‘the basmala heads the whole text’.Google Scholar

72 It is worth noting that archival copies made in other medieval Chanceries did not always reproduce the mark of validation of the original documents. In the Byzantine Chancery, for instance, the copyist faithfully transcribed all the details of the original except the signature of the ruler, cf. Dolger, F. and Karayannopulos, J., Byzantinische Urkundenlehre: Die Kaiserurkunden, Müchen, 1968, 131.Google Scholar

73 cf. Stern, ‘Two Ayyubid decrees’, No. I; idem, ‘Petitions from the Ayyūbid period’, reverse of No. II.

74 ‘Two Ayyubid decrees ’, 16.

75 cf., for instance, the Sinai decrees edited by Ernst.

76 cf. Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 127 ff. In the extant decrees the ‘alāma is always written between the first and second lines of the text.

77 cf. Stern, ‘Three petitions of the Fāṭimid period’, idem, ‘Petitions from the Ayyūbid period’; idem, Petitions from the Mamlūk period’, BSOAS, XXIX, 2, 1966, 233–76Google Scholar; Richards, ‘A Fāṭimid petition’; idem, A Mamlūk petition and a report from the Dīwān al-Jaysh’, BSOAS, XL, 1, 1977, 1–14.Google Scholar

78 For a parallel usage of the verb intahā, cf. the document quoted by al-Qalqashandī, , Ṣubḥ, X, 458Google Scholar. The extant decrees Nos. 6 and 8 contain the passive form 'unhiya at the beginning of the expositio.

79 cf. Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 168.

80 cf. Stern, ‘Petitions from the Ayyūbid period’, p. 30, n. 89; idem, Fāṭimid decrees, 168.

81 Ṣubḥ, VI, 266 (cited by Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 120).Google Scholar

82 The same mark appears several times in another Geniza fragment (T-S Ar. 40.55).

83 For these members of the personnel of the Fāṭimid Chancery, cf. Ibn al-Sayrafī, Qānūn, 108–16, 135–6.

84 cf. the remarks of Ibn Mammātī (early Ayyūbid period) with regard to the nāsikh (copyist) in the dīwāns: ‘When he writes in the copy what is not in the original, he is instructed to correct it’ (Qawānīn, 302). Note also the following passage in Ibn al-Ṣayrafī (p. 108) relating to the summarizing of the content of incoming letters: ‘The clerk summarizes them on the recto of the leaf, then he hands them to the supervisor who compares it with the original. If he finds that the clerk has omitted anything, he reprimands the clerk for his negligence so that he will be careful in future.’

85 cf. Stern, Fāṭimid decrees, 167.

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A copy of a decree from the archives of the Fāṭimid Chancery in Egypt1
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