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Portrait of a medieval India trader: three letters from the Cairo Geniza1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


The first comprehensive survey of Geniza documents about the trade on the route to India was published by me in Speculum, A Journal of the American Medieval Academy, 29, 181–97, in April 1954. At that time I was able to give a report about 130 Geniza papers related in one way or another to the India trade. Soon after the article was published, a distinguished institution offered me the opportunity to publish the material in full. I accepted with enthusiasm and set feverishly to work. But slowly it dawned upon me that one should not try to solve problems by sagacity at a time when new sources that could provide factual answers to those problems might lurk around the corner

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1987

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2 In the same year I publisher some examples of Geniza texts connected with the India trade, Two eyewitness reports on an exports on an expedition of the King of Kish (Qais) against Aden’, BSOAS, xvi, 2, 1954, 247–57Google Scholar

3 Quoted here as Goitein, Studies, see ibid., 330–1. The book is now available in an Arabic translation: Dirãsãt fi ‘l-IslãmĪ wal-nuzum al-Islāmiyya, ed. and tr. ‘Atiyya al-QawnĪ (Kuwait, 1980).

4 Originally an edition had been planned based on a collection of 197 items plus eight supplements added in the course of the years, This was the version available to Shaul Shaked while compiling A tentative bibliography of Geniza documents, (Paris-The Hague, 1964), and is referred to here as ‘India Book, Old’. The new arrangement, in seven chapters according to subject matter, is quoted here as ‘India Book, Final’

5 A mediterranean society: The Jewish communities of the Arab world as portrayed in the documents of the Cairo Genizam I, Economic foundations (Berkeley and Loc Angeles, 1967); ii, The community (1971); iii, The family (1978);iv, Daily life (1983);v, The individual (manuscript delivered to the publisher in December 1984). The series is quoted here as Mediterranean society. The details of the decision of 1958I apologize for the biographical details. I felt I owed an explanation to readers who might have read some of my previous publications on the India trade.

6 Abū ‘l-Afrāh ’Arūs means ‘a joyful bridegroom’, abeautiful name given by a happy mother to her newborn. It is not found by me elsewhere in the Geniza, nor among the approximately 35,000 Arab names listed by ibn al-KalbĪ (d. 819) in his amhara or Genealogical dictionary (ed. W. caskel, Leiden, 1966). (‘ArŪsa, ‘bride’, as a personal name, was met by me only once in the Geniza documents, also in North Africa). arjawān, purple, cf. Hebrew argaman, was also pronounced arjuwān and, especially today, urjuwān. But the latter pronunciation is not attested in the Geniza

7 How distant at that time (the 1080s) even ‘Aydhāb, the main port on the western coast of the Red Sea, from which one sailed to Yemen, India, and China, appeared to the people of Cairo, may be concluded from his question addressed to ‘ArŪs after his return from one of his trips south: ’Let me know whether anyone (meaning: of their acquaintances) has got as far as ‘Aydhāb.’ TS (=Taylor-Schechter Collection in the Cambridge University Library) 16.308, 1. 31, ‘India Book, Final’, ch. 6, no. 7.

8 TS 16.23 and TS 10 J 5, f. 2, ‘India Book, Final,’, ch.6, no. 5. See also Mediterranean society, iii, 252 with nn. 15–17, and 253 with nn. 22–4

9 The ‘sister‚s son’ syndrome was a widespread phenomenon in the Geniza society (and its environment), see ibid., III, 24–6, and passim. ‘Allān‚s real father was alive as late as the writing of Letter II, see n. 73, below

10 The letter, DK (David Kaufmann Collection, Budapest), no. X, is translated in full in Mediterranean society, III, 193–4 and discussed in vol. v (forthcoming), in the section ‘A personal touch in letters to and from women’

11 Economic importance of provincial towns: ibid., iv, 43, and passim, For local clothiers in large provincial towns we now have the interesting papyri from the Louvre being treated by YŪsuf Rāghib (at the suggestion of Claude Cahen), see, e.g., Y. Rāghib, ‘Pour un renouveau de la papyrologie arabe’, Academie des inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Comptes Rendus, 1984, 69–76

12 See the story in Goitein, Letters, 255–7, where, during a drinking bout, a youth elicits from his father the sworn promise to send him overseas in that very year. The father, of course, kept his oath. His endeavour to render his son‚s overseas business venture as inexpensive as possible makes quite humorous reading for us

13 On corals and storax, see nn. 32 and 33, below

14 AIU (Library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, Paris), VII, E, 35, ‘India Book, Final’ ch. 2, no. 12. On (the art of not)paying one‚s debts see Mediterranean society, I, 204–5, 258–9, and passim

15 TS 12.7, II. 6–11, with excellent photographs. ‘Allān is referred to in B, 1. 3 (where his father‚s name, HassŪn, is Hebraized to Japheth), 1. 24. These manuscripts are now in the Freer Gallery, Washinhton, D.C

17 About this aspect of good manners see Mediterranean society, v, section A, 2. (Hard times)

18 Returning from Aden to India immediately after arrival there is reported also in another letter (namely, of MahrŪz b. Jacob, an Adenese Jewish shipowner). BM (British Museum) Or 5542, f. 17, and TS 16.345, two copies of same letter in same script (of a clerk)

19 I am deeply indebted to Dr. Paul Fenton, who, while skimming through the newly created ‘Additional Series’ of the Taylor-Schechter Collection at the Cambridge University Library (TSAS), came upon the two fragments of which Letter II is composed and put them at my disposal

20 For instance, the letter m is mostly represented by two separate strokes, the second occasionally combined with the next letter

21 To be sure, without diacritical dots, which means, for instance, that the signs for the sounds b, t, th, y, n, are identical. A reader familiar with the usages of the merchants will incur no great difficulties in deciphering such a letter, with one exception: when it contains names of goods and other technical terms not known to the reader from another source, see n. 23, below

22 See p. 452, above. The letter from 1148 is preserved in the Library of the Hebrew Univeristy, jerusalem, and was publisher by the late E. Strauss-Ashtor in Zion, 7, 1941, [48–5]

23 Albrecht Dietrich, Zum drogenhandel im Islamischen Ägypten(Heidelberg, 1954). The letter of Khalaf partly published in BSO AS, xvi, 2, 1954, see n. 2, above, is written in Hebrew characters, It was transcribed into Arabic for the convenience of the readers

24 Khalaf‚s letter to ‘Allān: ENA NS 2, f, 29, i.e., the Elkan Nathan Adler Collection in the jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, New series

25 My former assistant, Dr. Paula Sanders, now assistant professor at Harvard, transcribed (on New Year‚s day, 1985) the texts from my Hebrew typescript with her usual vigilance, for which the readers of this journal will certainly be appreciative.The Syndics of the Cambridge University Library kindly gave permission for the publication of the documents printed here, I am also grateful to the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the University Library for their good services, See also n. 19, above

40 Bāde‚, a small barter centre for African goods, already in ruins at the time of YāqŪt (c. 1228), Geographisches Wörterbuch (Leipzig, 1866), 1, 471, but repeatedly occurring in the Geniza. For its location see J. S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (London, 1952), 50 ff

26 Wālidāi, literally the one who begot me.

27 The support and help granted bu God.

28 Success, mainly in the fulfilment of God‚s commandments.

29 Ar. al-mu‚nigāt, not found by me elsewhere in the Geniza.

30 A robe mostly made in Alexandria, see Mediterranean society, IV, 7 and lndex to vol. Iv, passim, S.v. robe.

31 Around 1100 SindābŪr was a port on the northern tip of the pepper counity on the west coast of India (near the once Portuguese town of Goa). See the map in IdrĪsĪ, India, tr. MaqbŪl Ahmad (Leiden, 1960) (at the end of the book). Its exact location seems to be in doubt, see M. H. Nainar, The knowledge of India passessed by the Arab geographers etc. ‘Sindābur of the Arab writers’, Journal fo Indian History, 10, 1931, 191–5. The article is instructive because the author seems to have known the country well. It should be noted that, thus far, I have found the place-name SindābŪr in the Geniza only in the letters of ‘Allān b. HassŪn, During the second quarter of the twelfth century, from which we have a great mass of Geniza letters and documents, there is no mention of SindābŪr.

32 Storax, may‚a, an aromatic resin obtained from trees in Asia Minor, used in perfume and medicine, a common commodity exported via Alexandria, Cairo, and Aden to India, as Proved by the Geniza letters.

33 Corals were sold wholesale (by the thousands) in ‘selling units’, bay‚a; storax, both the fluid and the solid, in mann (a weight of approximately two pounds). Thereford, ‘it’ refers here to the corals. cf. ULC (University Library Cambridge) Add. 3418 and 3421, ‘India Book, Final’, Ch. 1, nos. 1–2, II. 19–21, verso, 1. 1), where storax and corals, both Mediterranean products, were sent together to India, In that document (dated 1097) too ‘ArŪs provides the storax. In TS 8 J 19, F. 26, 1. 13 (late eleventh century) ‘the merchants from yemen’ come to Alexandria to buy storax.

34 Sibā‚, the (perhaps senior) partner of ‘ArŪs, see p. 450 above.

35 Most probably silver vessels of Egyptian manufacture, such as were sent to India according to other Geniza sources.

36 All the ports mentioned in what follows are south of the main Red Sea port ‘Aydhāb. ‚Allān‚s main sales were certainly effected there, and reports about them were sent to ‘ArŪs. The ‘balance of 70 mithqāls’ means the remaining garments worth that sum. Actually, ‘Allān cashed a total of 74 mithgāls.

37 Ar. aksiyā, sc. kisā, male outer garment, which could serve also as a night cover.

38 Dahlak, still in existence, see EI (2nd ed.), II, 90–1. Often mentioned in Geniza letters as a port on the southern section of the west coast of the Red Sea; also as the seat of a petty ruler engaged in piracy.

39 All customers in these places bear Muslim names. Wholesale business was usually conducted on credit, deferment of payment granted ofter for a considerable stretch of time, as here, see Mediterranean society, I, 197 ff. For Kārim see EI(2nd ed.), IV, 640–3, and Goitein, Studies, 352–60. The Geniza letter of the eleventh and twelfth centuries speak only of ‘the Kārim’, almost never of a ‘KārimĪ merchant’. In those early times, it seems, the Kārim was an organization for maritime transport (like a caravan on land) rather than a commercial ‘Hansa’, as it becames later, especially in mamlŪk times

40 Bāde‚, a small barter centre for African goods, already in ruins at the time of YāqŪt (c. 1228), Geographisches Wörterbuch (Leipzig, 1866), 1, 471Google Scholar, but repeatedly occurring in the Geniza. For its location see Trimingham, J. S., Islam in Ethiopia (London, 1952), 50 ffGoogle Scholar

41 Swmakin, (for Sawakin), still in existence; in Geniza times a frequently visted southern port on the west coast of the Read Sea.Google Scholar

42 Lakh(a)ba, a place near Aden, renowned in the Geniza for its glass (and bricks); see Oscar, Lofgren, Arabische Texte zur Kenntnis der Stadt Aden im Mittelalter (Uppsala, 1936), 21–2, 54.Google Scholar

43 43The word ‘whores’ was written in Hebrew so that it would not be understood by everyone. As has been so often described by Arab and Hebrew poets, the company of revellers is served wine by an unbearded youth, who should not necessarily be regarded as an object of homosexual overtures. Wine was sacred in Jewish ritual; only wine prepared and preserved under special supervision could be consumed. The profligate cousin, ‘Allan wishes to emphasize, cared as little for ritual as for morality. The last line: wa–ahad (1. 22) amrad yus(qthim), ‘serving them drinks’. Here followed the concluding greetings.

44 ‘Allan describes himself as hajid ‘grandson’ or ‘descendant’ of ‘Arus’ meaning that heregards him as his physical progenitor, see n. 26, above. In Arabic ‘my brother from father and mother’ means ‘not related, but very dear’. The strange spelling of hafidas haflz has its cause in the pronunciation of classical Hebrew d as dh after a vowel. The sounds z and dh had a number of variables, see Blau, Joshua, The emergence and linguistic background of Judaeo–Arabic (Oxford, 1965), 76. For d = z = dhsee Letter m, 1. 10: A‘ydab for ‘Aydhab.‘Allan calls himself ‘Allal (as some other ‘Allans did occasionally), a form of endearment, imitating the speech of small children. He says to his father–in–law, ‘Although braving the Indian ocean, I am still your baby ‘Allal, obedient to your instructions.’ We do not meet this usage in his later letters.Google Scholar

45 For Sindabur see Letter I, n. 31.

46 Only Al–m ‥ r is visible. Something like Munaybar–Manibar–Malibar (Malabar, the pepper country on the southern section of the west coast of India) must have been written. The use of the article is strange, but perhaps it was meant to express the idea of both city and region. The plural Malibarat in Letters, p. 64, n. 10, might be understood similarly. The situation is clear. The merchants travelled from Sindabur, the northern port leading to the pepper country via a place called Manlbar to Faknur (TS AS 156.238,11. 2–4), a capital city in the Malabar country, and from there to Kulam–Kawlam, the southernmost port on the Malabar Coast (sections C and D), from where they planned to return to Aden. For Kiilam or Kawlam (later called by the Europeans Quilon) see Nainar, The knowledge of India (cf. Letter I, n. 31), 44–8, also El (2nd ed.), v, 360; for Malibar, see Nainar, ibid., 56–59. I spell Kulam, as in the El (2nd ed.), although The Itinerary of Benjamin ofTudela (the Spanish Jewish traveller, ed. M. N. 4 dler, London, 1907) Heb. sec, p. 58, has Q‧wlm, which shows that Benjamin had heard the name pronounced Kawlam, as found also in several Arab geographers, see Nainar, 230. Tibbets, G. R., Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean before the coming of the Portuguese (London, 1971), 202 and 582, has only Kulam.Google Scholar

47 Ar. aradna al–khuruj ila ‘Adan. In Geniza Arabic khuruj means setting out for home.

48 The town Al–m ‥ r, discussed in n. 46, above.

49 Nawak(a Persian word, meaning arrow) clearly was a prominent personality on the Malabar coast (see the first paragraph in sec. D) and was known even to the family back in Cairo.

50 []An educated guess. In the original manuscript one or two more words in this line might be decipherable.

51 For Faknur, see Nainar, , The knowledge of India, 3334, and n. 46, above. This spelling is confirmed by our ‘Allan, who mentions it in this letter four times. Tibbets, Arab navigation, 200 and 576 has a short a, but his main sources are later by centuries than ‘Allan and the Arab geographer noted by Nainar. Yohanan Friedmann, ‘Qissat Shakarwatl Farmad,’ Israel Oriental Studies, 5, 1975, 239, spells Fakkanur.Google Scholar

52 Jacob, not Ya‧qub, a Jewish merchant. The combination Thabit b. Jacob is repeatedly found in Rabbanite (TS 16.33, [1044/5]) and Karaite (TS NS 320, f. 34) marriage contracts, but not in connexion with the India trade

53 For Kulam see n. 46, above.

54 ‘New Year’, text: al–nahruz, for the more common nawruz, or nayruz, the original Persian New Year, partly accepted by Muslim governments for administrative purposes. According to Wiistenfeld–Mahlersche Vergleichungs–tabellen, ed. Berthold, Spuler (Wiesbaden, 1961), 38, in around 1100, Nawruz would have fallen on February 20 according to the Julian (or ‘Old’) calendar, and a few days later according to our present (Gregorian or‘ New’) calendar. The writer wishes to emphasize that they set sail at an exceptionally early date. March 1st was regarded as still safe for sailing westward from the Malabar coast according to Ibn Majid's nautical handbook translated by Tibbets, Arab navigation, 375.Google Scholar

55 Pusht. Arabic does not possess a letter for the sound p, but Hebrew does. I have little doubt that the word is Persian pusht (back, hump) and was pronounced thus by the passengers. Tibbets, Arab navigation, lists the word, of course, under fusht, p. 537, where further references are provided. The northern end of the Laccadive Islands, south–west of India, situated on the same geographical latitude as Mangalore, was called ra's (Cape) al–fdl and was notorious for its reefs, see Tibbetts, ibid., 459.

56 Ar. rigs', a word with many meanings. Astronomical tables guiding the seafarer were well known, cf. Tibbetts, ibid., 29–33. An experienced captain, like the one buried at sea, as reportedhere, could perhaps do without them.

57 Since no shipmaster was on board, the goods carried could be declared derelict and be confiscated by the local ruler.

58 The third of the three officials who examined the witnesses regarding the proprietorship of the boat in which ‘Allan had travelled bore the Persian title kārādr’ manager, found also in other Geniza papers. The first two had Indian names. I hope that a scholar familiar with Indian legal and administrative terminology will be able to decipher them. We know so little about the organization of the Indian overseas trade from the Indian side around 1100 that every new insight is welcome. It should be noted that the Spanish Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela (Engl. tr., p. 64) reports this about Kulam: ‘They are honest in their dealings. When merchants arrive from distant countries and enter the port, three of the King's scribes come, list their names, and present them to the King, whereupon the latter makes himself responsible for their property even when it is left in the open without a guardsman.’ Benjamin, as far as we know, never reached India, but rather made inquiries about it while in Iraq. His note about the three officials welcoming the foreign merchants arriving in Kulam proves that ‘Allan's experience was nothing uncommon. Even the family back in Cairo was familiar with the titles of those officials. [Professor Goitein questioned several scholars about the two Indian words in this passage. Professor David Shulman, head of the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the Hebrew University, responded with the following suggestion regarding the second word; his letter arrived after Professor Goitein's death. Reading the consonants tyrwly following the definite article, Professor Shulman writes: ‘ The possibility [exists] that the word is related to Tamil tiruvali, “signet ring”, attested at least from lOth–llth cs., so that the official mentioned in the Genizah fragment might onceivably be the bearer of such a ring (which lent its name to the office). It's just a guess.’ The reading tyrwly looks quite likely, and with Professor Shulman's kind permission, we have included his suggestion here. (M. R. C.)]

59 Nawak (see n. 49 above) was perhaps not the proprietor of the boat, but his testimony concerning it was accepted, although the passengers might have had some doubts concerning its truth.

60 Following the dire experience with the dead captain, the travellers wanted to be protected against a similar occurrence, and also against a flight of the captain in times of danger, as Nawak had done, see sec. B above. Two captains are also mentioned elsewhere.

61 61 Twenty (20) maliki or Adenese dinars for a bahdr (c. 300 pounds) was a very good price. In another letter Madmun b. Hasan b. Bundar, ‘representative of the merchants of Aden to all rulers of the Land and the Seas,’ ndzir or overseer of its port, and Head of the Jews of Yemen, informs Abraham Ben Yiju in India that practically all types of iron imported to Aden had been sold out; he expected a very good year for refurbished iron, muhdath, in the next year, reaching a price of perhaps 20 (local) dinars or more. He advises Abraham of this and asks him also to inform other business friends, mentioned by name, two Hindus and one Muslim, of the situation. (In the same letter a Christian, Abd al-MasIh, ‘Servant of Jesus’, the deacon, transports presents from Madmun to Ben Yiju.) As the fragments preserved show, Abraham had received two copies of this letter. Since paper was scarce in India, he clipped some blank space out of one of them and used it for notes on his own dealings in Aden, made for a business frien, most likely in the year following Madmun's letter. But for 10½ bahdrs of ‘refurbished’ iron, he got only 17 dinars per bahdr, and for two other bahdrs, 18 dinars. For pepper too Madmun's calculations were off the mark. He expected that the price would be 30 dinars per bahār. Ben Yiju received only 24 (which, however, was not bad). Madmun's letter is translated in my ‘The India trade of the High Middle Ages in the light of the Cairo Geniza’ (in preparation = ‘India Book, Final’), ch. 2, nos. 13–15, Ben Yiju's notes ibid., ch. 3, no. 28.

62 [The word is damaged in the text (see facsimile). Professor Goitein, in his own transcription, has s … In his English translation he supplied saqat (spices and seasonings; see Letters, p. 113. n. 7}. M. R. C].

63 For Aden a price of 35 (local) dinars for a sack of pepper was far too high, see n. 61. ‘Allan could not waste his time waiting for the next seafaring season.

64 Renting storage space in Aden in a boat for the return trip from Faknur, India and planning even to pay for it in advance shows that traffic between the two places was rather congested, but reveals also that the travellers regarded those protracted voyages as comparatively safe.

65 Probably called thus not because he was a native of the city of Kiifa in Iraq (which by that time had become a rarely mentioned inland town, see EI(2nd ed.), v, 348), but because his father dealt in Kuff iron, one of the six or seven types of iron mentioned in the Geniza letters referring to the India trade.

66 Bundar, Bundar b. Hasan b., the elder brother of Hasan, Madmun b., see n. 61 above, who died long before Madmun, but occupied at the time of this letter a position similar to that in which the latter succeeded him. A short letter of this Bundar addressed to our ‘Hassun, Allan b. is translated in ‘India Book Final’: ch. 2, no. 12. ‘Allan had intended to pay the shipmaster in advance, expecting that a part of the pepper would be purchased by the latter, but had been dissuaded from this by the two experienced overseas traders.Google Scholar

67 Baqqam, brazilwood, bois de campeche, a dyeing material and major item in the international trade between India, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain, see Mediterranean society, I, 532, and Ashtor, E., Histoire des prix … dans VOrient medieval (Paris, 1969), p. 145, nn. 3–10 (where the dinars mentioned were of different values). Baqqam was preferred to specie because it could be converted by the recipient into the local currency more profitably.Google Scholar

68 Ldlas, an Indian red silk, exported to the West both as clothing, as here, or as material. Common in the Geniza, but for gifts more than in trade. The 50 red furjiyyas, probably also made of Idlas, mentioned in the following, were destined like the baqqam for the maintenance of the writer's family. The robes might have been manufactured also of cotton, another common export from India in those days.

69 By oversight, ‘Allan wrote fujriyya for furjiyya. Mats, husur (text has husur), perhaps the strong type imported from Berbera, Somalia, often mentioned as packing materials for shipments from Aden to India.

70 This often repeated phrase means simply: ‘Finished, I am going over to another topic’

71 Such completely uncommon brevity (cf. the beginning!) is to be explained by the simple fact that the writer had arrived at the end of the page, and paper was scarce.

72 Ab, approximately August, both according to the lunar–solar general (originally Christian) and Jewish calendars. I believe ‘Allan had the former in mind.

73 Aramaic safe lav, a blessing for an old man. ‘Allan's father probably had remained in Tunisia. Otherwise greetings would have been extended to him.

74 As the continuation shows, this letter was actually written in the seaport of ‘Aydhab. The reference to Qus means: upon arriving in Qus I parted company with ‘the son of the female broker’. Qus, at that time the main city of Upper Egypt, is often mentioned in the Geniza as the emporium from which the merchants coming up the Nile from the Mediterranean area joined caravans for the dangerous passage to ‘Aydhab’ through a waterless desert infested by highwaymen. In the great tradition of French urbanism, every aspect of the history of Qus—general, socioeconomic, archaeological, literary—has been described by Jean-Claude Garcin in his voluminous Un centre musulman de la Haute Egypte medievale: Qus (Cairo, 1976). Female brokers were very common in Geniza times, see Mediterranean society, i, 161, and m, 330, mostly of low, but sometimes of high rank. About the important institution of the rafiq, or travelling companion, see ibid., i, 347–8, and passim.

75 ‘Religion’ is meant here not in its ritual, but moral sense.

76 Travelling companions were supposed to stay together in one place, a kind of cabin, or a screened space, where their goods were stationed; on or between them they accommodated themselves.

77 77 Yahya ‘May he live’ was a common name. It seems, however, that here Yahya al–Fasf (family name, derived from Fez, Morocco), who was in close contact with ‘Arus b. Joseph, is meant.

78 For the spelling of the name see Letter I, n. 44.

79 For travel to Aden or India one used the ships of the Karimis arriving from there.

80 The decision to travel was inspired by God.

81 He uses here the Hebrew word shuthafiith (thus was the word spelled in Geniza times), see Mediterranean society, I, p. 170 and n. 2; but I do not believe he wanted to say ‘according to Jewish law’ (ibid., p. 171 and n. 3), but simply before a Jewish notary or court.

82 ‘Allan's letter was addressed to the grown–up sons, but ‘excellent’ greetings were extended to little Abu Sa'd, to make him proud that even in faraway Aydhab he was not forgotten. ‘ His mother’ is the writer's wife, ‘his paternal uncle’, Allan's brother–in–law. Polite letter writing required that persons should be mentioned with their relationship to the recipient, not the writer.

83 Zayn ‘ornament’ was an often found composite for a name given at birth. A boy belonging to the merchant class would be called zayn al–tujjar ‘Ornament of the merchants’, one borne into a family of government officers—zayn al–kutldb ‘Ornament of the clerks’. Naturally, in female names zayn was even more common, and zayn al‘ddr ‘Ornament of the house’ was of course a woman, as we see for instance in TS 13 J 7, f. 16,1. 18, where a woman by that name is referred to; or in TS 20.5, passim, where the virgin Zayn al-Dar marries. Our Zayn al-Dar got this name probably during a dangerous illness when he received it to mislead the Angel of Death. When the angel was sent to fetch ‘Allan's son’ he discovered that it was a girl. Even more so: while writing the letter of his mother to his father, Zayn reminds him that he should not forget the beads ‘for Zayn al-Dar’. How could a boy of at least ten years wish to wear ornaments for girls or small children? He obviously wanted to play his role of a female Zayn to the end Allan calls him here waladi, ‘my son’, because he was very much worried not to have heard from him for such a long time. A similar expression in the letter of his wife referring to the boy whom she had just weaned, Mediterranean society, in, 194.

84 The Arabic term dar had different meanings. See Mediterranean society, iv, 56. Here, the firstdar refers to a compound known by the name of ‘Ariis; the second refers to a building or apartment within the compound called after a person described as ‘the Levite’, who had already died. The occupants were probably artisans or stationary merchants who could always be reached.

85 The acrostic of a blessing for the dead, which was originally said by Abigail to David when they first met, I Samuel 25:29.

86 Ar. balligh tu'jarballigh, rewarded by God; no payment to be expected. Very common at the end of letters. ‘Allan did not sign, although there was plenty of space. As so often happened, the person prepared to carry the letter was in a hurry to leave. Not signing a letter was an expression of intimacy and friendship. I am not sure that this was intended here. For the script of the letter see p. 456, above.

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