Reconstruction and Dating
This article presents a ‘report of death’ document unearthed in 2003 in Quṣayr al-Qadīm on the Red Sea coast of Egypt by David Peacock and his team from the University of Southampton.2 Roughly 1,040 fragments of paper documents in Arabic were collected from Quṣayr al-Qadīm between 1999 and 2003,3 some with writing on them, others without. The edition of and commentary on this text appears below in appendix 1.
The document consists of two fragments and has been partially reconstructed (inv. nº PA0386, and PA0381, see text 1, and fig. 2.1 and 2.2). Both were found in 2003 in the same archaeological trench and context (trench 13, context 5500). Both had been rolled up and use the same high-quality paper, thick and smooth.4 Laid lines are not obvious, but cannot be entirely counted out either. Both use the same open and regular script which, considering this was an administrative document (see parts II and III) and therefore probably written by an official, can be taken as a sample of the script of a dīwān.5
The same trench and context yielded another fragment bearing a witness formula (inv. PA0388, see text 1, ‘witness clause’ and fig. 2.4). It too had been rolled up, although it has traces of folding along the longer side (ca. 2 cm from the bottom edge). The paper has lost its starch. Its length of 11.1 cm roughly corresponds to the length of the central part of the report of death (11.3 cm, fig. 2.2). The script is different from text 1, suggesting that the three fragments form together an original document, rather than a copy.
Trench 13 is an Islamic rubbish deposit, quite probably from Mamluk times, but consisting mainly of Ayyubid material.6 A, B and C were found in the same context as a paper from the “archives” of the Abū Mufarrij company. These archives have been reconstructed by Li Guo in his study on the Arabic documents from Quṣayr,7 and all the dated evidence in his material is from the first four decades of the seventh/thirteenth century, namely, the period of the reigns of the Ayyubid sultans al-Malik al-ʿĀdil (r. 596–615/1200–1218) and his son al-Malik al-Kāmil (r. 615–635/1218–1238). In addition, the formula seems to follow those of the Cairo Geniza papers dating from the seventh/thirteenth century (see appendix 2), which would also place it in this time frame.
Six reports of death of Jewish women from the Geniza collection, published by Geoffrey Khan, were also all written according to the same formula.8 “Their dates fall within the last three quarters of the seventh/thirteen century, spanning the Ayyubid and early Mamluk periods (from 621–629/1224–1231 to 697/1298).”9 The reports of death from other collections that I have been able to locate were found at Qaṣr Ibrīm, but are late and have a different purpose.10
The missing part of the document is reconstructed according to the model of the documents found in the Geniza. An idea about the width of the Quṣayr al-Qadīm document is given by the piece bearing the basmala (22.5 cm), so that we can probably reconstruct the missing part between A and B on side 1 as having contained the name of the dead person and the date of his death.
If my reasoning is correct, the deceased is a Muslim. Every published report from the Geniza specifies the day on which the death occurred. But the date as well as the reasons of the death do not appear in our document. Here the place where the dead person died is mentioned as being sāḥil al-Quṣayr, i.e. ‘the coast of Quṣayr,’ referring to ‘the anchorage of Quṣayr.’11 It can simply mean that the man died in the anchorage of Quṣayr al-Qadīm or close to it, or the death could have happened on a ship. Besides Quṣayr, sāḥil al-Quṣayr appears frequently in the addresses of the Quṣayr letters.12 It also sometimes appears in the text of the documents.13
The Quṣayrī Report of Death Bearing Mention of Heirs and the Dīwān al-mawārīth al-ḥashriyya
Khan suggests that these reports of death were “presumably addressed to the dīwān al-mawārīth al-ḥashriyya,”14 the office of intestate successions, which kept a register of deaths.15 Ibn Mammātī (d. 606/1209) gives a precise statement about the conditions under which this office was entitled to (a part of) the inheritance: “If there were no heirs, or the heir or heirs were not entitled to the whole of the inheritance, the whole estate in the first case, or its residue in the second, would go to the bayt al-māl. As the sole Fatimid concession to remain in force, the share of the absent heir would be kept in trust in the treasury until his return.”16
From the time of the Ayyubids, the definition of those having a right to the inheritance was, following Shafiʿite and Malikite doctrine, restricted. The office charged with investigating and determining the succession of those without heirs on behalf of the treasury was precisely the office of intestate successions.17 This system continued under the Mamluks with the dīwān being clearly linked to the dīwān al-amwāl within the structure of the dīwāns.18 Outside Cairo and Fusṭāṭ further dīwāns were located in the major cities of Egypt.19 Ayyubid reports of death bear the same formula whatever the religious identity of the deceased, as we saw above. And the inheritances for Jews were directly supervised by the same authorities as inheritances for Muslims during our period.20 In conclusion, the dīwān was supposed to register only the deaths of those with taxable legacies.21 But in each published report of death in the Geniza, the deceased does have some heirs to his estate, as does the deceased of the Quṣayrī document. The next question then is how the dīwān functioned in practice?
Rabie observes that “Baybars [Mamluk Sultan, r. 1260–1277] used to levy a tax on a deceased person’s estate even if there were heirs,” and reaches the conclusion that “it is very probable that the officials of the mawārīth had to report each deceased case immediately and separately.” Rabie then refers to one of the Geniza’s report of death documents, dated 682/1284, i.e. during the reign of Sultan Qalāwūn (r. 1279–1290), which was later published by Khan who, in his edition, referred to Rabie’s analysis.22 Generally speaking, for the published Geniza reports of death, which usually concern Jewish women, Khan refers to al-Nuwayrī’s (d. 732/1332) Nihāyat al-arab, where it is written that “the heads of the dhimmīs had to notify the government of every death in their communities.”23 This is confirmed by the works of Ibn Taghrī Birdī (d. 874/1470) and al-Qalqashandī (d. 821/1418), who describe the general functioning of the dīwān during the Mamluk period.24
As far as the understanding of the Quṣayrī document is concerned, which dates to the first four decades of the seventh/thirteenth century, Rabie does not discuss evolutions in the functioning of the mawārīth under the Ayyubid rulers in as much detail as he does those changes under the Mamluks. He has, however, carefully studied taxes and other sources of revenue going to the treasury and discusses the functioning of the Māl al-mawārīth al-ḥashriyya.25
Ibn Mammātī’s description of the general functioning of the dīwān suggests that during the Ayyubid period the mawārīth authorities decreed that the burial of the dead could take place only after their officials have been informed, suggesting that at that time each death was registered.26 It seems also that a kind of co-ordination existed between the police and the judiciary, with the police registering the death and then reporting to the qāḍī in the quarter where the deceased lived.27 Ibn Mammātī describes the customary procedure following a person’s death: the undertaker informed the mawārīth official who in turn determined the identity of the heirs.28 The Quṣayrī document, if we assume that the witness clause is part of it, looks more like a legal document produced by the office of a qāḍī.
Also relevant is an iqrār document from the al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf collection dating to the second half of the eighth/fourteenth century, i.e. under Mamluk rule.29 In this document a “Turkish woman [called] Yulqaṭlū declares in writing that her husband is her sole legal heir.”30 While the Ḥaram collection includes both private and public documents, the iqrārs belong to the private legal document type. That is to say, they were issued on behalf of private individuals and the judiciary.31 This particular document had been drafted before the death of the Turkish woman. Lutfi underlines the fact that it represents a different use of the iqrār, compared to the five other pieces that she published together with it, namely its use as a legal document. It has been written up according to the Sharia, and its formalistic structure is similar to the others. But what makes it a ‘legal document,’ she explains, is its judicial registration: “Because the iqrār of Yulqaṭlū involved a unique case of inheritance, the legal document had to be certified by the qāḍī so that the husband’s legal right would not be contested in the future. Thus unlike the other iqrārs dealt with in this paper, the present one is a judicial iqrār, witnessed and certified in court.”32 Lutfi then discusses the judicial registration marks on its recto and the ishhād on its verso, both witnesses to its being part of the judicial proceedings.33 This document belonged to the strategies used by individuals to avoid attempts of all sorts to divert money when it was possible according to the Sharia.34
Meanwhile our document may be considered in another way, that is to say in connection with the abusive practices by or through the office of intestate successions. The mawārīth authorities were open to corruption as early as Saladin’s reign (r. 1174–1193), says Rabie, who adds: “There exists a manshūr written by [qāḍī] al-Fāḍil which reprimands a mushārif for his greed, and warns him that the sultan knows of and is worried about the defects of the administration of the mawārīth.”35 According to Rabie again, during the Mamluk period abusive practices also prevailed, but at another level. The mawārīth became a way for the rulers to collect extra money, which was then conveyed to them through Bayt al-māl. Rabie mentions in particular that the Mamluk sultan Quṭuz (r. 1259–1260), while preparing troops to fight the Mongols, collected money from the estates of the deceased inhabitants for the treasury, without considering the number of heirs or the size of the estate. The absence of the heirs at time of death of a relative was also a pretext for abusive seizures.36 On the other hand, persons without legal heirs, but having daughters for instance, found strategies to avoid the seizure of their property by the dīwān al-mawārīth after their death, in particular through the waqf institution, as early as the Ayyubid period.37 This shows that people could find different ways to get around the obstructive measures of the dīwān al-mawārīth. The Quṣayrī report of death could then have been produced because of a dispute, between the administration and individuals, as a witness to the existence of heirs.
A Reused Report of Death
After our document was used as an administrative document, it was re-employed to write a letter (see text 2, and fig. 2.3). Here, the report of death, as well as the witness clause, was written on one side, keeping the other side blank (both A and C are indeed blank on the other side). The paper was rolled up with the written part of the letter on the inside, which confirms that the report of death was the first text to be written. A was also rolled up, surely from left to right and with the text inside, but the way A was rolled up is different from B. The report of death document was probably cut up before it was reused, that is to say cut before the letter was written on the back of B. The upper edge of B does not fit with the edge of A on the lower side. We know from the report of death that part of the document is missing. But it can clearly be observed that fragment A was cut with a sharp tool. In addition, the edges of B are neither clean-cut nor straight and we observe that the letter itself had been cut off at a later stage (see the text missing on the left side). We can then postulate one more step between the original shape of the letter and how it appears now. Moreover, B is not as long as A. The beginning of the letter (B / 2) corresponds roughly to the middle of the formula of the report of death, which is on the other side. And as is usual, the name of the sender appears on the upper left side, close to the left edge.
That administrative reports of death were subsequently used to write something else on the other side has been previously observed. The bulk of reports of death published by Khan for example follow this model. No. 128 has been reused to write Hebrew liturgical poetry on the other side. The back of no. 129 has a business account, mainly in Judaeo-Arabic with “Coptic” numerals (some are written as well at the top and right of the report of death). The other side of no. 130 contains Arabic pen trials. Finally, no. 131, a formulary for reports of death, contains a letter in Arabic on the verso.38 We might remark from an anthropological point of view that writing a letter on a report of death does not seem to bring bad luck! Generally speaking the formulary, even with its witness clauses, covers only one page, leaving the other side blank.39
The practice of recycling the archives of the administration has been studied by Petra Sijpesteijn for Abbasid Egypt,40 by Frédéric Bauden for Mamluk chancery documents41 and by Jonathan Bloom for Yemen in the time of Imam Yaḥyā in the early twentieth-century.42 If our hypothesis is correct and the fragment bearing the witness clause is part of the report of death (text 1, ‘witness clause’ and fig. 2.4), it should be an original since the administration only kept summaries of documents if at all. Dominique Valérian describes the importance of individuals involved in a case retaining documents, given the authorities’ practice of not keeping copies: “Dans sa plainte, déposée à Gênes, la victime déclare que les deux malfaiteurs ont brûlé ces documents pour effacer les traces de leur dette et il ajoute qu’ ils l’ ont fait en sachant que les notaires musulmans ne conservent pas les documents qu’ ils ont.”43
There is one final remark to be made concerning the document. At least the complete document, i.e. the report of death re-used for writing a private letter, both mentioning Quṣayr and found in Quṣayr shows that the one who died in Quṣayr was connected with a family settled in Quṣayr.
Text 1. Quṣayr—Report of Death—Beginning of the 7th/13th Century
[A] (Fig. 2.1)
1بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد واله وصحبه و[سلم …
2…] المامونين شهدوا
3[وفاة فلان بن فلان في يوم كذا في شهر كذا في سنة كذا …]
[B / 1] (Fig. 2.2)
4… يـ]ـشهدون انه توفى بساحل القصير الـ[…
5… وترك من الورثة الـ]ـمستحقين لميراثه المستوجبين له زوجته سهـ[ـما (؟ سهمين ؟) …
1[A] In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate—God bless our Lord Muhammad, his family and his companions, and save him!—[… 2…] the trustworthy have witnessed 3[the death of so-and-so, the son of so-and-so, on such-and-such a day of such-and-such a month, in such-and-such a year.] 4[B / 1] They witness that he died on the coast of Quṣayr [… 5… He left by way of] heirs having right to his inheritance who deserve it, his wife a lo[t (?, or two?), … 6…]
4. There are only two dots under the first letter; what seems to be a third dot is in fact a hole in the paper. The three dots on the top are on the original. The nūn at the end of the first word, yashhadūna, has a dot, as does the nūn of the following word, annahu.
5. Sahman: a reading, which does not explain the ligature between the hāʾ and the sīn (compare with الــمستحقين and المستوجبين). Another possibility, following the Geniza model, is that the name (ism) of the wife follows her mentioning as an heir; but in this case the alif of ism would have been omitted.
Witness Clause [C]
Arabic Text (Fig. 2.4)
1[المأمون يعلم صحة ذلك] •
2وكتب عنه امره وحضره ابن عبد الغفار [بن عبد الله (؟)] •
3في تاريخه •
1[The trustworthy recognises the validity of this.] 2Written for him, Ibn ʿAbd al-Ghaffār [ibn ʿAbd Allāh (?)] ordered it and witnessed it 3on its date.
1. The same expression is found in Khan repeatedly; however, a slight change has been made here, in order to be consistent with the beginning of the report of death, which refers to al-maʾmūn, instead of al-mamlūk (compare with P.GenizahCambr. 131).
2. Witness names are usually given with at least one generation of kunya (P.GenizahCambr. 131).
Text 2. Quṣayr—A Letter—Beginning of the 7th/13th Century—[B / 2]
Arabic Text (Fig. 2.3)
1والده ا[بـ]ـقى الله الاثنين
2حسين بن رضوان
3بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سـ[ـيدنا محمد]
4ومن كنت اشتاقه في الدنو فكيف اني اما[ ان الوالد]
5يعلم الولد العزيز محيي الـ[ـدين ]
1بيد (؟) [ ]
2باخباركم عسى ان يلد [ ]
3قبل هبوطي (؟) من القصير
1–2(From) his father Ḥusayn ibn Riḍwān—God maintain both in life!— 3In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. God bless [our Lord, the Prophet Muḥammad!] 4and the one, I was missing being close to, but what [to do]? I …[(Your) father] 5is writing to inform (his) dear son Muḥyī al-[Dīn ]
1to the care of (?) [so-and-so … ] 2to hear from you all. Let us hope that he gives birth [ ] 3before I set down (?) coming from Quṣayr.
1. The paper has some internal dark spots which appear to be dots, but are not. This is a speculative reading.
3. The two dots at the last end of the line appear on the original as part of the writing. The taṣliya has been shortened as is usual in the Quṣayrī documents; the sender is mentioned at the top of the letter, close to the left edge.
4. The dot under kayfa appears on the original.
The stroke which appears under the three lines of text does not correspond to any writing and seems to be connected with the text on the other side, quoted here as text 1. The reading of lines 1 and 3 is a best guess.
Appendix 2. The Geniza Model—7th/13th Century
T-S Ar. 39.277 (After P.GenizahCambr. 131)
1المماليك ينهوا وفاة فلان بن فلان اليهودي في يوم الفلان في شهر
2الفلان في السنة الفلانة وترك من الورثة ولده المسما فلان
3وابنته المسماة فلانة وزوجته المسماة فلانة بنت فلان وابن عمه
4المسما فلان بن فلان فلما تحققوا ذلك كتبوا خطوطهم به
5في التاريخ المذكور والحمد لله الواحد الحى الدائم البقا
1المملوك يعلم صحة ذلك
2وكتب فلان بن فلان المملوك
3المملوك يعلم صحة ذلك
4وكتب فلان بن فلان
5المملوك مقر باثبات خطوط هاولاي الشهود واما بسم
6واما بقرابة عارف وكتب فلان بن فلان رايس اليهود يومئذ
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