“Unable to Dismiss Them”: Re-assessing the Jewish “Court Bankers” of Abbasid Baghdad, 908–932

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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  • 1 Assistant Professor of History, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Xavier UniversityCincinnati, OHUSA
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Economic historians describe the emergence of Jewish court bankers presiding over a central state bank in Abbasid Baghdad as significant for the global history of finance. This paper, however, re-evaluates these figures in light of new insights about court cultures and institutions in the medieval Islamicate world. It argues that they should be understood primarily as middlemen in tax collection. They performed favors for individual viziers, but likely never held official titles or appointments at al-Muqtadir’s court. Rather, it was precisely their outsider status relative to elite Abbasid social networks that accounts for the longevity of their careers.

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