An Archive in a Book: Documents and Letters from the Early-Mamluk Period

  • 1 Saxon Academy of the Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig, Germany

Abstract

The nature and place of archives in the premodern Islamicate world is a much debated topic and various explanations are offered for the relative scarcity of preserved material as well as the regional imbalance in the record. One factor that stands out in this discussion is the general prominence of counter-archival practices for the survival of what we are studying today. This contribution is the first to examine one such practice that has led to the preservation of a great number of documents: the reuse of discarded papers for the production of bindings. The case study looks at the binding of Leiden Or. 122, which preserved letters, decrees, and lists from Egypt and Syria at the beginning of the Mamluk reign. They likely belonged to a large household in Cairo, more precisely located in the Ayyubid palace Iṣṭabl al-Quṭbiyya. The article offers an edition of the material with an analysis of the historical circumstances, namely the eventful early years of Mamluk rule in Egypt and Syria.

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Founded by Carl Heinrich Becker in 1910, the Journal Der Islam provides a forum for the study of the history and culture of the Middle East before the age of modernisation in the 19th century, from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Asia. Articles present the latest research in the humanities and social sciences based on literary traditions, and archival, material, and archaeological evidence.

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