Marina A. Rustow F'09
Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships 2009
Patronage and Politics: Islamic Empire and the Medieval Jewish Community
Very few state archives have survived from the medieval Middle East. But a Jewish synagogue in Cairo preserved hundreds of Arabic chancery documents from tenth- through thirteenth-century Egypt, most of them recycled for texts in Hebrew script. How did these documents, many of which concern not Jews but Christians and Muslims, come into the Jews’ possession? What do their contents—and the mere fact of their migration—reveal about Fatimid and Ayyubid methods of government? Jewish leaders and their followers developed increasing facility over the course of this period with the vocabulary and choreography of imperial administration and the petition-and-response procedure prevalent at the courts of Baghdad and Cairo. They utilized these techniques in their dealings not only with the sovereign and his court but with each other, frequently calling upon the state to intervene in their internal affairs. The Fatimids and Ayyubids evinced little interest in archival continuity, emphasizing instead the personal patronage of members of the court as a method of rule. If systems of imperial domination cannot be grasped without accounting for their pervasive but varied effects on subject minorities, those minorities may also have much to tell us about the state’s methods of administration and its vision of sovereignty.