Marina A. Rustow
- Associate Professor
- Johns Hopkins University
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.
Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East
The idea that the pre-modern Islamic world failed to develop stable and effective state and legal institutions has loomed large in debates about Middle Eastern history. But how did institutions actually work in the medieval Middle East? Hardly anyone knows, partly because the best evidence for the everyday functions of courts and governments lies in documents that remain largely inaccessible to historians. This project aims to remedy the problem by devising methodologies to analyze medieval Middle Eastern legal and state documents in a systematic fashion. Rustow and Krakowski focus on two overlapping types of documents: government petitions, decrees, and other administrative texts from Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt and Syria, 969–1250, and legal documents written at Jewish and Islamic courts in the same period. These documents were preserved in the Cairo Geniza, a cache of worn manuscripts found in a medieval Egyptian synagogue and now held in libraries and private collections. While previous studies have studied subsets of legal and administrative documents from the Geniza, Jewish and Islamic legal and administrative documents have never been examined in comparison with each other, or for the information they can yield about the institutions that produced them and the interactions among those institutions. This collaborative project builds on Rustow’s previous work on Fatimid petitions and decrees and Jewish administrative documents and Krakowski’s work on rabbinic Jewish legal contracts and court records. Using a large representative cross-section of this material, the project identifies features the documents share, establishes a rigorous set of diplomatic typologies for analyzing them, and reconstructs the habits of the scribes who wrote them and the procedures of the institutions they served. The result will be a co-authored print handbook that renders these documents legible as historical sources; the project will also produce new document editions to be included on the Princeton Geniza Project website. Rustow and Krakowski hope to lay the groundwork for a new approach to Islamic institutional history, one based not on the descriptive accounts offered by medieval chroniclers and jurists, but on the tangible evidence left by medieval Middle Eastern scribes themselves. Award period: September 1, 2014 - August 31, 2016