Traces of Ibn Ṭawq

Today brought an exciting find.

Boris Liebrenz had recently told me he found a reader note by Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. That is already exciting when a person so elusive is concerned. But this is actually better, and I could/should have found this years ago. Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās’ (1987) catalogue of those manuscripts held in the Syrian National Library today but having once belonged to the holdings of the Abū ʿUmar or ʿUmariyya Madrasa in the suburb Ṣāliḥiyya is a wonderful catalogue, giving information about ownership notes or attendees records (samāʿāt).

Alas, it has surprisingly few works by Ibn Ṭūlūn, although verifiably he endowed his library at this very institution. At least that left me with some free time and I checked on another person in which I am interested: Ibn Ṭawq’s relative and shaykh (and often enough, employer) Abū Bakr b. ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn (d. 928). On his family, have a look here.

Again, only one of his works remains in (or made its way to) the ʿUmariyya. Yet, it is an interesting find. To be found in MS ʿāmm 3745/Majāmīʿ 8 (pp. 37-42), al-Kanz al-akbar fī al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar (#7) consists of only seven folia but it still excites me, for on the jacket page preceding the text it reads: “This is the book of in the handwriting of al-ʿAllāma Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq” (p. 40).

According to al-Sawwās’ entry, this work was finished in 894/1488-89, which would correspond to an entry in Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq (vol. 2, p. 842: 14.04.894/17.3.1489) which is about the shaykh writing a text of “about one quire in small format (niṣf baladī)” and in which he treats, among other things, “what was mentioned about the invitation to (targhīb) and the intimidation against (tarhīb) [taking up] al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar“.

I cannot yet say for sure whether these two texts are indeed identical (but I sure hope so). Ibn Ṭawq writes explicitly that the shaykh “wrote several copies”, not he himself. Perhaps, he copied it later for his own use?

What is perhaps more important is that this was a chance find. Ibn Ṭawq is often portrayed as a scribe and notary – and occasional copyist. Apart from his own few claims to have copied a book, this manuscript would be the first actual proof for this. Al-Sawwās’ detailed description of all components of the Majāmīʿ makes this possible. Yet, in the indices Ibn Ṭawq cannot be found. Even though this might be a simple one-time lapse, al-Sawwās clearly mentions him as the copyist of this work. so why is he not included in the rather extensive index of copyists the catalogue actually offers? After all, Ibn Ṭawq can even be found in al-Ghazzī’s well-known biographical dictionary, both in his own and in Abū Bakr’s entries.

 

Addition (12 Jan. 2017):

As it turns out, Ibn Ṭawq did leave other traces than the one mentioned above. In his biographical entry in al-Tamattuʿ bi-l-iqrān bayn tarājim al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, Ibn Ṭūlūn also credits him with the composition of an excerpt from Ibn Kathīr’s history, which, however, I have not been able to identify (Hartmann 1926, 96).

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  • Richard Hartmann, “Das Tübinger Fragment der Chronik des Ibn Ṭūlūn”, Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft 3/2 (1926), 87-170.
  • Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq, al-Taʿlīq: Yawmiyyāt Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. Mudhakkirāt kutibat bi-Dimashq fī awākhir al-ʿahd al-Mamlūkī, ed. Shaykh Jaʿfār al- Muhājir, 4 vols, Damascus: IFPO, 2000-2007.
  • Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās, Fihris majāmīʿ al-Madrasa al-ʿUmariyya fī Dār al-Kutub al-Ẓāhirīyya bi-Dimashq, Kuwait: Maʿhad al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿArabiyya, 1987.

Recent Publications: Dyntran Blog and Ottoman Studies 2 (Bonn University Press)

In the course of the last month, two publications of mine came out. The first is my contribution to the blog of the research cluster “Dynamics of Transmission” (DYNTRAN), in which I trace the development of a family network in 15th-/16th-century Damascus and try to show the differences between ‘family’ and those ‘dynasties’ that emerge in the biographical dictionaries of the time.

Dyntran title page
Fig. 1: Dyntran logo

The second publication is an article in the conference proceedings The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century edited by Gül Şen and Stephan Conermann and published with Bonn University Press (see here for the conference program).

Cover: The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century. Edited by Stephan Conermann and Gül Şen. Bonn University Press (V&R Unipress), Göttingen 2016.

        Fig. 2:

Cover, The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Stephan Conermann, Gül Şen. Bonn University Press (V&R Unipress), Göttingen 2016.

My contribution Sultan Selīm in Damascus: The Ottoman Appropriation of a Mamluk Metropolis (922-924/1516-1518) presents a micro-historical study of changes, the Ottomans effected on the urban – and in particular sacred – landscape of Damascus immediately following the conquest. As I argue those indeed constituted paradigmatic changes which could not easily be undone (and were not) henceforth. I would add here that the methodical approach to the conquest is a strong indicator for the Mamluk Sultanate being the original destination of the Ottoman aggression in 1516, not just a spontaneous second choice behind the Safavids.

Biographical Dictionaries I: Ibn Ṭūlūn’s Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya

Biographical dictionaries are at once one of our central sources for prosopographical data – not only on the Mamluk era – and a genre that is often work-intensive to explore. The authors tried to arrange the masses of data they accumulated on several hundreds to even thousands of individuals from the past and their own times as good as they could. Most often, they are arranged either chronologically (by year of death) or alphabetically, or in a combination of the two (divided into generations – ṭabaqāt).
Yet, more often than not certain individuals escape the overarching order – especially the alphabetical order – and are thus difficult to find. This could happen either due to the later addition of more biographies, or a simple mishap, or even purposeful undermining of the arrangement to emphasize or diminish the position of a certain individual. Also, individuals can be found in unexpected places. For instance, Ibn Ayyūb dedicates the larger part of his biography on Sāra bt. al-Muzalliq to recount the building activities of the Mamluk governor of Damascus Tankiz (Rawḍ, ff. 136b-139a).
These digressions from the stated organizing imperatives and their underlying causes can easily elude during casual reading. Whereas indices help to a certain degree, often they omit the appearances of – especially minor – figures in other biographies. Machine readable texts offer a way out of this dilemma and new ways of cross-readings of these sometimes massive texts. In a raw state, however, they only help us as far as a ‘full name’ or distinguishable name (shuhra) is used. Encoding seems the way to go in these respects, for it would allow to share not only the narrative a scholar generates from his readings but also the refined text that they create in the process. This would ease the access to the networks realized in each of those texts and free more time for access to still unedited manuscripts.
On a much smaller scale, I have provided here a preliminary version of a machine readable index for Ibn Ṭūlūn’s still unedited biographical dictionary al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim al-mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya, which was compiled sometimes after 943. It is an exceptional source on the Mamluk-Ottoman transitional period as well as on the contemporaneous conceptions of the ḥanafī canon. Originally compiled in three volumes by the author, it survives in a one-volume copy by Ibn Ṭūlūn’s student – and perhaps collaborator – Akmal al-Dīn Ibn Mufliḥ (Istanbul, Süleymaniye Library, MS Şehid Ali Paşa 1924) as well as partial autographs in Cairo (Dār al-Kutub, MS Taymūr Tārīkh 631) and London (Br. Mus., MS Or. 3046) and excerpts in a number of other manuscript copies (including some by Ibn Mufliḥ). The Istanbul Ms consists of 278 folios with more than 940 biographies of persons living between the 13th and 16th centuries, not being restricted exclusively to scholars.
The present index indicates chapter headings of the introduction and its chapters (fuṣūl) preceding the biographical section, which starts on folio 13a. The biographies themselves are organized by letter and sometimes also by ism (e.g. ذكر حسن). Each entry should give the full name, following Ibn Mufliḥ’s highlighting in blue letters. This is followed by life dates, if available, sometimes summarized information of their writings, and references to folios. I thank Boghos Barbouri from the Near Eastern School of Theology, Beirut, for his help with the execution of this list. The list is in Arabic.

A gunsmith in 15th-century Cairo

The Mamluks’ affinity to firearms, both handheld (muskets, rifles) and mounted (cannons) has been long debated in the field. Personally, I find Robert Irwin’s (2004) interpretation much more convincing than other studies, which presume a stubbornness on the Mamluks’ part against adopting this new kind of weapon.

As Irwin can indeed show, the Mamluks did see the potential of firearms of all sizes early on, as one would expect of professional soldiers. Yet, they also saw that they did not really suit their own established fighting style. 15th-century muskets were just not made to be used on horseback. Thus, the Mamluks would conscript other soldiers to carry them into battle or to man their cannons. One famous case are the ʿabīd, a regiment of African slaves raised by sultan Qānṣūh al-Ghawrī, but in the earlier campaigns on the Northern front, conscripts from among the rural and urban population of Syria seems to have played a more decisive role. They apparently kept these weapons – more often than not – after one war and would use them also against the Mamluks in internal strifes (Toru 2006).

Ibn Tulun showed himself astonished, in his chronicle, by the Ottoman display of firearms, in particular the wagons on or between which cannons were mounted (Wollina 2016). In his entries on the rebellious governor Jānbirdī al-Ghazālī’s siege of Aleppo in 926 AH, he even shows some advanced knowledge of different calibers of cannons and their ability to knock down gates or walls (Ibn Tulun: Iʿlām, 249). His interest in the technological aspects of firearms seems to go beyond their simple effect on event-based political history.

Still, it is somewhat surprising that Ibn Tulun brings up the same issue in his biographical dictionary al-Ghuraf al-ʿāliyya fī tarājim al-mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya. Perhaps, however, this may serve to demonstrate the fascination these weapons – the cannons in particular – held for him. The biography in question is on one Ibrāhīm b. Aḥmad al-Ḥalabī al-Ḥanafī, who later moved to Egypt and gained as well the nisba al-Miṣrī. There, he built a makḥala for sultan Khushqadam (reg. 1461-1467) “which could propel a missile of one Damascene qinṭar, i.e. four Egyptian qinṭār, over more than two postal mīl”. Yet, the sultan deemed his price to high; so he went bankrupt. His contraption finally only served the chief judge al-Dayrī to shoot sparrows.

The following is a transcript of the full biography. While it is based on the Istanbul MS of the text (MS Şehid Ali Paşa 1924, f. 14b), which is a copy, I have compared it as well to its counterpart in the partial Dār al-Kutub MS (MS Taymūr Tārīkh 631, p. 21). The one difference I found is in the spelling of the name of “al-Ḥajar”. I must admit that neither interpretation I have given here fully convinces me, based on the script. I presume that the copyist was facing similar problems and did his best to transcribe the signs from the original.

ابراهيم بن احمد الحلبي ثم المصري الحنفي كان عنده فضيلة و لازم الحجر بن الحفم/الشحنة(؟) وهو الذي عمل المكحلة للسلطان خشقدم التي ترمي بقنطار دمشقي وهو اربع قناطر بالمطري الي بعد نحو ميلين سدس بريد ورمي عليها لكن لم ينصفه السلطان فانه قيل انه انفق عليها نحو اربعماية دينار فاعطاه السلطان نصفها وهذا البعد العظيم يستفاد من طول عنق المحكلة و كان قاضي القضاة السعد بن الديري اخذ ذلك من الزبرطانة وهي عصا طويلة جدا مجوفة يوضع فيها بندقة وتنفخ فيبعد مداها ويصاد بها العصافير ونحوها من الطير وتوفي في المحرم سنة سبعين وثمانماية ودفن بالقرافة.

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Bibliography:

  • Ibn Ṭūlūn, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn ʿAlī. Iʿlām al-warā bi-man waliya nāʾiban min al-Atrāk bi-Dimashq Aal-Shām al-kubrā. Edited by Muḥammad Aḥmad Duhmān. Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1984.
  • Irwin, Robert. “Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Sultanate Reconsidered.” In The Mamluks in Egyptian and Syrian Politics and Society. Edited by Michael Winter and Amalia Levanoni. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden; Boston, MA: Brill, 2004, 117-139.
  • Toru, Miura. “Urban Society in Damascus As the Mamluk Era Was Ending.” Mamluk Studies Review 10, no. 1 (2006): 157-193.
  • Wollina, Torsten. “Sultan Selīm in Damascus: The Ottoman Appropriation of a Mamluk Metropolis (922-924/1516-1518).” In The Mamluk-Ottoman Transition: Continuity and Change in Egypt and Bilād Al-Shām in the Sixteenth Century. Edited by Stephan Conermann and Gül Şen. Göttingen: Bonn University Press 2016, 199-224.