Between historians: Ibn Tulun on al-Maqrizi

As an historian, Ibn Tulun often stood on the shoulders of giants. Among the authorities he mentions, we frequently find the Damascene great ones: al-Safadi, al-Dhahabi, Abu Shama, Ibn Qadi Shuhba (often by his nisba al-Asadi) and, first and foremost, Ibn Asakir. This post introduces another important name in history, yet one which was not concerned with Damascus as such: al-Maqrizi.

References to other proponents of local history are less frequent in Ibn Tulun’s corpus, mostly because their local history was not Damascene local history. Among this group, the most prominent centers were certainly Cairo and Mecca. Ibn Tulun visited Mecca himself in 920 AH and even devoted a work to his journey: al-Barq al-sāmī fī taʿdād manāzil al-ḥājj al-shāmī. From among the Meccan historians he cites, there are several members of the Ibn Fahd family as well as al-Fassi, who (re-) started the Meccan historical/biographical tradition around 1400.

Equally with regard to Cairo, Ibn Tulun cites mostly the household names of Mamluk Era historiography, most notably al-Sakhawi’s biographical grand opus, al-Ḍawʾ al-Lāmiʿ li-ahl al-qarn al-tāsiʿ. In contrast, al-Maqrizi’s works are mostly absent from Ibn Tulun’s corpus. So far, I have only discovered four references to him. There is only one instance where Ibn Tulun cites him and utilizes him as an historian.

This instance occurs in an ijaza issued to Ibn Tulun by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-ʿAqīlī al-Nuwayrī al-Makkī in 920 AH where al-Maqrizi is mentioned as one of the transmitters [see Ibn Ṭūlūn, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn ʿAlī. Nawādir al-ijāzāt wa-l-samāʿāt. Ed. Muḥammad Muṭīʿ al- Ḥāfiẓ. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1998, 26-28].

Two references are biographies of al-Maqrizi. One occurs in Ibn Tulun’s mashyakha for his teacher Ibn Zurayq, entitled on the first page as Awān al-shurūʿ fī tarājim al-shuyūkh [see Richardson, Kristina. “The Evolving Biographical Legacy of Two Late Mamluk Hanbalī Judges.” ASK Working Paper 16 (2014)]. This biography takes up almost three pages in the Princeton manuscript (Firestone Library, MS Garrett 178B, fols. 8b-9b).

The other biography occurs in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary on Hanafis, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-Ḥanafiyya (in the following, I will refer to the manuscript held in Istanbul, Süleymaniye Library, MS Şehid Ali Paşa 1924). Before we get to this biography, I should mention the final reference to al-Maqrizi, which actually cites him as an historian and which also can be found in this very work.

The reference occurs in the biography of one Aḥmad al-Siwasi (fols. 48b-50a). This “biography” is in reality mostly concerned with the internal and external struggles of the Mamluk sultan Barquq. Al-Siwasi himself is introduced as a healer, as which he is sent to Barquq by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid. Accordingly to his nisba, he originally might have come from the now Turkish city Sivas. In this context, Ibn Tulun relies on al-Maqrizi’s discourse in addition to other authorities such as Ibn Khallikan, Abu Shama, and his own teacher Ibn Abd al-Hadi.

Ibn Tulun does not give away which of al-Maqrizi’s works he relies on but rather quotes him on several points as if he had heard it from himself: Maqrizi praises this Qadi as the wise man/healer of Sivas, Qaysariyya and Tokat. Then he remarks on al-Siwasi’s work Kitāb al-tarjīḥ ʿalā al-talwīḥ on adab that “his people marketed [it] so [it] sold well”. There might be further references to al-Maqrizi’s impact as an historian beyond his hometown Cairo hidden in the work which I have not yet discovered.

This is all the more possible as al-Maqrizi receives his own biography in this work (fols. 55b-56b). Although his nisba—al-ʿAzizi al-Baʿlbaki—places his birth the vicinity of Baalbek, al-Maqrizi’s biographical trajectory is intricately connected to the Mamluk capital Cairo. Thus Ibn Tulun relates that al-Maqrizi was brought to Cairo by his father when he was still an infant and where he would occupy several positions, including that of the market inspector (muhtasib) for several terms.

I will not retell the entire biography here but rather focus on Ibn Tulun’s framing of the scholar al-Maqrizi. This is epitomized early on when he deems him the “source (ʿumda) of the historians” and the “spring (ʿayn) of the hadith transmitters”. The biography mostly focuses on al-Maqrizi’s achievements in these two fields, even though it admits that he also was involved in other disciplines. Even more than hadith, Ibn Tulun casts him as an historian: “he was very devoted to history and compiled much of it and wrote [works] on it”; “until he died he did not stop to gain knowledge on events and history”; and “his reputation in history and other [disciplines] grew during his life and after his death”.

Ibn Tulun brings his point home by showcasing the prolific writing activities of al-Maqrizi. He does so by citing “al-Manhal” by one “al-Jamālī”. This author is no other than Ibn Taghribirdi and the work is his biographical dictionary al-Manhal al-safi wa’l-mustawfi ba’d al-wafi. (Thus we can add one further Egyptian source to Ibn Tulun’s reading list.) For better browsing, the list has been als formatted as a list:

  1. Kitāb imnāʿ al-ismāʿ bi-mā li-l-nabī [invocation] min al-ḥafada wa-l-matāʿ in six volumes (mujallad), which I have seen and studied. In it he reports on Mecca […];
  2. he also has written Kitāb al-khabar ʿan al-bashar on the tribes from which the prophet descended in four volumes;
  3. and he made for it a muqaddima in one volume;
  4. and Kitāb al-sulūk fī maʿrifat duwal al-mulūk in several volumes, organized in accounts of events up to the day of his death; I [i.e. Ibn Taghribirdi] have written a dhayl to it already during his life, starting in 840, which I have named Ḥawādith al-duhūr fī maddā al-ayām wa-l-shuhūr, but it does not continue his organization;
  5. he also wrote al-Tārīkh al-kabīr  al-muqaffā fī tarājim ahl miṣr wa-l-wāridīn ilayhā; he said to me: “if I ever want to finish it, I have to write 80 volumes”;
  6. also Kitāb durar al-ʿuqūd al-farīda fī tarājim al-aʿyān al-mufīda, on those who died from after he was born until today, in three volumes;
  7. Kitāb al-wāʾiẓ wa-l-iʿtibār fī dhikr al-ḥuṭuṭ wa-l-āthār in several volumes, and it is of utmost beauty;
  8. also beautiful are the Kitāb naḥal ghayr al-naḥl and
  9. Kitāb tajrīd al-tawḥīd and
  10. Kitāb majmaʿ al-farāʾid wa-manbaʿ al-fawāʾid, of which he has finished about 80 volumes,
  11. also the Tadhkira;
  12. the Kitāb shudūd al-ʿuqūd;
  13. Kitāb ḍawʾ al-sārī fī maʿrifat khabar Tamīm al-Dārī;
  14. Kitāb al-awzān wa-l-akyāl al-sharʿiyya;
  15. Kitāb izālat al-taʿab wa-l-ʿanī fī maʿrifat al-ḥāl fī al-ghanī;
  16. Kitāb al-tanāzuʿ wa-l-takhāṣūm fīmā bayn banī umayya wa-banī hāshim;
  17. Kitāb ḥuṣūl al-anghām wa-l-mayr fī suʾāl khātimat al-khayr;
  18. Kitāb al-maqāṣid al-saniyya fī maʿrifat al-ajsām al-maʿdaniyya{1};
  19. Kitāb al-bayyān wa-l-iʿrāb ʿan-mā fī arḍ miṣr min al-aʿrāb;
  20. Kitāb al-ilmām fīman taʾakhkhara fī arḍ al-ḥabasha min mulūk al-islām;
  21. Kitāb al-ṭarfa al-gharība fī akhbār dār ḥaḍramawt al-ʿajība;
  22. Kitāb mā yajib li-āl al-bayt min al-ḥaqq ʿalā man ʿadāhum(?);
  23. Kitāb fī dhikr man ḥajja min al-khulafā wa-l-mulūk;
  24. Kitāb ʿaqd jawāhir al-asfāṭ fī akhbār madīnat al-fusṭāṭ;
  25. Kitāb ittiʿāẓ al-ḥunafā bi-akhbār aʾimmat al-khulafā

Whereas short work lists are a common feature in the biographical literature, a list of 25 different works, with many entries being annotated further, is unusual. In my opinion, this cannot even be blamed on al-Maqrizi’s student Ibn Taghribirdi either. After all, Ibn Tulun chose to make use of this quote which might well have been the most comprehensive account of al-Maqrizi’s written corpus as far as we can tell.

Important in this respect is that al-Maqrizi is included in the biographical dictionary at all, despite his renunciation of the Hanafi in favor of the Shafiʿi rite. After all, this work was concerned with Hanafis; so why include someone who apparently preferred a different rite? I would speculate that one reason were al-Maqrizi’s achievements in the two mentioned fields which overlap so neatly with Ibn Tulun’s own central fields of writing if not study.

Al-Maqrizi might not often have provided Ibn Tulun with useful quotes for his own historical works, as we have seen. But this biography seems to imply that perhaps he was much more influential on Ibn Tulun in serving as a predecessor: as a scholar who first and foremost was identified as an historian. This might even have outweighed his madhhab shift.

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Between historians: Ibn Tulun on al-Maqrizi", in Damascus Anecdotes, May 5, 2019,
  1. I thank @IbnAllan for correcting my transliteration []

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