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, probably 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.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Torsten Wollina (December 9, 2016). Biographical Dictionaries I: Ibn Ṭūlūn’s Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya. Damascus Anecdotes. Retrieved July 16, 2024 from

2 Replies to “Biographical Dictionaries I: Ibn Ṭūlūn’s Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search