The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya

Still these Cairene manuscripts. Among others, they have one volume of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s biographical dictionary, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya. The British Library holds the second volume of the work. I have spoken about this work before here and here. Also, Guy Burak made use of an Istanbuli copy of it in his dissertation, “The Abū Ḥanīfah of his time? Islamic Law, Jurisprudential Authority and Empire in the Ottoman Domains (16th-17th Centuries)”.

As can be seen from the collections where they are held nowadays, the different volumes of the Ghuraf were separated from each other at one point. The Cairo manuscript (MS Tarikh Taymur 631) contains the first part of this three-volume work on 386 pages, covering the introduction as well as biographies in alphabetical order until the letter ẓāʾ. The last biography is dedicated to Ẓuhayr b. Ḥasan al-Qurashī al-Makkī (745-819).

The London manuscript (MS Or. 3046) contains the other two volumes, the second entirely dedicated to names beginning with ʿayn, the final one containing names from mīm to yā and, in addition, entries for people known by their kunya or their laqab. It concludes with a short chapter on women, consisting of only three entries. The volume is about twice the size of the Cairo manuscript at 358 folios; yet, I counted 61 empty pages within this volume, indicating that the author never finished his original aim. These pages were not all counted in the catalogue, where only 320 folios are ascribed to the volume.

Both manuscripts give away some of their own trajectories. MS Or. 3046 entered the British Library from the British Museum, where it was part of Baron Alfred von Kremer‘s collection, who left an ownership mark dated 9 January 1886 (fol. 358b). According to the catalogue, this date refers to Kremer’s sale to the British Library and not to his own acquisition.

The Supplement to the catalogue of the Arabic manuscripts in the British Museum (pp. vi-vii) describes Kremer’s collection briefly, as containing almost 200 Arabic manuscripts most of which he acquired on several trips to Cairo and Damascus between 1849 and 1880.  Yet, Kremer does not even have an entry in the English wikipedia.

Apart from this note, there are no other ownership notes to be found, only annotations in the hand of Ibn Tulun’s student Akmal al-Din Ibn Muflih. These are more sparse than in other works. They include several marginal rubrications and explanations, e.g. on fol. 175b: “hādhā jadd Amīn al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUthmān al-Ṣāliḥī”. He also made an addition to the biography of Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿUthmān al-Biqāʿī al-Dimashqī (fol. 125b), giving his date of death in 965 AH. The lack of further information on the manuscript’s history could partly be ascribed to a later framing of the first folio, which cut away or hid further potential owners’ or readers’ annotations.

fol. 1a of MS Tarikh Taymur 631

MS Tarikh Taymur 631’s first folio is also framed in a similar manner. And here it is visible that the framing affected at least one such statement, which states the manuscript’s belonging to Ibn Tulun’s original book endowment at the Umariyya Madrasa. The frame features a large stamp of Ahmad Taymur’s library.

Again, throughout the volume similar annotations by Ibn Muflih are interspersed, which is little surprising due to both being part of the same work. The main difference is another library stamp to be found on pages 39 and, twice, 387.

Stamp, MS Tarikh Taymur 631, p. 387

My first reading of its inscription was “hādhā min kutub ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muṣṭafā”. The first half seems to be something else, perhaps “kharāj” or “khodā”? The important thing, however, is that the name pops up in other Ibn Tulun autographs, and there we learn more about this book collector.

The Cairene MS 21201 b (for tafsīr) is a small collection of four Ibn Tulun autographs. They do not need to concern us now but what is more important is that it carries several annotations that testify to a prolonged engagement by one person with the manuscript. He first identifies the handwriting on the dust page (fol. 1a) as that of Ramadan al-Utayfī, a 17th-century chief judge of Damascus. He gives his name as Abd al-Salam and the date of his note as 4 Ramadan 1278 / 5 March 1862.

His whole name and familial background we learn from a collation note on fol. 17a, dated 1284 / 1867: “ʿAbd al-Salām b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muṣṭafā b. Maḥmūd [erased] al-Ḥanbalī”. In all likelihood, he was the son of the owner of MS Tarikh Taymur 631. While there is no evidence that Abd al-Salam also called MS Tarikh Taymur 631 his own, this connection would at least put it in a private Damascene library by the early 19th century.

This is not to say that henceforth this manuscript would remain private property until its transfer to Cairo. Chances are that it might have again been endowed but we simply cannot say for sure. And one more thing we cannot guess is when the two volumes became separated for the first time, and whether they were reunited at any point afterwards.

The internal documentation of both manuscripts sets in at different points in time and betrays very different trajectories. The Cairo manuscript seems to have left the Umariyya library to another (or several other) Damascene library and finally to the Taymuriyya in Egypt. The London manuscript, in contrast, appears to have been bought immediately by a European orientalist, who then sold it to a European National Library.


Cite this article as: Wollina, Torsten, "The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya", in Damascus Anecdotes, May 20, 2018,

2 thoughts on “The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya

  1. Pingback: An owner of Ibn Ṭūlūn manuscripts: ʿAbd al-Salām al-Shaṭṭī – Damascus Anecdotes

  2. Pingback: Visualizing Ibn Tulun’s manuscript corpus: (1) From Palladio towards Gephi – Damascus Anecdotes

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