The papyrus documents in this lot constitute a fascinating fragment of Arab history. Most likely to have originated from Fustat (Old Cairo), they date from the 8th-11th century and as far as we know are only the fourth group of early Arabic papyri ever to come to auction, and are of the utmost rarity. They offer a fascinating glimpse of day-to-day life in early medieval Cairo and are a significant corpus of historical evidence. They are important for various aspects of historical study, particularly social and economic history, geography, diplomacy, palaeography and language.
During the 19th and early 20th century several discoveries of Arabic papyri were made in Egypt, mostly in Upper Egypt, where the soil was more conducive to the preservation of organic matter. These discoveries are now mostly in institutional collections around the world, including the National Library, Cairo, the British Library, London, the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Staatliche Museum, Berlin, the Staats- und Universitäts-Bibliotek, Hamburg, the Institut für Papyrologie, Heidelberg University and the Oriental Institute, Chicago. Of the discoveries unearthed at Fustat, only the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo and Cambridge University Library possess substantial collections.
Fustat was the capital city founded by the Arab general 'Amir ibn al-'As in 640 AD after his conquest of Egypt. It remained the capital throughout the Umayyad, Abbasid, Ikhshidid and Fatimid periods, finally being destroyed by fire in 1163 AD. It was the government, commercial and social centre of Egypt and the subject matter of the papyrus fragments reflects this cosmopolitan variety.
In dynastic terms, the 8th-11th centuries in Egypt saw the passing of the Umayyad dynasty, the Abbasids, the Tulunids, the Ikhshidids and the arrival of the Fatimids. This was the period when the Islamic empire was at its highest point of glory, when the boundaries of the empire were expanding as far as Afghanistan and Central Asia in the East, and Spain in the West, when the religious, intellectual, cultural and geo-political aspects of Islam were brimming with confidence and shining brightly during the European Dark Ages. This is the historical context of these present papyrus fragments.
Further groups of early papyrus fragments were sold in these rooms 7 October 2009, lot 1 and 3 May 2001, lot 12.
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