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David J. Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon (Eds), Mamluks and Ottomans. Studies in honour of Michael Winter

London‑New York, Routledge, 2006 (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern History), 258 pages.
Arianna D’Ottone
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Mamluks and Ottomans: Studies in honour of Michael Winter/ edited by David J. Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon.- London‑New York: Routledge, 2006.- 258 p. (Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern History).

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1This volume, focused on the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, is a token of friendship written in English to Michel Winter by a number of his former students. A further volume, in Hebrew, in which themes related to education in the Islamic world are developed, completes this double homage to the Israeli scholar, Professor Emeritus of the History of the Middle East at Tel Aviv University.

2The research in the volume investigates, as the editors point out, a vast area of the Islamic world (from Palestine to Sudan, as well as Syria, Turkey and Yemen), and is devoted to historical topics in a broader sense. The variety of themes addressed — Sufism, military organisation, rulers’ biography, to name a few of them — reflects the varied nature of the sources used by the contributors in their research, both in Eastern and Western languages. Legal Arabic documents, Persian literary manuscripts, diplomatic dispatches in Italian, architectural elements, multi‑volume Turkish texts and Mamluk chronicle literature constitute a non‑exhaustive selection of the diverse sources on which contributions are based. The period covered by the book is also remarkable: from the late Mamluk times (14th century) to the beginning of the last century. The dual goal of the editors — honouring Prof. Winter and bridging two otherwise distinct areas of study, Mamluk and Ottoman — is achieved.

3Some contributions caught my attention, particularly the type of materials they encompass (Arabic inscriptions and documents; illustrated manuscripts), or their regional focus (Yemen).

4A new annotated translation of an inscription, dated 668/1269–70, on the complex near Jericho known as Maqām Nabī Mūsā (the shrine of the Prophet Moses), built — as the inscription itself informs us — by order (amara bi‑inshā’) of Baybars (r. 658–676/1260–1277), is presented by Reuven Amitai (“Some remarks on the inscription of Baybars at Maqam Nabi Musa”). The author highlights the fact that — as far as it is possible to ascertain —nowhere in contemporary Mamluk sources (apart from a late 15th c. local chronicle) is there any mention of the construction of the shrine. R. Amitai offers an explanation for this, considering attentively the movements of Baybars during the period and concluding that the Sultan, after the Hajj, gave the order to build the shrine whilst he was “on his way to Damascus and still not in Jerusalem” (p. 49). Taking into account other inscriptions of the period, the author makes a comparative study of the text and the wording of the Maqām Nabī Mūsā epigraph, aiming to discern the possible meaning of otherwise ambiguous expressions (bi‑wilāya) and that of particular regal titles, the most important of which (qasīm amīr al‑ mu’minīn) appears in most of Baybars’ inscriptions and on his coins. This detail, in which epigraphic and numismatic data are linked together, is important from a methodological point of view and it would have been desirable to illustrate the text with one specimen of Baybars’ coinage (fig. 1). The Maqām Nabī Mūsā inscription also shows affinities with that recording the foundation of another mausoleum, dated 664/1266. R. Amitai hypothesises that both epigraphs were made by the same person and suggests, for an additional perspective, comparing the structure of the two buildings, which may reveal common points overlooked until now.

Fig. 1 Dīnār of Baybars, dated 667 AH/CE 1268
Diameter: 2.3 cm; Weight: 5.64 g.
(London, British Museum, CM OR.7274 (BMC 475))
© Trustees of the British Museum

Fig. 1 Dīnār of Baybars, dated 667 AH/CE 1268Diameter: 2.3 cm; Weight: 5.64 g.(London, British Museum, CM OR.7274 (BMC 475))© Trustees of the British Museum

5Of great interest is the paper “A fourteenth‑century Jerusalem court record of a divorce hearing: a case study” by Donald P. Little, dedicated to certain legal documents (likely belonging to a Shafi‘ī court archive), from the so‑called Ḥarām collection (named after the place where the materials were found in 1974–76, the Islamic Museum in the al‑Ḥarām al‑Sharīf in Jerusalem). Through a case study of a divorce hearing record, including a petition‑decree (ar. qiṣṣāmarsūm), it is possible to appreciate the continuity of various areas of the Dār al‑Islām not necessarily geographically close to each other. The case is as follows: through Sharaf al‑Dīn — a shafi‘ī judge whose behaviour and reputation gave rise to conflicting interpretations on his rulings — “Sutayta, an abandoned wife in Jerusalem, complains in 798/1395 to a chief judge in Damascus that her husband has been absent for thirteen years in Yemen without paying the maintenance […]” (pp. 69‑70). The horizons — Palestine, Syria, Yemen — covered in this case study show the cultural continuity, from a legal point of view, between Palestine and Syria, and the relative geographical distance between Palestine and Yemen. Although the latter was, indeed, a faraway region in which one could start a new life, it offered at the same time a relatively familiar context given some basic elements, such as a common language, religion and — in the South — a common legal school [madhhab], shafi‘ī). The chancery‑style and layout of the petition are expertly described by D.P. Little, who elucidates even the blank spaces of the document: the wide margins and the generous spacing between the lines of the text attest that this “has been cast in the format of a chancery petition” (p. 70).

6Rachel Milstein, in her paper “Futūḥ‑i Ḥaramayn: sixteenth‑century illustrations of the Hajj route”, analyses over twenty illustrated manuscripts, dated or datable to the second half of the 16th century, containing a Persian text, in verses, entitled Futūḥ‑i Ḥaramayn, and composed in 911/1505–06 by Muḥyī al‑Dīn Lārī (d. 933/1526–27) in honour of Sultan Muẓaffar b. Maḥmūd Shāh of Gujarat. R. Milstein, who aims at demonstrating the value of art as an historical source, guides the reader through texts and illustrations reconstructing the genealogy of the manuscripts and identifying a Meccan school of painters, probably also calligraphers. The names of scribes and artists in the colophons reveal that some of them, of Iranian or Indian origins, settled in Mecca, where they lived producing pilgrim souvenirs, such as manuscript copies of Futūḥ‑i Ḥaramayn. Retracing the roots of the illustrative traditions of this particular type of travel guide, R. Milstein mentions the Ayyubid Hajj certificate rolls found in the Great Mosque of Damascus, now in Istanbul. Nowadays, we know more about the story of the “Damascus find” (see P. RADICIOTTI‑A. D’OTTONE, “I frammenti della Qubbat al‑khana di Damasco: a proposito di una scoperta sottovalutata”, Nea Rhome No. 5, 2008, p. 45‑74).

7This miscellany presents a number of valuable texts and many points of interest for scholars researching different areas and periods of the Mamluk and Ottoman times. However, a more complete index would have been appreciated. I will limit my comments to a couple of examples related to my own research interests. Under the indexed word “Yemen”, only pages 195‑205 are listed, corresponding to the only article in the volume in which “Yemen” appears in the title (“The forgotten province: a prelude to the Ottoman era in Yemen”). Yet, it is possible to add at least three others references in the book: pages 70, 177 and 179. Apart from the general sketch by Jane Hathaway dedicated to Yemeni history from remote antiquity to the early 20th century, we note also: a fugitive husband (p. 70; see supra); (p. 177) two Yemenite shaykh‑s, Qutb ‘Abd al‑Kabīr and ‘Abd Rūz, with such elaborate mausoleums in the Shubayka Cemetery in Mecca that their tombs were mentioned in an illustrated travel guide in Persian; and, last but not least (p. 179), the arrival of the first Yemeni maḥmal (gift palanquin) in Mecca in 967/1559, noticed and described in a copy of the Futūḥ al‑ḥaramayn, preserved in the National Maritime Museum of Haifa (dated 966–8/1558–60). Finally, another case is the entry “coins”: the index lists just two pages (23 and 50). However, reading the interesting paper by Daniel Crecelius, “Observations on some religious institutions in Damiette and Faraskur in the eighteenth century”, focused on some 35 awqāf khayriyya and which sheds light on the variety and the conditions of religious institutions (mosques, zawiyāt, madrasas) in Damiette in the 18th century, one cannot miss the term niṣf fiḍḍa. The term, as explained by the author (footnote 12, p. 238), is “the Egyptian colloquial term for the official Ottoman para, a small silver coin of account […]”. So the entry “coins” in the index should also ideally list pages 229‑238.  

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Titre Fig. 1 Dīnār of Baybars, dated 667 AH/CE 1268Diameter: 2.3 cm; Weight: 5.64 g.(London, British Museum, CM OR.7274 (BMC 475))© Trustees of the British Museum
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Arianna D’Ottone, « David J. Wasserstein and Ami Ayalon (Eds), Mamluks and Ottomans. Studies in honour of Michael Winter », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 5 | 2015, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2015, consulté le 23 septembre 2020. URL :

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Arianna D’Ottone

Sapienza – University of Rome

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