Theses Master's

The State's Negative Imprint: Unpublished Fatimid Petitions from the Cairo Geniza and the Administration of Justice in Fatimid Egypt

Umrethwala, Yusuf

Following the Fatimid conquest in 358/969, Egypt became an imperial center for the first time after being ruled as a province for over nine centuries. One of the administrative changes the Fatimids, as newcomers, brought to Egypt was a shift in chancery practices, one of which included integrating the petition into the genre of state documents. This meant their new subjects had better access to state officials than before but required specialized scribes to write their petitions. Despite this new administrative change, narrative sources barely inform us about the identity of the scribes who produced them, who had access to the petitioning procedure, what a petition looked like, or how and when to write one. While recent scholarship has done much to explain the bureaucracy of the petitioning process, the enduring dearth of research into the exercise of justice in medieval Islamic societies leaves a wide gap in urgent need of filling. This thesis draws evidence from surviving Fatimid petitions of the Cairo Geniza and other paper documents emanating from the Egyptian countryside. It demonstrates the value of these documents in corroborating and challenging narratives of long-form sources, investigates the identity of the petitioners and the scribes, and underscores how these documents transform our understanding of administrative practices and justice in medieval Islamic societies. In so doing, it rebukes the stereotype of the despotic exercise of power in pre-industrial extra-European empires and the perception that the medieval Fatimid state was laissez-faire.

Keywords: Fatimids, Cairo Geniza, Medieval History, Middle East, Chancery, Scribes, Egypt

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Islamic Studies and Muslim Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Savant, Sarah
Rustow, Marina
M. A., Columbia University / Aga Khan University
Published Here
May 29, 2024