First roundtable: papyri and early-Islamic taxation

An overview of the FOI project's first roundtable of 3.6.2010.

‘Papyri and early Islamic taxation’

Last June 3 2010, the FOI project organised a roundtable entitled ‘Papyri and early Islamic taxation’. After an introduction to the FOI project and the roundtable by Prof Dr P.M. Sijpesteijn, the other project members, the PhD students Marie Legendre, Khaled Younes, and Jelle Bruning, as well as Dr Alain Delattre presented the results of their research and work. Alain Delattre was the first and presented five unedited Greek and Coptic fiscal documents from Islamic Egypt. Delattre focussed on the monastic environment of the documents and discussed how tax money may have been gathered within the monastery before it was handed over to the tax collectors. Marie Legendre presented her research on Middle Egypt, focussing on Ansina, al-Bahnasa, and al-Ushmunayn, and with special reference to Bawit. She discussed the relation between these cities and their villages as well as their urban structure. Khaled Younes presented two interesting documents that tell us about a governor that has not been recorded in narrative sources. Younes also presented his database of ‘Arabic papyri from the 1st and 2nd c. A.H.’ in which he has collected about 400 Arabic papyri thus far. This database also includes information on, a.o., the provenance, date, material, and contents of the papyri. The last presentation was given by Jelle Bruning who spoke about the relation between Alexandria and al-Fustat in the first two Islamic centuries. On the basis of examples from well-known literature, he argued that this relation may not have been as clear-cut as is commonly thought.


All attendants participated in the discussions that followed each presentation. Already after the introduction fiscal terminology in Byzantine and Islamic Egypt was discussed, primarily focussing on the terms pakton and extraordinaria/extraordina. Prof Dr Hugh Kennedy initiated a discussion on two terms found in literature pertaining to the Islamic east, qati’a and daman, and what is known on these terms from documentary sources from Egypt.

A final discussion dealt with a list of Arabic, Greek, and Coptic fiscal terms found in papyri from the first and second century A.H. compiled by Jelle Bruning (see below). In relation to, or as an example for, this list the terms jizya and kharaj were shortly discussed. Problems immediately arose: most references to these terms come from one corpus of papyri (the Qurra archive) found in Kom Ishqaw and dated to A.D. 709-10. Even within this corpus, different meanings of one term could be seen. Questions as to the use of the terms in the documents and our classification of the early-Islamic fiscal system were addressed. The results of a deeper study in the terms jizya and kharaj, conducted by Marie Legendre and Khaled Younes, taking into consideration the suggestions made during the roundtable can be found below. The roundtable concluded that Bruning’s list should contain the fiscal terminology found in Greek, Coptic, and Arabic documentary sources, but that classicists, coptologist, and arabists should all participate in compiling the list due to the many specialist literature on the terminology. Different from the current format of the list, the roundtable also concluded that the compilers of the list should not try to define the terms, but rather give references to the sources in which the terms can be found and to modern literature that discusses them. In this way, the list will be most useful as a reference source.

1. List of fiscal terminology
2. Study into the terms ǧizya and ḫarāǧ

Last Modified: 06-02-2015