In the spring of 1245, Abū ʿAmr ʿUthman Ibn al-Nābulusī, formerly a high-ranking official in the Ayyubid administration of Egypt, was called out of forced retirement to report on the agricultural conditions in the province of the Fayyum, a roughly triangular depression in Middle Egypt irrigated by a branch of the Nile.
Al-Nābulusī surveyed the Fayyum by going from village to village, relying on local tax and irrigation officials and paying careful attention to minute details of agricultural production. He combined the fiscal audit with sections on the irrigation system and the history of the province, and produced a treatise with the rhyming title Iẓhār Ṣanʿat al-Ḥayy al-Qayyūm fī Tartīb Bilād al-Fayyūm (Demonstrating the Everlasting Eternal’s Design in Ordering the Villages of the Fayyum).
The result is the most detailed cadastral survey to have survived for any region of the medieval Islamic world, before the Ottoman records of the sixteenth century. Since the archives of medieval Muslim states have been lost, this is as close as we get to the tax registers of any rural province, a ‘Domesday Book’ of the medieval Egyptian countryside. It a first-hand account of the actual conditions in a concrete locality, and his wealth of detail for each of its one hundred villages surpasses, by far, any other source for the rural economy of medieval Islam.
The website is an outcome of an AHRC-funded project, ‘Rural Society in Medieval Islam’, focused on al-Nābulusī’s tax register. The project aims to make a major contribution to the knowledge and understanding of pre-modern rural societies in the Islamic world. Through an edition, translation and study of the Villages of the Fayyum, it addresses fundamental questions for the history of the medieval Middle East, such as the Islamization of rural communities, their tribal and sedentary identity, and their relations with land holders and with state officials. The project team consisted of Yossef Rapoport (Principal Investigator) and Ido Shahar.
This website brings together the fiscal, demographic and geographic information contained in the Village of the Fayyum. It offers a database consisting of 19 Excel spreadsheets recording the amounts of the different categories of taxes by due by each village. Each spreadsheet is also forwarded by an explanation of the fiscal terminology. The database is also accompanied by eight GIS maps that show the spatial distribution of select fiscal and social categories. The website also includes a sample of village entries from al-Nābulusī’s work.
The website accompanies two other major outcomes of the project. One is an annotated edition and translation, published as Yossef Rapoport and Ido Shahar (eds.), The Villages of the Fayyum: A Thirteenth-Century Register of Rural, Islamic Egypt (Brepols, 2018). The other is a monograph: Yossef Rapoport, Rural Economy and Tribal Society in Islamic Egypt (Brepols, 2018). Rural Economy and Tribal Society is a detailed micro-study of the Fayyum as described by al-Nābulusī, utilising quantitative methods and spatial GIS analysis to provide a thick account of crops, trade and taxation, the tribal organization of the village communities, their religious institutions, and their rights and duties in relation to military landholders. Both volumes have been published as part of Brepols’ The Medieval Countryside series.
The GIS maps that appear in this website have been carefully prepared by Max Satchell, who has invested inordinate amount of effort to familiarize himself with the Fayyumi landscape. His work was supported by a Scouloudi publication grant from the Institute of Historical Research, an equivalent grant from the Isobel Thornley fund at the University of London, and the School of History, Queen Mary University of London.