S. D. Goıteın, Altan Çeti̇n, Murat Keçi̇ş

Keywords: Mediterranean, Cairo, Geniza, The Documents


The students of the history of the Mediterranean countries during the High Middle Ages have often complained about the almost complete absence of archives in Muslim countries. In Europe, the church, the feudal lords, the cities, and the guilds kept their documents both as titles of right and for other purposes. Nothing of the kind is to be found in Muslim countries for that period. It is possible to reconstruct the main lines of political history and to a certain extent also the life of the ruling class with the help of literary sources, supplemented by archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics, i.e. the study of extant buildings and utensils, inscriptions, and coins. However, social and economic history, especially of the middle and lower classes, can hardly be studied without the aid of documents, such as letters, deeds, or accounts actually emanating from people belonging to these classes. Under these circumstances it is most fortunate that a great treasure of documents, hailing from all over the Mediterranean countries, mainly from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, has been preserved in the so­called Cairo Geniza. In order to be in position to evaluate the Geniza papers as a source of social history, we have to form an idea about their nature and contents, and the localities, the times, and the social layers from which they come. The Geniza contains many hundreds of documents written in a beautiful Hebrew, as it was known from contemporary literary sources. Most of this material has been published and used for historical research. However, the vast majority of the Geniza papers, namely most of the private letters and legal deeds, and all business letters and bills were written in Arabic, and of course not in literary, but in living Arabic, which varied according to the country, the century, and the social layer from which they came. The majority of the Geniza documents, sixty years after their transfer to European and American libraries, still have remained unpublished. For the same reason, it is not surprising that when their systematic study was taken up again of late, quite a number of unexpected findings were reached.