• Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources

    I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 2002.

    Ismaili Heritage Series 7

    ISBN Paperback:
    1 86064 875 4
    ISBN HardBack:
    1 86064 692 1
  • Fatimid history is a subject as vast and as varied as the geography and the peoples it included or touched. The writing of that history is likewise both as wide as the empire and as focused as the thousands of particular topics that help explain any portion of it. Exploring an Islamic Empire aims not to encompass all, or even a major portion of it, but to offer an introduction to what it contains or might contain and how to explore these possibilities, to begin to suggest what sources exist, and how historians, both in former periods and now, have used them or could have used them even yet.

    Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources consists of two parts followed by a comprehensive bibliography of both sources and modern studies, not merely of works cited in this study, but of the whole range of what has been written to date about the Fatimidsinfo-icon. Part I presents an overview of the shape and content of Fatimid history. Part II contains separate chapters on the various kinds of historical sources that provide what information there is for historical reconstruction and analysis. They are, first, coins and other artefacts (tiraz, building decorations, art objects, archaeological finds) that supply direct evidence (normally inscriptions) of historical events and processes; second, documents and letters, both originals and copies of them; third, eyewitness and contemporary accounts; fourth, histories, topographies and bibliographical dictionaries; fifth, adabinfo-icon and other kinds of literary writings; and last, a look at the work of those modern scholars who have contributed the most to the subject.

    The Fatimids rose to political domination in North Africa in 296/909 after a long period of struggle in various regions of the Muslim world. They formally proclaimed their caliphateinfo-icon soon after 297/910. The new caliphinfo-icon, al–Mahdiinfo-icon, was already the Imaminfo-icon of the Shi‘i Ismailis but, until then, he had not actually ruled a politically defined territory. His triumph, however, represented a revolution in which he restored the rights of the Prophet’s family by bringing back to power a descendant of ‘Ali b. Abi Talibinfo-icon in the line of ‘Ali's wife Fatimainfo-icon, the Prophet’s own daughter. Thereafter al–Mahdi and his successors had spiritual authority as imams and were also rulers of an empire that grew from its original base in what are now Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily. In 358/969, having by then subdued nearly all of North Africa and the lands of the southern Mediterranean, the Fatimids finally added Egypt, much of Syria and the holy cities of Arabia to their growing empire. In Egypt they founded the city of Cairo as their new headquarters.

    As imams of the Ismailis, the Fatimids developed further a network of missions (da‘wainfo-icons) that extended over much of the Muslim world of the time. For his religious followers, the Fatimid ruler, in his capacity as Ismaili imam, was the absolute authority in all matters, including most especially any issue of religion and religious doctrine or interpretation. Naturally, this aspect of their government was not recognised by Sunni Muslims either inside or outside the empire and was poorly understood by them, if at all. The Abbasid caliphs did not have the same degree of religious authority. Similarly non–Ismaili Shi‘ainfo-icon, such as the Twelversinfo-icon and the Zaydisinfo-icon, although they better comprehended the Shi‘i theory of the imamatinfo-icon, did not admit to any religious supremacy on the part of the Fatimid imams. Nonetheless, it is impossible to explain the dynasty and its rule adequately without fully grasping the character and importance of its religious underpinning, which was, moreover, all but unique in the active integration of these roles in Islamic history.

    All of these issues affect scholarship about the Fatimids. Mediaeval sources are divided into those that represent a Sunni attitude, on the one hand, or an Ismaili affinity, on the other. A few are Shi‘a in sympathy but nonetheless are not actually Ismaili. The degree of hostility displayed by the non–Ismaili writers varies greatly. Most were then and are now simply ignorant of true Ismaili doctrines. Some, however, objected to the Ismaili understanding of Islam on basic principles rooted so deeply in how they perceived what they wrote that their anti–Ismaili hatred coloured their account of the facts. To a real extent, modern scholarship reveals that the same bias continues to colour the views of those who now write about the Fatimids.

    Despite occasional signs of renewed interest in the Fatimids, modern scholarship has accomplished relatively little in comparison to what has been done on the subsequent Ayyubid and Mamluk periods and it is hoped that this work will facilitate wider programmes of research and scholarship into the dynasty. The monograph is essential reading for students and scholars of Islamic history and a valuable addition to the history and historiography of the Fatimids and the Muslim world to which they belonged.

    Revised and edited from the book’s introduction.

  • Acknowledgements

    List of Abbreviations


    Part I: The Shape and Content of Fatimid History

    1. The Maghribinfo-icon
    2. A Century of Empire
    3. A Cenury of Military Wazirs

    Part II: Sources and Studies

    1. Coins, Building Inscriptions, tiraz, Art and Archaeology
    2. Letters and Documents
    3. Memoirs, Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries
    4. Histories, Topographies and Biographical Dictionaries
    5. Literature and the Sciences
    6. Modern Studies


    Bibliography I: Medieval Sources

    Bibliography II: Modern Studies


  • “Organic” Bibliography of Modern Studies

    The following list is a comprehensive account of modern studies of the Fatimidsinfo-icon. A complete bibliography of such works is not easily achieved. Rather than wait for a later edition that would include corrections, missing items and newer material, the author and The Institute of Ismaili Studies have agreed to collaborate and maintain this bibliography as a continuing (ie “organic”) project.

    This bibliography will be enhanced by the participation of interested scholars. Please regard it as a prime, shared, public resource for the study of Fatimid history. Use it freely and help keep it current and complete. Notices of corrections, overlooked items, and new entries should be sent to the author, Paul E. Walker.

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    Al-Imad, Leila S., The Fatimid Vizierate, 969-1172.  Berlin, 1990.

    Allouche, Adel, Mamluk Economics: A Study and Translation of al-Maqrizi’s Ighathah.  Salt Lake City, 1994.

    ——, “The Establishment of Four Chief Judgeships in Fatimid Egypt,” JAOS 105 (1985): 317-320.

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    ——, “Fatimid Glass Jetons: Token Currency or Coin-weights?” JESHO 24 (1981): 93-109.

    ——, “History of the dirhem in Egypt from the Fatimid conquest until the collapse of the Mamluk Empire,” Revue numismatique 3 (1961): 109-46.

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    ——, “Note sur quelques monnaies et jetons fatimites de Sicile,” BIE 38 (1955): 65-72.

    ——, “Notes on some Fatimid round-flan dirhems,” Numismatic Chronicle 7th ser., 1 (1961): 175-79.

    ——, “Poids en plomb du khalife fatimide al-Hakim Biamr-illah frappé à Misr en l’an 389,” JESHO 6 (1963): 216-18.

    ——, “Poids forts fatimites en plomb,” Revue belge de numismatique 105 (1959): 171-88.

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    ——, “The Function of Fatimid and Ayyubid Glass Weights,” JESHO 24 (1981): 63-92.

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    Berchem, Max van, see van Berchem, Max.

    Berque, J., “Du nouveau sur les Banu Hilal?” Studia Islamica, fasc. 36, 1972, pp. 99-113.

    Beshir, B. I., “The Fatimid Caliphateinfo-icon: 386-487 A.H./996-1094 A. D.,” Ph.D. Dissertation, S.O.A.S., University of London, 1970.

    ——, “Fatimid Military Organization,” Der Islam 55 (1978): 37-56.

    ——, “New Light on Nubian-Fatimid Relations,” Arabica 22 (1975): 15-24.

    Bianquis, Thierry, “L’acte de succession de Kafur d’après Maqrizi,” AI 12 (1974): 263-269.

    ——, Damas et la Syrie sous la domination fatimide (359-468/969-1076).  2 vols. Damas, 1986 and 1989.

    ——, “Abd al-Gani ibn Sa’id, un savant sunnite au service des Fatimides,  Actes XXIX C.I.O., [Etudes Arabes et Islamiques I, Histoire et Civilisation I] (1975): 39-47.

    ——, “La Prise du pouvoir par les fatimides en Egypte (357-363/968-974),” AI 11 (1972): 48-108.

    ——, “Al-Hakim bi amr Allah ou la folie de l’unité chez un souverain fatimide,” Les Africains  Vol. 11 (Paris, 1977), pp. 107-133. (sous la direction de Charles-Andre Julian et al., Les editions du Jaquar, new ed. 1990).

    ——, “Ibn al-Nabulusi, un martyr sunnite au IVe siècle de l’hégire,” AI 12 (1974): 45-66.

    ——, “L’espace politique des Fatimides,” in Barrucand, ed., L’Égypte fatimide, pp. 21-28.

    ——, “Le fonctionnement des diwaninfo-icon financiers d’après al-Musabbihi,” AI 26 (1992): 47-61.

    ——, “Notables ou malandrins d’origine rurale à Damas a l’Époque fatimide,” BEO 25 (1973): 185-207.

    ——, “La transmission du hadithinfo-icon en Syrie a l’epoque fatimide,” BEO 25 (1972): 85-95.

    ——, “Une crise frumentaire dans l’Egypte fatimide,” JESHO 23 (1980): 67-101.

    Bierman, Irene, “Art and Politics: The Impact of Fatimid Uses of Tiraz Fabrics,” Ph. D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1980.

    ——, Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text.  Berkeley, 1998.

    Blachère, R., “L’agglomération du Caire vue par quartre voyageurs arabes de moyen-age,” AI 8 (1969): 1-26.

    Blair, Sheila S., Islamic Inscriptions.  Edinburgh, 1998.

    Blake, H., A. Hutt and D. Whitehouse, “Ajdabiyah and the Earliest Fatimid Architecture,” Libya Antiqua 8 (1971): 105-120.

    Bloom, Jonathan M., “The Early Fatimid Blue Koran Manuscript,” Graeco-Arabica 4 (1991): 171-77.

    ——, “The Early Fatimid Blue Koran Manuscript,” in Francois Deroche, ed., Les Manuscrits du moyen-orient: essais de codicology et paleaographie (Istanbul/Paris, 1989), pp. 95-99.

    ——, “The Fatimids (909-1171), Their Ideology and Their Art,” in Islamische Textilkunst des Mittelalters: Aktuelle Probleme, Riggisberger Berichte, 5, 1997, pp. 15-26.

    ——, “Five Fatimid Minarets in Upper Egypt,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 43 (1984): 162-67

    ——, “The Introduction of the Muqarnas into Egypt,” Muqarnas 5 (1989): 21-28.

    ——, “Al-Ma’mun’s Blue Koran?” REI 54 (1986): 61-65.

    ——, “Meaning in Early Fatimid Architecture: Islamic Art in North Africa and Egypt in the Fourth Century A.H. (Tenth Century A.D.),” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1980.

    ——, Minaret: Symbol of Islam.  Oxford, 1989.

    ——, “The Mosque of al-Hakim in Cairo,” Muqarnas 1 (1983): 15-36.

    ——, “The Mosque of the Qarafa in Cairo,” Muqarnas 4 (1986): 7-20.

    ——, “The Origins of Fatimid Art,” Muqarnas 3 (1985): 30-38.

    ——, “Paper in Fatimid Egypt,” in Barrucand, ed., L’Égypte fatimide, pp. 395-401.

    Bonebakker, S. A., “A Fatimid Manual for Secretaries,” Annali Istituto Orientale di Napoli 37, new series, 27 (1977): 295-337.

    Bouyahia, Chedly, La Vie littÉraire en Ifriqiyainfo-icon sous les Zirides.  These de doctorat es-Lettres, Sorbonne, Tunis, S.T.D., 1972.

    Brett, Michael, “The Battles of Ramla (1099-1105),” in U. Vermeulen and D. de Smet, eds, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, I, pp. 17-38.

    ——, “The Execution of al-Yazuri,” in U. Vermeulen and D. de Smet, eds, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, II, pp. 15-27.

    ——, “Fatimid Historiography: A Case Study—The Quarrel with the Zirids, 1048-58,” in D. O. Morgan, ed., Medieval Historical Writing in the Christian and Islamic Worlds  (London, 1982), pp. 47-59.

    ——, “The Fatimid Revolution (861-973) and its Aftermath in North Africa,” in J. D. Fage, ed., Cambridge History of Africa vol. 2 (1978), pp. 589-636.

    ——, “Ibn Khaldun and the Arabisation of North Africa,” The Maghrebinfo-icon Review 4 (1979): 9-16.

    ——, “Ibn Khaldun and the Invasion of Ifriqiya by the Banu Hilal, 5th century AH/11th century AD,” Actes de colloque international sur Ibn Khaldoun, 1978.  Algiers, 1982.

    ——, “Islam and Trade in the Bilad al-Sudan, Tenth-Eleventh Century A.D.,” Journal of African History 24 (1983): 431-40.

    ——, “The Mim, the ‘Ayn and the Making of Isma‘ilism,” BSOAS 57 (1994): 25-39

    ——, “The Origins of the Mamluk Military System in the Fatimid Period,” in U. Vermeulen and D. de Smet, eds, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, I, pp 39-52.

    ——, “The Realm of the Imaminfo-icon: The Fatimids in the Tenth Century,” BSOAS 59 (1996): 431-449.

    ——, The Rise of the Fatimids: The World of the Mediterranean and the Middle East in the Tenth Century CE.  Leiden, 2001.

    ——, “The Way of the Peasant,” BSOAS 47 (1984): 44-56.

    ——, “The Zughba at Tripoli, 429 H/1037-38A.D.,” The Society for Libyan Studies 6 (1974-75): 41-47.

    Brunschvig, R., “Argumentation Fatimide contre le raisonnement juridique par analogie (qiyas),” in R. Arnaldez and S. van Riet, eds., Recherches d’Islamologie (Louvain, 1977), pp. 75-84.

    ——, “Fiqhinfo-icon fatimide et l’histoire de l’Ifriqya,” Mélanges d’histoire et archiÉologique de l’occident musulmane: Hommage à G. Marçais (Alger, 1957), II, pp. 13-20.

    Bryer, David R., “The Origins of the Druzeinfo-icon Religion,” Der Islam 52 (1975): 47-84 and 239-264; Der Islam 53 (1976): 5-27.

    Cahen, Claude, “L’Administration financière de la armÉe fatimide d’après al-Makhzumi,” JESHO 15 (1972): 163-182, reprinted in Makhzumiyyat.

    ——, “La changeant portée sociale de quelques doctrine religieuses,” in L’elaboration de Islam (Colloque de Strasbourg, 1959) (Paris, 1961), pp. 5-22.

    ——, “La circulation monétaire en Egypte des Fatimides aux Ayyubides,” Revue numismatique, 6th ser., 26, 208-17.

    ——, “Une chronique syrienne du VIe/XIIe siècle,” BEO 7-8 (1937-38): 113-58.

    ——, “Les chroniques arabes concernant la Syrie, l’Egypte et la Mésopotamie de la conquête arabe à la conquête ottomane dans les bibliothèques d’Istanbul,” REI 10 (1936):

    ——, “L’Évolution de l’iqta‘ de IXè au XIIIè sie‘cles,” AnnalesESC 8 (1953): 25-52.

    ——, “Histoires coptes d’un cadi médiéval,” BIFAO 59 (1960): 133-150.

    ——,  “Ibn Muyassar,” EI2

    ——, “Al-Makhzumi et Ibn Mammati sur l’agriculture Égyptienne médiévale,” AI 11 (1972): 141-151.

    ——, Makhzumiyyat: Etudes sur l’histoire Économique et financière de l’Egypte médiévale.  Leiden, 1977.

    ——, “Le marchands Étrangers au Caire sous les Fatimdis et les Ayyubides,” Colloque international sur l’histoire du Cairo, 1969 (Cairo, 1972), pp. 97-101.

    ——, “Note d’historiographie syrienne, La premiere partie de l’histoire d’Ibn al-Qalanisi,” in George Makdisi, ed., Arabic and Islamic Studies in honor of Hamilton A. R. Gibb (Leiden, 1965), pp. 156-67.

    ——, “Quelques chroniques anciennes relatives aux derniers Fatimides,” BIFAO 37 (1937-38): 1-27.

    ——, “Quelques notes sur les Hilaliens et le nomadisme,” JESHO, 1968, pp. 13033.

    ——, “Un récit inédit de vizirat de Dirgham,” AI 8 (1969): 27-46.

    ——, La Syrie du nord à l’Époque des croisades.  Paris, 1940.

    ——, “Un texte peu connu relatif au commerce oriental d’Amalfi au Xè siècle,” Achivio Storico per la Province Napolitane (n.s.) 34 (1953-54): 1-8.

    ——, “Un traité financier inédit d’Époque fatimide-ayyubide,” JESHO 5 (1962): 139-59, reprinted in Makhzumiyyat.

    Cahen, Claude, Yusuf Ragheb and M. A. Taher, “L’achat et le waqf d’un grand domaine Égyptien par le vizir fatimide Tala’i b. Ruzzik,” AI 14 (1978): 57-126.

    Cahen, Claude, with M. Adda, “Les Éditions de l’Itti‘az al-hunafa’ (Histoire fatimide) de Maqrizi par Ahmad Hilmy, Sadok Huni (Khouni), Fatiha Dib et Peter Kessler,” Arabica 22, pp. 302-20.

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    ——, “Deux Episodes des relations diplomatiques arabo-byzantines au Xe siècle,” BEO 13 (1949-1950): 51-69, reprint in Byzance et les musulmans de Proche Orient, item XII.

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    ——, “La procession de Nouvel An chez les Fatimides,” Annales de l’Institut d’Etudes Orientales de la Faculté des Lettres d’Alger 10 (1952): 364-398, reprint in Miscellanea Orientalia, item IV.

    ——, “Les sources arabes de l’histoire byzantineinfo-icon aux confins des Xe et XIe siecles,” Revue des Études byzantines 19 (1962): 284-314.

    ——, “Quelques notes relatives a la Sicile sous les premiers califes fatimites,” in Studi medievali in onore di Antonio De Stefano, (Palermo, 1956) pp. 569-576.  Reprint in L’expansion arabo-islamique et ses repercussions.

    ——, “Une famille de partisans puis d’adversaires des Fatimides en Afrique de Nord,” Melange d’Histoire et d’Archeologie occidentale musulmane 2 (1957): 33-49.

    ——, “Une lettre de calife fatimite al-Hafiz à Roger II,” Atti del Convegno Intern. di Studi Ruggeriani, (Palermo, 1955) pp. 125-146, reprinted in Miscellanea Orientalia, item VII.

    ——, “Un vizir chrétien à l’Époque fatimite, l’Arménien Bahram,” Annales de l’Institut d’Etudes Orientales de la Faculté des Lettres d’Alger 12 (1954): 84-113, reprint in Miscellanea Orientalia, item VI.

    Candia, Farrugia de, see Farrugia de Candia.

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    ——, “The Relations of Amalfi with the Arab World before the Crusades,” Speculum 42 (1967): 299-312.

    Cohen, Mark R., “Administrative Relations Between Palestinian and Egyptian Jewry During the Fatimid Period,” in Amnon Bohen and Gabrielinfo-icon Baer, eds, Egypt and Palestine: A Millennium of Association (868-1948) (New York, 1984), pp. 113-135.

    ——, Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt: The Origins of the Office of Head of the Jews, ca. 1065-1126.  Princeton, 1980.

    ——, al-Mujtama‘ al-yahudi fi Misr al-islamiyya fi’l-‘usur al-wusta.  Tel Aviv, 1987. (Arabic translation of Jewish Life in Medieval Egypt, 641-1382.)

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    Cooper, Richard S., “The Assessement and Collection of Kharajinfo-icon Tax in Medieval Egypt,” JAOS 96 (1976): 365-82.

    ——, “Ibn Mammati’s Rules for the Ministries: Translation with Commentary of the Qawanin al-Dawanin.” Ph. D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1973. 

    Cornu, Georgette.  “Les tissus d’apparat fatimids, parmi les plus somptueux le «voile de Saint Anne» d’Apt,” in Barrucand, ed., L’Égypte fatimide, pp. 331-337.

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    Cowdrey, H. E. J., “The Mahdia Campaign of 1087,” English Historical Review 42 (1977): 1-29.

    ——, Popes, Monks and Crusade.  London, 1984.

    Creswell, K. A. C., The Muslim Architecture of Egypt.  vol. 1.  Oxford, 1952.

    Dachraoui, Farhat, Le Califat fatimide au Maghreb, 296-362/909-973: histoire, politique et institutions.  These principale pour le doctorat d’etat Sorbonne.  Tunis, 1981. 

    ——, “La captivité d’Ibn Wasûl, le rebelle de Sidjilmassa d’après le Qadiinfo-icon An Nu‘man,” CT 4 (1956): 295-299.

    ——, “Le Crète dans le confit entre Byzance et al-Mu‘izz,” CT 7 (1959): 307-318.

    ——, “Le commencement de la prÉdication isma‘ilienne en Ifriqiya,” SI 20 (1964): 89-102.

    ——, “Contribution a l’histoire des Fatimides en Ifriqiya,” Arabica 8 (1961): 189-203.

    ——, “Tentative d’infiltration shi‘iteinfo-icon en Espagne musulmane sous le règne d’al-Hakim II,” al-Andalus 23 (1958): 97-106.

    Dadoyan, Seta B., The Fatimid Armenians: Cultural and Political Interaction in the Near East.  Leiden, 1997.

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  • Paul E. Walker

    An historian of ideas with a focus on Mediaeval Islamic History, Paul E. Walker has taught at McGill University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan. For several years Dr Walker was the Director of the American Research Centre in Egypt, and is currently a Visiting Scholar with the University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He has authored and edited many books on Fatimid history and the formative period of Ismaili thought including Early Philosophical Shi'ism (Cambridge University Press, 1993), The Wellsprings of Wisdom: A Study of Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani's Kitab...Read more