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A Buyid-Fatimid Diplomacy Letter?

Yusuf Umrethwala

It is always a delight to stumble upon a Fatimid state document, with its ornate chancery script and wide-line spacing, while sifting through the binders of Geniza documents. One afternoon while taking a break from studying and indulging in my usual ‘paleographic distractions’ in the reading room of the British Library, I came across BL Or. 5566B.25. This is a fragmentary document on paper measuring 30.1cm x 14.3cm with line spacings1 measuring ca. 6cm on average.2 Based on the elegant line spacings, chancery script,3 and stacking of words towards the end of line4 with nested baselines,5 it became immediately evident that it was a state document – more precisely, a report.6 Looking at the first line, I could not believe what I was reading. It was the name of Abū Kālījār (d. 440/1048), the Buyid amir. What was a document, mentioning a Buyid ruler and the arrival of his wazīr (vizier) doing in the Cairo Geniza? Was it referring to an embassy sent by the Buyid amir? Were there diplomatic relations between the Buyids and the Fatimids who were the ruling polity in Egypt during Abū Kālījār’s time? Is it really a Fatimid state document? In what follows, I offer some initial insights into the document and attempt to situate it in its historical context.

 

mss Or. 5566B.25

Fig. 1. British Library (formerly British Museum), Or. 5566B.25, ed. and trans. by Yusuf Umrethwala and Alan Elbaum, available online through the Princeton Geniza Project.

 

Recto

1. وزير ورد من عند بو كليجار ملك الاهواز

2. وانه وصل الى واسط وخرج اليه ثلثة نفر

3. من وجوه الا[تراك؟] وانه ساقهم ما لا

4. يرضيهم فقابلوه بالمكروه وارادوا

Translation

1.    … a wazīr who arrived from Bū Kalījār,7 the ruler of Ahwāz.

2.    He reached Wāsiṭ and three men went out to him

3.    from the notables of [the Turks?], but he conveyed an unwelcome message which

4.    displeased them, and they in turn ill-treated him and tried…

 

The document reports on four issues -

1) A wazīr from Abū Kalījār, the ruler of Ahwāz arrived.

2) He reached Wāsiṭ (150 km to the southeast of Baghdad which was on the land route that connected Khuzistan to Baghdad via Ahwāz).8

3) Three notables from the Turks9 went out to him.

4) The wazīr in question conveyed an unwelcome message that displeased them and, in turn, the aforementioned Turks mistreated him. It is tough to glean much information from the fragmentary document. However, the fact that it contains the name of a Buyid amir with a specific designation (ruler of Ahwāz), and mentions his wazīr and the city of Wāsiṭ, points towards a possible Buyid-Fatimid connection, a historical detail that is not very well attested in long-form sources, thus warranting further investigation.

 

detail from ms T-S Ar.51.107

Fig. 2. Detail of T-S Ar.51.107 showing the typical stacked ends-of-lines and nested baselines in a Fatimid-era document (https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-TS-AR-00051-00107/2)

 

Abū Kālījār, the ruler of Ahwāz

Abū Kālījār al-Marzūbān (d. 439/1048) succeeded his father Sulṭān al-Dawla as the Buyid ruler following the latter’s death in 414/1024.10 In addition to Shīrāz, he gained control of most of Fārs and Khuzistan, including the major cities of Kirmān, Wāsiṭ, and Ahwāz.11 For a brief spell of four years (435-39/1044-48), he united the territories of Iraq, Fārs, and Khuzistan under his rule which were hitherto divided by inter-familial conflicts.12 Throughout this period, he lived under constant threat from the Ghaznavids, followed by the Seljuks, who ultimately defeated and killed him.13

Shīrāz remained the headquarters of the Buyid operations ever since the establishment of the dynasty in 334/945. In later developments, there was a loose family confederation with major heads in Shīrāz, Baghdad, and Rayy, and with minor capitals in Kirmān and Wāsiṭ.14 Shīrāẓ also remained Abū Kālījār’s capital and stronghold, though he spent most of his time in Ahwāz, which also served as his alternative capital.15 This corroborates the epithet of Abū Kālījār “ruler of Ahwāz,” in the document. 

 

Map depicting the cities of Baghdad, Wāsiṭ, Shīrāz, and Ahwāz

Fig. 3. Map depicting the cities of Baghdad, Wāsiṭ, Shīrāz, and Ahwāz

 

One of the most elaborate accounts of Abū Kālījār is found in Ibn Athīr’s al-Kāmil fī l-tārīkh.16 Throughout his account of Abū Kālījār, Ibn Athīr makes no mention of any direct or indirect connection between the Buyids and the Fatimids of Egypt. He only highlights the constant political strife between the Turks and the Daylamis, the two main fractions of the Buyid military.17

The only plausible connection between Abū Kālījār and the Fatimids would have been through al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī (d. 470/1078), the Fatimid courtier and chief dāʿī (missionary) who was active in Fārs and Khuzistan at that time. His autobiography, the Sīra al-Muʾayyad fī l-dīn dāʿī l-duʿāt, (Autobiography of al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī, the chief dāʿī) offers a first-hand account of the dāʿī’s activity as an Ismaʿīlī missionary, as well as the socio-political conditions of Buyyid Persia that haven’t received due attention in other sources.18

 

Al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī and Abū Kālījār

The Sīra attests to the constant backlash and persecution al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī faced in Persia due to his Ismaʿīlī beliefs, movements, and adherence to the Fatimid caliph al-Mustanṣir Billah (d. 487/1094). His activities and personality garnered such attention and popularity in the Buyid society that it ushered the attention of the Abbasid wazīr, Ibn Muslima in Baghdad. In the year 435/1043-44, Ibn Muslima traveled to Shīrāz to persuade al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī to change his allegiance to the Abbasid caliph but was met with resolute resistance.19

Amidst these persecutions, al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī attempted to achieve proximity at the court of Abū Kālījār, which would provide him diplomatic cover to pursue his activities. Through Abū Kālījār’s wazīr Bahrām b. Māfanna al-ʿĀdil (d. 432/1041-2), al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī was able to gain access to him and was even successful in organizing learning sessions on Ismaʿīlī doctrine for him.20

Apart from this account in the Sīra, Ibn Balkhī (d. 517/1117), the Seljuk historian, loosely corroborates this in his work Fārsnāma. He mentions Abū Kālījār getting under the sway of a certain Abū Naṣr b. ʿImrān (al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī), who proclaimed himself as being a dāʿī of the bāṭinī (Ismaʿīlīs), and whom the Daylamis deemed akin to the payghambar (the Prophet).21

Al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī saw the learning sessions on Dʿāʾim al-Islām (Pillars of Islām), the work by the Fatimid chief judge al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān (d. 363/974), to be an excellent opportunity to suggest to the Buyid amir the possibility of forging political ties with the Fatimid caliph al-Mustanṣir. However, as al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī narrates, these hopes were soon dissipated due to mounting pressure from the pro-Sunni lobby, mainly backed by the Turks, that the amir had to break his allegiance to al-Muʾayyad and abandon him.22 According to Ibn Balkhī, it was qāḍī ʿAbd Allah al-Fazarī (fl. early 5th/11th century) who was successful in convincing Abū Kālījār to rethink his affiliation with al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī which ultimately led to the latter’s exile in 435/1044.23 Hence, there is no possibility of an alliance between the Buyids and the Fatimids having taken place before this time.

In another instance around four years later, al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī writes from Cairo to Abū Kālījār in Shīrāz telling him that he received the news of his adversaries being assassinated.24 This letter is the only evidence of an active correspondence between the two after al-Muʾayyad’s exile. Al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī narrates the magnanimity with which his messenger was received at the court of Abū Kālījār and quotes in verbatim the reply Abū Kālījār sent to him. In this letter, Abū Kālījār reportedly beseeches al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī to express the benefactions (inʿām) he received at his court to the Fatimid Caliph and become the facilitator of an alliance between the two empires, engendering a steady chain of letters and documents (al-rasāʾil wa l-kutub) from the Fatimid caliph to him. In his opinion, this would incept diplomatic relations between the two empires “bihā yastaḥkam al-widād.”25 He proceeds to state that his army is standing between the Seljuks and the Fatimids, successfully fending off their attacks and keeping them at bay in defense of the Fatimid empire. Towards the end of the letter, he expresses his desire to enclose a letter to the Fatimid caliph himself with his letter but resists the urge until he hears back from al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī that this is what the caliph also desires.26 This letter is the only correspondence between the two mentioned in the Sīra after al-Muʾayyad’s arrival in Egypt as very soon after receiving this letter, al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī adds, “Abū Kālījār died, either by assassination, poison, or a natural death.”27

If there was indeed an embassy from Abū Kālījār to the Fatimid court, it would have been most likely recorded in the Sīra with a special mention along with other intricate details of interactions between the two. However, the absence of such a mention in the Sīra and other corroborative accounts, for instance, his own poetry compendium “dīwān”,28 and the Fārsnama, makes it difficult to substantiate anything further. Although it is very tempting to view this document as evidence of plausible Buyid-Fatimid diplomacy that has not been reported in sources, the lack of supporting evidence and the fragmentary state of the document impede the drawing of any concrete conclusion. 

Apart from diplomatic connections, there are four probable scenarios for interpreting the document that I would like to delineate. First, this may in turn be a Buyid internal state memorandum. However, it is very unclear how the document may have been jettisoned thousands of miles away in the Geniza chamber in Fustat. The second possibility is that the document may not have its provenance from the Cairo Geniza and might have been misattributed to it, as is the case with some Geniza documents, as suggested by Rebecca Jefferson.29 However, the similarity the document bears with a Fatimid state document in terms of structure and style is certainly striking and noteworthy. A third possibility is that this document is indeed a Fatimid state document reporting on developments at the Buyid court through some inner intelligence and simply unconnected to the two scenarios mentioned above. Fourth, and lastly, this may be a chancery exercise where the scribe is copying a model document from a Buyid chancery manual. Fatimid chancery heads, such as Ibn al-Ṣayrafī (d. 542/1147), admittedly idealized Buyid chancery practices long after their demise claiming, “Iraq had the best scribes” (fī-hā kuttāb afāḍil).30 However, the scribe’s perfection in executing this document as well as the absolute absence of any accompanying erasures, scribal jottings, or practices, and the size and quality of the paper make this a very dim possibility. 

My efforts in contextualizing this fragment may have ended in aporia for which I request the readers’ forbearance, but I hope it piques the attention of those specializing in the history of the medieval Middle East to provide their insights. At the very least, I hope it invites enthusiasts in Arabic papyrology, documentary evidence, and social history of the medieval Middle East, to mine the untapped hidden treasures of Arabic documents of state in the Cairo Geniza. 

 


References

 “Abū Kālījār.” In Encylopedia Britannica, January 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abu-Kalijar-al-Marzuban.

Alexandrin, Elizabeth R. “Studying Ismaʿīli Texts in Eleventh-Century Shiraz: Al-Muʾayyad and the 'Conversion' of the Buyid Amir Abu Kalijar.” Taylor and Francis, Iranian Studies, 44, no. 1 (January 2011).

Blair, Sheila. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

Czarnuszewicz, Marc. “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿilism in Buyid Iran: Reconsidering the Sira of al-Muʾayyad Fī al-Din al-Shirazi through Socio-Economic Contextualisation.” Iran 61, no. 1 (January 2, 2023): 94–114. https://doi.org/10.1080/05786967.2021.1882261.

Howes, Rachel T. “The Qadi, the Wazir and the Da‘i: Religious and Ethnic Relations in Buyid Shiraz in the Eleventh Century.” Taylor and Francis, Iranian Studies, 44, no. 3 (November 2011): 875–94.

Ibn al-Athīr, ʿIzz al-Dīn. Al-Kāmil Fī al-Tarīkh. Vol. 9. 13 vols. Beirut: Dār Bayrūt, 1982.

Ibn al-Ṣayrafī, ʿAlī b. Munjib. Dīwān Qānūn al-Rasāʾil. 1st ed. Cairo: Wakīl Dār Āthār al-ʿArabiyya, 1905.

Ibn Balkhī. Fārsnāma. Edited by Guy Le Strange and Reynold Alleyne Nicholson. London: Luzac, 1921.

Jefferson, Rebecca. The Cairo Genizah and the Age of Discovery in Egypt - The History and Provenance of a Jewish Archive. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2022.

Rustow, Marina. The Lost Archive – Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

al-Shīrāzī, al-Muʼayyad fī al-Dīn Hibat Allāh ibn Mūsā. Dīwān Al-Muʾayyad Fī al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī. Edited by Mohammed Kamil Husain. Cairo, Egypt: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣrī, 1949.

———. Sīrat Muaʾayyad Fī L-Dīn Dāʿī l-Duʿāt. Edited by Mohammed Kamil Husain. Silsilat Makhṭūṭāt Al-Fāṭimiyyīn 11. Cairo, Egypt: Dār al-Fikr al-ʿArabī, 1954.

Sourdel, Dominique. “Ibn Mukla.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Netherlands: BRILL, 2012. https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/....

Umrethwala, Yusuf. “The State’s Negative Imprint: Unpublished Fatimid Petitions from the Cairo Geniza and the Administration of Justice in Fatimid Egypt.” Columbia University and AKU-ISMC, 2024.

Acknowledgments 

The author would like to thank Shireen Zaineb and Stephanie Luescher for their comments on an earlier draft of this article, and Alan Elbaum for his assistance in editing and translating this document. 

 


Footnotes

1 The space between two lines.

2 The document’s verso is reused for a list of names in Judaeo-Arabic along with several garments for each person. Information from Alan Elbaum, PGP.

3 See Marina Rustow, The Lost Archive – Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020), 220-1. Fatimid reports and petitions were written in a al-qalam al-tawqīʿ script. This script is very close to the script devised by the Abbasid chancery for decrees (tawāqīʿ, sing. tawqīʿ). It is a curvilinear script marked by its connection of regularly unconnected letters. For al-qalam al-tawqīʿ, see Sheila Blair, Islamic Calligraphy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), XXIII.

4 See Rustow, The Lost Archive, 10. Rustow suggests that the phenomenon of the stacking of words towards the end of the line is part of a remarkably long-­ lived tradition in Arabic script state documents that began at the Abbasid chancery and survived in petitions and decrees down to the Ottomans, Safavids, Qajars, and Zaydīs. 

5 Nested baselines are a typical feature of Fatimid state documents where the entire text seems to be distributed across a series of nested baselines that stack upwards across the page like stair steps. The one more moves away in chronology the more apparent this feature becomes to the extent that almost each word has its own baseline. See Ibid, 141. Cf. Yusuf Umrethwala, The State’s Negative Imprint: Unpublished Fatimid Petitions from the Cairo Geniza and the Administration of Justice in Fatimid Egypt. MA thesis, Columbia University and AKU-ISMC, 2024, 42-68. 

6 An internal state memorandum usually written from lower to higher officials.

7 The name of the amīr attested in historical annals is Abū Kālījār, with an alif after the kāf, but he is mentioned here without an alif after the “kāf”.

8 See Marc Czarnuszewicz, “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿīlism in Buyid Iran: Reconsidering the Sira of al-Muʾayyad Fī al-Din al-Shirazi through Socio-Economic Contextualisation.” Iran 61, no. 1 (January 2, 2023): 94–114,107.

9 I am cautiously optimistic of this reading because the top of the word is lost in the lacuna. However, based on its bottom and the strokes of the alphabet, it is a very close possibility paleographically and historically. I thank Alan Elbaum for his suggestion. The Turks (atrāk) formed an integral part of the Buyid military together with the Daylamis with whom they were in constant revolt and it was the amir’s job to maintain a status-quo between the two regiments. 

10 There is another Buyid ruler by the name Abū Kālījār Ṣamṣām al-Dawla (d. 388/998) but he predates Abū Kālījār al-Marzūbān by half a century, and plausibly also the Cairo Geniza, and hence it is not a positive identification. The historian Aḥmad al-Shīrāzī in his Shīrāznāmeh also confuses Ṣamṣām al-Dawla with Abū Kālījār in some of his accounts of the latter thus providing a convoluted image. 

11 Rachel T. Howes, “The Qadi, the Wazir and the Da‘i: Religious and Ethnic Relations in Buyid Shiraz in the Eleventh Century.” Iranian Studies 44, no. 6 (November 2011): 875–94, 877.

12 See "Abū Kālījār al-Marzubān" in Encylopedia Britanica (Encyclopedia Britannica, January 31, 2024). https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abu-Kalijar-al-Marzuban.

13 Three sources very well capture the life and times of Abū Kālījār; Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil fī al-tārikh, Ibn Balkhī, Fārsnama, and al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī, Sīra al-Muʾayyadiyya. The Sīra offers a very rich first-hand contemporary account of the socio-political strifes on-going in Fārs which led to an intervention by the Abbasid wazīr Ibn Muslima in regional politics. 

14 See Howes, “The Qadi, the Wazir and the Da‘i”,  877.

15 See Czarnuszewicz, “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿīlism in Buyid Iran”, 107. Abū Kālījār is also mentioned to be stationed in Ahwāz atleast on three occasions in the Sīra

16 The first port of call for the history of the Buyids is undoubtedly al-Miskawayh’s Tajārib al-Umam, supplemented by al-Rudhrawarī’s and Hilāl al-Sābiʾ’s continuations, however the extant parts of the latter only take us up to the beginning of the 11th century, and for the later part of the Buyid history, one must rely on Ibn Athir and Ibn Jawzī.

17 See Ibn al-Athīr, al-Kāmil fī al-Tarīkh. (Beirut, Dār Beirut, 1982), 13 vols, IX: 337, 339, in Czarnuszewicz, “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿīlism in Buyid Iran”, 97.

18 See al-Muʾayyad fī l-Dīn al-Shīrāzī, Sīra al-Muʾayyad fī l-Dīn Dāʿī al-Duʿāt. (Dār al-Kātib al-Miṣrī, Cairo, 1949).

19 Sīra, 78.

20 Ibid, 43.

21 See Ibn Balkhī, Fārsnāma, xi-xii, 115, in Czarnuszewicz, “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿīlism in Buyid Iran”, 97. See also Elizabeth R. Alexandrin, “Studying Ismaʿīli Texts in Eleventh-Century Shiraz: al-Muʾayyad and the ‘conversion’ of the Buyid Amir Abu Kalijar.” Iranian Studies, Taylor and Francis, vol. 44, no.1 (January 2011), 99-116, 111.

22 Sīra, 44-54.

23 See Ibn Balkhī, Fārsnāma, xi-xii, in Czarnuszewicz, “Challenging Narratives of ‘Missionary’ Ismaʿīlism in Buyid Iran”, 97. One of the reasons which led Abū Kālījār abandoning al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī was the death of his uncle Abū Ṭāhir Jalāl al-Dawla (d. 435/1044), the Buyid amir of Baghdad. Abū Kālījār wanted to bring Iraq under his control which was unachievable without the support of the Abbasid caliph. Hence, Abū Kālījār didn’t want to risk severing ties with him which was a strong possibility if he did not cease his support for al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī. See Sīrā, 73.

24 Sīra, 75.

25 Ibid, 77.

26 Ibid, 77-8.

27 Ibid, 78.

28 See al-Muʾayyad fī al-Dīn Hibat Allāh ibn Mūsā al-Shīrāzī, Dīwān al-Muʾayyad fī al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī. (Cairo, Egypt: Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣrī, 1949). Al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī penned down atleast one panegyric for Abū Kālījār in which he refers to him by the title of “Shahanshah” that he later adopted: [“innī ʾitaṣamtu bi-ḥabl āl Muḥammad* fī l-dīn wa al-dunyā bi-shāhanshāh”].

29 See Rebecca Jefferson, The Cairo Genizah and the Age of Discovery in Egypt - The History and Provenance of a Jewish Archive. (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2022), 189: “[Had the entire contents of the Ben Ezra Synagogue been removed and restored intact during the building reconstruction in 1889–92, the label ‘from the Cairo Genizah’ would have been entirely accurate. But whereas large numbers of the medieval fragments did indeed originate from the Ben Ezra Synagogue and its environs, many others did not. As we have seen, manuscripts and fragments were acquired in additional towns and cities like Rosetta and Alexandria; some were from places in Palestine, like Hebron and Jerusalem; some were derived from other parts of the Middle East, in countries such as Iraq and Yemen.]”

30 ʿAlī b. Munjib Ibn Ṣayrafī, Qānūn Dīwān al-Rasāʾil, 1st ed. (Cairo: Wakīl Dār Āthār al-ʿArabiyya, 1905), 103. Cf. Rustow, The Lost Archive, 15, 210. The Buyids are known for their inshāʾ practices and chancery manuals, and the Buyid scribe Ibn Muqla is believed to have invented the al-qalam al-tawqīʿ (chancery script). Ibn al-Jawzī credits Abū Kālījār’s wazīr al-ʿĀdil for leaving a 19,000 volume library, including 4,000 folios in the script of the Banū Muqla. See “Ibn Mukla” in Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition. Cf. Howes, “The Qadi, the Wazir and the Da‘i”, 892.

 


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