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Throwback Thursday: Protecting fishing rights

T-S Ar.40.37
T-S Ar.40.37
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Thu 13 May 2021

Our Throwback Thursday this week is taken from issue 13 of the printed edition of Genizah Fragments, published in April 1987:

In the course of editing a corpus of mediaeval Arabic legal and chancery documents preserved in the Cambridge Genizah Collection, Dr Geoffrey Khan, Research Assistant in the Genizah Unit, has discovered a decree on the subject of fishing rights.

The decree was issued by the Fatimid government of Egypt in the twelfth century and is intended to protect the local fishing industry by denying fishermen coming from other provinces access to areas for which they have no special permit.

A detailed article on the fragment (T-S Ar.40.37) has been published by Dr Khan in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49/3, 439-453.

What’s happened since? Geoffrey Khan is no longer a Research Assistant in the GRU, but is now Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. His article, “A Copy of a Decree from the Archives of the Fāṭimid Chancery in Egypt” (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49/3, 439-453) published an edition of T-S Ar.40.37. Khan identified the fragment as an archival copy (made for the Chancery archive) of a decree from the caliph al-Hafiz. It is dated 21 Rajab 528 (18 May 1133 CE). Al-Hafiz’s decree targeted two problems: first, merchants from the Delta province of al-Nastarawiyya who travelled to neighbouring coastal regions were being mistreated by having their vessels requisitioned by government officials (forcing them to dump their catch), and second, fishermen from the province of al-Gharbiyya were fishing illegally in the territory of al-Nastarawiyya, damaging both the fisheries there and the government treasury (which sold fishing permits for the area). Khan went on to identify and publish many more Chancery documents in his book, Arabic Legal and Administrative Documents in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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