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Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists




Uthman b. Ibrahim al-Nabulsi composed his description of Egypt's Fayyum province in the 1240s A.D. His Ta'rikh al-Fayyum starts with nine summary chapters followed by a massive tenth chapter, a geographical gazetteer arranged alphabetically by villages. The text is predominately concerned with the author's present day, leaving no doubt the region's landscape had changed significantly since late antiquity. Almost all the village names were Arabic. The people had been Arabized—and Islamicized: only small Christian pockets remained. The sacred landscape had been correspondingly reconfigured. Additionally, the Fayyum, which had experienced a shrinkage of arable land and a loss of villages in late antiquity, had within more recent memory experienced further shrinkage. Most important, the villages on the Fayyum's fringes, the ones that had been abandoned in late antiquity and provided in the 19th and early 20th centuries an abundance of documentary papyri, were (almost) wholly forgotten. Despite such unpromising premises, this article suggests by examples that the Ta'rikh al-Fayyum has much to offer the papyrologist, the archaeologist, and the ancient historian, respectively: a nearly full ecological and geographical template within which to set the ancient documentary evidence; a "virtual" tour of the whole province; and the chance to stretch the history of the pre-modern Fayyum another half millennium. Uthman b. Ibrahim al-Nabulsi, whose text forms the


Author Posting. © James Keenan, 2005. This article is posted here by permission of the American Society of Papyrologists for personal use, not for redistribution. The article was published in Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 42, 2005.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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