The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19f – Abbasids part 6

Let’s carry on with the Annals of Eutychius.  In the Islamic world, the second-class status of the Christians means that they hold their property only at the whim of the caliph.  This starts to become an increasing problem.  Meanwhile in Constantinople the talk is all about iconoclasm.


1. The bay’ah was given to Ga’far al-Mutawakkil, son of al-Mu’tasim – his mother was an umm walad named Shuğā ‘al-Khwārizmiyyah – on the same day that al- Wathiq died.  He released those who had been imprisoned because of the question of the creation of the Qur’an, and withdrew his favour from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik, minister of al-Mu’tasim, and disapproved of the actions of al-Mu’tasim, of al-Wāthiq, of Umar ibn al-Farah az-Zugahi, of Itāh at-Turki and of Ahmad ibn Abi Dāwūd, the supreme qādi.  He gave the bay’ah to his three sons, namely Muhammad al-Muntasir bi’llāh, Ibrāhim al-Mu’ayyad min Allah and Abū ‘Abd Allah al-Mu’tazz bi’llāh, designating the latter as his successor from the beginning of the year 236 of the Hegira.  Public affairs were restored, the countries returned to order and the streets made safe.

2. It was reported to al-Mutawakkil that the nilometer, built by Sulaymān ibn ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwān on the island at Fustāt-Misr, was out of order.  He then sent an Iraqi geometrician, chosen by Muhammad ibn Mūsa the astrologer, who went to Egypt where Yazīd ibn ‘Abd Allah b. Nādān b. Farah was responsible for providing all forms of assistance, and where Sulaymān ibn Wahb was in charge of collecting taxes, and he made a nilometer at Gizat-Misr in Year 245.  It was called “al-Miqyās al-ğadid” [= the new hydrometer] because the old one was out of order.  Al-Mutawakkil built a city called “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  He withdrew his favour from the physician Bukhtishū’, and sent letters to all countries, ordering that Christians should wear clothes of the same pattern and with patches, as well as surcoats with a front and back flap, that they were prohibited from riding horses, carrying ropes on their saddles, or using wooden brackets, and that the images of the devils should be drawn on their doors. (In another text it says “pigs and monkeys”). This order brought serious harm, pain and concern upon the Christians.

3. Michael, son of Theophilus, king of the Rūm, died.  After him there was made king over Rūm his son Theophilus.  He removed the images from the churches, sanded down the bas-reliefs and broke the statues, and ordered that there were to be no more images in the churches.  The reason that caused him to take the images away from the churches was this.  One of his ministers told him that, in a certain place in Byzantine territory, there was a church dedicated to the Blessed Mary, in which a picture was worshiped, from whose breast a drop of milk came out on her feast day.  King Theophilus found this a strange thing and made inquiries.  It was then discovered that the clerk of the church had made a hole in the wall behind the image, at the height of the breast of the image, and had inserted a thin tube of lead.  He then covered the place with clay and lime so that it could not be seen.  When then the day of the feast of the Blessed Mary’ came, he poured milk into that hole, and a small drop dripped from the breast of the image.  People made pilgrimage to that church, and the clerk earned much money that way.  King Theophilus therefore sent to destroy that image, to bring things back to normal, and ordered that there should be no more images in the churches.  He then ordered the execution of the clerk and took away the pictures from the churches saying, “Images are like idols: he who adores an image is like the one who adores idols.”  Then there were disputes among the Rūm about the images and they ended up accusing each other of impiety. Some said: “He who prostrates himself in front of an image is impious!” While others said, “Whoever does not prostrate himself in front of the image is impious!” The news came to Sophronius, patriarch of Alexandria, who wrote a long sermon in which he took up the defense of the cult of images using the following argument: “God – to whom be the highest praise and holy be his name! – ordered Moses to portray the cherubim in gold on the ark of the covenant and to put it in the Temple.” And he carried on, saying: “When Solomon, son of David, built the Temple and had completed the construction, he put the golden image of the cherubim inside.” And again he said, “When the king wrote a letter to his lieutenant, and he added the seal with his ring, he [the lieutenant] said to the people, “This is the seal of the king and his letter,” did not he stand up to take the letter in his hands and kiss it and lower his head and eyes?  Certainly he stood up, and kissed the letter; not to honor the paper, or the stamp of the seal on the paper, or the ink on the letter, nor did he stand up to honour the letter of itself. No, for my life, for none of these things. It was only an act of honor that he intended to make to the king and to the king’s name, it being his [the king’s] letter.  In this sense, we must kiss this image and worship it, because it is not for us to kiss and venerate a cult made to idols.[1] It is for us a pure and simple act of honor and veneration, made in the name of that martyr depicted in that image and in that particular way.”  Then he sent what he had written to King Theophilus.  The king welcomed it, rejoiced and refused to forbid the worship of images, as he had done at first.  Among those who defended the cult of the images was Abū Qurra, who wrote in this regard a treatise that he called “Mayāmir as-Suğūd li’s-suwar” [= “Sermons on the Cult of Images”].

4. Sophronius, patriarch of Alexandria, died of dropsy- he had not been able to drink mandrake juice – in the year 233 of the Hegira.  After him there was made patriarch of Alexandria Michael.  He held the office for twenty-four years.  He belonged to the Bukām family and came from the town of Būrah.  The caliphate of al-Mutawakkil lasted fourteen years, nine months and nine days.  In the tenth year of the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Salmūn, son of Zarqūn.  He held the office for five years and died.

5. Al-Mutawakkil died in his palace, in the city he had built and called “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  His murder took place on the night of 3 March of the month of Shawwāl of the year 247. He was forty-four.  He was buried at “al-Ga’fariyyah”.  Al-Mutawakkil was brown, with a delicate, almost yellowish, complexion, handsome in face, and had a little beard on his cheeks, and big eyes.  The chief of his bodyguard was Ishāq ibn Ibrāhim and, on his death, Muhammad ibn Ishāq. When he [also] died, there came back from Khurāsān Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah b. Zāhir and became chief of the guards. His huğgāb were Wasīf at-Turkī, then Sa`īd ibn Sālih and Bughā at-Turki.  His huğgāb, for the audience of the people, were Ya’qūb ibn Ibrāhim, then Qawsara and ‘Attāb ibn’ Attāb.  His influential advisers were al-Fath ibn Khāqān and the kātib ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Yahyā b. Khāqān.

  1. [1]Not at all sure that I have this right!  The Italian is: “In questo senso dobbiamo baciare questa immagine e venerarla, non essendo affatto il nostro baciarla e venerarla un culto reso agli idoli.”

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19e – Abbasids part 5

CALIPHATE OF AL-WĀTHIQ (227-232/842-847)

1. The bay’ah was given to al-Wāthiq, i.e. Hārūn ibn al-Mu’tasim – his mother was a umm walad named Qarātis, on the same day that al-Mu’tasim died. He left the internal affairs as they were in the days of al-Mu’tasim, He built the palace known by the name of al-Hārūni, and moved there.  Al-Wāthiq argued that the Qur’an was created, and this theory he inculcated, until it was accepted by Ahmad ibn Abi Dāwūd and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Malik az-Zayyāt, his minister.  Al-Wāthiq sent letters to all the provinces in which he asked [his governors] to induce all Muslims to support the creation of the Koran by writing to the mosques.  But the Muslims considered that such a proposal was insolent and oppressive, and they vigorously refused to accept it.  All those who rejected this claim, or who did not approve, or who did not support it, were flogged, imprisoned or killed.  His caliphate lasted five years, seven months and thirteen days.

2. Theophilus, king of the Rūm, died.  After him Michael, son of Theophilus, was made king.  In the second year of the caliphate of al-Wāthiq, there was made patriarch of Jerusalem Sergius, son of that Mansūr who had helped the Muslims to conquer Damascus and had been hit by anathema everywhere in the world.  He held the office for sixteen years and died.  In the sixth year of his caliphate there was made patriarch of Antioch Nicholas.  He held the office for twenty-three years and died.

3. Al-Wāthiq died on Wednesday, six days before the end of the month of Dhū’l-hiğğa of the year 232, at the age of thirty-four.  Al-Wāthiq was of medium stature, fair in body, and had a wide chest, a thick beard and a bit of white in the eye. The chief of his bodyguard was Ishāq ibn Ibrāhim and his huğğāb were the freedman Itāh at-Turkī, the freedman Bughā at-Turkī, the freedman Wasif at-Turkī, Muhammad ibn Hammād b. Danqash and Muhammad ibn ‘Āsim al-Gabalī. His huğgāb for the audience of the people were also Ya’qūb ibn Ibrāhim, Qawsara  and Attāb ibn ‘Attāb.  His influential advisers were Ahmad ibn Abi Dāwūd and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Malik az-Zayyāt.


From my diary

Interesting.  I’ve received two emails from this blog in the past week, saying that I requested a change of password.  I did not, of course.  So either it’s a scam, or somebody is trying to hack this blog.  Time for a backup, methinks.

For the last two and a half weeks, I have been laid low with a virus.  Today I find that I am finally starting to feel better.  Apparently this one lasts three weeks.  You get a raging headache, and feel very weak, but that’s all the symptoms.  If you get it, prepare for a long wait.

I have started to reorder my books.  This was spurred by my inability to locate my copy of C.S. Lewis, Perelandra / Voyage to Venus.  Back in autumn 2016, I had to pack up all my books into crates, so that the room could be repainted.  But, like a fool, I didn’t photograph the shelves before I removed the books.  So the books all went back on the nearest shelf; and I no longer remember where anything is.

I find that I have large numbers of paperback novels.  I think perhaps the best thing to do is to group the series of these together.  After all, if I had all the C.S.Lewis together, then at least I would know where to look for Perelandra!

Another problem is that some series are now “spent”.  That is, I have read and reread them as many times as I am going to.  I don’t want to dispose of them; but I really don’t think I shall consult them much if at all.  So I want to put these on the bottom shelves, rather than at eye-level.

If a series is still “open” – the author is still writing books, and I still want to buy them – then of course I need to allow for more volumes.  This applies to various series by L.E. Modesitt, for instance.  On the other hand I will never own any more Roger Zelazny novels than I do, as Mr Z is no longer with us.  The latter can be positioned lower down.

Today I have been pulling the novels off the shelves, and piling them together by author.  It seems that I was an avid buyer of the TSR Forgotten Realms novels, back in the day!  I have more of those than any other single collection.  I also seem to have an intimidating number of Garfield cartoon books.  But I also bought, perhaps in the 80s or even 90s, a number of Biggles books, which now leave me cold.  The ones that I owned as a child have sentimental value; many of the newer ones do not.  I have added the latter to the pile of books to go to a charity shop.

In some cases, one can double-bank the books.  I built most of my shelves from 7″ furnitureboard, so it is entirely possible to put a row of novels behind another on one shelf.  But this causes other problems, unless you know exactly what is behind, without looking.  It also acts as an even worse dust trap than normal.  But if all the books, front and back, are by the same author, perhaps that would work?  I shall have to experiment.  Having taller books in the back row can also work.  We shall have to see.

All the same, I do wish that I had fewer books; or rather, that I had some form of interdimensional cupboard, into which they could all go, and from which I could retrieve them at a thought.  I don’t really want to live in a library.  The novels are there to allow me to lose myself for a few hours pleasantly. They are not there to take over my life.

What do you do with a novel, that was once an old friend, but now is dead to you?

I have disposed of a lot of books in the last year, more than ever before.  I haven’t missed most of them in any way.  Somehow I feel restless.  Maybe it is just me.  Maybe it is a mood.  Maybe I shall wake up one day and think “Arrgh!”  Maybe not.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19d – Abbasids part 4

CALIPHATE OF AL-MUTASIM (218-227/833-842).

1. The bay’ah was given to al-Mu`tasim, i.e. Abū Ishāq Muhammad b. Hārūm ar-Rashid – his mother was a “umm walad” named Māridah – at Tarsus.  But some of al-Ma’mūn’s generals advocated appointing al-‘Abbās, son of al-Ma’mūn, as caliph, and in fact acknowledged al-‘Abbās ibn al-Ma’mūn as their caliph.  All the other generals recognized al-Mu’tasim as their caliph.  The news of his appointment came to Baghdad where the bay’ah was given to him by Abū Ishāq Ibrāhim b. al-Husayn b. Mus’ab – who was then in Baghdad -, the Hāshemites and the various generals who were in the city. The bay’ah was also given by ‘Abd Allah ibn Zāhir in Khurāsān and he summoned al-Mu’tasim.  Al-Mu’tasim went to Baghdad at the beginning of the month of Ramadan of year 218 and remained there until 222.  Then he moved on Surramanra’à, surrounded it with a wall and camped there with his soldiers.  He sent Afshin Kindarā ibn Kāwus to fight against Tābak al-Gurrami, who occupied the city and imprisoned him together with his men.  The conquest took place in the month of Ramadan of the year 222.  He sent Uğayf ibn ‘Anbasa against the Zutt who lived in Batā’ih, took them prisoners and carried them off with him.  Al-Māziyār had revolted with the army of Tabaristan.  ‘Abd Allah ibn Zāhir sent [against him] his uncle al-Hasan ibn al-Husayn who made him prisoner and brought him to al-Mu’tasim.

2. Then al-Mu’tasim entered the territory of the Rūm, with the intention of invading, taking with him the Patriarch of Antioch Job, and besieging the city of Ankara.  The patriarch Job spoke in Greek to the Rūm saying to them: “Make submission to the Sultan and pay the poll tax. It is better to do this than to be killed or taken prisoner.” The Rūm rejected him and threw stones at him.  Then al-Mu’tasim captured Ankara and burned it.  Then he went on ‘Ammūriyyah and besieged it for a month (In another text it says “for months”).  Every day the patriarch of Antioch Job went to the citadel alone and spoke to the Rūm in Greek, trying to play on their fear and persuade them to pay the poll tax, so that al-Mu’tasim would leave them in peace.  But the Rūm covered him with insults and pelted him with dirt.  They continued until al-Mu’tasim captured ‘Ammūriyyah: many were killed and many others were taken prisoners.  This was in the month of Ramadan of the year 223.  After having captured ‘Ammūriyyah, al-Mu’tasim started his way back.  During his absence, al-‘Abbās ibn al-Ma’mūn died.  Al-Mu’tasim gave his property to al-Afshin in the year 225.

3. Constantine, king of the Rūm, died.  After him there reigned over Rūm Theophilus.  In the fourth year of al-Mu’tasim’s caliphate there became patriarch of Alexandria Sophronius.  He held the office for thirteen years.  He was a philosopher and a wise man.  In the seventh year of the caliphate of al-Mu’tasim, John was patriarch of Jerusalem; but the inhabitants of Jerusalem spoke so much ill of him that, frightened, he wrote a letter, under duress, in which he renounced the office.

4. Al-Mu’tasim died in the month of Rabī ‘al-awwal of the year 227.  His caliphate lasted eight years and eight months.  He died at the age of forty-eight and was buried at Surramanra’à al-Ğawsaq.  Al-Mu’tasim was fair of body and face, with a wide chest, strong body, and a long beard with no white hair.  The chief of his bodyguard was Ishāq ibn Ibrāhim.  His huggab, for the audience of the nobility, were the freedman Simā at-Turkī, the freedman Wasif at-Turki and Bughā at-Turki.  His huğgāb for the audience of the people were Muhammad ibn ‘Āsim al-Hanaki, Ya’qūb ibn Ibrāhim, ‘Attāb ibn ‘Attāb and Muhammad ibn Hammād b. Danqash.  His influential advisers were the supreme “qadi”, Ahmad ibn Abi Dāwūd and the secretary Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Malik az-Zayyāt.

The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 19c – Abbasids part 3

It’s good to return to the Annals of Eutychius.  We continue with the reign of al-Mamun. 

CALIPHATE OF AL-MA’MUN (196-218/814-833).

1. In Khurasan, in the year 196 of the Hegira, the bay’ah was given to al-Ma’mūn, i.e. ‘Abd Allah ibn Hārūn ar-Rashid b. Muhammad al-Mahdi b. ‘Abd Allah Allāh b. Hārūn b. Al-Mansūr – his mother was Marāgil and belonged to one of the most illustrious families of al-Bāda’ishah.

2. Muhammad al-Amin, brother of al-Ma’mūn, was killed in Baghdad at the end of the month of al-muharram of the year 198.  Zāhir ibn al-Husayn was in Baghdad in the east, Hartama in the west and Humayd b. ‘Abd al-Hamid at-Tūsi was four parasangs from Baghdad.  [Al-Ma’mūn] entrusted the government of Iraq to al-Husayn ibn Sahl (66) around whom the provinces of Iraq and others had been united.  The countries were all in turmoil.  All the time a pretender came from one side or another, and from other lines.  Al-Ma’mūn then left Khurāsān and went to Baghdād during the month of Safar of the year 204.  He gave the command of the guards to Zāhir ibn al-Husayn and granted his protection to everyone.  Then he defeated Ibrāhim ibn al-Mahdī, nicknamed Ibn Shiklah, who had been proclaimed caliph and had assumed the title of prince of the believers.  He sent his troops to the countries in revolt, and reduced all the provinces to obedience. Everyone submitted and obeyed him, and every insurrection was thus subdued.

3. Abū Ishāq Ibrāhim ibn al-Mahdī, better known by the name of Ibn Shiklah, said: “Before the killing of Muhammad al-Amin we used to exchange letters in this form: “From A, son of B, to C, son of D.” or: “From the father of A, to the father of C,”[1] or: “To the father of A from C, son of D.”, without introducing any formula of greeting in the heading.”  And he records that the governor of Baghdad sent him a letter from Dhū’r-Ri’āsatayn, i.e. al-Fadl ibn Sahl, whose heading was like this: “To Abū Ishāq – may God Most High preserve him! -, from Abū’l-`Abbās”. Abū Ishāq tells us also: “When I saw that heading, I sent the letter to my uncle Sulaymān, believing that he would see it as something new.  But when he received my letter, he sent his hāgib with a letter of Dhū ar-Ri’āsatayn the same as the heading of what he had written to me.  It was since then that greeting formulas in have been used in the headings of letters”.

4. Muhammad ibn as-Sari b. al-Hakam was in Egypt [as governor].  He rebelled, refused the authority of al-Ma’mūn and seized Egypt.  His father, as-Sari ibn al-Hakam, had previously had his hands on Egypt before him.  Al-Ma’mūn then sent `Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir to Egypt.  When he arrived in Egypt, Ubayd Allah offered peace to Ibn as-Sari, who was governor at the time of his arrival in Egypt, made his entrance to Misr, received the [tribute] money, and sent it to al-Ma’mūn in Baghdad.  ‘Ubayd Allāh expanded the great Misr Mosque, after writing to al-Ma’mūn and having it approved, adding the “dar ar-Raml”, of which he completed the construction, and leaving incomplete the “Dar ad-Darb”.  The dome of the church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem was in a bad condition and was threatening to collapse.

5. Palestine and Jerusalem were suffering a severe famine and the invasion of countless grasshoppers.  Many died of hunger.  The Muslims fled from Jerusalem because of the famine and there was only a scattering in the city.  The patriarch of Jerusalem Thomas, known as Tamriq, seized the opportunity – that Jerusalem had been abandoned by the Muslims – and sent men to Cyprus to cut fifty cedar and pine logs and bring them to Jerusalem.  There was a man called Bukām, of Būrah of Egypt, who was very wealthy.  He sent a large sum of money to Thomas, patriarch of Jerusalem, to use it to repair the dome, asking him not to take any money from others and to turn to him alone if he needed any more money.  Thomas demolished the dome piece by piece, by hand, replacing the beams upon which he then built the new construction.  In a dream, Patriarch Thomas saw forty men come out of one of the columns that held up the dome of the Resurrection, who supported the cupola with their hands so that it would not collapse. The column was the one found under the temple.  He awoke and said, “Those forty who the column supported must be the Forty Martyrs.”  He made forty logs support the dome, as thick as a man’s arms could encircle, according to the number of the Forty Martyrs. The column was the one in front of the ambo, next to the altar, on the south side.  When the feast of the Forty Martyrs came round, they celebrated it in front of that column.  After finishing repairing the dome with the logs, attaching one to the others, above and below, Patriarch Thomas made another dome above the dome, leaving enough space between them for a man to be able to walk, and he lined it all over with lead.

6. While Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir was returning from Egypt, going to Baghdad, the Muslims complained to him, about the fact that Christians had transgressed the provisions that had been made to list what was not permissible, by demolishing the dome of the Church of the Resurrection.  It had been a small dome, but they had enlarged it so much that it was bigger than before, exceeding the Dome of the Rock in height.  ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir then summoned the Patriarch Thomas and another group of people and put them in prison, while he investigated what they were doing: if what the Muslims had complained about was true, then he would punish them.  They were led to prison in the night by an old Muslim who told the patriarch Thomas: “I am able to suggest a way to save you and your companions, with the help of God, and the dome also, provided that you promise to give me a thousand dinars and to pay me, my son and the children of my son, until their extinction and always, an income of the income of this cupola in the measure that the priests and deacons receive it.”  Patriarch Thomas promised him what he asked and put it in writing.  Then the old Muslim said to them, “When they prosecute you and bring evidence against you, you say to them, “May God save the prince! All I did was repair the part of the dome that needed repairs. And in fact I did it without destroying anything and added nothing to it. Those who depose against me have only been able to say that the dome was smaller than it is now and that I have enlarged it. Well, let the Prince ask them how large was the “small dome” that I am supposed to have demolished, as they say, and how much is this that I am supposed to have built and expanded, so that the Prince can realizes what has been added to its dimensions.” Certainly they will not know how to answer.” The next day, when the Patriarch Thomas and his companions were summoned and the Muslims appeared to stand against him, on the expansion of the dome, the Patriarch Thomas refuted them by resorting to that argument. Then Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir said to them: “What he asks is right, and we too are of the same opinion. Let me know what the size of the dome was before it was demolished, and what is the size of the dome.” They said: “We will be doing surveys,” and they went out.  ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Zāhir went off to Damascus, and patriarch Thomas and his people returned to Jerusalem.  The Patriarch Thomas gave the thousand dinars to that old Muslim man and continued to pay to him, to his son and to his son the income of the dome, until there was only a daughter from whom the patriarch of Jerusalem Elijah, son of Mansūr, removed that privilege.  Patriarch Thomas died and his disciple Basil was made patriarch of Jerusalem, in the seventh year of the caliphate of al-Ma’mūn. Basil held the office for twenty-five years and died.

7. In the first year of the caliphate of al-Ma’mūn, Job was patriarch of Antioch. He held the office for thirty years.  ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Zāhir returned to Baghdad to al-Ma’mūn, made him aware of the situation in Egypt and how much he had done to you to restore order.  Subsequently, there appeared the Bima – a Coptic word that means “descendants of the Forties”.  For when the Rūm left Egypt at the time of the advent of Islam, they left behind forty men who propagated, multiplied and reproduced in Lower Egypt, receiving the name of “Bima”, the descendants of the Forty. They rebelled and refused to pay the poll tax and the land tax.  Learning of this, al-Ma’mūn sent to Egypt al-Mu’tasim at the head of an army.  The Bima faced him and he fought against them, making great slaughter, and he routed them, captured their women and children and carried them off to Baghdad.  After establishing order in Egypt, al-Mu’tasim returned to Baghdad.  Then al-Ma’mūn went to Egypt together with al-Mu’tasim and entered on the night of Friday, 9th of the month of al-Muharram of the year 217 of the Hegira.  The first day of the month of Safar, they went to the territory of the “Bima”, then left and entered Misr and al-Fustāt on Saturday 14th of the month of Safar.  In the month of Rabī ‘al-awwal of the same year, al-Ma’mūn left Egypt.  After he entered Misr, al-Ma’mūn had built, on Mount al-Muqattam, his own residence with a dome called “qubbat al-Hawà”:  With al-Ma’mūn were some Christian upholsterers.  Because the churches of the citadel were far from where they were, they asked al-Ma’mūn permission to build a church to pray near the “qubbat al-Hawa”.  He granted it.  Thus they built a church to pray, which they called the church of “Martmaryam” at al-Qantarah, which is nowadays known as the “Rūm church”, but previously it was called the “Church of the Upholsterers”.  It is said that they built it using the remains of the “Qubbat al-Hawa”.

In Upper Egypt al-Ma’mūn built a hydrometer in order to measure the waters of the Nile, in a place called Shūrāt, at a village called Banūdah, and he repaired the nilometer at Ikhmim.  One day there came to al-Ma’mūn, the Christian Bukām of Būrah, the same who sent the money to build the dome of the Resurrection, and asked him to make him governor of the province of Būrah. He was very rich. Al-Ma’mūn answered him; “Become a Muslim, and you will be their lord.” Bukām replied: “The prince of believers has tens of thousands of Muslim officials, but he does not have even one Christian.” Al-Ma’mūn rose and entrusted to him the province of Būrah and its surroundings. Bukām built many beautiful churches in the territory of Būrah. Facing the door of his house there was the main mosque. He said to the Muslims of Būrah: “I’ll build you another big mosque if you destroy that which is in front of my house.” The Muslims replied: “Build another mosque while we continue to pray in this. When you finish building, we’ll pray in it and destroy the other one.” He thus constructed a large and beautiful mosque and when he completed the construction, he said to them: “Be faithful to the word given and demolish the mosque that is in front of my door.” But they answered him, “Our religion does not allow us to pull down a mosque in which we have already prayed, where we gathered at the voice of the muezzin and in which we held the Friday prayer together. No, our religion does not allow it.” The mosque therefore remained where it was and in Būrah there were two mosques where they gathered for the rite of prayer. The Muslims prayed on one Friday in one and one Friday in the other. Bukām used to dress in black and girded with a sword and went riding a horse preceded by his men. When he came to the mosque, he stopped and a delegate went in, who was a Muslim, to direct the prayer and hold the prayers in the caliph’s name, returning, once he had finished, to him. The Christians continued to dress in black and to ride until the time of al-Mutawakkil. Al-Ma’mūn returned to Baghdad.

8. Constantine fought against Nicephorus, son of Istabrāq, and defeated him, becoming king of the Rūm.  Al-Ma’mūn made three campaigns, the last of which was in the year 218.  Then he came to al-Yadidūn, fell ill and died.  He was carried to Tūs, and was buried there. His caliphate – after he was saluted as caliph in Khurāsān – lasted twenty-two years.  He died at the age of forty-nine years in the month of Rağab in the year 218.  He was of a whitish-rosy complexion, handsome, and had a long beard, already white in many places. The chiefs of his bodyguard were Zuhayr ibn al-Musayyab as-Sabbi, then Zahir ibn al-Husayn. Among his guards the command was held by Ishāq ibn Ibrāhūn. His hāgib while he was in Khurāsān was al-Husayn ibn Abi Sa’id. Later his hāgib was ‘Ali ibn Sālih, sāhib al-musallā. The influential ministers at the beginning of his caliphate were Dhū’r-Ri’āsatayn al-Fadl ibn Sahl and after that many others, including al-Husayn ibn Sahl, Umar ibn Sa’id and Ahmad ibn Abī Khālid.

  1. [1]King Hussein of Jordan, father of King Abdullah, the current ruler, used to be referred to, during his life, as “Abu Abdullah”, i.e. “Father of Abdullah”.

First use of “abracadabra”? It’s Serenus Sammonicus!

The first writer to use the phrase “abracadabra” as a magical incantation is, I understand, the (probably) late second century AD medical writer Q. Serenus Sammonicus.  He does so in his two-book medical handbook, the Liber medicinalis, in chapter 51, as a cure for demi-tertian fever, which is perhaps some form of malaria.[1]

Here’s the Latin for chapter 51, from the PHI site:[2]

Hemitritaeo depellendo.

Mortiferum magis est quod Graecis hemitritaeos     51.932 
uulgatur uerbis; hoc nostra dicere lingua  
non potuere ulli, puto, nec uoluere parentes.  
Inscribes chartae quod dicitur abracadabra            935 
saepius et subter repetes, sed detrahe summam  
et magis atque magis desint elementa figuris  
singula, quae semper rapies, et cetera †figes,  
donec in angustum redigatur littera conum:  
his lino nexis collum redimire memento.               940 
Nonnulli memorant adipem prodesse leonis.  
coralium uero si †cocco nectere† uelis  
nec dubites illi ueros miscere smaragdos,  
adsit baca teres niueo pretiosa colore:  
talia languentis conducent uincula collo 945 
letalesque abiget miranda potentia morbos.

Which is more or less as follows:

52.  Against the demi-tertian fever.

The fever that the Greeks call “hemitritaion” is more dangerous.  The Greek word  has never been translated into Latin, whether because the nature of the language will not allow it, or because parents, in the belief that to do so would bring harm to their children, have been unwilling to give it a name.  Write on a piece of papyrus ABRACADABRA.  Then repeat this word as  many times as there are letters in the word, but each time taking off a letter, so that the whole thing takes the form of a cone.  This done, hang the piece of papyrus around the neck of the patient with a linen thread.  It is claimed that lion-fat is also a good medicine.  Coral and saffron wrapped in a cat’s skin has a virtue not less marvellous.  If you think it advisable to hang some coral around the patient’s neck, include some emeralds: this talisman will infallibly cast out the lethal fire of the fever.

Prioreschi draws this explanatory diagram (although methinks the last two columns have got out of line!):[3]

The diagram contains the word “ABRACA” a lot.  Is there perhaps a connection to Abracax / Abraxas, the gnostic deity?

I learn from Prioreschi that the actual origin of the word “abracadabra” is unknown but in the middle ages became famous as a way to work magic, medicinal and otherwise.  Apparently Pepin’s edition contains more information on this, for those interested in tracing it further.

  1. [1]Critical edition and translation by R. Pepin, Quintus Serenus (Sammonicus), Liber medicinalis, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1950.  I have no access to this, so have relied on the older French translation at  More information about Serenus Sammonicus is accessible at Prioreschi, p.505.
  2. [2]
  3. [3]Plinio Prioreschi, A History of Medicine (vol. 3): Roman medicine, Omaha: Horatius Press, 1998, p.508-509.

Anthony Alcock: Three short texts relating to Severus of Antioch – now online

Anthony Alcock is continuing his series of translations from Coptic and Arabic.  Today he emailed over a translation of three short texts in Arabic, relating to Severus of Antioch.  The original language material may be found in the Patrologia Orientalis 2 (1907).

This is very welcome.  Thank you very much, Dr. A!

An extant “sillybos” – parchment label – from an ancient roll

The British Library manuscripts blog has produced a rather marvellous article by Matthew Nicholls on Ancient Libraries.

But what made it special to me was an image of an item which I had never seen before.

As we all know, ancient books were written on rolls of papyrus.  The modern book form or “codex” belongs to late antiquity.  But the title of the work in each roll was written on a parchment slip known as the sillybos, which protruded from the end, allowing the reader to find out which roll he needed without unrolling any of them.

Cicero refers to such items in his letters to Atticus.  In book 4, letter 8, 2, we read:[1]

Postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit, mens addita videtur meis aedibus. Qua quidem in re mirifica opera Dionysi et Menophili tui fuit. Nihil venustius quam illa tua pegmata, postquam mi sillybis libros iIlustrarunt. Vale. Et scribas ad me velim de gladiatoribus, sed ita, bene si rem gerunt; non quaero, male si se gessere.

Since Tyrannio has arranged my books, the house seems to have acquired a soul: and your Dionysius and Menophilus were of extraordinary service. Nothing could be more charming than those bookcases of yours now that the books are adorned with title-slips. Farewell. Please let me know about the gladiators: but only if they are behaving well; if not, I don’t want to know.

 In book 4, letter 5.4 we read:[2]

Domum meam quod crebro invisis est mihi valde gratum. Viaticum Crassipes praeripit. Tu “de via recta in hortos.” Videtur commodius ad te: postridie scilicet; quid enim tua? Sed viderimus. Bibliothecam mihi tui pinxerunt constructione et sillybis. Eos velim laudes.

I am very grateful to you for going to see my house so often. Crassipes is swallowing all my travelling money. You say I must go straight to your country house. It seems to me more convenient to go to your town house, and on the next day. It can’t make any difference to you. But we shall see. Your men have beautified my library by binding the books and affixing title-slips. Please thank them.

A painting from Herculaneum shows an example of a roll with a sillybos dangling out of the end of the roll:

Matthew has posted here an image of one, attached to its original roll:

The slip has on it the name of “Bacchylides” – a poet of the 5th c. BC – with the title of the work, the Dithyramboi, underneath.  The bit of text attached is from the 17th dithyramb. The manuscript is BL papyrus 2056 (= P.Oxy. 1091), and is 2nd century AD in date.  It is, of course, from Oxyrhynchus, as is papyrus 733, the unique manuscript of Bacchylides’ poems.

It’s wonderful to see something like this.  It’s obvious how these could become detached, and a work could become anonymous and untitled.

Note that a number of other sillyboi may be seen at the Oxyrhynchus website here.

  1. [1]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.292-3.
  2. [2]Loeb edition, vol. 1, p.284-5

The codex Aesinas of the minor works of Tacitus now online (?)

A correspondent advised me some time ago that the Codex Aesinas – the Iesi codex -, our sole remaining manuscript of the minor works of Tacitus, is now online in high-resolution images.

This is marvellous news, obviously.  The link is here:$1i

But … just at the moment the viewer did not seem to be working for me, I should add, either in IE or Chrome.  The viewer has a facility to send you a PDF of the pages.  I’m not sure if this is working either, although I have tried.

If anyone can get this to work, please let me know in the comments.