Circassian Mamluk Historians and their Quantitative Economic Data

Author(s): Jere L. Bacharach

Source: Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 12 (1975), pp. 75-87

Published by: American Research Center in Egypt 

Quantitative data has become an increasingly important tool for students of economic and monetary history as scholars seek to determine, whenever possible, rates of exchange. Numerical data for the pre-Ottoman Arabic speaking areas of the Near East can be found in papyri, Geniza fragments, waqf documents, administrative handbooks, travel literature, European merchant accounts, and chronicles. For the years a.h. 784-878/A.D. 1382-1479 the Arab chronicles are the most important source for price and monetary data for Egypt and Syria, especially the Mamluk capital of Cairo. The data include references to wheat, barley, beans, flour, bread, meat, rice, straw as well as coins of gold, silver and copper for periods when prices are high and low.

The quantity and quality of the Cairene data were noted in 1949 by Professor Eliyahu Ashtor in his pioneering article on Mamluk prices and salaries.1 Since then numerous scholars2 have consulted these chronicles for their data but almost none has made more than the most general remarks about the relative value of the chronicles.3 The more complex problem of the interdependency of the Circassian sources is also unexplored.4 What follows is not an analysis of the data but a series of comments on the historians and the quality and quantity of their numerical data for economic and monetary history. The essay seeks to show the critical role played by an author's attitude toward collecting economic data while his occupation is not important. The permanent absence of data for some years and the major lines of transmission of data among these historians will be demon- strated in the study. 

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