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Charity and Giving in Monotheistic Religions

Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur

des islamischen Orients
Beihefte zur Zeitschrift Der Islam

Herausgegeben von

Lawrence I. Conrad

Neue Folge

Band 22

Walter de Gruyter Berlin New York

Charity and Giving
in Monotheistic Religions

Edited by

Miriam Frenkel and Yaacov Lev

Walter de Gruyter Berlin New York

Printed on acid-free paper which falls within the guidelines
of the ANSI to ensure permanence and durability.

ISBN 978-3-11-020946-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Charity and giving in monotheistic religion / [edited by] Miriam Frenkel

and Yaacov Lev.
p. cm. (Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des islamischen Ori-
ents, ISSN 1862-1295 ; Bd. 22)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-3-11-020946-4 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Genorosity. 2. Genorosity Religious aspects. 3. Monotheism.
4. Charity. I. Frenkel, Miriam. II. Lev, Yaacov.
BJ1533.G4G46 2009

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet

Copyright 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin.
All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages. No part of this
book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or me-
chanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in Germany
Cover design: Christopher Schneider, Laufen
In Memoriam Zeev Rubin
(1942 2009)

This book is an outgrowth of the activity of an international research

group on Charity and Piety in the Middle East in Late Antiquity and
the Middle Ages conducted at The Institute for Advanced Studies
(IAS), Jerusalem, during summer 2006-winter 2007. The theme of con-
tinuity and transformation was at the heart of the groups work as well as
deliberations built around weekly seminars given by the groups members,
visiting scholars, and guests. A concluding conference, held on 11 12
February 2007, marked the high point of the groups activities.
All of us who were associated with the group enjoyed the unflagging
hospitality and services of the IAS and we owe a great debt of gratitude to
IAS staff: Ofer Arbeli, the computer expert, Dalia Avieli, Smadar Berg-
man, Pnina Feldman, the administrative director, Shani Freiman, Han-
och Kalimian, Batia Matalov, Efrat Shvily, and chef Shoshana Yazdii,
whose cooking we enjoyed every day. The academic program of the
group was approved and guided by Benjamin Z. Kedar, the former direc-
tor of the IAS, and Eliezer Rabinovici, the current director. We are much
obliged to both of them for their valuable suggestions and advice.
The editors are much indebted to Susan R. Holman and Marina Rus-
tow, members of the editorial board, for their counsel, assistance, and
work. We would also like to express our deep gratitude to all the scholars
who were associated with the group. This book is their book too.

This volume is dedicated to the memory of our dear colleague Zeev

Rubin (1942 2009), who was an outstanding member of our research
group. Rubin was professor of History at Tel Aviv University. During
his long teaching career he taught a variety of courses, ranging from
Homer to Sigmund Freud: Greek and Roman history, Byzantine history
and historiography, early Medieval Europe, the Crusades, and even the
myth of Oedipus throughout the ages. His exceptionally wide and diver-
sified range of scholarly interests and his unusual gift for languages both
ancient and modern were in evidence in all his written works. His pub-
lications deal with many aspects of Late Antiquity, among them the po-
litical history of the Roman Empire, the conversion of the Roman world
and its neighbours to Christianity, the history of Jerusalem and Palestine
VIII Preface

under late Roman and Byzantine rule, as well as Sasanid historiography

and history, including charity and poverty. He excelled in the interpreta-
tion of the primary sources, be they Patristic texts in a variety of languag-
es, royal Sasanid inscriptions, the Babylonian Talmud or medieval Arabic
historiography. He was learned, friendly, but outspoken, and we miss him
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Part One The World of Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages
Avshalom Laniado
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary
Poverty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Daniel Caner
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the
Social Aesthetic of Sixth-Century Byzantium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Claudia Rapp
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues
in Late Antiquity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Susan R. Holman
Healing the world with righteousness? The language of social
justice in early Christian homilies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Eliana Magnani
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering in the
Early Middle Ages of Western Europe (4th9th century) . . . . . 111

Part Two Medieval Islam

Johannes Pahlitzsch
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity
between Late Antiquity and Islam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125
X Contents

Stefan Heidemann
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities. The New
Direction in Taxation and Waqf Policy in Mid-Twelfth-Century
Syria and Northern Mesopotamia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
Yehoshua Frenkel
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria . . . . . . . . . 175
Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
Amalia Zomeo
When Death Will Fall Upon Him:
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
Yaacov Lev
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
Daniella Talmon-Heller
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic
Thought and Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265

Part Three The Jewish World

Mark R. Cohen
Geniza Documents for the Comparative History of Poverty and
Charity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283
Miriam Frenkel
Charity in Jewish Society of the Medieval Mediterranean World 343
Marina Rustow
Benefaction (Ni ma), Gratitude (Shukr), and the Politics of

Giving and Receiving in Letters from the Cairo Geniza . . . . . . . 365

Yvonne Friedman
An Indigent Scholars Plea for Charity: A Geniza Letter . . . . . . 391

AI Annales Islamologiques
BEO Bulletin d tudes Orientales
BSOAS Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
CIA Max Van Berchem, Mat riaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum
E.I.1 Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st Edition
E.I.2 Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd Edition
EQ Encyclopedia of the Qur an

JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society

JESHO Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
JQR Jewish Quarterly Review
JSAI Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam
JSS Journal of Semitic Studies
MSR Mamluk Studies Review
RCEA t. Combe, J. Sauvaget and G. Wiet, R pertoire Chronologique
d pigraphie Arabe
SI Studia Islamica

Daniel Caner is Associate Professor of History and Classics at the Uni-

versity of Connecticut at Storrs, where he specializes in late antique cul-
tural history. He is currently working on monastic notions of wealth and
gift-giving in early Byzantium. This is intended as a sequel to his book,
Wandering, Begging, Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Mo-
nasticism in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2002), a study of
the history of ascetic poverty in early monasticism.

Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa has a doctorate in Semitic Philology

from the University Autonoma of Madrid. One of her principal lines
of investigation is the study of the social history of the medieval Muslim
world, with special reference to al-Andalus. She has continued her re-
search at the cole des Hautes tudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris). At present,
she is a Tenured Researcher in the Escuela de Estudios rabes (Spanish Na-
tional Research Council, Granada). One of her major publications is the
book entitled Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus (siglos IV/
X-VI/XII), (Madrid: CSIC, 2002).

Mark R. Cohen is Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton Uni-

versity. His publications include Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the
Middle Ages; Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval
Egypt; and The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Docu-
ments from the Cairo Geniza. He has guest taught at the Hebrew Univer-
sity, the Free University in Berlin, and the Central European University in
Budapest, and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation,
the Institute for Advanced Studies (Jerusalem), the Wissenschaftskolleg
in Berlin, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National
Humanities Center in North Carolina.

Stefan Heidemann, 1982 1993 Islamic studies and economics in Re-

gensburg, Berlin, Damascus and Cairo; 1993 Ph.D at Free University
Berlin; 1994 2001 Research Assistant and 2001 Habilitation at Jena
University; visiting Full Professor 2001 2003 at Leipzig University;
2002 2004 Senior Research Assistant and since 2004 Hochschuldozent
XIV Contributors

(temporary Associate Professor) at Jena University; fellowships: 2004

Center of Byzantine Studies Dumbarton Oaks, 2006 2007 Institute
for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University, 2007 2008 Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture;
2008 Fitzwilliam Museum/Wolfson College, Cambridge UK. For the
past 16 years, Heidemann was a member of German, French, British
and Syrian archaeological missions in Syria.

Miriam Frenkel, Ph.D. The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is a Geniza

researcher and specializes in the cultural encounters between Judaism and
Islam in the Middle-Ages. She is a Lecturer at the Hebrew University and
serves as deputy chair at the Ben Zvi Institute for the research of the Jew-
ish communities in the lands of Islam. Her recent Hebrew book: The
Compassionate and Benevolent The leading Elite in the Jewish Community
of Alexandria in the Middle Ages, 2006, won the Shazar Prize for the year
2007. Another book edited by her and by Haggai Ben Shammai ,The
Jewish Medieval Library; Booklists from the Cairo Geniza, 2006, won
the Association of Jewish Libraries, RAS Division Bibliography, Award
for 2006.

Yehoshua Frenkel is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Haifa, teach-

ing medieval history of the Arab Middle East. Among his recent publica-
tions are: Public Projection of Power in Mamluk Bilad al-Sham, Mam-
luk Studies Review, 11(2007), pp. 39 54; Popular Culture (Islam, Early
and Middle Periods), Religion Compass, 3(2008), e-publication.

Professor Yvonne Friedman teaches European medieval history at Bar-

Ilan University. She has published extensively on Christian-Jewish polem-
ics and on medieval pilgrimage. During the last decade she has concen-
trated on the study of the Crusades and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,
emphasizing the intercultural relations and the fate of the vanquished in
the holy war. Currently, she is working on peace processes in the medieval
Middle East. Her forthcoming book entitled Interludes of Peace: Negoti-
ating Peace in the Latin East deals with ways the cultural and linguistic
gaps between Muslims and Christians were bridged. She is the author
of Charity Begins at Home? Ransoming Captives in Jewish, Christian
and Muslim Traditions, Studia Hebraica, 6(2006), 55 67; Encounter be-
tween Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem,
(Leiden, Brill, 2002), which received the prestigious Yad Ben Zvi Award.
Contributors XV

Susan R. Holman does research and writing at the Franois-Xavier Bag-

noud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard School of Public
Health. She is author of The Hungry Are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in
Roman Cappadocia, (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Avshalom Laniado is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of History,

Tel Aviv University. He teaches ancient and Byzantine history. He is
the author of Recherches sur les notables municipaux dans lempire protoby-
zantin, (Paris, 2002), and of articles about administration, taxation, mu-
nicipal institutions, onomastics and prosopography.

Yaacov Lev is Professor of Islamic medieval history at Bar Ilan Univer-

sity. He is the author of Charity, Endowmemnts, and Charitable Institu-
tions in Medieval Islam, (Florida University Press, 2005).

Johannes Pahlitzsch has studied medieval history and Arabic and By-
zantine studies at the Freie Universitaet Berlin where he received his doc-
torate in 1998, for his study on the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Jer-
usalem in the 12th and 13th centuries (published as Graeci und Suriani
im Pal stina der Kreuzfahrerzeit, 2001). In the spring term of 2004, he
was a member of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton. He is
also working on a comparative study of the Byzantine pious foundations
and the Islamic waqf. In this context he has co-edited (with Astrid Meier
and Lucian Reinfandt) Islamische Stiftungen zwischen juristischer Norm
und sozialer Praxis (in press). He is currently a researcher at the Johannes
Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Eliana Magnani is a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche

Scientifique in Auxerre and Dijon (France). She is a historian of Western
Middle Ages, working on gift-exchange, social history, and literacy. She
published her Ph. D. in 1999, Monast res et aristocratie en Provence mi-
lieu Xe d but XIIe si cle, M nster-in-W., Lit-Verlag, 620 p. (Vita regula-
ris, 10), and, in 2007, she edited the book on Don et sciences sociales. Th -
ories et pratiques crois es, Dijon, EUD, 244 p.

Claudia Rapp is a Professor in the Department of History at UCLA, and

specializes in Late Antique and Byzantine history and culture. She studied
at the Freie Universit t Berlin and obtained her D.Phil. at Oxford Uni-
versity. Much of her research stems from an interest in the literary aspects
of Byzantine hagiography and its reception by the audience. Her current
XVI Contributors

work focuses on the idea of mimesis, and its social, religious and literary
applications, in Late Antiquity and Byzantium. She is the author of Holy
Bishops in Late Antiquity. The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of
Transition, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2005), and co-editor of Bosphorus.
Essays in Honour of Cyril Mango (=Byzantinische Forschungen 21
[1995]), and Elites in Late Antiquity (=Arethusa 33 [2000]).

Marina Rustow is an Assistant Professor of History with a joint ap-

pointment in the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University
in Atlanta, Georgia. Her book Heresy and the Politics of Community:
The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate has been published by Cornell Univer-
sity Press in June, 2008. She has recently published an article in Past &
Present, has articles forthcoming on medieval Jewish literacy and book
production and on Arabic chancery documents from the Geniza, and is
working on a book on the relationship between Jews and caliphal courts
in the Middle Ages.

Daniella Talmon-Heller, Ph.D. The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, is

a Senior Lecturer of Islamic Medieval History at Ben-Gurion University.
She is the author of Islamic Piety in Medieval Syria: Mosques, Cemeteries
and Sermons under the Zangids and Ayyubids (1146 1260), (Brill, Leiden,

Amalia Zomeo is a researcher at the Centro de Ciencias Humanas y So-

ciales (CSIC-Madrid). She holds a Ph. D. in Arabic philology from Bar-
celona University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University
(1998 2000). The main topic of her research is Islamic law and she is
the author of Dote y matrimonio en al-Andalus y el norte de frica. Estudio
sobre la jurisprudencia isl mica medieval, (Madrid: CSIC, 2000). She is
currently studying the collections of Arabic legal documents preserved
in the archives of Granada and has written several papers on the subject.

An illuminating illustration of the importance of charity in the thinking

of medieval people is provided by Ibn Hawqals characterization of the
Copts. The following passage is taken from his tenth-century geography
of the world, and reads as follows:
The inhabitants of Egypt are Christian Copts and they have many large
churches, but many of them are ruined. They are not a malicious people ex-
cept toward the tax collectors [responsible for] collecting taxes from them.
There are among them very rich people of immense wealth [who distribute]
charity (sadaqat) and perform good deeds (ma ruf, meaning in the narrow

sense a gift). It would take too long to enumerate the rich people among
them and their benevolence (ma ruf ) toward the Muslims.

By modern standards Ibn Hawqals passage can be read as a kind of na-

tional characterization of the Copts or, perhaps, even of Coptic mental-
ity. Whatever may be the value of such attempts, medieval and modern
alike, one can not but be intrigued by the reference to charity and good
deeds/gifts (ma ruf ) as typifying the conduct of the rich Copts. Our

knowledge of Coptic society in the Muslim period is patchy and limited.

We know much more about the Church as an institution and Coptic pat-
riarchs: their internal policies, dealings with the Muslim authorities, and
various charitable services provided by them. Many patriarchs, beginning
with John III the Merciful (677 686) up to John VI (1189 1216), and
surely beyond, were involved in charitable works such as distribution of
food at times of shortage and the ransoming of Christian captives
brought to Alexandria by pirates and slave-dealers. How these services
were financed is rarely attested to by the sources. John IV (775 799),
for example, unhesitatingly committed the resources of the Church to
charity and urged the rich Copts to do the same. His charities were
also handed out indiscriminately to people outside the Coptic commun-
ity. Other patriarchs, such as John VI, spent their private wealth on char-
ity for the poor. Ibn Hawqals observation about Copts and charity must
have reflected a reality which formed the image of the Copts in the eyes
of outsiders.
The charitable role of Coptic bishops was a continuation of a long
tradition that went back to Late Antiquity, when an inextricable bond be-
2 Introduction

tween charity and the theory and practice of the Christian religion was
forged. Many aspects of this protracted and fascinating process are
dealt with in Part One. It took place against a wider matrix of intra-de-
pendent relations between the state, religious ideology, and the Church.
Avshalom Laniados chapter examines the attitude of the state toward mo-
nastic poverty and alienation of property. The states interests and reli-
gious ideals diverged. While voluntary poverty was rooted in the teach-
ings of the New Testament, alienation of property, especially by the weal-
thy people of the upper urban class, who were responsible for the per-
formance of compulsory public services, clashed with the wishes of the
state. Laniado discusses imperial legislation concerning alienation of
property and demonstrates the potential collision between the state and
the monastic movement, especially as epitomized by the laws of the em-
peror Valens (365 378). Eventually, the state, as reflected by the laws of
the emperor Justinian promulgated in 534 and 535, endorsed the notion
of monastic poverty. The examination of the interplay between the states
laws, social realities, and the institutionalization of religious ideals, as em-
bodied by the monastic movement, leads Laniado to conclude that
early Byzantine law and public life were not as thoroughly Christian-
ized as imperial rhetoric and propaganda would imply.
Church structure and monasteries distinguished between the way
Christian charity was dispensed and that of Judaism and Islam. However,
the ideal of personal involvement in charitable work was a notion shared
by the three monotheistic religions. At the heart of Daniel Caners chap-
ter is the discussion of the social aesthetic of sixth-century Byzantium.
This is achieved through the scrutiny of the diakoniai institutions for
the care of the sick. Personal involvement in the diakoniai was regarded
as an exercise of discretion and humility for God. It became a Christian
ideal, manifesting the implementation of Jesus teaching.
Sixth-century Byzantium is characterized by Caner as an intensely
hierarchical society, both in structure and in sentiment. The involvement
in the diakoniai demanded that the individual put aside self-regard and
class boundaries that kept the high and rich and the poor and the low
on the social ladder apart. The monastic world through the institutional-
ization of the diakoniai, as a process for training and socializing the ini-
tiates, was perceived by contemporary observers as the embodiment of
humility and virtue.
Within the broader social structure, monks were perceived As the
ideal facilitators, qualified by their liminal status and training as the
poor in spirit, to bridge the gap between societys rich and the ordinary
Introduction 3

poor, while at the same time helping to keep both groups separate from
each other. Nevertheless, Caner concludes that What enabled early By-
zantine monasticism to occasionally transcend that dominant aesthetic
was its insistence that monasteries provide direct access to all, regardless
of their status.
The concept that personal involvement in charity was considered as
an embodiment of virtue also permeated the Islamic discourse concerning
charity, and is widely attested to in medieval Arabic literary sources. Per-
sonal involvement in the distribution of charity signified willing relin-
quishment of the privileges bestowed by status and class, the things
that spared the privileged person from facing the grim realities of poverty
and social misery. Personal involvement, at least for the duration of the
charitable act, served as a kind of social leveler between the high-ranking
giver and the needy poor. Sibt ibn Jawz (1185 1256), for instance, de-
scribes Abu Abd Allah al-Faraw of Nishapur and Baghdad (1049

1135), a jurist versed in Prophetic traditions (hadth) who also issued

legal opinions and preached to the public, as a generous and noble person
of agreeable manners who personally served the strangers. In economic
terms, al-Faraw could be described as belonging to the middle class, but
he made no impact on the world of learning of his time and place. He
was appreciated as just a transmitter of hadth who, nevertheless, went be-
yond the impersonal distribution of charity and whose personal involve-
ment was perceived as significant enough to be pointed out since it be-
tokened his humanity.
Another example is Ibn al-Askaf (1160 1244) who was a Baghdad
merchant who traveled extensively and, as befitted his considerable eco-
nomic means, he established charitable pious endowments, handed out
charity (sadaqa), and distributed gifts (ma ruf ). Ibn al- Adm (1192

1262), the historian of Aleppo, describes him as being endowed with

muru a which was an ancient Arab concept that signified the qualities

and virtues of the ideal man. In the context of the mercantile Muslim
and Jewish middle class, however, S. D. Goitein has defined muru a as

generosity towards the needy and as characteristic of a man who does

more than his duty. In Ibn al-Askaf s case, the description of him as
being endowed with muru a was not a meaningless phrase since, as Ibn

al- Adm continues, at night he used to visit the poor and widows and

hand out charity to them incognito (for other examples, see Levs chap-
The social order and Christian charitable ideals are also at the heart of
Claudia Rapps chapter, which examines the role of bishops and emperors
4 Introduction

in the dispensation of charity. Rapp assumes that the existing social hi-
erarchies of the Later Roman Empire spilled over into the church and its
organizational structure. The requirements for the appointment of cler-
gy were spelled out for the first time in late fourth century sources, which
incorporated earlier materials. The ideal bishop was supposed to be en-
dowed with agreeable personal qualities, to be merciful, to dispense char-
ity and to be favorably inclined toward the weaker elements in society.
Many of the fourth-fifth century bishops lived up to these expectations
and became renowned for their charitable work.
On the state level, in the imperial vision of proper rule, which derived
from Greek concepts, justice was considered to be the most important at-
tribute, while philanthropy was merely a useful tool for wielding power.
Sixth-century political treatises, including those influenced by Christian
ethics, reflect an instrumental approach toward imperial charity which
aimed at buying popular support for the ruler as well as securing Gods
favor. Rapp concludes by stating that by the end of Late Antiquity,
the Episcopal and imperial models of charity become fused and impe-
rial charity became imbued with Christian meanings.
Susan R. Holman acknowledges the methodological difficulties in-
herent in the study of social justice in pre-modern texts and societies.
She writes: In considering these texts (i. e. Greek and Syriac texts
from the fourth to sixth centuries) in light of modern religious responses
to poverty and issues of human rights, justice, and mercy, one must nat-
urally seek to avoid imposing inappropriate modern constructs on histor-
ical texts from another time and culture, even to something as timeless as
human need and ideologies of ownership, distribution, and justice. Hol-
man begins with a socio-linguistic inquiry into the meaning of terms per-
taining to justice and charity in Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and Greek. She
emphasizes the converging meaning of justice and righteousness in the
Jewish and Christian traditions, while in the Greek tradition the concepts
of justice and mercy were distinct. Nonetheless, she states There is no
question that Greek-speaking Christians perceived a close relationship be-
tween alms, divine justice, and righteousness. Furthermore, building
on the Greek terminology available to them, several authors developed
concepts that we now associate with human rights: language: equal-
ity, common race, common humanity, common good, and restorative
justice. Holman concludes by saying that early Christian texts from
Late Antiquity not only reveal an association with the idea of healing
the world through righteousness (tikkun olam) but also lay the founda-
tion for modern human rights language in religious tradition. Although
Introduction 5

the issue of social justice in Muslim and Jewish medieval thinking about
society and the social order is scantily studied, some insights are offered
by the chapters presented by Friedman and Carballeira.
The last chapter of Part One is devoted to Western Europe during the
early Middle Ages. Eliana Magnanis chapter discusses both the meaning
and the function of charity during the fourth-ninth centuries. She draws
attention to Cyprian of Carthage (d.285) who formulated the idea of re-
demptive almsgiving as a concept in its own right within Christian reli-
gious ideology. On the practical level, Cyprian exhorted the believers to
donate to churches and emphasized the role of the bishops as distributors
of charity to the poor. The involvement of bishops in the dispensation of
charity goes back to early Church history and also served as the ideolog-
ical underpinning justifying accumulation of wealth. Augustine (354
430) perceived the Churchs wealth as belonging to the poor, with the
bishops acting only as stewards for it. Magnani traces these developments
to the Eucharistic model conceptualized by Ambrose (d.397).
During the seventh century, the growing role of the Church in com-
memorating the dead, which also involved alms donations, reflected in-
creasing concern for the salvation of the soul. The Church assumed a cru-
cial role in turning donations into everlasting heavenly goods for the ben-
efit of the donor. Magnani concludes by emphasizing the fusion between
the Churchs central role in the religious, ritual, and social life of the peo-
ple and its institutional eminence in society.

Part Two deals with medieval Islam and can be described as consisting of
three sections. The first section contains three chapters that focus on the
institution of pious endowments. The first chapter in this section discuss-
es the transition from Late Antiquity to early Islam, while the other two
chapters focus on the proliferation of endowments in Islam and their sig-
nificance. The second section deals with various manifestations of charity
in Muslim Spain, including how charity was reshaped in Muslim society
which was relegated to the status of a subject population following the fall
of Muslim Granada in 1492. The third section is thematic and consists of
two chapters dealing with gift giving and repentance.
Johannes Pahlitzsch discusses the endowment institution in the tran-
sition from Late Antiquity to early Islam, a period characterized by him as
remarkable both for its continuity and for its change. The endowment
institution was widely spread in Egypt and the Middle East of Late An-
tiquity. Pahlitzsch points out that the Christian Ghassanid kings, Arab al-
6 Introduction

lies of the Byzantines, were involved in the foundation of monasteries, as

were the Christian wives of the Persian kings and their husbands.
The Christian endowment institution continued to proliferate in the
Umayyad and early Abbasid periods, and caliphs such as Abd al-Malik

(685 705) and Harun al-Rashid (789 809) donated money for the
foundation of monasteries. Pahlitzsch draws attention to the 726 inscrip-
tion at the public bath in Hammat Gadar, designated for the sick, which
commemorates its renovations approved by the caliph and carried out by
his governor. The inscription testifies to the continuity of the concept of
charitable donations for public welfare. Pahlitzsch concludes with a cau-
tious suggestion about the possible Christian influence on the Muslim
practice of charity and calls for a comparative study of the Islamic
pious endowment institution.
One of the most fascinating aspects of medieval Muslim and Jewish
charity was the possibility of institutionalizing charity through the pious
endowment system. The fact that the pious endowment institution was
the embodiment of charity is promulgated both by Islamic law and the
by earliest surviving endowment inscriptions and documents. A valid
pious endowment (waqf pl. awqaf, in Spanish and North African usage
hubs pl. ahbas) was created by dedicating and setting aside a fully
owned private property for the cause of God (which legally means inal-
ienable in perpetuity). The creator of the pious endowment had the right
to name the beneficiaries, be they people, institutions, or charitable caus-
es, as well as the administrators of the endowment. His stipulations con-
cerning the endowment acquired a legally binding sacred status.
Stefan Heidemanns chapter discusses the waqf policy of the sultan
Nur al-Din of Syria (1146 1174) who, alongside with his wars against
the Franks, became known for his social policies. Heidemann describes
twelfth-century Syria and northern Mesopotamia as a period of urban re-
newal and, within this context he focuses on the pious endowment insti-
tution and its role in this process. He writes: In fiscal terms, the estab-
lishment of an increasing number of waqfs allowed for an efficient skim-
ming of urban economic activities for public purposes.
How this skimming of funds was done is epitomized by a text dealing
with a meeting between Nur al-Din and the leading jurists of Damascus
concerning how the incomes generated by the pious endowments of the
Umayyad mosque could be diverted for the financing of other urban pur-
poses. Heidemanns examination of the text reveals the composition of
the properties supporting the Umayyad mosque, their legal status, and
hints at how they were accumulated. Unsurprisingly, with the jurists ap-
Introduction 7

proval, Nur al-Din did find how: To tap the revenues of a major pat-
rimony for the funding of public and semi-public duties. Heidemanns
discussion sheds light on the utility and flexibility of the Islamic pious
endowment institution.
It can be argued that Nur al-Dins massive use of the pious endow-
ment institution set a powerful precedent that the Mamluk rulers of
Egypt and Syria (1250 1517) emulated. Yehoshua Frenkels chapter dis-
cusses the immense proliferation of pious endowments in the Mamluk
period and focuses on two questions: why people give charity and how
the pious endowments of the Mamluk period should be explained (the
question of why people dispensed charity is also asked by Marina Rustow,
in the Jewish context).
On the one hand, Yehoshua Frenkel amply illustrates how deeply the
concept of charity was embedded in Muslim thought and practice. On
the other hand, he argues that the religious dimension does not provide
the whole answer as to why people gave charity and, especially why they
set up pious endowments. Yehoshua Frenkel draws our attention to the
political considerations of the Mamluk rulers who used the pious
foundations to preserve their fame and immortality, and as a device
to preserve their hegemony.
The second section of Part Two begins with Ana Mar a Carballeiras
chapter which discusses the forms and functions of charity in al-Andalus.
Charity was dispensed by private people, people of the ruling circles, and
rulers, and took the form of alms-giving and distribution of basic neces-
sities such as food and clothing. Charitable people and rulers also set up
pious endowments and stipulated charitable clauses in their legacies. Car-
balleiras discussion of the functions of charity is set within a twofold con-
text: charity as religious duty and the embodiment of piety, and also as
reflecting the social awareness of the giver.
Carballeira emphasizes that charity in its various manifestations must
also be studied within the context of Islamic notions of equality and so-
cial justice. It can clearly be argued that religious inspiration for giving
charity on the one hand and social awareness on the other were not mu-
tually exclusive motivations. She concludes with the rather sober observa-
tion about the social impact and usefulness of medieval charity: char-
ity in al-Andalus constituted a stabilizing element, exercised not so much
with the aim of eliminating social differences as of maintaining an equi-
librium between the different groups, to prevent the resentment at social
inferiority from escalating into a threat to the established order.
8 Introduction

Amalia Zomeos chapter discusses charitable giving and pious deeds

as reflected by Muslim legacies in fifteenth century Granada, spanning
the period before and after the conquest of the city by the Catholic Mon-
archs in 1492. Zomeo puts forward the argument that these documents
reflect a Muslim society adjusting to the traumatic political changes that
denied them their independence and relegated them to the status of a
subjected minority.
According to Islamic law, a valid legacy must not exceed one third
(thulth) of the total value of the estate. In the Granada legacies various
stipulations were made concerning how this thulth should be disposed.
Typical charitable designations in the pre-1492 period were made for
dowries of orphaned girls, for expiation for making false oaths, and for
distributing food and money to the poor. The repercussions of 1492
and the shifts in peoples order of priorities are epitomized by the legacies
of the childless Bahtan family of Umm Fath al-Shalyani, the wife, and
Muhammad, her husband.
In the pre-1492 legacies of both of them, the whole thulth was des-
ignated for charitable causes, while in the post-1492 legacies, except for
expiation, the beneficiaries of the thulth were people affiliated in various
ways with the Bahtan family. Zomeo makes the observation that in a so-
ciety in crisis, the designation of charity changed from collectivities and
institutional charity, to a smaller circle of beneficiaries, both inside and
outside the family.
The third section in Part Two consists of two chapters dealing with
gift giving and repentance. Charity and gift giving, in the context of
the Fatimid state (909 1171), are discussed in Levs chapter. Lev per-
ceives charity as a form of devotion rooted in a religiously inspired system
of beliefs and offered in the search for closeness to God and redemption.
The perception of medieval charity as sacred does not mean that it was
not used as a tool to legitimize political rule and enhance the social status
of the giver. With few exceptions, however, monotheistic charity envis-
aged no human chain of reciprocity and, as such, was different from
the expectations associated with gift giving and gift exchange.
Gift giving permeated the political culture of the Fatimid state and
involved three circles: it was used as a tool of foreign policy, gifts were
given in the context of court relations, and gifts were bestowed by the rul-
ers on state employees. The study of gift giving in medieval Islam is still
in its initial stages, and further research is needed in order to put the find-
ings within a broader comparative framework.
Introduction 9

The last chapter in this section is by Daniella Talmon-Heller and fo-

cuses on the perception of repentance in mainstream Muslim society and
the rites associated with it.
The link between charity and repentance in Islamic thought and prac-
tice is strong but not exclusive. The Koran, for example, perceives distri-
bution of sadaqa (charity) as only one of the possible deeds considered as
appropriate for the expiation of sins (the other being supporting the poor,
freeing slaves, and fasting).
In Muslim thought sinning is deemed as inherent in human existence
and repentance implies an inner struggle for moral improvement that in-
volves remorse and personal resolution to avoid recurrent sinning. Tal-
mon-Heller, however, draws our attention to the fact that public rituals
of repentance did take place and became part of the religious life in
late medieval Baghdad and Damascus. Some preachers earned fame for
their ability to bring the audience to tears and remorse, inducing people
to repent. Her discussion also indicates that handing out charity as a
means of repentance won popularity, although other deeds signifying re-
pentance did not fall into disuse.
Talmon-Hellers chapter draws attention to the need for further study
of the economic dimension of repentance. Feeding and clothing the poor,
not to mention freeing of slaves, required considerable economic resour-
ces, whereas charitable giving was an option available even to the lower
middle class. Although these donations were necessarily of low value,
more symbolic and less significant economically, they fulfilled the re-
quirement of giving motivated by pure intention (niyya), turning the
symbolic act into spiritually satisfying repentance.

Part Three contains four chapters that deal with the Jewish communities
of the medieval Muslim world which maintained an impressive array of
charitable services. Of these, the best known and most fully documented
is the Jewish community of Fustat, which is at the focus of Mark R. Co-
hens chapter. The charitable services offered by the community marked a
modification of the model prescribed by the Talmud. The Talmudic
model involved a weekly distribution on Friday called quppa, designated
for the resident poor, and a daily bread distribution (tamhui), also opened
for the transients. The Fustat community offered one weekly distribution
open to both the local and the transient poor.
Cohens chapter includes a translated and annotated publication of
alms lists from 1107, which contain names of people and the number
of bread loaves handed out to them. The community financed the
10 Introduction

bread dole from private contributions and frequently experienced diffi-

culties in meeting this weekly expenditure. Therefore, the changing
needs of the poor were closely monitored. The community also helped
its poor members with the payment of the poll-tax. The pertinent docu-
ment published by Cohen is a list of donors names and the contributions
pledged by them. The study of the names of people, appearing in these
documents and their ascription opens new vistas for the study of both the
underclass made up of structural and conjunctural poor and the slightly
better-off segments of the Jewish population, including those who moved
back and forth between subsistence and poverty.
Cohens chapter, however, offers more than a broader and deeper in-
sight into the charitable services provided by the Fustat community; it
calls for a comparative approach to the study of poverty. Cohen here pub-
lishes a Geniza letter of a poor person, appealing for charity, together with
an 1828 pauper letter addressed to a Poor Law Administrator in Nor-
wich, England. Although these two letters emanate from two completely
different historical periods and socio-religious backgrounds, there are
nonetheless points of similarity that make a comparative approach possi-
ble. Given the current rudimentary stage of the comparative study of
charity in different cultures, Cohens approach is cautious. These docu-
ments, he writes, offer a taste of the kind of evidence available for
comparative study of poverty and charity.
Miriam Frenkels chapter deals with the role of charity in the Jewish
society of the Geniza period (tenth-thirteenth centuries) or, the Geniza
society, to use an expression coined by Goitein. Miriam Frenkel discuss-
es the functions of charity in the Geniza society and its uses and misuses.
Many of these aspects are illustrated through the issue of ransoming of
captives. Communal leaders, for example, used to launch fund-raising
events for this goal, which also symbolized their authority and ability
to motivate people to give. For the audience such events served as an oc-
casion for enhancing social solidarity at both the communal and the na-
tional levels. In spite of all these efforts the plight of the ransomed cap-
tives was harsh; they were sent with letters of recommendation to other
communities to beg for sustenance. Miriam Frenkel shows how the dis-
patch of the captives from community to community was also used for
correspondence between the members of the elite, which had nothing
to do with the captives and the collection of charity for them.
Miriam Frenkels main argument is that the discourse of charity per-
meated many aspects of the social relations of the Geniza society, includ-
ing commercial life. Contemporary people preferred to present labor re-
Introduction 11

lations as partnerships, and commercial relations as the disinterested ex-

change of favors. At the personal level, dispensation of charity signified
social status and for parvenus functioned as a way to win recognition
and acceptance. This aspect is epitomized through the discussion of the
charitable clauses in al-Wuhshas legacy. Al-Wuhsha was a businesswoman
of low social background and unorthodox life-style whose extravagant
charitable donations signified her quest for respectability.
Within the confines of the Mediterranean world dominated by Islam,
Judaism and Islam were intertwined cultures, to use an expression coined
by Hava Lazarus-Yafeh. The transmission of Islamic socio-political con-
cepts into the Jewish context is at the focus of Marina Rustows compa-
rative chapter about non-charitable giving in the medieval Middle East.
The notions of benefaction (ni ma) and gratitude (shukr) were key

socio-political concepts that shaped Buyid and Abbasid political life dur-
ing the tenth-eleventh centuries. Relying on, and elaborating upon, Roy
P. Mottahedehs seminal study of the Buyid-Abbasid political culture,
Rustow demonstrates how reciprocal exchanges based on ni ma and

shukr underpinned complex and volatile relations between the caliph
al-Muqtadir (902 932) and the army.
If we adopt Lazarus-Yafehs characterization of the relations between
Judaism and Islam, the transplanting of Muslim socio-political notions
into the Jewish context would seem quite natural. Rustow, however,
draws attention to the large influx of Iraqi emigrants, including many
Jews, to Egypt of the tenth-eleventh century, seeking the kind of political
and economic stability which the Fatimid state of that time had to offer.
Rustows examination of ni ma, shukr, and other cognate notions within

the Jewish context comprises three partially overlapping circles: internal

Jewish politics and the quest for posts and appointments; family relations
and trade relations between family-based trade firms; and appeals of Jew-
ish leaders to the Fatimid rulers, asking them to uphold their authority
within the community.
The discussion of giving as a tool in political and social life brings
Rustow to ask to what degree was giving motivated by injunctions in re-
ligious law that required it? Her opinion is clearly stated: I am not
convinced that it is ever enough to explain human activity with resort
to legal injunctions, particularly when those injunctions could not en-
forced through coercive mechanism. Sedaqa may indeed have been moti-
vating them, but we still must understand why. It can be said without
exaggeration that the question of why is an issue that members of the re-
12 Introduction

search group and contributors to this book are constantly grippling with,
offering a wide range of answers.
Yvonne Friedmans chapter discusses a letter written in the 1210 s by
Rabbi Joseph ben Gershon, from Jerusalem to the Jewish community and
leaders of Bilbais, Egypt, requesting charity. The text and Friedmans dis-
cussion reveal on what grounds Joseph ben Gershon asked for charity and
why he expected the community to respond. The text of the letter is fas-
cinating. In Joseph ben Gershons perception, the economic order is
Gods creation, He made the poor and rich. Within these parameters
of Gods envisaged order, the two groups have a role to play: the poor
ask for charity, while the rich grant charity and thus both become meri-
torious. Furthermore, the poor are instrumental for the spiritual well-
being of the rich. In Joseph ben Gershons words, benevolence (hesed)
is the attribute of the rich (literally, the kings of Israel) and their good
deeds are known to God and bring them Gods rewards (gemul). The
poor gain merit by asking for charity and beseeching God on behalf of
the rich.
One is tempted to say that Joseph ben Gershon describes a symbiotic
world in which economic gaps are bridged by charity which sustains the
poor and brings spiritual rewards to rich and poor alike. Charity is built-
in into Gods world and being sacred and redemptive no coercive mech-
anism is needed or, to put it differently, its sacred and redemptive nature
provides the coercive mechanism that ensures its flow from the rich to the
Part One

The World of Late Antiquity

and Early Middle Ages
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal
of Voluntary Poverty*
Avshalom Laniado

la m moire d velyne Patlagean

In several laws established between 535 and 546 C.E., the Byzantine em-
peror Justinian (527 565) set rules for monastic poverty. According to
these rulings, a new monk was free to dispose of his property up until
the time he entered the monastery, which would then become the rightful
property owner even if the new monk did not expressly state so. An ex-
ception to the latter rule existed for the monks spouse and offspring.1 In
this way, monastic poverty was legislated and shaped for the first time by
the secular powers, an important development in the history of monasti-
cism. At the same time these rulings are of interest for the history of
Roman private law, since they deprived citizens of their property rights.2

* Abbreviations: CI = Codex Iustinianus; CTh = Codex Theodosianus; GCS =

Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte; PG = Pa-
trologia Graeca; PL = Patrologia Latina; PLRE = A.H.M. Jones (et alii), The
Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. I-III (Cambridge 1971 1992);
PO = Patrologia Orientalis; SC = Sources Chr tiennes.
1 Justinian, Novella 5, 5, ed. R. Schoell and G. Kroll, Corpus Iuris Civilis, vol. III
(Berlin 1895), pp. 32 33; Novella 22, 5, p. 150; Novella 76, pp. 379 381;
Novella 123, 38, p. 621; Novella 133, 1, p. 667.
2 For Byzantine legislation on monastic poverty, see C. Perdiky-Casandjes, Beitr ge
zur byzantinischen Rechtsgeschichte, vol. I: ber die Erbfolge der Regularen der grie-
chischen Kirche (Leipzig 1888), 32 68; B. Granic, Die privatrechtliche Stellung
der griechischen Mnchen im V. und VI. Jahrh., Byzantinische Zeitschrift 30
(1929 1930), 669 676; A. Steinwenter, Byzantinische Mnchstestamente,
Aegyptus 12 (1932), 55 64; E. Herman, Die Regelung der Armut in den by-
zantinischen Klstern, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 7 (1941), 406 460; R.
Orestano, Beni dei monaci e monasteri nella legislazione Giustinianea, in
Studi in Onore di Pietro De Francisci, vol. III (Milan 1956), 563 593; P.J. Pan-
agiotakos, Peri tes apo tou Ioustinianou mechri tou Leontos ST tou Sofou nom-
othesias peri tes monachikes aktemosynes, in Akten des Internationalen Byzanti-
nistenkongresses (Munich 1960), 430 437; I.M. Konidares, Nomike theorese ton
monasteriakon typikon (Athens 1984; 2nd edition Athens 2003), 157 160; N.
16 Avshalom Laniado

As imperial legislation both inspired by Christianity and favourable

to it began with the reign of Constantine the Great (306 337), one
might wonder why more than two centuries had to elapse before a law
of the state turned monastic poverty into a binding rule. While the sec-
ular laws on monasticism are very few before the 6th century,3 the fact
that none of them dealt with monastic poverty requires an explanation.
In a 1984 study of the legal aspects of Byzantine monastic foundation
documents, the Greek law historian I.M. Konidares argued that imperial
legislation prior to the reign of Justinian was simply indifferent to this
fundamental tenet of monasticism.4 While the absence of regulations
on monastic poverty in pre-535 imperial legislation is indeed conspicu-
ous, this was hardly due to indifference. As a matter of fact, several
laws of the fifth and early sixth centuries indicate that monks did have
property rights.5 Moreover, the validity of these laws was confirmed by
their inclusion in the second and definitive edition of the Code of Jus-
tinian, published on 16.11.534, just a few months before the first law
on monastic poverty by the same emperor (17.3.535). Thus the secular
power implicitly rejected the tenet of monastic poverty. In addition, em-
perors ranging from Theodosius the Great (379 395) to Justinian him-
self repeatedly limited the freedom of an important group of landowners
to disown their property. While legislation on that matter was not direct-
ed against prospective monks in particular, it implicitly restricted their

Van der Wal, Manuale Novellarum Justiniani. Aperu syst matique du contenu des
Novelles de Justinien, 2nd edition (Groningen 1998), 1037 1039.
3 For these laws, see Ch.A. Frazee, Late Roman and Byzantine Legislation on the
Monastic Life from the Fourth to the Eighth Centuries, Church History 51
(1982), 264 279; A. Sterk, Renouncing the World Yet Leading the Church. The
Monk-Bishop in Late Antiquity (Cambridge Mass. and London 2004), 163
168; A. Isola, De monachis: un titolo controverso (Codex Theodosianus 16, 3,
1/2), Wiener Studien 119 (2006), 199 214; V. D roche, Lentr e en religion
l poque protobyzantine: changement de nom, contr le de lidentit , in C.
Moatti and W. Kaiser (ed.), Gens de passage en M diterran e de lAntiquit l po-
que moderne. Proc dures de contr le et didentification (Paris 2007), 418 421. The
following book has been inaccessible: G. Barone Adesi, Monachesimo ortodosso
dOriente e diritto romano nel tardo antico, Pubblicazioni dellIstituto di diritto
romano e dei diritti dellOriente Mediterraneo 65 (Milan 1990).
4 Konidares [n. 2], 157 n. 5.
5 Perdiky-Casandjes [n. 2], 25 32; Herman [n. 2], 410 411; Orestano [n. 2],
565 567. This was also the case with bishops: see J. Beaucamp, Le testament
de Gr goire de Nazianze, in D. Simon (ed.), Fontes Minores 10 (Frankfurt am
Main 1998), 85.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 17

freedom to fulfill the Christian ideal of voluntary poverty, out of which

monastic poverty evolved.
As a Christian ideal, voluntary poverty has its roots in the New Testa-
ment.6 The locus classicus in the Gospels is Jesus advice to a rich young
man (Matthew, xix, 21): If you really want to be perfect [] go and
sell everything you have and give the proceeds to the poor, and you
will have treasure in heaven. Then come! Follow me!7 According to
the Acts of the Apostles (iv, 32 37; cf. ii, 43 45):8
The whole body of those who had placed their faith in Jesus was united in
heart and soul. None of them claimed that anything he possessed was his
own; they had everything in common. [] All who possessed estates and
houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the sales, and handed
them over to the apostles, and it was shared out to each of them as anyone
might require. Joseph, who had been given the name Barnabas by the apos-
tles [], had a piece of ground. He sold it, and brought the money, and
handed it over to the apostles.
The following chapter (Acts of the Apostles, v, 1 11) tells the story of
Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who were punished by untimely death
for having kept a part of the proceeds of the sale of their property.
An attempt to mitigate the severity of the ideal of voluntary poverty is
already present in apostolic times.9 It continued with early Church fathers
such as Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 215), who argued that the com-

6 For voluntary poverty before Christianity, see M. Von Dmitrewski, Die christliche
freiwillige Armut vom Ursprung der Kirche bis zum 12. Jahrhundert, Abhandlun-
gen zur Mittleren und Neueren Geschichte 53 (Berlin and Leipzig 1913),
7 9; A. Bigelmair, s.v. Armut II (freiwillige), Reallexikon f r Antike und Chris-
tentum, vol. I (1950), 705 707.
7 Cf. Mark, x, 21; Luke, xviii, 22. All translations of the New Testament are taken
from W. Barclay, The New Testament. A New Translation, vol. I (London 1968).
For Jesus advice to the rich young man, see S. Schiwietz, Das morgenl ndische
Mnchtum, vol. I: Das Ascetentum der drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderte und
das egyptische Mnchtum im vierten Jahrhundert (Mainz 1904), 7 10; K. Heussi,
Der Ursprung des Mnchtums (T bingen 1936), 25 26; G.E.M. De Ste. Croix,
Early Christian Attitudes to Property and Slavery, in Idem, Christian Persecu-
tion, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy, ed. M. Whitby and J. Streeter (Oxford 2006),
342 (originally published in Studies in Church History 12 [1975]).
8 For these paragraphs, see L.W. Countryman, The Rich Christian in the Church of
the Early Empire: Contradictions and Accomodations, Texts and Studies in Religion
7 (New York and Toronto 1980), 78 80; D.J. Kyrtatas, The Social Structure of
the Early Christian Communities (London and New York 1987), 38 41.
9 Bigelmair [n. 6], 707 708; P. Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman
Empire (Hanover and London 2002), 17 18.
18 Avshalom Laniado

plete alienation of property was not the only possible way for a rich man
to achieve salvation.10 While by the fourth century, voluntary poverty was
a fundamental tenet of the rising monastic movement,11 it was no longer
expected that each and every believer fulfill this ideal, with the exception
of some heretical sects.12 Throughout the stages of its evolution, the ideal
of poverty maintained its voluntary character, already inherent in Jesus
own words from the Gospel of Matthew: if you really want to be per-
fect,13 and it was a consensus amongst Christian authors that voluntary
poverty depended exclusively on an individual and free decision. John
Chrysostom (ca. 347 407) often insisted on its voluntary character in
his homilies,14 as did his contemporary Jerome (ca. 345 420). In a letter
to his friend Pammachius, a senator who hesitated to give away his prop-
erty and only resolved to do so towards the end of his life, Jerome wrote
that there is no compulsion laid upon you: if you are to win the prize it
must be by the exercise of your own free will.15 Nilus of Ancyra (died

10 Clement of Alexandria, Quis Dives Salvetur, ed. O. St hlin (et alii), Clemens Alex-
andrinus Werke, vol. III, GCS 17, 2nd edition (Berlin 1970), 159 191; ed.
trans. G.W. Butterworth, Clement of Alexandria, The Loeb Classical Library
(London 1919), 270 367. For this and other authors who dealt with this sub-
ject, see Schiwietz [n. 7], 42 43; Von Dmitrewski [n. 6], 12 18; Bigelmair
[n. 6], 707 708; De Ste. Croix [n. 7], 358 365; Countryman [n. 8], 47
102; Kyrtatas [n. 8], 177; S. Lunn-Rockliffe, A Pragmatic Approach to Poverty
and Riches: Ambrosiasters quaestio 124, in M. Atkins and R. Osborne (ed.),
Poverty in the Roman World (Cambridge 2006), 115 129.
11 Von Dmitrewski [n. 6], 19 37; Heussi [n. 7], 251 253; Herman [n. 2], 406
409; Bigelmair [n. 6], 708 709.
12 Von Dmitrewski [n. 6], 43 47; Bigelmair [n. 6], 708; De Ste. Croix [n. 7],
365 367.
13 It is precisely for this reason that Church fathers preferred here the version of
Matthew to its parallels in Mark and Luke: see De Ste. Croix [n. 7],
355 357. For Clement of Alexandria, Jesus advice to the rich young man
was a divine declaration of the free-will of the soul that was talking with
Him (Quis Dives Salvetur, c. 10, 1, ed. St hlin, 165; ed. trans. Butterworth,
14 E.g. John Chrysostom, Homiliae XLIV in Epistolam Primam ad Corinthios, XXI,
5, PG 61, 176; Homiliae XXXIV in Epistolam ad Hebraeos, XVIII, 3, PG 63, 138.
15 Jerome, Letter 66, 8, ed. trans. J. Labourt, Saint J r me. Lettres, vol. III (Paris
1953), 174; trans. W.H. Fremantle, Jerome. Letters and Select Works, A Select Li-
brary of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids
1893), 137. For Pammachius and his relationship with Jerome, see PLRE I,
663; S. Rebenich, Hieronymus und sein Kreis. Prosopographische und sozialge-
schichtliche Untersuchungen, Historia Einzelschriften 72 (Stuttgart 1992), 199
200; Ch. Krumeich, Hieronymus und die christlichen feminae clarissimae, Habelts
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 19

ca. 430) distinguished between involuntary poverty (akousios penia) and

aktemosyne, a free and spontaneous decision to live a life of oligarkia (con-
tentment with little).16 Quoting a saying from the Gospel of Luke (xii,
33), sell your possessions, and give them away in charity, Cyril, arch-
bishop of Alexandria (412 444), considered voluntary poverty a com-
mandment (entole), yet he argued that Jesus knew that it would not be
fulfilled by many, due to the weakness of the human mind (anthropinos
nous).17 In the sixth century, Dorotheus of Gaza wrote that neither virgin-
ity nor voluntary poverty were commandments (entolai), but rather pres-
ents offerred to God.18
While insisting on the paramount importance of free will, in part as
an effort to encourage the ideal of voluntary poverty,19 Christian writers
tended to ignore obstacles such as the restrictions imposed by the state.
References to such restrictions in literary texts are indeed rare, and of du-
bious interpretation. Antony (ca. 251 356) was one of the founders of
eremitic monasticism in Egypt. According to his biography, written
shortly after his death by Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria
(328 373), Antony and his younger sister lost their parents when he
was 18 or 20 years old. Inspired first by the Acts of the Apostles (iv,
35 37) and then by the Gospel of Matthew (xix, 21), he decided to
give away his property. He sold the whole of his mobile belongings
and distributed most of the proceeds to the poor while keeping some
of it for his sister. He eventually donated the rest of his belongings, offer-
ing his landed property to his fellow villagers.20
Dissertationsdrucke. Reihe Alte Geschichte 36 (Bonn 1993), 153 157; C. Pietri
(et alii), Prosopographie de lItalie chr tienne (311 604), vol. II (Rome 2000),
1576 1581.
16 Nilus Abbas, De voluntaria paupertate, c. 2, PG 79, 969D.
17 Cyril of Alexandria, Commentarius in Lucam, PG 72, 825A-B ; see also Isidorus of
Pelusium, Epistolarum Libri Quinque, II, 113, PG 78, 553C-556A.
18 Dorotheus of Gaza, Instructions, I, 12, ed. trans. L. Regnault and J. de Pr ville,
Doroth e de Gaza. uvres Spirituelles, SC 92, 2nd edition (Paris 2001), 164 165
(=PG 88, 1629C).
19 D. Brakke, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (Oxford 1995), 237 238.
20 Athanasius of Alexandria, Vita Antonii, c. 2 3, ed. trans. G.J.M. Bartelink, Atha-
nase dAlexandrie. Vie dAntoine, SC 400 (Paris 1994), 132 135 (=PG 26, 841B-
844B); trans. R.C. Gregg, Athanasius. The Life of Antony and the Letter to Mar-
cellinus (Mahwah, New Jersey 1980), 31 32. Ch. Doukakes, Land Possession
and Rural Economy in the Byzantine Egypt in Two Lives of Saints (4th centu-
ry), Vizantiisky Vremmenik 65 (2006), 60, argues that Antony gave his land to
those who cultivated it for him. However, Athanasius writes that he gave it to
those of the village (apo tes komes; translated as townspeople by Gregg), ren-
20 Avshalom Laniado

Antony fulfilled the ideal of voluntary poverty in a different way than

the New Testament recommends, for neither Jesus nor the Apostles made
a distinction between landed and mobile property.21 Some scholars have
suspected that Antony was not free to sell his landed property due to a
fiscal system which considered all tax payers communally responsible
for the taxes owed by each one of them.22 If this interpretation is correct,
then the implementation of the ideal of voluntary poverty did not de-
pend exclusively on Antonys free will. He had to reckon with the inter-
ests of the state, as Jesus alludes to in the Gospel of Matthew (xxii, 21):
Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to
Because Antony renounced the world under the regime of pagan em-
perors, his example, instructive as it may be, is too early for the subject of
this paper. During the century following Antonys birth, the position of
Christianity in the Roman world changed radically. From Constantine
the Great (306 337) onwards, most emperors who ruled the eastern
part of the Roman Empire were Christians, and considered it their
duty to promote the once persecuted faith. The only exception was the
short reign of Julian the Apostate (361 363), who was very critical of
this Christian ideal of voluntary poverty. In his lost polemical work
Against the Galilaeans, he quoted Jesus words in the Gospel of Luke
(xii, 33), sell your possessions, and give them away in charity.., and
then asked:
Can anyone quote a more statesmanlike (politikotera) ordinance than this?
For if all men were to obey you who would there be to buy? Can anyone
praise this teaching when, if it be carried out, no city, no nation, not a single
family will hold together? For, if everything has been sold, how can any
house or family be of any value? Moreover, the fact that if everything in

dered as kometai (fellow villagers) by Sozomenus, Ecclesiastical History, I, 13, 2,

ed. J. Bidez, Sozomenus Kirchengeschichte, GCS 50 (Berlin 1960), 27 (=PG
67, 896B).
21 The very fact that Antony gave away his property in a way which deviated from
the model put forward in the New Testament pleads against the attempt of J.E.
Goehring, Monasticism in Byzantine Egypt: Continuity and Memory, in R.S.
Bagnall (ed.), Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300 700 (Cambridge 2007), 402
403, to interpret this episode as a literary construct.
22 Schiwietz [n. 7], 343 344; Bartelink [n. 20] 134 135, n. 2 (with further bib-
liography); Brakke [n. 19], 233 234. For the collective responsibility of tax-
payers, see N. Lewis, Life in Egypt under Roman Rule (Oxford 1983), 172.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 21

the city were being sold at once there would be no one to trade is obvious,
without being mentioned.23
Though hostile and polemical as an author, Julian did not make use of his
legislative powers as emperor in order to restrict, let alone forbid, the vol-
untary alienation of property, although this should not be taken as a sign
of tolerance on his part.24 It remained to his Christian successors to do so.
Late Roman and early Byzantine emperors approved of the right of
their subjects to adopt the monastic way of life as long as the interests
of the state were left unharmed. However, the voluntary alienation of
property and subsequent withdrawal from society, the very steps Christi-
ans took when they wished to renounce the world, occasionally posed a
threat to these interests. As a consequence, some of Julians Christian suc-
cessors, from Valens (365 378) to Maurice (582 602), explicitly re-
stricted the freedom of their subjects to renounce the world. With the
possible exception of Valens,25 there is nothing to suggest that any of
the emperors who issued these laws was motivated by personal hostility
or ideological opposition to the monastic movement. With a single ex-
ception which we will discuss below, these laws dealt either with slaves
and coloni, who were not allowed to join monasteries without the consent

23 Iuliani Imperatoris Librorum contra Christianos quae Supersunt, ed. C.I. Neumann
(Leipzig 1880), frg. 12; Giuliano imperatore contra Galilaeos, Testi e Commenti 9
(Rome 1990), ed. E. Masaracchia, frg. 100, pp. 188 189; ed. trans. W.C.
Wright, The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. III, The Loeb Classical Library
(Cambridge Mass. 1923), 430 431. For this fragment, see P. Renucci, Les
id es politiques et le gouvernement de lempereur Julien, Collection Latomus 259
(Brussels, 2000), 263 265; for criticism of the ideal of voluntary poverty by
pagan authors, see D.H. Raynor, Non-Christian Attitudes to Monasticism, Stu-
dia Patristica XVIII/2 (1989), 267 273; G. Rinaldi, Obiezioni al monachesimo
da parte dei pagani in area mediterranea (secoli IV e V), in Cristianesimo e spe-
cificit regionali nel mediterraneo latino (sec. IV-VI), Studia Ephemeridis Augusti-
nianum 46 (Rome 1994), 43 45.
24 In fact, he confiscated the property of the Arian church of Edessa, and justified
his decision by a reference to the ideal of voluntary poverty: see Lempereur Julien.
uvres Compl tes, vol. I/2, ed. J. Bidez, 2nd edition (Paris 1960), Letter 115,
pp. 196 197; ed. trans. Wright [n. 23], Letter 40, pp. 126 129; R.P. Cole-
man-Norton, Roman State and Christian Church. A Collection of Legal Documents
to A.D. 535 (London, 1966), vol. I, no. 123, pp. 292 293.
25 Schiwietz [n. 7], 344 345; N. Lenski, Valens and the Monks: Cudgeling and
Conscription as a Means of Social Control, Dumbaton Oaks Papers 58 (2004),
93 117.
22 Avshalom Laniado

of their masters, or with people in the service of the state, such as soldiers
and civil servants.26
In other laws, emperors from Theodosius the Great to Justinian re-
stricted the freedom of their subjects to alienate their property, without
particularly targeting prospective monks. These laws were connected to
the key role of landed property in an administrative system where paying
regular taxes was just one of the obligations of wealthy citizens towards
their cities as well as the state.27 Alienation of property could therefore
be abused by people wishing to avoid their public obligations. This
was first and foremost the case with the municipal councillors (decuriones
or curiales in Latin, bouleutai or politeuomenoi in Greek), also known in
modern research as the curial class. These were the officially recognized
local aristocrats of the Roman Empire as well as of early Byzantium.
Their role was twofold, for they managed both the administration of
their cities as well as the collection of taxes, and they were collectively re-
sponsible for the execution of the latter task.28 By the fourth century, their
status had become obligatory.29 At the same time, the administrative re-
forms of the late third century and the first half of the fourth provided
new arenas for promotion and social mobility, of which municipal coun-

26 A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire. A Social, Economic and Administrative
Survey (Oxford 1964, reprinted in two volumes, Baltimore 1986), vol. II, 931;
H. Bellen, Studien zur Sklavenflucht im rmischen Kaiserreich, Forschungen zur
antiken Sklaverei 4 (Wiesbaden 1971), 86 91; E. Patlagean, Pauvret conomi-
que et pauvret sociale Byzance (4e-7e si cles), Civilisations et Soci t s 48
(Paris 1977), 334 335; Frazee [n. 3], 268 269; A. Laniado, Recherches sur les
notables municipaux dans lempire protobyzantin, Travaux et M moiresMono-
graphies 13 (Paris 2002), 37 38.
27 For these obligations (munera in Latin, leitourgiai in Greek), see W. Langham-
mer, Die rechtliche und soziale Stellung der Magistratus Municipales und der Decur-
iones (Wiesbaden 1973); L. Neesen, Die Entwicklung der Leistungen und
mter (munera et honores) im rmischen Kaiserreich des zweiten bis vierten Jahr-
hunderts, Historia 30 (1981), 203 235; F. Millar, Empire and City, Augustus
to Julian, Obligation, Excuses and Status, Journal of Roman Studies 73 (1983),
76 96; for property as a prerequisite for appointment to these tasks, see C. Dre-
coll, Die Liturgien im rmischen Kaiserreich des 3. und 4. Jh. n. Chr., Historia Ein-
zelschriften 116 (Stuttgart 1997), 35 43.
28 Laniado [n. 26], 116 128.
29 F. Jacques, Obnoxius curiae. Origines et formes de lastreinte la cit au IVe si -
cle de notre re, Revue historique de droit franais et tranger, 4e s rie, 63 (1985),
303 328.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 23

cillors took advantage more than any other group.30 Because the govern-
ment considered their attempts to leave the curial class to be a threat to its
interests, it tried to prevent this phenomenon, known in modern research
as the flight of the councillors,31 by instituting more laws on this topic
than on any other aspect of public life.32
Valens government was alarmed by municipal councillors joining the
monastic movement, as we see in one of his laws:
Certain devotees of idleness have deserted the compulsory services of the
municipalities, have betaken themselves to solitudes and secret places, and
under the pretext of religion have joined with bands of hermit monks. We
command, therefore, by Our well considered precept, that such persons
and others of this kind who have been apprehended within Egypt shall be
routed out from their hiding places by the Count of the Orient and shall
be recalled to the performance of the compulsory public services of their mu-
nicipalities, or in accordance with the tenor of Our sanction, they shall for-
feit the allurements of the family property, which We decree shall be vindi-
cated by those persons who are going to undertake the performance of their
compulsory public services.33
This law may be an expression of hostility to the monastic movement, as
some scholars argue, but this is not the only possible explanation. In fact,
the words under the pretext of religion (specie religionis) suggest that this
law is only aimed at the municipal councillors who pretended to be
monks to avoid their obligations. As it threatened them with confiscation
of their property, it is clear that they had not given it away. We may even
suspect that their failure to detach from their property marked them as

30 P. Heather, New Men for New Constantines? Creating an Imperial Elite in the
Eastern Mediterranean, in P. Magdalino (ed.), New Constantines. The Rhythm of
Imperial Renewal in Byzantium 4th-13th Centuries (St. Andrews 1992), Society
for the Promotion of Byzantine StudiesPublications 2 (London 1994), 11 33.
31 See, for instance, the section of that title in J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Antioch. City
and Imperial Administration in the Later Roman Empire (Oxford 1972), 174
32 Jones [n. 26], vol. I, 739 748; W. Schubert, Die rechtliche Sonderstellung der
Dekurionen (Kurialen) in der Kaisergesetzgebung des 4.6. Jahrhunderts, Zeits-
chrift der Savigny-Stiftung Romanistische Abteilung 86 (1969), 287 333; Lania-
do [n. 26], 3 26.
33 Codex Theodosianus [henceforward CTh], ed. Th. Mommsen, Theodosiani Libri
XVI cum Constitutionibus Sirmondianis (Berlin 1905), XII, 1, 63; trans. C. Pharr,
The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions (Princeton
1952), 351. For this law, see Schiwietz [n. 7], 344 345; Heussi [n. 7], 302
303; Coleman-Norton [n. 24], vol. I, no. 147, pp. 322 323; Frazee [n. 3],
264; Lenski [n. 25], 99 100; Sterk [n. 3], 164 165.
24 Avshalom Laniado

insincere in the eyes of the author of this law. And while the emperor Jus-
tinian was far from hostile to monasticism,34 the committee which pre-
pared the Code which bears his name deemed this law worthy of inclu-
sion.35 It was still valid in 534, when the second edition of his Code was
Until the last decades of the fourth century, legislation against the
flight of the councillors dealt mainly with matters of personal status
of either the members of the councils themselves or of their offspring.
However, a systematic attempt to limit the freedom of municipal coun-
cillors to dispose of their property so as to hinder their efforts to leave
the curial class began under the reign of Theodosius the Great.36 The
first law was issued in 386:
If any decurion should be forced by necessity to alienate landed estates, ei-
ther rustic or urban, or any slaves whatever, he shall appeal to a competent
judge and shall set forth in detail all the causes by which he is being con-
strained, so that if he should prove his claim, he shall obtain a decree that
will be permanently valid for the purchaser. For thus it will take place
that no unregulated seller or unjust purchaser can be found. Furthermore,
hereafter there shall be no grounds whereby any seller shall complain that
he was circumvented by the stratagems or overwhelmed by the power of a
purchaser, since indeed the necessity of the seller and the wishes of the
buyer shall be made clear by the trustworthy testimony of the public records.
But if any man, contrary to this prohibition, by secret devices and through
persons interposed by fraud, should become the purchaser of any place what-
ever that is sold by a decurion, he shall know that he will be deprived of the
price that he gave and of the place that he bought.37
A municipal councillor selling his property was thus required to petition
a competent judge, normally the provincial governor, to prove that his
decision to do so was necessary. While this law does not explicitly men-
tion prospective monks, one might assume that the wish to fulfill the

34 Sterk [n. 3], 173 175.

35 Codex Iustinianus [henceforward CI], ed. P. Krueger, Corpus Iuris Civilis, vol. II
(Berlin 1914), X, 32, 26.
36 P. Petit, Libanius et la vie municipale Antioche au IVe si cle apr s J.-C., Biblio-
th que arch ologique et historique 62 (Paris 1955), 354; R. Ganghoffer, L volu-
tion des institutions municipales en Occident et en Orient au Bas-Empire, Biblioth -
que dhistoire du droit et droit romain 9 (Paris 1963), 128 132; Jones [n. 26],
vol. I, 747 748; Schubert [n. 32], 317 322; Laniado [n. 26], 21 22 and 52
37 CTh XII, 3, 1 (=CI X, 34, 1); trans. Pharr [n. 33], 371; see also CTh XII, 3, 2
(423); trans. Pharr [n. 33], 371.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 25

Christian ideal of voluntary poverty could not be recognized by the state

as a necessity.38
In 399, Honorius, emperor of the West (395 423), declared null
and void clandestine contracts of sale concluded by municipal council-
lors in an attempt to evade their obligations.39 From the reign of Theo-
dosius II (408 450) onwards, the municipal council was entitled to one
quarter of the heritage of a member whose heirs did not belong to the
curial class.40 This same emperor forbade the sale of curial property with-
out the approval of the municipal council.41 In 451, a law of Valentinian
III, emperor of the West (425 455), ordered that the sale of property by
a municipal councillor must receive the approval of the leading members
of the council (primores curiae), who cannot be ignorant of the necessity
of his selling.42 In 458, another emperor of the West, Majorian
(457 461), ruled that the sale of curial property required the approval
of the praetorian prefects, the highest officials of the civil administra-
tion.43 Zeno, emperor of the East (474 491), set a detailed regulation
of which the first paragraph is quoted here:
We forbid decurions to sell any real property (res immobiles) [], or any
slaves attached thereto (mancipia rustica), without first applying for a decree.
They are, however, permitted to make donations, or exchanges, or enter into
any other contracts whatsoever, as the Imperial Constitutions, which have
been promulgated by former Emperors, have stated in many places that
the purchase-money is not to be refunded, and for this reason it is clearly
to be understood that a contract of sale cannot be entered into by decurions
without a decree.44

38 According to a sixth century formula written in Italy, paying a debt is the only
justification for the sale of curial property: see Magni Aurelii Cassiodori Variarum
Libri XII, ed. T. Mommsen, Monumenta Germaniae HistoricaAuctores Anti-
quissimi 12 (Berlin 1894), VII, 47, pp. 226 227; trans. Th. Hodgkin, The Let-
ters of Cassiodorus, Being Condensed Translation of the Variae Epistolae of Magnus
Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (London 1886), 345 346.
39 CTh III, 1, 8 (=CI IV, 44, 17); trans. Pharr [n. 33], 64.
40 CI X, 35, 1 (428); trans. S.P. Scott, The Civil Law, vol. XV (Cincinnati 1932),
130; Theodosius II, Novella 22, 2 = CI X, 35, 2 (443); trans. Pharr [n. 33],
508 510.
41 CI X, 34, 2 (428); trans. Scott [n. 40], 129.
42 Valentinian III, Novella 32, 5; trans. Pharr [n. 33], 543.
43 Majorian, Novella 7, 9; trans. Pharr [n. 33], 558.
44 CI X, 34, 3; trans. Scott [n. 40], 129. This law was promulgated either between
476 and 480 or in 484: see T.C. Lounghis (et alii), Regesten der Kaiserurkunden
des ostrmischen Reiches von 476 bis 565, Zyprisches Forschungszentrum. Quellen
und Studien zur Geschichte Zyperns 52 (Nicosia 2005), no. 26.
26 Avshalom Laniado

This law did not prevent a municipal councillor from imitating the
young Antony by selling his mobile belongings, but he needed the appro-
val of his fellows at the municipal council to follow Jesus advice to the
rich young man (Matthew, xix, 21) or the example of Barnabas (Acts,
iv, 37). On the other hand, a municipal councillor still had the right
to hand over or exchange a piece of landed property without the councils
consent. He thus could, for instance, secure himself an appointment to a
position in the imperial administration which would enable him to leave
the curial class by offering a part of his landed property to a powerful per-
son in the imperial court.45
While the ideal of voluntary poverty required those who wished to
renounce the world to give away the whole of their possessions,46 there
is plenty of evidence, despite the negative example of Ananias and Sap-
phira (Acts of the Apostles, v, 1 11), for gradual and even for partial ali-
enation of property as well as for propertied monks.47 As far as cenobitic
monks were concerned, neither phenomenon was illegal prior to 535,

45 For this kind of transactions, see Jones [n. 26], vol. I, 393, n. 56; D. Liebs, m-
terkauf und mterpatronage in der Sp tantike, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung
Romanistische Abteilung 95 (1978), 182 183.
46 See, for instance, Jeromes letter to Pammachius [n. 15]: If therefore you will to
be perfect and desire to be as the prophets, as the apostles, as Christ Himself, sell
not a part of your substance [] but all that you have. For other relevant texts,
see Von Dmitrewski [n. 6], 19 21 and 25 27.
47 Steinwenter [n. 2]; E. Wipszycka, Les aspects conomiques de la vie de la com-
munaut de Kellia, in P. Bridel (ed.), Le site monastique copte des Kellia. Sources
historiques et explorations arch ologiques (Geneva 1986), 117 144, reprinted in
Eadem, tudes sur le christianisme dans l gypte de lAntiquit tardive, Studia
Ephemeridis Augustinianum 52 (Rome 1996), 337 362; Laniado [n. 26],
55 56; Goehring [n. 21]; R.S. Bagnall, Monks and Property: Rhetoric, Law
and Patronage in the Apophthegmata Patrum and the Papyri, Greek, Roman,
and Byzantine Studies 42 (2001), 7 24, reprinted in Idem, Hellenistic and
Roman Egypt (Ashgate 2006), no. XXII. According to Bagnall, 21, true renun-
ciation of property was, like not drinking wine, at the heroic end of the spec-
trum, not in the average part. For the senatorial aristocracy of Rome, see J. Har-
ries, Treasure in Heaven: Property and Inheritance Among Senators of Late
Rome, in E. Craik (ed.), Marriage and Property. Women and Marital Customs
in History (Aberdeen 1984), 54 70; J.R. Curran, Pagan City and Christian Cap-
ital. Rome in the Fourth Century (Oxford 2000), 313 316. For a later period, see
A. Guillou, La classe dei monaci-proprietari nellItalia bizantina (sec. X-XI).
Economia e diritto canonico, Bullettino dellIstituto Storico Italiano per il
Medio Evo 82 (1970), 159 172, reprinted in Idem, Culture et Soci t en Itatlie
Byzantine (VIe-XIe s.), (London 1978), no. XI.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 27

while Justinians laws on monastic poverty did not apply to anchorites.48

The Byzantine Church was even slower to endorse monastic poverty than
the secular powers were, with the only canon on this matter having been
issued by a Constantinople council in 861.49 As we have already pointed
out, several laws of the fifth and early sixth centuries included in the
Code of Justinian did recognize the property rights of monks.50 In one
of these laws, Theodosius II ordered that the inheritance of bishops, cler-
ics and monks who died intestate and left no relatives shall be incorpo-
rated entirely into that of the sacrosanct Church or the monastery to
which the decedent had been dedicated. However, this law included a
restriction motivated by the interests of the state, for it added that:
Excepted from this rule shall be those properties left by clerics or monks of
either sex who are, perchance, registered in the tax rolls, or persons subject to
the rights of a patron or obligated to the status of decurion. For it is not just
that the churches should retain estates or peculia that are due by law to the
patron or to the owner of a landholding on whose tax list one of the afore-
said men had been enrolled, or that they should keep property known to be-
long to the municipal councils.51
While a fourth century Egyptian abbot was critical of the idea of monks
keeping their property until the end of their life and then leaving it to
their brethren,52 Theodosius II approved of it. He followed here a tradi-
tion which entitled corporate bodies such as military units, municipal
councils, staffs of provincial governors (officia) and weapon-manufactur-

48 Steinwenter [n. 2], 56; Herman [n. 2], 411; Van der Wal [n. 2], 157, n. 139.
49 Synodus Prima-Secunda, canon 6, ed. trans. P.-P. Joannou, Discipline g n rale an-
tique (IVe-IXe si cle), vol. I/2 (GrottaferrataRome 1962), 457 458 (=PG 137,
1032 1033); see also Perdiky-Casandjes [n. 2], 54 56; Herman [n. 2], 414;
Panagiotakos [n. 2], 434 435; Konidares [n. 2], 158, n. 10.
50 Supra n. 5.
51 CTh V, 3, 1 = CI I, 3, 20 (434); trans. Pharr [n. 33], 107; Coleman-Norton
[n. 24], vol. II, no. 421, pp. 698 700.
52 Liber Sancti Orsiesii, c. 27, ed. A. Boon, Pachomiana Latina, Biblioth que de la
Revue dHistoire Eccl siastique 7 (Leuven 1932), 127 128 (=PG 40, 881
882): Hoc quoque observandum est: ne quis stulta cogitatione deceptus,
immo diaboli laqueis inretitus, dicat in corde suo: Quando morior, tunc dono
fratribus quod habuero. For other abbots and Church fathers who were critical
of the retention of wealth by monks, see Les Apophtegmes des P res. Collection sys-
t matique, vi, ed. trans. J.-Cl. Guy, SC 387 (Paris 1993), 314 335; R. Finn,
Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire. Christian Promotion and Practice, 313
450 (Oxford 2006), 91 92.
28 Avshalom Laniado

ers (fabricenses) to inherit from intestate members.53 At the same time

Theodosius II decreed that whenever the interests of the state were at
stake, secular society had a better claim to the inheritance of intestate
and solitary monks than their monasteries.
The harshness of legislation against the flight of the councillors
reached its peak under Justinian. The prospect for a change of status
was more limited than ever before, as leaving the curial class became a
personal privilege conferred by the emperor upon the holders of the high-
est positions in the civil administration and the army as well as upon
some groups of civil servants.54 As for curial property, Justinian main-
tained the laws of his predecessors by including them in his Code,55
while his own legislation introduced further restrictions. A law now
lost modified the above-mentioned rule of Zenos by requiring a decree
for every transaction which would result in alienation of curial property.
Another lost law forbade donations of curial property, with the exception
of antenuptial ones as well as of dowries. As for the law of Theodosius II
which gave the municipal council one-quarter of the heritage of a mem-
ber whose heirs did not belong to the curial class, Justinian modified it in
more than one way. A third law now lost preserved this portion for the
municipal council in every case of alienation of curial property. It was
later ordered that the state would share this portion with the municipal
council. Finally, this portion was augmented from one to three-quarters.56
Despite the harshness of Justinians legislation, there still was a case
where change of status did not require a personal privilege from the em-
peror. In 531, sons of municipal councillors were allowed to become
monks on the condition that they do so from infancy and not yet
emerged from adolescence (ek nepias helikias kai oupo ten ephebon ekbas-
es).57 To judge by this age indication, these sons of municipal councillors

53 Herman [n. 2], 409; R. Delmaire, Largesses sacr es et Res privata. Laerarium im-
p rial et son administration du IVe au VIe si cle, Collection de l cole Franaise de
Rome 121 (Paris 1989), 615 616. For the dubious case of shipowners (navicu-
larii), see A.J.B. Sirks, Food for Rome. The Legal Structure of the Transportation
and Processing of Supplies for the Imperial Distributions in Rome and Constantino-
ple, Studia Amstelodamensia ad epigraphicam, ius antiquum et papyrologicam
pertinentia 31 (Amsterdam 1991), 285 286.
54 Laniado [n. 26], 47 49.
55 CI X, 34; X, 35; trans. Scott [n. 40], 128 132.
56 Laniado [n. 26], 52 54.
57 CI I, 3, 52, 1 (531); trans. Coleman-Norton [n. 24], vol. III, no. 629, p. 1111;
see also Laniado [n. 26], 49 50.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 29

were too young to make a free choice to renounce the world, and it is
therefore plausible that they became monks through oblation.58 Since
they had not yet emerged from adolescence, they must have been
under twenty-five years old, and thus too young to enjoy full property
rights.59 This may explain why they were not required to alienate their
property at that stage, except for the portion they had to cede to their mu-
nicipal council. If these monks were later on to be ordained as priests or
bishops and they were the only members of the curial class whom the
Church had the right to ordain ,60 they had to give away all their prop-
From the late fourth to the early sixth centuries Christian emperors
restricted the freedom of an important group of landowners, the munic-
ipal councillors, to alienate their property. Unlike Julian the Apostate,
these emperors were not motivated by hostility to the Christian ideal
of voluntary poverty, nor did they share the concern of the last pagan
ruler of the Roman world, who asked who would buy property put up
for sale.61 These emperors concern was administrative and fiscal. Their
laws, whether preserved in full or excerpted by later compilers,62 did
not explicitly aim to restrict prospective monks, and there is no proof
that any of the legislation was instigated by municipal councillors who
wanted to fulfill the ideal of voluntary poverty. Indeed, renunciation of

58 For this practice in early monasticism, see M. De Jong, In Samuels Image. Child
Oblation in the Early Medieval West, Brills Studies in Intellectual History 12 (Lei-
den 1996), 16 23.
59 M. Kaser, Das rmische Privatrecht, vol. II, 2nd edition, Handbuch der Alter-
tumswissenschaft X.3.3 (Munich 1975), 116 119.
60 This rule was repeated in 535 (Justinian, Novella 6, 1, 1, ed. Schoell and Kroll
[n. 1], p. 36) and then modified in 546 (Novella 123, 1, pp. 594 595; see
also Novella 137, 2, p. 697, from 565). According to the last ruling, a person
of the curial class could not be ordained as bishop unless he had been monk
for 15 years.
61 Supra n. 23.
62 As is almost always the case with imperial legislation preserved by the Codes of
that period, the omission of the preambles may have deprived us from invaluable
information on the problems that these laws were meant to solve. For the treat-
ment of imperial laws by the compilers of the Codes, see E. Volterra, Il prob-
lema del testo delle costituzioni imperiali, in Atti del II Congresso Internazionale
della Societ Italiana di Storia del Diritto, vol. II (Florence 1971), 821 1097; N.
Van der Wal, Die Textfassung der sp trmischen Kaisergesetze in den Codices,
Bullettino dellIstituto di Diritto Romano 83 (1980), 1 27.
30 Avshalom Laniado

the world, whether genuine or insincere, does not seem to have been
widespread among municipal councillors.63
On the other hand, it is perhaps significant that the first of these laws
was promulgated as late as 386, though sale of property as a means to
leave the curial class is already seen under Constantius II (337 361)
and Julian the Apostate.64 By 386, the monastic ideal had acquired fol-
lowers from all social strata, from the poorest to the wealthiest.65 Hence-
forward, the implementation of voluntary poverty by just a few persons
could involve larger fortunes than ever before. It may be equally signifi-
cant that there were more restrictions on alienation of curial property in
the Eastern part of the Roman world, where monasticism began and
where it seems to have had the majority of its followers, than in the West-
ern one.66 At any rate, it is clear that once promulgated, these laws ap-
plied to all cases of alienation of curial property deemed unnecessary
by the government. It is striking that in their attempt to restrict alienation
of curial property, pious and charitable lawgivers such as Theodosius the
Great, Theodosius II and Zeno refrained from making any exception on
behalf of Christians renouncing the world. As already pointed out, such
an exception was only made in 531,67 and it only applied to minors.68

63 Schiwietz [n. 7], 345; Heussi [n. 7], 303. More important and better attested is
the phenomenon of municipal councillors becoming clercs and bishops: see C.
Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity. The Nature of Christian Leadership in an
Age of Transition, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 37 (Berkeley
2005), 183 188 and 203 207. For restrictive legislation on this matter, see
Jones [n. 26], vol. I, 745 746; vol. II, 923 926; Schubert [n. 32], 305
308; K.-L. Noethlichs, Zur Einflussnahme des Staates auf die Entwicklung
eines christlichen Klerikerstandes, Jahrbuch f r Antike und Christentum 15
(1972), 136 152; Laniado [n. 26], 49 51.
64 Petit [n. 36], 340; Liebeschuetz [n. 31], 183.
65 Patlagean [n. 26], 333 334. For the senatorial aristocracy of Rome, by far the
wealthiest social group of the empire, see Harries [n. 47]; Rinaldi [n. 23], 48
50; Curran [n. 47], 269 320.
66 Cf. Jones [n. 26], vol. II, 1064; W. Speyer, Das christliche Ideal der geschlecht-
lichen Askese in seinen negativen Folgen f r den Bestand des Imperium Roma-
num, in M. Wacht (ed.), Panchaia. Festschrift f r Klaus Thraede, Jahrbuch f r
Antike und Christentum. Erg nzungsband 22 (M nster 1995), 224 225.
67 For a privilege of dubious authenticity given to prospective monks by Constan-
tine the Great, see Sozomenus [n. 20], I, 9, 3, p. 20 (=PG 67, 884B); Kaser
[n. 59], 485, n. 4; J. Evans Grubbs, Law and Family in Late Antiquity. The Em-
peror Constantines Marriage Legislation (Oxford 1995), 130 131, n. 110.
68 Supra n. 57.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 31

Due to the scarcity of documentary evidence, the impact of the re-

strictions imposed by the state on alienation of curial property is difficult
to assess, as is often the case with late Roman and early Byzantine impe-
rial legislation. This scarcity of evidence may be the reason that scholarly
attitude changed more than once during the last century. In the late nine-
teenth century and during the first half of the twentieth, there was a con-
sensus that the later Roman Empire was a totalitarian state or, to use the
term coined by German historical research, a Zwangstaat (a coercive
state). Historians argued that all social classes, including the privileged
ones, were subordinated to the interests of the state, with social mobility
becoming illegal. At the same time, they assumed that imperial legisla-
tion, the main kind of evidence for this historical interpretation, was ef-
fectively enforced.69 In the 1960s, scholars began to question both the
Zwangstaat approach and the effectiveness of imperial legislation. In
1964, A.H.M. Jones wrote that many, if not most, laws were intermit-
tently and sporadically enforced and considered them clues to the dif-
ficulties of the empire, and records of the aspirations of the government
and not its achievement.70 A year later, R. MacMullen wrote that it
should not then be so unexpected to find, in all the literature of the
time subsequent to the introduction of laws restricting social movement,
hardly a hint that these laws were even known to exist, let alone ob-
served.71 These and many other historians argued that the attempts of
the late Roman and early Byzantine states to check social mobility in gen-
eral and the flight of the councillors in particular were a failure.72
Nowadays the Zwangstaat approach seems obsolete, while the theory
that imperial legislation was seldom enforced is not as widespread as it

69 See, first and foremost, M.I. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the
Roman Empire, 2nd edition (Oxford 1957), vol. II, 502 534. For criticism of
this approach, see A. Demandt, Der Fall Roms. Die Auflsung des rmischen
Reiches im Urteil der Nachwelt (Munich 1984), 209 210; R. Rilinger, Die In-
terpretation des sp ten Imperium Romanum als Zwangstaat, Geschichte im Wis-
senschaft und Unterricht 36 (1985), 321 340, as well as the reply of A. Heuss,
Das sp tantike rmische Reich, kein Zwangstaat?, Geschichte im Wissenschaft
und Unterricht 37 (1986), 603 618; K. Vssing, Staat und Schule in der Sp -
tantike, Ancient Society 32 (2002), 243 262.
70 Jones [n. 26], vol. I, viii. For his criticism of the Zwangstaat theory, see his article
The Caste System in the Later Roman Empire, Eirene 7 (1970), 79 96, re-
printed in Idem, The Roman Economy (Oxford 1974), 396 418.
71 R. MacMullen, Social Mobility and the Theodosian Code, Journal of Roman
Studies 54 (1964), 50.
72 For further bibliography, see Laniado [n. 26], 9 14.
32 Avshalom Laniado

used to be. According to J. Harries, for instance, Roman law in Late An-
tiquity was more frequently invoked and effectively enforced than at any
previous period in Roman imperial history.73 Despite this change of at-
titude, the fact remains that without documentary evidence, modern
scholars cannot determine what resulted from of most laws after their
promulgation. The only exception in this respect is Egypt, where docu-
mentary papyri show that new laws were known to exist and had some
effect on daily life.74 Whenever documentary evidence is lacking, histor-
ians rely on the laws themselves, along with the occasional contribution
of literary texts. In the case of the flight of the councillors, it is notable
that the legislation became more restrictive with each iteration, suggesting
that it was circumvented rather than explicitly violated.75 Moreover, the
available evidence suggests that measures against alienation of curial prop-
erty were enforced more effectively than those against change of personal
Literary evidence has little to say about the alienation of curial prop-
erty by prospective monks. As the first law was issued as late as 386, it was
irrelevant to municipal councillors who became monks prior to that date,
such as to the Cappadocian Fathers and their circle,77 or to Publius, a mu-
nicipal councillor of Zeugma (province of Euphratensis) who renounced
the world ca. 350.78 From the late fourth through the seventh centuries,

73 J. Harries, Law and Empire in Late Antiquity (Cambridge 1999), 98. See especial-
ly the chapter The Efficacy of Law (77 98). For a similar approach, see T.
Honor , Law in the Crisis of Empire (Oxford 1998), 23 29; J.F. Matthews, Lay-
ing Down the Law. A Study of the Theodosian Code (Yale 2000), 292.
74 See now J. Beaucamp, Byzantine Egypt and Imperial Law, in R.S. Bagnall
(ed.), Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300 700 (Cambridge 2007), 271 287.
75 See in particular Heather [n. 30], 27: The evolving legislative sequence (closing
one loophole after another) does imply that individual measures were enforced
effectively enough to make curials find new ways of avoiding obligations.
76 Laniado [n. 26], 59 62.
77 For their curial background, see Th.A. Kopecek, The Social Class of the Cap-
padocian Fathers, Church History 42 (1973), 453 466, who rejects the attempt
of B. Treucker, Politische und sozialgeschichtliche Studien zu den Basilius-Briefen
(Munich 1961), 7 16, to prove that they belong to the senatorial aristocracy;
see also R. Van Dam, Families and Friends in Late Roman Cappadocia (Philadel-
phia 2003), 192, n. 7. For the way the Cappadocian Fathers disposed of their
property, see Treucker, 21 26; Beaucamp [n. 5].
78 Theodoret, Historia Religiosa, 5, 1, ed. trans. P. Canivet and A. Leroy-Molinghen,
Th odoret de Cyr. Histoire des Moines de Syrie, SC 234 (Paris 1977), 328 330
(=PG 82, 1352B-C); trans. R.M. Price, A History of the Monks of Syria by Theo-
doret of Cyrrhus, Cistercian Studies Series 88 (Kalamazoo 1985), 58.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 33

mentions of municipal councillors gradually disappear from inscriptions,

literary texts, and documentary papyri,79 while the fate of the property of
those who became monks is rarely known. Alexander, a native of Cyrene
(province of Libya Superior) adopted the monastic way of life as a meir-
akion (a young man or an adolescent), and was then ordained deacon and
priest. Later on, the archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom
(398 404) appointed Alexander as the bishop of Basilinopolis (province
of Bithynia). His career is strikingly similar to the pattern stated more
than a century later by Justinian, who forbade ordination of members
of the curial class unless they had been monks from infancy and not
yet emerged from adolescence.80 In 404, Alexander had to leave his
see, as did other bishops who remained loyal to John Chrysostom after
his deposition.81 Despite a later decision to restore these bishops to
their sees, Alexander was still in his native province as late as 411, as
we learn from a letter of Synesius of Cyrene to Theophilus, archbishop
of Alexandria (385 412).82 We do not know whether Alexander re-
nounced the world before or after the law of 386,83 and there are no de-
tails about the fate of his curial property. It does not seem to have been at
his disposal any more, since he needed the hospitality of his compatriot
Synesius, now bishop of Ptolemais (province of Libya Superior).
According to the Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, Thomas was a
chorepiskopos (a subordinate of a bishop in charge of the rural area of the
bishopric) before his ordination as bishop of Amida, then the only city in
the province of Mesopotamia, in 504/505. According to the Chronicle of
Zachariah of Mitylene, however, he was a monk and a councillor (bou-
leutes).84 If we understand Thomas to have been simultaneously munic-

79 Laniado [n. 26], 71 87.

80 Supra n. 57 and n. 60.
81 However, his name is not included in the list of these bishops given by Palladius,
Dialogue, c. 20, ed. trans. A.-M. Malingrey, Palladios. Dialogue sur la vie de Jean
Chrysostome, SC 341 (Paris 1988), 396 399 (=PG 47, 71).
82 Synesius, Letter 67 [66], ed. A. Garzya, Synesii Cyrenensis Epistolae (Rome 1979),
121 124 (=PG 66, 1407 1408); Letter 66 [67], 120 (=PG 66, 1432A-B); T.
Schmitt, Die Bekehrung des Synesios von Kyrene, Beitr ge zur Altertumskunde
146 (Munich 2001), 54.
83 D. Roques, Syn sios de Cyr ne et la Cyr na que du Bas-Empire (Paris 1987), 378,
argues that it occurred ca. 380.
84 The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, trans. F.R. Trombley and J.W. Watt,
Translated Texts for Historians 32 (Liverpool 2000), c. 83, pp. 100 101; The
Syriac Chronicle Known as that of Zachariah of Mitylene, trans. F.G. Hamilton
and E.W. Brooks (London 1899), VII, 5, pp. 163 164; on Thomas, see E. Hon-
34 Avshalom Laniado

ipal councillor, monk, and chorepiskopos, one may surmise that his prop-
erty was still at the disposal of the municipal council, administered by a
replacement (substitutus), as required in the case of persons of the curial
class who joined the clergy.85 Another person of the curial class who be-
came a monk and was afterwards appointed bishop is the monophysite
Church father Severus (ca. 465 538), patriarch of Antioch from 512
to 518.86 According to Zacharias, his fellow student and biographer, Seve-
rus family belonged to the municipal council of Sozopolis in the prov-
ince of Pisidia. After his fathers death (ca. 485), he was sent, together
with two elder brothers, to study grammar and rhetoric in Alexandria.
He then moved to Beirut, where he studied law. At an unknown date,
he shared with his brothers the inheritance of his parents and distributed
most of his own part to the poor. When he took the monastic habit
(ca. 490), he bought a monastery with the rest of his inheritance.87
Since Severus was born ca. 465,88 he had to live under the legislation
on curial property promulgated before this date, likely even under the
above mentioned law of Zeno, issued in 484 at the latest.89 To judge
by his Life, either Severus himself or his biographer, despite their legal
training, thought that these laws were better ignored.

igmann, vques et vch s monophysites dAsie Ant rieure au VIe si cle, Corpus
Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Subsidia 127 (Leuven 1951), 100; La-
niado [n. 26], 59.
85 Noethlichs [n. 63]; Laniado [n. 26], 49; Rapp [n. 63], 282 283.
86 For his life, see P. Allen and C.T.R. Hayward, Severus of Antioch (London and
New York 2004), 5 30.
87 Zacharie le Scholastique, Vie de S v re, ed. trans. M.-A. Kugener, PO II/1 (Paris
1907), 10 11, 46 47 and 97; trans. R.A. Darling Young, Zacharias. The Life
of Severus, in V.L. Wimbush (ed.), Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity. A
Sourcebook (Minneapolis 1990), 316, 319 and 326.
88 According to Allen and Hayward [n. 86], 5, Severus was born around 456, no
doubt a misprint for 465, the date often indicated in the secondary bibliography
as well as in reference books. Had Severus been born ca. 456, he would have
begun his higher education in Alexandria about the age of 30 years old, while
his brothers would have been even older. A wide rang of evidence suggests, how-
ever, that higher education normally began before the age of 20 years old: see P.
Petit, Les tudiants de Libanius. Un professeur de facult et ses l ves au Bas-Empire,
tudes prosopographiques 1 (Paris 1957), 139 144; A. Laniado, La carri re
dun notable de Gaza dapr s son loge fun bre, in C. Saliou (ed.), Gaza dans
lAntiquit tardive. Arch ologie, rh torique et histoire (Poitiers, 6 7 May 2004),
Cardo. tudes et textes pour lidentit culturelle de lAntiquit tardive 2 (Salerno
2005), 223 224.
89 Supra n. 44.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 35

Though lacking explicit evidence, it would be imprudent to conclude

that imperial legislation on curial property was irrelevant to prospective
monks of the curial class, or to argue that there is hardly a hint that
these laws were even known to exist, let alone observed.90 Imperial legis-
lation seems to have been well-known enough to inspire a fictional de-
scription of an alienation of property in the Life of Alexander Akoimetos
(ca. 355/360 427), probably written towards the end of the fifth centu-
ry or at the beginning of the sixth.91 According to this text, Rabbula, a
pagan municipal councillor of a pagan city and future bishop of Edessa
(415 435/436), converted under the influence of Alexander and gave
away his property:
And since he (sc. Rabbula) wished to be undisturbed in his contemplation of
God, he gave the city council (boule) its property (ktemata) and gave his
wifes property to his wife, daughters, and their handmaids. His wife agreed
to her husbands plan and organized an ascetic community where she re-
mained with her daughters and maids, serving the Lord with her whole
heart. Rabbula himself set his own slaves (paides) free after giving them suf-
ficient means for a degree of comfort. Then after selling off all his clothing
and property (ktemata) he gave to the destitute poor and went out to the des-
The value of the Life of Alexander Akoimetos as a source for the early life
and conversion of Rabbula has rightly been questioned. It differs from
the Life of Rabbula, a Syriac text which ignores Alexanders role complete-
ly.93 Moreover, it is not free from anachronisms.94 It is therefore highly

90 Cf. MacMullen [n. 71], 50.

91 For the chronology of his life, see D. Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks. Spiritual
Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity, The Transforma-
tion of the Classical Heritage 33 (Berkeley 2002), 252 253, n. 25; for the
date of the text, see ibid., 249 250.
92 Vie dAlexandre lAc m te, ed. trans. E. de Stoop, PO VI/5 (Paris 1911) c. 20, p.
673; trans. Caner [n. 91], 261 (with adjustments; Caner translates paides as serv-
ants; as for the plural ktemata, it is translated first as property and then as posses-
sions); Laniado [n. 26], 24.
93 R. Doran, Stewards of the Poor. The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth Cen-
tury Edessa, Cistercian Studies Series 208 (Kalamazoo 2006), 45 47 and 67 72;
for the historical value of this text, see G. Bowersock, The Syriac Life of Rabb-
ula and Syrian Hellenism, in Th. H gg and Ph. Rousseau (ed.), Greek Biography
and Panegyric in Late Antiquity, The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 31
(Berkeley 2000), 255 271.
94 According to an earlier chapter (Vie dAlexandre lAc m te [n. 92], c. 11, p. 664),
Rabbula held the office of pater civitatis (pater tes poleos in Greek). This detail is
anachronistic, as already pointed out by D. Feissel in G. Dagron and D. Feissel,
36 Avshalom Laniado

probable that the chapters dealing with Rabbula are a later addition to an
earlier, lost version of the text,95 and there is no reason to believe that its
author had access to genuine information about him. At any rate, the ref-
erence to property handed over to the municipal council is neither a
scriptural reminiscence nor a hagiographical clich . This suggests that
monastic circles such as those of the author were aware of imperial legis-
Another case is that of Hilarius, a pagan municipal councillor of An-
tioch in Syria. According to a fragment of the Life of Isidorus, written in
the early sixth century by the Neo-Platonist philosopher Damascius of
Damascus,97 Hilarius came late to the study of philosophy, for, being ob-
liged to spend his life in the public administration of his country, he had
no free time to devote to philosophy. When his wife was caught in fla-
grante delicto with Moschus, a close friend of his, Hilarius took advantage
of this misfortune and bequeathed to him his wife as well as a part of his
property.98 Moschus could thus serve as a municipal councillor in his
stead, according to the law (kata ton nomon). Hilarius then left Antioch
and went to Caria and Lycia, where he converted to the philosophical
life. He then arrived in Athens, where Proclus (ca. 410 485) refused
to accept him as a pupil because of his luxurious manners.99
There is nothing in Damascius words to suggest that Hilarius ever
tried to secure for himself a senatorial dignity as a path to leave the curial
class, while contemporary evidence suggests that similar attempts of mu-
nicipal councillors of Antioch met with difficulties.100 Though Hilarius
Inscriptions de Cilicie, Travaux et M moiresMonographies 4 (Paris 1987), 218.
For the earliest genuine reference to the pater civitatis see F. Mitthof, Neue Do-
kumente aus dem rmischen und sp tantiken gypten zu Verwaltung und Reichsge-
schichte, Corpus Papyrorum Raineri XXIII (Vienna 2002), no. 32, pp. 192 198
(Heracleopolis; 450).
95 Caner [n. 91], 250 (with further bibliography).
96 Caner [n. 91], 261, n. 74, suspects that we have here a reference to Rabbulas re-
nunciation of his position as pater civitatis, but this would be an awkward way to
say so.
97 This text was written in 526 at the latest: see PLRE II, s.v. Isidorus 5, 628.
98 For Paul the Simple, a Christian who decided to renounce the world under sim-
ilar circumstances, see The Lausiac History of Palladius, ed. C. Butler, vol. II
(Cambridge 1904), c. 22, pp. 69 70 (=PG 34, 1076C-D).
99 Damascii Vitae Isidori Reliquiae, ed. C. Zintzen, Bibliotheca Graeca et Latina
Suppletoria 1 (Hildesheim 1967), frg. 222, p. 187; ed. trans. P. Athanassiadi,
Damascius. The Philosophical History (Athens 1999), frg. 91a, pp. 226 229; La-
niado [n. 26], 25.
100 CI X, 32, 61 62; Laniado [n. 26], 24.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 37

was not committed to voluntary poverty, let alone to chastity, alienation

of property played a role in his attempt to pursue a contemplative life,
just as it did in the case of Christians who renounced the world. The
fact that he had to find a replacement suggests that holders of curial prop-
erty, whatever their personal status, were liable to the municipal and fiscal
obligations of its former owners. To judge by this piece of evidence, laws
whose basic aim was to maintain curial property at the disposal of the
municipal councils remained active and binding.
As we have already seen, Justinian was the first emperor to turn mo-
nastic poverty into a binding rule. However, his legislation did not repeal
previous restrictions on alienation of curial property. Thus landowners
who were not free to give away the whole of their wealth prior to 535
were still not allowed to do so afterwards. We do not know what became
of these restrictions after Justinians reign, and there is no sign that they
were repealed by any of his immediate successors. They had presumably
become inactive by the reign of Leo VI (886 912), who officially abol-
ished the municipal councils long after they actually ceased to exist.101
According to G. Dagron, cest par son statut fiscal que se d finit sous
le Bas-Empire et pendant tout le Moyen Age oriental une cat gorie so-
ciale.102 In other words, every social group, not just the curial class,
had a particular set of fiscal obligations and fiscal privileges. This was no-
tably the case with the senatorial order, the most prestigious group in late
Roman and early Byzantine society.103 While emperors attempted to limit
the flight of the councillors, there were no laws about the flight of sen-
ators, so to speak. Though members of the senatorial order did join the

101 Leo VI, Novella 46, ed. trans. P. Noailles and A. Dain, Les Novelles de L on VI le
Sage (Paris 1944), 182 185 (=Jus Graecoromanum, vol. I, ed. J. Zepos and P.
Zepos [Athens 1931], 116). The last piece of evidence for the curial class in
the Byzantine empire is from 668: see R. Schieffer, Kreta, Rom und Laon.
Vier Briefe des Papstes Vitalian vom Jahre 668, in H. Mordek (ed.), Pappstum,
Kirche und Recht im Mittelalter (T bingen 1991), 29 (=PL 87, 1003B-C); W.
Brandes, Byzantine Cities in the Seventh and Eighth CenturiesDifferent
Sources, Different Histories?, in G.P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins (ed.),
The Idea and Ideal of the Town Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle
Ages, The Transformation of the Roman World 4 (Leiden 1999), 30.
102 G. Dagron, Naissance dune capitale. Constantinople et ses institutions de 330
451, Biblioth que Byzantine tudes 7 (Paris 1974), 147.
103 For the fiscal status of senators, see Jones [n. 26], vol. I, 535 542; Dagron
[n. 102], 147 152; G. Gera. and S. Giglio, La tassazione dei senatori nel tardo
impero romano (Rome 1984); A. Chastagnol, Le s nat romain l poque imp riale
(Paris 1992), 298 310.
38 Avshalom Laniado

clergy and especially the episcopate,104 they do not seem to have been sub-
ject to legal restrictions similar to those imposed upon municipal coun-
cillors.105 Ch. L crivain argued that la fortune du s nateur est engag e
au s nat comme celle dun curiale la curie,106 yet no extant law explic-
itly restricted the freedom of senators to alienate their property. Only a
few members of the senatorial order, mainly women, tried to fulfill the
ideal of voluntary poverty, and their situations concerned their relatives,
fellow aristocrats, and even the emperors.107 Other women of rank proved
generous towards clerics and monks, without necessarily aspiring to fulfill
the ideal of voluntary poverty.108 This is probably the context of the
promulgation of two laws which restricted property rights of women
without referring explicitly to members of the senatorial order. The
first law, which dealt with widows and female wards, was addressed in
370 to Damasus, archbishop of Rome (366 384).109 The second one
was addresssed in 390 to Tatianus, a pagan who was then praetorian pre-
fect of the East. It forbade ordination of widows under 60 years old as
deaconnesses, and it may have been related to the case of Olympias, a

104 Rapp [n. 63], 188 195.

105 Noethlichs [n. 63], 151.
106 Ch. L crivain, Le s nat romain depuis Diocl tien Rome et Constantinople, Bib-
lioth que des coles Franaises dAth nes et de Rome 52 (Paris 1888), 86.
107 Dagron [n. 102], 502; Patlagean [n. 26], 334; Harries [n. 47]; Rinaldi [n. 23],
50 and n. 98; Curran [n. 47], 269 320. For Pharetrios, the son of a senator of
Rome who joined a monastery in Constantinople together with his sons and gave
it his wealth, see La vie ancienne de saint Marcel lAc m te, ed. G. Dagron, Ana-
lecta Bollandiana 86 (1968), c. 12, pp. 296 297; Caner [n. 91], 279, n. 173.
For a senator who was criticized for having kept some of his property, see Les
Apophtegmes des P res. Collection syst matique [n. 52], vi, 14, p. 324 325 (PG
65, 245C).
108 For pagan criticism of excessive generosity of Christian women, see Porphyrys
Against the Christians. The Literary Remains, trans. R.J. Hoffmann (New York
1994), 45; Ammianus Marcellinus, Histories, XXVII, 3, 14, trans. J.C. Rolfe,
The Loeb Classical Library (London and Cambridge Mass. 1964), vol. III,
20 21.
109 CTh XVI, 2, 20; trans. Pharr [n. 33], 443 444; Coleman-Norton [n. 24], vol.
I, no. 150, pp. 326 327; R. Bruno Siola, Viduae e coetus viduarum nella chiesa
primitiva e nella normazione dei primi imperatori cristiani, Atti dellAccademia
Romanistica Costantiniana. VIII Convegno Internazionale (Naples 1990), 415
418; Rebenich [n. 15], 160; Curran [n. 47], 285 286.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 39

member of the senatorial aristocracy of Constantinople who lost her hus-

band as a young lady. This law was abolished two months later.110
If we are to believe a hagiographical text, an imperial decree directly
relevant to our subject was issued by Honorius, emperor of the West, on
behalf of Melania the Younger and her husband Pinianus.111 Both were
members of wealthy senatorial families of Rome,112 who solicited the
help of Serena (?389 408) in their attempt to counter the opposition
of their relatives, as the text states:
When the empress (sc. Serena) heard these things, she was much edified and
straightway informed her truly pious, devout brother, the very blessed em-
peror Honorius, who issued a decree in every province that their possessions
should be sold under the responsibility of the governors and the municipal
councillors, and that the money deriving from them should be remitted to
Melania and Pinianus, once again under their responsibility (of the gover-
nors and the municipal councillors).113
Some scholars have argued that in 408, the year of their meeting with
Serena, both Melania and Pinianus were under twenty-five years old.
In that case, they would have been too young to enjoy full property
rights, which Honorius could confer upon them through a personal priv-
ilege known as venia aetatis. 114 This explanation is far from satisfactory.
First, their exact age in 408 is not known, and they may well have
been already older than twenty-five years.115 Second, the text says that
Melania and Pinianus, inspired by Jesus advice to the rich young man

110 CTh XVI, 2, 27 28; trans. Pharr [n. 33], 444 445; Coleman-Norton [n. 24],
vol. II, no. 225, pp. 429 432; no. 227, pp. 433 434; Dagron [n. 102], 502, n.
7; Bruno Siola [n. 109], 415 418; Curran [n. 47], 286 287.
111 For this couple, see PLRE I, s.v. Melania 2, 593; s.v. Pinianus 2, 702; Krumeich
[n. 15], 117 153; Pietri [n. 15], 1483 1490 and 1798 1802.
112 For their wealth, see A. Giardina, Carit eversiva: le donazioni di Melania la
Giovane e gli equilibri della societ tardoromana, Studi Storici 29 (1988),
127 142; Chastagnol [n. 103], 329 331. For further bibliography see below.
113 Vie de sainte M lanie, ed. trans. D. Gorce, SC 90 (Paris 1962), c. 12, p. 152;
trans. E.A. Clark, The Life of Melania the Younger, Studies in Women and Reli-
gion 14 (Lewison 1984), 36 37 (with adjustments). For the Latin version of this
decree, see G rontius, La Vie Latine de sainte M lanie, ed. trans. P. Laurence, Stu-
dium Biblicum Franciscanum. Collectio Minor 41 (Jerusalem 2002), c. 12, 9,
pp. 180 181.
114 Gorce [n. 113], 138, n. 1; 152 153, n. 4; A. Demandt and G. Brummer, Der
Prozess gegen Serena im Jahre 408 n. Chr., Historia 26 (1977), 488; Curran
[n. 47], 303. For the venia aetatis, see Kaser [n. 59], 119.
115 According to Pietri [n. 15], 1483, Melania would have been born in 380, while
Pinianus would have been born between 376 and 380 (ibid., 1798).
40 Avshalom Laniado

(Matthew, xix, 21), had begun to sell their property before they applied to
Serena.116 Furthermore, even minor beneficiaries of venia aetatis were not
entitled to sell landed property without a special decree.117 And finally,
the text does not use the terms one could expect to find in a document
conferring a venia aetatis. 118 Another explanation, proposed by J. Gascou
in 1985, has been unfortunately neglected by scholars who wrote about
the Life of Melania during the last two decades. Gascou cautiously infer-
red from the passage quoted above that alienation of senatorial property
was not merely a commercial transaction, for it required the involvement
of the state.119 If this explanation is correct, then the responsibility as-
signed to provincial and municipal authorities might reflect the concern
of the government for its own interests rather than the good will of a
pious ruler.
Whatever the aim of this decree, its authenticity remains in doubt.
Honorius is reported to have acted under the influence of an empress (ba-
silissa in Greek, regina in Latin) called Serena.120 This is a serious mistake,
since Serena, a member of the imperial family, wife of the mighty general
Stilicho, and mother-in-law of Honorius, was not an empress and never
bore the female imperial title of Augusta.121 This text should therefore be
read with caution. Despite its dubiousness, it remains a worthwhile con-
tribution to our subject, for it reports a decree whose aim was to assert,
rather than to restrict, the right of members of the senatorial order to ful-
fill the ideal of voluntary poverty. Moreover, it is a rare example of an
early Byzantine text that posits the fulfillment of this ideal as more
than just a matter of free will.

116 Vie de sainte M lanie [n. 113], c. 9, pp. 144 145; trans. Clark [n. 113], 33;
G rontius [n. 113], c. 9, 2, pp. 172 173.
117 Kaser [n. 59], 119, n. 32.
118 For a sixth century formula aetatis veniae written in Italy, see Cassiodorus, Variae
[n. 38], VII, 41, pp. 222 223; trans. Hodgkin [n. 38], 342.
119 J. Gascou, Les grands domaines, la cit et l tat en gypte byzantine, Travaux
et M moires, 9 (1985), 33: Les p rip ties de la liquidation des biens de M lanie
et de Pinien, au d but du Ve si cle, montrent que la r alisation dune fortune s n-
atoriale, loin dtre une simple affaire commerciale, engageait activement les plus
hautes instances de l tat.
120 Vie de sainte M lanie [n. 113], c. 11, p. 146; trans. Clark [n. 113], 33; G rontius
[n. 113], c. 11, 1, pp. 174 175.
121 For an unconvincing attempt to explain away this difficulty, see V.A. Sirago,
Funzioni di Serena nella Vita Melaniae, Vetera Christianorum 22 (1985),
381 386. For Serena, see PLRE I, 824; Demandt and Brummer [n. 114]; Pietri
[n. 15], 2028 2029.
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 41

Higher than senators stood emperors and their relatives, by far the
greatest landowners of the empire as well as the greatest benefactors of
Christianity. One of them, Theodosius II, rendered his palace little dif-
ferent from a monastery,122 while his sister Pulcheria is said to have taken
the vow of chastity.123 However, no emperor or member of an imperial
family, except for legendary figures,124 is reported to have fulfilled the
ideal of voluntary poverty.


While insisting on the paramount importance of free will in any attempt

to fulfill the ideal of voluntary poverty, Christian authors seldom referred
to objective obstacles, such as the restrictions imposed by the state. How-
ever, administrative and fiscal considerations induced more than one
Christian emperor to restrict the freedom of an important group of land-
owners, the municipal councillors, to alienate their property. While this
legislation did not target prospective monks in particular, no exception
was made on their behalf prior to the reign of Justinian. Unfortunately,
the impact of these laws is difficult to assess due to the paucity of docu-
mentary evidence, as is often the case with late Roman and early Byzan-
tine legislation. It would therefore be imprudent to conclude that these
laws remained inactive. As for members of the senatorial order, no similar
restrictions seem to have been imposed, with the possible exception of
two laws which dealt only with women. On the other hand, an imperial
decree of dubious authenticity asserts the right of Melania and her hus-
band Pinianus, both of them members of the senatorial aristocracy of
Rome, to fulfill the ideal of voluntary poverty.
It may be considered a paradox that restrictions on alienation of cu-
rial property began with Theodosius the Great, the first Christian emper-

122 Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, VII, 22, 4, ed. G.Ch. Hansen, Sokrates Kirchenge-
schichte, GCS. N.F. 1 (Berlin 1995), 368 (=PG 67, 785A); trans. A.C. Zeno, The
Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, A Select Library of the Christian
Church. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 2 (Buffalo 1890), 164.
123 Sozomenus [n. 20], IX, 1, 3, p. 390 (=PG 67, 1593B); PLRE II, 929 930. Pul-
cherias motive may have been a political one: see K.G. Holum, Theodosian Em-
presses. Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity, The Transformation of the Classical
Heritage 3 (Berkeley 1982), 93 96.
124 See, for instance, the story of Sopatra, supposedly a daughter of the emperor
Maurice, in Acta Sanctorum Novembris, vol. IV (1925), 217 219; cf. PLRE
III, s.v. Cleopatra, 318.
42 Avshalom Laniado

or who ruled that the faith of his subjects should be the same as his.125 It
is true that the successors of Julian the Apostate ruled a society which was
by and large Christian, often making use of their legislative powers in
order to promote Christianity, but fundamental tenets of this religion
were not always given the support of the secular power. Indeed, early By-
zantine law and public life were not as thoroughly Christianized as impe-
rial rhetoric and propaganda would imply at face value. Voluntary pover-
ty is a good example of it, for its value was never endorsed by any early
Byzantine emperor, not even by Justinian. Indeed, his legislation on mo-
nastic poverty did not stipulate that prospective monks sell everything
they have and give the proceeds to the poor. His real concern, inspired
no doubt by a cenobitic tradition which began in the fourth century,126
was to assure that property not yet alienated by new monks would belong
to their monasteries. Thus his legislation on monastic poverty owed much
more to the ideal of communal property depicted in the Acts of the Apos-
tles than to the locus classicus in the Gospel of Matthew.
Even after the reign of Justinian, authors of normative texts in the
Byzantine Empire made little use of Jesus advice to the rich young
man. According to a canon of 861, new monks were free to decide
how to divest of their property before joining a monastery. The abbot
or the bishop would sell any property a monk was later found to possess,
distributing the proceeds to the poor.127 It is notable both that the mon-
astery did not become the owner of that property and that Jesus advice to
the rich young man inspired a sanction against monks who failed to fol-
low it scrupulously. A century afterwards, the emperor Nicephorus Pho-
cas (963 969), a pious Christian who considered becoming a monk
himself, promulgated a remarkable law whose explicit aim was to restrict
the growth of monastic property. Inter alia, this law ordered persons
wishing to be pious and undertake good deeds and works of charity to
proceed in accordance with the commandment of Christ by selling
their goods to give to the poor.128 This was apparently the first and

125 This is the subject of the so called Edict of Thessalonica: see CTh XVI, 1, 2;
trans. Pharr [n. 33], 440.
126 P.G. Caron, Gli inizi della propriet monastica nella legislazione del tardo im-
pero, Atti dellAccademia Romanistica Costantiniana. X Convegno Internazionale
(Naples 1995), 467 479.
127 Supra n. 49.
128 N. Svoronos, Les Novelles des empereurs mac doniens concernant la terre et les strat-
iotes (Athens 1994), 157 161 (=Jus Graecoromanum, vol. I [n. 101], 249 252);
trans. E. McGeer, The Land Legislation of the Macedonian Emperors, Mediaeval
The Early Byzantine State and the Christian Ideal of Voluntary Poverty 43

last secular law in Byzantium to refer to Jesus advice to the rich young
man.129 It did not have an enduring influence on the subsequent history
of Byzantine monasticism, for it either became inactive or was repealed in
988 by a law of dubious authenticity.130

Sources in Translation 38 (Toronto 2000), 92 96; for this law, see R. Morris,
Monks and Laymen in Byzantium, 843 1118 (Cambridge 1995), 166 199; F.
Dlger, Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des ostrmischen Reiches, vol. I/2, 2nd edition
by A.E. M ller and A. Beihammer (Munich 2003), no. 699.
129 See, however, Julian the Apostates letter to the city of Edessa [n. 24].
130 Svoronos [n. 128], 189 (=Jus Graecoromanum, vol. I [n. 101], 259); trans.
McGeer [n. 128], 109 110; for this law, see J. Ph. Thomas, A Disputed
Novel of Basil II, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 24 (1983), 273 283;
cf. Dlger [n. 128], no. 772 (with further bibliography).
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism,
and the Social Aesthetic of Sixth-Century Byzantium
Daniel Caner

Among the various charitable institutions at Constantinople which had

sprung from Christianity, no mean place was held by the diakoniai, which
were institutions for the care of the sick and of persons in distress. So
writes John of Ephesus in his late sixth-century Church History. 1 Else-
where John attributes the spread of such charitable institutions to a
monophysite layman named Paul of Antioch. It was the object of
Pauls religious zeal, says John, to carry poor and old and sick persons
by night and bathe and anoint them, bring them [something] to
drink, and give small coins, as was suited for them each. Paul taught
his household to do the same, and soon other members of society secretly
joined in:
Even many of the great and eminent men of the city, having put off their
apparel and clothed themselves in poor mens apparel and hoods would
thus put straps on their necks and carry the chairs of the sick and poor
and perform all the ministration to them, while in their earnest zeal they
gladly spent money for each man, according to his state in life.
Paul went on to organize diakoniai in other cities, including Constanti-
nople.2 It was to one of its diakonia that bathe the sick at night that
John says another layman named Ishoq repaired after forsaking his family
to pursue eternal life. Once a leading citizen on the Roman frontier,
Ishoq served in that diakonia until he began to attract acclaim, where-

I thank Miriam Frenkel and Yaacov Lev for inviting me to participate in the Charity
and Piety research group at Hebrew University in January-February 2007, and the
group itself for stimulating many of the ideas pursued here. I also thank the Provi-
dence Patristics group for kindly reading a draft of this essay and providing so
many helpful remarks in February 2008.
1 Jo. Eph., Histora ecclesiastica [= h.e.] III, 2.14; trans. R. Payne Smith, The Third
Part of the Ecclesiastical History of John Bishop of Ephesus (Oxford, 1860), 113,
substituting diakoniai for Payne-Smiths diaconates.
2 Jo. Eph., Life of Paul of Antioch, v.SS.Or. 46, ed. and trans. E.W. Brooks, PO
18.672 73, slightly adapted for clarity.
46 Daniel Caner

upon he changed his clothing for sackcloth and went to work in a hospi-
tal. There he served until he died, when his wife (according to John) af-
firmed that it had been out of humility for Gods sake, and not as a man
in need, that he had submitted to minister to the sick.3
These vignettes offer precious details regarding a Christian institution
and practice that has been called one of the distinctive features of Byzan-
tine worship.4 According to John, such sixth-century diakoniai differed
from other charitable institutions of the time, because unlike hospitals
and orphanages run by clerics or monks, they gave ordinary lay people
an opportunity to devote themselves to works of active benevolence.5
In other words, these diakoniai provided an opportunity to engage in di-
rect, charitable contact with sick and poor strangers, whether by carrying
them, washing them, serving them food, or giving them coins.
Would that John and others had said more. While the Christian pro-
motion of charity to the poor has been recognized to be one of the major
ideological developments of early Byzantine history,6 and while it is well
known that hospitals, orphanages, and other such institutions were in-
vented in this period to do the charitable work that resulted,7 few sources
from the early fourth to the early seventh centuries actually reveal how
such work was carried out on the level where ideology was put to test,
i. e., in interactions between individual givers and receivers. Modern re-
search on this development has therefore tended to focus instead on ei-

3 Id., Life of Isaac, v.SS.Or. 44 (PO 18.668 71). Cf. Isaacius 3, in J. Marting-
dale, ed., Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol.3 (1992), 718.
4 P. Magdalino, Church, Bath, and Diakonia in Medieval Constantinople, in R.
Morris, ed., Church and People in Byzantium (Birmingham, 1990), 165 188, at
5 Jo. Eph., h.e. III 2.14; trans. Payne Smith, The Third Part, 114. For the role of
monks and low-level clerics in the daily operation of hospitals and other church-
run charitable institutions, see T. Miller, The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine
Empire (Baltimore, 1997), 118 27.
6 The classic study is E. Patlagean, Pauvret conomique et pauvret sociale By-
zance, 4e-7e si cles (Paris, 1977). For overviews see J. Herrin, Ideals of charity,
realities of welfare: The philanthropic activity of the Byzantine Church, in R.
Morris, ed., Church and People in Byzantium (Birmingham, 1990), 154 66,
and D. Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare (New Brunswick,
N.J., 1968).
7 P. Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover, N.H., and
London, 2002), 26 44, O. Constable, Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean
World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cam-
bridge, 2003), 1 67, and Patlagean, Pauvret conomique et pauvret sociale,
190 93.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 47

ther the theological arguments and rhetorical methods that were crafted
to promote charity in early Byzantium,8 or on the role of charity in en-
hancing episcopal authority in early Byzantine cities.9 Such studies make
clear that the transition from a Greco-Roman model of civic patronage
(euergetism) that privileged ones fellow citizens, to a Christian model
of charity that embraced sick and poor strangers, was by no means
easy: it required not only the founding of new institutions to deliver char-
ity in a systematic fashion, but more fundamentally, it required the rec-
onceptualization, of not only the poor, but of the very bonds of society
itself.10 Such observations go well beyond earlier scholarship, which tend-
ed to decry early Byzantium as the place in which Christian charity was
first professionalizedi.e., in which charitable work was, for the most
part, entrusted to church and monastic institutions, thereby isolating it
from lay practice and a direct expression of Christian love.11 Johns de-
scriptions show that alternatives to such professional care continued to
exist even in the late sixth century, when the institutional and social struc-
tures of early Byzantium had become most refined and entrenched. Yet
more may be said about how the practice of charity was imagined to fos-
ter new Christian social bonds and identities in this period, even if placed
in the hands of religious specialists.

8 M. DeVinne, The Advocacy of Empty Bellies: Episcopal Representations of the

Poor in the Late Roman Empire, Ph.D. Diss. (Stanford University, 1995), S.
Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman Cappadocia (Ox-
ford, 2001), ead., The Entitled Poor: Human Rights Language in the Cappa-
docians, Pro Ecclesia 9 (2000), 476 89, and R. Finn, Portraying the poor: de-
scriptions of poverty in Christian texts from the late Roman empire, in M. At-
kins and R. Osborne, eds., Poverty in the Roman World Cambridge, 2006), 130
9 P. Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire
(Madison, Wis., 1992), 71 117 and R. Finn, Almsgiving in the Later Roman
Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice (313 450) (Oxford, 2006), 34 89,
221 57.
10 Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 77.
11 Characteristic of the nineteenth-century surveys of . Chastel, tudes historiques
sur linfluence de la charit durant les premiers si cles chr tiens (Paris,1853) and G.
Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, trans. S. Taylor (New York,
1883). Both discussed in Finn, Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire, 27 28.
For similar views (based partly on nostalgia for the small, early christian com-
munities described in apologetic literature), see A. Hamman, Vie liturgique et
vie sociale: repas des pauvres, diaconie et diaconat, agape et repas de charit , offrande
dans lantiquit chr tienne (Paris, 1968).
48 Daniel Caner

To explore these issues I have found it illuminasting to focus on the

ideals and practices broadly associated with the word diakonia. Originally
this Greek word referred to any delicate task that a servant undertook for
a master. Hence in Christian Scripture it was applied to the act of serving
tables at the wedding at Cana and within apostolic communities (Mt
22.13; Mk 1:31; Lk 10:40, 12:37, 17:8, 22:26; Jn 2:5,9, 12:26; Act
6:2; 11.29, 12:25). It was additionally applied to the collection of don-
ations for the poor (Rm 15:25,31; 1 Cor 16:5; 2 Cor 9:1; Act 11:29,
12:25) and the provision of hospitality in general (Lk 8:3; Phil 13).
Thus in early Byzantine usage it could include a wide variety of charitable
ministrations, ranging from providing alms to other forms of service. Al-
though in church contexts the word became especially associated with lit-
urgical service and office, it retained its scriptural sense of charitable min-
istrations in other Christian institutionsnot least in those specifically
denominated diakoniai in Greek, Latin, and Syriac.12
Johns vignettes, though brief, shed light on what participating in
such services was thought to entail in sixth-century Byzantium. As he
presents them, the hallmark of such diakoniai was direct, physical contact
between lay servers and sick or poor people. But his narratives indicate
that asceticism was also a likely concomitant: he notes, for example,
that Ishoq was constantly occupied in the practice of asceticism, and
that members of a diakonia in Constantinople aspired to live with the
strictness of a monastic rule.13 Moreover, his narratives indicate that ef-
forts to visibly alter ones identity attended such work: thus eminent men
of Antioch are depicted as changing their clothing for that of the poor,

12 See H. Leclerq, Diacre, Dictionnaire darch ologie chr tienne et de liturgie 4.1
(Paris, 1920), 738 46. and Hamman, Vie liturgique et vie sociale, 67 83. M.
Metzger, Les Constitutions apostoliques, vol. 1 (Paris, 1985), 51, notes that the
term diakonia is often used in combination with that of rpeqesa (service)
in third-century portions of the Apostolic Constitutions, and that it was virtually
synonymous with that term when describing the activities of deaconesses. That
diakonia has a gendered aspect is illustrated by the fact that it is especially em-
phasized in hagiography regarding women, inspired partly by 1 Tim 5:10 and
the role assigned to Martha in Lk 10:25 38. This aspect deserves further eluci-
dation, but I refrain from pursuing it here, since the monastic texts discussed
below appear more sensitive to class or master-slave associations.
13 Jo. Eph., h.e. III 2.16, trans. Payne-Smith, The Third Part, 116; Life of Paul of
Antioch, v.SS.Or. 44 (PO 18.669). Cf. Life of Isaac, v.SS.Or. 46 (PO 18.676).
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 49

while Ishoq draped himself in sackcloth before performing work that

John calls an exercise of discretion and humility for God.14
From these passages it is apparent that John did not consider the
value of participating in such diakoniai to be merely that of helping
the sick or poor. He focuses on the charity providers, not the charity re-
ceivers: diakonia interests him primarily as a spiritual exercise, tanta-
mount to an ascetic practice itself, the object of which was achieving hu-
mility for God. In other words, for John, interacting with the anony-
mous sick and poor provided a means of expressing ones humility,
and, in effect, of humbling oneself. No doubt Christians of his day
had other reasons for participating in such diakoniai, and of course it
must also be noted that John was writing hagiography rather than
mere descriptions of fact. Indeed, his vignettes recall the early Byzantine
motif of secret saints, whose sanctity was revealed by the efforts they
made to keep their good works concealed.15 But they also seem to reflect
the actual religious practices of certain Christian aristocrats of the day
who pursued good works as a middling form of asceticism that enabled
them to accentuate their religious identity while preserving their worldly
status. Examples of this phenomenon begin to appear in fifth-century
sources. In the Life of Melania the Younger, for instance, the aristocratic
couple Melania and Pinian, before adopting a full monastic life in Jeru-
salem, are portrayed as pursuing a regimen of charitable ministrations in

14 Jo. Eph., Life of Paul of Antioch, v.SS.Or. 44 (PO 18.671). In early monastic
texts, change of clothing often indicates change of mentality: see P. Oppenheim,
Symbolik und religise Wertung des Mnchskeidung im christlichen Altertum (M n-
ster, 1932), 1 29.
15 When not holy fools, such saints are usually anonymous lay people who prac-
tice charity, and serve the function of shaming to humble action the better known
ascetics or church leaders who discover them: e. g., Historia monachorum in Ae-
gypto 14.2 22 and The Man of God of Edessa, now trans. R. Doran, Stewards of
the Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa (Kalama-
zoo, Mich., 2006), 17 25, to which Palladius, Historia Lausiaca [h. Laus.]
68.1 4, on an anonymous monk who serves the poor in secret at night, is an
interesting antecedent. See S. Ashbrook Harvey, The Holy and the Poor: Mod-
els from Early Syriac Christianity, in E.A. Hanawalt and C. Linberg, eds.,
Through the Eye of a Needle: Judeo-Christian Roots of Social Welfare (Kirksville,
Mo., 1994), 58 64, D. Kruger, Symeon the Holy Fool: Leontiuss Life and the
Late Antique City (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1996), 66 71, and T. Vivian, Fig-
ures in the Carpet: Macarius the Great, Isaiah of Scetis, Daniel of Scetis and Mo-
nastic Spirituality in the Wadi al-Natrun (Scetis) from the Fourth to the Sixth
Century, The American Benedictine Review 56:2 (June 2005), 149 51.
50 Daniel Caner

Rome, lest they fall short of practicing asceticism beyond their strength.
After dressing down in cheap clothes,
they chose for themselves the following course: they made the rounds of all
the sick and poor people without exception, visiting them and giving them
treatment. They entertained strangers and sent them on their way with gen-
erous supplies of provisions and money. They gave unsparing help to the
needy and to beggars following the example of Job [Jb 21:32], the blessed
servant of the Lord, they left their door open to anyone without power or
In a similar vein, the church historian Theodore Lector describes how a
Roman consul named John Vincomalus divided his time between being
an imperial dignitary and being a monk: after participating in the daily
court processions and procedings, John would slip off his official regalia
and into monastic garb so as to serve in the diakonia of the kitchen and
stables, etc. within a monastery at Constantinople.17 As in John of Ephe-
sus examples, diakonia work is presented here as a spiritual exercise that
linked self-effacement to self-abasement. It offered a means not only of
connecting high to low in early Byzantium, but of turning high into
low, at least temporarily, for Gods sake.
Such behavior would not have been so religiously significant, of
course, were it not for Jesus proclamation that, He who wishes to be
the first among you will be a slave of all: for the Son of Man came
not to be served [diakonthnai], but to serve [diakonsai] (Mk 10:44
45). It enabled Christian leaders and aristocrats to imitate Christ
while legitimizing their pre-eminence within the community. But that
is not all. In his 2002 book, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman

16 Gerontius, v.Melaniae 9, ed. D. Gorce, Vie de Saint M lanie (Paris, 1962), 142
44. Gerontius was a Jerusalem monk, and this may reflect an ascetic perspective
there: In the Life of Peter the Iberian, Peter decides to personally serve strangers in
Jerusalem before being admonished to both serve and practice asceticism in the
isolation of a monastery, for that is for the more advanced: See John Rufus,
v.Petri Iberi, ed. and trans. R. Raabe, Petrus der Iberer. Ein Charakterbild zur
Kirchen- un Sittengeschichte des f nften Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1895), 45 47
(Syr). and 46 47 (Germ.). Peter was said to be inspired by the example of Pas-
sarion and his Jerusalem hospital. As in Melanias case, wealth enabled him to
carry out his charitable ministrations; indeed, diakonia becomes a basic theme
of praise for saints who had some wealth. Cf. Palladius, h. Laus. 14.1 5 (on Pae-
sius and Isaias).
17 Thdr. Lect., h.e. frg. 387, ed. G.C. Hansen, Theodoros Anagnostes Kirchenge-
schichte (Berlin, 1995), 109. See Martingdale, Prosopography of the Later
Roman Empire, vol. 2 (1980), 1109.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 51

Empire, Peter Brown notes the importance of Jesus incarnation in the so-
cial imagination of the fifth and sixth centuries. Crucial to that imagina-
tion was Pauls description of Jesus as one who, though rich, made Him-
self poor for our sake (2 Cor 8:9), and though He was in the form of
God emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in a like-
ness of human beings (Phil 2:6 7). As Brown observes, this fusion of
high and low within Jesus provided a basis for social cohesion in the
early Byzantine world, whereby widely separated segments of soci-
etyemperors and subjects, rich and poorwere thought to be bound
together by mysterious ties of common flesh.18 It was not simply that
poor people represented Christ incarnate, thereby meriting the rich
mans mercy. Rather, Christ was imagined to be present in rich and
poor, as in slave or free, alike, since Christ had adopted the essential low-
liness that typified all humanity in relation to God. Christians were there-
fore to regard each other, despite all outward differences, as isotimoi,
equal in honor,19 in recognition of the fact that, beneath their worldly
status, all bore the image of Christ in themselves.20
By the sixth century, this social ideal had superceded that of the ear-
lier Stoics. Stoic philosophers like Seneca had argued that one should do
good to people of different social strata merely on the basis of a common
humanity.21 These were radical ideals for the aristocratic societies in
which they were born. Those who formulated them, whether Christian
or Stoic, sought some transcendent basis for social identity and charitable
action in societies that otherwise depended upon wide-ranging distinc-
tions in social status, outwardly maintained by clothing and privileges
and inwardly attended by commensurate perceptions of material need
and intrinsic worth.
Of course, historians might question whether such radical ideals had
any impact upon contemporary practice. Perhaps more demonstrable is
the question whether structures were put in place to attain them. Else-
where Brown has used the phrase aesthetic of society to describe the im-
agery by which a society perceives and represents itself as good, bad, or

18 Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 97, based in part on P. Angstenberger, Der reiche
und der arme Christus: Die Rezeptionsgeschichte von 2 Kor 8,9 zwischen dem zweit-
en und dem sechsten Jahrhundert (Bonn, 1997).
19 Chrys., Hom. 30.3 in 1 Cor (PG 61.253).
20 Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 95 96.
21 See A.R. Hands, Charities and Social Aid in Greece and Rome (Ithaca, N.Y, 1968),
82 and 84.
52 Daniel Caner

otherwise.22 The phrase aptly describes two images of social order, or eu-
taxia, that are found in early Byzantine sources: in one, proper social
order is defined by clear separation of social ranks; in the other, it is de-
fined by charitable interaction between social ranks, based on the percep-
tion that wealth and poverty in the present life are only masks.23 Al-
though these two ideals were not necessarily incompatible, the latter so-
cial aesthetic required all to seek out and honor Christ in their fellow
human beings. Where, we might ask, would contemporaries have expect-
ed this to actually happen in early Byzantium?
Most likely in early Byzantine monasteries. As noted above, we hear
little about organized diakoniai in this period apart from the writings of
John of Ephesus. Historians have sought parallels for them in lay confra-
ternities of the period variously known as the philiakoi, philoponoi, or
spoudaioi. 24 But it is in early Byzantine monasticism that we find the clos-
est parallels to what John describes, and in monastic literature of the sixth
and seventh centuries that diakonia receives its fullest elaboration as a

22 P. Brown, Remembering the Poor and the Aesthetic of Society, Journal of In-
terdisciplinary History 35 (2005), 513 22.
23 Chrys., de Lazaro 2 (PG 47.986); cf. Bars. ep. 764, cited below, n.98. For the
theme, see F. Cardman, Poverty and Wealth as Theater: John Chrysostoms
Homilies on Lazarus and the Rich Man, in S. Holman, ed., Wealth and Poverty
in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2008), 159 75.
24 S. P trid s, Le monast re des spoudaei a J rusalem et les Spoudaei de Constan-
tinople, chos dOrient 4 (1900 01), 225 31, id., Spoudaei et philopones,
chos dOrient 7 (1910), 341 48; Patlagean, Pauvret conomique et pauvret so-
ciale, 191 92; E. Wipszycka, Les confr ries dans la vie religieuse de l gypte
chr tienne, in R. Samuel, ed., Proceedings of the Twelfth International Congress
of Papyrology (Toronto, 1970), 511 25; P.J. Sijpestejin, New Light on the Phil-
opones, Aegyptus 69 (1989), 95 99; P. Horden, The confraternities of Byzan-
tium, in W.J. Sheils and D. Wood, eds., Voluntary Religion (Oxford, 1986), 25
45; and J. Russell, The Mosaic Inscriptions of Anemurium (Vienna, 1987), 61 64,
discussing an inscription (no. 11) that identifies one such group as philiakoi
(companions). This seems to clarify Zacharias Scholasticuss remark (preserved
in the Syriac text of his Life of Severus of Antioch, ed. A. Kugener, PO 2.24) that
those called philoponoi in Alexandria were elsewhere called companions as well
as zealous ones. We cannot assume such groups regularly performed charitable
work: Zacharius merely describes attendance of church services, bible study, or
promotion of church policy, and perhaps they should be compared to modern
church vestries. Susan Holman has suggested to me that some of these groups
may have been akin to, or have developed out of, the lay ambulance workers
(decani, parabalani, lecticarii) attested at Constantinople, Alexandria and Anti-
och earlier in the fifth century.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 53

Christian ideal.25 Historians have rightly questioned the degree to which

sixth-century monks or monasteries were actually involved in performing
charitable ministrations themselvesand it must be admitted that the
evidence is patchy, due in part to the emphasis placed in monastic sources
on physical isolation or spiritual work that required social isolation.26
Nonetheless is is also clear that serving all strangers, apart from ones fel-
low monks, was considered not only basic training in monastic humility
and the imitation of Christ. It was also considered basic proof of a com-
munitys commitment to serve all humanityand thus Godas a whole.
As explained in the sixth-century Life of Symeon Stylites the Younger,
The boast of a monk is pure brotherly-love and hospitality and unfeigned
diakonia towards all, both big and small, rich and poor, as to our savior
Christ Himself Seek God in a rich man and in a poor man, because
He is Creator and Master of each and every one, and has given to each as
He wished Therefore, joyfully receive the rich as the poor, and the poor
as the rich, regarding every human as one27
In this passage, performing charitable services to all respectfully, sincerely
(without a mask, hence unfeigned), and regardless of worldly status,
is not only presented as an exemplary form of charity, one tantamount to
almsgiving.28 It is also presented as an occasion to seek out and honor

25 See H. Marrou, Lorigin orientale des diaconies romaine, M langes darch ologie
et dhistoire 57 (1940), 95 142, T. Sternberg, Der vermeintliche Ursprung der
westlichen Diakonien in gypten und die Conlationes des Johannes Cassian,
Jahrbuch f r Antike und Christentum 31 (1988), 173 209, and R. Hermes,
Die stadrmischen Diakonien, Romische Quartalschrift f r christliche Altertum-
skunde und Kirchengeschichte 91 (1996) 23 24.
26 P. Hatlie, The Monks and Monasteries of Constantinople, ca. 350 850 (Cam-
bridge, 2007), 128. Emphasis probably varied from region to region: e. g., see
above, n. 16.
27 v. Sym.Styl. Iun. 27, ed. Paul van den Ven, La vie ancienne de S. Sym on stylite le
Jeune (521 592), vol. 1 (Brussels, 1962), 23.25 25.57: jawgla lomawoO B eQr
pmtar, r eQr aqtm tm syt/qa Wqistm, lijqor te ja leckour, pmgtr te ja
pkousour, "cm vikadekva ja vikonema ja !mupjqitor diajoma 1m pkous\
d ja 1m pmgti tm Hem ftei, fti aqtr 1sti dgliouqcr ja desptgr t_m "pm-
tym, didor 2jst\ r Aboukhg Di 1m Rkaqtgti dweshe tor pkousour r
tor pmgtar, ja tor pmgtar r tor pkousour, pmta !mhqypom r 6ma bq_m-
28 The passage refers to all as a form of almsgiving (1keglosmg). Note that early
Byzantines drew little distinction between providing hospitality and providing
other charitable gifts: all were considered to be facets of almsgiving: see D.
Gorce and O. Hiltbrunner, Gastfreundschaft, Jahrbuch f r Antike und Chris-
tentum 7 (Stuttgart, 1972), 1110 20. Hence Chrysostom advises lay people to
54 Daniel Caner

Gods presence in each human being. Yet evidently this could be prob-
lematic even within the monastic domain: for though described as a
boast of a monk, the passage otherwise presents performing unfeigned
diakonia towards all as a laudable goal rather than a natural inclination.
Under what circumstances was that goal thought to be achieved, to be-
come a monastic boast? What impediments lay in the way? In the fol-
lowing pages I seek to clarify how social tensions endemic to worldly
Byzantine society were addressed through the institutionalization of dia-
konia practices within contemporary monastic settings, and thus how the
competing social aesthetics of sixth-century Byzantium were to some ex-
tent reconciled and realized through contemporary monastic structures.

Social Order and Charitable Ministrations

in Early Byzantine Society

To put the monastic boast of Symeons biography into perspective, we

should note how one contemporary, the historian Agathias, described
the chaos that ensued in Constantinople after the earthquake of 557.
The ordered structure of society, with its respect for privilege and proper
distinctions of rank, he says, was thrown into wild confusion. Not only
did women of different ranks roam the streets and mingle freely with
men, but men of authority and men of no consequence were placed
on an equal footing, as tremors continued to disrupt any remaining
semblance of order.29 Meanwhile,
things that are always praised in word, but are very rarely put into practice,
were then most eagerly pursued Many gifts were brought to the holy
shrines, and prominent citizens walked the streets at night distributing
free food and blankets to the helpless and pitiful wrecks who lay maimed
and mutilated on the ground.

set aside a room for the poor in a sermon dealing with almsgiving, Hom. 45.4 5
in Act. (PG 60.319 20). This also helps explain why he refers to Abrahams hos-
pitality to strangers (Gen 18:1 8) as a model of almsgiving, as discussed below.
29 Agathias, Histories V.3.7 8, ed. R. Keydell, Agathiae Myrinaei historiarum libri
quinque (Berlin, 1967), 105: tnir te %pasa ja aQdr ja B t_m ceq_m lecakau-
wa !metetqajto. Trans. J. Frendo, Agathias: The Histories (Berlin, 1975), 138,
slightly adapted.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 55

Such activities ceased as the tremors subsided, causing the historian to ob-
serve that it is only under the stimulus of fear that we get even a taste
of good works.30
Agathiass conclusion regarding the whims of human charity seem fa-
miliar enough today. More revealing of an early Byzantine mentality are
his remarks regarding what constituted social chaos: the open mingling of
men or women of different social rank. This reminds us that sixth-cen-
tury Byzantium was an intensely hierarchical society, both in structure
and in sentiment. Agathiass regard for eutaxiagood social order,
based on clear distinction of ranks, affirmed by privileges and respect
for statuswas shared by others, and may be considered a hallmark of
the early Byzantine worldview.31 Imperial law, court culture, and a system
of taxation that made ones work and place of work hereditary all com-
bined to foster and reinforce this particular social aesthetic from the
fourth century onward, reaching it full form in the sixth century. For
church and monastic authors, however, such eutaxia was believed to re-
flect nothing less than the arrangements of Providence. This was said
to have divided humanity into rich and poor, as into rulers and subjects,
to ensure that society might function as harmoniously as possible after
the Fall.32 As Symeons biographer put it, God had given to each as
He wished. According to this essentially static worldview, the purpose
of charity was not to change a persons position in the world, but to
honor and help out each where they were (or should be) in their original
station or place.33
In this light we should appreciate two apparent axioms of Christian
charity in sixth-century Byzantium. First of all, impartiality regarding its
recipients. As one sixth-century author noted, the fact that God allowed

30 Agathias, Histories V.5.4 6, ed. Reydell, 107; trans. Frendo, Agathias, 140 41,
slightly adapted.
31 C. Mango, Byzantium, The Empire of New Rome (New York, 1980), 34 43. Cf.
Libaniuss description of civic eutaxia in fourth-century Antioch: or. 56.22 23.
32 See esp. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, provid 6 7 (PG 83:652A-684D) and J. Viner,
Religious Thought and Economic Society: Four Chapters of an Unfinished Work by-
Jacob Viner, ed. J. Melitz and D. Winch (Durnham, N.C., 1978), 1 45; also
Bas., Ep. 161, Const. Ap. 8.31.3, Ps.-Dionysius, Ep. 8; for its expression in the
works of Pope Gregory I, see C. Straw, Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfec-
tion (Berkeley, 1988), 28 45.
33 As Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy, 48, notes, [The] church was not inter-
ested in changing the world but ameliorating it. Pauls admonition, every man
should remain in the condition in which he was called (1 Cor 7:20), was
taken literally.
56 Daniel Caner

His sun to shine and rain to fall on good and bad alike (cf. Mt 5:45)
demonstrated that He loved all humanity, and was, as New Testament
texts stated, no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, Rom 2:11, Col
3:25; cf. Jas 2:1 9).34 Contemporaries were likewise expected to tran-
scend human preferences and show benevolence towards all. At the
same time, however, they were also supposed to follow apostolic precept
and dispense according to the need of each (Acts 2:45; 4:35). By the
sixth century (if not earlier) that naturally meant accounting for status.
We see this most plainly in dispensations recorded by Pope Gregory
the Great (590 604 C.E.): whereas a blind man was allotted half a sol-
idus a year, and nuns received a full solidus each, widows of eminent
Roman officials were granted 20 40 solidi a piece, as well as enough
grain to support a large household.35 We find similar discrepancies
based on status in sixth-century descriptions of Theodosius, abbot of a
large monastery not far from Jerusalem. Abba Theodosius was known
to possess three outstanding virtues: orthodoxy, asceticism, and lavish
charity to strangers and the poor, offered without any respect for per-
sons.36 He is said to have manifested such charity in two ways: first,
by setting out one hundred tables a day to feed whatever stranger came
by;37 and second, by building several different guesthouses so as to
cater to different needs according to category: one for monks, an unspe-
cified number of others for secular people of various sorts, and yet one
more for those who are called the poor, but are of the same kind as us in
nature. In this way, Theodosius received some guests one way, others
another, but similarly cared for them all, with the result that, equality
was preserved in [there being] fairness for all, and the ancient apostolic

34 Eusebius of Alexandria, De eo qui gratiam communicare possit non habenti (PG

86:341D). Cf. Basil of Caesarea, reg. br. 303; id., Hom. in illud, Destruam horrea
mea 1; Chrys., Hom. 19.1 in Matt., and Hom. 60.5 in Jo. For earlier Christian
communities see G. Schllgen, Die Anf nge der Professionalisierung des Klerus
und das kirchliche Amt in der Syrischen Didaskalie (M nster, 1998), 173 95.
35 Gregory I, ep.1.39, 44, and 7.23 (noted in Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 60).
Cf. Leont. N. (ed. Geltner), v.Jo. Eleem. 6.
36 Cyril Scyth., v.Theod. 4; ed. E. Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis (Leipzig, 1939),
238, 26 27. Cf. D. Caner, Towards a Miraculous Economy: Christian Gifts
and Material Blessings in Late Antiquity, Journal of Early Christianity 14
(2006), 363.
37 Thdr. Pet., v.Theod., ed. H. Usener, Der Heilige Theodosios (Leipzig, 1890),
36.10 15; see also Palladius, h. Laus. 14.3; Jo. Eph., Life of Zura (PO
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 57

precept was fulfilled, distribution was made to each, according to his

Thus early Byzantine providers were to be no respecters of persons,
but keen respecters of status. A similar approach to charity was condoned
in Judaism, where social status was itself considered a need.39 Having
evolved within aristocratic societies, both traditions placed special empha-
sis on protecting ones status against any possible degradation, and pro-
tecting ones honor against any possible shame.40 It is unclear whether
that emphasis stemmed from a religious concern that social orders or-
dained by God had to be affirmed, or from an ingrained assumption
that aristocrats were, generally speaking, better folk. A pragmatic consid-
eration would have been the fact that so many dependents simply hung
on the fate of a wealthy household in this period.41 In any case, the em-
phasis is important to note here, partly because it called for expert sensi-
tivity in the practice of diakonia. One sign of such expertise was an ability
to sense the hidden need of those who had experienced loss in worldly
status, but were ashamed to reveal it:
A monk of the Thebaid had received from God the charism of diakonia, so
that he distributed to each who came according to their need. It happened
once in a village that he was giving charity, when behold!, a woman came
to him to receive charity wearing old rags. Seeing that she was wearing
rags, he intended to give her much, but his hand faltered, and offered little.
Then another came to him dressed well. Seeing her clothes, he meant to give
her little, but his hand opened and offered much. Asking about the two, he
was told, The one wearing good clothing is from a notable family but be-

38 Thdr. Pet., v.Theod., ed. Usener, 34.14 35.5: %kkym lm %kkyr nemodowou-
lmym, pmtym d bloyr heqapeuolmym7 toO cq Usou pasim 1m Qstgti vukat-
tolmou, pkgqoOtai B !qwaa t_m !postkym paqdosir t dieddoto 2jst\
jah fti %m tir wqeam eWwem....
39 G. Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine, First Three Centuries C.E.
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1990), 196 97, 218. Historically, aristocratic societ-
ies have tended to assess need on the basis of social status rather than shared
human nature: see M. Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers (New York, 1984), 29.
40 For Jewish tradition see I.A. Silber, Beyond Purity and Danger: Gift-Giving in
the Monotheistic Traditions, in A. Vandevelde, ed., Gifts and Interests (Leuven,
2000), 115 32; for early Byzantine Christian tradition, see below. n.54.
41 Hence Pope Gregory Is provision of large quantities of grain to the widows
noted above, and Emperor Justinians gift to a Chrisitan aristocrat who had scat-
tered all his wealth on the poor, to the distress of his slaves and clients: Jo. Eph.,
Life of Theodore the Castrensis, v.SS.Or. 57 (PO 19.203 205). Cf. Jo.
Mosch., prat.. 93.
58 Daniel Caner

came poor. She was wearing good clothes in order to keep up appearances.
But the other was wearing rags to receive more.42
Barsanuphius, a sixth-century recluse who lived outside Gaza, advised
alms-distributers to provide extra charity (though according to need)
not only to the sick, but also to those who were too embarrassed to re-
ceive in public due to the nobility of their birth.43 Similar calculations
also benefitted clerics and monks. As Barsanuphius elsewhere explains,
when given a choice between giving ones premium goods to poor people
or monks, the premium goods must go to the latter, since they are Gods
slaves, and it is written, to whom the honor [is owed, give] the honor
[Rom 13:7]: for indeed, the Lord has honored them first.44
In giving such advice, Barsanuphius and other Christian leaders
sought to shape the early Byzantine worldview so that it might give spe-
cial consideration to the poor in spirit, i. e., the religious aristocracy
whose members had voluntarily gone down in worldly status so as to
serve God. Indeed, Christian benefactors seem to have privileged the
poor in spirit, especially ascetics, when bestowing charity from the late
fourth century onwards. One reason for their doing so was their sense
that these were the poor who might offer something in return,45 and
could be trusted to pass on charity to others in need (an important con-
sideration, for reasons discussed below).46 But another reason for their
doing so was that these were deemed the honorable poor, with whom
pious Christians felt inclined to build special relationshipsif not as pa-

42 Apophthegma Patrum, anonymous series. no.287; ed. F. Nau, Histoires des soli-
taires gyptiens (MS Coislin 126, fol.158 f.), Revue de lOrient chr tien 14
(1909), 375.
43 Bars., ep. 630: 1quhqi_mter vameq_r kabe?m di tm eqcmeiam, ed. F. Neyt and P.
de Angelis-Noah, Barsanuphe et Jean de Gaza, Correspondance, Vol. III: Aux La cs
et aux vques; lettres 617 848 (Paris, 2002), 56 58.
44 Bars. ep.636: b Jqior pqoetlgsem aqtor ; ed. Neyt-de Angelis-Noah, 62 64.
45 W. Mayer, Poverty and Generosity to the Poor in the Time of John Chrysos-
tom, in S. Holman, ed., Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids,
Mich., 2008), 140 58. Cf. Basil of Caesarea, ep. 150. The relation of monks to
the ordinary poor was usually described as a kinship relation (our brothers, the
poor), but otherwise seems to have been ambivalent. Some hagiographers note
how benefactors would give to both the poor and to monks, as if sensing them to
be related but separate categories: John Rufus, v.Petri Iberi, ed. Raabe, 53 (Syr.)
61 (Germ.) and v.Danielis Scetiotae 9. Cf. v.Alexandri Acoemeti 36.
46 Finn, Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire, 91 92. Cf. John Cassian,
Coll. 21.33.3 4; Palladius, h. laus. 67; Gerontius, v.Melaniae 30; Besa, v.Sinuthi
33 34.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 59

trons or disciples, then as diakonites, i. e., as personal servers and attend-

ants. Unfortunately we have little information about such lay diakonites,
and what we do have pertains mostly to those who served desert solitaries,
whose diakonites are said to have made purchases or provided housing
when they came to town, thereby buffering them from undue exposure
to the world.47 Obviously this entailed some time and cost for the
lay people involved. From a monastic perspective, however, the chief re-
quirement was that their lay server be devout, and keep a clean record
in which a monk could trust.48 As that implies, one further responsibilty
of a lay diakonits was to uphold a monks honor as a professional Chris-
tian by keeping it free from scandal or shame. We may infer that provid-
ing such ministrations was attractive to such lay people not only because
it enabled them to form intimate relationships with Christian exemplars,
but because it meant that they had been judged worthy to do so.
Through such ministrations lay people helped fulfill the Gospel para-
dox that the last shall be first (Mt 19:30, 20:16, Lk 13:30). Consider-
ably different was the challenge of promoting direct charity to the ordi-
nary poor. As Agathias makes clear, this was hardly a society in which
great and eminent men were normally seen walking the streets at
night, succoring strangers. There was of course the genuine fear that
such efforts might be wasted on imposters and professional beggars:
hence church manuals of the third and fourth centuries recommended
that Christians channel their alms through local church deacons, since
these alone know who the poor are.49 Yet the late fourth-century ser-
mons of John Chrysostom (delivered in Antioch from 386 398, then
in Constantinople from 398 404) reveal other issues involved. Appa-
rently wealthy members of his congregations, when forced to dispense
charity in the street, preferred to do so through the mediation of their
slaves. Their reason, he says, was shame at being seen talking with a

47 Palladius h. laus. 52; John Mosch., prat. 39 and 205. Cf. P. Escolan, Monachisme
et glise: Le monachisme syrien du IVe au VIIe si cle (Paris, 1999), 201 25.
48 Zacharias of Sakh , Encomium on the Life of John the Little 77, trans. M. Mikhail
and T. Vivian, Coptic Church Review 18 (1997), 51, and John Mosch., prat. 237,
ed. E. Mioni, Il Pratum Spirituale di Giovanni Mosco: gli episodi inediti del
Cod. Marciano greco II,21, Orientalia christiana periodica 17 (1951), 88,
trans. J. Wortley, The Spiritual Meadow of Johm Moschus (Kalamazoo, Mich.,
1992), 221.
49 Apostolic Constitutions 2.4.1, 2.25.2, 3.3.2, 3.4.1 4. Cf. Bas. ep. 150 and the let-
ter of Atticus, Bishop of Constantinople (406 425) ap. Socrates, h.e. 7.25.
60 Daniel Caner

poor person.50 To dissuade them from this practice, he repeatedly in-

voked the example of Abraham (Gen 18:1 8), who not only welcomed
strangers into his tent, but even bowed down before them, washed their
feet and served their table himself. For John, such direct, personal diako-
nia, as he calls it,51 revealed extraordinary humility. It meant that the pat-
riarch had willingly assumed the form of a household servant, despite
having three hundred servants who could have performed the task for
him instead.52 At the same time, by serving his guests with zealthough
not knowing that he was actually serving ChristAbrahams example
showed the proper approach for receiving any stranger in need: for
strangers, notes John, are apt to feel embarrassed and ashamed, unless
a host display extra joy.53
These sermons attest the reluctance of Johns contemporaries to give
directly to the poor, and draw attention to one reason in particular:
namely, the shame (aischyn) or indignity (apaxia) associated with inter-
acting with the poor. It should be noted that Chrysostom was unusual
among preachers of his day in explicitly advising people to give directly
to the sick and poor, unmediated by church agencies. Evidently his par-
ticular emphasis was motivated in part by an acute awareness of the
shame that those in dependency and need felt for having to seek charity
from others.54 But it also reflects his obsessions with aristocratic vainglory

50 Chrys., Hom. 35.4 in Mt (PG 57.412). Cf. Hom. 21.3 ad Rom (PG 60.607);
Hom. 11.5 in 1 Thess (PG 62.467), Ps.-Chrys., Hom. 23 de eleemosyna et hospi-
talitate (PG 63.719 20).
51 Chrys., Hom. 14.2 in I Tim (PG 62.573): t pkom t/r diajomar ja aqtr di
2autoO 5pqatte. Cf. Hom. 41.5 in Gen (PG 53.381), Ps.-Chrys., Hom. 23 de el-
eemosyne et hospitalitate (PG 63.720).
52 Chrys., Hom. 41.6 in Gen (PG 53.382): tapeimovqosmgr rpeqbok eQst-
jei tomum b patqiqwgr jatpeq oQjtgr, lecstgm tatgm Bcolemor, toO jata-
niyh/mai rpgqetsashai.. Hom. 21.3 ad Rom (PG 60.606): sw/la !mkabe ja
53 Chrys., Hom. 45.3 4 on Acts (PG 60.318 19); Hom. 14.2 in I Tim (PG
62.573 74).
54 Especially emphasized in Chrys., Hom. 13.3 on 2 Cor (PG 61.495). For Chrys-
ostom on almsgiving, see esp. K. Br ndle, Matt. 25:31 46 im Werk des Johannes
Chrysostomus (T bingen, 1979). Few have sufficiently noted Chrysostoms em-
phasis on direct almsgiving, but this is what distinguishes him from nearly all
other church fathers on the subject, and still needs to be explained. It is of course
true that others occasionally advocated direct almsgiving, e.g Bas. ep. 42. But that
letter, if genuinely his, also indicates how a Christian thinker might change his
position once he had become a church offical, for Basil of Caesarea is perhaps
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 61

and pride. As others have noted, John was convinced that aristocratic van-
ities prevented the cities of his day from becoming fully Christian.55 In
his view, one remedy for this problem was for wealthy Christians to di-
rectly engage in almsgiving themselves: for to give with ones own
hand, he insisted, dispels pride.56 Indeed, to do so would have been
a highly significant gesture in his world, where slaves were used to
clear streets for their masters in order to buffer them from contact with
social inferiors.57 It is in this light, at least, that we should note the ten-
dency of early Byzantine hagiographers to depict Christian exemplars as
ministering to the sick and poor in person, or with their own hands, as
when Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. c. 460) praises Empress Placidia for per-
sonally feeding and cleaning the sick (work described as proper to do-
mestic servants and attendants),58 or when John of Ephesus illustrates
the humility and compassion of a Syrian abbot named Zura by describ-
ing how he would, with his own hands, make himself into an attendant
with cheerfulness and joy at the tables his monastery set out for the
poor.59 Such figures were considered exemplary precisely because they
were willing to transcend the social boundaries and antipathies that at-
tended the worldly early Byzantine notion of eutaxia.
Nonetheless, with Zura and other exemplars we are confronted with
fully-formed saints, for whom such charitable diakonia is presented as un-
problematic. Historians who wish to study the impact of Johns belief
that personal involvement in charity dispels pride are hampered by
the fact that, for early Byzantium, most of our information from the
fifth century onward comes from hagiography. This genre rarely treats
its subjects in terms of process or inner change: while hagiographers
might refer to charitable work or ascetic exercises as signs of a saints hu-
most known for requiring that lay people give alms indirectly, i. e., through their
church. Thanks to Susan Holman for this observation.
55 A.M. Hartney, John Chrysostom and the Transformation of the City (London,
2004), 156 81.
56 Chrys., Hom. 14 in I Tim (PG 62.573): toOto ja vqmgla jatasp. Cf. Ps.
Chrys., Hom. 23 de eleemosyna et hospitalitate 1 (PG 63.716): 1keglosmg jqme-
tai t0 daxike t0r cmlgr. Finn, Almsgiving in the Later Roman Empire, 107
57 Chrys., Hom. 40.5 on 1 Cor, trans. p.248 (PG 61.354). Cf. Nil. Ancyr., De mon.
exercit. 8 (PG 79.728CD).
58 Theodoret Cyr., h.e. 5.18 (PG 82.1237C): aqtouqcr cicmolmg fsa oQjet_m
ja heqapaimdym 3qca memlistai.
59 Jo. Eph., Life of Zura, v.SS.Or. 2 (PO 17.34): makkekeh w-rehmt . Cf. Cyril
Scyth., v.Cyriaci 21.
62 Daniel Caner

mility, they rarely describe that state as being fostered by such activities.
Likewise, hagiographers rarely suggest that their subjects might be suscep-
tible to the faults commonly associated with direct almsgiving in this pe-
riodnamely, vainglory and pride. Awareness of these stumbling blocks
was grounded in Jesus criticism of hypocrites who gave alms for the
sake of human applause (Mt 6:2 4), but was also amplified by Greco-
Roman traditions of benefaction and patronage, whereby benefactors ex-
pected good works to be acknowledged with acclamations and honor.60
Especially sensitive to the problem of vainglory was the monk Jerome
(c. 347 420). Perhaps best known among his examples of sham piety
in Christian Rome is his depiction of a wealthy matron who, surrounded
by eunuch slaves, issued coins with her own hand, in order to be thought
more holy, only to punch an elderly beggar who dared return for more.61
Jeromes description not only highlights the vainglory he associated with
direct almsgiving in this period, but also his awareness of its possible con-
sequences, namely the humiliating treatment of inferiors in need.
For his part, John Chrysostom addressed such problems partly by re-
calling once more the example of Abraham. Noting how much honor,
how much humility this patriarch had shown to strangers at his tent,
Chrysostom points out how different his behavior was from that of
most people, who, if they ever do something similar, think themselves
superior to the recipients and often despise them for the attention
shown to them.62 What he and other preachers sought in their audiences
were charitable acts of condescension that would transcend their worldly
sense of eutaxia. Of course, the ultimate model for such condescension
was Christ himself, whose adoption of poverty and the form of a slave
had been done out of divine compassion for our sake (2 Cor 8:9;
Eph 2:6).63 In Chrysostoms view, as we shall see, such condescension

60 Cf. B. Leyerle, Chrysostom on Alsmgiving and the Use of Money, Harvard

Theological Review 87 (1994), 37 42.
61 Jerome, ep. 22.32; ed. I. Hilberg, Hieronymus epistolae pars I (Vienna, 1996),
194: propria manu, quo religiosior putaretur. Cf. id., ep. 130.7, Comm. in
Ezech. 6.18, Comm. in Jer. 2.11. On the passage see Finn, Almsgiving in the
Later Roman Empire, 206 and J. Curran, Jerome and the Sham Christians of
Rome, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 48 (1997) , 215 17.
62 Hom. 41.6 in Gen (PG 53.382): leh fsgr til/r, leh fsgr tapeimovqosmgr t
t/r vikonemar 1pedejto7 oq jahpeq oR pokko, j#m poisys pot ti toioOtom,
lca vqomoOsi jat t_m rpodewhmtym, ja pokkjir ja rpeqoq_sim aqt_m di
tm vhsasam eQr aqtor heqapeam. Cf. Hom. 14.2 in 1 Tim. (PG PG 62.573).
63 Chrys., Hom. 7.9 in Rom. (PG 60.454): He that would become rich, then, let
him become poor [pmgr], that so that he might be rich; Cf. Hom. 6.1 in Titus
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 63

was precisely what typified the social interactions of monks in the mon-
asteries of his day. But an ability to humble oneself and properly practice
charity could not be taken for granted even there. Indeed, Barsanuphius
in the sixth century advised a fellow anchorite not to dispense alms for
someone who had asked him to. Such diakonia, he explained, properly
belonged only to those who had already achieved tranquility and
mourned their sins.64 Given this perception of the qualifications in-
volved, we may ask once more why the biographer of Symeon Stylites
the Younger would have considered unfeigned diakonia towards all to
have especially been a monastic voice.

Social Order and Charitable Ministrations

in Early Byzantine Monasteries

The answer undoubtedly lies in the central role that diakonia played in
early Byzantine monastic training. Note how John Chrysostom had de-
scribed monasteries to fourth-century congregations. There, he says,
one could see humility at its height. For in such places one would
find men,
[though formerly] illustrious in worldly rank or wealth, putting themselves
down in every way, by their clothing, by their dwellings, and by those
whom they serve, all of which expresses their humility as if marked out in
letters. Gone are the incentives of arrogancefine dress, splendid houses,
multiple servantsthat make men arrogant, even against their will; all
such things are absent here. Instead, they themselves light fires, chop logs,
cook, and minister [diakonsai] to whosoever comes all are devoted to
those to whom they minister, each one washing the feet of strangers
this diakonia is fulfilled in every case.65

(PG 62.693). See Angstenberger, Der reiche und der arme Christus, 138 40; also
Brown, Poverty and Leadership, 93 94 and id., The Rise of Western Christendom:
Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200 1000, 2nd ed. (London, 2003), 208.
64 Bars., ep. 618, ed. Neyt-de Angelis-Noah, 40: oq pmter wyqoOsi bastnai
!kk oR vhsamter Bshwsai ja pemh/sai tr 2aut_m !laqtar.
65 Hom. 72.3 in Mt. (PG 58.671): 1je? t vxor t/r tapeimovqosmgr bxleha
toOto. %mhqypoi cq oR lm !p t_m 5nyhem !niyltym, oR d ja !p wqgltym
emter kalpqo, pmtohem 2autor jatastkkousim, !p t/r 1sh/tor, !p t/r
oQjar, !p t_m diajomoulmym pmter t_m diajomoulmym eQsi, ja 3jastor
tor pdar mptei t_m nmym, ja pokk peq totou lwg 1p pamtr tm dia-
jomam tatgm pkgqo?.
64 Daniel Caner

In such settings, according to Chrysostom, the same table was shared not
only by both servers and served, but even with the poor and maimed. As a
result, he says, there is much equality in monasteries, as well as much
opportunity for virtue.66 So does confusion reign there as a result? Far
from it, he assures his audience, only first-rate order (prot eutaxia):
For if anyone be lowly, he that is great does not see this, but regards him-
self as inferior, and in that way becomes all the greater.67
Thus Chrysostom portrayed monasteries as places of alternative eu-
taxia, in which equality prevailed, except to the degree that humility
made one greater. John expressed this ideal at a time when monasticism
was still a novel social experiment. No one else describes monastic society
in such paradoxically hierarchical terms as John does here. But it was pre-
cisely this conception of a monastery as a hierarchical organization struc-
tured around the pursuit of humilitythe new social virtue of the Chris-
tian agethat made it not only extraordinary in early Byzantium, but
also a comprehensible inversion of early Byzantine social norms. Here,
ideally, men from different social backgrounds could join together and
form a common identity, yet without confusion. As John indicates,
one key to making that ideal a reality was the institutionalization of dia-
konia within coenobitic (i. e., communal) monasteries: for it was through
the lowly work of monastic service that aspirants were first expected to
acquire the humility necessary for becoming a monk.
By the seventh century, a monasterys entire system of initiation and
advancement was called its diakonia. 68 Stripping initiates of worldly trap-
pings of wealth and clothing came first. Thereafter, according to John
Cassian (c. 360 435), training in Egyptian communities began with a
probationary year of service at the monasterys vestibule. Novices in
this liminal position were required to serve visiting strangers under the
supervision of an elder considered adept at treating guests diligently

66 Hom. 72.4 in Mt. (PG 58.672): pokk paq aqto?r Qstgr7 di ja eqjoka pokk
t/r !qet/r.
67 Hom. 72.3 in Mt. (PG 58.671): scwusir ; l cmoito7 !kk B pqtg eqtana. j#m
cq tir lijqr, b lcar oqw bq toOto, !kk ja 1jemou pkim jatadesteqom
2autm eWmai memlije, ja tat, cmetai lefym.
68 Athanasius of Sinai, Paterika 29, ed. F. Nau, Le texte grec des r cit du moine
Anastase sur les saints p res du Sina , Oriens Christianus 2 (1902), 77: eQr t
lesom do 1t_m diajomam, refering to a two-year period of service. Duration of
novitiate service differed from monastery to monastery: John of Ephesus consid-
ered three months of probationary service at a monastery in Amida to be exem-
plary: v.SS.Or. 20 (PO 17.280).
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 65

and humanely. Cassian notes that providing such hospitality was consid-
ered basic training in the foundational virtues of humility and patience.69
Eventually it was hoped that servers would learn to greet visiting monks
and seculars alike with proper care and discernment, acknowledging
themselves to be no more than earth and ash(Jb 42:6).70 In any case,
only if performed without complaint would novices be allowed to
join the rest of the community, advancing thereafter in a series of minis-
trations, all called diakoniai, now mostly directed towards fellow monks.
These ranged from the basic hebdomon (weekly) services at refectory
tables and latrines, to more refined year-long appointments as gardener,
baker, gatekeeper, sick warden, and steward.71 According to the fifth-cen-
tury Rules of Marutha, the last three services should be reserved for those
whose zeal showed that they had their brothers needs resting on their
hearts. They were to be appointed by the abbot so as to take care of
the monastery, each one in his place.72 As for the abbot, tradition speci-
fies that he must assess merit only upon good deeds done, showing no
preference to those who were free-born over those who had formerly
been slaves; moreover, he would ideally participate in the various minis-
trations himself, lest the server of all be served.73
Although no source describes any single system in full detail, enough
survives to indicate that performing unfeigned diakonia to all was con-
sidered essential to life in early Byzantine monasteries, especially as a

69 John Cassian, Inst. 4.7, ed. J.-C. Guy, Jean Cassien: Institutions C nobitiques
(Paris, 1965), 130: Cumque ibidem integro anno deserviens absque ulla querella
suum circa peregrinos exhibuerit famulatum, inbutus per haec prima institutione hu-
militatis ac patientiae atque in ea longa exercitatione praecognitus, admiscendus ex
hoc congregationi fratrum. Cf. v.Pach. graec. prim. 28 and Bas., De renuntiatione
saeculi 9 (PG 31.645b). For diakonia and related terms in Cassian and in monas-
ticism generally, see Sternberg, Der vermeintliche Ursprung; P. E. Kahle, Balai-
zah: Coptic Texts from Deir el-Balaizah in Upper Egypt, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1954),
30 40; and B.R. Guevin, The Language of Service in the RM and the RB:
A Comparative Study, Revue Benedictine 108 (1998), 25 43.
70 Bars., ep. 360, ed. F. Neyt and P. de Angelis-Noah, Barsanuphe et Jean de Gaza:
Correspondence. Vol II (aux C nobites) (Paris, 2000), 382 84.
71 This list follows the order of diakoniai presented in Cyril Scyth., v.Cyriaci 7 and
v.Jo. Hes. 6 7. Cf. v.Pach. boh. 42 and v.Theodorae, ed. K. Wessely, Jahreberichte
des Staatsgymnasiums im 17. Bezirke (Hamals) 13 (1887), 29.
72 Rules of Marutha, can. 49; ed and trans. A. Vbus, Syriac and Arabic Documents
regarding Legislation Relative to Syrian Asceticism (Stockholm, 1960), 129 30.
73 reg. mag. 2.16 20, ed. A. de Vog , La r gle de ma tre, vol. 1 (Paris, 1964), 354;
v.Pach. boh. 61, trans. A. Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia, vol. 1 (Kalamazoo,
Mich., 1980), 81. Cf. Ant. Choz., v.Georg. Choz. 2.19.
66 Daniel Caner

means of instilling the requisite humility in novices. What must be em-

phasized is that the acquisition of such humility, at least in its initial
stages, was imagined in terms of social humiliation, and monastic diako-
nia as an edifying form of self-degradation.74 When John of Ephesus
contemporary, Emperor Justin II, decided to punish female heretics of
high birth in Constantinople, he sent them to perform the most menial
laborsserving tables, washing dishes, cleaning latrines, local
Not surprisingly, we hear of resistance among novices. Pachomius is
said to have set the tables, tended the gate and cared for the sick at his
monastery initially all by himself, since his novices had not yet attained
to such a disposition as to serve each other.76 The humiliating nature of
such service was compounded by the fact that novices would sometimes
be required to take orders from monks who, outside the monastery, might
have been considered their social inferiors. Augustine of Hippo (354
430) actually maintained that it would not be decent for monks of
wealthy origins (ex divite) to assume the same labors as monks of poorer
origins (ex paupertate); they should be given administrative duties in-
stead.77 But no such arrangement is advocated in early Byzantine tradi-
tion. One of the edifying tales collected by John Moschus (d. c.619/
634) tells of an adult novice who, upon joining a monastery near Jerusa-
lem, gave it a substantial gift of gold. Though zealous at first, he soon
grew weary of the diakonia assigned to him, grumbling that he had al-
ready contributed enough to the monastery upon entry. This offended
the other monks, especially those from poorer backgrounds. And so
the abbot reprimanded him:

74 Cassian concludes his chapter on monastic initiation by describing a well-born

novice who learned Christs humility by performing work without caring
about its indignity or his splendor of birth (Inst 4.29: nec considerans indignita-
tem rei nataliumque splendorem, ed. Guy, p. 164) and an elder who trained in hu-
mility by performing work in a monastery that was considered both disagreeable
and degrading (4.30: aspera vel indigna atque ab omnibus ducebantur horror ed.
Guy, p. 166).
75 Jo.Eph., h.e. III.2.12 13, trans. R.Payne Smith, 109 111.
76 v.Pach. graec. prim. 24; trans. Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia, 312.
77 Aug., De op. mon. 25.33. ed. J. Zycha, S. Aureli Augustini De fide, et symbolo,
etc.(Vienna, 1900), 580. See D. Caner, Wandering Begging Monks: Spiritual Au-
thority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los An-
geles, 2002), 17, 201 202.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 67

I will not break the rule of the community or offend the brothers or anger
God for the sake of your coins. As for diakonia, I took you in to be as one
who does it just as the other brothers do, and as I did in my youth and still
do now as far as I can Strive with your brothers in every diakonia assigned
to you, performing them without shame for Christs sake, remembering the
Lords words: The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve (Mk
The novice did as he was told, and thus acquired great humility and obe-
dience towards all.78
As Cassian explains regarding other aspects of Egyptian monastic in-
itiation, one purpose of making all perform such services was to ensure
that none would blush to be on equal level with the poor, meaning
the monastic brotherhood, with whom Christ would not blush to be in-
cluded or call himself a brother.79 There was always a danger that monks
would bring to their monasteries the social antipathies that prevailed out-
side. Shenoute of Atripe, abbot of the White Monastery in Egypt (385
465), addressed this problem by threatening to expel those who, out of
pride, reviled others with names like dumb slave or good-for-nothing
slave.80 It was chiefly through the testy, humbling, and often humiliating
interactions between server and served that monks were challenged, on a
daily basis, to identify and treat each other differently. Dorotheus of Gaza
in the sixth century urged his monastic readers to perform every diakonia
with love and humility, deferring to one another, honoring one another,
and consoling one another.81 Thus monastic diakonia gave the opportu-
nity for monks to exericise charity towards each other. But expectations
went beyond that: monks were also instructed to bow down before visit-

78 Jo. Mosch., Nissen additions no.13, ed. Th. Nissen, Unbekannte Erz hlung aus
dem Pratum spirtuale, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 38 (1938), 371: 1jtsato
leckgm tapemysim ja rpajom pqr pmtar. Cf. Ant. Choz., v.Georg. Choz.
79 Cassian, Inst. 4.5, ed. Guy, p.128: nec erubescat pauperibus id est corpori fraterni-
tatis aequari, quibus connumerari Christus et quorum se fratrum non erubuit nun-
80 Shenoute of Atripe, de vita monachorum 1, ed. I. Leipoldt, Sinuthi Archimandri-
tae vita et opera IV (Louvain 1954), 28. For context see R. Krawiec, Shenoute and
the Women of the White Monastery: Egyptian Monasticism in Late Antiquity (Ox-
ford, 2002), 20 29.
81 Dorotheus of Gaza, Disc. 4.60; ed. L. Regnault and J. de Pr ville, Doroth e de
Gaza: Oeuvres spirituales (Paris, 1963), 248: poi/sai let !cpgr 2jstgm diajo-
mam rl_m, let tapeimovqosmgr rpojkimlemoi !kkkoir, til_mter, paqaja-
koOmter. The sixth-century Rule of the Master identifies infirmary service (see
below) as an opportuntiy to display brotherly love (caritas): reg mag. 70.
68 Daniel Caner

ing monks in recognition that these were, in fact, God,82 told to per-
form their services with such zeal as if serving the Lord himself ,83
and taught that ingratitude towards ones fellow servers was tantamount
to ingratitude towards Christ.84 Diakonia, in other words, challenged
a monk to perceive Christ in other members of his community. Service
in the sick ward seems to have posed the greatest challenge. Early Byzan-
tine monasteries may have been innovative in their effort to destigmatize
the sick,85 but this required monastic attendants to adopt a novel out-
look themselves. The biographer of Symeon Stylites the Younger has
his saint urge his disciples not to abhore or be ashamed to touch a
monk whose illness made him stink; instead, they were to minister (di-
akonson) to him as a slave to his own master.86 Dositheus, a novice in
sixth-century Gaza, is said to have occasionally lost patience with those he
tended in his monasterys infirmary. This prompted stern reprimands
from his mentor: Arent you ashamed to speak harshly towards your
brother? Dont you know that he is Christ, and that you are vexing
As such remarks demonstrate, diakonia was crucial to the process of
socialization in early Byzantine monasteries, training initiates to both de-
scend to the humility of Christ and to see Christ in their fellow monks.
This served, in turn, as the basis for mutual affection among monks of
different social backgrounds. Of course, not all attained to the same de-
gree of humility, patience, or charity. Hence the most sensitive diakoniai
were reserved for those who possessed the necessary qualities: the Rules of
Marutha specify that those in charge of the monastery gate shall be long-
suffering and shall endure also those who revile him; he shall despise no
one, neither rich nor poor and give honor to all, as it is proper.88 Yet

82 Apothegmata patrum, Greek series alph., Apollo 9 (PG 65.136B). Cf. Evagrius
Ponticus, Eulogius 24.
83 Bas., reg. fus. 34 (PG 31.1001A): r oqj !mhqpoir !kk aqt` t` Juq\.
84 Shenoute, de vita monachorum 1, Latin trans. Leipoldt, p. 25.
85 See A.T. Crislip, From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the
Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor, 2005), 118 20.
86 v. Sym.Styl. Iun. 27, ed. Paul van den Ven, p.28.139 41.
87 v.Dosithei 6, ed. L. Regnault and J. de Pr ville, Doroth e de Gaza: Oeuvres spiri-
tuelles (Paris, 1963), 130 32. Cf. Bas., de renuntione saeculi 9 (PG 31.645A).
88 Rules of Marutha, 51.3 4; ed. and trans. Vbus, 132. The apophthegmata pa-
trum are divided on relative merits of monks who minister to the sick generally,
and those who eiither minister to elder monks or dedicate themselves to asceti-
cism and prayer; Verb. sen. 14.19 exalts the latter, but 17.18 remarks that even if
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 69

ideally, what was achieved by some could be achieved by all. As John of

Ephesus said of the monks of a monastery in sixth-century Amida, they
did not in the case of any one of their brothers who came to them hold
him to be merely a man of flesh, but he appeared in their eyesby means
of his contemptible, poor bodyas God who became flesh, and so they
were eager to serve, refresh, wash, and honor him as if he were Christ.89

Monasticism and the Social Aesthetic

of Sixth-Century Byzantium

In a landmark study of church and monastic economies in Byzantine

Egypt, Roger R mondon concluded that, despite hagiographical repre-
sentations of their defiance to powerful laymen, monks and monasteries
remained ever dependent on wealthy landowners for their prosperity, and
so ever remained prisoners of the established order.90 Be that as it may,
one reason monasticism never lost its prestige in early Byzantium was its
effort to preserve its ideals despite its dependence upon that order. In-
deed, instead of seeking to change the established order, monks became
viewed, at least by the sixth century, as its ideal facilitators, qualified
by their liminal status and training as the poor in spirit to bridge the
gap between societys rich and ordinary poor, while at the same time help-
ing to keep both groups separate from each other. The pillars, for exam-
ple, of both Symeon Stylites the Elder and Symeon Stylites the Younger
served as places in Syria where wealthy Christians could deposit gifts for
poor people to take away, without either group having to mix or inter-
act.91 At the same time landowners in Egypt were using monasteries on
their estates as outlets for dispensing bread to dependent villagers,
while Abba Theodosius in Palestine provided guesthouses for all, while
keeping them segregated according to status.92 In these different ways
such a monk should hang himself by the nostrils, he still could not be equal to
one who ministers to the sick (PL 73.976B). Cf. Palladius, h. Laus. 14.1 5.
89 Jo. Eph., Life of a Poor Stranger, v.SS.Or. 17 (PO 17.250), slightly adapted.
90 R. R mondon, L glise dans la societ gyptienne l poque byzantine, Chron-
ique dEgypte 47 (1972), 254 77, at 275.
91 v.Sym. Styl. Sen. 57 58; v.Sym. Styl. Iun. 123, 163. Cf. v.Teclae 28 and Harvey,
The Holy and the Poor, 55. Chrysostom presents monks as ideal mediators be-
tween rich and poor in comp. regis et monachi 3 (PG 47.390).
92 J. Gascou, Monasteries, Economic Activities of , in A.S. Atiya, ed., The Coptic
Encyclopedia, vol.5 (New York, 1991), 1641 42. Cf. v.Pach. graec. prim. 28;
trans. Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia, 315.
70 Daniel Caner

monks and monasteries fulfilled obligations of charity while buffering

one major segment of sixth-century society from the other.
To contemporary observers, the monastic policies described above
would have no doubt seemed reassuring because they conformed to,
and so ultimately confirmed, ingrained notions of eutaxia. What enabled
early Byzantine monasticism to occasionally transcend that dominant aes-
thetic was its insistence that monasteries provide direct access to all, re-
gardless of their status. That meant, first of all, direct access to Gods ma-
terial blessings: monasteries were supposed to share whatever surplus they
received from God through their benefactors, so that equality in that
regard might be enjoyed by all.93 But it also meant access to help, or at
least a sympathetic hearing. Given the role and size of the early Byzantine
bureaucracy, it is not surprising to find sixth- and seventh-century stories
based upon the difficulty of gaining access to secular officials to hear ones
case. More surprising are indications that church officials had become
similarily remote. The early seventh-century Life of John the Almsgiver,
for example, describes how John, Bishop of Alexandria, decided to
hold open hearings in front of his church twice each week that were
free of staff interference, just so that he might be more accessible to
the poor. Yet this episcopal saint otherwise moved about with a large ret-
inue, and when it came to almsgiving, is repeatedly described as bestow-
ing coins through subordinate diadotes (alm-distributers) who followed
him through the streets.94 Only saintly abbots, it seems, were expected to
behave differently. True, the stories that illustrate this point actually chas-
tise their subjects for not being promptly available to the poor, or for re-
ceiving only the rich.95 Those stories, however, reveal the ideal: monaster-

93 See Caner, Miraculous Economy, 348 50. This is how I interpret the word
equality put in the mouth of the Coptic Abbot Matthew the Poor: The
Lord counts on you to be good stewards, so that you might give to the poor
and beggars, and so that absolute equality may be established among all human-
ity, cited in R mondon, L glise dans la soci t gyptienne, 255. The word
isots in Thdr. Petr., v.Theod. 34.14 (cited above, n.38) may also refer to access
to material goods (certainly social equality is not implied). For a Roman antece-
dent to this early Byzantine idea of equality as access for all despite unequal
allocations, see J. DArms, The Roman Convivium and the Idea of Equality,
in O. Murray, ed., Sympotica: A Symposium on the Symposium (New York, 1990),
306 30.
94 Leont. N., (ed. Geltner) v.Jo. Eleem. 5 (church court); 2,7,9, 27, 37 (use of dia-
dotes). Restricted access to imperial court: Cyril Scyth., v. Sab. 51; Anastasius of
Sinai, pat. 36.
95 v. Alexandri Acoemeti 37; Ant. Choz., v.Georgi Choz. 6.25; v.Sym. Styl. jun. 27.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 71

ies were supposed to be permeable to everyone, regardless of statuspla-

ces where all might find immediate attention or succor.
But most fundamentally, monks were supposed to honor all who
sought such attention or succor. This meant being able to see beneath
and beyond all outer appearances. It is startling to find Theodore of
Petra describing the poor in his sixth-century Life of Theodore as those
called the poor, but of the same kind in nature as ourselves, for whom
He Who became poor for our sake took special care.96 Besides remind-
ing readers that the poor shared their nature, it also indicates the chal-
lenge of promoting in this period empathy for a social entity (the
poor) that clearly was regarded as somewhat alien. Such perceptions
had to change if monastic ideals were to be put into practice. As Symeon
Stylites the Youngers biographer put it, monks were not to prefer the
demon dressed deceitfully in golden raiment, and, through worldly
misperception, insult Christ when he comes round in a poor persons
poverty.97 Rather, they were to seek God by seeing every human as
If that transcendent sense of social perception ever took hold in sixth-
century Byzantium, it was due in no small part to the institutionalization
of diakonia in early Byzantine monasteries. A monasterys gate was re-
garded as the gate of God. Beyond it, different rules were supposed
to apply, in support of a true aristocracy based on good works and
the monastic understanding that all are Gods creatures, and none is
more eminent than the other, except for him who does Gods will.
Only vainglory, Barsanuphius explained, made humans see things differ-
ently.99 Monastic diakonia helped inculcate the humility necessary to ac-

96 Thdr. Pet., v.Theod., ed. Usener, 35.3 4: ptyw_m d totym amolafolmym,

bloeid_m d t0 vsei emtym Bl?m, m 1poie?to lkista pqmoiam b toO di Blr
97 v. Sym. Styl. jun. 27, ed. van den Ven, p.24: l pqotils,r tm 1m wqus\ ja Rla-
tisl` let dkou jejqullmom daloma l t0 joslij0 vamtas 1mubqs,r tm
1m t0 pem toO pmgtor peqiewlemom Wqistm.
98 Greek text above, n.27. The Life of Auxentius describes a festival at Hypatius
monastery outside Constantinople where the monastery became like Abrahams
tent, for everyone was received, whether they were people of rank or not (eVte
!nour eVte !manour), as if they were angels: v.Auxentii 36 (PG 114.1405).
99 Bars., ep. 764, ed. Neyt-de Angelis Noah, vol.3.208: pmter cq pkslata heoO
1slem, ja oqder toO %kkou kalpqteqor eQ l b poi_m t hkgla toO heoO, !kk
jemodona po?ei paq to?r !mhqpoir diavoqm. For gate of God, see Bars.
ep. 360, ed. Neyt-de Angelis-Noah, vol.2.382. Pachomian tradition describes a
vision in which angels of different rank are sent to receive dying men according
72 Daniel Caner

knowledge and appreciate the lowliness one shared with ones fellow
human beings.100 In this light we might understand the particular empha-
sis placed on washing peoples feet or bodies in contemporary descrip-
tions of diakonia practices, monastic or otherwise. As often noted, this
feature of ancient hospitality (and, apparently, sick care) was one that
had been traditionally left to female slaves. It was therefore regarded as
a gesture of humility when performed by free males. But it was also a ges-
ture that exposed the common nature shared between washer and washed.
As expressed in a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom, it might be
shameful for an aristocrat to wash a strangers feet, but it would be all
the more shameful if he refused: for even if you think him exceedingly
eminent and illustrious, he partakes of the same nature as the one being
washed, and is the fellow slave of the one being tended, and of the same
Although the word diakonia is not used in the Gospel of John to de-
scribe Jesus washing of his disciples feet (Jn 13:5 17), that episode be-
came viewed and imitated in early Byzantium as a symbol of Christs
lowly diakonia for humanity.102 From a modern perspective, such diako-
nia might be considered a means of expressing or attaining empathy for
people distinctly different from oneself. In this period, however, it was
regarded above all as a religious act that not only revealed the lowliness

to the virtues and merit of the works accomplished by them in lifetime This
procedure is contrasted with that of earthly authorities, who act with partiality,
impressed by riches and empty glory, and treat those who are despised or poor
according to their condition of scorn and poverty: v.Pach. boh. 82; trans. Veil-
leux, Pachomian Koinonia, 105.
100 For the challenge of promoting the novel social ideal of humility in early monas-
tic communities, see D. Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and
the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism (New York and Oxford,
1992), 236 60, and G. Gould, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community (Ox-
ford, 1993), 77 78, 118.
101 Ps.-Chrys., Ecloga de humilitate animi, hom 7 (PG 63.617): eQ cq eqcemr tir eUg
ja peqicamr ja kalpqr ja 1psglor, aqtr toO nmou mxei tor pdar ; ja
p_r oqj aQswqm ; AQswqm lm owm t l mpteim lkkm 1sti. J#m cq luqijir
aqtoO tm eqcmeiam 1pq,r ja tm peqivmeiam ja tm kalpqtgta, t/r aqt/r
letwei t` miptolm\ vseyr, ja sumdoukr 1sti toO heqaleuolmou ja blti-
102 Greg. Naz., In laud. Basil. 35 (PG 36.582D); See Hamman, Vie liturgique et vie
social, 74 76; Th. Sch fer, Die Fusswaschung im monastischen Brauchtum und in
der lateinishcn Liturgie: Liturgie: Liturgiegeschichtliche Untersuchung (Beuron in
Hohenzollern, 1956), 18 27.
Charitable Ministrations (Diakoniai), Monasticism, and the Social Aesthetic 73

of the Savior within the washer,103 but also put him in direct contact
with the lowliness of another human being: or as John of Ephesus put
it, in contact with God made visible by means of a contemptible,
poor body.104 Thus it helped one perceive in oneself and others the hon-
orable lowliness intrinsic to all humanity. That, I conclude, was one way
to see and honor Christ, however temporarily, in sixth-century Byzan-

103 Canons of Athanasius, no.66; ed. and trans. W. Riedel and W.E. Crum, The
Canons of Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, ca 293 373 (London, 1904), 43.
104 Jo. Eph., Life of a Poor Stranger, v.SS.Or. 17 (PO 17.250): bir pagr shita w-
meskana. Cf. id., Life of Sergius, v.SS.Or 5 (17.95).
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues
in Late Antiquity
Claudia Rapp

We are not children of misanthropy but of the philanthropy of God. If

the one who was rich became poor for our sakes, we too must imitate his
sublime poverty; for we were made by God for works of philanthropy.1
This is the generous response of the presiding archbishop at the Council
in Constantinople in 448 to the news that the monastic leader Eutychius,
who was suspected of heresy, was too unwell to attend the meeting. This
statement establishes an intimate link between Gods philanthropy made
manifest in the incarnation of Christ and the human obligation to imitate
that philanthropy as a response. This obligation extends to all Christians,
of course, and the potential of Christian charity to erasedetractors
would say: threatensocial hierarchies has been much discussed ever
since Ananias and Sapphira were said in the Acts of the Apostles to
have suffered divine retribution for their reluctance to share all their be-
longings with the community (Acts 5:1 11).2
This study moves in the opposite direction. Rather than looking at
the elimination of social distinctions that Christian charity might accom-
plish, it is assumed that the existing social hierarchies of the Later Roman
Empire spilled over into the church and its organizational structure. This
opens up interesting questions regarding the charitable role of emperors
and bishops, the highest representatives of church and state, respectively:
is the imitation of the philanthropy of God expected in a special way and
in greater measure by these men in leadership positions? If so, how is this
explained and justified? And does it make a difference whether these lead-
ership positions are within the church or within the empire? In order to

1 A partial reading of the Acts of 448 was held at Chalcedon, Session 1. 415, ed. E.
Schwartz, Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum II/1: Concilium Universale Chalcedo-
nense (Berlin and Leipzig, 1933), p. 130, line 23 26, trans. R. Price, M. Gaddis,
The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, 2 vols., Translated Texts for Historians 45
(Liverpool, 2005), p. 207.
2 The most comprehensive treatment for our period is P. R. L. Brown, Poverty and
Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover, NH, 2002).
76 Claudia Rapp

explore this topic, I will examine the normative texts on the episcopate
and on the imperial role and compare them to some narrative descrip-
tions of bishops and emperors.3 The timeframe for this brief study is
the fourth to seventh century, the crucial period during which the Chris-
tian church morphed from persecuted minority into a social and political
force. Its geographical focus is on the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman
Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The structure, administration and activities of Christian communities
became the subject of written guidelines in the course of the first to fifth
centuries. The Church Orders of the first Christian centuries, however,
are less concerned with delineating the qualifications for the ideal bishop
than they are with prescribing rituals and establishing rules for the admis-
sion to the community through baptism. The first time that the condi-
tions for appointment to the clergy are spelled out is in the last quarter
of the fourth century, in the Apostolic Constitutions which were compiled,
probably in Antioch, on the basis of earlier materials. Out of the five
books of the Apostolic Constitutions, Books I and II show the closest par-
allels with the Didaskalia, a work compiled in Greek in Syria in the mid-
third century, which survives only in Syriac and in Latin. In other words,
the Apostolic Constitutions represent the condensation of a long tradition
and thus may reflect earlier usages and interpretations. After addressing
concerns of the laity in Book I in 10 precepts, Book II of the Apostolic
Constitutions contains no fewer than 63 precepts regarding bishops, pres-
byters and deacons. The character of the ideal bishop is explained early
on. He must be gentle, merciful (eleemon), and a peace maker.4 Further
down in the text, more adjectives are used: compassionate (eusplagchnos),

3 A similar approach in comparing theory and practice of imperial philanthropy is

taken by D. Stathakopoulos, Philoptochos basileus: Kaiserliche Armenf rsorge
zwischen Rhetorik und Realit t in Byzanz, Modi der Inklusion/Exklusion von
Fremden und Armen: Praktiken und Repr sentationen im Wandel von Herrschaft
und Gesellschaft, ed. L. Raphael, G. Gestrich, H. Uerlings, Inklusion/Exklusion.
Studien zu Fremdheit und Armut von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, 5 (Frankfurt
a. M., 2008). I am grateful to Dionysios Stathakopoulos for sharing a pre-pub-
lication version of his work with me. For bishops, see R. Finn, Almsgiving in the
Later Roman Empire: Christian Promotion and Practice (313 450) (Oxford,
2006), chapter 2: Episcopal Almsgiving.
4 Apostolic Constitutions, ed. M. Metzger, 3 vols., SCh 320, 329, 336 (Paris, 1985
87), II 1. 5 7; cf. II 24. 7.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 77

not vulgar, full of brotherly love.5 Additionally, he is expected to be a gen-

erous giver, a lover of widows and of strangers, and no hater of the poor.6
Eleemon is a recurrent word that is loaded with meaning. It is usually
translated as merciful or charitable. But what does it actually refer to?
Charitable actions, such as financial donations, gifts, and alms, which one
might make as a permanent or recurring commitment? Or some kind of
sentiment or emotion in the sense of mercy, compassion (close to the
sense of eusplagchnia, literally being moved in ones guts) which may or
may not result in an act of charity, and in any case is punctual and fleet-
ing? In a seminal study, Wolfgang Schadewald has shown that in ancient
Greek literature, eleos was a sentiment of being touched, even moved to
tears by the misfortune of another.7 Aristotle identified three elements
that constitute eleos: first, a terrible and painful evil or misfortune that
has befallen another person; second, the knowledge that one might po-
tentially experience the same, and third, that the other is innocent in
his suffering.8 The Christian interpretation of eleos as a sentiment of fel-
low-suffering rather than being touched as an observer, Schadewaldt
shows, is a gradual development that becomes fully evident only in the
fourth century CE.9
In the passages in the Apostolic Constitutions that refer to bishops,
there is a striking preponderance for the word eleos and its derivatives.
Significantly, it does not appear most frequently in the context of charity
as concrete assistance to those in need, but rather in the context of the
bishops pastoral care for sinners. He is supposed to show eleos with sin-
ners,10 weeping with those who weep, imitating Christs self-abasement
for the sake of those who have transgressed. Eleos here is clearly an emo-
tional response before it can become an action; and it is not directed at

5 Op. cit., II 3. 3. Compare the characterization of the ideal presbyter (a term

that in the early second century CE may still designate any leader of a Christian
community) in the Epistle of Polycarp 6 (The Apostolic Fathers, ed. and trans. J. B.
Lightfoot [London, 1893]), p. 170, trans. p. 179: they should be compassionate
[eusplagchnoi], merciful towards all men [eleemones], turning back the sheep that
are gone astray [i.e. the sinners in the community].
6 Op. cit., II 4. 1; II 6. 1.
7 W. Schadewaldt, Furcht und Mitleid?, Hermes 83 (1955), 129 171.
8 Op. cit., p. 140 f.
9 The neologism formed by Latin apologists, compassio, only gradually gains cur-
rency since the late second century. This places eleos in the vicinity of sympatheia,
suffering along with someone and it is in the same vein that the Latin of the
Didascalia renders eleemon with misericors.
10 Apost. Const. II 15. 3.
78 Claudia Rapp

the poor, but at community members in spiritual need. According to the

advice of the Apostolic Constitutions, then, the ideal bishop should first
and foremost have compassion with sinners in order to reconcile them
with God. As his public role within his city expanded in the course of
the fourth to sixth centuries, the bishops care for sinners was increasingly
eclipsed by the expansion of his administrative responsibilities, including
the care of the poor.11
How does this ideal of episcopal charity translate into reality? Here it
is useful to look at saints Lives that celebrate bishops, rather than ascetics.
This new variant of hagiography gained popularity in the Latin- and
Greek-speaking areas of the Later Roman Empire in the fifth century,
with the composition of the Lives of Epiphanius of Salamis, Martin of
Tours, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo and Porphyry of Gaza.
The Life of Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (Constantia), who lived
from ca. 310 to 403, was probably composed some time between 450
and 475 either on Cyprus or, more likely, in Palestine. Epiphanius
began his life as the son of a Jewish farmer near Eleutheropolis (Bet Guv-
rin), then received an education in the house of the rabbi Tryphon, before
his conversion and entry into a monastery. At that moment, he gave up
all his possessions to the poor (ch. 12).12 His election to the most im-
portant episcopal see in Cyprus in 367 is the result of divine providence,
helped along by his qualifications as a monk and the advantage of being
an outsider in this large and faction-ridden city. Epiphanius first deed as
a bishop was the ransoming of a Roman merchant from imprisonment by
one of the prominent local pagans. This did not endear him to the local
lite, nor to his church finance committee, whose funds he simply appro-
priated for this purpose (ch. 63). Epiphanius also intervened when it be-
came known that Bishop John of Jerusalem was neglecting his care of the
poor. He traveled to Jerusalem and then tricked John into lending him all
his finest table silver, only to sell it and then distribute the proceeds to the
poor (ch. 77 79). Back in Cyprus, during a time of famine, he miracu-
lously came upon a sum of money which he then used to purchase grain
for the needy (ch. 93). On a visit to Constantinople, he resisted imperial

11 On the evolution of the role of the bishop, see C. Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late
Antiquity. The Nature of Christian Leadership in a Time of Transition (Berkeley
etc., 2005). For Late Antique models of pastoral care, see G. Demacopoulos,
Five Models of Spiritual Direction in the Early Church (Notre Dame, Ind., 2007).
12 The only print version of the Vita currently available is in PG 41, col. 23 113.
The chapter numbers employed here refer to the forthcoming edition of the text,
based on my D. Phil. Dissertation, Oxford, 1991.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 79

grandstanding and secured the possession of a vineyard for the wife of an

exiled officer (ch. 109 ff ). These five interventions are the sum total of
Epiphanius charitable actions; there is no mention of his pastoral care
for his community,13 let alone his compassion for others. A much larger
part of Vita is taken up by miracles of exorcism, healing and resurrection,
represented with a total of 18 stories. Epiphanius charity has the impor-
tant side-effect of upsetting and alienating all the important political
forces of his day: elite pagans, church administrators, a patriarch and
even the emperor himself. Charity in this way becomes a militant virtue
that challenges the established status quo, both outside and inside the
The second text of episcopal hagiography that deserves scrutiny is the
Life of Porphyry of Gaza, who died in 420. Although this Vita is of un-
certain date (a fifth-century date seems plausible) and dubious authentic-
ity, it can still throw some light on the conduct of a Late Antique bish-
op.14 Miracles that help restore the physical well-being of others are rel-
atively scarce, a total of 7, and Porphyrys charitable actions are even
fewer. Like Epiphanius, he gave away his property when he entered the
monastic life.15 Later, when Porphyry had achieved the greatest accom-
plishment of his episcopate, the construction of a large basilica in Gaza
on the foundations of an ancient temple of Zeus that had been razed
to the ground, he gave a financial donation to each and every visitor
who had come to attend the inaugural festivities.16 These two episodes
of active charity are counterbalanced by the hagiographers frequent praise
of Porphyrys mercy and compassion. A character profile at the beginning
of the Vita describes him as a man without reproach, most gentle, mer-
ciful (eleemon) He loved the poor, was full of fellow-suffering (sympa-
thetikos), always ready to shed tears.17 Two further stories bear this out.

13 The possible exception being his reprimand of a deacon who had violated the
rule of abstaining from sexual intercourse prior to serving at the altar the follow-
ing day (ch. 68).
14 For a recent discussion of this Vita, mainly in the context of pagan-Christian
conflict, see F. Trombley, Hellenic Religion and Christianization, c. 370 529, 2
vols. (Leiden, 1993).
15 Life of Porphry of Gaza, ed. H. Gr goire, M.-A. Kugener (Paris, 1930), ch. 9,
p. 8 9.
16 Op. cit., ch. 94, p. 72 73.
17 Op. cit., ch. 8, p. 8, l. 10 14. The English translations are a preliminary version
of my forthcoming translation and commentary of this text in Translated Texts for
Historians, which will be accompanied by a translation of the Georgian version
and Scriptural commentary by Jeff Childers.
80 Claudia Rapp

Once, in church, he overheard the fervent prayer of a Christian house-

hold servant on behalf of her pagan mistress who was suffering to the
point of death in protracted labor. When the holy man heard the wom-
ans reason, he too began to cry. For he was compassionate (eusplagchnos)
to an extreme.18 He also arranged for the burial of the Manichaean
preacher Julia who had died from sudden apoplexy in the midst of a dis-
putation with the good bishop. He did so out of mercy for human na-
ture. For he was compassionate (eusplagchnos) to an extreme.19 In his
compassion and his ability to shed tears with others, Porphyry enacts pre-
cisely those ideal qualities that the Apostolic Constitutions outlined as es-
pecially befitting a bishop. Epiphanius, by contrast, represents the
model of a bishop that would become typical in subsequent centuries,
for whom the practice of charity is one of the many administrative obli-
gations of his office. In the fifth century, when their hagiographers were
active, Porphyrys compassion for sinners and Epiphanius active support
of the needy were both considered suitable qualities of the ideal bishop,
although they may not be present in the same person in equal measure.
The Apostolic Constitutions remind the bishops that, to the lay people
among you, you are prophets, civic leaders, monastic leaders, and emper-
ors (archontes, hegoumenoi and basileis).20 Just as the bishops have the
mimesis of Christ as their goal, they themselves must become models
of conduct for their flock. This mimesis, as we have seen, also extends
to the practice of certain virtues, such as compassion and mercy (eu-
splagchnia and eleemosyne).21 Thus, the larger context for what I would
like to call the episcopal theory of charity is that of piety and of Christian
morality. The central event that makes both the bishops compassion and
his charity a necessity is the philanthropy of Christ in his incarnation.
The imperial theory of charity provides a noteworthy contrast. It is
indebted to earlier theories of kingship, especially the Hellenistic concepts
of the ruler as savior (soter) or benefactor (euergetes) that took deep root in
Roman imperial ideology. In the inscriptions and papyri of the Hellenis-
tic period, the most prominent quality of a ruler is his sense of justice.
Benevolence and benefactions are also expected, but these stem less
from the sentiment of pity or mercy (eleos), but rather from the disposi-

18 Op. cit., ch. 29, p. 25, l. 10.

19 Op. cit., ch. 90, p. 70, l. 15 16.
20 Apost. Const. II 25.7.
21 Apost. Const. II 24. 7.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 81

tion of philanthropia. 22 The Latin translation of the Greek word philan-

thropia as humanitas further underlines this point. What makes the phi-
lanthropy of a ruler a necessity is the mere fact that he holds power and
needs to maintain it. Encapsulated in the popular slogan bread and cir-
cuses of the Roman Empire is the expectation that the emperor provide
food and entertainments for his subjects in order to prove his benevolence
and his ability to rule. The emperors public display of his piety (eusebeia,
philanthropia) serves the same function. Whether he takes part in the
translation of relics, leads religious processions, or distributes charity to
the needy, he inscribes his power on the urban fabric of the capital of
Constantinople and secures the continued acceptance and loyalty of his
citizens.23 In contrast to the potentially de-stabilizing effect of episcopal
charity in Late Antiquity, imperial charity is first and foremost intended
to strengthen the established social order.
The philanthropy, real or expected, of emperors had become prover-
bial by the Later Roman Empire, so much so that it became a synonym
for the emperor, especially in legal writing when, for example, it was our
philanthropy that issued decrees.24 Philanthropy could also be a short-
hand expression for concrete imperial benefactions or donations, such as
building projects. With the increasing influence of Christian thought,
philanthropy was considered a virtue especially befitting and indeed re-
quired of the emperor as part of his imitation of Gods care for human-
kind, as expressed especially in the Letter to Titus 3:4 But when the

22 W. Schubart, Das hellenistische Knigsideal nach Inschriften und Papyri, Ar-

chiv f r Papyrusforschung 12 (1936), 1 26. C. Spicq, La philanthropie hell n-
istique, vertu divine et royale, Studia theologica 12 (Lund, 1958, repr. Oslo
and Bergen, 1966), 169 191, however, seems to see a closer link between phi-
lanthropia and eleos.
23 S. Diefenbach, Frmmigkeit und Kaiserakzeptanz im fr hen Byzanz, Saeculum
47 (1996), 35 66.
24 S. Lorenz, De progressu notionis philanthropias, Diss. Leipzig 1914, esp. p. 42
54; H. I. Bell, Philanthropia in the Papyri of the Roman Period, Hommages
Joseph Bidez et Franz Cumont, Collection Latomus 2 (Brussels, s.a.), 31
37. S. Tromp de Ruiter, De vocis quae est philanthropia significatione et
usu, Mnemosyne 59 (1932), 271 306; G. Downey, Philanthropia in Religion
and Statecraft in the Fourth Century after Christ, Historia 4 (1955), 199 208;
H. Hunger, Philanthropia. Eine griechische Wortpr gung auf ihrem Wege von
Aischylos bis Theodoros Metochites, sterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaf-
ten, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Anzeiger 100/1 (1963), 1 20; id., Prooimion.
Elemente der byzantinischen Kaiseridee in den Arengen der Urkunden. Wiener By-
zantinistische Studien, 1 (Vienna, 1964), p. 143 153.
82 Claudia Rapp

goodness and loving kindness [philanthropia] of God our Savior ap-

peared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we
had done, but according to his mercy [eleos] through the water of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This notion of philanthropy as virtue
surpassing all others which enables humans to imitate God and is there-
fore particularly fitting for a ruler is not a Christian innovation, but has a
long tradition in theories of kingship that reaches back to the Hellenistic
period and beyond. In the late fourth century CE, the pagan orator The-
mistius relates an anecdote of the compassion of Lycurgus to his enemies
which leads him to conclude that the Spartan kings qualities as a ruler
were: his mildness (praotes), righteousness (dikaiosyne), and piety (euse-
beia)and the leader of these virtues is philanthropia, by which means
alone the emperor can become like god.25 Elsewhere, he declares: Phi-
lanthropy is a beautiful good in a private person, but for the emperor it is
a special adornment and more suitable than all other virtues. For all other
virtues must come together in philanthropy; otherwise, even if they are
present, they have no use.26
For abstract theories on the expectations of the ideal emperor in Late
Antiquity, we need to turn to two treatises of the sixth century, the Polit-
ical Dialogue attributed to Menas, and Agapetus Ekthesis. Imperial pan-
egyrics and other speeches held before emperors, especially those by the
fourth-century pagan orator Themistius, would also bear further investi-
gation, but I chose to focus here on texts that present themselves as being
of a more generalized, abstract nature and thus provide a closer parallel to
the Apostolic Constitutions.
The Political Dialogue was composed early in Justinians reign, in 532
or 533. It records a conversation between Menas, the former city prefect
of Constantinople, and a certain Thomas who was a referendarius in the
imperial bureaucracy. The Dialogue replicates ancient thoughts on the
ideal ruler with no explicit concessions to Christianity. It follows Stoic
philosophy in assuming a benevolent creator God in whose creation it
is the highest human goal to participate. Thus, Menas declares that the
perfect and blessed life of the homo politicus consists in the mimesis of
God by imitating Gods benefactions for mankind in creating a polis
that is just. The ruler will benefit and save his citizens in a variety of
ways, according to their needs, by providing them with understanding

25 Themistius, Or. 19, 226 d-227 a. Trans. L. J. Daly, Themistius Concept of

Philanthropia, Byzantion 45 (1975), 22 40, p. 28.
26 Themistius, Or. 11, 146 cd.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 83

(episteme), right doctrine (doxa), faith (pistis), habitual conformity to a

just life, fear of the laws, and by inspiring them to imitate his upright
life.27 In this theoretical edifice, there is no place for charity, mercy or
compassion. The focus is on the perfection of the person of the ruler
that invites and indeed compels others to imitate his example.
Agapetus, our second imperial theorist, was a deacon at the patriar-
chal church of Saint Sophia under Justinian. His Ekthesis (Capitula ad-
monitoria) is an early, Christian example of a Mirror of Princes that nev-
ertheless shows the influence of ancient theories of rulership. It enjoyed
great popularity in Byzantium and in the Slavic world, as well as in the
For Agapetus, there are four interconnected reasons why the emperor
should engage in charity: first, to make himself popular with his subjects
so that his position remains securea real concern in view of the devas-
tating Nika riot of 532 that almost cost Justinian his throne. If you want
to be honored by all, be a common benefactor to all. For nothing gener-
ates good will as much as the grace of benefactions given to the needy.29
Second, because the emperors elevated position requires an equal meas-
ure of generosity towards those in need. You should strive to eclipse all
through your deeds in the same measure as you surpass all in power. Be
aware that doing good deeds is demanded of you in proportion to the
greatness of your power.30 Third, as a kind of insurance policy so that
God will show mercy on him as recompense for the mercy extended
by the emperor to his subjects. You open your ear to those who are as-
sailed by poverty, so that you may find Gods ear opened.31 The instru-
mentality of imperial charity in amassing heavenly rewards is also ex-
pressed in the statement that the rulers love of the poor acts as the
most beautiful purple imperial garment that is not only impervious to de-

27 Dialogus, ed. C. M. Mazzucchi, Menae patricii cum Thoma referendario De scien-

tia politica dialogus (Milan, 2002), p. 188 191.
28 I. Sevcenko, Agapetus East and West. The Fate of a Byzantine Mirror of Prin-
ces, Revue des tudes sud-est europ ennes 16 (1978), 3 44; R. Frohne, Agapetus
Diaconus. Untersuchungen zu den Quellen und zur Wirkungsgeschichte des ersten
byzantinischen F rstenspiegels, Diss. T bingen, 1985.
29 Agapetus, Capitula admonitoria 19, ed. R. Riedinger, Agapetos Dioakonos. Der
F rstenspiegel f r Kaiser Iustinianos (Athens, 1995), p. 38.
30 Agapetus, Capitula admonitoria 53, ed. Riedinger, p. 62; cf. 45, p. 56; 51, p. 60.
31 Agapetus, Capitula admonitoria 8, ed. Riedinger, p. 30.
84 Claudia Rapp

struction, but also ensures his rule in the heavenly kingdom.32 Finally,
Agapetus echoes a sentiment expressed by Themistius and many others,
when he explains that the exercise of philanthropy renders a ruler similar
to God and is thus the most befitting to him.33
In these sixth-century theories of imperial charity, the thrust of the
mimetic move begins with the emperor whose task it is to elevate his sub-
jects with him in the imitation of God. Such uplifting action may then,
at least according to Agapetus, be recompensed by calling down Gods
mercy on the emperor. In their emphasis on the emperor as the initiator
of his mimesis theou (imitation of God), these two theorists of imperial
rule thus show their indebtedness to the ancient model of imperial phi-
lanthropy. This is a model marked by the absence of the incarnation of
Christ as the motivational starting point that is essential to the episcopal
theory of charity.
It is interesting to see how these different notions of charity are ap-
plied in concrete descriptions of emperors. For the sake of brevity, I
focus here on Eusebius Life of Constantine, a literary hybrid between bi-
ography of a statesman, historical narration, and panegyric.34 A search in
the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae shows that eleos and sympatheia and their
cognates are mentioned only three times each. Instead, Eusebius has a dis-
tinct predilection for the word philanthropia in all its forms, which ap-
pears no less than 26 times. In his use of philanthropia, Eusebius stitches
together ancient ideas of rulership and Christian notions of virtue.
There are two contexts in which the association of Constantine with
philanthropia is especially prominent. First, it is invoked several times in
the context of the conflict with his adversary Licinius in the 320 s, who is
painted as a senseless, irrational and vindictive brute in stark contrast to
Constantines measured equanimity and unwavering care (philanthropia)
for his subjects.35 Second, there are three generalized pronouncements on
the nature of Constantines rulership that resonate with both the imperial
and the episcopal models of charity. Interestingly, they all occur in Book
I, which may still show traces of the original purpose of the Life of Con-
stantine as an imperial panegyric. After comparing Constantineposi-

32 Agapetus, Capitula admonitoria 60, ed. Riedinger, p. 66; the emperors charity is
also compared to a safe fortress on a hill, Capitula admonitoria 58, ed. Riedinger,
p. 66.
33 Agapetus, Capitula admonitoria 40, ed. Riedinger, p. 52.
34 For a detailed discussion of this text, see the introduction to Eusebius, Life of
Constantine. Intr., transl., comm. Av. Cameron, S. G. Hall (Oxford, 1999).
35 Eusebius, Life of Constantine, I 54. 2; II 3. 1; II 11. 2.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 85

tively of coursewith King Cyrus of Persia and Alexander of Macedon,

Eusebius summarizes: By the magnanimity of his helpful actions he en-
slaved those who knew him, and ruled by humane laws, making his gov-
ernment agreeable and much prayed for by the governed. Then finally
the God he honouredcrowned him with the prizes of immortality,
and removed him from a mortal reign to that endless life which he has
reserved for holy souls.36 These ideas of the rulers philanthropy as orig-
inating in his elevated position, as an essential means for securing the sup-
port of his subjects, and as eventually recompensed with divine rewards
anticipate what Agapetus would two centuries later formulate in the ab-
Eusebius is particularly generous with his praise in describing Con-
stantines dealing with heretics and schismatics. The emperors reaction
to the Donatist schism in North Africa was that they ought to be pitied
(eleeisthai) rather than punished; [Constantine] was in no way harmed by
their lunatic folly, except in so far as he felt pain for them (to sympathein
autois) out of extreme kindness of heart (hyperbole philanthropias).37 This
is the kind of compassion with the sinner that the Apostolic Constitutions
singled out as befitting a bishop. Eusebius choice of words is more than
coincidence. He begins this particular chapter on Church disputes with
the declaration that Constantine acted like a universal bishop, koinos
episkopos. His emphasis on Constantines eleos with the fallen reinforces
his point. The theme continues further down in the text. Thus then
the Emperor, serving God the overseer (ephoron) of all with his every ac-
tion, took untiring care of his churches. God repaid him by putting the
barbarian nations beneath his feet, so that always and everywhere he
raised trophies over his foes, and [he repaid him by] making him a ter-
ror to foes and enemies, though he was not naturally such, but the gen-
tlest (hemerotaton), mildest (praotaton), and kindest man (philanthropota-
ton) there ever was.38 These adjectives gentlest, mildest, kindest reso-
nate with the characterization of the ideal bishop in the Apostolic Consti-
In the deft handling of Eusebius in the early fourth century, philan-
thropy and pity are a political virtues that are befitting an emperor who

36 Eusebius, Life of Constantine I 9. 1, trans. Cameron, p. 71.

37 Eusebius, Life of Constantine I 45. 3, trans. Cameron, p. 88.
38 Eusebius, Life of Constantine I 46. 1, trans. Cameron, p. 88. Constantines don-
ations to the pooranother parallel to bishopsare also mentioned in this gen-
eral context, I 43. 1.
86 Claudia Rapp

also acts as a bishopan important theme in the Life of Constantine. 39 In

his formulation of an ideal of rulership where secular and religious aspects
are inseparable, Eusebius was ahead of his time.40 It would take until the
sixth century that bishops assumed far-reaching responsibilities that par-
alleled those of provincial governors. Their advocacy of the poor was an
important element in securing this position of power within their com-
munities.41 Two and a half centuries after the Apostolic Constitutions
and 200 years after Constantine, the bishop had assimilated the public,
imperial connotations of charity as the foundation of power that serves
to stabilize urban society. The expanded role of the bishop-as-administra-
tor may be seen in the Life of John the Almsgiver, a member of the Cypriot
elite who joined in the conspiracy of Heraclius to seize the throne in
Constantinople and was appointed as the Chalcedonian patriarch of
Alexandria in 610. Johns claim to sanctity did not rest on miracles of
healing or resurrections; in fact, his first real miracle occurred posthu-
mously. Instead, his hagiographer, Leontius of Neapolis, tells story
after story of Johns abundant, sometimes even excessive, generosity to
the poor and needy, and the ways in which this brought him into conflict
with Nicetas, the governor of Egypt.42 Interestingly, Epiphanius tricking
of John of Jerusalem for the sake of charity is explicitly mentioned as im-
portant precedent for Johns actions.43 The hagiographers insistence that
Johns Christian charity was more pleasing in the eyes of God than Nice-
tas administrative efforts as governor, shows that compassion and weep-
ing with sinners was eventually eclipsed by the effective administration of
charity as the hallmark of a successful episcopate.

39 C. Rapp, Imperial Ideology in the Making: Eusebius of Caesarea on Constan-

tine as Bishop, Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 49 (1998), 685 695.
40 For the later, Byzantine trajectory, see G. Dagron, Emperor and Priest (Cam-
bridge, 2003, first published in French Empereur et prtre: Etude sur le c saropa-
pisme byzantin [Paris, 1996]).
41 Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire; J. Herrin, Ideals of
Charity, Realities of Welfare. The Philanthropic Activity of the Byzantine
Church, Church and People in Byzantium, ed. R. Morris, Society for the Promo-
tion of Byzantine Studies Twentieth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies,
Manchester 1986 (Birmingham, 1990), 151 164, p. 158.
42 On the relation between John and Nicetas, see C. Rapp, All in the Family: John
the Almsgiver, Nicetas and Heraclius, Nea Rhome. Rivista di ricerche bizantinis-
tiche 1 (2004=Studi in onore di Vera von Falkenhausen), 121 134.
43 Leontius of Neapolis, Life of John the Almsgiver 19, ed. A. J. Festugi re, L.
Ryd n, L ontios de N aopolis, Vie de Sym on le Fou, Vie de Jean de Chypre
(Paris, 1974), p. 367, l. 71 76.
Charity and Piety as Episcopal and Imperial Virtues in Late Antiquity 87

By the end of Late Antiquity, the episcopal and the imperial models
of charity had become fused. Charity becomes a means of exercising,
strengthening and securing episcopal power similar to the effect of impe-
rial munificence, while imperial charity, following Eusebius, is steeped
with Christian meaning. This goes to prove, once again, why the catego-
ries of church and state, religion and power, prove so resistant to dissec-
tion, analysis and interpretation in the newly Christianized Roman Em-
Healing the world with righteousness? The language
of social justice in early Christian homilies
Susan R. Holman
The very word for charity in the Bible, sedaqa, which in its more inclusive
semantic usage means righteousness, is often paired with the term mishpat
in the sense of (social) justice. For the giver it is a duty (misva) commanded
by God; for the needy, it is an entitlement.1
By performing these mitzvot, tzedakah and gemilut hasadem, we engage in
tikkun olam, repair of the world.2

1. Introduction

In both Jewish and Islamic traditions of late antiquity, the Hebrew and
Arabic words commonly transliterated tzedakah or sedaqa / sadaqa were
generic terms for charity or alms that simultaneously meant righteous-
ness. By this inseparable double meaningas an act done toward the
needy as well as a state of being toward the divine (i. e., moral correct-
ness)tzedakah/sadaqa encompassed the idea of justice or, perhaps
more precisely, social justice, in both of these traditions of the late anti-
que Mediterranean world. Mark Cohens definition (the first quote at the

I wish to thank Professors Yaacov Lev and Miriam Frenkel, not only for their in-
vitation to join the Research Group as a Visiting Scholar, but also for their su-
preme hospitality and kindness during my stay in Jerusalem. The paper was im-
proved immeasurably by the dialogue that followed its conference presentation,
for which I particularly thank Miriam Hoexter and Amitai Spitzer. Drs. Johan
Leemans, Johan Verstraeten, and Brian Matz of the Centre for Catholic Social
Thought at the Catholic University of Leuven enabled further research on the
link between patristic studies and modern human rights. Thanks also to Brian
Daley, SJ, for transatlantic advice on terms, and to Sarah Coakley, for suggested
references as well as sponsoring Moshe Halbertals lecture on justice and mercy in
rabbinic Judaism in her 2007 Harvard Divinity School course on Justice and
Mercy in Jewish and Christian Tradition and American Criminal Law.
1 Mark R. Cohen, Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 5 6.
2 Barbara Diamond Goldin, Creating Angels: Stories of Tzedakah (Northvale, NJ
and London UK: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996), xv.
90 Susan R. Holman

head of this chapter) emphasizing entitlements or rights echoes Gildas

Hamels observation in 1990 that the most frequent word used by the
rabbis to express charity, sedaquah, meaning righteousness or justice, re-
veals a basic attitude, namely that of the donors obligation and the poors
right.3 As Miriam Hoexter has noted, the Arabic sadaqa was a generic
term for a charitable gift and in fact voluntary charity of all sorts, al-
though the Arabic word, zakat, eventually became the term for a tax in-
cumbent on all believers until, as Hoexter notes, the tax fell into desue-
tude4 and the waqf, which regulated endowment institutions, emerged as
the preferred structure of administrative charity in Islamic society. Thus
despite perhaps diverging applications and usages, the root zdk expressed
for both Jewish and Islamic texts an innate understanding of charitable
actions associated with religious righteousness, almsgiving being one
of the five pillars of Islam, and Jewish tzedakah being, as Ephrat
Habas (Rubin) notes in her contribution to this volume, simply the
right thing to do. Bound into this broad concept are implied ideals
such as respect for the poor persons possessions and land (if they had
any), their need to stay warm at night, fair lending practices and inter-
est rates, rights to benefit from social resources such as food, and certain
rights to community hospitality. Further, as Barbara Goldin attests in the
second quote at the head of this chapter, from a book written for a broad,
popular audience, social justice, righteousness, and acts of lovingkindness
(chesed) within Judaism are sometimes associated with tikkun olam, the
idea of world healing or world repair, a cosmic restoration that
may also be linked in modern thought to ideals of peace, righteous bal-
ance, or environmental or ecological harmony.5 Indeed in modern Jewish

3 Gildas Hamel, Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine: First Three Centuries CE,
Near Eastern Studies 23 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990),
4 Miriam Hoexter, Charity, the Poor, and Distribution of Alms in Ottoman Al-
giers, in Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts, ed. Michael Bonner,
Mine Ener, and Amy Singer (Albany: State University of New York Press,
2003), 145.
5 This opening paragraph summarizing the conceptual meanings of tzedakah and
sadaqa in Judaic and Arabic studies, topics that are outside my own expertise, is
based on the following sources: For discussion of Hebrew terms and an under-
standing of how justice and mercy are paired in Hebrew biblical texts, I depend
largely on Moshe Weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near
East. (Jerusalem / Minneapolis: Magnes Press/Fortress, 1995), esp. 25 44. For
contemporary Jewish views on tzedakah and chesed, see Avroham Chaim Feuer,
Tzedakah Treasury: An Anthology of Torah Teachings on the Mitzvah of CharityTo
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 91

social consciousness, the first thing that comes to mind when many peo-
ple think about tikkun olam is our duty to help the poor and the closest
of those classical words for what we mean today by tikkun olam are, on
the personal level, chesed, and, on the social level, tzedek and mishpat.6
How might these observations on terminology in Judaism and Islam
contribute to an understanding of the relationship between alms and so-
cial justice as it related to giving in early Christian texts from the late an-
tique Mediterranean world? Christians from this period included those
whose first language was Syriac, a dialect of Aramaicthus obviously
sharing cognates with Hebrew- and Arabic-speakersas well as those
whose first language was Greek, Latin, or Coptic, who used different
sets of words altogether. By the time of the Islamic conquests in the sev-
enth and eighth centuries, a number of early Christian texts on poverty
relief were available and were being translated and used in settings outside
their original contexts. How was the language of alms in these early
Christian sermons related to concepts of social justice, righteousness,
and perhaps even the idea of healing the world that is now associated
with tikkun olam? How did linguistic differences inherent in Greek vo-
cabulary influence the development of philanthropic rhetoric in Greek-
speaking Christian communities? This essay focuses particularly on two
overlapping linguistic contexts in which such rhetoric developed. The
first is the Syriac usage of terms and concepts in several texts where
the language itself shared both the Jewish and emerging Arabic under-
standing of tzedakah / sadaqa as meaning simultaneously alms and right-
eousness. The second is the context of the major Greek-speaking play-
ers who wrote about social welfare in the fourth century using available
Instruct and Inspire (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 2000); Yisrael Meir
Kahan (The Chafetz Chaim), Ahavath Chesed: The Love of Kindness as Re-
quired by God, trans. Leonard Oschry, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem and New York: Feld-
heim Publishers, 1976); Jacob Neusner, Tzedakah: Can Jewish Philanthropy
Buy Jewish Survival? Brown Judaic Studies 205 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press,
1990); Eli Shear and Chaim Miller, The Rich Go to Heaven: Giving Charity in
Jewish Thought (Northvale, NJ and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson, 1998); and
Meir Tamari, With All your Possessions: Jewish Ethics and Economic Life (NY:
The Free Press, 1987). For a brief discussion on the volitional aspects of Jewish
charity see e. g., Jochanan Muffs, Love and Joy: Law, Language and Religion in
Ancient Israel (NY: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, distributed by Har-
vard University Press, 1992), esp. 177 186. On charity in Islam, in addition to
Bonner et al. see also Adam Sabra, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam: Mam-
luk Egypt, 1250 1517 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
6 Elliot N. Dorf, The Way into Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World) (Woodstock,
VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005), 107, 13 14.
92 Susan R. Holman

Greek terms to build concepts (also inherent within the range of biblical
texts on justice and Jewish tzedakah) that we now associate with human
rights language: equality, common race, common humanity, common
good, and restorative justice.7 Since in Greek the word for mercy was
not necessarily equivalent to the words for righteousness or the idea
of social justice, and since traditional Graeco-Roman views on righteous-
ness, justice, and mercy did not include the needy poor qua poor,8 how
did Greek-speaking Christians argue for social justice (which they certain-
ly did) on religious grounds based on expectations for the concrete
human behaviors of sacred acts of piety and charity? Given that ideas
such as mercy and love are frequently the dominant operating terms
for Christian charity in the Greek language of the fourth century, how
did authors construct a case for philanthropy as part of justice and
righteousness? What were the perceived conflicts (if any) between
these various terms in the eastern Christian tradition of this period?9
This essay explores these questions and their potential implications for in-
terreligious dialogue on social welfare issues today.

7 For a more detailed study on human rights language in early Christian tradition,
see Susan R. Holman, The Entitled Poor: Human Rights Language in the Cap-
padocians, Pro Ecclesia 9 (2000): 476 89; and idem, Out of the Fitting
Room: Rethinking Patristic Social Texts on The Common Good, in Reading
Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for 21st Century Christian So-
cial Thought, ed. Johan Leemans, Brian Matz, and Johan Verstraeten, Catholic
University of America Studies in Early Christianity (Washington: Catholic Uni-
versity of America Press, forthcoming).
8 On the difference in focus between traditional Graeco-Roman justice/philanthro-
py and early Christian views, see esp. Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the
Later Roman Empire, The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures (Hanover and
London: University Press of New England for Brandeis University Press, 2002).
9 This study is limited to eastern early Christian texts in Syriac and Greek and
does not consider Latin or Coptic sources. Nor do I discuss Greek pagan
views on almsgiving, on which see now Anneliese Parkin, You do him no serv-
ice: An exploration of pagan almsgiving, in Poverty in the Roman World, ed.
Margaret Atkins and Robin Osborne (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2006), 60 82.
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 93

2. Terminology in Early Syriac and Greek Christian Sermons

The close relationship between the various Hebrew terms used for justice
and mercy is inevitably rooted in biblical texts. As Moshe Weinfelds
study of social justice in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East has dem-
onstrated, the tightly-bound biblical association between tzedakah, mis-
hpat, rachamim (mercy), and chesed, and the phrase commonly translated
justice and righteousness does not refer to the proper execution of jus-
tice, but rather expresses, in a general sense, social justice and equity,
which is bound up with kindness and mercy.10 That is, rather than
civic legal judgment, such terms evoke ideals of civic order.11 Unlike ju-
ridical rulings in which legal justice might appear at odds with clemen-
cy, biblical texts suggest no such conceptual conflict when it comes to act-
ing charitably toward the poor and those in need. Indeed, true social jus-
tice is understood as demanding an inseparable application of both justice
and mercy, and this package of prescribed behavior manifested right-
eousness as well as lovingkindness. This close pairing is so tightly in-
tegrated in the modern Christian tradition that the late Krister Stendahl,
Lutheran bishop of Stockholm, well known for his contributions to glob-
al ecumenical dialogue, could write,
The basic point is that we should not think of judgment and mercy as two
different things. Mercy, salvation, liberation are part of Gods judgment.
Judgment is mercy for those who need mercy. Judgment is justice for those
who hunger and thirst after it, since they do not have it. In the world one
speaks about justice and in the church one speaks about righteousness. But
Hebrew, Greek, and Latin do not offer this distinction.12

10 Weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East, 36.
11 For modern views on the relationship between justice and mercy as it may relate
to religious discussion, see e. g., Martha C. Nussbaum, Equity and Mercy, Phi-
losophy and Public Affairs 22 (1993):83 125; Krister Stendahl, Judgment and
Mercy, in The Context of Contemporary Theology: Essays in Honor of Paul Leh-
mann, ed. Alexander J. McKelway and E. David Willis (Atlanta: John Knox
Press, 1974), 147 154; The Attribute of Justice and the Attribute of
Mercy, in The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, ed. Ephraim E. Urbach, and
trans. Israel Abrahams (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987),
448 461; and Jacob Neusner, The Theological Category-Formations of Rab-
binic Midrash: [3]: Gods Justice and Gods Mercy, in idem, The Theological
Foundations of Rabbinic Midrash (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,
2006), 63 89. I thank Sarah Coakley for these references.
12 Stendahl, Judgment and Mercy, 148 149.
94 Susan R. Holman

Although, as Stendahl notes, justice and righteousness may not be distin-

guished in biblical terms in Jewish or Christian traditions, justice/right-
eousness may be clearly distinct from mercy in other languages used in
the ancient Mediterranean world. In Greek it is the word for mercy
(eleos), not the words commonly translated justice (dikaios) or judg-
ment (krisis), that forms the backbone of charity rhetoric and the
most prevalent term for alms, eleemosyne. In Greek Christian texts
about poverty relief, charity concepts used not only eleemosyne (acts
of mercy), but also other terms such as philanthropia (love of human-
kind), philoptochia (love of the poor), euergetism (good works, tradition-
ally associated with patronage and sometimes translated into or equated
with the Latin beneficentia) and agape (love). Not one of these words is
inherently associated with the idea of divine justice and righteousness.
Authors from both Jewish and Christian traditions have occasionally
noted the apparent ideological chasm between social action for the
needy that is based on entitlements and that based on soft concepts
like love and mercy.
Yet there is no question that Greek-speaking Christians in the ancient
world perceived a close relationship between alms, divine justice, and
righteousness. They expressed this most often in commentaries on Gospel
texts such as Matthew 25:31 46, the parable of Judgment Day, when
humankind will be divided into heaven-bound sheep and hell-bound
goats purely by how each treated persons in need. Attentive Greek-
speaking Christians drew this close association of justice and mercy in
the biblical pattern from the Septuagint, and it was also present in the
New Testament. For example, in Matthews version of the Beatitudes
the saying, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness
(dikaiosune) is followed immediately by Blessed are the merciful for
they shall obtain mercy (eleemosyne)(Matt. 5:6 7). And there is no evi-
dence that readers perceived any tension between Matthew 5:48, Be per-
fect (teleos) as your heavenly Father is perfect, and its obvious synoptic
parallel in Luke 6:36, which, by simply omitting the letter tau, reads,
Be merciful (eleos) just as your Father is merciful.13 The audience
who assumed these texts as complementary might easily view mercy as
an intrinsic element within the very nature of a perfectly just God.
Despite overlapping ideas, however, righteousness was by necessity
expressed in Greek using a distinctly different word from that for chari-
ty/alms if only because there is no single-word equivalent (in either Greek

13 I thank Robert J. Daly, S.J., for drawing my attention to this point.

The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 95

or English) for the full meaning of tzedakah. Consequently, the associa-

tion between mercy and justice in almsgiving depended on interpretive
exegesis of translated terms rather than on a lexical equivalent. Any Hel-
lenic Jewish readers who did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic would have
had the same challenge; Septuagint texts most commonly translate chesed
as eleon (mercy), mizpat as krima or krisis (justice, most commonly legis-
lative justice), and tzedakah as dikaiosyne (righteousness),14 although
sometimes tzedakah might be translated eleemosyne (e. g., Ps. 33:5).
How did these linguistic differences influence the development of Chris-
tian philanthropic rhetoric? To explore these questions, let us turn now to
the Syriac and Greek Christian texts.

2.1 Alms as justice in Syriac tradition

For Syriac-speaking Christians, there appears to have been a direct trans-

fer of the Hebrew double concept inherent in tzedakah, that is, they used
virtually the same word. The Syriac word for alms is zedqto, meaning the
right or due of God or neighbor; and almsgiver was mzadqana, liter-
ally the one who justifies. Three texts illustrate how early Christians
used this root word in philanthropic rhetoric: Aphrahats fourth century
Demonstration 20, On the love of the poor; the fifth-century Life of the
bishop Rabbula of Edessa; and Jacob of Sarugs sixth-century poetic ser-
mon, also titled On the love of the poor.
Aphrahats reference is somewhat obscure. Referring to the divinely-
ruled relational exchange that charity effects in building a treasure-house
for the rich, Aphrahat writes, see how the almsgiver (mzadqana) begins
to take from the needy so that through the needy his own need is fulfilled
while they are alive. For he [possibly the almsgiver?] would have enough to
not be in utter need but, when he has done this, from him the merchandise
of the needy, which was purloined the rich man gives to the poor. And
when he receives, the poor man thanks the Lord of the two of them.15

14 Here I draw on a random comparative sample of LXX translations of these terms

in Gen. 18:19, 2 Sam. 8:15, Micah 6:8, Amos 5:24, and Isaiah 5:7.
15 Trans. Adam H. Becker, Anti-Judaism and Care for the Poor in Aphrahats
Demonstration 20, Journal of Early Christian Studies 10 (2002):305 327, at
311. The Syriac text is that of J. Parisot, Aphraatis Sapientis Persae Demonstra-
tiones, in Patrologia Syriaca, ed. R. Graffin, Paris: Firmin-Didot, part 1, vol. 1
(1894), pp. 893 930, here at p. 900. ll. 15 24. For a French translation, see
96 Susan R. Holman

While Adam Becker and Sebastian Brock agree that the sense here is
somewhat obscure, this passage clearly assumes alms as justice, that is,
for the donor a balance between sharing goods with the needy and retain-
ing an adequate portion for ones individual survival, enough not to be
in utter need.
This theme of living minimally as essential to righteous almsgiving is
also evident in the hagiographical depiction of Rabbula, the bishop of
Edessa between 411/412 and 435/436. Rabbula was a pagan convert
whose mother was a Christian and whose episcopate is famous for his
zeal in material divestment. Rabbula argued that The poor are sustained
not by what belongs to us, but by the righteousness (zedqto) of God.
According to an honest assessment, to us leaders is allowed as much as the
body needs, so that we may use some of it in a simple mannerlike the
rest of the poorand not as our body, which desires what is hurtful to
our spirit, wills.16 In both Aphrahats and Rabbulas examples, alms
imply a divestment by which the donor keeps personal goods to a bare
minimum, here defined by general principles rather than explicit propor-
The texts about Rabbula also include language about mercy and lo-
vingkindness as part of righteous alms. According to the brief, early-
sixth century Syriac Life of the Man of God (an anonymous holy beg-
gar in Rabbulas Edessa later venerated as St. Alexis), the beggars holy life
inspired Rabbula to constantly encourage his congregation to the love of
strangers17 and not neglect to support them with his gifts so that he
might share in Gods blessing for those who have mercy.18 Indeed, Rabb-
ula himself is lauded in biblical terms for his love of the poor19 as he
ensured food and clean bedding for the hospitalized sick, appointing dea-
cons and deaconnesses as their nurses. To the needy wherever he found
them, On the one hand, his justice was boundless [against those who
tried] to commit injustice against the poor. On the other hand, there
was no limit to the riches of his kindness. In his justice and in his
Marie-Joseph Pierre, trans., Aphraate le sage Persan: Les Expos s, vol. 2 (= Dem-
onstrations 11 23), SC 359 (Paris: ditions du Cerf, 1989), 789 807.
16 The Heroic Deeds of Mar Rabbula, in Robert Doran, trans., Stewards of the
Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa, Cistercian
Studies Series 208 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2006), 90.
17 The Man of God: The Original Syriac Life, in Doran, trans., Stewards of the
Poor, 24.
18 The Man of God: The Original Syriac Life, in Doran, trans., Stewards of the
Poor, 25.
19 The Heroic Deeds of Mar Rabbula, in Doran, trans., Stewards of the Poor, 100.
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 97

mercy he was always guided only as God willed.20 Thus Rabbulas exam-
ple illustrates the linguistic coinherence of righteousness, lovingkindness,
justice, and mercy in Syriac charity.
This Syriac elision of alms with justice is perhaps most clearly empha-
sized in the homily On the love of the poor by Jacob, bishop of Sarug
(d. 521). Known for his many sermons and poems addressed largely to
village audiences, it is no surprise that his sermon on the poor draws
largely on agricultural imagery. After referring to sowing and picking
fruit from the two trees in Eden and its garden, Jacob then literally de-
fines the poor as soil, that is, as the earth into which he begs his audience
to plant alms like seeds. He writes, The poor are (like) a vast (piece of )
land (for the purposes) of justice and the needy are the good soil
[Mt. 13:8,23] of justice The soul does not have anywhere to sow jus-
tice if the poor are not serving as the soil (on which) to sow. In this
translation, Sebastian Brock has here rendered zedqto as justice in
each instance, but the translation might equally read alms.21
These three texts demonstrate the Syriac Christian usage of tzedakah
and there is really nothing extraordinary about their use of this particular
word. In each the poor recipient is defined as including those one might
expect: orphans, widows, homeless beggars, or other poor persons in
acute need of goods for survival. While mercy and kindness are im-
plied as imperative values within assistance, the failure to assist is funda-
mentally an injustice before God.

20 The Heroic Deeds of Mar Rabbula, in Doran, trans., Stewards of the Poor, 90,
21 For the Syriac see Paul Bedjan, Homiliae Selectae Mar-Jacobi Sarugensis Vol. 2
(Paris: Lipsiae, Otto Harrassowitz, 1906), 828 829; the whole homily is
pp. 816 36. Translation here is that of Sebastian Brock, personal communica-
tion, 2001, publication forthcoming. For a brief biography on Jacob, see William
Wright, A Short History of Syriac Literature (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press,
2001), 67 72. On his prolific output, Wright (70) notes that Bar Hebraeus
says that Jacob had 70 amanuenses to copy out his metrical homilies, which
were 760 (Jacob of Edessa says 763) in number, besides commentaries and letters
and odes (madhrashe) and hymns (sughyatha); nearly 300 survive in European
collections and very few are published.
98 Susan R. Holman

2.2 Rights and entitlements in fourth-century Greek homilies

While Greek-speaking Christians in late antiquity sometimes had close

ties with those who also spoke Syriac, Syriac-speaking Christians were
more likely than Greek-speakers to know the others language, and thus
texts such as those quoted above, which were probably in their day avail-
able only in Syriac, did not necessarily influence Greek concepts of phi-
lanthropy. Given this limited direction of influence, how did those whose
first language was Greek develop philanthopic rhetoric? The basic terms
in Greek have been outlined in the introduction above. This section ex-
amines how specific terms were actually used in the case for social justice
that we find in texts from several Cappadocian bishops whose writings
profoundly influenced not only theology but the rise of organizational
Christian charity in the Greek east: Basil of Caesarea, his brother Gregory
of Nyssa, and their friend and colleague, Gregory of Nazianzus. We also
find very similar terms in two sermons by a neighboring fourth-century
bishop, Asterius of Amasea. While this study does not examine the abun-
dant social justice themes in their slightly later contemporary, John
Chrysostom, he too is famous for demanding alms to the poor as a mo-
rally imperative act owed to God.22 Key themes that are suggested by the
very specific use of terms in these texts of the Cappadocians and Asterius
include common nature and equal rights, the question of the deserving
poor, and the appeal to justice and mercy as an essential paired element
in truly righteous almsgiving.

2.2.1 The language of common nature and equal rights

Gregory of Nyssas two sermons On the love of the poor and Gregory
of Nazianzuss Or. 14, a single homily with the same title,23 call for direct

22 On John Chrysostoms preaching about poverty relief and social welfare, see esp.
Wendy Mayer, Poverty and Society in the World of John Chrysostom, in Social
and Political Life in Late Antiquity, ed. William Bowden, Adam Gutteridge, and
Carlos Machado, Late Antique Archaeology 3.1 (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 465 84;
and idem, Poverty and Generosity toward the Poor in the Time of John Chrys-
ostom, in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society, ed. Susan R. Holman,
Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History (Grand Rapids: BakerAca-
demic, 2008), 140 58; and Rudolf Br ndle, This Sweetest Passage: Matthew
25:31 46 and Assistance to the Poor in the Homilies of John Chrysostom, in
Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society, 127 39.
23 Gregory of Nyssa: De pauperibus amandis. Oratio duo, ed. Arie van Heck (Lei-
den: E.J. Brill, 1964), 1 37=W. Jaeger, ed., Gregorii Nysseni Opera [GNO]
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 99

aid to homeless outcasts and deformed lepers, individuals (both local

and displaced strangers) who the community were rejecting as repulsive,
polluted, and functionally subhuman, consequently treating them, the
bishops charged, worse than animals. Arguing for a direct compassion
that will turn this dynamic around and create mutual interdependence
between donors and sick beggars, these authors appeal to civic rights
and equality, although in these particular sermons the marginalized
poor, being outcasts, are not ordinary or recognized members of the
church or the broader community.
In Or. 14.24, Gregory of Nazianzus exhorts his audience to imitate
the isotes, equality or evenhandedness, of God, which one translator ren-
ders the justice of God.24 He also uses the word isonomia, a Greek po-
litical term that could mean either equity or equality of rights. Ap-
pealing to Eden he says, I would have you look back to our primary
equality of rights, not the later diversity As far as you can, support
nature, honor primeval liberty, show reverence for yourself and cover
the shame of your race (genos), help to resist sickness, offer relief to
human need. (Or. 14.26).25
He uses these terms to make an appeal that is not based on an eth-
nicity or politico-civic identity that might lead to practices of exclusion,
but rather intentionally broadens the definition of these terms in ways
that include most, if not all, needy persons. While some beggars are iden-
tified as locals, most of them are never identified by geographical or re-
ligious origins; they are not called Cappadocians, Greeks, nor even Chris-
tians. Some are explicitly identified as wandering strangers who were vic-
tims of natural or political disasters. Describing these homeless outcasts in
his two sermons, Nyssen argues that they deserve social justice simply be-

9.1 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967), 93 108 (=Paup. 1, also in Mignes Patrologia
Graeca [PG] 46.453 70) and 111 127 (=Paup 2, also in PG 46.471 90),
trans. Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Roman
Cappadocia, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (NY: Oxford University
Press, 2001), 193 199 and 199 206. Gregory of Nazianzus: Or. 14 (PG
35.857 910); for English trans., see Martha Vinson, trans., St. Gregory of Na-
zianzus: Select Orations (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America
Press, 2003), 39 71; and Brian Daley, S.J., Gregory of Nazianzus, The Early
Church Fathers (NY: Routledge, 2006), 76 97.
24 M. F. Toal, ed. and trans., The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (Chicago:
Henry Regnery, 1963), vol. 4, p. 55.
25 Trans. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus, 90.
100 Susan R. Holman

cause they are anthropon anthropoi, human persons.26 And while Greg-
ory of Nyssa does not share Nazianzens tendency to use iso- words or
similar allusions to equality, he does appeal to the concept of common
nature (koine physis).27 Both Gregories and Asterius (discussed below)
also explicitly use broader racial and kinship terms to argue that these
needy are rightly due the appropriate community obligations one owes
neighbors and kin, and Nyssen also uses homogenes (of [your] same
race) at least once,28 as well as syngenes (kin), and homophylos (same
race or species).29 We see the same terminology in Nazianzen, who also
uses syngenes twice,30 as well as same or equal race, phylos. In
hom. 14.28, he writes, If we are expected to show philanthropia even
to brute beasts, how much do we owe those of equal race (homophylos)
and equal worth (homotimos)?31 Both Gregories use homotime, meaning

26 Gregory of Nyssa, Paup. 2: van Heck p. 115, lines 21 23; and p. 120, lines 11
13 (also at PG 46.476 and PG 46.481).
27 See e. g., Gregory of Nyssa, Paup. 2: van Heck p. 117, lines 22 through p. 118,
line 10; p. 118, lines 6 9; and p. 120, lines 11 13 (also at PG 46.477, 480; PG
46.480; and PG 46.481).
28 For Gregorys use of homogenes see e. g., Paup. 2, where he emphasizes how in the
incarnation God took on stinking and unclean flesh and soul to effect a total
cure of your ills by his touch-but you flee your own race (ton homogene)(PG
29 Gregory of Nyssa, Paup. 2 (van Heck p. 115, lines 8 10; also at PG 46.476);
and Paup. 1 (van Heck p. 103, lines 21 25; also at PG 46.465). On Asterius,
see below.
30 Twice: in Or. 14:5 and 14.9, which Brian Daley translates, compassion and
sympathy for our own flesh and blood, and brothers and sisters, we must
care for what is part of our nature and shares in our slavery (Gregory of Nazian-
zus, 78 and 79 respectively).
31 Trans. Vinson, 61, modified. Commenting on this passage, Daley notes, It is
interesting that Gregory is using philanthropia here to make his point. This, of
course, is the word that really dominates this oration, especially in the first
five chapters or so, where he identifies it as the chief of virtues, a reflection of
Gods creative love. But here, hes talking about kindness to animals with a
term that basically means love of humans. So the irony in what hes saying is
increased: we show philanthropia (and should!) to animals that are not humans,
when they are in trouble; how much more should we show it to the anthropoi
that are homophyleis and of equal dignity with ourselves, precisely because they
are anthropoi. (personal communication) And in Or. 14.14 Gregory writes,
They have been made in the image of God in the same way (isos) you and I
have, and perhaps preserve that image better than we, even if their bodies are cor-
rupted. (trans. Daley, p. 83).
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 101

due the same honor, in their allusions to the desperate beggars whose
basic needs and nature are being ignored.
Asterius of Amasea also used homophylos in two of his sermons, On
the rich man and Lazarus and Against Avarice,32 arguing against those
who claim that economic inequalities reflect qualitative differences in
human nature. In his sermon on the rich man and Lazarus, he writes,
if the nature of things were such that our life was truly represented by
the inequality (anomalia) of [the beggar Lazaruss] career with that of
the rich man, I should have cried aloud with indignation: that we who
are created equal, live on such unequal terms (anisos) with those of the
same race (ton homophylon)!33 And in Against Avarice, he condemns
covetousness precisely because it creates a marked disparity in the con-
ditions of life between human persons created equal in worth.34 As
seen above, Asterius also understands inequality as an abnormality, explic-
itly using the Greek word anomalia, a word we do not find in the Gre-
gories sermons; for him, covetousness is the mother of inequality, un-
merciful, misanthropic, cruel. Because of it human life is full of anoma-
lia. 35
The philanthropic rhetoric of their contemporary, Basil of Caesarea,
also consists of strong, imperative, and at times apparently radical appeals
for social justice and material redistribution in the interest of equity and a
mercy that is rooted in divine justice and eschatological restoration. Both
Gregory of Nyssa and Basil also demonstrate a certain focus on cosmic
healing or healing the world that depends on acts of justice to the
poor. Nyssen does this through his appeals to the perfect divine order
of original creation and its anticipated restorative culmination, and
Basil through his appeals to social order, ecological balance, and heavenly
judgment (especially in his hom. 8, In time of famine and drought). In
hom. 6, a sermon addressed to the rich who were stockpiling grain during

32 For the Greek, see the critical edition of C. Datema, Asterius of Amasea: Homilies
I-XIV: Text, Introduction and Notes (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), 6 15 (hom. 1 On
the rich man and Lazarus) and 26 37 (hom. 3 Against Avarice.). For the text
given here see p. 12, lines 6 7. An imprecise translation consulted but frequently
modified here is Galusha Anderson and Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, trans., An-
cient Sermons for Modern Times by Asterius, Bishop of Amasia, circa 375 405 A.D.
(NY: The Pilgrim Press, 1904).
33 Asterius, hom. 1.8.1, trans. Anderson and Goodspeed, Ancient Sermons by Aster-
ius, 34.
34 Asterius, hom. 3.12.3 (Datema p. 35, l. 11 14).
35 Asterius, hom. 3.12.1, my trans. (Datema 35, lines 1 2).
102 Susan R. Holman

the early days of a famine around 369, Basil appeals to the common
good (koinopheles), meaning that which benefits all persons within a so-
ciety, writing, riches grow useless left idle and unused in any place, but
moved about, passing from one person to another, they serve the com-
mon good and bear fruit.36 And in his two sermons on fasting, de jejunio
1 and 2, Basil explicitly relates communal ideals with personal piety. Not
only does the wise abstinence of fasting build ones treasure in heaven, he
says, but the one who practices the proper detached control of liturgical
fasting incidentally ensures dignity to the city, right ordering in the
courts, household peace and salvation; (de jejunio 1.11, PG 31.184B);
it is no less useful to the public, for it maintains good order among
the population (de jejunio 2.5; PG 31.192B) and greatly benefits the
household, the marketplace, night and day, city and wilderness. (de jeju-
nio 2.7, PG 31.196A); ultimately resulting in the crown of justice (de
jejunio 2.1, PG 31.185B).37 The justice of the common good, for Basil, is
ultimately rooted in Gods goodness for, he says (in Hom. 20), You have
not known God by reason of your justice, but God has known you by
reason of His goodness.38 Common goodness is therefore based not
only on ideals of harmonious community, but on all that goodness
means for the individual within the very nature and person of God.
Basil also reflects the influence of Aristotelian ideas on civic and so-
cial harmony in his second sermon on Psalm 14. Following several Bib-
lical allusions, he writes,
The Word orders us to share (koinonikos) and to love one another, in natural
kinship. After all, humankind is a civic and sociable (or gregarious) animal
(politikon gar zoon kai sunangelastikon ho anthropos). Liberality for the pur-
pose of restoration is a necessary part of the common life (koine politeia)
and helping one another upwards.39
The sentence that translates, Humankind is a civic and sociable animal,
likely reflects an Aristotelian source, since Aristotles Politics 1.1.9 notes,
Humankind is by nature a civic animal, or, in the Loeb translation,

36 Basil, hom. 6.5, trans. M. F. Toal, Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (Chicago:
Henry Regnery, 1959), 3.329, slightly modified.
37 My translation.
38 Basil, hom. 20, trans. M. Monica Wagner, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works (NY: Fa-
thers of the Church, 1950), 480.
39 Basil, Hom Ps. 14/15a, PG 29.261CD, my translation. For further discussion see
Holman, The Hungry are Dying, 112.
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 103

Man is by nature a political animal.40 It is virtually certain that Basil is

consciously quoting something, perhaps mediated through a later philos-
opher, like Posidonius, rather than composing an original sentence. These
examples demonstrate how concepts familiar to modern human rights
dialogue existed in some form in these late antique writers and demon-
strate concerns that resonate with certain similar modern interests in so-
cial and distributive justice.

2.2.2 Who are the deserving poor and what measure is equal?
As familiar as these ideas may seem to modern readers trained in
human rights rhetoric, these authors spoke into and from a very differ-
ent culture, one that was far less democratic about equality and the
justice of alms. Daniel Caners contribution to this volume addresses
some of these challenges in greater depth,41 but certain tensions should
not be overlooked here. For example, most third- and fourth-century
Christian Greek writers on philanthropy argued that all needy human be-
ings merit aid regardless of who they are or their religious affiliations.
John Chrysostom wrote, for example, If you see anyone in affliction,
do not be curious to inquire further. His being in affliction gives him
a just claim to your help. He is Gods, whether he is a heathen or a
Jew; since even if he is an unbeliever, still he needs help.42 Other texts
reflect similar views. But it is also evident that these ideals of equality
were not applied in a strictly egalitarian manner. In some cases, members
of the group seem to receive preference, and the group itself is defined in
various ways. Nazianzens Or. 14.25 is particularly interesting for its de-
scription of Gods equity:
Let us imitate Gods highest and first law, which makes the rain fall on the
just and sinners, and makes the sun rise equally on all. he lavishes the
basic supports of living ungrudgingly on all [but without limit] sets
them forth as the rich and common possessions of all, not in any way less-

40 H. Rackham, trans., Aristotle XXI: Politics. Loeb Classical Library 264 (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), 8 9.
41 See also Daniel Caner, Towards a Miraculous Economy: Christian Gifts and
Material Blessings in Late Antiquity, Journal of Early Christian Studies 14
(2006), 329 377; and idem, Wealth, Stewardship, and Charitable Blessings
in Early Byzantine Monasticism, in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and So-
ciety, 221 42.
42 Hom. Hebr. 10.4 (PG 53.88), trans. Rudolf Br ndle, This Sweetest Passage:
Matthew 25:31 46 and Assistance to the Poor in the Homilies of John Chrys-
ostom, in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society, 130.
104 Susan R. Holman

ened for this reason. Beings of like rank in nature he honors with equal gifts,
so he shows how rich his own generosity is.43
This assumption that equal gifts fall to those of like rank in nature
may hint at Gregorys own typically upper-class perception of natural dif-
ferences in status reflecting natural abilities. And in Or. 14.6, where he
clearly ranks the poor and says they all deserve our open-hearted gener-
osity, he notes that those whose sufferings contradict their dignity are
even more wretched than those who are used to misfortune;44 that is,
the genteel poor deserve special courtesies. In general, however, it is
rare to find sources that categorically exclude unbelievers, and philan-
thropic texts more often call for responses that range from cautious, at-
tentive stewardship of resources to intentionally indiscriminate generosity.
As church-funded charity took formal shape in the fourth and fifth cen-
turies, it was often the ascetics who opted to practice and advise extreme
generosity, while legislators skeptical about the public poor opted for cau-
tions that resulted, for example, in the first imperial law attempting to
control public begging, at least in Italy, under Gratian, Valentinian and
Theodosius in 382 C.E.45 Fifth and sixth-century ascetic texts and hagi-
ographies may speak to this critical skepticism when they encourage
truly righteous donors to give beggars the benefit of the doubt even
if they come back for second and third portions, since Matthew
25:31 46 taught that Christ dwells in the physical bodies of the poor
and judges the fate of the donors soul by how he or she treats those in
need. When a sixth-century Alexandrian beggar slips into the bishops
line for handouts no less than three times in a row, for example, John
the Almsgiver becomes more generous rather than less, saying, perchance
it is my Christ and He is making trial of me.46 Another Egyptian admin-
istrator of church alms, troubled by a beggar who swindled him into giv-
ing the man four coats instead of one, dreams he sees Christ himself
clothed in all four layers.47 While these authors, like the Gregories and

43 Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus, 89.

44 Trans. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus, 78, slightly altered.
45 Theodosian Code 14.18, De mendicantibus non invalidis.
46 Chapter 9 in Leontius Supplement to the Life of St. John the Almsgiver, in
Three Byzantine Saints, trans. Elizabeth Dawes and Norman H. Baynes (Crest-
wood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1977), 216.
47 John Moschus, Spiritual Meadow 230, in The Spiritual Meadow of John Moschos,
trans. John Wortley, Cistercian Studies 139 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications,
1992), 212 13; it is Nissen 12 (BHG 1450p among the Supplementary
Tales; see Th. Nissen, Unbekannte Erzaehlungen aus dem Pratum spirituale,
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 105

John Chrysostom, identify the poor with the divine, others, like Basil.
were more likely to identify rich donors with the divine model of gener-
osity, appealing to them to imitate Gods equity, justice, and mercy, and
through this imitation attain a life characterized by a God-pleasing right-
2.3 A homily On mercy and justice
One anonymous fourth-century homily explicitly addresses the distinc-
tion between justice and mercy in Greek philanthropic rhetoric for a
Christian audience. Titled On Mercy and Justice (Peri eleous kai kri-
seos), its focus may suggest that there was some community tension
about the distinction between these two ideas. As outlined below, the
homilist advocates exactly the same essential integration between the
two that is evident in the biblical sources. This sermon was apparently
popular among fourth- and fifth-century Greek and Coptic audiences.
While some Greek manuscripts attribute it Basil of Caesarea,49 Coptic
manuscripts attribute it variously to three other fourth-century Greek
bishops.50 These varied attributions suggest a broadly-copied and distrib-
uted text that likely both reflects and influenced popular views on social
Byzantinische Zeitschrift 38 (1938), 367, f. no 12, from the Vienna Codex of the
Pratum (cod. hist. gr. 42).
48 This appeal to the rich to imitate divine generosity is also evident in rabbinic
sources. TB Sanhedrin 98a, for example, relates the tale of Rabbi Joshua ben
Levi meeting the prophet Elijah at the city gates of Rome. Upon asking him
what he was doing there he learned that Elijah was attending the Messiah.
And what was the Messiah doing there? While he was waiting for the day
when he would redeem the Jewish people he was busy treating the sores of all
the lepers who lived outside the city gates. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi concluded
that if taking care of lepers was not below the dignity of the Messiah, then taking
care of other sick people certainly should not be below the dignity of ordinary
Jews. Frank M. Loewenberg, From Charity to Social Justice: The Emergence of
Communal Institutions for the Support of the Poor in Ancient Judaism (New Bruns-
wick, NY and London UK: Transaction Publishers, 2001), 146.
49 De misericordia et iudicio (CPG 2929), PG 31.1705 1714, trans. Sister M.
Monica Wagner, Saint Basil: Ascetical Works (NY: Fathers of the Church,
1950), 507 512. For commentary, see Paul Jonathan Fedwick, Bibliotheca Ba-
siliana Vniversalis: A Study of the Manuscript Tradition, Translations and Editions
of the Works of Basil of Caesarea [=BBV], vol. 2.2, pp. 1189 90. The Greek
word krisis as it is used throughout this text appears to interchangeably denote
either justice or judgement.
50 The Coptic manuscripts attribute it variously to Athanasius, archbishop of Ra-
kote; Epiphanius of Salamis; and Athanasius of Alexandria (Fedwick, BBV
II,2, 1189 90).
106 Susan R. Holman

justice. Throughout the text, the homilist recognizes that justice must
find its meaning for this audience within the broad ideal of eleemosyne.
This sermon argues that true social beneficence is possible only when
one practices both justice and mercy. Like Nazianzen, the author appeals
to isotes, equality, although in this particular reference meaning the
equality (or fairness) that one applies to the justice (dikaios) used in
treating slaves. Krisis, usually used for legal justice, seems here inter-
changeable with dikaiosune, righteousness. The sermon was probably
originally intended for rural villagers, since forms of work, either trade,
agricultural production, or manual labor, serve as common examples in
the discussion of justice. The text speaks to some problematic situa-
tionotherwise unknownin which so-called benefactors provide aid
to the needy (euergesia) that is financed by unjust (adikia) gains.51
The author appeals to Proverbs 3:9, Honor the Lord with your right-
eous labors (dikaion ponon) and give him the fruits of your righteousness
(dikaiosune). He condemns, first, honest toil that shares nothing with
God to feed the poor, which he calls robbery; and second, defiled offer-
ings, those gained by injustice, oppression, force, or cheating. The idea
that dishonest business practices taint alms is also present in other early
Christian texts.52 Exercise philanthropia to the one you have wronged,
the homilist tells his audience, and you will fulfill mercy with justice
(eleon meta kriseos).53 Alluding to Gospel texts, the sermon exhorts the
audience to share with the needy, not only the produce of our fields
and our profits, but also the work of our hands,54 and by this work
to become, through charity, both comrade (koinonos) and coworker (syn-
ergos) with Christ.55
The text also qualifies Christian ideals of total divestment by classi-
fying them into two separate groups, its concluding references to at
least some of the recipients as the saints56 suggesting a focus on aiding
coreligionists. Such saints are described in the sermon as the perfect,
ascetics who gave up all their goods and who practice an immaterial and
philosophical charity (through reason and the spirit). But the author

51 Trans. Wagner 507; PG 31.1708.

52 See for example the third-century Syriac church manual, the Didascalia Apostolo-
rum 18 (trans. R. Hugh Connolly [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929], 156 160)
and the Acts of Peter 1, where the concept is directly refuted.
53 Trans. Wagner 509; PG 31.1709.
54 Trans. Wagner 511; PG 31.1712.
55 PG 31.1713.
56 In context probably religious ascetics.
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 107

equally assumes an audience of othersi. e., those who are less than
perfectwho ought to practice a continual sharing and common di-
vision of that which they possess that, by showing mercy, sharing their
goods, and conferring benefits, they may reproduce in themselves
Gods philanthropia.57 This bifurcation of poverty choices and alms op-
tions is one we find in other texts as well. Nazianzens Or. 14.18 reflects
the same two options, of ascetic total divestment on the one hand, and,
on the other, the majority group who chooses to retain (and chronically
share) their possessions. Gregory writes, We must either give all things
away for Christs sake or else we must share our goods with Christ,
so that our possession of them may at least be sanctified by our possessing
them well, by our sharing them with those who have nothing. Although
Gregorys own wealth and class distanced him personally from any goal of
manual labor, he too immediately associates these ideas with agricultural
work: Even if I were to sow for myself alone, I would still be sowing
what others would later eat so that I would have labored in vain
Shall we not, then, cast off our stinginess?58 And discussion of charity
dynamics in some other Syriac texts, such as the Book of Steps, also
imply a community distinction between the upright and the perfect.59
The anonymous sermon On Mercy and Justice is somewhat unusual
among Christian texts for its strong emphasis on giving charity from
the fruit of manual labor, but as a whole it is representative in how
this culture within late antique society imaged social justice in the lan-
guage of day-to-day realities.

57 A continual sharing and common division (metadoseis kai koinonias dienekeis

parangellon) of that which they possess that, by showing mercy, sharing their
goods, and conferring benefits (eleountes te kai metadidontes kai charizomenoi),
they may reproduce in themselves the benevolence (philanthropia) of God.
Trans. Wagner, 511; PG 31.1712, ll. 29 36, slightly altered.
58 Or. 14.18 19, trans. Daley, Gregory of Nazianzus, 85.
59 See e. g., Nancy A. Khalek, Methods of Instructing Syriac-speaking Christians
to Care for the Poor: A Brief Comparison of the Eighth Memra of the Book
of Steps and the Story of the Man of God, Hugoye 8(1) (2005), online at, accessed 5/3/05.
108 Susan R. Holman

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, this essay offers a brief overview of some very specific

terms used in philanthropic rhetoric of late antiquity, and possible differ-
ences that may have affected their practical applications. These examples
identify basic terms that Syriac- and Greek-speaking Christians in late an-
tiquity used to describe concepts of social justice between the fourth and
the sixth centuries C.E. The texts that use these terms do so in a manner
that clearly reflects dependence on the Septuagint as well as the New Tes-
tament, using terms that appeal to concepts such as equality, civic order,
and racial or kinship ties, in order to draw the needy poor into a cultural
context where they might be recognized as having a legitimate place and
These limited examples do not represent the opinions of every homi-
list from this period. For instance, Sister Nonna Verna Harrison has re-
cently argued that Nyssens views on social justiceseeing all of human-
ity as fundamentally equalcontrast sharply with that of John Chrysos-
tom, who understood true justice as functioning best within the inherent
and strict social hierarchies.60 And while these texts do not identify a dis-
tinctive conflict between social justice and mercy, or between alms and
justice, the anonymous homilists pointed pairing of these two concepts
may suggest the existence of a tension in some communities.
In considering how such texts might be relevant to modern religious
responses to poverty and issues of human rights, justice, and mercy today,
we must naturally be sensitive to avoid imposing inappropriate modern
constructs on historical texts from another time and culture, even as
they relate to something as timeless as human need and the ideologies
of ownership, distribution, and justice. Despite this need for a mature
caution, however, when we examine these Greek and Syriac texts from
the fourth to sixth centuries, we find that they do explicitly use very sim-
ilar language to that of our own day, including terms such as justice,
equality, righteousness, and appeals to global trans-ethnic inclusion,
with phrases such as common human nature, common human
race, and the use of terms like koinopheles, common good. While
these authors meanings might not exactly match our own, the treatment
of the poor as part of community justice is a standard cultural ideal in

60 Nonna Verna Harrison, Greek Patristic Perspectives on the Origins of Social In-
justice, in Evil and Suffering in Early Church and Society, Holy Cross Studies in
Patristic Theology and History (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, forthcoming).
The language of social justice in early Christian homilies 109

these texts, and one for which tzedakah remains perhaps the best single
term for its nuances of the sacred and acts of cosmic redemption or heal-
ing that may drive a vision of restorative righteousness in any age.
How a culture imagines charity and the poor depends on both the
concepts of its moral tradition and the terms available in its primary lan-
guage; these factors determine how these concepts are described and dis-
cussed and what inevitable nuances will coexist. A comparison such as
this paper offersbetween one word that has similar roots in Hebrew,
Syriac and Arabic, compared to the construction of related concepts by
Christians whose primary language was Greekis even more complex
than it appears since it also rests on common understandings and trans-
lations into yet another language (English) and into the various cultures
of the readers. The use of different words (philanthropia or tzedakah / sa-
daqa) for charity does not necessarily imply a radically different set of
human actions or different moral assumptions, but the lack of fixed
meaning-associations may result in a tension in one language culture
(such as charity being innately opposed to justice) that simply does not
hold in the other (where alms and justice are expressed using the same
Obviously, charitable responses to poverty in any culture depend on
more than how one uses a few words. They depend on a much wider
range of issues, needs, tensions, cultural systems, resources, and person-
alities. In comparing tzedakah-based ideas with Greek language terms
in the late antique Christian context, I am not in any way suggesting
that either model is preferable over the other. In any culture, charitable
terms may be used uncharitably, or narrowed into codified labels and
catchwords that serve other purposes; certainly we find evidence for
this across the spectrum of philanthropic texts in any religious tradition.
In consideration of these various issues, in conclusion, I suggest that
these Christian texts reveal an association with the broader idea of heal-
ing the world through righteousness that is not incompatible with that
of tzedakah and which has not been adequately explored elsewhere in
depth as it may relate to late antiquity. Although expressed using different
sets of termsthe Christian homilies more often imaging participating
and entering into the ultimate realization of global restoration as part
of divine lovingkindness and justicethis parallel image invites further
discussion on the relationship between the broad ideas that are, in He-
brew, encapsulated in the terms tzedakah and tikkun olam. While I
leave further examination of the Hebrew associations to scholars in Judaic
studies, the conceptual associations in such early Christian texts offer an
110 Susan R. Holman

important witness to intersecting ideas that may encourage any contem-

porary dialogue engaged in applying human rights language to a vision
for social justiceand mercyacross religious traditions.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and
Eucharistic Offering in the Early Middle Ages
of Western Europe (4th9th century)*
Eliana Magnani

During the early Middle Ages in Western Europe, charity practice, the
pro anima donations and alms given to churches and monasteries, had
at its heart a complex system of historically defined representations in
which the Eucharistic offering stood for a model of the exchanges be-
tween men and God. This system of representation evolved in three dis-
crete periods of time, as we see through an exploration of writings on the
doctrine of almsgiving and of epigraphic inscriptions and diplomatic acts
from the fourth through the ninth centuries. From the fourth to the sixth
century, the doctrine of almsgiving developed as a result of the creation of
the social category of the poor, an evolution that affected the behaviour of
the aristocracy. Following this development, in the seventh and eighth
centuries, as the amount of alms and gifts made to churches and monas-
teries increased, the clergy progressively established itself as the mediator
in the exchanges between men and God. Finally, the Carolingian shift of
the ninth century heralded the expansion of the seigniorial age, when the
relation between the earth and heaven began to be seen as a mystery sim-
ilar to that of the Eucharist.1

* Translated by Anne-Sophie Maret.

Abbreviations: ARTEMAtelier de Recherche sur les textes m di vaux, Uni-
versit de Nancy, CNRS. See La diplomatique franaise du haut Moyen ge. Inven-
taire des chartes originales ant rieures 1121 conserv es en France, par M. Courtois
et M.-J. Gasse-Grandjean, sous la dir. de B.-M. Tock, Turnhout, Brepols, 2001, 2
vol.; CCSLCorpus Christianorum. Series Latina; PLMigne, J.-P., Patrologia
Latina, Paris, 1800 1875; RICGRecueil des inscriptions chr tiennes de la Gaule
ant rieures la Renaissance carolingienne, H.-I. Marrou dir., t. XV. Viennoise
Nord (province eccl siastique de Vienne), F. Descombes ed., Paris, CNRS,
1985; t. VIII. Premi re Aquitaine, F. Pr vot ed., Paris, CNRS, 1997.
1 Magnani, Eliana: Du don aux glises au don pour le salut de l me en Occident
(IVe-XIe si cle): le paradigme eucharistique, Pratiques de leucharistie dans les gl-
ises dOrient et dOccident (Antiquit et Moyen ge), dir. Nicole B riou, B atrice
Caseau, Dominique Rigaux, Institut d tudes Augustiniennes, 2009, vol. II, p.
112 Eliana Magnani

In Late Antiquity, the doctrine of almsgiving spreads through bish-

ops teaching, very often against old evergetic practices. As Peter
Brown, Paul Veyne, and Evelyne Patlagean have documented,2 between
the fourth and the sixth centuries, emerges the social category of the
poorwhich did not exist in Antiquitycreated by the bishops rispon-
sables of important transformations during the centuries of conversion to
Christianity. The generic category of the poor included sub-categories of
various stages of poverty: the destitute, the needy, and a wide range of
middle classes, including rich people who had lost their rank (such as
widows or orphans), as well as those with unstable situations who were
likely to fall into poverty. The bishop thus becomes the protector of
the plebians, he who intercedes on their behalf with the imperial author-
ities. By reinvigorating the Old Testament model of communal solidarity
of Judaism, the Christian believers were invited to make donations to
support those poor dependent upon the Church and supervised by the
clergy. This model of Christian donor incorporates several aspects of
the civic evergetic model popularized by the converted emperor Constan-
tine (274 337) and his successors. It transformed the traditional Chris-
tian charity in a kind of public service. Indeed, the service of caring for
the poor helped to define the place of the Church in the Roman society
and to control the clergy action. Additionally, the identification of Christ
with the poor formed the core justification for the Churchs keeping of
goods in the Middle Ages.
From a theological perspective, the doctrine of almsgiving connected
the salvation of man with his donations to churches, with his exchanges
with God. In his third century work De opera et eleemosynis, Cyprian of
Carthage (d. 258) first explicitly stated the idea (implicit in Scripture and
in Greek writings) that almsgiving redeems sin. While his formulation of
almsgiving as redemptive stands distinctly separate from the remission of
1021 1042; Iogna-Prat, Dominique: Ordonner et exclure. Cluny et la soci t chr -
tienne face lh r sie, au juda sme et lislam (1000 1150), Paris, Aubier, 1998.
See also, about gift and charity, Guerreau-Jalabert, Anita: Caritas y don en la
sociedad medieval occidental, Hispania. Revista Espaola de Historia, 60/1/
204 (2000), p. 27 62.
2 Brown, Peter: Poverty and Leardeship in the Later Roman Empire, Hanovre-Lon-
dres, Brandeis University Press, University Press of New England, 2002 (The
Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures); Veyne, Paul: Le pain et le cirque, sociologie
historique dun pluralisme politique, Paris, Seuil, 1976; Patlagean, Evelyne: Pauv-
r t conomique et pauvr t sociale Byzance, 4e-7e si cles, EHESS-Mouton, Paris-
La Haye, 1977 (PhD, univ. Paris IV, 1973) and The Poor, The Byzantines, ed.
G. Cavallo, Chicago, 1997, p. 15 42.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering 113

sins made after baptism, he does link it to the general doctrine of salva-
tion.3 Cyprians formulation of the doctrine of charity encompasses many
of the biblical themes used in the following centuries and in the Middle
Ages. Cyprian, along with the other bishops that follow him, does not
exhort believers to give alms directly to the poor and needy, but rather
to donate to the churches for bishops to ensure their distribution.4 He
thus asserts the roles of the Church and clergy as intermediaries to main-
tain the initiatives that guarantee salvation. In essence, the clergy repre-
sents the figure of the sacrificer. Moreover, by playing on the image of
Christ standing behind the poor who receive alms, and by using the ex-
ample of Job who offers sacrifices for his children, Cyprian compares
almsgiving to sacrifice, opening it to an association with the Eucharist.5
From a very early point in Werstern history, bishops began to hold
the monopoly on the organization of assistance to the needy, both by en-
suring their protection and by distributing alms. As early as the fourth
century, this task is proposed as a justification of the wealth of churches.
According to Augustine (354 430), the collected goods did not belong
to bishops but to the poor, with the bishops acting as their stewards.6
In the sixth and seventh centuries, the notion that the goods of the
Church belong to the poor appears very clearly in the Merovingian coun-
cils. For instance, these councils present those who are accused of seizing
church propreties or of disrespecting their own donations as murderer of
[the] poor [necator pauperum].7

3 Cyprian of Carthage: De opere et eleemosynis, (La bienfaisance et les aum nes), ed.
& trans. M. Poirier, Paris, Cerf, 1999 (Sources Chr tiennes, 440) p. 168. See Jo-
bert, Philippe: La notion de donation, Convergences 630 750, Publ. de lUniver-
sit de Dijon, Paris,1977, p. 161 164; Garrison, Roman: Redemptive Almsgiving
in Early Christianity, Sheffield, 1993 (Journal for Study of the New Testament,
Supplement Series 77).
4 Cyprian of Carthage: De opere et eleemosynis, introd. p. 52, 55.
5 Cyprian of Carthage: De opere et eleemosynis, ch. 18 and 15.
6 Augustine: Epistulae, Al. Goldbacher ed., Vindobonae, 1911 (Corpus scripto-
rum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 57), 185, 9, 35, p. 32: si autem privatim
quae nobis sufficiant, possidemus, non sunt illa nostra, sed pauperum quorum procu-
rationem quodammodo gerimus, non proprietatem nobis usurpatione damnabili vin-
7 Les Canons des conciles m rovingiens (VIe-VIIe si cles), trans. J. Gaudemet, B. Bas-
devant, Paris, Cerf, 1989, 2 vol. (Sources Chr tiennes 353, 354): Orl ans V, 549
(c. 13, 15, 16); Arles, 554 (c. 6); Tours II, 567 (c. 25, 26); M con I, 581 583
(c. 4); Clichy, 626 627 (c. 12); Chalon, 647 653 (c. 6). See Pontal, Odette:
Histoire des conciles m rovingiens, Paris, 1989; Ewig, Eugen: Beobachtungen
114 Eliana Magnani

The idea that the Church manages the goods of the poor gives birth
to the concept that it is the depository on earth of the goods that good
people will find in heaven. Isidore of Seville (died c. 636) explains that
the church will keep as a security the goods which good people will
find and enjoy in the future, because what matters is the use one
makes of earthly goods that God indifferently distributed to good and
bad people.8 The clergy not only starts considering itself as a necessary
intermediary for the donations made to God, but also as a guarantor
for the passage of goods from here below to the beyond.
Such views, whose usefulness in social relations is obvious, are built
on the Eucharistic sacrifice model, in which offerings brought by the be-
lievers are put on the altar and consecrated by the celebrant in order to be
approved by God and taken to the altar on high by the angels hands.
Ambrose (d. 397), in his De Sacramentis (IV, 27), is the first to evoke this
extract from the canon of the mass: and we ask and pray that thou
wouldst receive this oblation on thy altar on high by the hands of thy an-
gels, as thou didst vouchsafe to receive the presents of thy righteous serv-
ant Abel, and the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham, and that which the
high priest, Melchizedek offered to thee.9
With regard to practice, epigraphic inscriptions enable us to measure
how much the doctrine of almsgiving affects the behaviour of the aristoc-
zu den Bischofslisten der Merowingischen Konzilien und Bischofsprivilegien, H.
Atsma ed., Sp tantikes und Fr nkisches Gallien. Gesammelte Schriften (1952
1973), t. II, Munich, 1979, p. 427 455; Champagne, Jacques and Szramkie-
wicz, Romuald: Recherches sur les conciles des temps m rovingiens, Revue
dHistoire du Droit franais et tranger, 49 (1971), p. 5 49.
8 Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis, C. M. Lawson ed., Turnhout, Brepols,
1989 (CCSL 113), II, XXIIII (XXIII), 6 (p. 101, 1. 65 75): Bona quoque tem-
poralia bonis malisque communia a deo creari, eiusque dispensatione singulis quibus-
que uel tribui uel negari; quorum bonorum in unoquoque fidelium non habitus sed
usus aut inprobandus est aut probandus. Certa uero aeternoaque bona solos posse
bonos in futuro consequi; quorum pignore ecclesiam nunc informatam credimus de-
tineri, hic habentem primitias spiritus in futuro perfectionem, hic sustentari in spe,
postea pasci in re, hic uidere per speculum in enigmate, in futuro autem facie ad fa-
ciem cum ad speciem fuerit perducta per fidem. Quod donec perficiatur in nobis ut
summi dei bonis fruamur aeternis, fruendum in deo nouerimus et proximis.
9 Ambrose: De Sacramentis, B. Botte ed., Paris, Cerf, 1961 (Sources chr tiennes,
25 bis) IV, 27: et petimus et pecamur uti hanc oblationem suscipias in sublime
altare tuum per manus angelorum tuorum, sicut suscipere dignatus es munera
pueri tui iusti Abel et sacrificium patriarchae nostri Abrahae et quod tibi obtulit
summus sacerdos Melchisedech. See Botte, Bernard: Lange du sacrifice et l pic-
l se de la messe romaine au Moyen ge, Recherches de th ologie ancienne et m -
di vale (1929), p. 285 308.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering 115

racy, associated with a notable widening of what is considered as a don-

ation to God. From the fourth century onwards, in the funerary inscrip-
tions, next to the traditional qualities in connection with the noble origin
of the deceased and the praise of his public career, pater pauperum, am-
ator pauperum, pauperibus pius or pia as well as other similar expressions,
present the donations for the needy as being amongst the virtues and in-
itiatives characteristic of the aristocracy.10 These inscriptions convey the
idea that one finds in heaven the goods distributed to the poor, that
one can reach heaven by donating earthly goods.11
Roughly speaking, the central question between the fourth and the
sixth century is to know how to make good use of earthly goods, what
men have been temporarily given by God, enabling them to constitute
treasures in heaven (Mat. 6, 19 20) and receive Gods real gifts,
the eternal rewards.12
A major change takes place in the seventh century as the clergy con-
solidates his function of intermediation and claims to be indispensable in
the conversion of donations of earthly goods into heavenly treasures. This
evolution is closely linked to the growing part played by the Church in
commemorating the dead. Augustine, who becomes an authority on
the question, considers that only the sins of intermediate deceased,
those who arent either too bad to be already lost, or too good to be
saved, can be redeemed by almsgiving and the prayers of the living.13

10 Diehl, Ernest: Inscriptiones latinae christianae veteres, Berlin, Dublin, Zurich,

Weidmann, 3 vol., 1925 193., n8 46, 170, 1072, 1073, 1103, 1269, 1310,
1462, 1700, 1740, 1778, 2138b, 2148, 2477a, 2816 bis; RICG, XV, n8 41,
78, 172, 176, 227, 249; RICG, VIII, n8 11.
11 RICG, VIII, 11Limoges, Fortunatus, Carmina, IV, 5: v. 17 18Plurima
pauperibus tribuentes diuite censu, / Misere ad caelos quas sequerentur opes; v.
20 21Felices qui sic de nobilitate fugaci, / Mercati in caelis iura senatus habent!
RICG XV, 99Vienne, Saint-Pierre (6th c.), l. 19 21: Quin etiam sumpto mer-
cedes addet honore:/Pauper laetus abit, nudus discedit opertus,/ Capituus plaudit
liber sese esse redemptum.
12 RICG, XV, 121Vienne, Saint-Pierre (6th c.): l. 4[quae]rentem munera uera
Dei; l. 11 uicit auaritiam quae uincere cuncta solebat; l. 16 Saeculis obtinuit
praemia See Magnani, Eliana: Un tr sor dans le ciel. De la pastorale de lau-
m ne aux tr sors spirituels (IVe-IXe si cle), Le Tr sor au Moyen ge, Colloque
B le-Neuch tel, novembre 2006, dir. L. Burkart, Ph. Cordez, P.-A. Mariaux,
Y. Potin (Micrologusforthcoming).
13 Augustine: Enchiridion, 29, 110, p. 108 109 [De Fide rerum invisibilium. En-
chiridion ad Laurentium de fide et spe et caritate, Turnhout, Brepols, 1969
(CCSL 46)].
116 Eliana Magnani

He also believes that the best way to help the dead is to offer the salutary
sacrifice and give alms.14
According to these principles, which will continuously be used after-
wards,15 even though not mistaken with one another, Eucharistic sacrifice
and almsgiving bear similar effects. Concerning practice, in Augustines
times, commemorating the dead during the Eucharistic celebration was
an old custom.16 However, from the end of the sixth century onwards,
private masses as well as votive masses celebrated for the dead appear,
steadily growing in number up to the ninth century.17 These celebrations
are supplied with alms, while salvation begins to be a value shared in so-
ciety, implying that more and more donations are made to churches.
Donations with a view to redemption start expanding within a new,
very precise documentary context. As was emphasised by Philippe Jobert,
first evidence of donatio pro anima are found in the early seventh centu-
ry,18 and widely spread afterwards in the Occident.
Rather than the transformation of a juridical act, donations for the
salvation of the soul represent a juridical formulation of the doctrine.
They are the result, the concrete and coherent expression of the doctrine
of almsgiving, visible in the very structure of the acts. Analysing acts pre-
ambles thus permits to understand the Eucharistic context within which
they lie.
In acts as well as in epigraphic inscriptions we find a wide range of
actions likely to be compared with donations for the salvation of the
soul. As long as they concern the poor, the priests, the monks and the

14 Augustine: Sermo, 172, 2 (PL 38, 936): Orationibus vero sanctae Ecclesiae, et sac-
rificio salutari, et eleemosynis, quae pro eorum spiritibus erogantur, non est dubita-
ndum mortuos adiuvari; ut cum eis misericordius agatur a Domino, quam eorum
peccata meruerunt.
15 Isidore of Seville, De ecclesiasticis officiis, I, XVIII, 11 (p. 22 23, l. 91 110).
16 Augustine: Sermo, 172, 2 (PL 38, 936): Hoc enim a patribus traditum, universa
observat Ecclesia, ut pro eis qui in corporis et sanguinis Christi communione defuncti
sunt, cum ad ipsum sacrificium loco suo commemorantur, oretur, ac pro illis quoque
id offerri commemoretur.
17 Amiet, Robert: Le culte chr tien pour les d funts, r veiller les morts. La mort
au quotidien dans lOccident m di val, D. Alexandre-Bidon and C. Treffort eds.,
Lyon, Presses Univ. de Lyon, Association des amis des biblioth ques de Lyon,
1993, p. 280 281 and Masses, votive, Dictionary of Middle Ages, t. 8,
p. 200 201; Angenendt, Arnold: Missa specialis: Zugleich ein Beitrag zur En-
tstehung der Privat-Messen, Fr hmitteriaterliche Studien, 17 (1983), p. 153
18 Jobert, Philippe: La notion de donation, p. 205 225.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering 117

churches, they are seen as charitable works that can be offered to God.19
With fragile ephemeral things, one can obtain eternal rewards,20 trans-
form worldly goods into heavenly wealth, take earthly goods to heaven.21
Thanks to this transfer/transformation phenomenon, triggered by
charity, donations and good deeds towards the churches and those in
the service of God, it is possible to constitute treasures in heaven. Pas-
sages of the Gospel according to Matthew ensure that donators will be
able to amass treasures for eternity.22 However, this hoarding depends
on those who directly benefit by the donations: Luke (16, 9) thus invites
to make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that
when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.23 It is
therefore about forming ties, establishing a friendship with those who
are in charge of interceding for the donators salvation.

19 Marculfi Formularum libri duo, A. Uddholm ed. and trans., Uppsala, 1962, p. 18
(qui non minor a Domino retribucio speratur futura pro succiduis contemplante tem-
poribus quam a presens munera pauperibus offerentem), p. 34 (pro eterna retribucio-
nem benefitium), p. 46, 346 (nobis aput aeternum retributorem mercidum suffragia
largiantur), etc.; ARTEM n8 4474 (696unde mercis nostra apud Domino retrib-
uture perennis temporibus debiat convalere), 3870 (727retributorem omnium bo-
norum dominum Jhesum Christum), 2929 (766pro animae suae salutis remedium
vel aeterna retributione), 4788 (804pro aeterna remuneratione), etc.
20 Marculfi Formularum libri duo, p. 350: de caducis rebus mercare aeterna.
21 Marculfi Formularum libri duo, p. 348, 352; Chartae Latinae Antiquiores. Facsim-
ile Edition of the Latin Charters prior to the Ninth Century, t. XIIIFrance IH.
Atsma and J. Vezin eds., 1981, n8 564 (673) = ARTEM n8 4462: de terrena sub-
stantia se transferat in caelestia
22 Mt 6, 19 21nolite thesaurizare vobis thesauros in terra ubi erugo et tinea demo-
litur ubi fures effodiunt et furantur thesaurizate autem vobis thesauros in caelo ubi
neque erugo neque tinea demolitur et ubi fures non effodiunt nec furantur ubi enim
est thesaurus tuus ibi est et cor tuum; Mt. 19, 21 si vis perfectus esse vade vende
quae habes et da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelo; Cyprian of Carthage:
De opere et eleemosynis, ch. 7 and 20. See Iogna-Prat, Dominique: Ordonner et
exclure, p. 211 217; Buc, Philippe: Conversion of objects, Viator (1997),
p. 99 143; Magnani, Eliana: Un tr sor dans le ciel.
23 Marculfi Formularum libri duo, p. 350: Oportit climenciae princepale, inter citeras
peticionis, illut, que pro salute adescribetur et pro divine nominis postolatur, plagabile
auditum suscipere et, procul dubium, ad aefectum perducere, quatenus de caduces
rebus presente secoli aeterna conquiretur, juxta preceptum Domini dicentis: Facetis
vobis amicis de mamona iniquetatis. Ergo de mamona iniquaetatis, juxta ipsius dic-
tum, nos oportit mercare eterna celestia et, dum sacerdotum congrua inpertemus ben-
eficia, retrebutorem Domino ex hoc habyre meriamur in eterna tabernacola
[ARTEM n8 4483 (716), 2931 (768), 2935 (769), 2944 (775), 2943 (775)
2953 (778), 4981 (631/32)]. See Cyprian of Carthage: De opere et eleemosynis,
ch. 12.
118 Eliana Magnani

Gregory the Great (d. 604) recounts for instance that someone had
discovered how Deusdedit, a devout man, had had a house built in the
beyond. The builders (constructores) only worked on Saturdays: indeed,
every Saturday, Deusdedit brought to Saint Peter the surplus of his week-
ly work so as to give it the poor.24 Besides the role played by the friends
who work for their benefactors, this story is an example of the immediate
correspondence, in both worlds, between actions, things and the people
In the charters of the seventh to the ninth centuries and after, dona-
tors request the intercession (intercedere, intercessio, intercessor) of the
Saints and of the Virgin, of the monks serving Christ as well as the
poor, most of the time through prayers for the remission of sins.25 The
mediators place in the relations between men and God is made more
complex and reinforced by the multiplicity of possible intercessors. In
concrete terms, what is actually consolidated is the clergymens domina-
tion. Through the interplay of correspondences and by reversing the
roles, they consider themselves poor, on top of collecting and redistribut-
ing the alms to the real poor. In doing so, they become necessary media
in the communication with the beyond.
The numerous liturgical celebrations dispensed by the monks for the
benefactors salvation, besides prayers, are supposed to be lasting after the
donors death. With the intercession for the souls of the deceased, mass
celebration and Eucharistic offering are increasingly compared with
alms and donations to churches as a way to obtain the salvation of the
soul. In the course of the ninth century, this comparison becomes
more obvious. For instance, in acts of Charles the Bold (d. 877), the con-
nection directly made between vineyards that have been given, the wine
obtained from them and its use in the Eucharist during the mass celebrat-

24 Gregory The Great: Dialogues, A. de Vog ed., P. Antin trans., Paris, Cerf,
1978 1980, 3 vol. (Sources chr tiennes, 251, 260, 265), IV, 38, 1, see also
IV, 37, 7 10, 15 16.
25 Marculfi Formularum libri duo, p. 164: Ait enim scribtura: Absconde aelimosynam
in corde pauperis, et ipsa pro te deprecabitur Domino [Ecc 29, 15]. Abscondamus
ergo elimosynam in corde pauperis, ut proveniat nobis deprecatio pauperum ad remis-
sione peccatorum. ARTEM n8 4511 (654): ut per intercessionem sanctorum illorum
in caelesti regno cum omnebus sanctis mereant particepari et vitam aeternam perci-
pere; 2952 and 2949 (777): ut Dominus per suam misericordiam et intercessiones
sanctorum et orationes pauperum mihi in pace et misericordia debeat recipere. See
Mclaughlin, Megan: Consorting with Saints: Prayer for the Dead in Early Medieval
France, Ithaca (Ill.), Londres, Cornell University Press, 1994.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering 119

ed for the Kings soul, refers to series of transformations.26 Worldly goods

becoming eternal rewards, the oblation that angels move from the altar
here below to the altar on high, the change of bread and wine into the
Body and Blood of Christ: all these phenomena are pure mystery. If
we refer to Charles the Bolds tutor, Walahfrid Strabo (808/9 849), a
parallel can be established between these phenomena and the transforma-
tions taught by Christ when instituting a new type of sacrifice, without
blood, different from that of the Patriarchs: He has taught the passage
from carnal to spiritual, from the earth to heaven, from temporal to eter-
nal, from imperfection to perfection, from resemblance to substantive,
from the image to reality.27
After the Carolingian shift, the comparison made with Eucharistic
types of offering is particularly noticeable in the donations and tax
paid to monasteries under the form of wine, wheat or bread, as shown
by numerous examples from the tenth century onwards.28 At the same
time, the number of testimonies increases, following the example of ob-
lation, of the charter where a donation or a return of goods is recorded
and which is put on the altar, as well as ceremonies taking place down
by the altar (penance, reconciliation, resolution of conflicts).
At that time too, what is expressed in the charters is the need to ac-
company alms and donations with the conversion of men, to turn sinners
into new men. Augustine, by connecting the redeeming efficiency of
charity with the real conversion of the heart and the changes in the do-

26 See Guerreau, Alain: Lavenir dun pass incertain. Quelle histoire du Moyen ge au
XXIe si cle, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 191 205 and Vinea, Les historiens et le latin
m di val. Colloque tenu la Sorbonne les 9, 10 et 11 septembre 1999, M. Goullet,
M. Parisse eds., Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2001, p. 67 73. About
Charles the Bold, see Hen, Yitzhak: The royal patronage of liturgy in Frankish
Gaul to the death of Charles the Bald, 877, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer,
2001 (Subsidia 3), p. 121 145; Nelson, Janet L.: Charles the Bald, London,
New York, Longman, 1992.
27 Walahfrid Strabo: Libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus
ecclesiasticis rerum. A translation and liturgical commentary, A. L. Harting-Correa
ed., Leiden-New-York, Kln, E. J. Brill, 1996 (Mittellateinische Studien und
Texte, 19), p. 102 (et a carnalibus ad spiritualia, a terrenis ad caelestia, a tempo-
ralibus ad aeterna, ab imperfectis ad perfecta, ab umbra ad corpus, ab imaginibus ad
veritatem docuit transeundum). See Cristiani, Marta: Tempo rituale e tempo storico,
comunione cristiana e sacrificio: le controversie eucaristiche nellalto medioevo, Spo-
leto, Centro italiano di studi sullalto Medioevo, 1997, (Collectanea 8).
28 ARTEM n8 1085 (911 916), 1820 (926), 3953 (933), 3788 (950), 2508 (951),
2510 (951 2), 1608 (954), 1635 (999), etc.
120 Eliana Magnani

nors behaviour, paves the way for a spiritualist trend of alms, which im-
plicates those who absolve any sinner for having given alms, without as-
sessing his faults or his way of life.29 To evoke the necessary transforma-
tion of man, certain donation acts refer to a passage in the Book of Eze-
chiel (33, 11), in which God asserts that he does not want the sinner to
die but to become a convert and live.30 This theme reflects the debates
that took place in the eleventh century on the quality of donation, either
pure or not, depending on the donors actions, as is recorded in Peter
Damians (d. 1072) correspondence.31 From the viewpoint of representa-
tions, the spreading of these preoccupations in the documents of practice
is a turning point, linking the traditional transformation of things of-
fered to the transformation of man.
After the first donation acts for the salvation of the soul in the sev-
enth century, the question of transfer and transformation underlies the
perception of the processes triggered by alms and donations to churches
in the preparation for salvation. The latter is viewed as the obtaining of a
recompense from the beyond, which would take the form of an enjoy-
ment proportional to charity practice on earth, these actions aiming at
erasing the sins of man. The phenomenon thanks to which worldly
goods are turned into everlasting heavenly goods, which makes it possible
to constitute treasures in heaven and urges friends to intercede on be-
half of the donor, can be compared to the mystery of the Eucharist. More
than in the simple analogy, already present in the third century, between
the Eucharistic offering during mass and the goods sacrificed for God
and his representatives on earth, the mystery lies in the transformation
undergone by things to go from one sphere to the other, from here
below to the beyond. And only the clergy can execute it. The scope of
the stakes around the Eucharist broadens insofar as the clergy intends
to impose his pre-eminence on society. The shifts in what is said in the

29 Jobert, Philippe: La notion de donation, p. 172 178.

30 ARTEM n8 3994 (1016), 4000 (1021), 4019 (1033), 4028 (1036), 3343
(1086); ARTEM n8 541 (1020): Piissimus ac miserator omnium suorum Dominus,
quotidie operariis suis clamat dicens: O cuncti mei coloni, date et dabitur vobis. Ipse
iterum dicit: Date helemosina et ecce omnia munda sunt vobis. Certe cunctipotens
Dominus quotidie nos expectat, ut convertamur de malum ad bonum de ignorantia
ad scientiam de peccatis ad veram penitentiam; ARTEM n8 1664 (1033): me omni
cordis intentione converti.
31 Peter Damian: Epistolae, K. Reindel ed., Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Die
Briefe der deutschen Kaizerzeit, IV, 1, M nchen, 1983, n8 14, p. 145 150, see
Iogna-Prat, Dominique: Ordonner et exclure, p. 238.
Almsgiving, Donatio Pro Anima and Eucharistic Offering 121

donations preambles are further clues of this process initiated in the Car-
olingian times and achieved in the seigniorial society. The fact that they
managed, in the eleventh century, to connect donations with the conver-
sion of man, to make the altar the place of new rites and to word the dif-
ferent types of transactions (trade, sales, etc) as donations, evidences
that the ecclesiastical doctrine builds around the Eucharistic paradigm
the foundations of the representations of social practices.
Part Two

Medieval Islam
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of
Continuity between Late Antiquity and Islam
Johannes Pahlitzsch

1. Change and Continuity

The transition from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages in Christian
Europe and to Islam in the Levant in the Hellenistic Mediterranean world
was accompanied by a multitude of social changes. Without doubt these
changes constitute one of the most radical historical processes of transfor-
mation. But in analyzing both periods, one clearly notices that there was,
among others, one specific institution of great social importance extant in
both Late Antiquity and in the Middle Ages: the pious foundation.
In the context of this chapter the term foundation describes, in the
sense of the German Stiftung, the designation of property or of the rev-
enues of endowed property to support a definite purpose determined by
the founder. In contrast to a gift, the creation of a foundation is a not
single act but a permanently repeated donation for an indefinite period
of time.1 Throughout changing times the institution of the foundation
thus represents an element of continuity. Because of its permanent char-
acter and since the intention of the founder as laid down in the endow-
ment deed is at least in theory, unchangeable, foundations could transmit
social, political, economic and religious concepts and ideas from one pe-
riod to another. It is true that the institution of the foundation remained

This paper is based on research that has been conducted in the frame of a project
funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung on a comparison between Byzantine and Islam-
ic foundations as well as at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and at the
Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
1 Michael Borgolte, Totale Geschichte des Mittelalters?Das Beispiel der Stif-
tungen (Humboldt-Universit t zu Berlin, ffentliche Vorlesungen 4), Berlin
1993, 8; idem, Einleitung, in: Stiftungen in Christentum, Judentum und
Islam vor der Moderne. Auf der Suche nach ihren Gemeinsamkeiten und Unter-
schieden in religisen Grundlagen, praktischen Zwecken und historischen Trans-
formationen (Stiftungsgeschichten 4), ed. Michael Borgolte, Berlin 2005, 9 21,
here 9 12.
126 Johannes Pahlitzsch

not untouched by all the changes caused by the passage of time. Thus it
will be an interesting task to bring out which significant changes this in-
stitution underwent during the transition from Late Antiquity to the
Middle Ages and how foundations adapted to the different emerging cul-
tures, or how these new societies dealt with the conservative element of
the foundation and to what extent they admitted the transmission of
older social concepts into their own time. What I hope to do now is
to present evidence that may help to answer some of these questions.
The extant Islamic literary sources, mostly written down not before
the 9th century AD, reduce the transition from Late Antiquity to Islamic
civilisation to a simple change of actors: exeunt the Byzantines, taking
classical culture with them; enter the Arabs, bringing theirs.2 According
to the archaeological evidence however, Syria and especially its country-
side, with certain exceptions, was still intact at the moment of the
Arab conquest and apparently still enjoyed the same social and economic
conditions that it had through Late Antiquity. In the case of Gadara
(Umm Qais) or Capitolias (Beit Ras), for example, no archaeological in-
dication of the fact that the cities came under Islamic rule has been
found. Indeed from the end of the 7th century onwards pro-development
activities of the Umayyads brought new economic benefits to the region.3
Several cities were newly founded by the Umayyad dynasty in Syria at
the beginning of the eighth century as such ar-Ramla and Anjar. In these

2 Patricia Crone, Roman, Provincial and Islamic Law. The Origins of the Islamic
Patronate (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization), Cambridge 1987, 17.
Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. A Survey and Evaluation
of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Studies in Late
Antiquity and Early Islam 13), Princeton 1997, 15 f.
3 Mark Whittow, Ruling the Late Roman and Early Byzantine City. A Continuous
History, in: Past and Present 129 (1990), 16; Thomas Maria Weber, Gadara
Umm Qes I. Gadara Decapolitana. Untersuchungen zur Topographie, Ge-
schichte, Architektur und der bildenden Kunst einer Polis Hellenis im Ostjor-
danland (Abhandlungen des deutschen Pal stina-Vereins 30), Wiesbaden 2002,
83 f.; Alan Walmsley, The Social and Economic Regime at Fihl (Pella) Between
the 7th and 9th Centuries, in: La Syrie de Byzance lIslam (Publications de lIn-
stitut Franais de Damas 137), ed. Pierre Canivet and Jean-Paul Rey-Coquais,
Damascus 1992, 249 261. In general for the development cf. Clive Foss,
Syria in Transition, A.D. 550 750. An Archaeological Approach, in: Dumbar-
ton Oaks Papers 51 (1997), 189 269; Alan Walmsley, Production, Exchange
and Regional Trade in the Islamic East Mediterranean. Old Structures, New Sys-
tems?, in: The Long Eighth Century (The Transformation of the Roman World
11), ed. Inge Lysen Hansen and Chris Wickham, Leiden, Boston and Cologne
2000, 265 343.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 127

cases the guiding principles of town planning followed the classical or-
thogonal plan.4 But while the Muslims accepted the planning norms ob-
taining in the region, they used them for their own purposes. Robert Hill-
enbrand has described how in the case of Anjar Muslim elements have

been poured into the classical city plan. These elements are the mosque
and the palace of the governor (dar al-imara), placed in the center of
the city at the junction of the two main streets, and a system of domestic
housing based on the Arab bait system of inter-dependent rooms dis-
posed around a courtyard. According to Hillenbrand the classical
model is being transformed from within.5
In the same way the transformation of the Basilica of St. John in
Damascus into the central mosque of the Umayyad capital could be in-
terpreted as a deliberate choice of the caliph for a policy of continuity,
based on the material and spiritual conditions of the city as well as build-
ing on existing structures. These structures were not left intact, however,
but were modified to accommodate the exigencies of the new dominant
community. So the structure of the town is maintained but its main pub-
lic spaces were Islamicized.6 Actually, the early Islamic period is remark-
able for both its continuity and its change. Old identities as well as insti-
tutions were maintained, especially at the local level, but at the same time
new ones were formed. However while foreign elements were adopted

4 Nimrod Luz, The Construction of an Islamic City in Palestine. The Case of

Umayyad al-Ramla, in: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, series 3, 7 (1997),
27 54; Robert Hillenbrand, Anjar and Early Islamic Urbanism, in: The Idea

and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
(The Transformation of the Roman World 4), ed. Gianpietro Brogiolo and
Bryan Ward-Perkins, Leiden, Boston and Cologne 1999, 59 98; Walmsley, Pro-
duction, 283, 296 (on Ayla/Aqaba); Alan Walmsley, The Islamic City. The Ar-
chaeological Experience in Jordan, in: Mediterranean Archaeology 13 (2000),
1 9; Rebecca M. Foote, Commerce, Industrial Expansion, and Orthogonal
Planning. Mutually Compatible Terms in Settlements of Bilad al-Sham during
the Umayyad Period, in: Mediterranean Archaeology 13 (2000), 25 38.
5 Hillenbrand, Anjar and Early Islamic Urbanism, 76 f. Hillenbrand, ibid., 95,

however regards Anjar as a failed experiment since the two concepts of urban

lifeclassical and Islamiccould not readily coexist for long. Be that as it

may, the example nevertheless shows to which extent the Umayyads adopted pat-
terns of Late Antique culture.
6 Richard van Leeuwen, Waqfs and Urban Structures. The Case of Ottoman Dam-
ascus (Studies in Islamic Law and Society 11), Leiden, New York and Cologne
1999, 7; Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between
Rome and Iran (The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 28), Berkeley
and Los Angeles 1999, 177 f.
128 Johannes Pahlitzsch

these elements were transformed in a translation process and adjusted to

the new structures and concepts.7 Regarding early Islamic culture, Garth
Fowden, in his book on the Umayyad castle Qusayr Amra reaches the

following conclusion: But what is borrowed is put together in novel
ways and for thoroughly contemporary ends.8
Charles Halperin interpreted the discrepancy between the actual take-
over of the conquered peoples culture and the total concealment of this
fact in the Muslim sources as the result of conscious intention. Its goal
was to overcome the conflict between the conquerors claim to cultural
superiority and their actual behaviour towards the conquered. This meth-
od is called by Halperin the ideology of silence. Otherwise the conquer-
ors would have been obliged to justify ideologically the takeover of tra-
ditions or institutions of the subordinated population.9
Against this background the question is whether such a disguised
takeover took place in the case of the institution of the foundation as
well, and whether there is any evidence for Christian influence on the
emergence of the Islamic foundation, the waqf. According to Peter Hen-
nigan the waqf was based on a wide variety of customary locutions, which
were influenced by Byzantine, Jewish, Sassanian or pre-Islamic Arabic
models. This theory corresponds to the approach presented above that Is-
lamic culture developed over a long period of time in interaction between

7 Glen W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Jerome Lectures 18), Cam-

bridge 1990; Averil Cameron, The Eastern Provinces in the Seventh Century
AD. Hellenism and the Emergence of Islam, in: Hellenismos. Quelques jalons
pour une histoire de lidentit grecque, ed. Suzanne Sa d, Leiden 1991, 287
313 [reprint in: Changing Cultures in Early Byzantium (Variorum CS 536), Al-
dershot 1996]; Ahmad Shboul and Alan Walmsley, Identities and Self-Image in
Syria-Palestine in the Transition from Byzantine to Early Islamic Rule. Arab
Christians and Muslims, in: Mediterranean Archaeology 11 (1998), 287. Ger-
ald R. Hawting, John Wansbrough, Islam, and Monotheism, in: Islamic Origins
Reconsidered. John Wansbrough and the Study of Early Islam, ed. Herbert Berg
[= Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 9 (1997)], 23 38. For cultural
translation processes cf. Doris Bachmann-Mehdick, Cultural Turns. Neuorien-
tierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften (Rowohlts Enzyklop die), Reinbek
2006, 238 254.
8 Garth Fowden, Qusayr Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria

(The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 36), Berkeley, Los Angeles and
London 2004, XXIII.
9 Charles Halperin, The Ideology of Silence. Prejudice and Pragmatism on the
Medieval Frontier, in: Comparative Studies of Society and History 26 (1984),
442 466.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 129

the new Muslim rulers and the subjected population.10 The sources con-
cerning Sassanian influences have lately been presented by Maria Mac-
uch11, while possible Christian influences have not yet been studied.
As John Philip Thomas has demonstrated, the evidence afforded by
Egyptian Greek and Coptic papyrus documents of the fifth through
the eighth centuries provides a vivid picture of a society profoundly shap-
ed by Christian foundations of monasteries, churches, xenodochia and the
like, from the largest cities to the smallest villages. This society created,
nurtured, directed and exploited its religious foundations as integral
parts of its social and economic order.12
Regarding Syria and Iraq we unfortunately do not have the kind of
evidence like that provided by the Egyptian papyri.13 Nevertheless there
is some information available, especially on the foundation of monaster-
ies. In connection with the so called social atomization of Late Antique
society,14 Carola J ggi and Hans-Rudolf Meier attribute the high num-
bers of churches and monasteries in the sixth and seventh centuries to
the general attitude of wealthy founders who preferred to build their
own churches rather than donating money to the bishops as they did be-
fore. These private foundations functioned as family foundations, which
served not only spiritual but in certain cases secular purposes as well by
providing a source of income for members of the family.15 In the follow-

10 Peter Charles Hennigan, The Birth of a Legal Institution. The Formation of the
Waqf in Third-Century A.H. Hanafi Legal Discourse (Studies in Islamic Law
and Society 18), Leiden 2004, 50 70.
11 Cf. Maria Macuch, Die sasanidische fromme Stiftung und der islamische waqf.
Eine Gegen berstellung, in: Islamische Stiftungen zwischen sozialer Norm und
juristischer Praxis (Stiftungsgeschichten 5), ed. Astrid Meier, Johannes Pahlitzsch
and Lucian Reinfandt, Berlin 2009, 19 38.
12 John Philip Thomas, Private Religious Foundations in the Byzantine Empire
(Dumbarton Oaks Studies 24), Washington 1987, 59.
13 One exception is the Nessana papyri, cf. Casper J. Kraemer Jr., Excavations at
Nessana, vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri, Princeton 1958.
14 Alexander Kazhdan and Anthony Cutler, Continuity and Discontinuity in By-
zantine History, in: Byzantion 52 (1982), 448.
15 Carola J ggi and Hans-Rudolf Meier, this great appetite for church building
still needs adequate explanation: Zum Kirchenbauboom in der Sp tantike, in:
Pratum Romanum, Richard Krautheimer zum 100. Geburtstag, ed. Renate L.
Colella and Meredith J. Gill, Wiesbaden 1997, 181 198. At the end of the
6th and the beginning of the 7th century in many cases up to 12 churches
and more existed not only in big cities but also in smaller towns. For example,
inside the town of Umm al-Jimal in Jordan 14 churches have been identified,
ibid., 196 f. I owe this reference to Isabel Toral-Niehoff. Thomas, Private Reli-
130 Johannes Pahlitzsch

ing section, the evidence for the Miaphysite Syrian orthodox Church (the
so called Jacobites), the Nestorians and the Greek orthodox Church will
be presented.

2. Christian Pious Foundations in Early Islamic Syria and Iraq

2.1. The Syrian Orthodox Church

Greco-Roman as well as Christian traditions were integrated into Arab

culture in Syria, particularly by the tribe of the Miaphysite Ghassanids
who had been allies of Byzantium until the Islamic conquest. According
to the Greek historian Sozomenos of the 5th century, the Arabs in the 4th
century had already been familiar with Christianity through their en-
counters with priests and monks who lived close to them.16 The diffusion
of monastic institutions in the province Arabia, the heartland of Ghassa-
nid rule, is demonstrated in a letter from the 560 s in which the abbots of
this province condemned the tritheistic heresy. All in all 137 abbots sign-
ed this document.17 Although we do not have concrete accounts of the
establishment of endowments for monasteries by the Ghassanid kings
there is however the statement of al-Isfahani (897 967) in his Kitab
ad-diyarat (The Book of Monasteries), that points to the involvement
of the Ghassanid kings as well as others in the foundation of monasteries:
Three groups of Yamanite Christians used to compete with one another in
the construction of churches (biya ) with attention to their decoration (ziyy)

and the beauty of their structures: the house of al-Mundhir in Hira (i. e. the
Lakhmids), and Ghassan in ash-Sham and Banu al-Harith ibn-Ka b, the

gious Foundations, 63 69, 71 75 and 96 f. I am preparing a comparative study

on family foundations in Byzantium and the Islamic world.
16 Sozomenos, Historia ecclesiastica (Sources chr tiennes 494), ed. Joseph Bidez,
Paris 2005, 6.38.14, 464. Elizabeth Key Fowden, Christianity and the
Umayyads, in: Garth Fowden and Elizabeth Key Fowden, Studies on Hellenism,
Christianity and the Umayyads (Meletema 37), Athens 2004, 149.
17 Documenta ad origines monophysitarum illustrandas (Corpus scriptorum chris-
tianorum orientalium 17, Scriptores Syri 17), ed. Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Paris
1908 (reprint Louvain 1955), 145 156. Theodor Nldeke, Zur Topographie
und Geschichte des damaszenischen Gebiets und der Haurangegend, in: Zeit-
schrift der deutschen morgenl ndischen Gesellschaft 29 (1875), 419 444;
Georg Graf, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur (Studi e testi
118), vol. 1, Citt del Vaticano 1944, 17; Irfan Shahid, Byzantium and the
Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 1, part 2, Washington 1995, 821 838; and
vol. 2, part 1, Washington 2002, 148 and 183 f.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 131

Harithids in Najran. Their monasteries (diyarat), which were exceedingly

high, were located in places that abounded with trees, gardens, and stream-
lets. They used to have the appointments/furnishings (alat) of these struc-
tures made of gold and silver, and their veils/curtains made of brocade. In
their walls they had mosaics and in their ceilings gold.18
One specific example of the giving of generous donations to monasteries
is provided by the 6th century historian John of Ephesus. According to
him the Ghassanid king al-Mundhir, after a successful campaign against
the Lakhmids in 575, distributed gifts to monasteries, churches and the
poor from the spoils of the war.19
As founders of monasteries local bishops were also active with the in-
tention of spreading Christianity among the indigenous population. Ahu-
demmeh (559 575), the Miaphysite metropolitan of the East in Beth
Arabaye ( Arbaya), i. e. Upper Mesopotamia, was active as a missionary

among the Arab nomads of that region. One of his means of achieving
his goal was the construction of sacred buildings and monasteries. It is
noteworthy here that local chiefs of tribes are mentioned as patrons
and supporters of the monasteries.20 These monasteries which were
founded in the desert at places with sufficient water supply functioned
as harbours for nomads, merchants and travelers as in the case of the Ser-
gius monastery that had been founded by Marutha (629 649), the Mi-

18 Al-Isfahanis book is lost but quotations have been transmitted in the works of
other authors, in this case in Yaqut, Mu jam al-buldan, ed. Ferdinand W sten-

feld, vol. 2, Leipzig 1867, 703. The translation follows Shahid, Byzantium and
the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, 161. For the genre of books on
monasteries cf. Hilary Killpatrick, Monasteries through Muslim Eyes: the diyarat
Books, in: Christians at the Heart of Islamic Rule. Church Life and Scholarship
in Abbasid Iraq (The History of Christian-Muslim Relations 1), ed. David Tho-

mas, Leiden and Boston 2003, 19 38.

19 John of Ephesus, Historia Ecclesiastica (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Ori-
entalium 105, Scriptores Syri 3), ed. Ernest Walter Brooks, Louvain 1935, 287
(Syriac), 217 (Latin translation). Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth
Century, vol. 1, part 1, Washington 1995, 381.
20 He established churches and gave them the names of the chiefs of their tribes so
that they might extend their assistance to these churches in all matters that they
need. Their alms spread over all men and in every place but especially more
over the holy monasteries, which are to the present day still sustained by them as
far as their material needs are concerned , Histoires dAhoudemmeh et de
Marouta, m tropolitains jacobites de Tagrit et de lOrient (VIe et VIIe si cles)
(Patrologia orientalis 3, 1), ed. and transl. Franois Nau, Paris 1905 (reprint
Paris and Turnhout 1982), 27 f. The translation follows Shahid, Byzantium
and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, 177 f.
132 Johannes Pahlitzsch

aphysite metropolitan of Takrit in the middle of the 7th century, in the

desert near his bishopric.21 According to these reports the Miaphysite
monasteries did rely mostly on donations of rulers or chiefs of tribes
and on the gifts of travelers and pilgrims. Endowments of landed prop-
erty are not mentioned although they may have been made. In the just
quoted passage of al-Isfahani it is already stated that the monasteries
owned agricultural lands.22
The biography of Saint Symeon of the Olives who was made bishop
of Harran in 699/700 and died in 734 gives a very detailed description of
endowments of landed property to Syrian orthodox monasteries. I will
now discuss this very exceptional source more extensively.23 Although
the Vita has clearly acquired numerous accretions since its first draft
by Symeons grandnephew Mar Ayyub, a historical kernel is nevertheless
discernible.24 A later copyist most probably would not have been interest-
ed in interpolating lists and descriptions of properties which were in any
case not detailed enough to base any claims of property on it. Since these
pieces of information do not have any topical function it stands to reason
to assign them to the original version of the text.
Symeons origins were in Habsenas in the mountainous region of Tur
Abdin; after having spent some time in the monastery of Qartmin, he

went to a dependency of that monastery in a valley near Sirwan furnished

with many lands for the food of the table in the monastery. Symeon

21 Fowden, The Barbarian Plain, 125 f.; and eadem, Christianity and the
Umayyads, 150 156.
22 Cf. above note 18.
23 The text of the Saints Life is not yet published, cf. Andrew Palmer, Monk and
Mason on the Tigris Frontier. The Early History of Tur Abdin (University of

Cambridge Oriental Publications 39), Cambridge 1990, 159 165; Sebastian

Brock, The Fenqitho of the monastery of Mar Gabriel in Tur Abdin, in: Ostkir-

chliche Studien 28 (1979), 168 182, especially 174 179, gives a paraphrase ac-
cording to the abridged and linguistically revised version in: Maktabzabne d-
umra qaddisha d-Qartmin, ed. Philoxenus Y. Dolabani, Mardin 1959, 125

158. I have used the reprint Losser by 19912, 81 100. For reading the Syriac
text I am indebted to Dorothea Weltecke. In the following I am relying on
the 19th manuscript Paris, syr. 375, cf. Franoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Manuscrits
syriaques de la Biblioth que nationale de France (nos. 356 435, entr s depuis
1911), de la Biblioth que M janes dAix-en-Provence, de la Biblioth que munic-
ipale de Lyon et de la Biblioth que nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg. Cata-
logue, Paris 1997, 57 60; and eadem, Note sur lhistoire du monast re de Saint-
Gabriel de Qartamin, in: Le Mus on 98 (1985), 95 102. For the translation of
this manuscript text I am indebted to Richard Payne.
24 Cf. Brock, The Fenqitho, 174; and Palmer, Monks and Mason, 161 f.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 133

administered this monastery and his fame spread in all the land of Tur
Abdin, and God also performed many miracles through him. It seems

that his biographer hastens to add that he became famous not only be-
cause of his administrative skills.25
Mar Ayyub, the hagiograph, proceeds with the story of a treasure that
was found by Symeons nephew David in a cave. This nephew henceforth
provided Symeon with gold from the treasure which the Saint spent not
only for strangers, the poor or widows and orphans, but for the purchase
of many fields and villages, as well as for the purchase of income-produc-
ing property inside of cities. These included courtyards (daratha), which
can mean either farms or economic facilities of some kind, perhaps con-
nected with trade, as well as shops, mills and gardens.26 The topos of a
treasure trove is not very common but we know it, interestingly enough,
from the life of another Saint from Northern Mesopotamia, the Melkite
Theodosios Kionites, who lived in the first half of the 9th century and also
used the treasure he found to establish a monastery and a hospital in a
city. In the case of Symeon the function of this topos might have been
to resolve the inherent contradiction between the ascetic life of the
monks and the great wealth of the monastery of Qartmin.27 So it
seems likely that Symeon indeed used the resources of his monastery
for these investments.
He was especially famous for planting 2000 olive trees which he
brought from distant lands and which he protected by a high stone
wall and a thorny hedge. He invested great care and much labour in
this plantation which after five years, already bore fruit. This was deemed
a great success, since the region was not suited for olive-growing. Olives
were sought-after in the Tur Abdin mountains since their oil was needed

for the lighting of its many churches and monasteries. To quote the
Saints Life: because of this matter of the olives, Mar Symeon is called
of the Olives until today.28 Actually his Vita is remarkable for its em-
phasis on economic matters, although it naturally contains many stories
of miracles worked by Symeon. It must be pointed out that even the
Saints epithet of the Olives was deduced from a successful economic

25 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 154 f.

26 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 159 161; Brock, The Fenqi-
tho, 175.
27 Thomas Pratsch, Der hagiographische Topos. Griechische Heiligenviten in mit-
telbyzantinischer Zeit (Millennium-Studien 6), Berlin 2005, 255 f.
28 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 161 163; Brock, The Fenqi-
tho, 175 f.
134 Johannes Pahlitzsch

enterprise. Thus it is quite reasonable to assume that Symeons fame was

indeed mainly based on his abilities as administrator of the funds of the
monastery of Qartmin.
This conclusion is confirmed by his activities in Nisibis, which are
described in detail in the saints Life. After giving up his life as stylite Sy-
meon betook himself to Nisibis, where with the permission of the local
authorities29, he first purchased an abandoned and run-down building
outside the eastern gate of the city to found a large and richly decorated
monastery with a high column for anchorites. In the south of this new
foundation he added a hospice (daira putqa) as lodging for travelers
and merchants. He also bought five millstones and three gardens for
the monastery. Inside the town he built a church in honor of Mary.30
Somewhere near the eastern gate he replaced the old temple of Mar Fe-
bronia with the great church of the martyr Theodoros. Furthermore he
rebuilt the monastery of the Nativity of Christ as well the monastery of
Saint Febronia which was situated to the west of the newly founded
church of Saint Theodoros,31 for which he purchased many fields inside
the town near the eastern gate.32 Thus it seems that the new church of St.
Theodoros stood on the site of the church of the monastery of St. Febro-
nia. In the rebuilt monastery of Febronia, Symeon settled nuns (dairaya-
tha and banath qyama) whom he provided with a monastic rule. The
monastery of Mar Domet (Dimat) was founded by him as well to the
southwest of the church of St. Theodoros. For the supply of these
three monasteries he acquired shops (hanwatha), courtyards (daratha)
and houses (bate). Outside of the city wall he erected a mill which he con-
nected with a wall and a tower to the city wall. Moreover he opened a
gate to give access to the mill which was named after him, Mill of
Mar Simeon of the Olives and endowed (shakken) this mill to the mon-
astery of Qartmin. Furthermore he bought beautiful baths and endowed
them for the monastery of Mar Elisha, another of the Saints founda-

29 For this cf. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 170 f.
30 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 165 f.; the activities of Symeon
in Nisibis are summarized in Brock, The Fenqitho, 176 f.
31 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 170.
32 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 166.
33 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 177 f. Where this monastery
might have been, remains an open question. Maybe it could be identified with
the above mentioned monastery with the column.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 135

The overall picture that emerges is that the Syrian orthodox com-
munity of Nisibis was revived and strengthened with a focus on the
northeastern part of the town by Symeons foundations.34 Regarding
the economics of their construction, Symeons foundations were inde-
pendent, self-sufficient institutions endowed with the typical types of
property such as agricultural lands, shops, houses (which were most prob-
ably rented), bath-houses which also produced income, and courtyards.
As mentioned before, these courtyards may have been khan-like struc-
tures where merchants could stay and store and sell their merchandise.
Indeed, to endow a bath or a khan would later become a very common
means of financing an Islamic endowment.
The two above mentioned chuches, the Church of Mary and the
Church of St. Theodore, however, were obviously differently constructed
institutions in comparison to the monasteries. Endowments are not men-
tioned in connection with them. Actually, the smaller churches may not
have needed their own clerics and their own income. They could be sup-
ported and operated by other institutions. Regarding the St. Theodore
church, the Vita provides us with some information. The Vita describes
the church in the following terms:
All the faithful went to pray (in the newly erected church). This is the reason
the church grew rich through the countless faithful, all the ascetics and the
poor, vagrants and wage laborers, who came to the city of Nisibis. They took
rest in this church and their every need was satisfied by it. They came to it at
night and during the day. Because he (Symeon) enriched it with all bodily
and spiritual needs, the saint was assisted by all the faithful in all our
land. Gifts and supplies were sent to him.35
Thus, the Church of St. Theodore was the center of Syrian orthodox life
in that region. However it is not known whether Nisibis at that time was
a Syrian orthodox bishopric although the majority of the Christian pop-
ulation did belong to the Nestorian church.36 The church was financed

34 Cf. the plan of Nisibis in the appendix. A general archaeological survey of Ni-
sibis/Nasibin has not yet been conducted to my knowledge so that the informa-
tion from the literary sources presented here cannot be compared with the ar-
chaeological evidence.
35 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 175 f.
36 Jean Maurice Fiey, Nisibe. M tropole syriaque orientale et ses suffragants des ori-
gines nos jours (Corpus scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 388, subsidia
54), Louvain 1977, 72 74. The Nestorians strongly resisted the building of the
church, Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 171; Palmer, Monks and
Mason, 164.
136 Johannes Pahlitzsch

by donations of travelers and visitors. But it can be assumed that at reg-

ular intervals it received some kind of dues and taxes from the Syrian or-
thodox community. At least the building itself had been financed by the
Qartmin monastery. In the so called Chronicle of 819, a history of the
Qartmin monastery, it is explicitly mentioned that Lord Simeon, bishop
of Harran, built and completed the church of the orthodox in Nisibis, all
the necessary expenses and outlay for it being provided by the same bish-
op, out of the monastery of Qartmin.37 The monastery also might have
contributed to the maintenance of the church.
Not only the Theodoros church but also the other foundations of Sy-
meon were probably financed by the Qartmin monastery. Thus the inde-
pendence of the monasteries in Nisibis and its main church was some-
what limited according to the Vita:
He (Symeon) wrote and decreed that everything that was beyond the needs
of these monasteries that he had built, and of the church of Mar Theodore
should proceed to the monastery of Qartmin, and that the monks of the
monastery should receive the first fruits of every believer who went down
and participated in the feasts of that church.38
According to this statement the whole system of endowments and foun-
dations in Nisibis is presented as one foundation made by the monastery
of Qartmin which, as founder, still had access to the revenues of these
foundations and thus regarded these institutions as its property. This ac-
tually is in accordance with the attitude of the private founders of pious
foundations in Egypt and Byzantium in the same period.39
Athanasios bar Gumaye of Edessa is another prominent founder. As
governor of Egypt around the year 700 he became very rich and used his
wealth for patronage toward his church. He founded churches and mon-
asteries in Egypt and a baptistery in his hometown Edessa where he also
owned a number of shops.40 Using the revenues of these shops he built

37 Translation after Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 170.

38 Life of Symeon of the Olives, Paris, syr. 375, fol. 178.
39 Cf. the list of Symeons endowments in Nisibis in the appendix. Thomas, Private
Religious Foundations, 71 f., 95.
40 Michael the Great, Chronique de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite dAntio-
che (1166 1199), ed. and transl. Jean Baptiste Chabot, vol. 2, Paris 1901, 475 f.
(French transl.); vol. 4, Paris 1910, 447 f. (Syriac). Michael Morony, Michael the
Syrian as a Source for Economic History, Hugoye 3, 2 (2000) (http://syrcom., 40, suggests that the num-
ber of 3 shops given by Michael the Syrian has to be corrected to 400 according
to Bar Hebraeus.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 137

the church of the Mother of God in Edessa. Athansios may have endow-
ed the shops revenues permanently for the maintenance of his founda-
tion as in the case of the great church of Edessa which was held by the
Melkites. According to Michael the Syrian, at the beginning of the 9th
century, the income of this church came from inns, shops and similar
buildings that it owned.41

2.2. The Nestorians

The Nestorian church in Iraq provides ample evidence for foundations

endowed with landed property. The Church synods of 576 and 585
stipulated explicitly that the founders of monasteries were required to
set aside sufficient funds for their maintenance.42 For al-Hira, the former
capital of the Lakhmids, 40 monasteries and churches inside and outside
of the town are still mentioned in the Abbasid period.43 If one takes the

41 Michael the Great, Chronique, vol. 3, Paris 1905, 74 (French transl.); 4, 523
(Syriac). Morony, Michael the Syrian as a Source for Economic History, 43.
42 For the synod of 576 cf. Synodicon orientale ou recueil de synodes nestoriens,
ed. Jean-Baptiste Chabot, Paris 1902, 127 (Syriac), 386 (French transl.); the
canon XI of the synod of 585 states: Les anciens, par suite du z le qui les excitait
accomplir la volont du Christ, r tablirent et fond rent et l de nombreux
monast res, qui maintenant par suite de n gligence sont tomb s en ruines,
ainsi quil est crit dans le canon pr c dent. Cest pourquoi nous enseignons et
nous enjoignons quaucun chr tien ne batisse de nouveaux monast res en dehors
de la conaissance de l vque qui gouverne le dioc se; et sil en b tit, l vque en
ayant connaissance, quil leur assigne et leur donne un revenu suffisant pour leur
subsistance et pour lhospitalit des p lerins; car celui qui r pare les couvents ru-
in s agit beaucoup mieux que celui qui en b tit de nouveaux qui ne sont pas n c-
essaires. , 147 (Syriac), 408 (French transl.). These canons are actually very
similar to regulations of the Codex Iustinianus on that matter issued some 40
years before, cf. nov. 67, c. 2: Deinde non aliter quempia ecclesiam ex novo ae-
dificare, priusquam loquatur ad Deo amabile episcopum, et definiat mensuram
quam deputat et ad luminaria, et ad sacrum ministerium, et ad incorrumpendae
domus custodiam, et observatium alimenta, et si sufficieter habere videtur, faciat
prius donationem eorum quae futura sunt deputari: et ita domus aedificetur.
43 Isabel Toral-Niehoff, Stammesf rsten und Dichterknigedie arabischen Chris-
ten und das Reich der Lahmiden (Habilitationsschrift Freie Universit t Berlin

2008) (forthcoming). Information on monasteries in the region of al-Hira has
been collected by Arif Abd al-Ghani, Ta rikh al-Hira fi l-Jahiliyya wa-l-Islam,

Damascus 1993, 43 84; and Jean Maurice Fiey, Assyrie Chr tienne, vol. 3:
B t Garma , B t Aramay et Maisan nestoriens (Recherches publi es sous la di-
rection de lInstitut de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth 42), Beirut 1968, 212
138 Johannes Pahlitzsch

observations of J ggi and Meier on Syria in account it may be assumed

that these churches and monasteries were private foundations since the
majority of them are named after their founders instead of a saint.44 So
the monastery of Hind the Elder (dayr al-Hind al-Kubra) had been
built by this Lakhmid princess, according to its building inscription, to
achieve remission of sins.45 Regarding the support of monasteries by
the Lakhmid kings, the statement of al-Isfahani in his Kitab ad-diyarat
has already been mentioned.46 The last Lakhmid king Nu man III, at

the turn of the 6th to the 7th century, donated 500 lamps made of gold
and silver for the Dayr Hind the Younger.47
A more detailed case for the establishment of a foundation is the
School of Nisibis which was founded at the end of the 5th century, as
the Nestorian bishop of the town bought for its first director Mar Narses
a stable of camels near the cathedral to serve as a site of the school.48 At
the beginning of the 6th century however, the then director of the school,
Saint Abraham of Beth Rabban built a xenodochion, a hospice or guest-
house, so that the students would not have to roam the town, and also
as a place for the treatment of the ill. Furthermore he constructed two
bath-houses, one for the monks, i. e. the students, the other for the use
of its revenues to the support the hospice (xenodocheion). The construc-
tion of a bath as a source of income is one of the most common ways
of financing a foundation, as mentioned above. In the statutes of the
school from 590 a special administrator of the hospital (aksenadakra,
i. e. xenodokos) is mentioned. So we have a quite sophisticated institution
here. However, according to the Ecclesiastical History of Barhadbe-
shabba Arbaia, the students as yet had no cells to live in. Since at least

some of them obviously did not live in Nisibis they could not regularly
visit the church and the school. To find a remedy for this problem, the
director of the school, Saint Abraham of Beth Rabban, asked Qashwi,
an influential physician at the Sasanian court, to donate a piece of
land on which the Saint built 80 cells at his own expense. As the school

44 Toral-Niehoff, Stammesf rsten und Dichterknige.

45 This inscription is quoted by Yaqut, Mu jam al-buldan, vol. 2, 709.

46 Cf. above note 18.

47 Shahid, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, 163.
48 Barhadbeshabba Arbaia, Histoire eccl siastique (IIe partie) (Patrologia Orientalis

9, fasc. 5), ed. Franois Nau, Turnhoult 1913 (repr. 1983), 608. Adam H. Beck-
er, Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: the School of Nisibis and Chris-
tian Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia, Philadelphia 2006, 79
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 139

did not have the resources for the subsistence of its teachers, Abraham
bought a village for 1000 staters and ordered that its revenues be used
for the salaries of the teachers while the remaining surplus should go
to the xenodocheion. 49 Hence this is a quite explicit description of a func-
tioning pious foundation.
At the beginning of 8th century, Saint John of Daylam (died 738)
founded three monasteries in the province of Fars near the coast of the
Persian Gulf in an effort to spread Christianity in that region. These
foundations will be discussed in more detail below. Here it suffices to
quote what is said about the way he founded the third institution, the
Monastery of the Suryaye (the Syrians):
John sent some monks to the local dihqans (a class of Persian landed proprie-
tors) who owned the land, bought up the whole of the Pashkar area, and got
written confirmation of the sale, with mobeds (Zoroastrian priests) and local
dignitaries acting as witnesses.50
So this sale was completed with the cooperation of the local notables,
some of whom at least were non-Christians. The building of the monas-
tery which is described as spacious and extraordinarily beautiful was ob-
viously financed by the gains from long-distance trade enterprised by
John, since it is mentioned that for just that purpose he sent two
monks to the great sea, and who brought back 70,000 pieces of silver
from Ceylon.51

49 Barhadbeshabba Arbaia, Histoire eccl siastique, 622 624. Cynthia Villagomez

and Michael Morony, Ecclesiastical Wealth in the East Syrian Church from
Late Antiquity to Early Islam, in: After Bardaisan. Studies on Continuity and
Change in Syriac Christianity in Honour of Professor Han J. W. Drijvers (Ori-
entalia Lovanensia Analecta 89), ed. Gerrit Jan Reinink and Alexander Cornelis
Klugkist, Leuven 1999, 304; Michael W. Dols, The Origins of the Islamic Hos-
pital: Myth and Reality, in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61 (1987),
374 f. A further example mentioned by Dols, The Origins of the Islamic Hospi-
tal, 376, is Mar Babai who gave up most of his worldly goods, became a monk,
led an ascetic life, went back home to Beit Zabdai, and built on his familys land a
monastery that contained large schools.
50 Sebastian Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, in: Parole de lOrient 10
(1981 1982), 172 f. (version C). Version C contains according to Brock,
126 f., many episodes absent from the standard version H and follows a source
that might have been based on oral tradition going back to the saint himself; cf.
also ibid., 164 n. 54.
51 Sebastian Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, 173. In version H a palm gar-
den, and further gardens and orchards are mentioned, ebd. 150.
140 Johannes Pahlitzsch

In the early Abbasid period the Nestorian catholicos Timothy I (780

823) mentions in one of his letters in 790 that he had founded a hospital
in Ctesiphon and spent for it about 20,000 zuze (silver coins). However if
he got the money from wealthy Christians at the caliphal court, as Mi-
chael Dols suggests, is a matter of speculation.52

2.3. The Greek Orthodox Church

For Syria in general and the Greek Orthodox Church in particular we do

not have comparable narrative sources describing the establishment of
foundations with endowed property.53 However the numerous mosaics
with inscriptions from churches and monasteries in Jordan demonstrate
that donations were an important part of the social and religious life of
the Christian population from the sixth to the eighth century.54 Especially
rich in inscriptions from the Umayyad period is the Church of St. Ste-
phen in Umm ar-Rasas, i. e. Kastron Mefaa:
At the time of our most pious father, Bishop Sergios, the mosaic work of the
holy and glorious [sanctuary] of the protodeacon and protomartyr Stephen
was realized thanks to the zeal of Ioannes, son of Isakios, son of Lexos, the
most loved by God deacon and archon of the Mefaonites [and] oikonomos,

52 Les lettres du Patriarche Nestorien Timoth e I (Studi e Testi 187), ed. Raphael J.
Bidawid, Citt del Vaticano 1956, 117; Dols, The Origins of the Islamic Hos-
pital, 379 f.
53 However cf. above, n. 41, the statement of Michael the Great regarding the Mel-
kite Great Church in Edessa.
54 The inscriptions do not distinguish between permanent foundations with assets
that generate income and one-time donations. For the most part the inscriptions
refer probably to donations while the costs for the maintenance of the buildings
were provided by a communal fund, Peter Baumann, Sp tantike Stifter im
Heiligen Land. Darstellungen und Inschriften auf Bodenmosaiken in Kirchen,
Synagogen und Privath usern, (Sp tantikefr hes ChristentumByzanz,
Reihe B, Studien und Perspektiven 5), Wiesbaden 1999, 302 f. For the historical
and social context in which the mosaics were created, cf. Pierre-Louis Gatier, Les
mosa ques pal ochr tiennes de Jordanie et lhistoire de lArabie byzantine, in: Les
glises de Jordanie et leur mosa ques. Actes de la journ e d tudes, organis e
loccasion de linauguration de lexposition Mosa ques byzantines de Jordanie
au mus e de la Civilisation gallo-romaine Lyon en avril 1989, ed. No l
Duval, Beirut 2003, 289-296; Jean-Pierre Caillet, L verg tisme monumental
chr tien dans la Jordanie de la fin de lAntiquit , in: Les glises de Jordanie,
297 302; for the founders or donors respectively, as far as we do know anything
about them, cf. Baumann, Sp tantike Stifter, 298 309.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 141

and [thanks to the zeal] of all the Christ-loving people of Kastron Mefaa, in
the month of October of the second indiction in the year 680 of the Prov-
ince of Arabia (= 785 AD; or 613 = 718 AD); for the memory and the
repose of the Christ loving Phidos, son of Aias.55
This a typical example of a dedication inscription. Its formula, according
to Peter Baumann, consists firstly of the mention of the bishop who had
to give his permission for any building56 ; secondly, of the reference to the
local cleric who had to oversee any building activity. He is usually intro-
duced by the phrase spoude or dia/ek spoudes, i. e. thanks to the zeal of
here it is the deacon John.57 The reference to the people of Kastron Mefaa
was probably meant to emphasize the collective responsibility of the com-
munity. Thirdly, the donor could be named, as will be seen below in the
case of the inscriptions of the church of St. Menas in Rihab. In the
church of St. Stephen in Umm ar-Rasas the names of the actual donors
are given in discrete inscriptions.58 Fourthly commemorations of deceased
persons could be included, be it a relative of the donor or of the donor
himself if it is a donation causa mortis. 59 If the commemorated Phidos
was in one of these categories is not known.
The church of Mary in Madaba however was jointly furnished with a
mosaic in 662 or 767 by the residents. Obviously future generations were
expected to make donations to the church as well:
At the time of our most pious father, Bishop Theophanes, this most beauti-
ful mosaic work was realized in the glorious and venerable house of the holy
and immaculate queen, the Mother of God. Thanks to the zeal and ardor of
the people who love Christ in this city of Madaba, for the salvation of, and
assistance and remission of sins of those who have made offerings, and of
those who will make offerings, to this holy place. Amen, O Lord. Finished
by the grace of God in the month of February in the year *74, of the fifth
indiction(= 662 or 767 AD).60

55 Baumann, Sp tantike Stifter, 179.

56 Cf. also Caillet, L verg tisme, 297 f.
57 He held all important positions in the town of Umm ar-Rasas. As archon he was
the political leader of the community and as oikonomos he managed the funds of
the local church.
58 Baumann, Sp tantike Stifter, 169 178.
59 Baumann, Sp tantike Stifter, 179 f., 277 288.
60 The Greek text with French translation in Anne Michel, Les glises d poque
byzantine et umayyade de Jordanie (Provinces dArabie et de Palestine) Ve-
VIIIe si cle. Typologie architecturale et am nagements liturgiques (avec catalogue
des monuments) (Biblioth que de lAntiquit Tardive 2), Turnhout 2001, 318 f.,
142 Johannes Pahlitzsch

The Church of St. Menas in Rihab was founded by a single family, prob-
ably as a private church for the family and its clients in 635, i. e. exactly in
the year of the Arab conquest of this region61:
By grace of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour, was built, paved with mosaics
and completed the Temple of Saint Menas at the time of Theodore, the most
holy and honored by God metropolitan, by offerings from Procopius, [son]
of Martyrius, and Comitissa, his consort, and of their sons for the remission
of the sins and the repose of [their] parents. [It] was written in the month of
March at the time of the eighth indiction of the year 529 [A.D. 635].62
Thus Procopius, his wife Comitissa and their sons are named as founders.
The reward for this pious deed should go to their parents who are com-
memorated by this foundation. Another example for the continuing care
of a family for their foundation is the Church in Salkhad that was found-
ed immediately before the Arab conquest in 633 and received a new at-
rium in 665 as the donation of the original founders son.63

3. Transcultural Contacts and Exchange

These examples demonstrate how Christian pious foundations were wide-
spread in pre-Islamic times and that new foundations were continuously
established. However these instances provide no evidence that transcul-
tural exchange actually took place. To prove that cross-cultural contact
and exchange did occur in the transitional period between Late Antiqutiy
and Islam, cases of the transformation of pious foundations from one re-
ligion to another as well as examples of patronage of Christian founda-
tions by non-Christians are of special importance.64

who also deals with the dating. Michele Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan.
Amman 1993, 65.
61 For these rural churches of influential families and their clerics who were depend-
ent on the founders, cf. Caillet, L verg tisme, 299 301.
62 Michel, Les glises, 217; Piccirillo, The Mosaics, 313.
63 Foss, Syria in Transition, 254.
64 Fritz Graebner, Methodologie der Ethnologie (Kulturgeschichtliche Bibliothek,
Reihe 1: Ethnologische Bibliothek 1), Heidelberg 1911, 91 125, tries to estab-
lish criteria on the basis of which it would be possible to decide if similar cultural
phenomena emerged independently or because of cultural exchange. I am indebt-
ed to Benjamin Kedar for this reference.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 143

3.1. Transformations of Pious Foundations

Conversions of foundations from one religion to another are quite diffi-

cult to trace. A very illuminating example however is the case of the Nes-
torian Saint Qardagh of the 4th century who came from an old Persian
family and served the Great king Shabuhr II (339 379) as governor in
Iraq. His parents lived in a Zoroastrian fire temple that they had founded
and endowed with rich property. According to his Vita, after his conver-
sion the saint began to give away his property to the poor and the church,
whereupon his father objected, saying that he might make a mockery of
his family, but he should abstain from affecting the fire temple. The func-
tion of this type of foundation as a means to support the family and to
keep together the property of the family becomes quite clear in this hag-
iographic text.65 However the saint did not heed the warnings of his fa-
ther and converted the temple into a big, which propably means richly
endowed, monastery.66
Another case is the transformation of a former heathen temple into a
fire temple in the time of Khusraw I Anushirawan (531 579). Neverthe-
less the original owners retained the hereditary right of the new temples
administration.67 These examples show clearly that at least in pre-Islamic
times there existed some kind of interdependency between the various
types of foundations in the Near East across religious boundaries.
An example from the Umayyad period is the second foundation of
the already mentioned John of Daylam in the province of Fars. At the
approach of the yearly festival of the godhead Babi who was worshipped
by the local Zoroastrians (Magians) in a temple, John demonstrated to
them that Babi was just a demon and replaced his feast with the festival
of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus since they were commemorated at about the
same time. Then the lady who owned the property in which the temple,
sacred garden and fig tree were situated, donated the land to John. On it,
he built a church dedicated to St. Sergius.68 From the Umayyad period we

65 For the foundations of fire temples cf. Mary Boyce, On the Sacred Fires of the
Zoroastrians, in: BSOAS 31 (1968), 52 58, hier 56 58; eadem, The Pious
Foundations of the Zoroastrians, in: BSOAS 31 (1968), 270 289; and Macuch,
Die sasanidische fromme Stiftung, which also deals with the Sassanian law of in-
66 Acta Mar Kardaghi Assyriae praefecti qui sub Sapore II martyr occubuit, ed. Jean
Baptiste Abbeloos, in Analecta Bollandiana 9 (1890), 5 106, especially 50 53.
67 Boyce, On the Sacred Fires, 63 f.
68 Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, 171 (version C).
144 Johannes Pahlitzsch

thus have an example of the direct transformation of a Zoroastrian tem-

ple with all its endowments to a Christian foundation, just as in the case
of Saint Qardagh four hundred years earlier.
The fact that Christians, when founding a monastery, were still influ-
enced by older traditions is demonstrated by the case of the Persian no-
bleman Hugayr from the mid-eight century. He built a monastery to
which he gave his own name Hugayr-abad in the manner of the Magi-
ans. Hugayr was obviously following the model of Zoroastrian founda-
tions, such as fire temples, and regarded the monastery as being his own
private memorial. The metropolitan, however, did not accept Hugayrs
viewpoint and refused to consecrate the building.69

3.2. Non-Christian Patrons of Christian Foundations

The Sassanian Great king Khusraw I Anushirawan established a hospital

on the advice of the Nestorian catholicos Joseph in the middle of the 6th
century as reported in the Syriac chronicle:
Because of [the kings] compassion towards captives and the holy men, on
the advice of the Christian doctors who are close to him, he has now, depart-
ing from custom, made a hospital [xenodocheion], and he has given one
hundred mules and fifty camels, carrying provisions from the royal stores,
twelve physicians, and whatever is needed is provided.70
Besides Christian clerics and physicians at the Sassanian court, the Chris-
tian wives of the great kings should be mentioned as well. Queen Shirin,
the wife of Khusraw II (590 628) was famous for her foundations of and
endowments to monasteries and churches.71

69 Thomas of Marga, Book of Governors. The Historia Monastica of Thomas

Bishop of Marga A.D. 840, ed. and transl. Ernest A. Wallis Budge, 2 vols., Lon-
don 1893 (reprint Piscataway, N.J., 2003), vol. 1, 136.10 137.5 (syr.), vol. 2,
282 3 (eng.), quoted after Becker, Fear of God, 81.
70 The Syriac Chronicle Known as That of Zachariah of Mitylene, transl. Frederick
John Hamilton and Ernest Walter Brooks, London 1899, 331 f. Dols, The Ori-
gins of the Islamic Hospital, 373.
71 Fowden, The Barbarian Plain, 136 141; Wilhelm Baum, Schirin: Christin
KniginLiebesmythos. Eine sp tantike Frauengestalthistorische Realit t
und literarische Wirkung (Einf hrungen in das orientalische Christentum 3),
Klagenfurt and Vienna 2003, 48 f., lists various churches and monasteries that
have been founded with the support of Shirin.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 145

A striking example of continuity of patronage is the shrine of Saint

Sergius in Resapha/Rusafa. The Ghassanid king Mundhir (569 582)
was especially devoted to this shrine on which he bestowed lavish gifts.
However he was not the only one to do so. Khusraw II is known to
have twice given donations to the Saint. At first in 591 he fulfilled his
vow to give a cross to the shrine after he had successfully put down a re-
bellion against him. In 593 he entreated the Saint that a child by his wife
Shirin might be granted to him an event which happened soon after-
wards. Again Khusraw donated both a precious cross and also the amount
of 5000 dirham, stipulating that one part of this money should be used
for the decoration of the altar and the sacred vessels on which the donors
name was to be engraved, another part for the support of the shrine as
such.72 Elizabeth Key Fowden argues persuasively that these rulers were
not simply displaying personal piety but were astutely engaged in accom-
plishing a combination of political, cultural and religious goals, since Ru-
safa was located in a strategically important position between the Roman
and the Persian empires and was the most important pilgrimage site of
the Christian Arabs in that region.73
The Umayyad caliph Hisham (724 743) had a special relation to
Rusafa as well, and outside the walls built a palace as his summer resi-
dence, allegedly to be close to the Saints shrine.74 Instructive for the re-
lationship between Christanity and Islam in the Umayyad period howev-
er is the contruction of a congregational mosque by the caliph to the
north of the citys main basilica which housed the martyrium of St. Ser-
gius. Using a part of the churchs courtyard the mosque was directly con-
nected with the shrine of St. Sergius so that Muslim worshippers could
enter the courtyard directly from the mosque. Obviously, Hisham wanted
to provide the Muslims with a place to benefit from the blessings of the
Saint and to participate in his cult. Although we have no evidence for ac-
tual donations by the caliph to the shrine of Saint Sergius it seems that he
nevertheless tried to continue the tradition of Khusraw, Mundhir and

72 cf. Euagrios, The Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius with the scholia, ed. Joseph
Bidez and L on Parmentier, London 1898 (reprint Amsterdam 1964), 21,
235 238; Theophylaktos Simokattes, Historiae, ed. Carl de Boor, Leipzig
1887, V, 13, 1 6 (for 591), and V, 14, 7 12 (for 593). Baum, Schirin, 38 44.
73 Fowden, The Barbarian Plain, especially 130 173.
74 Yaqut, Mu jam al-buldan, vol. 2, 660 f.; Guy Le Strange, Palestine under the

Moslems. A description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500,
London 1890 (reprint 1965), 432; Doroth e Sack, Resafa 4: Die groe Moschee
von ResafaRusafat Hisam, Mainz 1996, 156.
146 Johannes Pahlitzsch

other royal patrons by connecting the Muslim community with the shrine
without Islamicizing it.75
The Umayyads were impressed and attracted by the monasteries with
their gardens which served as sheltered spaces where they could retreat
and celebrate on the occasion of Christian feasts.76 The Umayyad caliph
and poet Walid II (743 744) is said to have frequently visited monaster-
ies. In the numerous stories and poems about these visits the gardens,
trees and above all the wine of the monasteries as well as the monks hos-
pitality are praised again and again. So Walid, for example, gave the vint-
ner of Dayr Hanna the gift 400 of dinars as an expression of his gratitude
for having served him some wine of exceptional quality.77
During plague epidemics rural monasteries were also used by the ca-
liphs as places of refuge. Lawrence Conrad has drawn attention to a re-
port on the Umayyad caliph Hisham who fled from the plague to a
rural monastery in Syria. There the monk brought him into a garden
of his, four jaribs in area (i. e. about 6.5 square kilometers), and began
to give him the tastiest and ripest fruits. The caliph was so taken with
the garden that he wanted to buy it; however the monk was not interested
in material wealth. Obviously, significant agricultural activity was cen-
tered at this monastery and it seems that Hisham was interested in the
economic aspect as well.78
But we also have evidence of actual donations of the Muslim author-
ities to Christian monasteries. Around 701 the caliph Abd al-Malik

(685 705) instructed his governor of Iraq al-Hajjaj (661 714) to give
to the above mentioned Nestorian Saint John of Daylam 12000 zuze
(pieces of silver) to be used for building monasteries. In addition, John
received from the caliph and al-Hajjaj written permission to erect a mon-

75 Fowden, The Barbarian Plain, 175 182.

76 Killpatrick, Monasteries through Muslim Eyes, 22 24; Toral-Niehoff, Stammes-
f rsten und Dichterknige; G rard Troupeau, Les couvents chr tiens dans la lit-
t rature arabe, in La Nouvelle Revue de Caire 1 (1975), 265 279; Shahid, By-
zantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, vol. 2, part 1, 160 and 190. A sim-
ilar report is given of the Lakhmid king Nu man who used to spent Sundays and

feast days with his retinue at Dayr al-Jujj near Hira, Shahid, ibid., 212.
77 Robert Hamilton, Walid and His Friends. An Umayyad Tragedy (Oxford Studies
in Islamic Art 6), Oxford 1988, 86 90.
78 Al-Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, quoted after Lawrence I. Conrad, Historical Evi-
dence and the Archaeology of Early Islam, in: Quest for Understanding. Arabic
and Islamic Studies in Memory of Malcolm H. Kerr, ed. Samir M. Seikaly, R.
Baalbaki and P. Dodd, Beirut 1991, 271 f.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 147

astery wherever he liked.79 However, according to one version of the

Saints Vita, he gave the money to people who suffered from the burden
of taxes.80 Thus, as he founded his first monastery, the so called monas-
tery of the Persians in the region of Fars, the Christian governor provided
the funds for the building, quite similarly to his contemporary the Syrian
orthodox governor of Egypt Athanasios bar Gumaye.81 Then this monas-
tery was endowed with a palm grove of 400 trees.82 The example of these
high ranking Christian officials may well have influenced the Muslim rul-
The Abbasid caliph Harun ar-Rashid (786 809) allocated the Nes-
torian catholicos Timothy the large amount of 84000 zuze (silver
coins) for the monastery of Mar Pethion in Baghdad.83 His wife Zubayda
supported the catholicos and the Nestorian church by persuading her
husband to rebuild and even enlarge the monasteries he had destroyed,
probably after he had suffered defeat by the Byzantine emperor Nice-
phoros I. She donated palm branches and crosses made of gold and silver
and assisted the bishop of Basra in the reconstruction of churches.84

79 Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, 148 f. (version H) and 165 168 (ver-
sion C).
80 Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, 168 (version C).
81 Cf. above n. 40.
82 Brock, A Syriac Life of John of Dailam, 169 f., 170 (version C); in version H a
palm garden and orchards are mentioned, ibid. 151.
83 Timothei patriarchae I epistulae I (Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium
74, scriptores Syri 30), ed. Oscar Braun, Paris and Leipzig 1914 1915 (reprint
Louvain 1972), vol. 1, 90 (Syriac), vol. 2, 58 (Latin translation). He reports in
his letter that on three successive days he had visited the caliph who had received
him joyfully and allocated him the sum of 84000. However he did not obtain
this donation. As the caliph left Baghdad for Basra, Timothy wanted to follow
him, maybe to get the promised money. Hans Putman, L glise et lIslam sous
Timoth e I (780-823). tude sur l glise nestorienne au temps des premiers
Abbasides avec nouvelle dition et traduction du dialogue entre Timoth e et
al-Mahdi (Recherches, Facult des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de
lUniversit Saint-Joseph, Beyrouth, nouvelle s rie B: Orient chr tien 3) Beirut
1975, 141. For the monastery called Dayr Mar Fathyun cf. Michel Allard, Les
chr tiens Bagdad, in: Arabica 9 (1962), 378.
84 Mar Mari, in: Acta Martyrum et sanctorum, ed. Paul Bedjan, vol. 1. Paris 1890,
73/65; Putman, L glise et lIslam, 139; Cynthia Villagomez and Michael Moro-
ny, Ecclesiastical Wealth in the East Syrian Church, 305. The reason for this sup-
port was according to the Syriac vita of Mar Mari that Timothy had helped her,
as Harun had divorced his wife and then regretted it. Since according to Islamic
law it would have been necessary for Zubayda to marry someone else before she
could become the wife of Harun once more, Timothy proposed that she should
148 Johannes Pahlitzsch

However, the best example for continuity from Christian to Muslim

patronage is probably the public bath of Hammat Gader near Gadara.
This bath had been founded in the 2nd century A.D. and was rebuilt
and renovated by several donors throughout the Byzantine period. This
tradition was continued in the Umayyad period as an Greek inscription
from 661 demonstrates:
In the day of Abdullah Mu awiya, the commander of the faithful, the cliba-

nus (i. e. a furnace or oven) of the (baths) here was cleared and renewed by
Abdullah son of Abuasemos (Abu Hashim) the governor, in the month of

December, on the 5th day, Monday, in the 6th (year) of the indiction, in
the year 726 of the colony, according to the Arabs the 42nd year, for the heal-
ing of the sick, under the care of Ioannes the Gadarene, the alderman (or
according to another reading, the official).85
In formal compliance with the above-mentioned inscriptions of the
church of St. Stephen and of St. Menas a local Christian official, John
of Gadara, functioned as inspector of the building activities. If he was
a representative of the local community or an agent of the district admin-
istration is a question which has to remain open. Interestingly the inscrip-
tion was dated December 5, i. e. the feast of Saint Sabas. The reason for
this was, according to Leah Di Segni, that nearby a monastery had been
founded by Sabas himself which probably still existed in the 7th century.86
The first Umayyad caliph Mu awiya is named as the current ruler, who

supposedly gave his consent to the renovation of the bath.87 The actual
financier seems to have been the governor of the district (symboulos)
Abd Allah b. Abu Hashim.88 So the new rulers took over not only the

language, Greek, and the style of Late Antique or in this case Byzantine
inscriptions respectively, but also the concept of a charitable donation for
convert to Christianity so that she would be under the death penalty by which all
legal commitments regarding her would be dissolved. Then she could return to
her original faith and remarry her former husband. As far as I know this story is
not mentioned in the Islamic sources; cf. Nabia Abbott, Two Queens of Bagh-
dad. Mother and Wife of Harun al-Rashid, Chicago 1974, with no reference to
the divorce.
85 Greek text with English translation and discussion of the differents readings in
Leah Di Segni, The Greek Inscriptions of Hammat Gader, in: The Roman
Baths of Hammat Gader. Final Report, ed. Yizhar Hirschfeld, Jerusalem 1997,
86 Di Segni, The Greek Inscriptions, 239.
87 Robert Hoyland, New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State, in:
BSOAS 69 (2006), 399.
88 For the title cf. Hoyland, New Documentary Texts, 401 n. 33.
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 149

the public welfare, since the renovation of the bath had a clear charitable
goal: the healing of the sick.

4. Conclusion
The goal of this paper has been to demonstrate, first, that pious founda-
tions in Iraq and in Syria in the 7th and 8th centuries continued to be an
important element in the religious and social life of the Christian com-
munites. However, the scarcity of the sources does not allow a more thor-
ough investigation of different types of foundations and their modes of
organization. The transfer of foundations from one religion to anoth-
eralbeit not from Christianity to Islamcould be proved as well as
the involvement of Muslim authorities in the establishment of Christian
foundations. The case of Hammat Gader comes very close to the estab-
lishment of a foundation on the Christian model by a Muslim ruler al-
though it was probably a one-time donation. However, the difference be-
tween a donation and a permanent foundation is sometimes hard to de-
termine as the Greek inscriptions of the Jordanian monasteries demon-
strate. In the light of these arguments it seems safe to assume that the
Christian tradition of pious foundations and donations had a degree of
influence on the Muslim practice of charity in general and on the emer-
gence of the Islamic foundation, the waqf, in particular. However, how
and to what extent such a cultural transfer may have taken place, and
how the differences between Zoroastrian-Christian, Christian-Muslim
or Zoroastrian-Muslim transfer could be determined with regard to qual-
ity and quantity, could be established only by means of a thorough study
of the early Islamic waqf, in a comparative perspective.
150 Johannes Pahlitzsch

Map of the Foundations and Endowments of St. Symeon of the Olives
(d. 734) in Nisibis according to his Vita

Foundations of unknown location:

Church of St. Mary
Monastery of the Nativity (probably intra muros)
St. Elisha Monastery (= Monastery with column?)
Christian Pious Foundations as an Element of Continuity 151

List of the endowments of St. Symeon of the Olives in Nisibis

Institution Endowed Property

Monastery with column 5 millstones, 3 gardens; hostel
St. Febronia Monastery Fields intra muros; shops, courtyards, houses
Monastery of the Nativity Shops, courtyards, houses
St. Domet (Dimat) Shops, courtyards, houses
St. Elisha Monastery Baths
Monastery of Qartmin (in Mill; surplus of the income of the churches and
Tur Abdin) monasteries in Nisibis

The Church of St. Theodore was supported by donations from visitors and all
the faithful in all our land. It is unclear if it possessed endowed property as well.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities
The New Direction in Taxation and Waqf Policy in
Mid-Twelfth-Century Syria and Northern Mesopotamia

Stefan Heidemann

1. Introduction1
This strange system by which the dead provide for the living is typical for a
society which is becoming static and ceases to be competitive and enterpris-
This is how Shlomo Dov Goitein, the author of A Mediterranean Society,
perceived the impact of the endowment (waqf ) on Muslim societies dur-
ing the period of Changes in the Middle East (950 1150). 3 Research ef-
forts over the past 35 years have proved the opposite of Goiteins claim. A
thorough examination of the wealth of the Ottoman archives has led to
this re-assessment. For Goiteins period, however, deeds of waqf endow-
ments are almost nonexistent. The impact of the institution of the

1 This contribution would not have been possible without the splendid academic
environment created by the Institute for Advanced Studies at Hebrew University
in Jerusalem. Between September 2006 and February 2007 I had the honour to
join the Institute as a fellow of the research group Charity and Piety from Late
Antiquity to the Middle Ages organized by Miriam Frenkel and Yaacov Lev. I
owe much to numerous discussions with all members of this group. At the
same time this work is part of a larger research project The New Economic Dy-
namics in the Zangid and Ayyubid Period supported by the German Research
Foundations (DFG) since 2004. A German version of this study appears in Stif-
tungen im Islam. Rechtsentwicklung und soziale Bedeutung vom 7. bis zum 21. Jahr-
hundert, (eds) Astrid Meier and Johannes Pahlitzsch, (Berlin, forthcoming). I
would especially like to express my gratitude to Emilie Norris for various com-
ments and careful reading and improving the English draft.
2 Sh. D. Goitein: Changes in the Middle East (950 1150) as Illustrated by the
Documents of the Geniza, Islamic Civilisation 950 1150, Papers on Islamic
History III, (ed) D. S. Richards, (Oxford, 1973), 17 32.
3 See fn. 2.
154 Stefan Heidemann

waqf during the period of urban transformation in the 6th/12th century,

therefore, is far less known.4
One could describe the 6th/12th century in Syria and northern Meso-
potamia as anything but static. It was a time of renewal and of the final
Islamization of the cityscapes. A vast building program finally trans-
formed the late Roman/early Islamic city of the sixth to the tenth centu-
riesfollowed by almost two centuries of declineto the prosperous me-
dieval5 city of the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries which can be still seen
in the old towns of modern cities in the Middle East. The majority of the
urban populations had become Muslim by now,6 and the appearance of
the cities was dominated by Islamic buildings and institutions.7 While the
urban decline prior to the Seljuq conquest, the beginning of the urban,
political, and economic renaissance8, and the extensive Zangid building

4 M. Hoexter: Waqf Studies in the Twentieth Century, JESHO, 41 (1998),

474 495. Studies on the waqf in the 6th/12th century are rare, see Y. Frenkel:
Political and Social Aspects of Islamic Religious Endowments (awqaf): Saladin
in Cairo (1169 1173) and Jerusalem (1187 1193), BSOAS, 62 (1999), 1 20,
and J. Pahlitzsch: The Transformation of Latin Religious Institutions into Is-
lamic Endowments by Saladin in Jerusalem, Governing the Holy City. The Inter-
action of Social Groups in Medieval Jerusalem, (eds) J. Pahlitzsch and L. Korn,
(Wiesbaden, 2004), 47 69.
5 The term Middle Ages is here applied to the second flowering of Islamic civi-
lization from the Seljuqs to the early Ottomans, in contrast to the early Islamic
period and the period of the early modern Islamic empires, the Ottomans, the
Safawids and the Mughals.
6 According to estimates, the majority of the population in the Middle East be-
came Muslim between the end of the ninth and the twelfth centuries, with re-
gional differences. R. W. Bulliet attempts a statistical analysis based on collections
of biographies; R. W. Bulliet: Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period. An Essay
in Quantitative History (Cambridge, London, 1979). M. G. Morony studies in-
dividual reports on conversions; M. G. Morony: The Age of Conversions. A
Re-Assessment, Conversion and Continuity. Indigenous Christian Communities
in Islamic Lands, Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries, Papers in Medieval Studies 9,
(eds) M. Gervers and R. J. Bikhazi, (Toronto, 1990), 135 150. N. Levtzion
studies conversion in Syria and Palestine within the context of historical develop-
ments in the region; Levtzion, N. Conversion to Islam in Syria and Palestine
and the Survival of Christian Communities, Conversion and Continuity. Indige-
nous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands, Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries, Pa-
pers in Medieval Studies, 9, (eds) M. Gervers and R. J. Bikhazi, (Toronto, 1990),
289 311.
7 E. Wirth: Die Orientalische Stadt im islamischen Vorderasien und Nordafrika,
(Mainz, 2000).
8 S. Heidemann: Die Renaissance der St dte in Nordsyrien und Nordmesopotamien.
St dtische Entwicklung und wirtschaftliche Bedingungen in al-Raqqa und Har-
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 155

programs9 are all comparatively well-known, less familiar are the econom-
ic structures behind this blossoming.
After the Seljuqs had laid the military, administrative, and fiscal foun-
dations, the Zangids conducted far-reaching economic and fiscal reforms
that allowed for that urban transformation. At the same time the Zangids
adjusted many of the existing political and economic institutions to the
regulations and stipulations of the revealed law, the shari a. The Zangids

care for Islam, its law and its jihad was vital for their legitimization of
power; it distinguished their rule from that of other rival Seljuq princi-
palities in the eyes of their contemporaries, and helped them to gain le-
gitimacy as foreign Turkish rulers over the indigenous, mostly Arab and
Aramaic population.
Which legal and political instruments for this economic growth were
at the disposal of the Zangids? This contribution will study the phenom-
enon of the waqf system as one important element that led to the final
Islamization of the cities and to their economic revival. Related elements
include taxation, iqta and the monetary system.10 In the middle of the

6th/12th century a new waqf-policy was inaugurated by a ruler from the

Seljuq tradition, Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zangi (r. 541 569/1146
1174). The intention of his waqf policy went far beyond the mere financ-
ing of single institutions. Waqf policy meant the systematic use of a legal
instrument of private law for general public duties11 and purposes which
fellin the broad senseunder the responsibility of the state.12 This

ran von der Zeit der beduinischen Vorherrschaft bis zu den Seldschuken, Islamic
History and Civilization. Studies and Texts, 40, (Leiden, 2002).
9 Y. A. al-Tabba: The Architectural Patronage of Nur al-Din (1146 1174), PhD
dissertation, (New York, 1982).
10 For these other elements see S. Heidemann: Arab Nomads and Seljuq Military,
Shifts and Drifts in Nomad-Sedentary Relations, Nomaden und Sesshafte 2, (eds)
S. Leder and B. Streck, (Wiesbaden, 2005), 289 305; S. Heidemann: Financ-
ing the Tribute to the Kingdom of Jerusalem: An Urban Tax in Damascus. In:
BSOAS 70 (2007), 117 142; and S. Heidemann: Economic Growth and Cur-
rency in Ayyubid Palestine, Ayyubid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context, (ed)
R. Hillenbrand, (London, 2009).
11 The term public duties does not exist as such in medieval Arabic terminology. It
is used here in a hermeneutical sense: It means duties which are today usually
assigned to the state, and which the early Islamic state like the late Roman per-
formed. The term masalih al-muslimin (welfare of the Muslims) might be the
closest Arabic rendering.
12 It is possible to use the term economic policy for the Zangids: The policy mak-
ers were aware of the main economic impacts of their decisions and actions. They
156 Stefan Heidemann

function of the waqf is familiar to scholars of the Mamluk and Ottoman

periods, but it is not yet established when and why this conscious policy
began in the Seljuq and Zangid period. In the 6th/12th century, the newly
founded endowments generated their income primarily from urban real
estate.13 In turn, they stimulated a vast building program, and financed
a multitude of urban institutions. The waqf-model of financing was in-
creasingly applied to public and semi-public institutions and duties. In
fiscal terms, the establishment of an increasing number of waqfs allowed
for an efficient skimming of urban economic activities for public purpos-
es. This will be explained below. Additionally, the proceeds from the
waqfs permitted the abolition of certain taxes and dues that shari a law

deemed illegitimate, dues that had previously been the main source of
cash income of the Seljuq state. The Zangid regime succeeded also in in-
tegrating the theological and judicial elite that were traditionally opposed
to the state, by increasing the scope of positions for the elite in the service
of these endowments with the number of newly established waqfs. They
thus helped to build a public sphere of institutions within the Islamic

used their outcome intentionally for their economic policy. For a discussion of
Zangid tax policy, see S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 11 12 fn. 28, 331 334.
13 References to endowments of agricultural real estate are rare in Syria and north-
ern Mesopotamia until the Mamluk period. For the middle of the 5th/11th cen-
tury see J. Sourdel-Thomine and D. Sourdel: Biens fonciers constitu s waqf en
Syrie fatimide pour une famille de sharifs damascain, JESHO, 15 (1972),
269 296, and for the end of the 6th/12th century J. Pahlitzsch: Transformation,
51, 53 54. In Iraq under Seljuq-Abbasid rule, the waqf financed by agricultural
rents seems to be predominant; Kh. J. al-Duri: Society and Economy of Iraq under
the Seljuqs (1055 1160 A.D.) with Special Reference to Baghdad, PhD disserta-
tion, (Ann Arbor, 1971), 157 159. The same situation seems to be the case
in Seljuq Iran; A. K. S. Lambton: Awqaf in Persia: 6th-8th/12th-14th Centuries,
Islamic Law und Society, 4 (1997), 298 318, here 300 304. After the conquest
of Egypt, the Ayyubids tried to convert waqf lands into iqta s; D. Behrens-Abou-

seif: Wakf. II. In the Arab Lands. 1. In Egypt, Enc of Islam. 2, v. 11 (Leiden,
2002), 63 67.
14 J. E. Gilbert: Institutionalization of Muslim Scholarship and Professionalization
of the ulama in Medieval Damascus, SI, 52 (1980), 105 134; M. Hoexter:

The Waqf and the Public Sphere, The Public Sphere in Muslim Societies,
(eds) M. Hoexter and Sh. N. Eisenstadt and Nehemia Levtzion, (Albany,
2002), 119 138; S. Leder: Damaskus: Entwicklung einer islamischen Metro-
pole 12.14. Jahrhundert und ihre Grundlagen, Alltagsleben und materielle Kul-
tur in der arabischen Sprache und Literatur. Festschrift f r Heinz Grotzfeld zum
70. Geburtstag, Abhandlungen f r die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 45,1, (eds) T.
Bauer and U. Stehli-Werbeck, (Wiesbaden, 2005), 233 250. For a general def-
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 157

Exploration of the role of the waqf during this period of urban ren-
aissance and transformation contributes to the theory of economic
growth in pre-modern, non-European societies. At the same time, the
legal rationale for the waqf holds within it the ideal of piety and charity
that connects it to the Islamic religion. This role and function of the waqf
in the Zangid period will be studied in five steps:
What is a waqf and how did it function?
How did the state finance its expenses in the early Islamic period in
comparison to the later Seljuq period?
What characterizes the waqf policy of Nur al-Din Mahmud, and what
distinguishes it from that of his Seljuq predecessors?
What were the function and the scope of this policy? A part of the an-
swer becomes apparent in a protocol of a meeting regarding the dispo-
sition of revenues of the patrimony of the Umayyad Mosque in Dam-
And in conclusion: What dynamic impacts did the new waqf policy
have on the transformation of the cities in the 6th/12th century?

2. The rationale of the waqf in Islamic law

What is a waqf ? 15 In the twelfth century the Aleppan legal scholar al-Ka-
sani (d. 587/1189) defines the endowment in brief:
The waqf is a continuous charitable act for the sake of GodHe is exalted
(al-waqfu sadaqatun jariyatun fi sabili llahi ta ala).16

In the 3rd/9th century the regulations of the waqf developed as part of Is-
lamic law. According to these regulations, an endowmentor waqfis
established by a legal deed that names the owner of the endowed prop-
erty, the substance of the endowment ( ayn or asl), and the beneficiary

(mawquf alayhi) of its income (manfa a). According to the Hanafi school

inition of public sphere in pre-modern Muslim societies see D. F. Eickelman and

A. Salvatore: The Public Sphere and Muslim Identities, European Journal of So-
ciology, 43 (2002), 92 115, esp. 99 with reference to the waqf.
15 For a brief introduction into endowments according to Islamic law see M.
Hoexter: Huquq Allah and huquq al- ibad as Reflected in the Waqf Institution,

JSAI, 19 (1995), 133 156.

16 Al-Kasani (d. 587/1191): Kitab al-Bada i al-sana i fi tartib al-shara i , 7 vols,

(Cairo, without date); reprint, (Beirut, 1406/1986), here v. 6, 218 221

(Kitab al-waqf wal-sadaqa), 221 line 4 (citation). M. Hoexter: Huquq Allah,
158 Stefan Heidemann

of law, by the act of endowment, the founder relinquishes all his property
rights, transforming it into a haqq Allah, an inalienable claim of God.
The founder is essentially free to determine the beneficiaries with a few
caveats. If he designates a general perpetual charitable purpose, such as
the support of the poor and needy (al-fuqara wal-masakin) or the holy

sites in Mecca and Medina, then it is referred to as waqf khayri, a bene-
ficial, charitable endowment. The charity of the waqf was not meant as
caritas, in the western sense of charity, nor as a pre-modern relief system
for the poor. It was intended for the respectable poor, like the mystics or
sufis who were referred to generically as the poor, or fuqara (singular

faqir).17 The despised and in part violent urban lower class was not in-
cluded in this definition.18
The founder can also designate a succession of beneficiaries, such as
members of his own family or any other natural persons in the legal
sense. Being a formal sub-group of the waqf khayri, it is referred to as
waqf ahli or waqf dhurri. This type of waqf was usually established to
maintain control over the familys assets and to keep them together in
light of the consequences of Islamic laws of inheritance, and at the
same time to make the propertyat least in theoryimmune to the fre-
quent practice of confiscation. The family endowment constituted the
main type of waqf during the 3rd/9th century.19 Because a waqf must be
perpetual in its legal nature, its founders have to name an ultimate per-
petual beneficiary, like the aforementioned general category of the
poor and needy. And as any line of beneficiaries of a family endowment
can die out, nearly every waqf ahli ultimately transforms sooner or later
into a waqf khayri. When the family line ended and the endowment
reached the khayri stage, it was generally integrated into the patrimony
of another institution or of another waqf. These patrimonies were com-
posed of a large number of individual endowments and properties, but
administered as one unit.20 For example, during the 6th/12th century,
the patrimony of the waqfs of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus includ-
ed numerous ancient endowed properties.

17 Compare N. A. Stillman: Waqf and the Ideology of Charity in Medieval Islam,

Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth, v. 1. Hunter of the East: Arabic
and Semitic Studies, (ed) I. R. Netton, (Leiden, 2000), 357 372, esp. 367 371.
18 Compare Y. Lev: Charity and Social Practice in Egypt and Syria from the Ninth
to the Twelfth Century, JSAI, 24 (2000), 472 507, esp. 488 491.
19 P. Ch. Hennigan: The Birth of a Legal Institution. The Formation of the Waqf in
Third-Century A.H., Studies in Islamic Law and Society, 18, (Leiden, 2003).
20 M. Hoexter: Huquq Allah, 146.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 159

3. Financing the state in the early Islamic and Seljuq period

How did the early Islamic state finance its expenses in comparison to the
later Seljuq state? Continuing the practice of the late Roman empire, the
Umayyad and early Abbasid state financed the military21, and public and
semi-public institutions and duties primarily from the revenues of the
public treasury (bayt al-mal or diwan): building and maintaining facilities
such as fortifications, streets, water supply, and mosques22, as well as the
remuneration of its personnel23 and establishing and maintaining mar-
kets. As income, the state reaped revenue through the agricultural tax,
the kharaj, which was usually collected by the civil administration as
cash payments. Instances are known where the tax assessment was ex-
pressed in money but paid in kind.24 In the cities, the poll tax levied
on non Muslims, jizya, was collected in cash. It was paid by the majority
of the population which had remained Christian, Jewish, or Zoroastrian.

21 H. N. Kennedy: The Armies of the Caliphs. Military and Society in the Early Is-
lamic State (London, 2001), 78 88.
22 Compare for example H. N. Kennedy: Gerasa und Scythopolis. Power and Pa-
tronage in the Byzantine Cities of Bilad al-Sham, La ville en Syrie et ses territoires.
H ritages et mutations, BEO, 52, (eds) J.-C. David and M. al-Dbiyat, (Damascus,
2000), 199 204, esp. 204; J. L. Bacharach: Marwanid Umayyad Building Ac-
tivities. Speculations on Patronage, Muqarnas, 13 (1996), 27 44.
23 Compare H. J. Cohen: The Economic Background and the Secular Occupa-
tions of Muslim Jurisprudents and Traditionalists in the Classical Period of
Islam (until the Middle of the Eleventh Century), JESHO, 13 (1970),
16 61, here 24, 33 34. For the first two centuries, Cohen found that 53 per-
cent of his sample of Islamic legal scholars was in the service of the state; then the
number fell. In the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th century 75 percent of the scholars listed by
him were merchants and craftsmen in the market. Along with the dwindling fi-
nancial ability of the state, this ratio might also come from the growing inner
distance of the scholars to the existing Islamic empire. But still, in the time of
Nur al-Din Mahmud, jurists, the respected poor, mystics and public Qur an-

readers, (al-fuqaha wal-fuqara wal-sufiyya wal-qura ) were supported by state

coffers (lahum nasib fi bayt al-mal); Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/1232): Al-Tarikh al-
Bahir fi l-dawla al-atabakiyya, (ed) Abd al-Qadir Ahmad Tulaymat (Cairo,

1382/1963), 118. The personnel of the endowments, though, were paid from
the revenues of the waqfs; Abu Shama (d. 665/1267): Kitab al-Rawdatayn fi akh-
bar al-daulatayn al-nuriyya wal-salahiyya, (ed) Muhammad Hilmi Muhammad
Ahmad and Muhammad Mustafa Ziyada, v. 1, part 1, (Cairo, 1957), 10.
24 H. N. Kennedy: The Financing of the Military in the Early Islamic State, A.
Cameron (ed), The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East IIIStates, Resources,
and Armies, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, 1, (Princeton, 1995),
361 378, here 366 367.
160 Stefan Heidemann

The highly developed monetary economy ensured the fiscal cycle of cash
money, meaning tax income and state expenditure.
Over the course of the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries, the military, po-
litical, administrative, and economic structures of the core lands of the
Islamic empire collapsed.25 Archaeological settlement surveys in Syria,
northern Mesopotamia, and Iraq consistently indicate a sharp decline
in the number of rural settlements and in turn in primary production
and in population.26 During the 4th/10th century, a further wave of noma-
dic migration from the Arab Peninsula into the core regions of the Islam-
ic empire prompted further expulsion of the settled rural population as
well as abandonment of villages and small towns. Nomadic camps
(hilla) frequently became centres of military and political power. Archae-
ology, architecture, and narrative sources also point to a sharp decline in
urban centres and report on ruinous and deserted city quarters. Since the
beginning of the 4th/10th century, the ability of the state to maintain and
support public and semi-public facilities, institutions and their person-
nel diminished considerably. This can be seen in many, especially small
and medium sized, cities where state-financed central buildings, like con-
gregational mosques, became dilapidated. This happened not only in the
provinces27 but also in major cities like Damascus28 and Baghdad29. Writ-
ing in the middle of the 6th/12th century Imad al-Din al-Isfahani (d. 597/

1201) estimated more than hundred dilapidated mosques in the realm of

25 S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 29 33.

26 Compare for example R. M. Adams: Land Behind Baghdad. A History of Settle-
ment on the Diyala Plains, (Chicago, London, 1965); K. Bartl: Fr hislamische Be-
siedlung im Balikh-Tal/Nordsyrien, Berliner Beitr ge zum Vorderen Orient, 15,
(Berlin, 1994).
27 S. Heidemann: Ein Schatzfund aus dem Raqqa der Numairidenzeit, die Sied-
lungsl cke in Nordmesopotamien und eine Werkstatt in der Groen Moschee,
Gedenkschrift f r Michael Meinecke, Damaszener Mitteilungen, 11, (Mainz,
1999), 227 242; S. Heidemann: Numayrid al-Raqqa. Archaeological and His-
torical Evidence for a Dimorphic State in the Bedouin Dominated Fringes of
the Fatimid Empire, Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk
Eras, IV, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 140, (eds) U. Vermeulen and J. Van
Steenbergen, (Leuven, 2005), 85 110.
28 J.-M. Mouton: Damas et sa principaut sous les Saljoukides et les Bourides 468
549/1076 1154. Vie politique et religieuse, Textes arabes et tudes islamique,
33, (Cairo, 1994), 257.
29 On 21 Jumada II 329/23 March 941 the Green Dome of the congregational
mosque of Madinat al-Salam collapsed. The dome was a landmark, visible
from the far distance and recognized as symbol of Abbasid might and power.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 161

Nur al-Din Mahmud.30 Numismatic evidence shows a sharp decline in

the cash-based monetary economy, reaching a level presumably not
seen since pre-Hellenistic antiquity. To support this evidence, contempo-
rary legal scholars frequently complain about the state of the monetary
system of their time.31
In the 5th/11th century, a new development started with the Seljuqs.
Coming from eastern Iran, they conquered the Islamic world. In 479/
1087, the Seljuqs succeeded in incorporating Syria. They were in com-
mand of a professional army of Turkish horsemen and an efficient ad-
ministration in eastern Iranian-Samanid tradition. In contrast to their no-
madic predecessors, they chose fortified cities and fortifications as their
seats of power. About 150 years after the collapse of Abbasid rule, rulers
in Syria and northern Mesopotamian again commissioned the construc-
tion of monumental representative buildings. Frequently, after a con-
quest, one of the first projects was to build minarets which may be
seen as victory monuments of the Sunni renaissance.32 The Seljuq con-
cept of financing the state was different from that of the early Islamic pe-
riod and a reaction to the new social, demographic, economic, and mon-
etary conditions. The basis of the Seljuq power was a seasonally available
army of horsemen. To finance them, the hinterland of the conquered cit-
ies was divided into iqta -districts and distributed among army command-

ers, amirs, and their detachments. These troops and their leaders usually
lived in their allotted iqta -district. The iqta was an immediate claim on

the land-tax revenues (kharaj) of that district as remuneration for military

service. Ideallyaccording to Nizam al-Mulk (d. 488/1095), the political
architect of the Seljuq empirethe collecting tax administration and the
beneficiary, the muqta , should be separated.33 Because of the political and

30 See fn. 47.

31 On the relationship between monetary economy and economic growth see S.
Heidemann: Renaissance, 355 363; S. Heidemann: Economic Growth and
Currency in Ayyubid Palestine.
32 S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 154 155.
33 Nizam al-Mulk envisaged a separation of both functions in his blueprint for the
Seljuq state, the Siyasatnama. The assignment of an iqta to an amir entitled him

in principle only to claim the tax yield. Tax monies were collected by the local/
regional fiscal authorities and handed over to him. The amir and his unit could
be deployed in any province far away from his iqta . The iqta , in theory, was not

meant to give the amir any political authority over his iqta ; Nizam al-Mulk (d.

488/1095), Siyasatname, (ed) Hubert Darke: Siyar al-Muluk also known as Siya-
satnama of Nizam al-Mulk (Tehran, 1962), 48; translated into German by K. E.
Schabinger Freiherr von Schowingen: Nizamulmulk. Das Buch der Staatskunst.
162 Stefan Heidemann

economic situation in the Western Seljuq empire, however, the beneficia-

ry, the amir who held claims to the iqta , had to take over at the same time

the civil and in particular the fiscal administration, as well as the military
protection and political responsibility of the district where he levied taxes.
Since the bulk of the dues were presumably paid in kind, the food could
be directly consumed by the army without making a detour through the
market. This system reflects the level of the shrunken monetary economy
and the prevailing political and military conditions in Syria and northern
Mesopotamia at the beginning of the 6th/12th century. For their provi-
sions, the army of horsemen was almost independent from the Seljuq
ruler. To cope with the centrifugal forces inherent in such a system, an
elite troop of military slaves, mamluks or ghulams (plural ghilman),
were built up, maintained, and financed through cash payments.34
Cash was also necessary for the construction of fortifications, monumen-
tal representative buildings, and court expenditures. To raise cash money,
primarily urban economic activities were skimmed. In the 6th/12th centu-
ry, the majority of the populationwith regional differenceshad be-
come Muslim.35 As a result, the formerly important contribution of
the jizya, paid in cash, to state revenues had significantly decreased, ac-
cording to tax lists from various Ayyubid cities.36 In order to get income
in cash money for the treasury, excise, mukus, which was a toll on long
distance trade was imposed, and intra-urban dues on sales, rusum, dara ib

Siyasatname, 2nd edition, (Zurich, 1987), 198. In the Western Seljuq empire,
however, both functions, that of the muqta and amir, usually merged. Such a dis-

tinction which Nizam al-Mulk demanded might have been feasible only within a
developed monetary economy which also included rural areas and which allowed
an easy transportation of tax revenues over long distances to the iqta beneficia-

ries. In the Seljuq period, this was probably only the case in eastern Iran and in
Egypt. In many regions of the Western Seljuq empiremeaning the core regions
of the Islamic empirea tax, paid in kind, was probably more efficient. For the
relation between land tax, kharaj, and iqta see S. Heidemann: Renaissance,

306 315.
34 About the Seljuq military and its funding see S. Heidemann: Arab Nomads and
Seljuq Military.
35 See fn. 6.
36 S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 323 324. Nevertheless, jizya payments wereac-
cording to the Geniza documentsextremely harsh for poor Jews and Christians,
because the Ayyubids leviedat least in Egyptthe poll tax strictly. Alshech
even supposes that this relentlessness was meant as an expression of the piety
of the state; E. Alshech: Islamic Law, Practice, and Legal Doctrine: Exempting
the Poor from the Jizya Under the Ayyubids (1171 1250), Islamic Law and So-
ciety, 10 (2003), 348 375.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 163

and huquq al-bay , were levied. These dues were illegitimate according to

the shari a. 37 The contemporary legal scholar, theologian, and mystic al-

Ghazali (d. 505/1111) leaves no doubt about that:
The assets of the sultans in our time (amwal al-salatin fi asrina) are all un-

lawful (haram) or to the greater part.38

4. The waqf policy of Nur al-Din Mahmud

What significance did the waqf have prior to the period of Nur al-Din
Mahmud? Narrative sources from the 150 years preceding the Seljuq
conquest of Syria only occasionally mention endowments, and almost
none was established by rulers or members of the ruling elite.39 Nizam
al-Mulks policy of the Sunni renaissance included the establishment of
schools of higher learning, madrasas, and of convents for the mystic
Sufis, khanqahs. The madrasas served the education of religious scholars
for the Sunni renaissance and of legal scholars for the civil administration.
These new establishments were usually supported by waqfs. Educational
policy and spiritual care were the main motivations behind this wave of
endowments. The first Seljuq sultans, however, did not take the initiative
for their establishment. The known waqfs were set up by governors, vi-
ziers, and others. Farm land leased to peasants formed the main financial
base of these waqfs.40 According to Ann Lambton, the number of endow-

37 S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 324 339.

38 Ghazali (d. 505/1111): Ihya ulum al-din. (ed) Abu l-Hafs Sayyid Ibrahim ibn

Sadiq ibn Umran, known as Abu Hafs, 5 vols, (Cairo, 1414/1994), here v. 2,

216; translated into German by H. Bauer: Erlaubtes und verbotenes Gut. Das
14. Buch von al-Ghazalis Hauptwerk, (Halle, 1922), 159. About al-Ghazalis
criticism of the Seljuq tax system see S. Heidemann: Renaissance, 302 305.
39 For an overview of the history of the waqf institution in Syria see A. Meier:
Wakf. II. In the Arab Lands. 2. In Syria, Enc of Islam 2, v. 9, 823 828. The
situation was different in Egypt where the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amrillah
established some waqfs, see Y. Lev: Charity and Social Practice, 493 495. For
a document from the Fatimid period see J. Sourdel-Thomine and D. Sourdel:
Biens fonciers. The presentation of Deborah Tor, Piety in the Great Seljuq
Era at the research groups concluding conference in February 2007 showed
that the early Seljuq sultans, especially Tughrilbeg and Alb Arslan, were neither
praised for piety, for sadaqa (benevolent charity) nor for the establishment of
40 A. K. S. Lambton: Awqaf in Persia, 300.
164 Stefan Heidemann

ments in Iran did not increase significantly until the late 7th/13th centu-
After the Seljuq conquest of Syria and northern Mesopotamia, waqfs,
endowed by the ruling dynasty and their households, were more com-
monly mentioned for this region. Prior to the period of Nur al-Din Mah-
mud, their number remained small and enumerable. In 491/1097 8, the
first hospital, a madrasa, and a khanqah were built in Damascus and sup-
ported by a waqf endowed by the local Seljuq-Burid ruler and his moth-
er.42 In 508/1114 5, a waqf of a judge, qadi, from the influential family
al-Khashshab is mentioned for Aleppo.43 In 516/1122 3, the first ma-
drasa in Aleppo (al-madrasa al-zujajiyya) was established, presumably
funded by a waqf. 44 In al-Raqqa at the Euphrates, a waqf inscription,
dated to the first decades of the 6th/12th century, names an Uqaylid

amir as founder.45
Despite the small number of references to waqfs, it can be assumed
that family waqfs and the patrimonies of established old waqfs and insti-
tutions played a major role in the economic life of the cities in Syria and
northern Mesopotamia, even before the time of Nur al-Din Mahmud. In
general, they were, however, no subject for the historical record. The im-
portance of these endowments, though, is evidenced in the enumeration
of real estate administered by the patrimony of the waqf of the Umayyad
mosque in Damascus which will be discussed below in chapter 5.

41 A. K. S. Lambton: Awqaf in Persia, 304.

42 A. Meier: Wakf. II. In the Arab Lands. 2. In Syria, 825. For the waqf under the
Burids see J.-M. Mouton: Damas, esp. 87 88. See also J. E. Gilbert: Institu-
tionalization, 115 117 and 127-128.
43 The qadi Abu l-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Khashshab endowed an area of the
Hammam al-Bayluna (hiql al-hammam al-bayluna) for the sustenance of the
Masjid Jurn al-Asfar which he had established; Ibn Shaddad (d. 684/1285):
Al-A laq al-khatira fi dhikr umara al-Sham wal-Jazira [v. 1 part 1], (ed) Domi-

nique Sourdel: La description dAlep dIbn Shaddad, (Damascus, 1953), 35 and

64. This endowment not only supported the mosque, but also the needy of
the family al-Khashshab.
44 Ibn Shaddad: al-A laq, 96.

45 A fragment of an inscription in al-Raqqa reports on an endowment, a waqf, es-

tablished by a son of the Uqaylid amir Abu l-Zimam Salim ibn Malik. The in-

scription dates the building which is not yet located in or after the year 500/
1106 7; C.-P. Haase: Inschriften der islamischen Zeit, Raqqa II. Die islami-
sche Stadt, (eds) S. Heidemann and A. Becker, (Mainz, 2003), 99 111, here
103 no. 22.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 165

What characterizes the waqf-policy of Nur al-Din Mahmud as con-

trasted with the practice of his predecessors? The reign of Nur al-Din
Mahmud and his son and successor al-Salih Isma il (r. 569 576/1174

1181) is not only distinguished by an ideological emphasis on the
Sunni renaissance but as well by visible and effective economic and fiscal
reforms in more than one field. The necrologies and eulogies on Nur al-
Din Mahmud form the basis for the study of his economic and fiscal
measures. Yaacov Lev undertook a first appraisal of his economic policy.46
Al-Isfahani47, Ibn Asakir (d. 571/1175 6)48, Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/

1232)49, and Abu Shama (d. 665/1267)50 begin their biographies of

Nur al-Din Mahmud with elaborate eulogies on his pious devotion
and virtue. This panegyric differs from that of his predecessors inasmuch
as the authors deal extensively with his economic policy. According to the
characteristics of this genre, though, such policies are described as acts of
piety and justice: he has laudably abolished the urban dues which were
illicit according to the shari a, e. g. mukus, dara ib, rusum, and huquq

al-bay . The later frequently repeated reports of their abrogation point

in two seemingly opposed directions: on the one hand, they are witness
for the continuous efforts of the Zangid rulers and their successors to
conform fiscal regime to the shari a, and on the other hand, they show

the continuous need for these levies to fund growing state expenditures.51

46 Y. Lev: The Social and Economic Policies of Nur al-Din (1146 1174): The
Sultan of Syria, Der Islam, 81 (2004), 218 242.
47 Imad al-Din Katib al-Isfahani in Abu Shama: Rawdatayn, 2 vols (Cairo,

1287 1288/1870 1871), here v. 1, 10 11; (ed) Ahmad and Ziyada, v. 1,

part 1, 24 27; (ed) Ibrahim al-Zaybaq, 5 vols (Beirut, 1997), here v. 1,
50 54, and in Bundari (c. 7th/13th c.): Sana al-barq al-shami, ikhtisar al-Fath
ibn Ali al-Bundari min kitab al-barq al-shami lil- Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, (ed)

Fathiya al-Nabarawi, (Cairo, 1979), 16.

48 Ibn Asakir (d. 571/1175 6): Tarikh Madinat Dimashq. (partial ed) and transla-

tion by Nikita Eliss eff. Un document contemporain de Nur al-Din, sa notice

biographique par Ibn Asakir, BEO, 25 (1972), 125 140, here, 129 and 138.

49 Ibn al-Athir: Bahir, 161 172; Ibn al-Athir: Al-Kamil fi l-tarikh, (ed) C. J. Torn-
berg, 13 vols (Leiden, 1851 1874), here v. 11, 264 267; (ed) Beirut, 13 vols
(Beirut, 1399/1979), here v. 11, 402 405.
50 Abu Shama: Rawdatayn, (ed) Cairo, v. 1, 5 24, esp. 16 18; (ed) Ahmad and
Ziyada, v. 1, part 1, 9 58, esp. 39 44; (ed) Zaybaq, v. 1, 31 92, esp. 70 77.
51 At least in 19th century Morocco, the temporary abrogation of illegitimate taxes
(mukus) were almost customary in the reciprocal act of the oath of allegiance
(bay a); notwithstanding certain uprisings about their re-introduction; see B.

Dennerlein: Legitimate Bounds and Bound Legitimacy. The Act of Allegiance

166 Stefan Heidemann

In such a situation of expanded public duties and responsibilities, howev-

er, even a partial abolition of illegitimate dues has to be financially com-
pensated in some other wayand that way was with the establishment of
For the first time endowments occupy a broad space within the eulo-
gies of the piety of a ruler in Seljuq tradition. Immediately after the above
mentioned abrogation of illegitimate dues, Abu Shama continued with
paragraphs about the endowments of Nur al-Din Mahmud. In these eu-
logies, the public or semi-public responsibilities of the state are summar-
ized by the term masalih al-muslimin. With a general meaning of welfare
of the Muslims, the term is also used in a more specific sense. Ibn al-
Athir explains the term at the beginning of a chapter: And that which
he [Nur al-Din Mahmud] did as masalih is very much; it is that which
he undertook in the lands of Islam (bilad al-Islam) in regard to their pro-
tection and the protection of the Muslims (hifzuha wa-hifz al-musli-
min). Ibn al-Athir proceeds in the next sentence with thestill
todayimpressive building program of Nur al-Din Mahmud, and enu-
merates the institutions which fell under the term masalih, welfare, in a
concrete way. Ibn al-Athir names at first city walls and fortifications, in-
stitutions of education and higher learning, followed by mosques, hospi-
tals, Sufi convents, guesthouses for pilgrims and many more.52
The establishment of endowments became now an immediate con-
cern for the rulers. Endowments were no longer left to the charity of
the ruling families and their households. For the period of Nur al-Din
Mahmud, Imad al-Din al-Isfahani gives the figure of more than hundred

dilapidated mosques which Nur al-Din Mahmud began to reconstruct,

and to each of them he assigned a supporting waqf. Under his rule the
number of waqfs increased considerably.53 The extensive building pro-
gram even included construction work in small and medium sized cities,
such as al-Raqqa on the Euphrates, which were not immediately affected
by the series of devastating earthquakes that took place in Syria in 546/
1152 and between 551/1156 and 554/1159. According to archaeological
evidence, for more than a hundred years, some buildings of central im-
portance had lain in ruins, for example the congregational mosque in

to the Ruler (Bai a) in 19th Century Morocco, Welt des Islams, 41 (2001),

287 310, here 292 296.

52 Ibn al-Athir: Bahir, 170.
53 Katib al-Isfahani in Abu Shama: Rawdatayn, (ed) Ahmad and Ziyada, v. 1, part
1, 26.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 167

al-Raqqa. Nur al-Din Mahmud now ordered their reconstruction.54 In

accordance with al-Isfahani, Abu Shama states that Nur al-Din Mahmud
endowed a separate waqf for each institution.
In the Zangid and Ayyubid period, primarily revenue-generating
urban real estate was endowed, for example shops in the markets, tene-
ment buildings, commercial complexes, bakeries, mills, and baths.
Where did those assets for Nur al-Din Mahmuds investments come
from? Only private property (milk) can be legitimately endowed. Ibn
al-Athir addresses this issue:
According to the shari a, there was only fully legitimate property, in outer

[appearance] and inner [substance]. He [Nur al-Din Mahmud] [only] en-

dowed what was turned over to him and [what] he inherited of its sum of
its money [?] or what he appropriated in the lands of the Franks and became
his share.55
The aforementioned eulogies emphasize this distinction of Nur al-Din
Mahmud between his private purse and the state coffers. Ibn al-Athir
points out that the latter directly benefited the welfare of the Muslims
(al-amwal al-mursada li-masalih al-muslimin). This distinction between
private purse and state coffers may have been an innovation in compar-
ison to the supposed practice in the Western Seljuq empire, because there,
the function of a military commander of a district, an amir, was essential-
ly synonymous with that of the muqta , the beneficiary of the tax revenue

of an iqta . The fiscal revenue was directly appropriated as remuneration

without going through the public treasury for redistribution. Even if Nur
al-Din Mahmuds private wealth and the states coffers were not system-
atically separated, like in all pre-modern states, then, nevertheless, the re-

54 For the congregational mosque in al-Raqqa see fn. 27. The inscription above the
entrance mentions only the restoration and construction, but does not inform
about financing and support of the building.
55 Ibn al-Athir: Bahir, 172: laysa fiha milkun ghayrin sahihin shar iyin zahiran wa-

batinan. Fa-innahu waqafa ma ntaqala ilayhi wa-wazana thamanahu aw ma gha-

liba alayhi min biladi l-franji wa-sara sahmuhu. The reading of the phrase,

marked in the translation with a question mark, is problematic. According to

the phrasing of the Bahir, it must be translated and he weighed its price [prob-
ably the coins as price]. This translation, however, is not conclusive in a sentence
which should inform about the origin of the endowed property. A passage, sim-
ilar in the grapheme, can be found in Abu Shamas Rawdatayn, (ed) Ahmad and
Ziyada, v. 1. part 1, 23 line 7: wa-waritha thamanahu (and what he inherited of
its sum of money). The editor of the Bahir, Abd al-Qadir Tulaymat, found the

last phrasing more convincing although that reading is again not completely sat-
isfactory. Possibly there is a mistake in the transmission of the text.
168 Stefan Heidemann

ports of his panegyrists imply that neither legitimate nor illegitimate tax
monies were spent on establishing waqfs.56 The ability of Nur al-Din
Mahmud to set up more than one hundred endowments raises questions
about his personal wealth and its sources as well as about the position of
the Seljuq-Zangid ruler within the economic life of his principality, ques-
tions which cannot be answered sufficiently by available sources.57
As a provisional conclusion, it can be stated: within the fiscal and
economic architecture of the principality of Nur al-Din Mahmud and
his Zangid and Ayyubid successors, endowments of urban, commercial,
revenue-generating real estate constituted a major source for funding of
urban public and semi-public institutions and duties. This funding was
independent from the states treasury. This is evident by the numerous
still existing buildings, the eulogies that report on funding by waqfs,
and the concurrent abrogation of dues illegitimate according to the sha-
ri a. One main model of funding, that by the treasury, was replaced by

another, the waqf. The endowments became in certain respects the

urban equivalent of the agricultural iqta . Both, waqf and iqta , were suit-

able institutional solutions at a given level of fiscal instruments, of eco-
nomic development, and of monetary economy. They allow their benefi-
ciarieswhether an urban institution or a military detachmentto ach-
ieve financial independence from the state coffers by establishing and
skimming their own financial resources. In contrast to the iqta , however,

the waqf is an institution whose legal form is well-rooted in the shari a as

sadaqa, charitable giving. The legal and spiritual importance of the waqf
far exceeds the described function as a financial instrument. The military
iqta goes back to the legitimate tax yield from agricultural activities

(kharaj) whereas the waqf is an institution entirely under private law.

In the time of Nur al-Din Mahmud, the office of the administrator
of the supervision of the waqfs, the mutawalli nazr al-awqaf, seems to
have been either newly created or is emphasized for the first time in
the reports of this period. Its duty was to supervise and control those in-
stitutions that the waqf made financially independent from the ruler, and
to align them with the goals of the Zangid policy. In this regard, the of-

56 J. Pahlitzsch: Transformation, 54 58, discusses this question whether Nur al-

Din Mahmud or Saladin turned land belonging to the bayt al-mal into an en-
dowment. In all cases in which a conclusion can be drawn, a private purchase
of land from the state preceded the endowment.
57 Compare the extent of economic activities of later Mongol rulers in Iran W.
Hinz: Ein orientalisches Handelsunternehmen im 15. Jahrhundert, Welt des
Orients, 1 (1947 9), 313 340.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 169

fice seems to be parallel to the diwan al-ard, the office of the land, that
supervised the iqta s. The first named supervisor of the waqfs was the Sha-

fi i jurist Sharaf al-Din Abu Sa id Abd Allah ibn Abi Asrun (488 585/

1095 1189)58, who appears to have had an important influence on
Nur al-Din Mahmuds waqf-policy. Kamal al-Din al-Shahrazuri (d.
572/1176 7)59 succeeded him in this office.60

5. The meeting about the assignment of income

from the patrimony of the Umayyad Mosque

Between Sha ban 551/September 1156 and Jumada I 554/May 115961,

again a series of devastating earthquakes ravaged Syrian cities.62 In this ex-

ceptional emergency situation, the responsible urban elite faced the enor-

58 Until Nur al-Din Mahmud appointed him in Aleppo, Ibn Abi Asrun taught in

Mosul and Sinjar. After the conquest of Damascus, he taught at the Ghazaliyya
within the Umayyad Mosque and assumed the office of the supervisor of the
waqfs, mutawalli al-awqaf. Ibn Shaddad: A laq, 98 99; al-Nu aymi (d. 927/

1520 1): Al-Daris fi tarikh al-madaris, (ed) Ja far al-Hanni, 2 vols, (Cairo,

1988), here v. 1, 383 400, esp. 400. N. Eliss eff: Nur ad-Din, un grand prince
musulman de Syrie au temps des croisades (511 569 H./1118 1174), 3 vols.,
(Damascus, 1967), here v. 3, 929 930.
59 He was appointed as qadi l-qudat, chief judge, in Damascus and at the same time
inspector of endowments nazir al-awqaf; see A. Meier: Wakf , 825, and N.
Eliss eff: Nur ad-Din, v. 2, 680 681, v. 3, 827.
60 Before that period, in the 4th/10th century, such a central supervision of endow-
ments did exist in Iraq (diwan al-birr wa-diwan al-sadaqat). This was, however, a
different historical and economic environment. Miskawayh (d. 421/1030): Kitab
Tajarib al-umam, (eds) and translated by Henri F. Amedroz and David Samuel
Margoliouth. The Eclipse of the Abbasid Caliphate, v. I and II; tr. IV and V,

(Oxford, 1920, 1921), here v. 1, 152; A. Duri: Diwan. The Abbasid Period,

Enc of Islam 2, v. 2 (Leiden, 1991), 324; E. Tyan: Histoire de lorganisation judic-

aire en pays dIslam, (Leiden, 1960), 382 383. In Fatimid period a diwan al-
ahbas exists in Egypt; D. Behrens-Abouseif: Wakf. II. In the Arab Lands. 1.
In Egypt.
61 Ibn al-Qalanisi (d. 555/1160): Dhayl tarikh Dimashq. (ed) Suhayl Zakkar, (Dam-
ascus, 1403/1983), 514, 518, 525 531, 533, 541; Abu Shama: Rawdatayn, (ed)
Zaybaq, v. 1, 332 336, 375, 381.
62 E. Guidoboni and F. Bernardini and A. Comastri: The 1138 1139 and
1156 1159 Destructive Seismic Crises in Syria, South-Eastern Turkey and
Northern Lebanon, Journal of Seismology, 8 (2004), 105 127; N. N. Ambra-
seys: The 12th Century Seismic Paroxysm in the Middle East. A Historical Per-
spective, Annals of Geophysics, 47 (2004), 733 758.
170 Stefan Heidemann

mous challenge of reconstructing the city and financing the reconstruc-

tion. Abu Shamas chronicle preserved parts of a protocol of a meeting
that took place in the citadel of Damascus, on Thursday, 19 Safar
554/12 March 1159.63 The protocol sheds light on the function and
the scope of the waqf policy of Nur al-Din Mahmud within the econom-
ic and fiscal parameters described above.
The meeting was hosted by Nur al-Din Mahmud. The named attend-
ees were the Shafi i qadi of Damascus as chief representative of the legal

system; the administrator for the supervision of the waqfs, the Shafi i

Ibn Abi Asrun; members of Shafi i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of

law, but no one of the Hanafi school; the heads of the urban administra-
tion and militia and also professional witnesses. Nur al-Din Mahmud had
summoned all the relevant urban dignitariesthis is evident by the cir-
cumstancesto find a mutually agreeable, practical, and first of all legal-
ly legitimate solution, to redirect funds from the largest and richest pat-
rimony of the city, that of the Umayyad Mosque, to urban construction
and re-construction projects and also to the fortification of the city.
Over the centuries, the great patrimonies had accumulated enormous
capital in the form of commercially used real estate. In the protocol the
term masalih was used in two different ways: in the general sense as wel-
fare of the Muslims (masalih al-muslimin); and in a specific usage, as
productive assets of the patrimony which are not part of an endowment.
The use of their proceeds was not regulated by any waqf-deed. In general,
the masalih-assets should serve the welfare (masalih).64 Abu Shama:
And Nur al-Din asked them about the [additional] asset of masalih which
was added to the waqfs of the congregational mosque in Damascus (al-
mudaf ila awqaf al-masjid al-jami bi-Dimashq min al-masalih), [and]

which [i.e. the additional asset] is not an endowment for it [i.e. for the mos-
que] (allati laysat waqfan alayha). []

Then Nur al-Din ordered [the Shafi i Ibn Abi Asrun], the mutawalli of the

63 Abu Shama: Rawdatayn, (ed) Cairo, v. 1, 17 18; (ed) Ahmad and Ziyada, v. 1,
part 1, 41 44; (ed) Zaybaq, v. 1, 73 77. Compare also the discussion on the
protocol in J. Pahlitzsch, Transformation, 56 57.
64 For the development of the legal term maslaha see F. M. M. Opwis: Maslaha: An
Intellectual History of a Core Concept in Islamic Legal Theory, PhD Thesis Yale
University, (Ann Arbor, 2002), esp. 42 43 (she cites here al-Ghazali),
341 343. At the end of the 5th/11th century, the concept of maslaha gained
ground in the law finding process. Al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111) envisioned maslaha
as a method to expand the law in the cases for which no textual evidence directly
applied. Its application should remain restricted to those cases that displayed ne-
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 171

waqfs of the congregational mosque, the mosques, the hospital, the aque-
ducts (quniyi l-sabil) and what goes with those, that he read out before
him in the presence of the aforementioned [attendees] the proceeds of the
endowments (daribati l-awqaf ), place by place (mawdi an mawdi an), in

order to separate whataccording to their knowledgebelongs to the ma-
salih property and does not belong to the waqf (annahu lil-masalih duna l-
waqf ).65
The document continues with an extensive list of the patrimonys real es-
tate holdings within Damascus, emphasizing the great economic impor-
tance of the patrimony for the city. This list itemizes numerous shops in
the suq, a commercial complex (qaysariyya), tenements, rooms for rent
and a bakery. All property was scattered within the entire area of the in-
tramural city. The protocol implies four legal categories as how the afore-
mentioned real estate belonged to the masalih assets of the patrimony:
First, real estate that formed part of the Umayyad familys legacy within
the city (mirath bani umayya); second, all that which was acquired with
the assets of the waqfs and masalih (bi-mal al-waqf wal-masalih); third,
family waqfs that came to the patrimony when their last beneficiary
passed on; those which had no living immediate beneficiary anymore
and which had become part of the patrimony; fourth, commercially
used real estate built on public streets and grounds (tariq al-muslimin),
such as those within the old temenos, the precinct of the Hellenistic tem-
ple which had become the Umayyad Mosque. Nur al-Din Mahmud then
directed the discussion toward re-assignment of these revenues he wished
to achieve.
And Nur al-Din said: And in fact the most important of the welfare (ma-
salih) is the protection of the border lands of the Muslims (sadd tughur al-
muslimin) and the building of a wall enclosing Damascus (bina al-sur al-

muhit bi-Dimashq), towers (al-qilal)66 and a moat (al-khandaq) for the safety
of the Muslims (li-siyanat al-muslimin), their families (harimuhum) and their
properties (amwaluhum). And they approved what he suggested and they
thanked him.67
After the attendees had approved the new assignments of the proceeds
from the masalih assets, Nur al-Din Mahmud turned to another source
of revenue, the surplus from the endowments, fawadil al-awqaf. This

65 See fn. 63.

66 This part of the sentence is missing in Cairo edition and in that of Ahmad and
Ziyada, but it is present in the edition of Zaybaq.
67 See fn. 63.
172 Stefan Heidemann

term refers to the net income of the waqf, the gross income minus the
expenditures to fulfil the purposes stipulated in the waqf deed.
Then he [Nur al-Din Mahmud] asked them about [the disposition of ] the
surpluses of the endowments (fawadil al-awqaf ): [He asked] Is it permissi-
ble to spend them on the construction of city walls and works on the moat as
welfare (masalih) which is intended to be for the Muslims? Then Sharaf al-
Din Abd al-Wahhab al-Maliki68 gave his legal opinion (afta) about the law-

fulness (jawaz) of that.69

In the following statements of the attendant legal scholars, some criticism
became apparent. They expressed concerns about the revenue of the
waqfs being spent on issues other than those stipulated in the waqf
deeds. Finally, according to the protocol, all attendees approved the pol-
icy of Nur al-Din Mahmud. With this decision, they not only acknowl-
edged the authority of Nur al-Din Mahmud but attended the obvious
needs after the earthquakes.
In this case, Nur al-Din Mahmud succeeded in finding a legally ap-
proved solution to tap the revenues of a major patrimony for funding of
public and semi-public duties. In comparison to later treatises and prac-
tice, it can be supposed that this was not a singular incident in Damascus,
but mirrored a now growing practice of control by the ruler over the
spending of revenues of these major patrimonies.70 The largest urban pat-
rimony in Damascus controlled much of the urban economy. In turn, the
control of the surplus from the patrimony and the newly established
waqfs allowed Nur al-Din Mahmud to control indirectly the use of the
surplus of urban economic activity and to redirect it to public purposes
without reverting to direct taxes, and even abolishing them, at least from
time to time.

68 He was the representative of the Maliki school of law and taught in the Umayyad
mosque under the central Dome of the Eagle (qubbat al-nasr). He owed his ca-
reer in Damascus to the Burids.
69 See fn. 63.
70 For the in the Ottoman period compare Tarabulusi (d. 922/1516): Al-Is af fi

ahkam al-awqaf, (Beirut, 1981), 62. The ruler is allowed to take a loan from
the waqf when vicissitudes occur to Islam. In Mamluk Egypt the loans were
never returned: M. Hoexter: Huquq Allah, 153 fn. 71; E. Tyan: Histoire,
378, fn. 2.
Charity and Piety for the Transformation of the Cities 173

6. Conclusion: The dynamic economic effects

of the waqf-policy

The transformation from the late Roman and early Islamic cities to that
type of medieval cities found today in the old towns in the Middle East
was achievedamong other factorswith the help of a consciously ap-
plied instrument of funding: the waqf. The reign of Nur al-Din Mah-
mud saw a visible change, in quality and in quantity, of the endowment;
it found now a widespread systematic political application in Syria and
northern Mesopotamia. This new policy went far beyond the financing
of single institutions. After two centuries of decline, the state penetrated
more and more into society, particularly with regards to monetary econ-
omy, the fiscal system, the legal system, public security, education, urban
infrastructure, road construction and much more. After the Seljuq con-
quest of the late 5th/11th century, this expansion of the state was financed
by dues and taxes illegitimate according to the shari a, i. e. the mukus,

rusum, dara ib, and huquq al-bay . Their levying, however, contradicted

the ideological self-perception of the Seljuqs and their successors, the

Zangids and Ayyubids who saw themselves as the revivers of the Islamic
state and its legal system.
Nur al-Din Mahmud found a different solution than taxes. The po-
litical assignment of the proceeds of the numerous newly established
waqfs andat least after the earthquakes during the reconstruction peri-
odthe revenues of the masalih assets and the surplus of the patrimonies
made it possible to skim urban economic activities for public and semi-
public duties and construction projects while still abolishing or lowering
the criticised dues and taxes. The funds came from the private property of
the ruler. This and the creation of the numerous waqfs itself entered the
eulogies on the piety and justice of Nur al-Din Mahmud and served as
part of his political legitimization.
At the existent level of fiscal and economic organization and a rela-
tively shrunken monetary economy, the waqf for the maintenance of pub-
lic institutions and buildings represented in some regards the urban
equivalent to the iqta , the immediate agricultural levy for the sustenance

of the military in the rural areas. Both, military and urban institutions,
received funding independent from the fiscal redistribution of the
ruler. To control the waqfs and to keep them in line with the goals of
the Zangid policy, the office of the administrator of the supervision of
the waqfs was newly created or now especially emphasized.
174 Stefan Heidemann

What were the economic impacts of this new waqf policy of Nur al-
Din Mahmud on the development of the cities? Nur al-Din Mahmuds
waqf policy was part of a wide range of measures stimulating dynamic
economic growth. The endowed propertythe new waqf assets, shops,
khans and workshops in the suq, tenements and other buildingsin-
creased urban economic activities and allowed a far larger group of people
to find housing and employment in the cities. The expansion of the Sel-
juq form of iqta improved the cultivation of rural areas and fed a growing

urban population. Numerous settlement surveys prove this demographic

turn. The waqf fostered a dynamic development, quite the opposite of
what Goitein has perceived.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria
Yehoshua Frenkel
Comfort the poor with money, if you can, and Gods recompense will be
yours by right; Want is a dire affliction, hard to cure, but money can im-
prove a sorry sight.1
In Egypt and Syria in the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries, the
Mamluk religious endowment (awqaf ) strategy met the political goals
of the governing elite,2 and the giving of charity was a key aspect of its
materialistic world vision. Yet neither the social ideal of comforting the
poor and the needy3 nor similar religious urgings to contribute voluntar-
ily sufficiently explain the peoples motives to donate. By exploring a
wider range of cultural and social contexts, scholars can better understand
the motivating factors behind giving and donating.
This article will document and analyze the various motivations be-
hind charitable giving in Mamluk times. The first section will discuss
the philanthropic dimensions of governors charities, such as food dona-
tion and financial contribution, and elaborate on the Islamic religious
commandments and traditions that encourage donations and praise giv-
ingprinciples provided by the donors themselves. The second section
will explore the personal motives for giving charity, including the belief
that by contributing property, believers can expiate their sins. The third
section focuses on the political role of religious endowments. It sheds
light on the political weight that the Mamluk elite in Egypt and Syria
(1250 1517) assigned to pious charity in the public sphere.

1 A poem recited by the barber in night 146 of the Arabian nights. Muhsin Mahdi
(ed.), The Thousand and One Nights from the earliest known sources (Leiden,
1995), 1: 338. [Hereafter Alf Layla wa-Layla, ed. Mahdi].
2 Adam Abdelhamid Sabra, Poverty and charity in medieval Islam: Mamluk Egypt,
1250 1517 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 173 mentions the
total absence of the merchant class from the endowment deeds.
3 Alf layla wa-layla, ed. Mahdi, 347 (kana al-khalifatu yahibbu al-fuqara wal-ma-
176 Yehoshua Frenkel

I. Religious Charity and Piety

Charitable donations hold a strong relationship to the accumulation of

capital. Despite Muslims deep belief in predestination and the ongoing
exhortations to rely on God (tawakkul), it is not rare to come across
streams of thought in Islamic religious tradition that persuade the believ-
ers to work hard and to accumulate capital.4 Indeed, several verses in the
Qur an that discuss mens pursuit in the world employ commercial terms.

One key term comes from the Arabic radical k.s.b., 5 a root related to the
verb kasaba, which means earning and gain.6 Moreover, several Prophetic
traditions refer to economic performance and emphasize Muslims duty
to increase their earnings, signifying the importance of work, trade,
and profit.7
As an hadith says: [W]orship is constituted of ten parts, nine are in
matters of gains and earning and the tenth part is praying and fasting.8
Some jurists considered profiting to be a religious precept, arguing that
gaining is a required endeavor. The believer must pursue his income;

4 Abu Bakr Ah- mad b. Muh- ammad al-Khallal (d. 923), al-Haththu ala al-tijara

wal-sina a wal- amal wal-inkar ala man yuddi ui al-tawakkul fi tark al- amal

wal-hijja alayhim fi dhalika (Riyad, 1986), 25. The chain of transmitters of

this booklet clearly shows that the H - anbalis in Mamluk Damascus studied it;
al-Tirmidhi (fl. 898), Abu Abd Allah Muh- ammad b. Ali b. al-H - asan al-

H- akim al-Tirmidhi (fl. 898), Bayan al-kasb, ed. A. A. Barakah (Cairo, 1986),

54 57.
5 Charles Cutler Torrey, The commercial theological terms in the Koran. (Leiden,
1892), 29.
6 Qur an, 6: 164; cf. Qur an, 33: 58; 2: 286: God charge no soul (nafs) save to its

capacity, what it earned (laha ma kasabat) is standing to its account and against
its that which it merited (wa alayha ma iktasabat); Qur an, 52: 21; cf. Qur an,

74: 38: Every soul (kull nafsin) shall be pledged (rahina) for that which he
had earned (kasabat); Qur an, al-Baqara, 2: 79; Qur an, al-Nisa , 4: 111 112.

7 al-Khallal, al-Haththu ala al-tijara, 70, 72; al-Tirmidhi, Bayan al-kasb, 48: Lea

Kinberg claims that these traditions reflect the rising economic power of an Is-
lamic bourgeoisie. Compromise of Commerce, Der Islam 66 (1989): 195,
201 02. Several scholars interpret the Qur anic verse (2, Baqara: 198/199):

It is no sin (junah) to seek the bounty of your Lord (rabb) as referring to com-
merce/by trading. See for example the translation by Pickthall, The Glorious
Qur an.

8 al-Tirmidhi, Bayan al-kasb, 60; S. D. Goitein, The Rise of the Near-Eastern

Bourgeoisie in Early Islamic Times, in his Studies in Islamic History and Institu-
tions (Leiden, Brill: 1961), 217 29 quotes this and similar traditions to prop his
thesis of merchant mentality that pervaded in early Islamic society.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 177

without profiting he will neither be able to fulfill his religious duties9 nor
support his wife.10 Indeed, Gods messengers are used as models of those
who work and earn money. Given this emphasis, it is no wonder that a
Damascene author even composed a book on the importance of wealth.11
The spread of such sayings among mainstream Muslims clearly indicates
an entrepreneur ethic.12
Furthermore, medieval Islamic culture also accepted the idea that
capital and property can be exchanged for redemption. The belief that
money can acquire mercy developed from several verses in the Qur an

that indicate that mans ritual deeds and spiritual destiny are exchangeable
assets.13 Among other meanings, the verbal root sh.r.y conveys the idea of
to obtain by commercial transaction.14 In the Qur an, the verb ishtara

stands for the exchanging of righteous values for immoral ones:15 those
who purchase disbelief at the price of faith,16 or those who exchange
Gods guidance at the price of wrongdoing.17 Founders of pious founda-
tions used these and similar Qur anic verses to elucidate their intentions.18

Islamic religious thinking often uses commercial language and meta-

phors, according to which everything has its own quantitative appraisals
and all of mans deeds are hierarchically classified. In the same way, the

9 Pseudo-Shaybai, Kitab al-kasb in Al-Sarakhsi (d. 483/1090), al-Mabsut (Beirut,

2001), 30: 272; on this book see Bonner, Kitab al-kasb, JAOS 121 (2001):
412 13.
10 al-Tirmdhi, Bayan al-kasb, 38, 45. vol. 30.
11 Al-Dimashqi, al-Ishara ila mahasin al-tijara wa-ghushush al-mudallisin fiha ed.
M. Arnaut (Beirut, 1999), 15, 18, 73 72. Cf. The argument put forward by
Capital Formation in the Ottoman Empire, The Journal of Eco-
Halil Inalcik,
nomic History 29 (1969): 102.
12 For ascetics sayings that there is no harm in property as long as the prevailing
feeling is contentment and dependency on God see Leah Kinberg, What is
meant by Zuhd, SI 61 (1985): 38.
13 The Holy Book reflects a belief system that did not rule out the exchange be-
tween capital and religious deeds. Qur an, Saba , 34: 39: and whatever spending

you shall expend [on alms] (anfaqtum) He will replace (yukhalifu) it. He is the
best of providers.
14 Qur an, Baqara 2: 79. The first conjunction means to sell (shara ). The eighth

conjunction (ifta ala) means to buy, to purchase.

15 Torrey, The commercial theological terms in the Koran, 35 42.

16 Qur an, Aal Imran, 3: 177; cf. those who prefer to exchange the Hereafter at the

price of worldly materialistic life. Qur an, Baqara, 2: 86.

17 Qur an, Baqara 2: 16.

18 RCEA 13: 13 14 (Damascus, 682/1283 no. 4820) quoting Qur an 2: 264 and

73: 20.
178 Yehoshua Frenkel

believers ritual behavior is also assessed and arranged on a scale of merits

that produces reward or punishment. Numerous examples illustrate this
world vision. As learned from several Qura nic verses,19 Muslims consid-

ered it valid to use donations as an instrument for replacing wrongdoing
and ensuring reward.20 In one tradition, we learn that God will make eas-
ier the livelihood of the believer who obeys the Lord, while the person
that acts unjustly and turns to forbidden deeds will be punished and
lose his revenues.21 Another tradition deals with giving of alms as a fulfill-
ment of vows and oaths.22 Since material remission of sin was a familiar
concept to Muslims, we can accept statements that point on desire for sal-
vation as an incentive to donate.
To a certain degree, the doctrine that charity is a righteous behavior
was shaped by Qur anic verses that encourage the believers to donate.23 A

well-known Qur anic verse says: The freewill offerings (sadaqat) are for

the poor (faqir) and the needy (maskin), and those who collect them, and
those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to ransom of slaves (or cap-
tives) and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah (or Holy War); it is a
duty imposed by God.24
Founders of pious foundations often refer to this verse and its popu-
larity is shown by its repeated quotations in dedicatory inscriptions. From
early Islamic centuries, the commandment to give charity became synon-

19 Qur an, 24, al-Nur, 22; cf. Qur an 64: 14; 24: 22; Baqara 2: 272/274 Whatever

good you spend it is for yourselves not is search of Allahs face; and whatever
good you spend it will be repaid to you in full without you being wronged
in an Ayyubid inscription from Dabburiyah Israel. Sharon, CIAP, 3: 3.
20 A verse that debates the failure to fulfill an oath (ayman) says: His expiation
(kaffaratuhu) is the feeding of ten needy (masakin) with the average means
you employ to feed your own folk, to dress them or to free slaves. The one
who has no means to do so should fast three days. Qur an, 5: 89; Cf. Qur an

2: 280 (wa-an tasaddaqu khayrun lakum); Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-qur an al- azim,

7: 276.
21 al-Tirmidhi, Bayan al-kasb, 39, 40, 49 51.
22 Malik, Muwatta, book 22, Number 22.4.6:
23 Qur an, al-Baqara, 2: 211.

24 Qur an, al-Tawba, 9: 60; and cf. 58: 12; 4: 114; 2: 263; 9:103. Muslim jurists
disputed the proportions of freewill donation. They did not agree if a man can
provide all his capital or there is a limit and he can not contribute more than a
one third of it (ikhraj al-thulth). Ibn al- Arabi (d. 543/1148), Ahkam al-quran ed.

Bajawi (Cairo, 1378/1958), 2: 1010 11.

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 179

ymous with the concept of monetary donations,25 including contribu-

tions to pay for construction of religious buildings.26
In addition to the Qur anic commandment to donate, other motives

drove Muslims to endow money and property. These motives are evident
from a wide range of literary genres: legal compendia, inscriptions,
chronicles, hagiographical and biographical collections, as well as popular
stories. This wide range of sources provides accounts and episodes that
reflect the religious ethics and the world vision of the variety of medieval
Muslims. In these writings generosity and offering were often presented
as evidence of noble manners.27
Several episodes recounted in these collections encourage relief ideol-
ogy and establish an ideal to be followed by the community. The Persian
poet and hagiographer Farid al-Din Attar (c. 1142 1229) narrates the

life story of H
- abib a Persian mystic, telling the following:
Once a famine was ranging in Bas-ra. H- abib purchased many provisions on
credit and gave them away as alms. He fastened his purse and placed it under
his pillow. When [the tradesmen] came to demand the payment, H - abib
would take out his purse and it was full of silver coins which he gave
away as loans.28
A second example of this sort is found in al-Din Attars biography of the

famous mystic Ibrahim b. Adham, who was livingin a cave on the out-
skirts of Nishapur:
Every Thursday he used to get out of the cavern, climbing up the hill and
collecting a bundle of firewood. Next morning he used to set out for Nish-
apur and sell there the brushwood. Having preformed the Friday prayers, he

25 That this meaning of sadaqa was widely accepted we can deduce from a Christian
charity. Tusana b. Basint donated (tasaddaqat) a piece of land. It was bestowed
upon two monasteries. From the text it is clear that she had given the property
as a charitable foundation. The stated motive of her deed was for the love of
God (literally for Allahs face= li-wajhi Allahi). R.G. Khoury, Chrestomathie
de papyrologie Arabe (Leiden, 1993), 131 3 (ll. 3, 12); Generous people distrib-
uted food to Bedouin prisoners. Al-S- ayrafi (1416 1495), Inba al-hasr bi- anba

al- asr ed. H

- asan H
- abashi (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub, 1970), 45.

26 J. Sourdel-Thomine, D. Sourdel, J-M. Mouton, Un acte notarie d poque bour-

ide: pouvoir politique et propri taire immobili re dans un quartier de Damas au
XIIe si cle, AI 29 (1995): 61 (l. 13 [no bequeath]); RCEA 15: 27, 5642 (Sart-
shan, Iran 733/1333).
27 Alf layla wa-layla, ed. Mahdi, 368.
28 Farid al-Din al- Attar (c. 1142 1229), Tadhkirat al-awliya [Memorial of the

Saints] ed. R. Nicholson (London, 1907), 1: 53 (ll. 15 17); [A. J. Arberry
(trans.), Muslim Saints and Mystics (University of Chicago Press, 1966), 36].
180 Yehoshua Frenkel

would buy bread with the money he had gained, give half to a beggar (der-
vish) and use half himself to break his fast. So he did every week.29
Another example of this ethos can be seen in the story of Qut al-Qulub,
the beautiful heroine of several nights in the Thousand and One Nights.
The story tells of a slave-girl that was dispatched by the caliph to search
for the trustworthy merchant Ghanim b. Ayub. The caliph promised her
a substantial and permanent gift, were she to succeed in her assignment.
She was given a reward of one thousand golden. Serving as a model of
generosity she distributed a portion of the sum as alms to aged mystics.30
A paragraph in the story of Julnar the Mermaid and her son King
Badr of Persia is another illustration of this value.31 Although Shariman
the mighty king had one hundred concubines of all races, he had never
been blessed with a son. So he used to offer sacrifices, gave alms and
did a verity of favors and beneficial deeds.32 He prayed to God, asking
to bless him with a son.33 When the beloved slave girl informed the
king that his expectations were fulfilled and that she was pregnant, he or-
dered the vizier to distribute a hundred thousand golden coins in alms to
the poor and needy, to widows, the orphans, and the homeless. Following
the naming of the baby, the king promised to open the jails, to cloth the
widows and orphans. He gave alms and freed the slaves.34
Accompanying the sense that donating is an obligation was the hope
that such beneficence would be rewarded by God. It was already pointed
above that Muslims who read the Holy Qur an would come across verses

that speak about money, contribution and repentance. Some of these

29 Attar, Tadhkirat al-awliya, 1: 88; [Arberry, Muslim Saints, 66].

30 Alf layla walayla, ed. Bulaq (Cairo, AH 1252), 1: 137.

31 It goes without saying that these stories do not reflect the social reality of the
Mamluk age, yet they seem to project the social ideals of the well-off echelons
among the urban population.
32 Cf. the necrology of Zumurrud Khatun by Abu Shama (599 665/1202 1268),
al-Rawdatayn fi akhbar al-dawlatayn al-nuriyya wal-salahiyya in Z. Zakkar (ed.),
al-Mawsu a al-shamiyya fi ta rikh al-hurub al-salibiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1995),

20: 9038.
33 In the Kitab al-Hikayat al- ajiba wal-akhbar al-ghariba ed. H. Wehr (reprinted

Cologne, 1997), 85 this component is missing from the introductory sentences

of the story. However, in an akin, story a king invites the poor and needy to ban-
quet. They should pray and ask to bless him with a son. M. Habicht (ed.), Tau-
send und Eine Nacht (Breslau, 1825), 3: 167 (night 218); Anotoine Galland
(trans.), Les mille et une nuits (Paris, 1996), 2: 228 (night 211).
34 Alf layla wa-layla, ed. Mahdi, 481, 487, 494 (nights 230, 235, 241); Haddawy
(trans.), 384, 389, 394.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 181

verses promote alms giving and promise Gods reward,35 supporting the
belief that donors would be compensated in the world to come.36
Additional texts support the hypothesis that Muslim public opinion
regarded the giving of charity as an act of piety to be rewarded later.37
In a Prophetic tradition, God promised those who spent capital for
His cause that He would lead them to paradise.38 This hope of donors
to acquire personal salvation through giving charity is also reflected by
engravings on numerous tombs.39 Invocations calling on God to compen-
sate the buried can be seen in medieval epitaphs,40 and deathbed declara-
tions often reflect this conviction that the fulfillment of this sort of reli-
gious duties would secure a spiritual pardon.41
One example of charity being seen as purchasing favor in the world to
come can be seen in the following item from a pious endowment (waqf )
deed: the fourth share of this bequest shall be spent each year to buy
slaves. They will be manumitted on behalf of the donor for the sake of
God, Who will free a bone of the donors corpse against each manumitted
slave.42 In the concluding section of a similar endowment text, the

35 Qur an, 2: 277; 4: 162; 41: 7.

36 An emotional episode that illuminates the ethos of remorse tells about a dying
slave soldier who called notaries and owners of stolen property to his bed
sides. He asked the owners if they recognize their possessions, and following
their confirmation he handed the goods to them in the presence of the notaries,
who were suppose to itemize the deceaseds property and instead turned to the
owners and recorded their collection. Then the soldier turned to the proprietors
and begged them to pardon him (muhalala). They have exonerated him and he
died. Ibn Iyas (852 930/1448 1524), Bada i al-zuhur fi waqa i al-duhur [Die

Chronik des Ibn Ijas] ed. M. Mustafa (Wiesbaden, 1975), 3: 390 (ll. 16 22;
37 Ibn Maja al-Qazwini (d. 887/1482), Sunan, ed. S. J. al- Attar (Beirut: Dar al-

Fikr, 1421/2001), 186 (735 737) the person who builds a mosque, where
the name of God will be called, God will provide him with a house in
haven; and ibid, 191 (757).
38 Al-Qabuni (1382 1465), Bisharat al-mahbub bitakfir al-dhunub ed. A. A. Al-
Bahiri (Cairo, 1422/2002, 145.
39 Werner Diem. The living and the dead in Islam: studies in Arabic epitaphs (Wies-
baden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004), 1: 301; Sabra, Poverty and Charity, 99 100.
40 RCEA 15: 45, (5665; Cairo 735/1334); Diem, Living & Dead, 1: 293, 580 (7).
41 The expiring sultan Barquq donated considerable sums (fa-akthara min al-sada-
qat). Ibn Taghri Birdi (813 874/1411 1470), al-Nujum al-Zahirah fi Muluk
Misr wa-al-Qahirah ed. W. Popper (University of California Press 1936), 5:
595 (l. 16).
42 Al-Samarqandi, Kitab al-shurut wal-watha iq (Baghdad, 1988), 179.

182 Yehoshua Frenkel

founder declared that he had donated it:43 because he is motivated by

desiring Gods Face44 and obtaining His large recompense. God will
not let the reward45 of the good-doers to be wasted.46
Several other inscriptions bear witness to donors desires to have their
donations buy their favor with God. The opening paragraph of a tenth
century waqf inscription discovered in Ramla (Israel) contains the line:
He made it a waqf, put it into mortmain and gave it as charitable
alms, desiring to attain the reward of God, hoping for Gods pardon
and seeking to draw close47 to Him.48 An Abbasid period inscription

from Mecca mentions a daughter of the caliph who constructed the
water supply system in Mecca; she invested in this project hoping for
Gods recompense.49 A Zirid period (1062 1108) inscription in the
great mosque of Qayrawan in Tunisia includes the following statement:
This work was executed on the orders of Abu Tamim al-Mu izz ibn Badis ibn

al-Mans-ur may God protect him, bless him and approve his deeds. He or-
dered it in request to gain recompenses from the generous God and His
enormous grace, for the Lord does not waste the rewards of the well doers.50
One presumes that these benefactors who pleaded with God51 indeed be-
lieved that His acceptance of their freewill donation would draw them
nearer.52 This hope encouraged them to contribute.53 Along these lines,
a document from early Abbasid Egypt narrates the story of a couple

who granted a slave girl to their two sons.54 When the father gave half

43 RCEA 16: 17 (6020; Fez 747/1346).

44 Qur an, 30: 38.

45 Torrey, The commercial theological terms in the Koran, 23 27.

46 Qur an, al-Tawba, 9: 120; cf. Qur an, 3: 171; 7: 170; 11: 115; 12: 90.

47 The term zulfa occurs several times in the Qur an in the sense of closeness. Sura

34: 37 says: It is neither your property nor your male offspring that will bring
you near Us, but only who believes and makes the good deeds; cf. 38: 25, 39
(zumar): 3 (We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to
Allah.); and the note by Max van Berchem, CIA , Jerusalem (Haram),
(Cairo, 1922), 394 (item 277 and 5).
48 M. Sharon, A waqf Inscription from Ramlah, Arabica 13 (1966): 77 (l. 4), 79;
[republished as Notes and Communications: Waqf inscription from Ramla c.
300/912 13, BSOAS 60 (1997): 107].
49 RCEA, 1: 69 (88).
50 Houdas et Basset, Epigraphie Tunisienne, 20.
51 Qur an, Baqara, 2: 265; cf. Qur an 92: 20, 13: 22.

52 Qur an, 9: 99.

53 H. Gaube, Arabische Inscriften aus Syrien (Beirut, 1978), 110 (197).
54 Y. Ragib, Actes de vente (Cairo: IFAO, 2002), 89 96.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 183

of the slave girl to his eldest son, although he was still a minor ,55 he signed
a document that stated that he had done it voluntarily out of love to his
son to gain proximity to God.56
This idea that alms could serve as a sort of penitence (kaffara) was
disseminated broadly among Muslims. Al-Tabari, the renowned Baghda-

di Qur an commentator and historian (224 310/838 923), narrates the

following tradition: God said to his Prophet, O Muh- ammad take a share
from the capital of those who have confessed about their wrongdoing. It
will be a sadaqa that cleanses the repentant from the stain of his miscon-
ducts. By collecting the contribution you will purify them.57 This inter-
pretation was emphasized by al-Razi (d. 606/1209) who says: this verse
is not concerning the obligatory charity (sadaqa wajiba) but rather speaks
about voluntary ransom payment,58 which serves as a tool to wipe wrong
The examples imparted throughout this chapter clearly illuminate the
place of sadaqa in the world vision of medieval Muslims and the versatil-
ity of voluntary donation and endowment in Mamluk society (1250
1517). These accounts of impressive awqaf inaugurations and ceremonial
sadaqa donations point that although endowment and giving of charita-
ble gifts were labeled as part of private enterprise, nevertheless they were
staged frequently at public events.60 Food and money were distributed in
city streets to mark victories. The royal family would give contributions
to celebrate the birth and circumcisions of their sons and other publicly
celebrated rites of passage. Sultans and governors also publicly provided
monthly payments and funds to feeble soldiers, widows and orphans of
soldiers and families of religious functionaries.61 Yet, despite the ubiquity

55 The Mother gave the second half of the slave-girl (wasifa) of the couple another
56 This line echoes the Qur anic verse: only seeking the Face of his Lord the Most

High (ibtigha wajhi rabihim). Qur an, 2: 207, 4: 114; Cf. RCEA 15: 123 5792

(Cairo 740/1339).
57 Muh- ammad b. Jarir (224 310/838 923), Jami al-Bayan (Beirut, 1988), 7: 16

(surat al-tawba, 9: 103).

58 Compare Diem, Living & Dead, 1: 332 (Ransom avoids death).
59 Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (543 606/1149 1209), al-Tafsir al-kabir (Beirut, 1990),
16: 141 (surat al-tawba, 9: 103).
60 See the obituary of the sultan of Damascus al-Malik al-Ashraf Musa (1229 635/
1237) by Ibn Was-il in Claude Cahen, Sur le Ta rikh Salihi dIbn Wasil: Notes et

extraits, in M. Sharon (ed.), Studies in Islamic History and Civilization in Honour

of David Ayalon (Jerusalum, 1986), 509.
61 Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhurr, 3: 24 (l. 18).

184 Yehoshua Frenkel

of Qur anic verses in awqaf documents and inscription the religious pre-

cept paradigm can not be taken as the sole motivation to Mamluk char-
itable donations.
Why did the Mamkuk elite feel the need to bequeath and donate
their holdings to the poor? Finding the answer to this question is not
an easy task, particularly in the absence of definitive information con-
cerning the private motivations and the moods of the endowers, who re-
stricted their reasoning to a general statement and citations from the
Qur an62 and H 63
- adith. Founders of religious foundations chose to invest

considerable sums in constructions. Such building activity was financed

largely by the awqaf, which also paid the maintenance costs for the insti-
tution. Used as the funds for public enterprises, we might claim that re-
ligious commandments were not the main reason for donations of capital
and assets.64 Neither the religious commandments presented above nor
the political thesis can be seen as sufficient explanations for the vast
scope of the waqf phenomenon.65
Additional reasoning such as the pietistic drive should be supple-
mented.66 The desire to appear pious and receive divine grace set in mo-
tion personal and social mechanisms that motivated the giving of chari-
ty.67 This mode of religious patronage was considered Mamluk contem-
poraries as an expression of piety. Those who contribute believed that by
fulfilling the religious obligation of donating they will gain rewards and

62 Frequently quoting verses from Qur an, surat al-Tawba, 9: 18: Only he who be-

lieves in God, the Last Day, performs the prayer and donates the alms, and fears
none but God shall build mosques; indeed he will be among the guided along
the right way; and Qur an, 2: 177, 9: 60. These verses convey the massage

that paying the alms taxes (zakat) would safeguard the payer.
63 Commonly alluding to the tradition: Only three things remain after death: a
lasting charity, religious knowledge that teaches the next generations and a right-
eous son who will pray for the deceased. Ibn Maja, Sunan, 78 (241 42).
64 For an opposite evaluation M. Gil, Documents of the Jewish Pious Foundations
from the Cairo Geniza (Brill, 1976), 11.
65 Cf. Roisin Cossar, The quality of mercy: confraternities and public power in
medieval Bergamo, Journal of Medieval History 27 (2001): 142.
66 al-Khallal, al-Haththu ala al-tijara, 26.

67 This mentalit can be detected in pre-Mamluk years. Abu Shama, Rawdatayn,

19: 8891; Yasser Tabbaa, Constructions of power and piety in medieval Aleppo
(University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 139.
68 Ibn H - ajar (773 852/1372 1449), Ma rifat al-khisal al-mukaffira lil-dhunub

[the good qualities that help achieving Gods forgiveness] (Beirut, 1410/1990),
39, 41, 56; Qabuni, Bisharat al-mabub, 46, 52, 69, 103, 123.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 185

The belief that property and donation can bring donors closer to God
can be seen explicitly in several inscriptions, engraved on tombs, mos-
ques, schools and other buildings that catered to social welfare.69 For ex-
ample, Sanjar al-Dawadari (Jerusalem 695/1295)70 stated that he ordered
the construction of a Sufi khanqah (a lodge for the mystics) and financed
its activity because he was seeking the Gods face, the Most High.71 A
similar declaration was engraved on the walls of a mosque that H - usam
al-Din Lajin (d. 1299) constructed in Cairo.72 His hope for obtaining
Gods mercy is reflected in inscriptions that state: It was endowed by
the poor slave who needs Gods mercy73 and who yearn for His forgive-
ness.74 In some inscriptions, this standard formula is replaced by the
line: the feeble slave who needs Gods compassion.75 Often these

69 RCEA 15: 232 (5964, 743/1343, Jabala: the Mausoleum of Ibrahim b. Adham);
van Berchem, CIA, Cairo, 3: 344 (he seeks the Face of God and hopes that this
will give him a place in the Other World); Cf. Mayer, Saracenic Heraldry, 61.
70 van Berchem, CIA , J rusalem (Ville), 214 (70) [reprinted in RCEA 13: 146 47
(5009]); A similar line opens an waqf inscription from Hebron RCEA 13: 96
(4943 l. 1); and in Baisan RCEA 14: 23 (5235 ll. 2 3); 286 (5211a); cf.
RCEA 15: 74 (5703 Qalansuwa 737/1336); Matthews, Mamluk Inscriptions,
(1940): 376 77 (a fountain donated by Sunqur al-Ashqar in 707/1307); Mayer,
Saracenic Heraldry, 188, 250 (public fountain, Aleppo 746/1345).
71 The line is takwn from Qur an, al-Baqara, 2: 272 (ibtigha wajh allah); Cf.

Qur an, 92: 20 (ibtigha wajhi rabihi) and additional verses that were mentioned

above. The hadith those who build a mosque in search of Gods face, God will
build in paradise a home for them. Sahih Muslim, 1: 378 (kitab al-masajid 24
25); al-Qabuni, Bisharat al-mahbub, 121.
72 RCEA 15: 33 (5647 734/1333 seeking the face of God), the founder bears the
royal title of the inspector of the stables (amir akhur). He should not to be con-
fused with the sultan al-malik al-mans-ur Lajin (lachin= Turkish falcon) (1296
99). Peter Malcolm Holt, The Sultanate of al-Mansur Lachin (696 8/
1296 9), BSOAS 36 (1973): 521.
73 For additional examples to this humble appeal see Sharon, CIAP Addendum, 6
(Qayit Bay 881/1476), 32 (777/1375 76); RCEA 15: 7 (5610 Ankara 731/
1331); 23 (5635 Taphis/Tafa in Upper Egypt 733/1333); 24 (5637 Aleppo,
733/1333); 33 (5647 Cairo, 734/1334); An inscription on a tomb stele contains
the following lines: this is the grave of Fatima, the needy woman (al-faqirah ila
Allah). The message concludes: may God forgive those who read this inscrip-
tion and pray that God will pardon her. RCEA 15: 80 (5719 Cairo 738/1337).
74 al-r j afw rabbihi al-kar m. RCEA 15: 1 (5601 Egypt 731/1331); 36 (5652
Damascus, 734/1334); 54 (5680 Cairo, 736/1335); 123 (5792 Cairo 740/
75 al- abd al-da if al-muhtaj ila rahmat rabbih i. RCEA 15: 49 50 (5672 Pazar

735/1335); 64 (5693 Nigde, Anatolia 736/1336); 65 (5695 Akhlat, 738/

1337); 206 (5934 Akshehir, 741/1340).
186 Yehoshua Frenkel

words are followed by the expression of hope: would God agree to ac-
cept from him his good deeds and double his good reward.76 An inscrip-
tion on another mosque states that its founder had constructed this
blessed mosque out of pure and sincere love of God.77
These declarations often are accompanied by verses that reflect the
builders belief that voluntary charity would be compensated by God
in the afterlife.78 In a dedicatory inscription that the Sultan Baybars I
(1260 1277) ordered to place at the shrine of Abu Ubayda (on the

east bank of the Jordan River),79 he explains that he founded it to gain
the favor of God and his Messenger.80 To this statement, he appended ad-
ditional Qur anic verses that say: owing to His kindness (jawd) and His

generosity (karm) God would recompense the founder (waqif ) on the day
of recompression;81 and surely God leaves not to waste the wage of the
A similar dedicatory inscription that Abu Muh- ammad al-H - asan en-
graved informs the reader that he constructed it in search for Gods prox-
imity holding fast to his aspiration to obtain Gods satisfaction.83 An in-
scription on the walls of a hospital (bimaristan 755/1354) in Aleppo ex-
presses the same belief when it quotes the verse: He who brings a good
work (hasana) shall receive tenfold like his deed.84 The same intention
can be seen on an inscription from Fuwwa (a city in the Nile Delta,
Egypt) that incorporates the hadith: The Prophet had said: whoever
builds a mosque for God, even if it is in the size of a Spotted Sand-grouse
nest, God will build him an abode in Paradise.85 Another construction

76 RCEA 15: 25 (5638 Konya 733/1333).

77 khalisan mukhlisan li-wajh Allah: RCEA 15: 41 (5659 H - aji Uzbak in Iznik
78 inna Allah yajzi al-mutasaddiqin Qur an, surat Yusuf, 12: 90 (He leaves not

waste the wage of the good-doers (ajra al-muhsainin/muslihin)).

79 RCEA 12: 208 09 (4714; 675/1277).
80 Cf. RCEA 13: 71 (4902 687/1288); 14: 208 (Cairo, 725/1325 ibtigha ridwan
Allah); 16: 160 61 (6239, Cairo 756/1355,).
81 yajzi al-mutasaddiqin: Qur an, Yusuf, 12: 88.

82 Qur an, Yusuf, 12: 90; cf. Qur an,7: 170 (inna la nudi u ajra al-muslihin);

Qur an,18: 30.

83 RCEA 15: 14, (5222; Veramin, Iran, 707/1307).
84 Quran 6: 161; Mayer, Saracenic Heraldry, 75.
85 The hadith in Ibn Maja, Sunan, 187 (kitab al-masajid 738). RCEA, 15: 121
(5790 Fuwwa 740/1339), 15: 62 (765019, Aleppo, 765/1364), 15: 87 (5732
Bursa 738/1337 38); cf. an similar statement in RCEA, 15: 224 5953
(Sinop: Ulu Jami 742/1341); An inscription on the walls of a mosque build

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 187

text says: The building of this blessed public fountain had been ordered
for the sake of God the Exalted () may God regard this as a beneficial
act and reward him.86 From a tomb inscription, we learn that the tomb
was built in hope to win access to God from all directions.87 In Jerusalem,
a Mamluk amir constructed a law college (madrasa) and declared that it
was accomplished in hope to approach God. He adds a plea that God
will forgive him either while still alive or after being buried.88
The donors deemed that repentance (tawba)89 supplemented by char-
ity would save them from severe punishment in the world to come. Hop-
ing for Allahs mercy,90 their contributions were donated in hope to win
Gods future rewards.91 Numerous inscriptions express the expectation for
Gods forgiveness.92 Quite often they quote the Qur anic verse:93 and

God will recompense them94 according to the utmost merit of their
deeds,95 or engrave on the walls that the monument was prepared in
hope that God with his mercy will shelter the donor.96 Even blunter
is an inscription in a Lebanese village that states: Balaban al-Rumi

by an Ottoman sultan ends with the saying: for those who build mosques for
God, God will build for them a house in Paradise. RCEA 17: 2 (762068,
762/1661, Gaza).
86 Sharon, CIAP, 1: 108 (Aqir, 696/1296).
87 RCEA 15: 16, (5224 Natanz, Iran: 707/1307) the publisher of the text reads sac-
88 RCEA 15: 199, (5923 Jerusalem: 741/1340 Allah have mercy upon those who
will invoke Allah at his tomb and to forgive him); cf. Tabbaa, Constructions of
power and piety, 138 (rahima man tarahhama: may God have mercy on both
of them, and have mercy on all those who asked God who have mercy on
them), 139 May God have mercy on whoever prays for its dweller and plead
for Gods mercy, and seeks forgiveness for its founder.
89 Qur an 5: 34; 39 (in search for the abundant compensation (jazil thawabihi) of

90 RCEA 14: 242 (5558); Sharon, CIAP-Addendum, 106 may God reward him
with paradise. (Hebron, by Tankiz 732/1331 32).
91 RCEA 13: 85 (4925 Damascus 689/1290); 15: 66, 5697 (Tomb of Ezekiel 736/
92 Tabbaa, Constructions of power and piety, 139 may God accept his good deeds
(taqabbal qurubatahu) and recompense him abundantly for what he has offered
(ma taqarraba bihi), 370 (amhu zalalihi); Sharon, CIAP-Addendum, 41 al-raji
minu al-maghfira wal-ridwan. (Balatuns, 708/1308).
93 Qur an, 16: 99;

94 Ajar in Sharon, CIAP, 1: 185.

95 A. L. Mayer, Saracenic Heraldry: A Survey (Oxford, 1933), 188 (a foundation text
from Qalansuweh, Israel 737/1336).
96 RCEA 15: 2 3, 5602 04 (Egypt 731/1331); 85 (5728 Konia 738/1338).
188 Yehoshua Frenkel

had done it out of desire to satisfy God and longing for His nearness in
order to gain recompression and reward.97
In a construction text engraved on a water fountain (sabil) built by
Yal-Bugha the cupbearer (saqi) in Aleppo, the founder claims that he fi-
nanced the construction from his private budget.98 According to his state-
ment, he was motivated by the desire to see Gods face, who will offer
him drink at the moment of the greatest thirst [i.e. during his own en-
tombment]; the day when neither wealth nor sons shall profit except
for him who comes to God with a pure heart.99 Another example of
this distribution of money as an act of atonement is the report on the
death of two young children of the Mamluk sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay.
The funeral cortege of his six year old daughter was led by a group of
men who distributed alms in hopes of atonement.100
Despite these examples of beneficence, such a pious vision of charity
is likely too idealistic. Practically speaking, most of the beneficiaries of
the pious foundations were members of the Mamluk elite, who used
the endowments deeds as a legal tool to arrange financial relationships
among family members.101 The meticulous and extremely detailed clauses
of these deeds indicate that the pious foundations were not unbounded
charities but rather well-calculated initiatives, delineated in a carefully
formulated legal document.102 These documents illuminate the role of
the pious endowments in providing income and economic support to
kin and others that the founder considered suitable beneficiaries of
cash gifts,103 salary,104 food,105 housing, or other reimbursements. The

97 RCEA 12: 323 (4748; Baal Bek 676/1278).

98 RCEA 16: 12 (6015 Aleppo, 746/1345).
99 Qur an, al-Shu ara , 26: 88 90.

100 Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhur fi waqa i al-duhur, 3: 30 (l. 15; in 872/1468).

101 Al-Jazari (739/1259 1338), Ta rikh Ibn al-Jazari ed. U. A. al-Tadmuri (Beirut:

al-maktaba al-asriyya, 1419/1998), 2: 157, 200 01 (the story of Ibn al-Daja-

jiyah), 282; Al-Subki (1284 1355/683 756), Fatawa al-Subki (Beirut: Dar
al-Ma rafa s.d.), 1: 508. It is not the place to launch a general inquiry into the

link between endowment and family bonds. It is sufficient to indicate that this
line of explanation reflects early sources data on habs. Ibn Abd al-H - akam,

Futuh Misr ed. Ch. Torrey (Yale, 1921), 135 36.

102 This practice was not a Mamluk innovation. See for example Janine Sourdel-
Thomine et Dominique Sourdel, Biens Fonciers Constitues waqf en Syrie Fa-
timide pour une Famille de ashraf Damascains , JESHO 15 (1972): 286 (ll. 45
52), 293 (trans.).
103 Ibn Tawq (834 915/1430 1509), al-Ta liq, yawmiyyat Shihab al-Din Ahmad b.

Tawq mudhdhakirat kutibat bi-dimashq fi awakhir al- ahd al-mamluki 885 908/

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 189

great majority of Muslims pious endowments in the Mamluk sultanate

were private institutions founded to provide family,106 associates, and
the religious establishment with funds, assets, housing and positions.107
Awqaf s administrators were the key beneficiaries from the pious founda-

tions incomes and properties.108

Islam enjoins the believers to care for the poor;109 providing him with
alms is a religious obligation.110 Sadaqa was not seen merely as limited
relief only to the poor. In theory, such charitable donations were offered
to all Muslim claimants, and the pious endowments doors were opened
to accommodate a broader spectrum of recipients.111 Declarations and
statements of this sort inspire an image of the charities and waqfs as
pious foundations that provide the public goods to the entire Islamic
community, without discrimination.112 The following story reflects this

1480 1502 ed. Ja far al-Muhajer (Damascus, IFEAD 2000), 1: 245 (AH 888);

RCEA 13: 71 (4902).

104 A. Darrag, LActe de waqf de Barsbay [Hujjat waqf al-Ashraf Barsbay] (Cairo,
1963). clause 22.
105 Ibn Tulun (1485 1536/880 953), al-Qala id al-jawhariyah fi ta rikh al-Sali-

hiyah ed. M. A. Dahman (Damascus, 1401/1980), 1: 266 68.
106 van Berchem, CIA, Cairo, 3: 354; This certainly was not a Mamluk invention.
Describing the merits of the Barmakids of Khorasan Ibn Faqih al-Hamdhani
says: Khalid b. Barmak built houses to his beneficiaries or clients according
to their needs. To support eternally their progeny he then bequeathed (waqafa
ala). Ibn Faqih al-Hamdhani (fl. 902), Kitab al-buldan, 608 (ll. 1 3); the

text in the Mukhtasr kitab al-buldan, ed. de Goeje (Leiden, 1885), 317 differs
slightly; Masse, Abr g du livre des pays (Damascus, 1973), 376; On sani a as pa-

tronage and foster paternal relationship Roy Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership
in an Early Islamic Society (Princeton Uni. 1980).
107 L. A. Mayer, (ed.), The Buildings of Qaytbay as described in his endowment deed
(London, 1938), 84; RCEA 16: 83 (6116); Ibn Tulun (1485 1536/880
953), Mufakahat al-khullan fi hawadith al-zaman ed. M. Mustafa (Cairo,
1962), 1: 236, 244; for similar conditions in Qajar Iran see Nobuaki Kondo,
The vaqf and the Religious Patronage of Manuchihr Khan Mu tamad al-

Dawla, in R. Gleave (ed.), Religion and Society in Qajar Iran, (London, Rout-
ledge Curzon, 2005), (2005), 234, 235.
108 Al-Manawi al-Shafi i (952 1031), Kitab Taysir al-wuquf ala ghawamid ahkam

al-wuquf (Riyad, 1418/1998), 1: 213; al-Subki, Fatawa, 1: 468; 2: 526 ; Ibn

al-Jazari, Hawadith al-zaman, 2: 405.
109 Gerrit Bos, Ibn al-Jazzar on Medicine for the Poor and Destitute, JAOS 118
(1998): 368 370.
110 Ibn Tawq, al-Ta liq, 4: 1656 (904/1498).

111 al-Manawi, Kitab Taysir al-wuquf, 2: 411.

112 See the titles of the Mamluk sultan Barquq: the keeper of the charities and the
right deeds (sahib al-sadaqat wal-ma ruf ) who secure the ill-treated and troubled

190 Yehoshua Frenkel

image. Ah- mad ibn Tulun (868 884), the ruler of Egypt, is described as a
brave and generousruler who spent considerable sums of money to aid
the needy. One day his steward asked him about an elegant woman
wearing a petticoat and a golden ring, who approached him for dona-
tion. Ibn Tulun ordered him: give [sadaqa] to who ever and opens
his hand.113
In line with this argument, it should be emphasized that although the
Qur an mandated that the poor were to receive care,114 the literary sources

differentiate between the sort of poverty depicted as an idealistic virtue

and the class of dishonest vagabonds who only pretend to live in destitu-
tion and misery.115 This negative attitude towards the marginalized
groups, including fraudulent beggars, is plainly visible in the tradition,
belle-letters and anti-Sufi epistles.116 Such a division of beggars into

Berchem, CIA, Cairo, 3: 304 (196); During a journey from Egypt to Istanbul (in
1641), a Karaite-Jew and his companions spent most nights at a waqf endowed
inns that were open to travelers of every faith. Timur Kuran, The Provision of
Public Goods under Islamic Law: Origins, Impact, and Limitations of the Waqf
System, Law & Society Review 35 (2001): 852 [his argument is based on an ar-
ticle by B. Lewis (1956)].
113 The historian continues and narrates on the considerable property that Ibn Tulun
has bequeathed: he had spent 120 thousand golden dinars on constructing his
cathedral mosque (jami ); 60 thousand dinars on building his hospital and fi-

nancing its operations, 80 thousand dinars on the island bastion, on the hippo-
drome and its fortress150 thousand dinars, Muh- ammad b. Suleiman the clerk
latter destroyed it, on shooting instruments (mirma) used by the frontier garrison
200 thousand dinars. The daily expenditures of his kitchen and provisions for the
animals were one thousand dinars. Every month he contributed one thousand
dinars as charity (sadaqa), additional two thousand dinars were send to the fron-
tiers to be distributed there as charity. Ibn Zafir (d. 613/1216), Akhbar al-
Duwal al-Munqati a ed. Haza ima et al. (Irbid, 1999), 1: 124 25.

114 RCEA 15: 149 (5833 741/1340), 218 (5945 742/); Mamluk sultans used the
royal titles: the chief who provide shelter to the poor and needy (kahf alk-fu-
qara wal-masakin) and the father (abu) of the poor and needy. van Berchem,

CIA, Cairo, 3: 317, 324, 402, 435.

115 Abdallah Cheikh-Moussa, LHistorien et la litt rature Arabe m di vale, Arab-

ica 63 (1996): (1996): 156 57.

116 The Prophet promised that they will be punished in hell. Al-Mas udi (d. c. 345/

956), Muruj al-dhahab wa-ma adin al-jawahir ed. Ch. Pellat (New edition Bei-

rut, 1974), 4: 278 79 (item. 2656 57) [Ch. Pellat (trans.), Les Pariries dor
(Paris 1997). 4: 1083; Al-Tabari (224 310/838 923), Ta rikh al-rusul wal-

muluk ed. M. A. Ibrahim (Cairo, 1386/1967), 3: 872, 896; Al-Jah- iz (160

255/776 868), Nawadir al-bukhala wa-ihtijaj al-ashihha ed. U. Al-Tabba (Bei-

rut, 1419/1998), 107; Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The mediaeval Islamic under-
world: the Banu Sasan in Arabic society and literature (Leiden: Brill, 1976); Abd
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 191

those worthy and unworthy of charity further bolsters the claim that char-
itable donations were not necessarily open to all, nor were they given in
the most altruistic of spirits.

II. Charitable Contributions and Alms Donations

Reporting on the Qaytbays pilgrimage to Arabia, the historian Ibn Iyas

relates that the sultan had dispatched a courier who informed the army
commanders in Cairo that the Qaytbay bestowed favor (an ama) upon

the fuqara (mysticsnot the poor)117 of al-Medina and distributed five

thousand golden coins to them.118 A report narrates that the sultan

Muayyad Shaykh (1412 1421) distributed money and food among
sufis and ascetics who lived in mosques and tombs.119 Further accounts
tell of donors that contributed money to be distributed to orphans on
the day of their public circumcision.120 The giving was not limited to
the low echelons; to commemorate festive event mutual exchange of
gifts took place in Cairo between the sultan and his senior amirs and of-
ficials exchanged gifts.121
In addition to readily edible foodstuffs, donated goods occasionally
included live animals to be sacrificed.122 The following tale demonstrated
this point: one early morning, the grand amir Yashbak (881/1477) was
riding. On his way, he meets an old man and asks him: What are you
carrying in this basket? The sheikh responds: Eggs. I have three daugh-
ters and hope to sell the eggs and buy food for them. Hearing this, the
amir orders that the sheikh be paid one golden coin for each egg, an ex-
al-Rah- man al-Jawbari (1216 1222), al-Mukhtar fi kashf al-asrar wa-hatk al- istar

(Beirut, 1992), 57 Alf Layla wa-Layla, ed., Mahdi, 360 (night 160).
117 Cf. the list of names that made up a circle of the fuqara who were entitled to
collect charity alms (Damascus, 7/13 century). Sourdel does not elaborate who
are these faqirs (pauvre) that were worthy to receive the payment. However
he describes them as people who live without luxury, i. e. ascetics. Dominique
Sourdel, Deux documents relatifs la communaut hanbalite de Damas, Bul-
letin dEtudes Orientales 25 (1972): 142. Yet, Daniella Talmon-Heller, Islamic
Piety in Medieval Syria: Mosques, Cemeteries and Sermons under the Zangids
and Ayyubids (1146 1250) (Brill, 2007), p. 68, translates faqir as poor.
118 Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhur fi waqa i al-duhur, 3: 161 (ll. 16 17; 885/1480).

119 Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhur, 2: 25 (Muh- arram 819/March 1416), 28 (Ramadan
819/October 1416).
120 Ibn Tawq, al-Ta liq, 1: 470.

Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhur fi waqa i al-duhur, 3: 164 (885/1480).

122 Jawhari-Sayrafi, Inba, 173; Ibn Tawq, al-Ta liq, 1: 216 (donation of sheep).

192 Yehoshua Frenkel

traordinary sum. The chronicler adds: It is well known that the character
of the grand amir Yashbak was a mixture of excellent qualities and vile-
While serving as a public notary, the Damascene jurist Ibn Tawq reg-

istered the pious endowment of Kamal al-Din (903/1497). The founder
endowed urban property and farming land as designated to finance sev-
eral aims: a yearly meal to be served on the first Friday of the new Islamic
year, as well as monthly sums to be paid to the muezzins of the Grand
Mosque who recite at evening verses from the Quran, to the water car-
riers of the Zamzam well in Mecca, to a person who will make the pil-
grimage to Mecca on the donors behalf, and to a man in Medina who
will recite verses from the Quran.124 From this endowment charter, it
is evident that the founder intended that the capital will pay for pious
public goods: namely the property should fund religious invocations.
This reflects the common belief that capital is exchangeable with invoca-
An account of an event in the citadel of Cairo provides additional in-
formation about charitable contributions. In the year 885/1480, the sul-
tan Qaytbay commemorated the anniversary festival of the Prophet
(mawlid al-nabi). Towards the end of the celebration, just before the par-
ticipants departed the court, six eunuchs entered the hall carrying on their
heads six large plates. They displayed their contents to the sultan, the
chief judges and the ruling elite: sixty thousand gold coins. The chancel-
lor explained to the gathering that when the sultan had visited Medina, he
had learned that its inhabitants were suffering from a food shortage. The
chronicler adds:
Then our sultan made a vow to found a charitable institution that after his
death will sustain and help the people of al-Medina. The coins that presented
are his private fortune125 and not money of the Treasury. This capital is des-
tined to buy property: farming land, assets, building and additional resour-
ces, and endow it as a pious foundation. The waqf s income would pay for
daily food supply of crushed millet porridge (dashisha),126 bread, olive oil
and other foodstuffs. He aimed that in line with the traditional food supply
in Hebron a similar tradition will be practiced in al-Madina.

123 Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-zuhur fi waqa i al-duhur, 3: 126 (ll. 1 15).

124 Ibn Tawq, al-Ta liq, 4: 1034 (ll. 14 22), 1035 (ll. 1 3).
125 Cf. Sharon, CIAP Addendum, 45, 142 (min khalis maliha).
126 Garcin, Toponymie et Topographie, (1984): 151 D. Behrens-Abouseif, Sultan
Qaytbays Foundation in Medina, the Madrasah, the Ribat, and the Dashisha,
MSR 2(1998), 61 73..
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 193

In Cairo, at Bab al-Nas-r, several buildings were constructed. They housed

manufacturers of crossbows, wood dealers, chickens merchants and other
shops and, until the end of the Mamluk sultanate, the incomes derived
from these properties indeed financed the designated purposes.127
Most of the donors who publicly staged their contributions made it
clear that they did so in order to follow the Qur anic verses that command

freewill sadaqa for the poor and the needy.128 Despite their stated inten-
tions to help the needy, the term faqir (pl. fuqara) had by this time
moved away from its initial definition of who is poor.129 Often, the
term referred to the dervishes (fakir) who depended on the ruling elites
donations and endowments. These fuqara were distinct from the de-

prived and miserable beggars (suaal) who directly ask people for dona-
tions.130 Along the same lines of this change of meaning, the term sadaqa
also acquired a somewhat different meaning than its earlier general no-
tion of grace and freewill donation.131 Mamluk sources use sadaqa to
refer to payment for religious services or other favors; this new signifi-
cance illuminates the salient role that donation has occupied in the social
Several H- aram documents from fourteenth-century Mamluk Jerusa-
lem support this understanding. In one document, a woman appeals to
the governor to issue an authorizing decree to allow a judge to sell the
property of her absentee husband. This act of good-will she argues,
would aid her and her children. In a second petition, Burhan al-Din Ibra-

127 al-Jawhari al-Sayrafi, Inba al-hasr; 478 81 (12 Rabi I 885/23 May 1480; the

author witnessed the event); Ibn Iyas appends that the money was indeed used
to purchase real property: Bada i al-zuhur, 3: 164 (l. 21)-65 (12).

128 See ibid the references to Qur an, al-Tawba, 9: 60.

129 For an exhaustive investigation see Sabra, Poverty and Charity, 8 31.
130 Jawhari-Sayrafi, Inba, 169; Maqrizi, Ighathat al-umma, 72 (l. 15)-73 (3), 75 (4
10, 15 16). Maqrizi makes his point by using to Qur anic verses: Whatever af-

fliction may strike you is for what your own hands have earned (kasaba) / He will
not be questioned as to what He does, but they shall be asked. Qur an 42: 30

and 21: 23.

131 The Qur anic verses concerning the sadaqa promoted among Muslim jurists

questions regarding the sums or the value of the donation. They differentiate be-
tween zakat and sadaqa. While the first is a compulsory payment (mafrud) the
second is a voluntary payment that by providing it a person demonstrated his
sincere (sadq) belief. For this reason zakat can be collected only from those
who have minimal value of property (nisab), while sadaqa is unconditioned. Qur-
tubi, Jami ahkam al-Qur an, (Beirut, 1995), 4: 166, 167 70.

132 Ibn Tawq, al-Ta liq, 1: 124 (ll. 10 17; 887/1482) uses saddaqa in the sense of to

give up voluntarily incomes in favor of other recipient.

194 Yehoshua Frenkel

him al-Nas-iri appeals to the governor of Jerusalem, requesting the gover-

nors bounties (sadaqat) to allow him to continue in his appointment at
the al-Aqs-a Mosque as reciter of the Qur an and the hadith. A third ap-

peal contains another similar request by Burhan al-Din, who assures that
in consideration of the governors benevolence, he and his family would
call upon God to bless the generous governor.133

III. Pious Endowments and Public Space

The traditions and stories presented above reflect a world vision that re-
quired and incorporated the value of voluntary giving. Sadaqa was seen as
a way to cleanse the living sinners, to repent, to atone, and to draw closer
to God. While these convictions applied to commoners and rulers alike,
the latter learned to manipulate the donations process and use their cap-
ital for political gains.134 This following section will concentrate on the
ruling classs activity in the public spheres and how their donation prac-
tices interfaced with that. The data presented in this section asserts the
significant role of religious endowments in constructing the public
space of the Mamluks realm and in the maintenance of a great variety
of public institutions.135
From an early phase in their history, Muslims supported a wide range
of institutions financially, donating property and capital to support needy
people and fund construction. Mamluk officials continued this strategy.
Literary sources and archeological findings demonstrate the philanthropic
attitude of the Mamluk governing elite, detailing their endowments, gifts
and bequests.136 These sources show that resources were allotted to build

133 H- aram doc. 215, 305, 9, 310; Donald P. Little, Five Petitions and Consequen-
tial Decrees from the Late Fourteenth Century Jerusalem, Arab Journal for the
Humanities 14, no. 54 (Winter 1996), 349 94.
134 Yaacov Lev, Charity, Endowments, and Charitable Institutions in Medieval Islam
(Gainesville, 2005), 21 46, 54, 144 45 tends to play down the political dimen-
sion of Islamic charity and pious endowment, although he provides considerable
examples to charities that went to people and groups whose supported was sought
by rulers.
135 RCEA 18 6 (784008 masjid H - aydar al- Askari Damascus); 91 (788054 coverd

market 788/1386 Jerusalem); Mayer Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 11

(1931): 148 (masjid Ali al-Maghribi Gaza 786/1385).

136 Ibn al-Jazari, Hawadith al-zaman, 1: 423.

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 195

a great variety of construction: mosques,137 tombs,138 schools,139 Sufi

lodges,140 hospitals,141 caravanserais,142 gates,143 water canals,144 public
fountains,145 bridges,146 and walls.147 Moreover, the Mamluk builders
did not limit their investments to new edifices. Rulers and governors de-
voted considerable efforts to repair citadels148 and sacred shrines.149 Many
of the constructions were financed by awqaf.

137 RCEA 12: 176 (4662 Homs 671/1272 73); 13: 205 (5100), 263 (5190); 14:
266 (5587 Gaza 730/1329); 15: 24 25 (5637 Aleppo); Gaube, Arabische In-
scriften, 26 (35), 45 (76).
138 RCEA 12: 75 (4504), 176 (4663), 182 (4673); 13: 75 (4909), 186 (5065 Tripoli
698/1298); 14: 24 (5636), 33 (5251), 113 (5777), 165 (5449 Damascus (721/
1321), 181 (5473 Damascus, 722/1322), 193 (5486 Damascus 723/1323), 194
(5487 Hama 723/1323); 15: 201 (5926 Safad 741/1341), 199 (6290 Jerusalem,
759/1359); 16: 85 (6119), 121 (6181), 215 16 (6324 Tripoli 760/1359); 18:
129 (792007), 127 (792005), 170 (795007), 200 (797009), 202 (797012); Ibn
Kathir, al-Bidaya wal-nihaya, 13: 280 (Damascus 677/1278 79); Ibn Sas-ra, al-
Durra al-mudi a fi al-dawla al-zahiriya (A Chronicle of Damascus 786 799/

1389 1397) ed. and trans. W. M. Brinner (University of California Press,

1963), 172 (Damascus, 798/1395); Ibn al-Dawadari, (713/1313), Kanz al-
Durar wa-jami al-ghurar U. Haarmann (Freiburg, 1971), 8: 211; Al-Kutubi

(d. 764/1363), Uyun al-Tawarikh al-sanawat 688 699ah ed. N. A. Dawud

(Baghdad: Matba at As ad, 1991), 129; Anne-Marie Edd , La principaut ayyou-

bide dAlep (579/1183 658/1260) (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999), 448 49.
139 RCEA 15: 199 (5923 Jerusalem 741/1340). Gaube, Arabische Inschriften, 70
(129), 82 (156); George Makdisi, Autograph Diary of an Eleventh Century His-
torian of Baghdad, part 4 BSOAS 19 (1957): 288.
140 RCEA 13: 163 64 (5033); 15, 200 (5924 the Salah- iyya in Jerusalem 741/1341).
141 RCEA 16: 147 (6220 Aleppo 755/1345). Ibn Duqmaq (745 809/1344 1407),
al-Nafha al-muskiyya fi al-dawla al-turkiya: min kitab al-thamin fi siyar al-khu-
lafa wal-salatin ed. U. A. Tadmuri (Beirut: al-Maktaba al- As-riyya, 1420/

1999), 79.
142 RCEA 13: 98 99 (4946); 14 22 23, 118, (5235, 5385, 5418 Aleppo 719/
1319), 141 (5590); 15: 236, (5971); Ibn Sas-ra, al-Durra al-mudi a fi al-dawla

al-zahiriya, 169.
143 RCEA 15: 35 (5706) (5650).; Ibn Duqmaq, al-Nafha al-muskiyya, 196.
144 RCEA 18: 179 (796001); Gaube, Arabische Inschriften, 113 (204); Ibn al-Jazari,
Hawadith, 2: 256.
145 RCEA 12: 140 (4611); 13 250 (5171); 14, 148 (5427 Jerusalem); 15: 74
(5708); 16: 12 (6015 Aleppo 746/1345), 123 (6185); Gaube, Arabische Inschrif-
ten, 17 (11: a sabil build in 915/1508 by Kha ir Bek the governor of Aleppo); Ibn

Sas-ra, Durra, 188.

146 RCEA 12: 174 175 (4660, 4661); 15: 48 (5670).
147 RCEA 13: 204 (5099 Majdal Askalan 700/1300).

148 RCEA 12: 68 (4530 Gaza); 18: 30 (786006 Aleppo 786/1385); 18: 197
(797004 Gaza).
196 Yehoshua Frenkel

The funding from endowed property was not exclusively used to fi-
nance nearby institutions. Payments were transferred over long distances.
Awqaf supply lines stretched thousands of miles, covering the fertile and
inhabited regions of the sultanate with virtual networks. Mamluk sultans
took possession of village as well as urban property in Bilad al-Sham
(Syria and Palestine) and in Egypt to support the holy cities of Arabia.150
In the same way, the awqaf supported the sacred towns of Jerusalem and
Hebron.151 Urban properties and farming lands in Syrian cities and vil-
lages were endowed to support pious foundations in Cairo.152
Through the breadth of projects that donations financed, the socio-
religious institution of charitable giving contributed to the emergence
of a waqf community:153 the networks of pious giving that united rulers,
religious functionaries, ascetics, urban institutions and rural communities

149 RCEA 18: 3 (784004 a mosque in Damascus).

150 Ipsirli and Tamimi (eds.), Awqaf wa-amlak al muslimin fi filastin [Muslim Pious
Foundations and Real Estates in Palestine] (Istanbul, 1982), 20 21; Muh- ammad
Isa Salih- iyya (ed.), Sijill aradi alwiya safad, Nablus, ghaza wa-qada ramla hasab

daftar raqm 312 (924/1556) (Amman, 1419/1999), 115 (waqf ala zayt al-mad-
151 RCEA 14: 4, (5205 Irtas 706/1307); Kamil Jamil al- Asali, Watha iq maqdisiyya

ta rikhiyya (Amman, 1983),

2: 177 91; Salih- iyah, Sijill, 163; and the plentiful

references in the H - aram documents studied by Donald P. Little, A Catalogue of

the Islamic Documents from al-Haram as-Sarif in Jerusalem (Beirut and Wiesba-
den: Franz Steiner, 1984). .
152 L. A. Mayer, (ed.), The Buildings of Qaytbay as described in his endowment deed
(London, 1938), 51 (khan al- anbari in Damascus); Ipsirli and Tamimi, Awqaf

filastin, 16 (item 54 waqf Qans-uh), 41 (53 Inal), 52 (90 Barquq), 90 (10 al-
Malik al-Mu ayad Shaykh), 94 (1 Barquq); Hujat waqf al-Ashraf Barsbay,

7 8; Al- Maqrizi (766/1364 845/1441), al-Suluk li-ma rifat duwal al-muluk

eds. M. M. Ziyada and Ashur (Cairo, 1934 73), 1: 796; R. S. R. Qahtani

(ed.), Awqaf al-sultan al-ashraf Sha ban ala al-harmayn (Riyad, 1414/1994) men-

tions the village of Adar in the district of al-Shawbak [Crac de Montr al] (ll. 52
53) and an orchard near Karak (ll. 793 94); the village of Saskun in the district
of al-Hama (l. 170); the village of Ayn Jara in Jabal Sam an (ll. 263 64); the

villages of Armana (ll. 341 43) and Ma ar H - itat near Damascus (ll. 622 23);

the villages of Shaykh H - adid (l. 562), Kurin (ll. 701 02) and H - ilan near Aleppo
(ll. 763 64); the village of Far ata near Nablus (ll. 357 59) and a hamam near

Karak (l. 705); Y. H. D. Ghawanima, Dirasat fi ta rikh al-urdun wa-filstin fi al-

asr al-islami ( Amman, 1983), 87, 94 100.

153 This idea developed from Marshall G. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience
and History in a World Civilization (The University of Chicago Press, 1974), 1:
386 87; Christopher Melchert, The Piety of the Hadith Folk, International
Journal of Middle East Studies 34 (2002): 425 439.
Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 197

all over the Mamluk sultanate.154 The donations were instrumental in cre-
ating a spirit of unity and closeness that connected benefactors and ben-
eficiaries. A shared commitment to piety connected farming communities
with urban facilities, donors and recipients. In this manner did the pious
foundations instill a sense of an Islamic united community.
The expansion of awqaf within the boundaries of the Mamluk sulta-
nate, which effectively transferred considerable portions of the agricultur-
al lands and urban assets from the sultanate treasury into private (or pseu-
do-private) religious awqaf,155 as well as the extensive use of oppressive
measures to extract money and harvests from the civil population, all
this leads to a crucial question: why did the military class so eagerly pur-
sue this waqf policy?156 A partial response to this question can be found in
the political field,157 as seen by the inscriptions on many Mamluk build-
ings158 that functioned as bulletin boards.159 These memorial inscriptions
detail that the institutions were founded and financed by endowed prop-

154 Izz al-Din ibn Shaddad (613 684/1217 1285), al-A laq al-khatirah fi dhikr

umara al-sham wal-jazira ed. Dahhan (Damascus, 1961), 1: 104; Al-Nuaymi

(845 927/1441 1521), al-Daris fi ta rikh al-madaris ed. J. al-Hasani (Damas-

cus, 1367/1948), 1: 398 99, 427; al- Asali, Watha iq, 1: 176 80; Cf. The report

of the sidi Muh- ammad, the sultan of Morocco who endowed the library of his
grandfather and distributed its 12,000 books all over Morocco. Ahmad al-Kan-
susi (1796 1294/1877), al-Jaysh al- aramram fi dawlat awlad mawlana ali al-si-

jilmasi ed. Ahmad b. Yusuf al-Kansusi (Rabat, 1994), 1: 224 (1175/1761).
155 M. M. Amin, al-Awqaf wal-hayat al- ijtima iyya fi misr 648 923/1250 1517

(Cairo: 1980), 71, 95; Sabra calls them royal awqaf. A. Sabra Public Policy
or Private Charity- The Ambivalent Character of Islamic Charitable Endow-
ments, in M. Borgolte (ed.), Stiftungen in Christentum, Judentum und Islam
vor der Moderne: auf der Suche nach ihren Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschieden
in religiosen Grundlagen, praktischen Zwecken und historischen Transformationen
(Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2005), 96.
156 This development seriously harmed the sultanates resources I. B. Abu Ghazi, Fi
ta rikh misr al-ijtima i tatawwur al-hiyazah al-zira iyah zamana al-mamalik al-jar-

akisah (Cairo, 2000), 105; A. Sabra, The Rise of a New Class? Land Tenure in
Fifteenth-Century Egypt: A Review Articles, MSR 8 (2004): 205, 207; The Ot-
toman policy of reincorporating decayed awqaf in the kharaj lands is another il-
lustration to this development. Ibn Tulun, Hawadith dimashq al-yawmiyah, 169.
symbolic capital. Compare Peter Shapely,
157 Charity is a powerful tool in acquiring
Charity, Status and Leadership: Charitable Image and the Manchester Man,
Journal of Social History 32 (1998): 157 59.
158 RCEA 14: 45 (5269 Damascus 710/1310).
159 RCEA 15: 9 (5614 Diyarbakir [Amid]: Ulu jami 731/1331). The inscription an-

nounces that by his generous actions al-al-Malik al-Salih- has abolished taxes that
were collected from the local merchants.
198 Yehoshua Frenkel

erties. In addition to insignia and regalia,160 the writings name the found-
er and announce his self-asserted achievements.161
The Mamluk horse-riders aristocracy used religious endowments to
achieve two main goals. First, they wanted to make their presence notice-
able162 and fashion an environment that would reflect their desired im-
ages.163 They also aimed to construct a space that would embody the re-
gimes ideology and would radiate the sultanates image as an everlasting,
generous and just power.164 The awqaf s founders, those manumitted
Mamluk slaves, used the pious foundations to preserve their fame and
immortality.165 The awqaf served the Mamluks reigning echelon not
merely as a tool to uphold its prestige but also as a device to preserve
their hegemony.166

160 RCEA 18: 4 (784005, 784006 Damascus 784/1382); 155 (794003 Damascus
794/1392 the sultan Barquq).
161 Epigraphic data are historical evidences, mostly from the period the structures
were constructed. RCEA 12: 124 (4588 Baybars in Ramla 666/1268), 125
(4589 Safad), 210 (4715 Damascus); 13 41 42 (4859, 4860 Aleppo 684/
1284); vol 14: 58 (5291 Damascus 711/1311), 59 60 (5292 94 Aleppo
711/1311); 77 (5323 Jerusalem 713/1314), 88 (5339 Gaza 714/1315), 89
90 (5340 42 Ramleh 714/1314), 101 (5358 Tripoli 715/1315), 105 06
(4956 Khalil in Homs 691/1292), 118 19 (5386 Baalbek 717/1317), 127
(5400 Gaza 718/1318), 128 (no., 5401 Ramleh 718/1318), p. 129 (5403 Alep-
po, 718/1318); 15: 4 5 (5606 07 Jerusalem, al-Aqsa mosque); 16: 7 8
(6009 10 Jerusalem, al-Aqsa mosque 746/1345), 9 10 (6013 Tripoli 746/
1345); R. Gottheil, A Door from the Madrasa of Barquq, JAOS 30 (1909):
58; Al-Yunini (1242 726/1326), Dhayl mir at al zaman (Haydar-Abbad

1380/1961), 1: 198.
162 Builders even did not hesitate to demolish standing constructions. In one occa-
sion the viceroy of Damascus issued orders (in 690/1291) to destroy houses,
shops and workshops. Ibn al-Jazari, Hawadith, 1: 60.
163 This plan of reshaping the environment was motivated, among other reasons, by
the hope to obliterate the memory of adversaries. Regaining control of Damas-
cus, Barquq instructed to demolish structures that the rebel Mintash had build
(1389). Ibn Sas-ra, al-Durra al-mudi a fi al-dawla al-zahiriya, 74/104.

164 Ibn al-H- imsi, Hawadith, 1: 80 (kathir al-mahabbah li-ahl al- ilm wal-qur an wal-

sulaha wal-fuqara ); and see the description of a sultanic procession in Damascus

by Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat, 2: 15; Ibn Tulun, Qala id, 1: 96; Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-

zuhur fiwaqa i al-duhur, 1: 353 54 (quoting

Ibn Abd al-Zahir an al-Maqrizi).

165 al-Manawi, Kitab Taysir al-wuquf, 1: 222; Ibn al-Jazari, Hawadith, 1: 77.
166 Ibn Duqmaq, al-Nafha, 67; Qara-Tay al-Khaznadari al- Izzi (d. 708/1308 09),

Ta rikh Majmu a al-nawadir mima jara lil-awa il wal-awakhir (616 694/1219

1295) ed. Tadmuri (Beirut, 1426/2005), 258; Abd al-Samad b. Yah- ya al-Salih- i,

Hadiyat al- Abd (fl. 1497), in B. Martel-Thoumian, Du bon gouvernement

dapr s la Hadiyat al- Abd al-qas-ir ila al-Malik al-Nas-ir de Abd al-Samad al-Sal-

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 199

The endeavor to transform Crusader settlements into Islamic towns

and villages is another aspect of the thirteenth-century Mamluk awqaf s
policy.167 They endowed property to cover Bilad al-Sham with Islamic
shrines,168 such as the illustrious cases of Waqf Abu Hurayra in
Yubna169 and Waqf Nabi Musa in Palestine170. A third example is the
mausoleum (mashhad) of (Sayf Allah) Khalid b. al-Walid in the Syrian
city of Homs.171 Due to this policy, a considerable number of mosques
adorned towns and cities in Bilad al-Sham in the closing days of the
Mamluk sultanate, emphasizing its Islamic character.172
From reading the deeds of religious endowments, we understand the
significance of the role that the awqaf played in shaping the rhythm of
Mamluk towns.173 Such, for example, is the long account of an event
in Damascus (897/1492). It tells the story of the amir Ibn Manjak
ih- i, AI 34 (2000): 312 (2), 300 301 (13 14); Al-Dimyati (d. 1178/1764), La-
taif uns al-jalil fi tahaif al-quds wal-khalil (Acre, 2001), 179 (about tenth century
waqf money).
167 An example to this is a yet unpublished document (306) in the Jerusalem H - aram
collection. It is a copy of an endowment document bequeathed by al-Ma ali Mu-

hammad b. Qalawun. The property of this endowment included the al-Burj (cas-
tle) district of Beirut. H. N. al-H - arithy (ed.), Kitab Waqf al-Sultan al-Nasir
Hasan b. Muhammad b. Qalawun (Beirut, 2001) 3; Al- Ayni (726 855/

1360 1451), Iqd al-juman fi ta rikh ahl al-zamman, ed. M. M. Amin (Cairo:

Al-Haya al-misriyya al-amma 1987 1992), 2: 340 341. Cf. in addition to it

the inscriptions republished in RCEA 14: 136 (5412 719/1319), 137 (5413
719/1319), 139 (5414 719/1319), 141 (5417). Y. Frenkel, The impact of the
Crusades on the rural society and religious endowments: The case of Medieval
Syria, in Y. Lev (ed.), War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th-15th cen-
turies (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 237 48.
168 H. Taragan, The Tomb of Sayyidna Ali in Arsuf: the Story of a Holy Place,

Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 14 (2004): 83 102.

169 Ipsirli and Tamimi Awqaf filastin, 12 (item 35); L. A. Mayer et al. Some Principal
Muslim Religious Buildings in Israel (Jerusalem, 1950), 20 24; H. Taragan, Pol-
itics and Aesthetics: Sultan Baybars and the Abu Hurayra/Rabbi Gamliel Build-
ing in Yavne, in Asher Ovadiah (ed.), Milestones in the Art and Culture of Egypt
(Tel Aviv, 2000), 117 45; A. Petersen, A Gazetteer of Buildings in Muslim Pal-
estine (Oxford, 2001), 313 16.
170 al- Asali, Watha iq, 3: 119 21. idem, Mawsim al-nabi musa fi filastin (Amman

1410/1990); Ipsirli and Tamimi, Awqaf filastin, 32 (item 29).

171 RCEA 12: 128 29 (4593).
172 Gaube, Arabische Inschriften, 38 (60 Qara-Sunqurs mosque built in 757/1356),
55 (99 Nasir al-Din Muh- ammads mosque in 806/1404); RCEA 13: 68 (4898).
For various sacred traditions see Ghalib Anabisa, Ab ad fi adab fada il al-ard al-

muqaddasa (Bet Berl College, 2006).

173 al-Subki, Fatawa, 2: 61 66.
200 Yehoshua Frenkel

who inspected the tomb of his grandfather. Its waqf deed specified the
payments to the imam and to the Qur an reciters, even stipulating the

chapter from the Qur an they should recite. In addition, the endowment

paid for a teacher to teach ten orphan pupils each day, for a reciter to read
traditions from sahih al-Bukhari and sahih al-Muslim during the three sa-
cred Islamic months, and for a steward to distribute sweets.174
Looking at the religious endowments from the perspective of urban
history, it also seems relevant to emphasize that the pious foundations
regularly provided food and lodging to Sufis and jurisprudence students.
Communal consumption of food is a standard way to inculcate propa-
ganda and to generate a sense of personal loyalty, amity and communitas.
Thus for example, a thirteenth-century endowment deed of the waqf al-
Maghariba in Jerusalem says: This charity was donated in support of the
Maghribis [North Africans] who dwell in Jerusalem and those that would
arrive, specifying that during the three sacred Islamic months (Rajab,
Sha ban and Ramadan), the waqf s supervisor will prepare bread and dis-

tribute it among the inhabitants of the Maghribi lodge and among all
North African living in Jerusalem.175 Another example is the waqf
deed of a religious school founded by the sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay
(1468 1496) in Jerusalem. It spells out the payments to the administra-
tor and staff at the college. The thirty mystics who were to reside in this
institute would receive cash payments and food.176

IV. Concluding Remarks

In his classical textbook Les institutions musulmanes (1921) the well-

known French orientalist Gaudefroy-Demombynes states:
For the Arabs, as for the Jews, worldly possessions may be a gift of the spirit
of evil and foreshadow that lasting suffering of the other life. But there is a
way of avoiding this danger. If a man voluntarily gives back to Allah a part of
the possessions that He [i.e. God] has Himself given. By this act he [i.e. the
man] purifies what he retains. That is the meaning of the wards zakat and

174 Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat, 1: 148 50.

175 Muh-ammad As ad al-Imam al-H - usayni, al-Manhal al-safi fi al-waqf wa-ahkamihi

wal-watha iq al-ta rikhiyah lil-aradi wal-huquq al-waqfiyah al-islamiyah fi filastin

(Jerusalem, 1982), 73, 74. Ipsirli and Tamimi, Awqaf filastin, 28 (item 20).
176 H- usayni, al-Manhal, 76 77. Ipsirli and Tamimi, Awqaf filastin, 39 41 (item
52); cf. Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat, 2: 6 (22)-7 (1).

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Egypt and Syria 201

sadaka which denote in Arabic the alms, and especially the statutory alms,
enjoined by the Qur an and organized by the Prophet and his successors.177

From the information presented in this study, we can infer that charity
and pious endowments were indeed an indispensable component of reli-
gious life and were carried out in line with the Islamic sacred law. How-
ever, since charity is a complex cultural and social phenomenon, it does
seem that no single explanation can suffice to explain it. As we have seen
in the previous sections, while the donors may have formulated their ac-
tion in religious terms,178 it is possible to identify a blend of motives that
drove them to invest capital and property in what seems to be non-eco-
nomic ventures. The most salient among these motives are the personal
pietistic ones;179 the less conspicuous are the social-political incentives.180
Yet at the basic level of both motives, we can see the shared funda-
mental reasoning of symbolic exchange. The history of expressions
such as fuqara and sadaqa clearly illuminate it.181 By founding a pious

endowment, the donor weaved a social and symbolic network that tied
the benefactor with the recipients.182 In this way, charity was instrumental
in creating a social network that was tied by symbolic gestures,183 influ-
encing the attitude, behavior, and activity of the participants. Parallel to
their actual economic policy of taxation, trade, investment and minting,
the Mamluk sultans maintained this economy of symbolic exchange. The
Mamluk governing elite treated donations, including religious endow-
ments, as a deal between donor and recipient.184 In exchange for the re-

177 Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Muslim Institutions (London, 1950), 105.

178 Max Weber, Economy and society: an outline of interpretive sociology [eds. G. Roth
and C. Wittich] (New York: Bedminster Press, 1968), 2: 581.
179 The Islamic shari a requires that from the benefactor to definite the recipient and

to declare visibly what is he giving. The awqaf served the not only to design
urban neighborhoods and rural regions, but also to weave the social fabric in
these areas. Gifts often were manipulated as an instrument to facilitate commu-
nication between parties and individuals. Sarkhasi, Mabsut, 12: 92 I give the in-
comes of renting my residence (ghallat dari) as a donation (sadaqa) to the needy.
180 The readiness of the Mamluk administrators to risk public backlash to oppressive
levies illuminates the importance they assigned to the construction projects. Ibn
al-Jazari, Hawadith, 2: 331.
181 Lev, Charity, Endowments, and Charitable Institutions in Medieval Islam, 9.
182 Mustafa Emirbayer, and Jeff Goodwin,. Network Analysis, Culture, and the
Problem of Agency, The American Journal of Sociology 99 (May, 1994): 1417.
183 Weber, Economy and society, 3:1031.
184 K. J. Arrow, Gifts and Exchanges, Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1972): 343
202 Yehoshua Frenkel

ception of fees or gifts by the foundation or waqf, the donor expected the
recipients to praise him and to pray for God to have mercy on him.
Fueled by a common religious mentality, both donors and recipients
understood that charity would be instrumental in obtaining the Almigh-
tys pardon and His closeness, if not on earth then in the world to come.
As seen in the many examples, the donors who contributed generous gifts
expected that in return, God would redeem their souls and accept their
calls,185 even as they built the networks of connections to further their po-
litical aims. Charitable deeds presented as gratuitous gifts were actually
exchangeable symbolic commodities. The policy of charity should there-
fore be judged as a rational venture that suits religious commandments,
political ends, and the aspirations for spiritual rewards.

185 Pierre Bourdieu, Practical Reasons: On the Theory of Action (Cambridge, 1998),
chapter 5: The Economy of Symbolic Goods.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus
Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

1. Introduction

The Islamic religions call to practice personal piety has encouraged many
Muslims to dispose of part of their fortune through different forms of
donation so as to make the prophetic vision a social reality. The consti-
tution of a donation, motivated by benevolent intentions, represented
an attempt by devout Muslims to place themselves in a proper relation-
ship with God by means of the application of ethical norms revealed by
Him in their day to day lives.1
In this presentation I plan to focus my attention on two types of don-
ation: alms-giving (sadaqa)2 and pious endowments (hubs khayri; pl.

This paper has been carried out within the research project Cruelty and Compassion
in Arabo-Islamic Literature: A Contribution to the History of Emotions, funded by
the Spanish Ministry of Education (HUM2006 04475/FILO).
1 On the different types of donation in Islam, see Linant de Bellefonds, Y., Des
donations en droit musulman, Cairo, 1935; Pesle, O., La donation dans le droit
musulman (rite Mal kite), Rabat, 1933; Santillana, D., Istituzioni di diritto mu-
sulmano malichita con riguardo anche al sistema sciafiita, vol. 2, Rome, 1938,
397 412.
2 The term sadaqa denotes voluntary as opposed to compulsory alms, also fre-
quently called sadaqa, but more commonly known by the name zakat. See
Rosenthal, F., Sedaka, Charity, Hebrew Union College Annual, 23
(1950 1951), 411 431; Weir, T.H.-[Zysow, A.], Sadaka, in EI2, VIII,
729 736. See also Arn ldez, R., Interpretaci n econ mica y social de las teor as
de la Zakat en el derecho isl mico, in A. Mart nez Lorca (coord.), Ensayos
sobre la filosof a en al-Andalus, Barcelona, 1990, 266 285; Bashear, S., On
the Origins and Development of the Meaning of Zakat in Early Islam, Arabica,
40 (1993), 84 113; Dutton, Y., The Qur an as a source of law: the case of

zakat (almsgiving), in R.G. Hoyland and P.F. Kennedy (eds.), Islamic Reflections,
Arabic Musings: Studies in Honour of Professor Alan Jones, Oxford, 2004,
201 216; Hoexter, M., The Idea of Charity -A Case Study in Continuity
and Flexibility of an Islamic Institution, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Jahrbuch
1985/86, 179 189.
204 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

ahbas khayriyya).3 The sadaqa is the free transfer of material property; the
intention inspiring the act must consist of pleasing God in the hope of
compensation in the future life and not with a worldly purpose, as in
the case of an ordinary donation (hiba). In both sadaqa and hubs the do-
nors intention is to do something pleasing in the eyes of God through
donations made with a charitable or religious purpose; the difference be-
tween the two concepts lies in the fact that in the sadaqa the donor trans-
fers ownership of the object donated, whilst in the hubs only its use or
usufruct is relinquished.4 Consequently, both sadaqa and hubs khayri per-
fectly embodied the Islamic ideal of personal piety and voluntary dona-
tion, since they entailed benevolent and altruistic actions. It is necessary
to understand both concepts within the context of Islamic notions of
equality and social justice.
Like the rest of their co-religionists, Andalusis made these kinds of
donations within the framework of the prescriptions contained in the
Koran, which encouraged them to engage in supportive charitable prac-
tices to help those who found themselves in situations of obvious social
Owing to the archival impoverishment concerning the Islamic West
in the Middle Ages, one must turn to narrative-type Arab sources for
an analysis of the social and economic life in al-Andalus. The sources
consulted in the preparation of this work vary in their nature. Arabic
legal texts certainly prove to be the most explicit in terms of all that con-

3 From this point onwards I shall use the term hubs and its plural ahbas to refer to
the pious foundations in al-Andalus, since it is the term that is most frequently
employed in the documental base I have used. In fact, use of this form is support-
ed in the Islamic West, as against common employment of the term waqf and its
plural awqaf in the East. The following works cited are the only monographs that
exist on the subject under study in al-Andalus: Carballeira, A.M., Legados p os y
fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus (siglos IV/X-VI/XII), Madrid, 2002; Garc a
Sanju n, A., Hasta que Dios herede la tierra. Los bienes habices en Al-Andalus (siglos
X-XV), Huelva, 2002; idem, Till God Inherits the Earth. Islamic Pious Endowments
in al-Andalus (9 15th Centuries), Leiden-Boston, 2007.
4 Some aspects of hubs have stirred up controversy among Muslim jurists. What
has caused the most polemic concerns the ownership of hubs. The crux of the
matter resides in how to determine who owns the property rights over this
type of goods. According to Maliki law, someone who establishes a hubs retains
bare ownership of the objects donated, ceding only their use or usufruct. How-
ever, this solution is not accepted outside of this juridical doctrine. See Carbal-
leira, Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 17 18. One must high-
light the fact that, of the four juridical doctrines of orthodox Islam, the Andalusis
followed overwhelmingly the legal principles of the Maliki school.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 205

cerns the institution of hubs. They comprise collections of juridical opin-

ions (fatawa)5, issued to clarify obscure points in law or to provide guid-
ance for new cases; of collections of legal dicta (ahkam)6 adopted by cadis
in the development of judicial processes, as well as of model documents
(watha iq; shurut)7 that spell out criteria to guide notaries in the writing

of documents. The deficiencies displayed in these kinds of documents

must not be ignored, as they tend to reflect a very concrete situation, re-
moving it from its broader context and omitting information that is not
of relevance to the legal matter that is under consideration. Works of a
historical8, biographical9 and literary10 nature, meanwhile, not only pro-

5 See Ibn Iyad, Madhahib al-hukkam fi nawazil al-ahkam, ed. M. b. Sharifa, Bei-

rut, 1990 and trans. D. Serrano, La actuaci n de los jueces en los procesos judiciales,
Madrid, 1998; Ibn Rush (al-Jadd), Fataw Ibn Rushd, ed. al-M. b. al-T. al-Talili,
3 vols., Beirut, 1987; al-Sha bi, Al-Ahkam, ed. S. Haloui, Beirut, 1992; al-Wan-

sharisi, Kitab al-Mi yar al-mu rib wa-l-jami al-mughrib an fatawi ahl Ifriqiya wa-

l-Andalus wa-l-Maghrib, ed. M. Hajji et alii, 13 vols., Rabat, 1981 1983.
6 See Ibn Sahl, Al-Ahkam al-kubr , ed. R. al-Na imi, Diwan al-Ahkam al-kubr : al-

nawazil wa-l-a lam li-bn Sahl, 2 vols., Riyadh, 1997.

7 See Ibn al- Attar, Kitab al-Watha iq wa-l-sijillat, ed. P. Chalmeta and F. Corriente,

Madrid, 1983 and trans. P. Chalmeta and M. Marug n, Formulario notarial y ju-
dicial del alfaqu y notario cordob s Ibn al- Attar, m. 399/1009, Madrid, 2000; Ibn

Mughith, Al-Muqni fi ilm al-shurut (Formulario notarial), ed. F.J. Aguirre

S daba, Madrid, 1994 and partial trans. S. Vila, Abenmoguit. Formulario nota-
rial, Anuario de Historia del Derecho Espaol, 8 (1931), 5 200; al-Jaziri, Al-
Maqsad al-mahmud fi talkhis al- uqud (Proyecto plausible de compendio de f rmulas

notariales), ed. A. Ferreras, Madrid, 1998.

8 See Ibn Hayyan, Muqtabis II. Anales de los Emires de C rdoba Alhaqu m I (180
206 H./796 822 J.C.) y Abderram n II (206 232/822 847), ed. M. A. Makki,

Al-Sifr al-tani min Kitab al-Muqtabas, Riyadh, 2003 and trans. M. A. Makki and

F. Corriente, Cr nica de los emires Alhakam I y Abdarrahman II entre los aos 796

y 847 [Almuqtabis II-I], Zaragoza, 2001 (Muqtabis II/1); Ibn Hayyan, Al-Muq-
tabis min anba ahl al-Andalus, ed. M. A. Makki, Beirut, 1973 (Muqtabis II/2);

idem, Al-Muqtabis fi ta rikh rijal al-Andalus, ed. M. Mart nez Antua, Paris,

1937 (Muqtabis III); idem, Al-Muqtabas V, ed. P. Chalmeta, F. Corriente and

M. Sobh, Madrid, 1979 and trans. M.J. Viguera and F. Corriente, Cr nica del
califa Abdarrahman III an-Nasir entre los aos 912 y 942, Zaragoza, 1981 (Muq-

tabis V); idem, Al-Muqtabis fi akhbar balad al-Andalus, ed. A. A. al-Hajji, Beirut,

1965 and trans. E. Garc a G mez, El Califato de C rdoba en el Muqtabis de Ibn

Hayyan. Anales palatinos del califa de C rdoba al-Hakam II, por Is Ibn Ahmad al-

Razi (360 364 H. = 971 975 J.C.), Madrid, 1967 (Muqtabis VII); Ibn Idhari

al-Marrakushi, Al-Bayan al-mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus wa-l-Maghrib, ed. G.S.

Colin and . L vi-Provenal, vol. 2, Leiden, 1951 and trans. . Fagnan, Histoire
de lAfrique et de lEspagne intitul e Al-Bayano l-Mogrib, vol. 2, Algiers, 1904

(Bayan II); idem, Al-Bayan al-mughrib fi akhbar muluk al-Andalus wa-l-Maghrib,

206 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

vide additional information regarding the institution of hubs, but are also
informative in relation to alms-giving. Nevertheless, in this case there are
some limitations too; in general, information about charity in such sour-
ces is somewhat scattered, the references being very concise without pro-
viding detailed information on the matter. This circumstance is connect-
ed with the reticence of the sources regarding the most destitute groups of
the population, especially where the rural sphere is concerned.
All these factors do not, however, diminish the importance of the
documental base of this work. By turning to different kinds of narrative
sources one can, to a certain degree, obtain a more specific panoramic
view of diverse aspects associated with charity in al-Andalus, with partic-
ular reference to most of the Umayyad period (IX-XI centuries). My aim
in this presentation is to deal with the forms characteristic of charitable
practices in al-Andalus, as well as the different functions that were asso-
ciated with charity. It is widely known that the most disadvantaged mem-
bers of society did not always have to cope with their problems alone in
the face of difficulties.11 Charity was a means of attempting to improve
ed. . L vi-Provenal, Paris, 1930 and trans. F. Ma llo, La ca da del Califato de
C rdoba y los Reyes de Taifas, Salamanca, 1993 (Bayan III); idem, Al-Bayan al-
mughrib fi akhbar al-Andalus wa-l-Maghrib. Vol. IV: Qit a min ta rikh al-mura-

bitin, ed. I. Abbas, Beirut, 1967 (Bayan IV).

9 See Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitab al-Sila, ed. I. al- A. al-Husayni, Cairo, 1955; Ibn al-

Faradi, Ta rikh ulama al-Andalus, ed. F. Codera, Madrid, 1891 1892; Ibn Har-

ith al-Jushani, Akhbar al-fuqaha wa-l-muhaddithin (Historia de los alfaqu es y tra-

dicionistas de al-Andalus), ed. M.L. vila and L. Molina, Madrid, 1992; idem,
Qudat Qurtuba, ed. and trans. J. Ribera, Madrid, 1914; Iyad b. Musa, Tartib

al-madarik wa-taqrib al-masalik li-ma rifat a lam madhhab Malik, ed. M. b. Shar-

ifa et alii, 8 vols., Rabat, 1983.

10 See the following collections of proverbs: Ibn Asim, El refranero andalus de Ibn

Asim al-Garnati, trans. M. Marug n, Madrid, 1994; Corriente, F. and Bouzineb,

H., Recopilaci n de refranes andalus es de Alonso del Castillo, Zaragoza, 1994;

Ould Mohamed Baba, A.S., Estudio dialectol gico y lexicol gico del refranero an-
dalus de Abu Yahy al-Zajjali, Zaragoza, 1999.
11 Those affected resorted to a variety of behaviours in order to react to their state of
poverty, amongst which was the controversial practice of begging. With regard to
this and to other measures adopted by the destitute, see Carballeira, A.M., Car-
acterizaci n de los pobres en la literatura paremiol gica andalus , Al-Qantara,
37 (2006), 125 127 and 133; idem, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus,
in A. Garc a Sanju n (ed.), Saber y sociedad en al-Andalus. Actas de las IV-V Jor-
nadas de Cultura Isl mica de Almonaster la Real, Huelva, 2006, 68 69; idem,
Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus, in C. de la Puente (ed.), Estudios Onom sti-
co-Biogr ficos de al-Andalus (Identidades marginales), vol. XIII, Madrid, 2003,
66 70.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 207

the situation of the most destitute. As we shall see below, charity could
take on a markedly institutional flavour, when the political authorities
took responsibility for it. Nevertheless, the rest of the population did
not remain impassive to the sufferings of their co-religionists. One
must, therefore, trace the way in which charity affected the dynamics
of the Andalusi population.

2. Charity dispensed by the political authorities

In a normal context one may observe the distribution of ordinary alms, as

well as of the incomes generated from pious foundations (ahbas)12 for
those in need. These charitable acts constitute a relatively common prac-
tice, especially in the Umayyad period. Although the inhabitants of the
capital, Cordoba, were the main beneficiaries of these donations, some
governors in the provinces also adopted the practice of distributing
Similarly, there is evidence that in extraordinary circumstances official
alms were available through the distribution of food and money, as a way
of alleviating situations of need brought on by natural disasters. The
chronicles contain relevant information giving evidence of the existence
of vicissitudes that ravaged al-Andalus throughout its history. The natural
catastrophes that affected the Andalusi population occupy a prominent
position. Unquestionably, the most fearsome effects were produced by
continual droughts which, like the havoc wreaked by plagues of locusts,
led to scarcity. Such phenomena were conducive to famine, which would
hit the least protected groups in society, causing a sharp rise in the mor-
tality rate and plunging many into an urgent state of need. Likewise, in
periods of shortage, poor diet, and lack of hygiene brought on plagues
and epidemics that decimated the population.14 Once again the Cordo-

12 For this type of endowments, see infra paragraph 3.

13 Concerning official alms of an ordinary nature, see Carballeira, Indigencia y
marginalidad en al-Andalus, 69; idem, Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus,
70 71.
14 Andalusi sources are also instructive concerning the pernicious consequences aris-
ing from circumstances such as military conflicts, tax burden, the expropriation
of patrimonial property or the exercise of certain trades. For more detailed infor-
mation about situations liable to reduce people to a state of destitution, see Car-
balleira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 119 123 and 133; idem, Indigencia y
208 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

bans stand out as the greatest beneficiaries of official charity during these
crises. By way of guidance, there exist figures that reveal the dimensions
such crises could take on within the territory of al-Andalus. Nonetheless,
it must be pointed out that information regarding the pious attitude of
the authorities is hardly overwhelming. Only al-Hakam I (r. 796
822), Abd al-Rahman III (r. 912 961), al-Hakam II (r. 961 976)

and Almanzor (r. 981 1002)15 managed to rise to the occasion, a fact
particularly remarkable in the case of caliph al-Hakam II. At the time
of the famine that struck in 968, this monarch gave the order that
12.000 loaves of bread should be distributed each day to the needy of
Cordoba.16 There also exist figures for the dreadful famine of 989, as a
result of which Almanzor ordered that 22.000 loaves of bread a day be
made available for distribution among those in need.17 The profusion
of data concerning the Umayyad period contrasts with the silence of
the sources about the distribution of alms during other stages of Andalusi
history, as in the case of the Almoravid period. Perhaps this circumstance
is merely due to the fact that the Umayyad age is the best documented
one. Nevertheless, this generosity has its counterpoint in the posture
adopted by other monarchs of this dynasty, who were not notably lavish
when it came to acts of beneficence. The intransigent attitude of emir
Muhammad I (r. 852 886) during the bad harvests of 874 proves par-
ticularly eloquent in his refusal to exempt those affected from payment of
the tithe, thus setting off social unease and catapulting many of his sub-
jects into a state of ruin.18
However, one can not get away from the fact that sometimes, behind
acts of charity, the donor harboured a second intention. Official alms-giv-
ing could, for example, be a means of political manipulation. The distri-
bution of donations often represented an attempt to legitimize a new sov-
ereign or consolidate the power of the existing political authorities, there-
marginalidad en al-Andalus, 65 66; idem, Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus,
56 62.
15 Almanzor ( Abd al-Malik b. Abi Amir al-Mansur) was the all-powerful hajib of

the Umayyad caliph Hisham II (r. 976 1009 and 1010 1013). See Ballest n,
X., Almansor: lexercici del poder a lOccident musulm medieval, Barcelona,
2004; Bariani, L., Almanzor, San Sebastian, 2003; Mart nez, V. and Torremocha,
A., Almanzor y su poca, Malaga, 2001.
16 See Dhikr bilad al-Andalus, ed. 173 and trans. 183.
17 See Dhikr bilad al-Andalus, ed. 181 182 and trans. 193.
18 See Ibn Hayyan, Muqtabis II/2, ed. 172 173. On official alms of an extraordi-
nary nature, see Carballeira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 70;
idem, Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus, 71 74.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 209

by winning the favour of the population and thus reinforcing the bonds
of loyalty between the monarch and his subjects. This was the practice of
various Umayyad sovereigns, such as Abd al-Rahman I (r. 756 788),

Abd al-Rahman II (r. 822 852), al-Mundhir (r. 886 888) and al-

Hakam II. Aspirants to power also offered alms to gain supporters for
their political venture.19 In other cases, donations by the authorities
were simply religious practices on the occasion of certain Islamic religious
feast days, especially in Ramadan. Accordingly, alms-giving could consti-
tute testimony of gratitude to God for favours granted, as when, in 974,
al-Hakam II donated alms as thanksgiving to God because his heir Hi-
sham had been cured of smallpox, this fulfilling the vow he had
taken.20 Likewise, evidence exists of gifts personally bestowed by Andalusi
sovereigns to alleviate the hardships of their people, but such charitable
acts cannot be classified as part of their official policy.21

3. Charity dispensed by private individuals

Sometimes institutional power exhorted people to give alms to the poor,
laying emphasis on their mandatory nature. The fact that the Andalusi
authorities urged the people to perform charitable acts indicates that
the concept of alms-giving was understood to be, above all, an individual
responsibility. From this viewpoint, charity was conceived to be an ex-
pression of personal piety. Similarly, since alms-giving is one of the five
pillars of Islam, it contributed towards stimulating virtuous works

19 See Carballeira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 70; idem, Pobres y

caridad en al-Andalus, 74 75.
20 See Ibn Hayyan, Muqtabis VII, ed. 152 and trans. 192 193. See also Carbal-
leira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 70; idem, Pobres y caridad
en al-Andalus, 75 77.
21 See Carballeira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 70; idem, Pobres y
caridad en al-Andalus, 75 77. Islamic endowments stood on the fault line be-
tween states and private individuals; see Sabra, A., Public Policy or Private
Charity? The Ambivalent Character of Islamic Charitable Endowments, in
M. Borgolte (ed.), Stiftungen in Christentum, Judentum und Islam vor der Mod-
erne. Auf der Suche nach ihren Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschieden in religisen
Grundlagen, praktischen Zwecken und historischen Transformationen, Berlin,
2005, 95 108.
210 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

among the Andalusi population, who were indeed not completely insen-
sitive to the sufferings of their co-religionists.22
Since Andalusi biographical dictionaries detail the virtues with which
the people referred to were blessed, there is naturally a great deal of in-
formation pertinent to the generosity of many of these individuals. In
some cases, these were people belonging to an important socio-economic
groups (jurists and rich traders, for instance) who attended to the most
helpless in their hardship, performing all sorts of acts of mercy. In
other cases, they were people of humble condition who gave up the scarce
material goods that were in their possession, placing them at the disposal
of the neighbour in need. The desire of the donors could reach the ex-
treme of neglecting their family obligations, which meant that the exces-
sive generosity of an individual might stir up complaint among the peo-
ple closest to him.23
Nevertheless, as was the case with beneficence dispensed by the au-
thorities, such generosity sometimes sprang from no altruistic intention
on the part of the donor performing these acts, which divested the reput-
edly charitable gesture of its substance.24 The giving of alms might, for
example, be a way of expiating a misdemeanour or a broken oath;
such is the case of the cadi Antara b. Fallah (d. 755), who, after receiving

a reprimand from a common man in Cordoba, made a promise to him-

self that he would give all his savings in alms to the poor.25 In other cases,
charity was a recourse employed to settle a score; this is demonstrated by
the fact that the cadi al-Nadr b. Salama (d. 914) gave some goods as char-
ity in order to please a man who had accused the cadi of being unfair to
him.26 Similarly, a longing to part with particular objects could lead own-
ers to perform charitable acts with this aim in mind; an illustrative anec-
dote in this regard concerns the ulema Ahmad b. Mutarrif (d. 963 or

22 See Carballeira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 71; idem, Pobres y

caridad en al-Andalus, 77 78. Besides the chronicles, the Andalusi collections
of proverbs also contain constant exhortations to practice charity towards ones
peers; see Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 130 131.
23 See Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 130; idem, Indigencia y mar-
ginalidad en al-Andalus, 71; idem, Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus, 78 81.
24 See Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 130; idem, Indigencia y mar-
ginalidad en al-Andalus, 71; idem, Pobres y caridad en al-Andalus, 78 81.
25 See Ibn Harith al-Khushani, Qudat Qurtuba, ed. 26 and trans. 36.
26 See Ibn Harith al-Khushani, Qudat Qurtuba, ed. 159 and trans. 197.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 211

967), who got rid of some of his clothes that a woman had dirtied and
gave the price he got for them in the form of alms.27
Together with alms-giving, many Andalusis assigned some of the re-
sources from pious legacies to the weak and needy. In al-Andalus the hubs
khayri was an institution endowed with significant sums of money taken
from foundations established not only by rulers and powerful high-rank-
ing dignitaries, but also by wealthy individuals, which buildings and pub-
lic institutions benefited from (mosques, cemeteries, walls, fortresses and
jihad), as well as groups such as the poor, lepers, pious women, ascetics,
captives and slaves.28 The authentic and most significant dimension of
the institution of the hubs khayri, however, is that it is designated for
some pious endeavour and that is what I shall now refer to.
With regard to collectives of pious women and ascetics, the documen-
tal material that is the basis of our study shows the existence of places of
retreat set aside for devout persons29, although such references are quite
sparse and contrast notably with the abundant information available con-
cerning the poor and the sick. Nor can one ignore the absence of infor-
mation on the institution of pious legacies for the benefit of widows and
orphans who lacked sufficient economic resources to subsist on. The An-
dalusi proverb collections do, however, provide evidence that both groups
were recipients of alms in al-Andalus in the period under study.30 In the
same way, in al-Andalus students and travellers were allocated alms and,
in the Nasrid period (especially in the 14th and 15th centuries), were the
beneficiaries of pious endowments.31

27 See Iyad b. Musa, Tartib al-madarik, VI, ed. 136.

28 Regarding the beneficiaries of pious endowments in al-Andalus, see Carballeira,

Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 67 202; idem, Pauvret et
fondations pieuses dans la Grenade nasride: aspects sociaux et juridiques, Arab-
ica, 52 (2005), 391 416; idem, The Role of Endowments in the Framework of
Andalusian society, in M. Borgolte (ed.), Stiftungen in Christentum, Judentum
und Islam vor der Moderne. Auf der Suche nach ihren Gemeinsamkeiten und Un-
terschieden in religisen Grundlagen, praktischen Zwecken und historischen Transfor-
mationen, Berlin, 2005, 109 121; Garc a Sanju n, Hasta que Dios herede la tier-
ra, 169 254; idem, Till God Inherits the Earth, 184 292.
29 See Carballeira, Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 189 190.
30 See Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 129 and 134.
31 See Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 123; idem, Pauvret et fonda-
tions pieuses dans la Grenade nasride, 396 398 and 410 414; idem, Pobres y
caridad en al-Andalus, 133.
212 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

Through the establishment of pious foundations, the consequences of

poverty32 and disease (leprosy, blindness)33 in al-Andalus were, in part,
relieved and mitigated. Sources reveal that the poor and sick in urban
areas, specifically in the Umayyad capital, particularly benefited from
these types of foundations. There is evidence that the existence of
pious endowments for Cordobas sick led to an influx of sufferers from
other areas of al-Andalus hoping to receive income from these sources.
Yet it was not only a matter of assuring the subsistence of the most vul-
nerable; pious legacies also had other purposes. The sources inform us of
material means established with such aims in mind, including not just
real estate properties, but also specifying certain objects, such as jewellery,
clothes and books. Regarding real estate properties, the income obtained
from their leasing went to pious objectives. Jewellery, luxury clothing and
books, though, were objects that individuals with scant resources could

32 On the establishment of pious legacies for the involuntary poor in al-Andalus, see
Carballeira, Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 72 73; idem, Legados
p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 169 177; idem, Pauvret et fonda-
tions pieuses dans la Grenade nasride, 391 416; idem, Pobres y caridad en
al-Andalus, 78; idem, The Role of Endowments, 115 116; Garc a Sanju n,
Hasta que Dios herede la tierra, 180 183; idem, Till God Inherits the Earth,
199 205. Similarly, the saintliness attributed to the voluntary poor had a
great influence on their being perceived as worthwhile recipients of charity. It
was believed that giving them alms would make it possible to participate in
the baraka that they supposedly possessed. On charity dispensed to ascetics in
al-Andalus, see Carballeira, Caracterizaci n de los pobres, 113 114; idem,
Indigencia y marginalidad en al-Andalus, 74 77; idem, Pauvret et fonda-
tions pieuses dans la Grenade nasride, 394 395; idem, Pobres y caridad en
al-Andalus, 62 66 and 86 87; Garc a Sanju n, Hasta que Dios herede la tierra,
202 211; idem, Till God Inherits the Earth, 228 238.
33 Regarding the establishment of pious endowments for the sick in al-Andalus, see
Carballeira, Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 183 189; idem,
The Role of Endowments, 115 116; Garc a Sanju n, Hasta que Dios herede la
tierra, 184 187; idem, Till God Inherits the Earth, 205 210. We only have a sin-
gle record of the existence of one leper colony in Cordoba during the reign of al-
Hakam I (r. 796 822) and of one hospital in Nasrid Granada; on this see Franco
S nchez, F., La asistencia al enfermo en al-Andalus. Los hospitales hispanomu-
sulmanes, in C. lvarez de Morales and E. Molina L pez (coords.), La medicina
en al-Andalus, Granada, 1999, 135 171; Garc a Granados, J.A., Gir n, F. and
Salvatierra, V., El maristan de Granada: un hospital isl mico, Granada, 1989;
Gir n, F., Los hospitales en la Espaa isl mica, Jano, XXX, 711, 3 (1986),
69 78; Mazzoli-Guintard, C., Notes sur une minorit urbaine dal-Andalus:
les l preux, in Homenaje al profesor Carlos Posac Mon, vol. I, Ceuta, 1998,
319 325.
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 213

not afford. The aim of such foundations was to make highly expensive
items available to the lower social strata, so that their use would not be
limited to the most powerful social groups. So jewels and dresses made
with valuable fabrics were lent or hired out to those in need, so that
they could wear them at wedding ceremonies, given the social signifi-
cance attached to the institution of marriage in Islamic society. Pious
donations of books, meanwhile, played a role in promoting science, cul-
ture and knowledge among the ulama of humble background. These

items were made available via a loan, at the end of which they had to
be returned, so that others could likewise benefit from them. One can
infer from this custom that there was not only some interest in al-Andalus
in encouraging the social integration of the poor, but also concern about
cultural integration. This solicitude seems strongly confirmed by a pious
endowment founded by caliph al-Hakam II in aid of the teachers he had
designated to instruct the children of the destitute of Cordoba.34 Here we
have a good example of pious legacies established by the political author-
While the poor were the beneficiaries par excellence of the pious
foundations, it is also documented that both prisoners and slaves could
profit from the establishment of pious legacies in al-Andalus. The ransom
of captives was the political responsibility of the government, as well as a
praiseworthy deed for Muslims. Juridical documents show that it was cus-
tomary for some individuals to demonstrate their solidarity with their less
fortunate brothers by establishing pious foundations whose main aim was
the release from captivity of their co-religionists who had fallen into
Christian hands. Concern expressed for prisoners of war through the
founding of pious endowments, either for their ransom or the relief of
their physical condition, existed very early in al-Andalus, due to the in-
tense military activity between Christians and Muslims in the Iberian

34 See Ibn Hayyan, Muqtabis V, ed. 207 and trans. 247; Ibn Idari, Bayan II,
ed. 249, 288 and trans. 397, 411.
35 See Carballeira, Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 161 164;
idem, The Role of Endowments, 116; Garc a Sanju n, A., Frontera, Yihad
y legados piadosos en Al-Andalus (siglos X-XV), in F. Toro Ceballos and J. Ro-
dr guez Molina (coords.), III Estudios de Frontera. Convivencia, defensa y comuni-
caci n en la frontera (Alcal la Real, 18 20 de noviembre de 1999), Ja n, 2000,
323 324; idem, Hasta que Dios herede la tierra, 188 189; idem, Till God Inher-
its the Earth, 210 213. Regarding a more general context, see Puente, C. de la,
Mujeres cautivas en la tierra del Islam, Al-Andalus-Magreb, 14 (2007),
214 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

According to legal texts, the same solicitude was applied in al-Andalus

in relation to the manumissio of slaves. In Islam the liberation of slaves is
also a praiseworthy act, since it is deemed to be one of the most pious
deeds in the eyes of God. A slave could be manumitted while his/her
owner was alive or could obtain freedom after the latters death by
means of a series of methods that existed for that purpose, including
the establishing of pious legacies.36

4. Conclusions

As we have seen, the sources consulted do not sidestep Andalusi social re-
ality where charitable measures undertaken to help the weak and needy
are concerned, for they provide a considerable amount of information
about initiatives adopted by the political authorities, as well as by private
individuals, with particular reference to the urban milieu and, more spe-
cifically, the Umayyad capital of Cordoba.
Although the data available do not enable us to accurately determine
the efficacy of these measures, the sources reveal that alms-giving consti-
tuted an important practice in al-Andalus. We have already seen that
charity could turn into an instrument at the service of the political, social
and religious convenience of the donor; but these less lofty motives do
not preclude the fact that there was not sometimes a genuine will to alle-
viate the hardships of others. Nonetheless, it would seem that the meas-
ures adopted for this purpose proved insufficient, as they offered no real
alternative to counteract situations of debility and neglect. With specific
19 37; Vidal Castro, F., El cautivo en el mundo isl mico: Visi n y vivencia
desde el otro lado de la frontera andalus , in F. Toro Ceballos and J. Rodr guez
Molina (eds.), II Estudios de la frontera. Actividad y vida en la Frontera, Jaen,
1998, 771 823; idem, Poder religioso y cautivos creyentes en la Edad
Media: la experiencia isl mica, in I. Hern ndez Delgado (ed.), Fe, cautiverio y
liberaci n. Actas del I Congreso Trinitario (Granada, octubre 1995), Cordoba,
1996, 73 96.
36 In theory, Maliki doctrine does not allow the institution of pious endowments for
the purpose of manumissio, since if the slave lacked the means of subsistence after
obtaining his/her freedom, s/he would be condemned to misery. See Carballeira,
Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus, 164 168; idem, The Role of
Endowments, 116 117; Puente, C. de la, Entre la esclavitud y la libertad: con-
secuencias legales de la manumisi n segn el derecho malik , Al-Qantara, 21
(2000), 358; idem, Slaves in al-Andalus through Maliki watha iq works (4th-

6th centuries H./10th-12th centuries CE): marriage and slavery as factors of so-
cial categorisation, Annales Islammologiques (in press).
Forms and Functions of Charity in Al-Andalus 215

regard to the poor, it must be borne in mind that they constituted an in-
herent part of the hierarchical social order and, from a religious perspec-
tive, their presence was essential so that the Koranic precept of dispensing
alms-giving could be put into practice. From this angle, the aim was not
so much to eradicate poverty as to attenuate its pernicious consequences.
In general, little is known of charity as practiced by the Andalusi pop-
ulation. Only generosity manifested by people well-known for their extra-
ordinary devotion was recorded in written form, as an exceptional form
of behaviour, in order to show the goodness of the donors. On the one
hand, such pious deeds might be concentrated during religious celebra-
tions and other public commemorations. On the other hand, the eco-
nomic difficulties that existed in periods of dearth were likely to cause
a decrease in acts of individual charity.
In reality, only institutional power could be counted on for having the
resources necessary to improve the quality of life of the population, since
donations by authorities had greater repercussions than those made by
people of modest means. On some occasions, Andalusi monarchs exer-
cised charity out of a sense of responsibility, whilst through their exem-
plary conduct they became models to be emulated by their subjects. Nev-
ertheless, there are various indicators that reveal the absence of a system-
atic official policy to offset the effects of poverty in al-Andalus: on the
one hand, the numerous individual initiatives adopted by the destitute
and by their peers; on the other, the fact that there were no serious efforts
made to institutionalise the distribution of donations in a permanent
fashion during the economic crises that ravaged the territory of al-Anda-
lus; and, finally, the authorities exhortations to individuals to give alms.
From this perspective, we have already observed that the concept of char-
ity would have to be understood as the duty of individuals and not of
institutional power as such. This personal dimension reinforces the no-
tion of community, that is to say, the internal cohesion of the Muslim
community willing to make available resources to cover the basic neces-
sities of all its members. One must, however, bear in mind that, while cer-
tain activities (poor relief ) could scarcely rely on institutional support and
mainly depended upon individual contributions, in the financing of
other services (ransom of prisoners, manumissio of slaves) such personal
donations performed a secondary, more marginal role, as other alterna-
tives existed to facilitate these tasks.
The adoption of measures concerning beneficence is a factor that
must be taken into account when assessing the degree of integration of
the poor within Andalusi society. In this sense, there was undeniably a
216 Ana Mar a Carballeira Debasa

certain desire to counteract the marginalisation suffered by the poor. Such

a goal may be inferred from the fact that a substantial amount of charity
depended on personal initiatives. Regarding the role played by charity in
integrating the poor within Islamic society, one must remember that
alms-giving, on occasion, was not only conceived to be a religious imper-
ative, but also a social responsibility. The belief was that the hierarchy in
society corresponded to an established order and that the rich were ob-
liged to help the less fortunate. In this structure of social solidarity the
poor were not the only beneficiaries of the charity they received, since
the wealthy also profited in the sense that, as benefactors of the most dis-
advantaged, their place in society was given justification. Furthermore,
charitable acts contributed to reducing social tension.37 From this aspect,
charity in al-Andalus constituted a stabilising element, exercised not so
much with the aim of eliminating social differences as of maintaining
an equilibrium between the different groups, to prevent the resentment
at social inferiority from escalating into a threat to the established order.

37 For a wider context, see Bonner, M., Definitions of Poverty and the Rise of the
Muslim Poor, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 6, 3 (1996), 343; D -
cobert, C., Le mendiant et le combattant. Linstitution de lIslam, Paris, 1991, 218;
Sabra, A., Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam. Mamluk Egypt, 1250 1517,
Cambridge, 2000, 32; Stillman, N., Charity and Social Service in Medieval
Islam, Societas, 5 (1975), 115.
When Death Will Fall Upon Him:
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada.
Amalia Zomeo

I. The charitable legacies of A isha al-Jinjal

On 29 Sha ban 841/25 February 1438, A isha felt sick. Prostrate in her

bed, she apparently demanded a notary for writing down her last will.
When the notary came with another notary who would help him as a sec-
ond witness, they wrote down three documents. The first one reads as fol-
The blessed A isha bint [] Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Jinjal []

makes a testament and expresses her will that when she dies, there should
be extracted from the one-third of her estate (thulth), whether real estate
properties or other kind, and in addition to what she already bequeathed
in the same day in another document, twenty gold dnars of the common
rate to be distributed for the trousseau of four virgin daughters of the or-
phans among the poor Muslims and giving to each of them an equal
amount. This legacy was written down in accordance with the legal princi-
ples that regulate the legacies, and it was done with the intention to please
God, exalted, who is most generous in his rewards. She assigned the super-
vision of the execution of this legacy and the distribution of what she speci-
fied for each of the girls, to the legal scholar and preacher of Akhsharish1,
whoever may be fulfilling this post [at the moment of her death.]2

A first draft of this paper was presented in a seminar of the research group Charity
and Piety in the Middle East in Late Antiquity and Middle Ages: Continuity and
Transformation at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem (2006 2007). I would like to thank the participants of this seminar for
their valuable comments. My research on the Arabic documents of Granada is
made possible by a Spanish project financed by DGICYT [HUM2005 04468].
1 Akhsharish is one of the quarters of the Albaic n in Granada.
2 The document is preserved in the Fondo Antiguo of Biblioteca del Hospital Real
[BHR] of the University of Granada (BHR/Caja C-027 (27)). For an edition and
translation of the document see A. Zomeo, Notaries and Their Formulas: The
Legacies from the University Library of Granada in P. M. Sijpesteijn, L. Sunde-
lin, S. Torallas Tovar and A. Zomeo (eds.), From al-Andalus to Khurasan. Docu-
ments from the Medieval Islamic World (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2007), 64.
218 Amalia Zomeo

In the second document, she demands that from the thulth of her estate
[], five gold dnars at the common rate should be paid to Umm al-
Fath, the daughter of Muhammad Faraj,3 and in the third document,
the notary writes that she demands that another five gold dnars be
paid to A isha, the daughter of Abd Allah b. Zayd.4

In addition to what A isha might have explicitly dictated to the no-

tary as her last will and to ensure the legal validity of the documents,
he completed the several lines of the testament with the usual formulaic
sentences. In fact, he wrote that even if she was ill and prostrate in bed,
she was sane and stable in her intellect and discernment, but also that
her main intention when dictating these last wills was to please God (al-
murad bi-ha wajh Allah) and gain his reward (thawab).
There is no doubt that A isha had clearly charitable motivations when

dictating her bequest. She showed a special interest in taking care of or-
phan girls, especially those who might not find a husband if they were
not provided with a proper dowry for their marriages, so she gave
them five gold dnars each in order to make a good match, as was custom-
ary in Granada. Together with the obligatory payment of the groom, the
bride had to pay at least an equal amount as dowry or trousseau.5 We can
clearly understand that her motivations were charitable when she decided
to give the same amount, five gold dnars, to the other two women men-
tioned in the second and third documents, where she referred to their
names explicitly as well as making a separate and complementary docu-
The example of A isha bint Ab Abd Allah Muhammad al-Jinjal

functions as an introduction to a study of charitable legacies in 15th cen-
tury Granada. Like A isha, other Muslims of Granada chose the same

form of legal instrument for charity giving, including the possibility of

establishing a pious endowment (hubs) [as in three other documents]
chooses as beneficiary the collec-
in the legacy.6 In the first place, A isha

3 BHR/Caja C-027 (26).

4 BHR/Caja C-027 (44). The edition of both documents in A. Zomeo, Notaries
and their formulas, 62 3 , 64 5.
5 See A. Zomeo, Dote y matrimonio en al-Andalus y el norte de frica. Estudio de la
jurisprudencia isl mica medieval (Madrid: CSIC, 2000), 131 150, 175 203.
6 See A. M. Carballeira Debasa, Legados p os y fundaciones familiares en al-Andalus
(siglos IV/X-VI/XII) (Madrid: CSIC, 2002); Pauvret et fondations pieuses dans
la Grenada Nasride: aspects sociaux et juridiques, Arabica 52 (2005) 391 416;
A. Garc a Sanju n, Hasta que Dios herede la tierra. Los bienes habices en al-Anda-
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 219

tivity of orphan girls within Grenadian society, and for a correct distribu-
tion, she nominates as agent the preacher of the quarter where she was
living. She also wants to benefit certain women whom she knows may
need of her charity, but in this case she seems to need no agent.
According to the notary, A isha was sick prostrate in bed (multazi-

ma firashi-ha). One immediately gets the idea of a dying person who
wants to prepare for the hereafter, both in the religious and the material
sense, but the image may not be real. It is a requisite in Islamic law not to
make a legacy while on ones death-bed (marad al-mawt),7 so that the

notaries should diligently record that the testators are in good health
with only a light illness which does not influence their discernment
when making a non profitable transaction as it is a legacy.
On the other hand, most of the testators in the collection of Arabic
documents are in good health, independently of the epithets describing
them as young woman (subiyya), or elderly woman ( ajuz).

II. The aim and methodology

The main purpose of this chapter is to analyze the sixteen legacies pre-
served in the collections of Arabic legal documents of Granada.8 The ar-
chives of the city and province of Granada contain various collections of
Arabic documents, most of which are datable to the last quarter of the
fifteenth century. Although it is still not clear why in Granada, and
not in other parts of al-Andalus, so many documents (around 300)
were preserved, the main hypothesis is that after the conquest of the
city by the Catholic monarchs in 1492, Christian institutions and the
lus. Siglos X al XV (Huelva-Sevilla: Universidad de Huelva Publicaciones-Merga-
blum Edici n y Comunicaci n, 2002).
7 According to the classical theory, a legacy should not be written during the tes-
tators death-sickness. See H. Yanagihashi, The Doctrinal Development of
marad al-mawt in the Formative Period of Islamic Law, Islamic Law and Soci-

ety 5 (1998), 326 358.

8 The main collection is preserved in Biblioteca del Hospital Real [BHR] of the
Universidad de Granada: see A. Zomeo, Repertorio documental ar bigo-gran-
adino: Los documentos rabes de la Biblioteca Universitaria de Granada, Qur-
tuba. Estudios Andalus es 6 (2001), 275 96. For other collections in Granada,
see A. Zomeo, Del escritorio al tribunal. Estudio de los documentos notariales
en la Granada nazar in J. P. Monferrer Sala and M. Marcos Ald n (eds.), Gra-
phe on. C dices, manuscritos e im genes. Estudios filol gicos e hist ricos (C rdoba:
Universidad de C rdoba, 2003), 75 98.
220 Amalia Zomeo

Muslim population who opted for remaining in the city, were interested
in keeping them as proof of their ownership of the lands and properties
and for retaining their privileges.9
Due to the nature of these primary sources, I will have only the facts
that passed through the hands of the notaries: only notarized, meaning
recorded, charity will be studied here.10 On the other hand, these legacies
provide rich information about several individuals who decided to divert
part of their properties from the bulk of their inheritance and give it to
Therefore, charity will be studied from a micro-history and domestic
economy perspectives, since the analysis of the documents helps not only
in identifying the testators family circumstances and necessities, but also
assesses their possible personal motivations when giving charity. Accord-
ing to Islamic law, a valid legacy must not exceed one-third (thulth) of the
total value of the estate. In the context of family transmission of property,
the diversion of one third of the estate from family hands to charitable
institutions, or to poor and needy collectivities outside the family,
might dramatically change the expectations of heirs and close relatives.
In my analysis, apart from property and family, I shall also try to es-
tablish a relationship between charity and death, the main combination
for analysis in this study.
As we shall see, the end of the 15th century in Granada was certainly a
period of crisis because of the continuous wars on the northern frontiers
and the closeness of the fall of the emirate into Christian handslong
before being perceived by the population , together with the violent out-
breaks of the Black Death. Perhaps the documents do not always help in
understanding the general context in which the charitable legacies were
made in Granada; but we do see how the testators motives changed dur-
ing different moments of this short period of Granadas history.

9 A. Zomeo, Notaries and their formulas, 59.

10 There is only a limited number of studies related to charity in al-Andalus; see A.
M. Carballeira Debasa, Pauvret et fondations pieuses. On charity in legacies
through responsa literature, see J. D. Galinsky, Jewish Charitable Bequests and
the Hekdesh Trust in Thirteenth-Century Spain, Journal of Interdisciplinary His-
tory 35: 3 (2005), 423 440.
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 221

III. The legacies and charitable clauses

Some Maliki jurists say that dictating a legacy is a commendable deed (al-
wasiyya mustahiba), although others say that it is obligatory (wajiba) for
the wealthy or for those who leave properties.11 The Qur an also gives

some other recommendations for making legacies, like writing them
down in front of two honourable witnesses (5: 105).12
As we see in the documents, a legacy (wasiyya) therefore is a voluntary
declaration of an individual in the presence of two professional witnesses
concerning her or his wishes on the destiny of no more than the one-third
of their properties upon death. As such, it might be studied from two dif-
ferent perspectives: first as a legal and economic transfer of properties,
similar to a donation (hiba) since it means a non-profitable gift, but
with a very important difference because it is only effective after the
death of the testator,13 or, at least, when he will no longer be able to ad-
minister the transmission of his or her estate.
Secondly, and precisely because of the time when it would become
effective, a legacy is a declaration made when a Muslim is contemplating
death. The texts of the documents are very explicit on this matter when
the notaries use the formulae recommended by their manuals:14 When
death will fall upon her and against it there is no remedy, nor any secure
refuge for any living creature (mata hadatha bi-ha al-mawt, alladhi la
budda min-hu wa-la mahs li-makhluq hayy an-hu).15

11 See The Koran (trans.) A. J. Arberry (Oxford: University Press, 1982), 2:176/
180 178/182, pp. 23 4. See also Ibn Salmun al-Kinan, Kitab al- iqd al-munaz-

zam li-l-hukkam f-ma yajr bayna ayd-him min al- uqud wa-l-ahkam (ed. in the

margins of Tabsirat al-hukkam by Ibn Farhun, Cairo, 1885), II, 159.

12 The Koran (trans.),
5:105/106, p. 116.
13 On hiba in Islamic law, see J. Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law, (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1964), 157 8. Understood as a liberality and an act of
generosity, see Y. Linant de Bellefonds, Trait de droit musulman compar , (3
vols., Paris-The Hague, 1973), III, 316 26. L. Milliot includes donations and
testaments in the same chapter as contrats de bienfaisance in his Introduction a
l tude du droit musulman, (Paris, 1971), 669 82.
14 See also Ibn Salmun al-Kinan, Kitab al- iqd al-munazzam, II, 159; Al b. Yahya

azr, al-Maqsad al-Mahmud f talkhs al- uqud. Proyecto plausible de compen-

dio de f rmulas notariales (study and ed.) A. Ferreras, (Madrid: CSIC, 1998),
15 See BHR/Caja C-027 (26). For variations of this formula, see A. Zomeo, No-
taries and their formulas, 66 7.
222 Amalia Zomeo

In this same vein, the Grenadian legacies also contain other formulae
that might be considered stereotypical, because their presence in the
documents may not reflect the intentions of the testators, but rather
the style and the language used by notaries. This applies precisely to
the statement that indicates religious motivations that a Muslim might
have when deciding to make a legacy: With the intention of getting
close to God, the magnificent, and obtaining His reward (qasada al-

ahid bi-dhalika wajh Allah wa-thawwaba-hu al-rahm).16 The formula

might also be a necessary one, since a legacy is a gift expecting no com-
pensation, at least not economic or material, as the only compensation or
reciprocity would be expected from God in the hereafter. All the legacies
of Granada include these two formulae with little variation.17
The expectation of a divine reward puts this kind of charity outside
the general conception of a pure gift,18 although it is not like those ex-
plicitly mentioned in other legacies, where the distribution of food for the
poor is given specifically in exchange for the expiation of sins.

IV. Expiation (kaffara)

In 1441, when Abu l-Hasan Al b. Al al-Ruffa felt sick, he decided to

assign seventy five silver dnars from his wealth for the expiation of his
false oaths in the name of God ( an takfr al-ayman), while he wished

that the rest of the thulth to be divided equally among his four grand-
daughters and an orphan girl who was under his protection (kaffalati-
hi),19 in itself an act of charity.
In 1491, the old ( ayuz) Fatima bt. Ahmad Atiyya dedicated ten silver

dnars from the thulth of her estate for buying food, that should be dis-

16 BHR/Caja C-027 (62).

17 Only one of them does not include this formula for religious compensation
(BHR/Caja C-027 (14)). A possible reason for not including it might be the
fact that the document is dated after the conquest of Granada in 1492, when
Arabic legal documents were still in use. See A. Zomeo, Notaries and their for-
mulas, 70.
18 M. Mauss, The Gift: the Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (Lon-
don: Routgledge, 1990), but specially J. Parry, The Gift, the Indian Gift , Man
21(1986), 453 73; I. F. Silver, Beyond Purity and Danger: Gift-Giving in the
Monotheistic Religions in Toon Vandevelde (ed.), Gifts and Interests (Louvain:
Peeters, 2000), 115 132.
19 BHR/Caja C-027 (62).
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 223

tributed among the needy and the poor ( ala al-du afa wa-l-masakn),

again as expiation ( ala sunna kaffarat al-ayman bi-llah ta ala). According

to Fatima, the rest of the thulth should be distributed equally among her

two granddaughters, her daughters children.20
Finally, following the same model, after the Christian conquest of
Granada, an old woman called A isha bint Ab l-Hasan Al al-Martush

declares that she wants to leave ten silver dnars for buying food that
should be distributed among the needy and the poor, again, as expiation
of her false oaths made in the name of God. The rest of the thulth should
be given to a certain Al b. Musallim, known as al-Harrab, who is prob-

ably her daughters husband.21
As we shall see later, other documents include this extraction of a part
of the thulth for expiation of false oaths, including the buying of food for
the poor.22 In fact, from among the sixteen legacies, eight include differ-
ent amounts of money extracted from the thulth. Usually, there is no
fixed amount, but the extraction of different amounts for each person,
possibly trying to set a standard and following the Qur anic feed ten

poor persons with the average [quantity] of the food you serve to your
families.23 The rest of the thulth is not usually mentioned as a specific
amount, so it is impossible to calculate what percentage of the total be-
quest, or even of the total thulth, is dedicated to kaffara.
Therefore, in the legacies where the kaffara is included, charity is
given with a specific religious motivation and very explicitly indicated
in the document. Obviously, the distribution of alms to take place
after death and donations for expiation of sins through charitable be-
quests were not only present in Granada or in al-Andalus: these are me-
dieval Islamic concepts.24 However, it is very surprising that expiation is
always made for the same sinfalse oathsand in the same manner
the distribution of food, sometimes also medicines, among the needy. Es-

20 BHR/Caja C-027 (19).

21 Lit. sihr al- ahida. BHR/Caja C-027 (14).

22 As in this formula, the only words used are du afa (lit. the weak) poor and ma-

sakn. The notaries never use fuqara , appliedat the time to sufs, voluntary poor

who might not deserve charity as much as the involuntary poor. See A. M. Car-
balleira Debasa, Pauvret et fondations pieuses, 394 5.
23 The Koran (trad.), 5:91/89, p. 114.
24 See A. Sabra, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam. Mamluk Egypt, 1250 1517,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000), 95 100; Y. Lev, Charity and
Social Practice in Egypt and Syria from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century, JSAI
24(2000), 483.
224 Amalia Zomeo

pecially when we keep in mind that for expiation of deliberate oaths, the
Qur an (5: 91/89) gives other possibilities: [] or to set free a slave; or

if one has not the means, let him fast for three days [] but keep your
We may therefore assume that the testator might have chosen to in-
clude or not include the kaffara clause within the legacy, perhaps follow-
ing the recommendations of the notaries, who may have questioned him
concerning how much the amount given for this purpose should be.
Once they decided to include the clause, the wording was always the
No doubt the notaries explained to the testators the general principles
governing legacies. Ibn Juzayy (d. 741/1340) was very clear on the pro-
cedures: When somebody dies, you start by extracting from the bulk
of his properties the necessary sum for the expiation of his sins and for
his funeral. Only afterwards do you extract the amount of his debts ac-
cording to an established order of priorities and, only then do you take
the thulth of the rest for the legacy. All the remaining properties should
be distributed among the heirs.26 According to him, an amount for kaf-
fara will be extracted independently of the existence of a legacy, but only
when it was explicitly mentioned in the document will the testator be able
to choose the amount according to his standards.

V. Charity and transmission of property in the family

It has been proved27 that Muslims tried to circumvent the division of in-
heritance recommended in the Qur an by developing different legally

valid strategies for property devolution during their lives. In fact, large
parts of parental assets were transmitted to sons and daughters when
they were married off, or when their marriage was considered a stable so-
cial and economic link.28 David S. Powers points out that Operating
within the context of the larger Islamic inheritance system, a Muslim pro-
prietor may attempt to circumvent the constraints of Islamic inheritance

25 The Koran (trad.), p. 114.

26 Ibn Juzayy, al-Qawann al-fiqhiyya, (Libia: al-Dar al- Arabiyya li-l-Kitab, 1982) ,

388 9.
27 D. S. Powers, The Islamic Inheritance System: A Socio-Historical Approach in
Ch. Mallat and J. Connors (eds.), Islamic Family Law (London-Dordrecht-Bos-
ton, 1990), 11 29.
28 A. Zomeo, Dote y matrimonio.
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 225

law by designing an inter vivos transactionupon which there are no lim-

itations whatsoeverthat has the effect of shifting assets to his/her de-
sired heir/s.29 Here, Powers obviously refers to the constraints imposed
by the traditionnot by the Qur anon legacies, since these should

be limited to one-third of the testators estate; the amount could be
less than a third, but no more, and could not be made in favor of one
of the existing heirs.30
Therefore, we may think that a legacy has only limited use in family
strategies for property devolution since most of the members of the fam-
ily will not be able to receive the third. For the same reason, one could
also think that such a legacy is an especially good instrument for giving
charity upon death.
Who are the preferred beneficiaries in 15th century Granadan lega-
cies? Even if the name of the beneficiary is usually mentioned in the
document, the relationship between him and the testator it is not always
clear, as happened in the previous cases of A isha al-Jinjal. In most cases,

however, this relationship is clearly indicated. Three legacies show the
granddaughters (daughters of the testators daughter), as the main bene-
ficiaries,31 as they are not among the Qur anic heirs. This might be an in-

direct way of benefiting the daughter, the granddaughters mother.32

In three additional documents, on the other hand, the beneficiaries
are minors, more or less related to the family, and had been under the
economic protection of the testator, thus showing a kind of charitable ef-
fort in the familys duties as guardians.33
Finally, three other legacies nominate several in-laws (sihr) as benefi-
ciaries, such the daughters husband, again indirectly benefiting the
None of these nominated heirs have rights in the Qur anic succession

but belong to the family in an extended version, and may help in divert-
ing funds to members of the family. Therefore, it is true that legacies have
limited use in families strategies for transmission of property, but it is also

29 D. S. Powers, The Islamic Inheritance System, Islamic Law and Society 5(1998),
30 R. Peeters, Wasiyya, E.I.2, 171 2.
31 BHR/Caja C-027 (64); BHR/Caja C-027 (62); BHR/Caja C-027 (19).
32 See D. S. Powers, The Islamic Inheritance System: A Socio-Historical Ap-
proach, 26.
33 BHR/Caja C-027 (91). 33040-V; BHR/Caja C-069 (5 45); BHR/Caja C-027
34 BHR/Caja C-027 (14); BHR/Caja C-027 (6).
226 Amalia Zomeo

true that they were used to circumvent the Islamic inheritance laws by
benefiting more distant relatives with whom closer relations might have
been established during their lives. The decision will depend on the spe-
cific circumstances that individual cases indicate. Usually the testators do
not nominate only one beneficiary to whom they give the whole thulth.
On the contrary, most of the time, there are different withdrawals from
the thulth which is divided according to testators wishes. This helps
them in giving different portions to charity and other parts for other pur-
poses. It is therefore important to study single cases and to see how char-
ity was given in special circumstances.

VI. Two legacies of Khalid b. Ja al-Khayr

The legacies of Abu Jazd Khalid b. Ja al-Khayr are very exceptional, for

it was he who devoted more properties to charity. According to the nota-

ries, Khalid received the epithets of knight (faris), most brave, respectful
and most renowned. He was a wealthy man, the son of a liberated slave
(mu attaq) of the emir, perhaps from a family connected to the court, and

who married the daughter of another mawla ; possibly both families were
related to the Nasrid army. He was the owner of a large house in the Al-
baic n (al-bayazn) quarter of Granada, a house situated close to the hos-
pital (maristan),35 but he also owned huge tracts of land situated on the
outskirts of the city.
In 1430, Abu Jazd Khalid asked a notary and a professional witness
to record his first legacy. First, Khalid wanted twenty gold dnars to be
extracted from the thulth of his properties and distributed among the
needy and poor, as expiation for his false oaths in the name of God. Sec-
ondly, he dictated that the rest of the third of his properties should be
divided into two parts: the first should be distributed among the poor
Muslim captives ( ala al-du afa min usra al-muslimn).36 The second

half should be distributed among the poor orphan virgin girls ( ala al-

banat al-abkar al-du afa al-yatama). He specifies that each of them,

both captives and orphans, should receive ten gold dnars. Afterwards,

35 All the documents related to Khalid have been published by L. Seco de Lucena in
his Documentos ar bigo-granadinos, (Madrid: Instituto Egipcio de Estudios Isl -
micos, 1961), n8 7. On the restoration of the house, see A. Almagro and A. Or-
ihuela, La Casa Nazar de Zafra (Granada: Universidad, 1997).
36 L. Seco de Lucena, Documentos ar bigo-granadinos, n8 7c (pp. Arabic text 14 5).
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 227

even after the witnesses had already signed the document, he thinks again
and adds that a plot of land taken from his properties in the qarya of Ba-
lisana (nowadays Belicena), should be establish as a pious foundation in
order to maintain a suf lodge (rabita) in the same village.
between this
The main difference case and the earlier ones is that even
if Khalid divides the thulth into several parts, all of it is to be devoted to
charity. In addition to the part dedicated to expiation, again serving to
feed the poor, he chooses to give to the ones who, at the time in Granada,
were in greatest need: Muslim captives and orphan girls.
The great numbers of Muslim captives in Christian hands, and the
urgent need for their liberation, was one of the main preoccupations of
the Granadian population, in the social, economic and political arenas.
Most of them were not able to pay the ransom themselves, but there
was a kind of community fund to which the population gave alms,
since the ransoming of captives was considered a pious act.37 There
were also pious foundations with this aim, although in some cases the ad-
ministrators considered a paid ransom as a debt that should be paid back
by the captive upon his liberation.38 Some ransom funds were established
for noble or important personalities of sums ranging from 200 to 1300
dnars, but obviously far less for commoners. Khalid dedicates ten
dnars for each of the captives, perhaps in an attempt not to give it to
the community fund, but to be used for directly ransoming them; this
was apparently a standard amount for the ransoming of a commoner
of no means.
But Khalid, like A isha al-Jinjal, also gave charity to orphan poor

girls, as orphans were likewise the victims of a war situation. Here, gender
seems to play a role, since unmarried (abkar) young women would de-
pend more on these charitable donations. According to A. M. Carballeira,
orphans were not the beneficiaries of charitable pious endowments (ahbas
khayr) in Granada, since they were already the recipients of alms and in-
stitutionalized charity of the kind given by Khalid in his legacy.39
Finally, the legacy of Khalid benefits the rabita (a lodge for the mys-
tics) situated at the outskirts of Granada, where he had most of his prop-

37 On captives, see F. Vidal Castro, Le rachat de captifs musulmans en al-Andalus

(VIIIe-XVe si cle): th orie et pratique du droit et des institutions islamiques,
Hypoth ses: travaux de lcole Doctorale dHistoire 10 (2006), 313 23; M.
Mar n and R. El-Hour, Captives, Children and Conversion: A Case from
Late Nasride Granada, JESHO 41(1998), 456.
38 M. Mar n and R. El-Hour, Captives, Children and Conversion, 456.
39 A. M. Carballeira, Pauvret et fondations pieuses, 397 8.
228 Amalia Zomeo

erties. Maybe this was the result of the very active politics of the sufi or-
ders in asking for alms and gifts for funding their institutions in the
city;40 in fact, Khalid gives most of the thulth to them. It is well
known that the increasing properties amassed by them provoked the jeal-
ous reaction of the jurists, who considered their practices as negative in-
This was not the only legacy recorded for Khalid.41 In fact, he asked
that another one be written down twenty-two years later, in 1452. This
time he allocated seven plots of irrigated land in the same qarya of Beli-
cena. Through the legacy these lands would be constituted as a pious
foundation in favor of the fortress (hisn) of Archidona, and for the people
living there. Another parcel of land should be given to the sons of his
business partner and, finally, and if the thulth of his properties was not
yet exhausted, he wanted to devote another plot of land to a pious foun-
dation that should be given to the people living in this same fortress of
Then, in his second testament, Abu Jazd Khalid also made sure that
he devoted all of the thulth to charity and to welfare. In 1452, however,
he did not bequeath charity to any collectivityvoluntary or not volun-
taryof Granada, but directed almost the whole of the thulth to the de-
fence of the Kingdom of Granada against the Christians advancing from
the northern frontier.42
For the interpretation of Khalids motivations when making these leg-
acies, and the shift in his intentions, we need the information provided by
other documents. In the first place, the document which specifies the dis-
tribution of his inheritance43 informs us that he died four months after he
dictated his second legacy. We also learn that his wife was his only heir,
who after paying for the part of the bayt al-mal and discounting the
thulth of the legacy, inherited the rest of her husbands properties.
They did not have any children.

40 On the different ways of asking for alms by the sufs, see F. Rodr guez Maas,
Encore sur la controverse entre soufis et juristes au Moyen ge: critiques des
m canismes de financement des confr ries soufies, Arabica 43 (1996), 406
41 L. Seco de Lucena, Documentos ar bigo-granadinos, n8 7b (pp. Arabic text 12
42 Archidona is situated in the North-West of the capital city and was finally con-
quered by the Christians in 1462.
43 L. Seco de Lucena, Documentos ar bigo-granadinos, n8 7e (pp. Arabic text 16
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 229

VII. The legacies of Umm al-Fath al-Shalyan

and Muhammad Bahtan

The life of Umm al-Fath bint Muhammad al-Shalyan and her husband,
Muhammad Bahtan could be traced through several documents preserved

in Granada. 44
They were merchants and lived close to one of the gates of
the city, where there was a small market (suwayqa).
In 1483, Umm al-Fath dictated a first legacy,45 where she expressed
her will that two gold dnars should be extracted from the thulth in
order to buy and distribute food and medicines among the poor Muslims
of Granada. She donated these charitable gifts as expiation for her oaths,
as in the previous cases. From the rest of the thulth, two other parts
should be designated. The first one must be given to her father-in-law,
al-Hasan b. Al al-Husayn, and the second should be devoted to chari-

purposes (f sab
l al-khayrat) and by doing this she wants to please
God, the powerful, and gain her entrance to the hereafter (al-dar al-
Umm al-Fath, therefore, left almost all the thulth of her succession to
charity, including part for the kaffara. The only part with a specific ben-
eficiary is the one given to her father-in-law, the second husband of her
mother. We may understand this part also as a kind of indirect charity if
we take into account a previous document, dated two years earlier in
which her father-in-law undertook to pay for the nafaqa or economic
maintenance of Umm al-Faths sister, a minor, while she herself will
have her custody and protection (hadanati-ha wa-kafalati-ha).47 If this
is not charity in the usual sense yet this donation might have been
meant to help in the caring of her sister and to make sure that when
she dies, he sister would be economically protected.
Two years later, in 1485, Muhammad Bahtan, Umm al-Faths hus-
band, dictated a testament. From the thulth, he demands that fifteen
ver dnars should be dedicated to buy food for the poor as expiation. The

44 On their lives through the documents, see A. Zomeo, Documentos rabes y

biograf as mud jares: Umm al-Fath al-Salyani y Muhammad Bahtan (1448
1496), in A. Echevarria (ed.), Biograf as mud jares (Madrid: CSIC, 2008),
291 325.
45 BHR/Caja C-027 (6).
46 Lit. qasadat bi-hi wajh Allah, azza wa-jalla wa-l-dar al-akhra, BHR/Caja C-027

(6), line
47 BHR/Caja C-069 (5 35), edited by L. Seco de Lucena, Documentos ar bigo-
granadinos, n8 41.
230 Amalia Zomeo

rest of the thulth should be dedicated to buy a plot of land (asl) and the

incomes should be dedicated to charitable purposes in the name of God
(f sabl al-khayrat wa-wujuh min Allah).48
Only two years passed between the two legacies made by the couple.
Each of them nominated the other for taking care (nazar) of the correct
distribution of their succession, possibly in an attempt to avoid the au-
thorities interfering with their properties. In this sense, it is surprising
that both had the same sentence written in their legacies; in both, the no-
tary writes of the charity in very general terms: f sabl al-khayrat. This
may mean that they each wanted to leave the charity in the hands of
the other.
After the writing of their legacies many things happened in Granada:
in 1492 the Catholic monarchs entered the city, after signing an agree-
ment with the last emir Abu Abd Allah. Although thanks to this agree-

ment, the Capitulaciones, the Muslim population was allowed to remain

in the city together with their properties,49 the situation of the now Mu-
d jar populationi. e. Muslims living under Christian rulewas grow-
ing increasingly worse.50 It was still a period of a certain degree of
chaos, and the situation of many inhabitants of Granada deteriorated.
The documents do not provide information as regards to whether
Umm al-Fath and Muhammad Bahtan sold their properties. On the con-

trary, it seems that they opted to stay in the city among the many that
remained under Christian rule.
In fact, just a year after the conquest, in 1493, Muhammad Bahtan

makes a second testament, now with very different purposes.51 In this sec-
ond document he re-stated that thirty silver dirhams should be given to
the poor of Granada, in expiation of his false oaths made in the name
of God. However, in 1493, instead of endowing a pious foundation
for the poor, he nominates as beneficiaries the two orphans under his su-
pervision. Specifically he explains that with twenty dirhams taken from
the thulth of his estate, they must buy a piece of cloth for his foster
daughter (rabbati-hi), the young A isha the daughter of Muhammad

48 BHR/Caja C-027 (66).
49 M. Garrido Atienza, Las capitulaciones para la entrega de Granada (Granada: Uni-
versidad, 1992).
50 J. E. L pez de Coca Castaer, Las capitulaciones y la Granada mud jar in M.
A. Ladero Quesada (ed.), La incorporaci n de Granada a la Corona de Castilla
(Granada: Diputaci n, 1993), 263 305.
51 BHR/Caja C-069 (5 45).
Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 231

Mahd, while the rest should be given to A ishas brother, Isa b. Muham-

mad Mahd.
In September 1494, Umm al-Fath and Muhammad Bahtan adopted
Isa b. Muhammad Mahd, while he was still a minor. More
than an

adoption, which is not allowed as such in Islamic law, the document
shows their commitment to maintain him economically, thus paying
for his food (nafaqa), standard clothing for days and nights (kiswa layliyya
wa-nahariyya wasitan), education (hadana) and other expenses.53 Islamic
law says that when an orphan arrives
at the age of full legal capacity, and
gains full access to his properties, he has to return the money spent for his
maintenance to those in charge of him.54 According to the document,
both spouses promise not to claim these expenses from the minor Isa,

while the orphans mother, a widow (orphan, or yatm in Arabic, denotes
a child below the age of puberty, who has lost only his father) includes the
condition that she will be allowed to visit her son.55 Obviously this is also
a kind of charitable donation made by the couple in favour of the needy.
In this case, the document probably established a notarized relationship
between Umm al-Fath and Muhammad and Isa. That is to say that their

family link is legally binding the moment the document was written
Therefore, after the conquest, there were no more charitable dona-
tions, except for the part dedicated to the expiation of sins. The shift
in Bahtans motivations will be explained by other documents. On 11 Oc-

tober 1496, four years after the conquest of Granada and two years after
the adoption of Isa b. Muhammad Mahd, Umm al-Fath was feeling ill,

although she understands and is of sound mind. She decides to dictate

another legacy and annul the first one. She now demands that instead of
charity purposes in general terms, as she stated in the first legacy, she
wishes that the thulth be divided into several parts. From the thulth the
executors should take ten mathaql that should be distributed among
the needy and the poor, as expiation; another forty five mathaql for buy-

52 On adoption in Islam, see E. Landau-Tasseron, Adoption, Acknowledgement of

Paternity and False Genealogical Claims in Arabian and Islamic Societies,
BSOAS 66 (2003), 169 92.
53 BHR/Caja C-069 (5 46) edited by L. Seco de Lucena, Documentos ar bigo-gran-
adinos, n8 90.
54 On nafaqa in Maliki law, see Ibn Juzayy, al-Qawann al-fiqhiyya, 226 9; J. La-
panne-Joinville, LObligation dentretien (nafaqa) en droit malekite, Revue
Marocaine de Droit (1949), 166 82.
55 See E. Chaumont, Yatm, 298.
232 Amalia Zomeo

ing a piece of cloth for her step-daughter (ibna khatni-ha) A isha bt. Mu-

hammad Mahd and, finally, an equal amount that should be given to Fa-
tima bt. Muhammad al-Shalyan, her niece.56 She also asks that the rest of

the thulth should be given, explicitly to Isa b. Muhammad Mahd,

A ishas brother, the adopted child and again the main beneficiary in

the couples new legacies.

For the couple, after the conquest, charity turns into something dif-
ferent. In fact, the idea of giving charity, apart from the extraction of the
kaffara, in general terms is far from their minds and they prefer to make
sure that after their death several individuals related to their family have
access to a part of their properties; thus strictly speaking, there is no more
charity. Here, in my view, charity might have been redirected from gen-
eral to more specific purposes, directed to needy persons such as collateral
relatives or in-laws. It should be noted that the documents do not provide
information on children of the couple.

VIII. Conclusions

We cannot conclude that a testamentary charitable donation was the chief

way to give charity in 15th century Granada, although it was one of the
possibilities. The restrictions imposed on legacies by Islamic law, specially
the dictum la wasiya li-warith, meant diverting of a part of the family es-
tate from the direct descendants. However, the documents show how the
cases where individuals give charity by this legal instrument were especial-
ly those where the testators did not have direct heirs.
Fifteenth century Granada was surely a time of crisis. The final con-
quest was only the last result of the weak political situation from which
the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada had been suffering for a long time. In
religious terms, this crisis made the population fall into a state of deter-
minism or pessimism, while expecting the final fall of Granada into
Christian hands and the end of al-Andalus.
If charity is inherent in a certain culture, do times of crisis make the
individuals more inclined to charity? It is said that when times are diffi-
cultduring war, hunger, and disease -, individuals stop giving charity
and dedicate their efforts to survival. But perhaps reality is not as simple
as that. In fact, instead of choosing not to give charity at all, the option
became merely to change the priorities, from collectivities and institu-

56 BHR/Caja C-027 (2).

Charitable Legacies in 15th Century Granada 233

tional charity, to a smaller circle of beneficiaries, both inside and outside

the family.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam
Yaacov Lev

I. The Koranic Teachings

This chapter discusses the nature of Islamic medieval charity within the
broader context of gift giving and gift exchange. The question posed is
whether charity and gift giving were mutually exclusive or complementa-
ry phenomena in medieval Islam. Both notions are rooted in the Koranic
teachings and became a widely attested to social practice. However, there
was never full congruence between Koranic teaching and social practice.
Therefore, the issue of the dynamic interpretation of Koranic teachings
and how they were turned into social practice must also be dealt with.
Although medieval Islam is the primary framework of inquiry, the discus-
sion will be set within the wider comparative context of monotheistic re-

In the Koran the notion of charity/alms giving is denoted by two fre-

quently used and interchangeable terms: zakat and sadaqa. The basic
meaning of the root z.k.y. is to be pure, and Suliman Bashear has con-
cluded that payment of zakat/sadaqa to the poor was perceived as purifi-
cation for sins. Jrgen Baek Simonsen argues that zakat and sadaqa devel-
oped during Muhammads lifetime into two separate financial institu-
tions. The term zakat signified the alms tax paid by the faithful, while
sadaqa referred to the tribute paid by the Bedouins who allied themselves
with the rising power of Muhammad and the Muslim community
Whatever the precise financial meanings of both terms were, charity
in the Koran is associated with faith and prayer, and is perceived as a

I am most obliged to Susan R. Holman for her valuable comments and suggestions.
1 S. Bashear, On the Origins and Development of the Meaning of Zakat in Early
Islam, Arabica, 40(1993), 97, 112; J. B. Simonsen, Studies in the Genesis and
Early Development of the Caliphal Taxation System, (Copenhagen, 1988), 37.
236 Yaacov Lev

moral duty. Koran 2:177, in Arthur J. Arberrys translation, demonstrates

this by saying:
Piety (birr, synonymous with charity in later usage) is not that you turn your
face to the East and to the West.
True piety is this:
To believe in God, and the Last Day,
the angels, the Book, and the Prophets,
to give of ones substance, however cherished,
to kinsmen, and orphans,
the needy, the traveller, beggars,
and to ransom the slave,
to perform the prayer, to pay the alms (zakat).
And they who fulfill their covenant,
and endure with fortitude
misfortune, hardship and peril,
these are they who are true in their faith,
these are the truly Godfearing.2
Other Koranic verses elaborate upon the theme of belief, piety and char-
itable deeds. Koran 69:30 35, for example, refers to those doomed on
the Day of Judgment because of lack of belief and piety which, in this
case, is exemplified by the injunction to feed the hungry. The Koran says:
Take him, and fetter him, and then roast him in Hell, Then in a chain of
seventy cubits length insert him! Behold, he never believed in God the
All-mighty, and he never urged the feeding of the needy (masakn); therefore
he today has not here one loyal friend, neither any food saving foul pus, that
none excepting the sinners eat.3
Of special interest is verse 9:71 which links belief, obedience to God,
piety, and charity.
And the believers, the men and the women, are friends one of the other,
command right and forbid wrong; they perform the prayer, and pay the
alms (zakat), and they obey God and His Messenger.4
The notion of piety is elusive and difficult to define. In earlier scholarship
the Koranic term taqwa was understood as meaning fear of God. Recent
scholarship, however, offers a more nuanced interpretation of the term.
David Wainess, for example, has pointed out that taqwa means piety
that goes with faith and obedience to God, while Erik S. Ohlander has
drawn attention to the inextricable bond between piety, righteousness

2 A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, (London, 1955), I, 50 1.

3 Arberry, The Koran, II, 298.
4 Arberry, The Koran, I, 125.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 237

and charitable deeds.5 The Muslim community of the time of the Proph-
et has been characterized by Fred M. Donner as: A movement of mili-
tant personal piety, expressing itself in pious maxims and in the Koran
itself as the essential guide (al-huda) required by the community to attain
salvation. The nature of early Islamic piety is described by Donner as in-
volving submission (islam) to God, belief in God, the Last Judgment, and
the performance of religious rituals referred to in the Koran, such as pray-
er, fasting, pilgrimage, and almsgiving. According to Donner, the militant
aspect of early Muslim piety is embodied in two Koranic maxims: al-amr
bi-l ma ruf wa-l-nahy an munkar (commanding right and forbidding

wrong, see above Koran 9:71) and jihad f sabl Allah (striving [or fight-
ing] for the cause of God).6
The Koranic notion of piety as embodying prayer and charity had a
deep influence on the construction of the human ideal in medieval Islam.
For example, the Mamluk sultan Baybars (1260 1277) is depicted by his
admiring biographer as a person who gave charity and strictly observed
the five daily prayers. He perceived prayer as a link (lit. gift) to God,
being aware of the redemptive powers of prayer. In the thinking of the
sultan, prayer purified (lit. erased) sins.7
Paul L. Heck has recently pointed out that the Koranic concept of
charity has an eschatological orientation.8 The redemptive-purifying na-
ture of giving of ones wealth (mal) and piety is alluded to in Sura 90:5 7
and 14 22. Charity must be accompanied by faith and good moral in-
tentions. Although the Koran does not object to public giving of wealth
(mal) and charity (sadaqa), secret giving to the poor (fuqara ) is perceived

as a higher moral deed (Koran 2: 262, 263, 271, 274). Koran 2:271 re-
minds the believer that God is aware of his deeds and that sadaqa has the
power to expiate his sins.
No less fascinating are verses 20 31 of Sura 70 which construct a
link between belief, charity and sexual mores. The text reads as follows:

5 D. Waines, Muslim Piety and Food of Gods, Al-Qantara, 20(2000), 417; E. S.

Ohlander, Fear of God (Taqwa) in the Qur an: Some Notes on Semantic Shift

and Thematic Context, JSS, (2005), 149.

6 F. M. Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins. The Beginnings of Islamic Historical
Writing, (Princeton, 1998), 67, 74 5, 89.
7 Izz al-Dn Ibn Shaddad, Ta rkh al-Malik al-Zahir, (ed) Ahmad Hutait (Wiesba-

den, 1983), 299.

8 P. H. Heck, Taxation, EQ, V, 196 7.
238 Yaacov Lev

Surely man was created fretful,

when evil visits him, impatient,
when good visits him, grudging,
save those that pray
and continue at their prayers,
those in whose wealth is a right known
for the beggar and the outcast
who confirm the Day of Doom
and go in fear of the chastisement of their Lord
and guard their private parts
save from their wives and what their right hands own,
then not being blameworthy.9

Li Guo has pointed out the Korans distinction between God-given gifts
to humans, and gift giving and exchange between people.10 God-given
gifts, or benefits (ni ma), as has been pointed out by Roy P. Mottahedeh,

were countless and humans should be grateful for them. Koranic concepts
of ni ma have influenced social relations. The term came to signify ties

between individuals based on loyalty and benefit.11

Going back to the Koranic notion of charity as expressed by the terms
zakat/sadaqa, it is evident that charity was perceived as a religious-moral
duty. It is difficult to ascertain, however, to what extent and how early
Koranic teachings were turned into social practice. There is no evidence
concerning the practice of zakat/sadaqa during the seventh century. How-
ever, Petra M. Sijpesteijn, relying on Egyptian papyri, has shown that
zakat/sadaqa was collected from Muslims living in the Fayyum, a rich ag-
ricultural area south of the capital Fustat. Another eighth century docu-
ment published by Geoffrey Khan refers to distribution of money to the
poor and needy in the villages of the Bahnasa region in Upper Egypt. Al-
though the term zakat/sadaqa is not mentioned, the poor and needy are
referred to by the Koranic expression al-fuqara wa-l-masakn, indicating

that distribution involved zakat/sadaqa. 12 References to the collection and

distribution of zakat/sadaqa in later periods are almost non-existent and it
would be misleading to suggest that the scattered eighth century evidence

9 Arberry, The Koran, II, 300 1.

10 L. Guo,Gift-Giving, EQ, II, 313 4.
11 R. P. Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society, (Princeton,
1980), 72 8.
12 P. M. Sijpesteijn, Creating a Muslim State. The Collection and Meaning of Sa-
daqa, in Akten des 23. Internationalen Papyrologen-Kongresses, Wien, 22 28 Juli
2001, (ed) Bernhard Palme (Vienna, 2007), 665 7; G. Khan, Selected Arabic
Papyri, (edited, translated into English, and annotated), (London, 1992), doc. 1.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 239

suggests the institutionalization of the zakat/sadaqa system in the Muslim

In contrast to the elusive evidence concerning zakat/sadaqa, the no-
tion of secret giving became ingrained in Islamic ethics of charity. For ex-
ample, during the Third Crusade, when there was danger from Crusading
armies advancing toward Jerusalem, Saladin was advised to distribute
charity in secret. The advice was given by Ibn Shaddad Baha al-Dn, a

jurist and a member of Saladins inner circle, implying that this is the
proper way to avert the danger. Baybarss biographer mentions that dur-
ing the pilgrimage he distributed charity in secret. It was a deed signifying
piety and humility.13

II. Obligatory and Voluntary Charity

Although the Koran does not specify the amount of zakat or sadaqa that
one should give, it does set forth who is entitled to these payments. The
most important and explicit verse is 9:60 which says:
Sadaqat are for the poor and needy (fuqara and masakn), for those respon-

sible for it (meaning the collection of the sadaqat), for those whose hearts
need conciliation, to ransom the slave, for debtors, for the purpose of
God (f sabl Allah), and wayfarers. This is an obligation [laid down] by
God, and God is wise.
Other Koranic verses (30:38) repeat the injunction that kinsmen, the
needy, and travelers are also entitled to charity.
In medieval Islam zakat came to signify an obligatory alms-tax. Jurists
debated the rates of zakat, which types of economic activity are subject to
it, how it should be collected, and who is entitled to receive zakat pay-
ments. The most important writings for the study of the development
of zakat are those of Abu Yusuf (731 798), Yahya ibn Adam (757
818), Abu Ubayd (d.839), and Qudama ibn Ja far (d.932), who frequent-

ly make interchangeable use of the terms zakat and sadaqa. This unsys-
tematic use of both terms should not obscure the fact that eventually a
clear distinction between obligatory and voluntary alms-giving appeared.

13 Baha al-Dn Ibn Shaddad, al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyya wa-l-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya,

(ed) J. al-Dn al-Shayyal (n.p. 1964), 39 40; Ibn Abd al-Zahir, al-Rawd al-

Zahir f Srat al-Malik al-Zahir, (ed) Abd al- Azz Khuwaytir (Riyadh, 1976),

240 Yaacov Lev

In the writings of Abu Ubayd, for example, sadaqa acquires the clear

meaning of voluntary charity whose merits and rewards are many.14
Information on the collection and especially the distribution of zakat
for the whole span of the Middle Ages is scant. Judging from the writings
of the great sage Ghazzal (d.1111), a custom had evolved of giving char-
itable payments on Breaking of the Fast of Ramadan which came to be
known as zakat/sadaqat al-fitr. Ghazzal is favorably inclined toward this
practice which, although not Koranic, relies on sayings attributed to the
Prophet and certainly tallied with the Koranic ethic of charity. How wide-
spread the giving of zakat/sadaqat al-fitr really was remains unattested.15
Perhaps the best explanation for the difference between the concept of
zakat and its practice is offered by Holger Weiss who writes: One
could in principle regard zakat as a transfer of wealth from the rich to
the poor. However, the intention is not eradication of poverty but the pu-
rification of wealth.16
If zakat/sadaqat al-fitr reflected a dynamic interpretation of Koranic
teachings, the collection of zakat during the Mamluk period (1250
1517) can be described as being a perversion of the Koranic teachings.
Many taxes were given the name of zakat in order to provide them
with a veneer of legality. Although Hassanein Rabie argues that zakat
in the sense of the legal obligatory alms tax was collected during the
Mamluk period, there is no evidence that it was distributed to those en-
titled to it.17 In this context it is interesting to note that one of the more
common sultanic charities was setting debtors free after they had paid
their debts. Many Mamluk sultans did so, and their deeds must have
been inspired by Koranic teachings (9:60). One would expect, however,
a systematic use of the zakat money collected by the state for this pur-
pose. Although this Koranic injunction had not been institutionalized,
it became part of Muslim ethics of charity. To put it differently, it was
practiced on a personal level, not the state level. The discussion of the

14 Abu Ubayd, Kitab al-Amwal, (ed) M. Kh. Hiras (Cairo, 1928), 486 92. The

administrative treatises of Yahya ibn Adam, Qudama ibn Ja far, and Abu Yusuf

have been translated into English by Ben Shemesh, Taxation in Islam, (Leiden,
1965 1969), 3 vols.
15 Ghazzal, Ihya Ulum al-Dn, (Cairo, n.d.), I, 209, 211.

16 H. Weiss, Obligatory Almsgiving. An Inquiry into Zakat in the Pre-Colonial Bilad

al-Sudan, (Helsinki, 2003), 39.
17 H. Rabie, Financial System of Egypt A.H.567 741/A.D.1169 1341, (London,
1972), 95 101, esp., 96.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 241

zakat can be concluded by noting that it never evolved into any kind of
social leveler, and its handling by the state was a dismal failure.18
In contrast to our limited knowledge about the practice of zakat dur-
ing the Middle Ages, the notion of voluntary charity became ingrained in
the social practice of medieval Muslims. It can be argued that only during
the first half of the ninth century, as reflected in the writings of Abu
Ubayd, the term sadaqa did acquire the meaning of voluntary charity.

On an individual level, the dispensation of charity served as a means of

communicating with God, as a channel to implore God for deliverance
and to expiate ones sins. Sick people distributed charity as an appeal
to God for recovery, and the expression he cured himself through char-
ity epitomizes this widespread social practice. In other cases, charity was
distributed to express gratitude to God for surviving life-threatening in-
cidents. The distribution of charity that followed the death of a person
signified the acceptance of a divine decree and a request for deliverance.
This type of charitable practice cut across the social divide, engulfing the
high and low-born, the mighty rulers and the commoners. It reflected the
prevailing mood throughout the Middle East. A few examples taken from
Baghdad and Cairo illustrate this point. In 847, when the Abbasid caliph
al-Wathq was sick with his final illness he was visited by Ibn Ab Da ud

to whom he complained about his distress. Ibn Ab Da ud brought to the

caliphs attention that many people (meaning scribes and financial ad-
ministrators) were imprisoned and their families in extreme straits. He
suggested to the caliph that he set them free in order to be relieved of
his plight. The caliph ordered this and the next day told Ibn Ab
Da ud that he felt some improvement in his condition. Ibn Ab Da ud re-

plied by saying that God brought him relief because of the thousand du a

(intercessory) prayers that were delivered for him while earlier these had
been delivered against him. Ibn Ab Da ud suggested to the caliph to go

one step further: to return to the people he had freed their properties and
thereby to secure more of their intercessory prayers and to be granted
even greater rewards. Al-Wathq gave orders to that effect and the histor-
ian al-Rudhrawar comments that he was rewarded for his deed while Ibn
Abu Da ud won a name for himself.19 This account belongs to the literary

18 For a wider treatment of this subject, see Y. Lev, Charity, Endowments, and Char-
itable Institutions in Medieval Islam, (Gainsville, 2005), 6 7, 70, 156 7.
19 Abu Shuja al-Rudhrawar, Dhayl Kitab Tajarib al-Umam, (ed) H. F. Amedroz

(London, 1921), III, 92 93; English translation by D. S. Margoliouth, Contin-

uation of the Experience of the Nations, (London, 1921), III, 94 5.
242 Yaacov Lev

genre of faraj ba d al-shidda (Relief after Distress) and both terms dis-

tress and relief , are employed. Neither charity nor sin nor repentance
are referred to, but the link between a good deed and the expectation of
Gods reward is clearly suggested. Other accounts show a direct link be-
tween charity and hopes for deliverance.
Ibn Radwan was a wealthy Baghdadi of high social status who during
his illness in 1069 distributed the fabulous sum of 10,000 gold coins
(dnars) as charity. In 1092, during his illness, the great Seljukid vizier
Nizam al-Mulk distributed vast charities and a contemporary historian
writes that indeed these were instrumental for his recovery. In 996, in
a short period of time, al- Azz, the Fatimid ruler of Egypt, suffered

the death of both his wife and mother. He distributed charity and lavishly
rewarded the Koran reciters who took part in the funeral rites. His wife
was buried in the family mausoleum at the palace complex in shrouds
that cost 10,000 dnars and the grave was covered with a sumptuous fab-
ric. For a month food was offered at her grave and the beneficiaries were
certainly not the poor.20 Providing meals on Friday and Muslim festivals
was a typical charity offered at funerary complexes built by rulers and
other members of the ruling elite. These complexes included educational
institutions, offered lodging for travelers and commemorative services at
the tomb of the founder. The administrator in charge also dispensed
charity and food to people unaffiliated with the complex. The deeds of
the rulers were emulated by ordinary people. In medieval Cairo food
was offered during funerals and at cemeteries.21
The distribution of charity as a sign of repentance is mentioned in
respect to mighty rulers and simple folk alike. In 356/967, when
Mu izz al-Dawla, the Buyid sultan of Baghdad, felt that his end was

near, he became interested in how a true repentance (tawba) should be

performed. He was instructed in the rules of repentance by leading jurists
and theologians, and on their advice he distributed money as charity,
manumitted slaves, and returned unlawfully gained riches to their rightful
owners. Some of his deeds tally with Koranic teachings (5:89 and

20 G. Makdisi, Autograph Diary of an Eleventh-Century Historian of Baghdad

[Ibn Banna ], BSOAS, 19(1957), 18 (text), 35 (tran.); Ibn Jawz, Al-Muntazam

f Ta rkh al-Umam wa-l-Muluk, (ed) S. Zakkar (Beirut, 1995), IX, 641; Maqrz,

Itti az al-Hunafa bi-Akhbar al-A imma al-Fatmiyyin al-Khulafa , (eds) J. al-Dn al-

Shayyal, (Cairo, 1967 1973), I, 288 9; Musabbih, (ed) A. F. Sayyid, Nusus

Da i ah min Akhbar Misr li-Musabbih, AI, 17(1981), 15.

21 For medieval Cairo, see A. Sabra, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Egypt, (Cam-
bridge, 2000), 96.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 243

58:3 4) about expiation. Expiation can be achieved through feeding and

clothing the poor (masakn), setting captives free and fasting. The next
report is distant in both time and place but the same world view is reflect-
ed. In 903/1497 1498, a young Mamluk soldier was dying of the plague
in Cairo. As his sickness intensified, in the presence of court witnesses, he
returned looted textiles worth 3,000 dnars to their legal owner. He asked
for absolution for the crimes he had committed and his request was
granted. He died shortly afterwards.22
In Judaism, as has been pointed out by Mark R. Cohen, the Biblical
ethos of giving in secret exerted great influence on the discourse and prac-
tice of charity among the Jews of the Muslim medieval Middle East. For
example, a fourteenth-century donors list from the Cairo Geniza that
contains names of people and their contribution also includes nameless
entries, designated by the Hebrew word gift (mattan), with the amount
of the donation.23 Inspired by the Koranic teachings, secret charitable giv-
ing was also much admired in Islam. A truly secret donation should have
left no traces in our sources. However, Arabic sources identify certain
people as being known for their secret giving. For example, in 888/
1483 1484, in Damascus, the merchant Shams al-Dn who was
known for his secret charities died. Different was the case of the multi-
millionaire merchant Nasir al-Dn who died in 776/1374 1375, in
Cairo. He was known for his avarice but, it was claimed, he gave charity
in secret. In his bequest he left 16,000 dnars for building a law college.24
The second account is difficult to interpret: is the remark about Nasir al-
Dns charity cynical or apologetic? The first account is more straightfor-
ward; it reflects the tension between a high ethical principal and actual
social practice. Few could have been indifferent to the social advantages
derived from having a reputation for being charitable and pious. Giving

22 Miskawaihi, Tajarib, II, 231; English translation by Margoliouth, The Experience,

II, 245; Ibn Iyas, Bada i al-Zuhur fi Waqa i al-Duhur, (ed) M. Mustafa (Cairo,

1969 1975), III, 390.

23 Mark R. Cohen, Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt,
(Princeton, 2005), 248 9. For a discussion and English translation of the above
referred to Geniza document, see Mark R. Cohen, The Voice of the Poor in the
Middle Ages, (Princeton, 2005), 176 80. This document is summarized by S.
D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, (Berkeley, 1967 1993), II, 495, 505 (for
another document of this type).
24 Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat al-Khullan f Hawadith al-Zaman, (ed) M. Mostafa
(Cairo, 1962 1964), I, 61; Ibn Hajar, Inba al-Ghumr bi-Anba al- Umr,(ed)

H. Hubash (Cairo, 1969), I, 99 100.

244 Yaacov Lev

certainly built and enhanced social status. Thus, secret giving could not
be that secret. The possible meaning of the so called secret giving was
that the recipients were not aware of the identity of the giver but the
fact that he gave charity was known in his social circle and beyond.
Here we can observe a dynamic interpretation of an ethical principle. Al-
though somewhat diluted, it became socially meaningful to the giver and
useful for the recipient.
Because of its very elusive nature, altruistic giving leaves scant traces
in the source material. We become aware of it only when it was publi-
cized. In 962/1554 1155, in Damascus, renovation work on a lodge
for the mystics took place. The commemorative inscription reminds
the reader that the distribution of food to the poor, orphans, and prison-
ers is Gods command, and the food offered by the renovator is charity
given in the quest of God, asking for neither reward for the donor nor
gratitude from the recipients.25 This inscription epitomizes the hope
for heavenly rewards so typical of medieval monotheistic charity. What
is unusual is the donors renunciation of any social benefits emanating
from his charity. It is one of the rarest examples reflecting both the mean-
ing and function of medieval charity.
Secret giving may have had the goal of preserving the dignity of the
recipient but the same could have been achieved by open giving. The
Egyptian mystic Abu Al al-Rudhabar (d.935) is quoted as saying that

he had given thousands for charity but never put alms into the hand of
a poor person. He always handed out the money in a manner ensuring
the poor recipient took the money from his hand while the hand of
the poor person was above his hand. It was a deliberate attempt to con-
travene the Prophetic tradition that the upper hand is better than the
lower hand. Jewish attitudes, as expressed in the midrash, were quite sim-
ilar; one must be grateful for being the giver, not the recipient.26
Personal involvement in the dispensation of charity was also much
admired. It reflected empathy for the poor and, in contrast with aloof giv-
ing, confronted the giver with the harsh realities of social misery. Muzaf-
far al-Dn Kkb r (d.1233), the ruler of Irbil, was known for his many
charities, and the charitable institutions he established in Irbil. The Chris-

25 Abd al-Qadir al-Rihawi and . E. Ou chek, Les deux Takkiya de Damas, BEO,

28(1975), 223, 225.

26 Al-Khatb al-Baghdad, Ta rkh Baghdad, (ed) M. Abd al-Qadir Ata (Beirut,

1997),, I, 349. For the discussion of this Prophetic tradition, see Weiss, 11.
For Jewish sources, see Cohen, Poverty and Charity, 181, n.31.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 245

tian chronicler al-Makn (1205 1273) provides only a short account of

his charitable works but duly notes that he personally checked on the sick
at the hospital he had built. Even more telling is the obituary note about
the chief Hanafi cadi Ibn Mansur who died in 782/1380 1381 in Dam-
ascus. He is described as being personally involved in the distribution of
bread and money to the poor and, as a judge, he is characterized as one
who dispensed justice to the oppressed.27 Above the personal level, on the
higher social level, charity came to signify justice and prosperity. In cer-
tain traditions charity and gift giving are perceived as instrumental for
prosperity and wealth even if the people are morally corrupt. Another tra-
dition states that charity and gift giving mitigate bad deeds on the Day of
One of the most fascinating aspects of medieval Muslim charity was
the possibility of institutionalizing charity through the pious endowment
system waqf (pl. awqaf ). Pious endowments were created for the benefit
of family members (waqf ahl) and in support of a wide range of chari-
table functions and institutions, including educational institutions.
Some pious endowments combined familial and charitable ends. Al-
though the pious endowment institution had no Koranic roots, Islamic
tradition traces its origin to the Prophet and his companion. Any waqf
foundation was the embodiment of sadaqa, and the founders expressed
their hope for a reward from God, seeking nearness to and forgiveness
from God. The pious endowment institution was hugely successful and
came to dominate many aspects of Islamic urban life during the Middle
Ages and the Ottoman period.29

27 Al-Makn, La chronique des Ayyoubides, (ed) Cl. Cahen, BEO,

15(1955 1957),, 140; Qad ibn Shuhba, Ta rkh, (ed) A. Darwich (Damascus,

1994), I, 41.
28 Al-Khatb al-Baghdad, Ta rkh, I, 403.

29 For legal and social aspects of waqf, see Peter C. Hennigan, The Birth of a Legal
Institution. The Formation of the Waqf in Third-Century A.H. Hanafi Legal Dis-
course, (Leidedn, 2004), esp. ch.3; Norman A. Stillman, Waqf and the Ideology
of Charity in Medieval Islam, in Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth,
vol.1, The Hunter of the East, (ed) I. R. Netton (Leiden, 2000), 357 75.
246 Yaacov Lev

III. Charity, Gift Giving, and the Individual

The study of gift giving in Islam is still a new area of scholarship, and
readers familiar with Natalie Zemon Davis book on gifts and gift giving
in sixteenth century France may feel disappointed by the limited evidence
for Islamic practices. However, within the limitations of the present writ-
er and the available source material, the evidence discussed so far indi-
cates a distinction between the notion of charity in its three manifesta-
tionssadaqa, zakat, and waqfand gift giving. In many cases, however,
when a short biographical profile of a charitable and pious person is
given, the vocabulary of charity, gift giving, and waqf is combined and
mixed with, or enriched by, terms referring to piety and righteousness.
The following epitomizes this point. In 599/1202 1203, in Baghdad,
Zumurrud Khatun, the mother of the caliph al-Nasir died. She is descri-
bed as one who excelled in performing good deeds (salihat) and handing
out charities (sadaqat) and gifts (ma ruf). Her gifts (silat) and birr (mean-

ing either charity, or piety; probably both) were perennial. The account
continues by enumerating her pious deeds. She spent 300,000 dnars on a
pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Arabia and the distribution of charity
there, including maintenance of water installations. She also built and en-
dowed a funerary complex that included a law college.30 Such an account
leaves the modern reader wondering whether medieval people really made
a clear distinction between charity and gift giving. Her case, as in other
cases of royal patrons, was unique because of the sheer scale of her giving
which helped to blur the distinction between the two.
Equally extensive was the largess of the Ayyubid princess Sitt al-
Sham, the daughter of the founder of the dynasty and sister of Saladin,
who died in 616/1219 1220, in Damascus. She gave many charitable
donations (birr, sadaqat) and gifts (silat) and performed good deeds
(ihsan). Her fame spread due to her massive distribution of potions
and medicines and it was said that her doorstep was a shelter for the
traveler and a place of relief for the distressed. Sitt al-Shams other char-
ities were more standard and focused on building and endowing a law
college and her own mausoleum.31 Less extensive, but still impressive,
was the largess of Abu al-Hasan Al, the young son of the caliph al-

Nasir who died in 612/1216. He is described as a generous person

30 Abu Shama, Tarjim Rijal al-Qarnayn al-Sadis wa-l-Sabi, (Beirut, n.d.), 33; Sibt
ibn Jawz, Mi rat al-Zaman, (Haydarbad, 1951), VIII, pt.2, 513.

31 Sibt ibn Jawz, Mi rat al-Zaman, VIII, pt.2, 606 7.

Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 247

who excelled in dispensation of charity and gifts. Rather surprisingly, no

mention of piety appears in the account.32
In the eyes of medieval people, charity and gift giving were two man-
ifestations of generosity and, I would argue, were basically regarded as dif-
ferent and separate things.33 Perhaps the key for understanding the Mus-
lim medieval perception of charity and gift giving is offered by the obitu-
ary note about Najm al-Dawla Najah (d.610/1213 1214), the slave of
the caliph al-Nasir who served as his cupbearer. He is described as a gen-
erous, wise, and religious person who dispensed many charitable dona-
tions. He was a sociable individual, favorably inclined toward the poor
and respectful toward the people of the religious class. His authority
was derived from constant attendance on the caliph and he was able to
protect the weak from the hands of the powerful.34 No gift giving is men-
tioned and the reason seems obvious. Gifts were exchanged among peers
or given to the socially superior within a common social and occupational
background. Charity, on the other hand, was given to the socially inferior.
Najm al-Dawla Najahs social position was precarious: he was a first gen-
eration Muslim of an unknown father, probably a pagan, and at most a
freedman of the caliph, if not his slave. Typically of people of this sort of
background, he attained wealth and moved freely in the corridors of
power as long as he enjoyed the backing of his master/patron. In terms
of social background he was too inferior to give gifts, though he could
give charity to the poor. He lived in a state of limbo, torn by the excru-
ciating disparity between his low social status and the power derived from
proximity to the caliph.
Even more illustrative are the cases concerning eunuchs. Many of
them earned a name as charitable people but were in no position to be
involved in gift exchange with others at the court. In 623/1226, Shibl
al-Dawla Kafur, the black eunuch of the princess Sitt al-Sham, died.
He overcame the triple disadvantage of slavery, castration, and black
skin and reached an exalted position with his mistress and the Ayyubid
sultans. Sitt al-Sham entrusted him with the building of her funerary
complex that also included a law college while the one he built for himself
included a lodge for the mystics. He became known for investing in road

32 Abu Shama, Tarajim, 91.

33 For a clear distinction between terms referring to charity, gift giving, and piety,
see Izz al-Dn ibn Shaddad, Ta rkh, 84.

34 Abu Shama, Tarajim, 113 4.

248 Yaacov Lev

construction and water installations, charities, and good deeds (ihsan).35

Gift giving was, however, beyond his capacity. His inferior status did
not hinder him from acquiring wealth and power but excluded him
from taking part in the social networks of free-born Muslims and gift ex-
When we move outside the sphere of eunuchs and freedmen to Mus-
lim civil society, charity and gift exchange frequently go hand in hand.
One can not envisage a greater social divide than that between Najm
al-Dawla Najah and the Egyptian administrator Abu Bakr Muhammad
ibn Al of the al-Madhara family who died in 345/956 957. The his-

torian Musabbih (d.1029) describes him as a person who gave many gifts
(ma ruf ) but the word charity never appears in his report. He is portrayed

as a pious man who scrupulously observed prayers and fasts, but this
characterization is succinct and dry, lacking the usual plethora of terms
associated with piety. The recipients of his generosity were the Shiites,
the population of Mecca and Medina, and people in Fustat. He became
renowned for his twenty one pilgrimages to the Holy Cities of Arabia and
the extensive food distribution there. These were conducted according to
a name list and the same was done in Fustat. He also cultivated relations
with the social elite in Fustat, and Musabbihs choice of terms seems de-
liberate and precise. Abu Bakrs generosity was widely spread and built his
reputation but was not focused on the poor. He was immensely rich and
owned vast rural properties in Egypt, and one can only wonder to what
extent his generosity and concern for the Holy Cities were instrumental
in preserving his own wealth and position.36 The memory of Abu Bakrs
deeds lingered on into the fifteenth century. Maqrz (1364 1442) pro-
vides a full biography of him, including his political intrigues. By
Maqrzs time, Abu Bakrs wealth and generosity had evolved into a high-
ly exaggerated myth. Maqrz writes that his distribution list included
60,000 names among the inhabitants of Mecca and his distributions in
Fustat were equally vast. In Fustat the recipients of his generosity were
his dependents (Abu Bakrs household must have been very large), the
pious, the powerful people of Fustat, and the strangers. Abu Bakr was
also involved in ransoming Muslim captives. In Maqrzs long account,
neither the poor nor the term sadaqa is ever mentioned. Charity is refer-
red to by the more ambiguous term birr. This reference appears when
Abu Bakrs donations during the pilgrimage, termed as birr and ma ruf,

35 Abu Shama, Tarajim, 150.

36 Musabbih, (ed) Sayyid, Nusus, 9 11.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 249

are mentioned.37 In spite of the exaggerations, Maqrz retained the es-

sence of Musabbihs account. Despite the admiration for his generosity,
Abu Bakr did not impress medieval people as truly charitable and pious,
but rather as a manipulator of charity and piety for personal gain.
In terms of wealth and prestige, Zayn al-Dn, the preacher of Hama
who died in 659/1260, was vastly inferior to Abu Bakr. He is, however,
characterized as a pious person who dispensed charity, gave gifts, and set
up pious endowments.38 This report can be read in the following way:
Zayn al-Dn belonged to the middle class or even the upper middle
class, if such terms can be applied to medieval society. He was not a social
climber but he was truly pious and gave charity to the poor. He ex-
changed gifts with his peers, and set up pious endowments to preserve
family position and support charitable causes. Reports of this kind are
quite frequent. Another example, referring to a different setting in time
and place reflects a similar context. Badr al-Dn, who died in 797/
1395, in Cairo, is described as a pious scholar who performed good
deeds, gave charity (birr) to the poor and gifts to relatives.39

IV. The Political Dimension of Charity and Gift Giving

The political aspects of gift giving and charity are abundantly document-
ed in medieval Arabic sources. Undoubtedly, the most famous source is
the eleventh-century Book of Treasures and Gifts which provides short re-
ports about gift exchange both between Muslim rulers, and between them
and foreign monarchs. These accounts are valuable for the study of the
material culture of the epoch, but devoid of historical context. I prefer
to adopt a different approach, to study charity and gift giving within
the context of the Fatimid state in Egypt (969 1171). The Fatimids,
who belonged to the Shiite-Isma l branch of Islam, came to power in

909 in Tunisia. They ruled Tunisia and other parts of North Africa
until 973. In that year, the Fatimid ruler al-Mu izz transferred the state

to Egypt which had been conquered in 969 by his general Jawhar. In Tu-
nisia the Fatimids installed the Zirid rulers as their proxies. From Egypt
the Fatimids expanded their rule to Palestine and Syria (Damascus), but

37 Maqrz, Kitab al-Muqaffa al-Kabir, (ed) M. Yalaoui, (Beirut, 1991), VI, 243,
246 7.
38 Abu Shama, Tarajim, 177, 212.
39 Ibn Hajar, Inba , III, 270 1.

250 Yaacov Lev

lost these territories to the Seljuks and Crusaders during the second half
of the eleventh century and the first half of the twelfth century. In Egypt
they ruled until 1171. Gift giving was entrenched in the political life of
the Fatimid state and took place on external and internal levels. That is,
gifts were exchanged between the Fatimids and Muslim and Christian
rulers and gifts were circulated within the state.
Although the exchange of gifts (hadiya) between the Zirid rulers of
Tunisia and the Fatimids falls within a familiar pattern, this is a somewhat
unusual case since the Zirids were Fatimid vassals. One would expect the
Zirids to send gifts to the Fatimids, but they were also recipients of Fa-
timid gifts. The first recorded gift exchange between the two regimes
took place in 383 384/993 994. The Zirid gift of 383/993 included
money, riding animals and their gear, hunting dogs, and ten white-skin-
ned (Saqaliba) eunuchs. A year later, the Fatimid gift included riding an-
imals and their gear, textiles manufactured in the famous textile produc-
ing towns of Tinnis and Damietta, crystals, porcelain, and ten sets of
golden honorary robes.40 Undoubtedly, the exchanged goods were of
top quality and expensive but, otherwise typical of the goods traded in
the Mediterranean. Egypt occupied a very special place within the Med-
iterranean trading system: it served as a land bridge for trade with India.
Egypt was the place for procuring Indian goods that circulated in the
Mediterranean and beyond. These trade realities are reflected by the
gift exchange of 420/1029. The Zirid gift was remarkable for the inclu-
sion of twenty slave-girls of outstanding beauty and white and black eu-
nuchs, while the Fatimid gift involved goods from India and Yemen as
well as giraffes.41 In 420/1029, in contrast to 383/993, the Zirid gift in-
cluded no money. This might indicate that the Zirid position vis- -vis the
Fatimids had evolved from a vassal state to a fully independent one,
whereas the money included in the 383/993 gift signified tribute. In
any case, the volume of trade between Tunisia and Egypt was large and
significant, and both states had every reason to maintain friendly rela-
tions. The rupture between the Fatimids and Zirids took place between
1048 1058 following the Zirid recognition of the Abbasids as their
Fatimid relations with Byzantium were marked by periodical hostil-
ities and truces, and focused on political issues. As David Jacoby has re-
cently shown, the trade between the two states was extensive and signifi-

40 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 278 9, 282 3.

41 Maqrz, Itti az, II, 177 8.

Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 251

cant to both. For Byzantium, Egypt served as the main outlet for the pur-
chase of oriental goods while Egypt imported strategic materials from By-
zantium.42 Diplomatic contacts between the two powers were frequent,
and gifts must have been exchanged regularly. Some of these gifts are de-
scribed in the Book of Treasures and Gifts. The Byzantines were very
knowledgeable about the affairs of the Fatimid state, its religious ideology
and court protocol. This familiarity with the Fatimids is highlighted by
the following examples. In 391/1001, the Byzantine emissary who arrived
in Cairo kissed the ground of the palace on his way to meet the caliph al-
Hakim. The kissing of the palace ground was prescribed by protocol
since the palace precinct had acquired sanctity by being the residence
of the Fatimid ruler. In 405/1014 1015, the visit of a Byzantine diplo-
mat to Cairo plunged three of al-Hakims bodyguards into disaster. They
were executed for taking gifts (hiba) from the Byzantine delegation. The
emperor Michael VII (1071 1078) was fully aware that the mother of
the caliph al-Mustansir (1036 1094), a black slave girl, held the reins
of power in her hands and sent her a gift (she was ousted from power
in 1072). In 444/1052 1053, the Byzantine emissary who came to
Cairo on an important diplomatic mission had fittingly brought an espe-
cially rich gift which included, among other things, Turkish male and fe-
male slaves and hunting dogs. After concluding his business in Cairo, he
proceeded to Jerusalem, bringing most valuable gifts to the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre. The patronage over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
was a Byzantine state interest of paramount importance and it was central
in Byzantiums dealings with the Fatimids. The gift presented in 444/
1052 1053 was intended to promote Byzantine interests and to buy Fa-
timid good will.43

42 This topic is dealt with in a number of David Jacobys publications. See, for ex-
ample, Byzantine Trade with Egypt from the Mid-Tenth Century to the Fourth
Crusade, Thesaurismata, 30(2000),, 36 7, 44; Diplomacy, Trade, Shipping
and Espionage between Byzantium and Egypt in the Twelfth Century, Byzanti-
nisches Archiv, 19(2000), 86;
43 Maqrz, Itti az, II, 39 40, 107 8; Ibn Zubayr, Kitab al-Dhakha ir wa-l-Tuhaf,

(ed) M. Hamd Allah revised by S. al-Dn al-Munajjid (Kuwait, 1959),, 77 8,

81. Ibn Zubayrs reports about Byzantine gifts to the Fatimids have been trans-
lated and discussed by O. Grabar, The Shared Culture of Objects, in Byzantine
Court Culture from 829 to 1204, (ed) H. Maguire (Washington D.C., 1997),
121 3.
252 Yaacov Lev

The most intriguing report concerns the gift of aromatic wood re-
ceived in 385/995 in Cairo from India.44 One wonders whether it was
a political gift sent by some Indian ruler or a gift sent by a merchant in-
volved in trade with India. If we accept the second possibility, this gift
could signify gratitude or the attempt to establish good working relations
with the Fatimid ruler in order to promote commercial interests. The Fa-
timid rulers and other people of the ruling circles were engaged in com-
merce, and merchants had every reason to maintain good relations with
Within the Fatimid state, gifts circulated in two directions: from pro-
vincial governors to the ruler and from the ruler to the states employees.
Gifts sent by provincial governors to the ruler are frequently mentioned
in the contemporary sources. In 363/974, a gift that included riding an-
imals and money was sent from Syria and, in 369/979 980, a similar gift
was received from the town of Barqa, on the Mediterranean coast of
Libya. Other gifts of the same type were sent in 383/992 993, 385/
995, and 386/996 from Barqa. In 414/1023 1024 and 415/1024
1025 gifts were sent from Aswan in Upper Egypt and Nubia. These in-
cluded male and female slaves, African rarities (elephant tusks) and ani-
mals such as cheetahs and giraffes. A gift sent in 415/1024 1025
from Fayyum, a rich agricultural region south of Cairo, included only
riding animals.45
The meaning of this peculiar Fatimid practice is difficult to interpret.
At least in same cases, gifts sent by governors were paraded through the
capital before being presented to the ruler. Gifts were also brought by Fa-
timid propagandists who came to Cairo to pay homage to their spiritual
and political master.46 One can safely assume that gifts sent by governors
were in addition to taxes transferred from the provinces to Cairo. This
type of gift signified gratitude of the nominees for being appointed to
lucrative posts. One can not escape the impression that such gifts were
expected by the Fatimid rulers and perceived as private income. The Fa-
timid rulers and members of the royal family, including women, tapped
the revenues of the state, owned properties, and were involved in com-
merce. The economic activities of the Fatimid rulers and other members
of the family were handled by special administrative offices and staff.

44 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 290.

45 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 223, 249, 252, 278, 285, 290; Musabbih, Akhbar, 12, 31, 34.
46 Musabbih, Akhbar, 12, 29, 31, 34.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 253

Thus, gifts constituted a parallel tribute system that served the rulers di-
rectly and not the Treasury.
The most compelling piece of evidence is the report about the arrival
in 402/1012 of the customary yearly gift from Tinnis which included tex-
tiles and money. Upon the arrival of the gift, the Fatimid princess Sitt al-
Mulk, the sister of al-Hakim, the reigning caliph, summoned the finan-
cial administrator of Tinnis and demanded the transfer of tax money.
Her action was sanctioned by al-Hakim and it turned out that one mil-
lion dnars and two million silver coins (dirhams) were due. This money
represented three years of tax collection from Tinnis and was given to Sitt
al-Mulk. Although highly exaggerated, these figures are indicative of the
economic significance of Tinnis.47 Tinnis, on the Mediterranean coast of
Egypt, was an industrial town and a center famous for the production of
textiles. Textiles in Tinnis were produced in workshops that served only
the government, while other workshops also sold their products on the
market. The control of the production of textiles in towns such as Tinnis,
Damietta, and Bahnasa in Upper Egypt was a vital Fatimid interest. From
976, the jurisdiction in Tinnis was in the hands of cadis of the Nu man

family who enjoyed a privileged position in the Fatimid state. Members
of the family also supervised the dispatch of textiles from Tinnis to Cairo.
In 384/994, Yahay ibn al-Nu man delivered a shipment from Tinnis,

Damietta, and Farama (on the Mediterranean coast) which included

money, riding animals, the ceremonial parasols used by the Fatimid
ruler during public appearances, and two coverage fabrics (kiswas) for
the Kaaba sanctuary. The Nu man family, however, lost its position dur-

ing the early 1010 s and later a special office was created to supervise the
textile industry of Tinnis.48
The origin of this gift/tribute system goes back to the early years of
Fatimid rule in Egypt. In 361/972, the general Jawhar who conquered
Egypt sent a gift to the Fatimid ruler al-Mu izz who was still in Tunisia.49

This shipment resembles more a tribute or spoils of war sent by a victo-

rious general to his overlord. The use of the term gift put it in a differ-

47 Musabbih, (ed) Sayyid, Nusus, 30; Maqrz, Itti az, II, 91.

48 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 283; Jochen A.Sokoly, Towards a Model of Early Islamic Tex-

tile Institutions in Egypt, in Islamische Textilkunst des Mittelaltes: Aktuelle Prob-

leme, (Riggisberg, 1997),, 115 22; Y. Lev, Tinnis: An Industrial Medieval
Town, in L gypte Fatimide son art et son histoire, (ed) M. Barrucand (Paris,

1999),, 86.
49 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 136 7.

254 Yaacov Lev

ent context: that of personal relations between al-Mu izz, the patron, and

Jawhar, his freedman and client.50
Every year, the Fatimid state dispensed vast quantities of textiles
among its employees as well as money and food to the wider public.
The terms denoting these dispensations are distribution, gift, and
charity. The most fascinating and enigmatic distribution involves the
kiswa fabrics provided for/donated to the Azhar mosque in Cairo. The
history of Azhar goes back to the foundation of Cairo by the Fatimids
(969) and the mosque became associated with the regime and its
Isma l brand of Islam. A special kiswa was provided for the first night

of Ramadan and other kiswas for the Friday prayers. We are dealing
here with a highly symbolic deed whose meanings remain elusive. A
kiswa was sent every year to cover and adorn the Kaaba sanctuary in
Mecca. It was produced at huge cost in Tinnis and its dispatch with
the pilgrim caravan turned into a state-sponsored celebration. Certainly,
the Fatimids did not mean to elevate Azhar to the position of the Kaaba
but the allusion is obvious and aimed at enhancing the sacredness of
Azhar. The term kiswa also acquired a more general meaning and signi-
fied other textiles, or clothing, distributed by the state on the occasion of
religious and non-religious festivals. On the occasion of Ramadan, special
kiswas were produced for the Fatimid ruler as well as his brother and his
wives and the vizier. They also received kiswas at the festival of the Open-
ing of the Canal which took place at the peak of the Niles inundation.51
The Muslim calendar is replete with religious festivals, but the Fati-
mids also celebrated non-religious and non-Islamic festivals. The Fati-
mids also introduced new Shiite festivals, some of which became highly
popular. Although outside the scope of this chapter, the adoption of non-
Muslim festivals by the Fatimids reflected a type of state-sponsored reli-
gious syncretism, a topic still neglected in the scholarship. The Fatimid
rulers actively participated in the celebrations of Epiphany ( d al-ghitash).

The state adopted Christmas and distributed food among the military
personnel and the administrative staff. The Persian festivals of Nawruz,
the Persian New Year, and Mihrajan, marking the autumn equinox,

50 For a different view, see A. Cutler, Gifts and Gift Exchange as Aspects of the
Byzantine, Arab, and Related Economies, Dumbarton Oak Papers, 55(2002),,
259 60.
51 Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar Misr, (ed) A. F. Sayyid (Cairo, 1983), 54 5. Irene A.

Bierman has noted that it is impossible to deduce from the texts what precisely
these outfits (meaning kiswas) look like in this period, see Writing Sings. The
Fatimid Public Text,(Berkeley, 1998), 187, n.86.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 255

were publicly celebrated. In 381/991 992, on Mahrajan, members of the

ruling elite gave gifts to the Fatimid ruler. It must be pointed out that
Persian festivals were incorporated into the calendar of Muslim Egypt be-
fore Fatimid rule. Both festivals were adopted by the Abbasids, including
the gift exchange between the ruler and members of the court typical of
The symbolic use of textiles permeated Fatimid political culture. The
bestowal of textiles on public occasions served to establish hierarchy and
dependence and to foster loyalty. Fatimid use of textiles was part of the
medieval preoccupation, not to say obsession, with textiles and clothing.
Clothes served as symbols of status and as a social marker. Precious fab-
rics, especially silk, were used as a form of investment.53 Manipulative use
of textiles for political and social purposes was common in the medieval
world, including the Byzantines and the Mongols. In Byzantium certain
types of costumes and colors were used exclusively by the emperor.
Among the Mongols the wearing of a hat and belt symbolized personal
freedom and social standing and the loss of these items meant social deg-
radation.54 This mood of the time is reflected by our sources. Musabbih,
for example, frequently refers to the attire of the Fatimid ruler during
public appearances and one is left with the strong impression that it
was a significant issue worth mentioning. Musabbihs account can not
be read as a fashion report since it is doubtful if the Fatimid ruler set
the prevailing fashion. Some items, such as the ceremonial parasol,
were regarded as a state insignia and were forbidden for others to use.
On the other hand, clothes from the rulers personal wardrobe were occa-
sionally bestowed on others. It must have been a symbolic act, conveying
special favor. Musabbihs report moves between the detailed and the gen-
eral, and one of his favorite expressions is that the ruler was dressed in
the most beautiful attire and appeared with the most perfect equip-
ment. This multi-functional use of textiles had many manifestations.
For instance, on the occasion of court receptions, a dazzling variety of
fabrics was displayed. Thus, in 391/1001, when Byzantine emissaries ar-
rived in Cairo, at the palaces main reception hall exquisite fabrics were

52 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 272; Musabbih, Akhbar, 19 20, 70; Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar,

63, 65, 104.

53 X. Liu, Silk and Religion,(Delhi, 1998), 90 1.
54 E. Piltz, E. Middle Byzantine Court Costume in Byzantine Court Culture,
39 51; Thomas T. Allsen Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire,
(Cambridge, 1997), 48 9.
256 Yaacov Lev

hung. On the advice of a Fatimid princess, the palace stores were searched
for fabrics brought in 973 from Tunisia. Eventually, silk fabrics decorated
with gold that carried the inscription 331(942 943), the work of the
slaves were found and put on display.55
The Fatimids, like many other regimes in different places and times,
bestowed robes of honor on officials during ceremonies of investiture.
Robes of honor were also bestowed on people who fulfilled service for
the state, even if only temporarily. In 415/1024 1025, an emissary
with gifts was sent to Sicily and the captain of the ship was given an hon-
orary robe. Robes bestowed on officials symbolized delegation of author-
ity and expectations for loyalty and exemplary service.56
For example, garments were distributed at the onset of winter and the
figures are staggering: in 516/1122 1123, 14,305 pieces were distribut-
ed.57 Impressive as these figures are, most of the state resources were in-
vested in the celebration of the major religious festivals. The Festival of
Sacrifice, celebrated on 10 Dhu l-Hijja, is one of the two Great Muslim
festivals. The state-sponsored celebrations were characterized by the dis-
tribution of textiles and by sacrifices performed by the Fatimid ruler him-

55 Maqrz, Itti az, II, 40.

56 Musabbih, Akhbar, 22. For clothing and ceremonial robes in the Abbasid caliph-
ate, see Muhammad M. Ahsan, Social Life under the Abbasids, (London, 1979),
57 Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar, 48; P. Sanders, Robes of Honor in Fatimid Egypt, in

Robes and Honor. The Medieval World of Investitures, (ed) S. Gordon (N.Y.,
2001), 231 2. Distribution of summer and winter clothing is also known in
the context of charitable institutions. For example endowed Koranic schools
for orphan boys, in addition to a daily bread rations, also distributed two sets
of clothing per year. See U. Haarmann, Mamluk Endowment Deeds as a Source
for the History of Education in Late Medieval Egypt, Al-Abhath, 28(1980), 46,
line 593. The distribution referred to by Ibn al-Ma mun was so vast that this

event became to be known as the Festival of Clothing ( d al-hulal) or, in Sanders

rendering, Festival of Gala Costumes. Sanders follows Goiteins translation of

hulla (pl. hulal) as gala costume (See A Mediterranean Society, IV, 154). Judith
Olszowy-Schlanger, in her study of Karaite marriage documents from the
Cairo Geniza, writes as follow: Expensive festive hulla dress, probably contain-
ing several different pieces (an ensemble), is a common item in the trousseau lists
of wealthy Karaite brides. She emphasizes that hulas were made of various fab-
rics, came in variety of colors, and were very expensive (see Karaite Marriage
Documents from the Cairo Geniza, [Leiden, 1998], 227 8). Olszowy-Schlangers
understanding of hulla is closer to Edward W. Lanes definition of hulla as a dress
consisting two or three garments (see An Arabic-English Lexicon, [Beirut, 1980,
reprint], II, 621, column b.).
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 257

self. The distribution of textiles is referred to as rusum. This term has the
meaning of protocol and is used when referring to both Abbasid and Fa-
timid court ceremonies. In the Fatimid context, Paula Sanders has ren-
dered rusum as pensions and I adopt her understanding of the term
which, in this account, means customary distributions. Textiles were
also distributed among people in the service of the state by the Mongol
rulers. They, in contrast with the Fatimids, paid them no salaries. In By-
zantium officials received salaries paid in one installment that was accom-
panied by the distribution of precious textiles. It seems, however, that the
Fatimids exceeded the Byzantines in the amount and frequency of the dis-
tribution of textiles among court and state officials.58
Other distributions involved sacrificial meat. In 515/1121 1122,
2,561 animals were sacrificed and, in 516/1122 1123, 1,946 animals
were slaughtered and the sacrificial meat was given to the vizier and his
extended family, the emirs, the visiting guests of the state, the army,
and distinguished persons. Every day, during the three days of the festival,
the sacrificial meat of one she-camel was offered to the poor. They were
also offered the remains of she-camels and cattle sacrificed at the Sabat
Gate. These are very revealing statements about state sponsored charity
to the poor. In terms of quantity and value, it represented a tiny fraction
of the total sacrifice offered on these occasions. It terms of terminology, it
indicates the difference between giving to inferiorstermed as charity
and giving to the higher echelons which, in this case, is described without
employing a special term.59
The festival of Ghadr was a Shiite festival that marked the bestowal
of political and religious authority on Al by the Prophet. The Fatimids

adopted it as a state festival. It was celebrated on 18 Dhu l-Hijja and, in

516/1123, according to the prevailing custom, poor villagers and other
low and weak elements of society congregated on the doorsteps of the vi-

58 P. Sanders, Ritual, Politics and the City in Fatimid Cairo, (N. Y., 1994), 14, 84;
Allsen, Commodity, 56 7; Robing in the Mongolian Empire, in Robes of
Honor, 305 6, 308; N. Oikonomides, Title and Income at the Byzantine
Court, in Byzantine Court Culture, 200 3.
59 Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar, 40 2; Sanders, Ritual, 79 80. One must bear in mind

that the terminology of charity and giving can be quite flexible. For example, in
the account describing the distribution of food during the festival marking the
birthday of the Fatimid reining ruler, the giving of food is referred to as distri-
bution. This linguistic flexibility does not undermine my argument. In other ac-
counts the giving to the poor is systematically referred to as charity. Ibn al-
Ma mun, Akhbar, 60, 64, 77.

258 Yaacov Lev

ziers palace and asked for clothes and help to marry off widows. They got
some aid but the account lacks specifics. The vizier also distributed tex-
tiles and money among the military personnel, members of the ruling
elite, high-ranking eunuchs of the court, and state guests. The distribu-
tions seemed to be modest and of symbolic value only. The Fatimid
ruler offered sacrifices which were distributed only among the elite.
The Birthday of the Prophet was a festival invented by the Fatimids.
In 517/1123 1124, it was marked by the distribution of food and
6,000 dirhams as charity, but how many people received it is not men-
tioned. It seems that during religious festivals the poor were always recip-
ients of state giving referred to either as charity or as gift giving (ma ruf ).

The value of charity given to the poor was very low and, on one occasion,
they looted the food designated for others.60
The huge disparity between state giving to the poor and to its em-
ployees is illustrated by two further examples. In 517/1123 1124, the
poor got nothing on the occasion of Nawruz. Textiles and very substan-
tial sums of money (4,000 dnars and 15,000 dirhams) were distributed
among the ruling circles, to the exclusion of the emirs. Food, however,
was distributed to all segments of the elite. This account also highlights
another point: the captains and the crew of Nile boats were the lowest
ranking state employees entitled to state distributions of gifts.61

V. Charity and Gift Giving: The Wider Context

Monotheistic charity is rooted in a religiously-inspired system of beliefs

and manifested a quest for redemption. It acquired the status of a sacred
duty and was equated with a life of piety and belief. It was a form of de-
votion and as such it transcended time and place and showed remarkable
uniformity in the face of changing historical circumstances. The percep-
tion of charity as redemptive is a notion shared by Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam. As has been shown by Judah D. Galinsky, in a different con-
text, The redemptive value of charity is a prevalent theme in Talmudic
literature and The Talmud makes numerous references to charitys abil-

60 Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar, 42 3, 62.

61 The state maintained a large fleet of Nile boats to serve its transportation needs.
Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar, 65.

Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 259

ity to protect donors from the horrors of hell.62 Christians, in the words
of Peter Brown, had inherited from Judaism the practice of giving alms
for the remission of sins. This was a crucial inheritance.63 The develop-
ment of Christian charity in Late Antiquity and its focus on the poor is
perceived by Averil Cameron as one of the major features of the peri-
od.64 A similar view is expressed by Birger A. Pearson who discerns a
link between the spread of Christianity and the practice of Christian
charity.65 Christian charity replaced classical euergetism and was instru-
mental for the establishment of charitable institutions. The work of
Brown, Susan R. Holman, and Claudia Rapp shows that the bishops
of Late Antiquity became involved in charitable activities and alms-giving
to the poor.66 When approached from a wider perspective, monotheistic
thinking about the afterlife and Zoroastrian attitudes were not that differ-
ent. The Zoroastrians believed in the afterlife and set up pious founda-
tions for the benefit of the soul of the deceased. These foundations fi-
nanced religious commemorative rites for the soul as well as public util-
ities and the distribution of alms.67 Until the rise of Protestantism, sacred
monotheistic charity maintained these religious meanings. The divorce of
charity from its salvific and purifying associations was a development
unique to Protestantism with no parallels in Judaism and Islam.
Recently, Ilana F. Silber has posed the question of whether religious
giving is just another variant of gift exchange and reciprocity.68 I would
like to argue that religiously inspired charity is different from other
forms of reciprocal gift giving as embodied by the obligation to give,
to receive, and to return that dominates Marcel Mauss approach to

62 See Jewish Charitable Bequests and the Hekdesh Trust in Thirteenth-Century

Spain, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXXV(2005), 433.
63 See The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd. ed. (Oxford, 2003), 69.
64 See The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, (London, 1993), 146.
65 See The Emergence of Christian Religion,(N. Y. 1997), ch.10.
66 P. Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, (Hanover, 2002),
ch.2; Susan R. Holman, The Hungry Are Dying. Beggars and Bishops in Roman
Cappadocia, (Oxford, 2001), 107, 148 9; C. Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiq-
uity, (Berkeley, 2005), 223 34.
67 M. Macuch, Charitable Foundations, Encyclopedia Iranica, V, 380 2; M.
Boyce, The Pious Foundations of the Zoroastrians, BSOAS, 31(1968),
270 89.
68 See Beyond Purity and Danger: Gift-Giving in the Monotheistic Religions in
Gift and Interests, (ed) I. Vandevelde (Louvain, 2000), 116 7; Echoes of Sacri-
fice? Repertoires of Giving in the Great Religions, in Sacrifice in Religious Ex-
perience, (ed) Albert I. Baumgerten (Leiden, 2002), 297.
260 Yaacov Lev

the gift. In monotheistic charity, since it is redemptive and driven by a

quest for divine absolution and salvation, the recipients are mere instru-
ments for advancing the givers goal. No human chain of reciprocity is
envisaged. From the point of view of the giver, charity was the way to
approach God and to communicate with Him. The recipients of charity
were aware of their instrumental role and referred to it when beseeching
help from donors. This self-awareness of ones own instrumentality is
plainly stated in letters of the Jews of Alexandria studied by Miriam Fren-
kel.69 However, one also has to note Cohens observation that the giver
looked forward to his return in the form of prayer and praise by the re-
cipient of his benevolence.70 The giver alluded to by Cohen was a Jewish
giver of the medieval Muslim world but this observation is valid for any
other medieval monotheistic giver. If one elaborates upon Cohens state-
ment, it can be argued that any request for, or anticipation of, prayers of-
fered by a recipient constituted a human chain of reciprocity. This is cer-
tainly true, but it applies only to cases when charity was given in exchange
for prayers. The repertoire of monotheistic charity was, however, richer
and wider than that.
The perception of medieval monotheistic charity as sacred and tran-
scendental does not mean to deny that it also served social and political
functions. The distinction between meaning and function, while impor-
tant, should not obscure the fact that a fusion between the two was the
norm, and this synthesis created an enduring religious-social construct
that can be termed medieval monotheistic sacred charity. When dealing
with this construct and the variety of functions it served, we tend to for-
get its religiously inspired origin and its basic meaning for the giver who
operated within the parameters of this construct.
In some recent publications the religious underpinnings of Islamic
charity and charitable institutions such as waqf are dismissed out of
hand. For instance, Engin F. Isin and Alexander Lefebvre in a paper en-
titled The Gift of Law. Greek Euergetism and Ottoman Waqf write as
It is important to emphasize that we are not attempting a comparative anal-
ysis between Hellenistic euergetism and the Ottoman waqf. We argue that it
is imperative to avoid interpreting these institutions with analytic categories
such as Christian or Islamic philanthropy or modern notions of legal au-

69 See The Compassionate and Benevolent. The Leading Elite in the Jewish Com-
munity of Alexandria in the Middle Ages, (Jerusalem, 2006), 222, (in Hebrew).
70 See Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community, 199, n.37.
Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 261

tonomy and right. These categories would be not only anachronistic and in-
appropriate, but, in the case of the waqf, outright orientalism.71
Although no Arabic sources are listed in their bibliography, it contains
some of the most important works on waqf published in the last two dec-
ades. Their bibliography counters their argument and indicates that Is-
lamic charity was rooted in a religiously inspired system of beliefs.
Although the motives of the giver were religious, charity always had
social ramifications, or functions. When the social uses of Islamic charity
are examined one is struck by the disproportionate amount of charity
given in the form of waqf and sadaqa to religious and educational insti-
tutions and the mystics. I would argue that the givers choice of recipients
was governed by the cultural values of his/her society. With few excep-
tions, if any, the two were congruent. In Judaism and Islam, religious
learning was perceived as a duty and was highly valued. Therefore, in
both civilizations a disproportionate amount of charity went to sustaining
religious learning both at the personal and institutional levels. The poor
and other forms of social need ranked only second. From the point of
view of the giver, the jurists and mystics and the institutions associated
with them seemed more conducive to his attempts to communicate
with God, while the poor had less to offer.
The disproportionate amount of giving to the religious class and re-
ligious institutions is also very noticeable on the state level. It can not be
said that Islamic medieval regimes were completely indifferent to the
needs of the poor. The question is rather the size of the means allocated
for that purpose. In the Fatimid budget of 517/1123 1124, for example,
various charitable payments are mentioned. Payments for charity and cus-
tomary distributions (rusum) are mentioned under the budgetary item
specifying the expenses for the public appearances of the Fatimid ruler.
Another item entitled gifts and charity was designated for converts to
Islam. In Egypt of the first half of the twelfth century there was no mas-
sive movement of conversion to Islam. The possible converts might have
been high ranking Christians and Jews associated with the court, or non-
Muslim court physicians. They needed neither gifts nor charity. This
budgetary item might have been inspired by Koran 9:60, saying that
charity (sadaqat) is also for those whose hearts are to conciliate.
Other payments in this budget were for the poor men and women and

71 See European Journal of Social Theory, 8(2005), 6.

262 Yaacov Lev

beggars of both sexes.72 The practical meaning of these charities was in-
significant but it symbolized the benevolence and grandeur of the state.
In other cases rulers identified themselves as personally responsible
for the weak elements of society. For example the Abbasid caliph al-Man-
sur (754 775) described himself as the husband of the widows, the fa-
ther of orphans, the brother of the old, and the uncle of the weak.73 The
social awareness of the caliph was narrow, limited to the context of rela-
tions within the family. The caliph committed himself to those whom the
extended family was normally expected to take care of. The social think-
ing of the caliph was patriarchal and patronizing and ignored the poor.
Care for the orphans and poor appears on some Ayyubid and Mamluk
sultanic inscriptions. The commitment to take care of orphans might
have been inspired by the Koranic teaching which urges fairness and be-
nevolence toward orphans. The inclusion of the poor among those for
whom the ruler cares indicates a widening of social awareness on the
part of the ruler. However, one must not forget the propagandist intent
of sultanic inscriptions and the common gap between declarations and
social realities.
At this stage in the research, it would be impossible to say whether in
medieval Islam awareness of social problems went beyond the parameters
of monotheistic sacred charity. The evidence available does not point in
this direction. Social programs that were implemented in medieval Islam
bore the personal marks of the rulers who sponsored them. Two names
stand out: that of Muzaffar al-Din Kkb r the ruler of Irbil and sultan
Nur al-Dn of Syria (1146 1174). Their projects were truly vast and in-
cluded the establishment of hospitals and other charitable institutions.
More common was the establishment of small to medium sized endowed
charitable complexes in the urban context. However, such complexes were
always established by members of the ruling elite. They were few and ran-
dom and, more significantly, firmly rooted in the worldview of monothe-
istic charity.
Other accounts are rare and difficult to interpret. For instance, in
Cairo of 876/1471 1472 a man had quadruplets, two boys and two
girls. He was presented to the sultan who gave him ten dnars and a
sack of wheat.74 This was typical charity inspired by unusual need and
one must ask whether it reflected social awareness or a passing moment

72 Ibn al-Ma mun, Akhbar, 70 1.

73 Waki , Akhbar al-Qudat, (ed) M. Maraghi (Cairo, 1947 1950), II, 61.

74 Ibn Iyas, Bada i , III, 72.

Charity and Gift Giving in Medieval Islam 263

of mercy. Perhaps, as rare as such accounts are, they should be collected

and studied. Within court relations, giving of presents on the birth of
children was quite common. In 369/979 980, a son was born to the
powerful Fatimid vizier Ibn Killis. The ruler al- Azz sent him 10,000

dnars, textiles, riding animals with their equipment, and perfumes. It
was a gift worth 100,000 dnars, a sum that signified the special relations
between the two as well as court etiquette. In 381/991 992, a son was
born to the emir al-Afdal ibn Salih, and al- Azz sent him precious textiles

and 500 dnars while al- Azzs wife sent him 300 dnars and textiles. In

the context of court relations, these sums were not significant and the em-
phasis was more on exquisite items. The gifts given to al-Afdal ibn Salih
were completely different from the favor (in am) worth 100,000 dnars

bestowed in 381/991 992 by al- Azz on Manjutakn, a defeated Turkish

warrior in whose service he was interested.75 The terms ni ma/in am signi-

fied a favor bestowed by a ruler on a person in his service, or by a patron
on a prot g . The gift conferred by al- Azz on Manjutakn meant to es-

tablish him in a high position among the elite and to send a social mes-
sage: he enjoys my patronage. This high-value gift was instrumental and
not merely symbolic. The gift did not do much good to Manjutakn who
died soon afterwards. The rumors were that he was poisoned by rivals at
the court. The Fatimid gifts discussed above were very different from the
charity given to the father of the quadruplets.


Monotheistic sacred charity, whether Jewish, Christian, or Islamic dis-

plays many features common to them all. I would argue that these under-
lying similarities reflect a commonly shared view about God and His re-
lation to mankind and what humans owe to God and expect from Him.
Monotheistic charity was a duty and for many a way of life. Although
charitable handouts were useful for the receivers, their overall social im-
pact was limited. Monotheistic charity was an ineffective tool for the re-
lief of poverty. However, when the various forms of endowments inspired
by the notion of charity are taken into account, monotheistic charity was
quite capable of providing certain religious, educational, and charitable
services. These were instrumental for the cohesiveness of society and
eased social tension and misery. Although the study of gift giving and

75 Maqrz, Itti az, I, 252, 272.

264 Yaacov Lev

gift exchange in medieval Islam is still only at a rudimentary stage, I

would argue that the evidence suggests that charity and gift giving
were perceived as two distinct activities.
Moreover, we find that the critical analysis of the various forms of
charitable giving in medieval Islamic society not only provides valuable
insights into the social, political and cultural structures of that society,
but also affirms the strong similarity of outlook underlying the concept
of charity in the monotheistic religions.
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic
Thought and Practice
Daniella Talmon-Heller

In his discussion of the virtues of voluntary almsgiving, al-Ghazzal pres-

ents its expiatory quality with a quotation from the Prophet: Give alms,
even a single date, for it relieves the hungry and does away with sin as
water extinguishes the flames.1 The idea that repentance (tawba) and
charitable giving (sadaqa) are linked appears in the Koran, in verses

103 104 of Surat al-Tawba (9): Take of their wealth a freewill offering
(sadaqa), to purify them and to cleanse them thereby, and pray for

them Do they not know that God is He who accepts repentance
from his servants, and takes the freewill offerings and that GodHe
turns and is All-Compassionate (al-tawab al-rahm)? Verse 70 of surat
al-Furqan (25), he who repents and believes, and does righteous
worksthose, God will change their evil deeds into good deeds, for
God is ever All-forgiving, All-compassionate implies that almsgiving is
a means of atonement, depending on Gods grace and forgiveness, of
course.2 Discreet almsgiving is advocated in surat al-Baqara (2:271) as
a particularly praiseworthy means of atonement. More specifically, the
Koran suggests charitable giving as a means of atonement using the
term kaffara, which denotes the covering over, removal, or wiping
away of sin.3 In surat al-Ma ida (5:89), the feeding or clothing of ten

poor people, or the emancipation of a slave (or, a fast of three days),

are prescribed as the means of kaffara for a broken, or improperly
taken oath.4 In some cases of violation of ritual law, especially in the con-

1 Al-Ghazzal, Ihya Ulum al-Dn, 3/4 (asrar al-zakah), Cairo 1357/1938 9, 20.
2 Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, 2 vols., London 1955. For an
Translation: A.J.
exhaustive list of Koranic verses that deal with repentance, see Syed Mu azzam

Husain, Effect of Tauba (Repentance) on Penalty in Islam, Islamic Studies 8

(1969):187 198. See also Uri Rubin, Repentance and Penance, EQ 4:
426 30.
3 See P.R. Powers, Offending Heaven and Earth: Sin and Expiation in Islamic
Homicide Law, Islamic Law and Society 14 (2007): 54.
4 For legalistic specification of the details, see Mongia A. Mensia, Lact expiatoire
en Islam. Al-Kaffara, in Rituals and Ethics. Patterns of repentance: Judaism,
266 Daniella Talmon-Heller

text of the hajj or the fast of Ramadan, kaffara entails the sacrifice of an

animal (the meat of which is distributed to the needy), or, on rare occa-
sions, a monetary payment instead.5 Some jurists require that it be given
with pure intention (niyya), but usually it is implied that kaffara is an ob-
jective, straightforward, way of expiation.6 Fasting, rather than almsgiving
is recommended either when the expiator is too poor to give away any-
thing, or too rich to feel the burden of almsgiving.7 The early Christian
principle, according to which a sin should be atoned for by the correlative
good worknamely that whoever sins with the body makes amends with
the body, and whoever sins out of greed makes amends with almsdoes
not seem to have guided Islamic reasoning. Both fasting and charitable
deeds were regarded as compensatory acts notwithstanding the specific
sin, perhaps also as instruments of moral improvement.8
Little has been written on repentance and the expiation of sin either
in Islamic legal theory and theology, or in the practice of Muslims,9 still

Christianity, Islam, ed. Adriana Destro & Mauro Pesce, Paris-Louvains 2004,
134 135. Koranic verses 2:184 and 196 address the issue of expiation for sin,
mainly for misdeeds during Ramadan or the hajj, using the term fidya ex-
change, ransom (Powers, Offending Heaven, 54).
5 Expiation for violating the fast of Ramadan with sexual intercourse demands set-
or feeding 60 poor (Ibn Qudama, al-
ting free a slave, or fasting for two months,
Mughn, ed. A. A Turk and A.M. al-Huluw, Cairo 1986 90, 4: 365, 372

389). Feeding a poor man each day may be a substitute for the fast of the
very elderly and infirm, pregnant women and nursing mothers (ibid., 4: 393
6 Powers, Offending Heaven, 72.
7 For three early Malik fatwas that recommend repentant caliphs to fast rather
than give alms or manumit slavesreasoning either that the latter means of ex-
piation are not strenuous enough in these particular cases, or that the caliph does
not have any money or possessions of his ownsee Maribel Fierro, Caliphal
Legitimacy and Expiation in al-Andalus, in Islamic Legal Interpretation. Mufts
and their Fatwas, Cambridge Mass. 1996, 55 60. For a reminiscent case from
Fatimid Egypt, see Yaacov Lev, Charity and Social Practice: Egypt and Syria
in the ninth-twelfth Centuries, JSAI 24 (2000): 482.
8 See Arnold Angenendt, Thomas Braucks, Rolf Busch and Hubertus Letterbach,
Counting Piety in the Early and High Middle Ages, in Ordering Medieval So-
ciety, ed. B. Jussen, Philadelphia 2001, 35.
9 Significantly, the Encyclopedia of Religion edited by Mircae Eliade, has no section
on Islam in the entries Atonement, Confession of Sins, and Repentance.
For a general survey, see Mahmoud Ayoub, Repentance in the Islamic Tradi-
tion, in Repentance. A Comparative Perspective, ed. Amitai Etzioni and David
E. Carrey, 96 121.
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 267

less on almsgiving as a means of atonement.10 Obviously, Suf literature is

the richest source for discussions on repentance; tawba is regarded as an
imperative of intimacy with God, and an absolutely essential component
of asceticism and mysticism. In some mystical systems it is presented as
the first stage of the Sufs path, in others, as one of the most advanced

stations of his sojourn, or as a permanent state of mind and constant
way of life. Sufs defined tawba as inner purification, spiritual renewal,

and radical reorientation towards God. Some mystical fraternities, as
can be gathered from classical manuals, held formal rites of repentance,
such as asking for forgiveness in the presence of a Suf sheikh.11

Here, however, I wish to present a tentative sketch of the perception
of ordinary medieval Muslims in a defined geographical area and chro-
nological period, despite the dearth of medieval source material specifi-
cally devoted to this issue. I will focus on four aspects of tawba as record-
ed in narrative, legal, and devotional works, mainly from twelfth and
thirteenth century Syria: gestures of remorse, prayer for the expiation
of sins, atonement through charitable giving, and penance through self
inflicted total poverty.12
Let us begin with a short exposition of the concept of tawba in the
writings of Ibn Qudama al-Maqdis, the renowned Damascene Hanbal

jurist of the early thirteenth century. Ibn Qudama uses a picturesque
image to depict Gods pleasure at the repentance of his servant. He likens
it to the joy of a desperately thirsty and hungry lone wanderer in the des-

10 For Christian formal and severe rites of atonement, see for example Claudia
Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity, Berkeley 2005, 93 99; Sarah Hamilton,
Penance in the Age of the Gregorian Reform, Retribution, Repentance, and Rec-
onciliation, ed. Kate Cooper and Jeremy Gregory, Church History 40 (2004): 47
73; Angenendt et als., Counting Piety, 22 31. For Jewish perspectives, see
Moshe Beer, On Penance and Penitents in the Literature of Hazal, Zion 46
(1981): 159 181 [in Hebrew]. For a comparative study, see M.S. Stern, Al-
Ghazzal, Maimonides, and Ibn Paquda on Repentance: A Comparative
Model, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47 (1979): 589 607.
11 Ayoub, Repentance, 111 114; Frederick M. Denny, Tawba, EI 2 10: 385;
Atif Khalil, Ibn Arab on the Three Conditions of Tawba, Islam and Christian

Muslim Relations 17 (2006): 403 416; and Gerhard Bwering, Early Sufism
between Persecution and Heresy, in Islamic Mysticism Contested, ed. Frederick
de Jong and Bernd Radtke, Leiden 1999, 44, 49, 52.
12 Admittedly, a wider survey should entail a systematic search in additional types of
literature, such as commentary on the Koran (tafsr), tales of the prophets (Qisas
al-Anbiya , a genre which presents famous sinners and penitents such as Adam,

Eve, David, and Jonas), and theological treatises.

268 Daniella Talmon-Heller

ert at the sudden reappearance of his she-camel, laden with supplies. In a

more juridical language, in the same short chapter he devotes to repent-
ance in his Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidn, Ibn Qudama classifies tawba as

a constant and enduring obligation (wajib daiman), in accordance with
the consensus of scholars (ijma ).13 His definition of tawba is simple:

the turning away from sinthe veil that separates man from God (or,
conceals God from the believer). He remarks that man is never free
from sin, nor can he ever attain perfection: if he does not sin in his
deeds, he is liable to sin in his heart and thoughts, or, at least be guilty
of forgetfulness (ghafla) and ignorance. Even the Prophet, he says, quot-
ing a hadth included in Sahh Muslim, is said to have confessed that he
repents and returns to God a hundred times a day.14
In one place, Ibn Qudama enumerates three elements of repentance:
the recognition or knowledge ( ilm) that detachment from God is caused

by sins, remorse (nadam), and resignation not to sin again ( azm).15 In

another, he lists four components of tawba, and adds some practical guid-
ance regarding means of penance. The four are: remorse in the heart,
pleading for forgiveness with the tongue, inner decision not to repeat
the sin, distancing oneself from bad companions, and, in some cases, es-
pecially if the sin is known to the publicthe suffering of the relevant
hadd punishment.16

Institutionalized rites of atonement are not characteristic of Sunni

Islam. Referring to this point, M.S. Stern explains that the community

13 Yet he quotes explicit Koranic verses to support his call to tawba: al-Nur 31, al-
Baqara 222, al-Fath 2 and al-Shura 25. Mutazils regard tawba obligatory by rea-
scripture and ijma (Mokdad A. Mensia, Th ories du repen-
son; Ash ars rely on

tir chez les th ologiens musulmans classiques, in Rituals and ethics, 117).
14 Ibn Qudama al-Maqdis, Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidn, ed. Kh. b. Uthman,

Cairo 2002, 250. For al-Ghazzals explanation of theinevitability of sin, together

with mans inherent capacity to return to good through sincere repentance, see
M.S. Stern, Notes on the Theology of al-Ghazzals Concept of Repentance,
Islamic Quarterly 23 (1979): 85 86.
15 Mainstream Suf formulas, as articulated by the eleventh century al-Hujwr and
al-Qushayr, include remorse for disobedience, immediate abandonment of sin,
and determination not to sin again (Khalil, Ibn Arab, 405). See survey of

Mu tazil and Ash ar theological and legalistic stands regarding tawba, in Mensia,

Th ories, 107 124.

16 Here he quotes scholars affiliated with the other schools of law, who claim that
the hadd punishment (namely, a punishment explicitly prescribed in the Koran)
means of expiation, or purification (tathr) from sin, notwithstanding
is the
whether the sin is known to the public, or concealed from it (Ibn Qudama,
al-Mughn, 12: 483 485). By
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 269

is not held as the source of salvation, hence the individual Muslim must
pursue his reconciliation with God individually, and is not required, or
encouraged to engage in public confession.17 Yet, evidence from twelfth
century Damascus and Baghdad indicates that overt declarations of
guilt and communal expressions of contrition were part of religious
life, as well as individualistic endeavors such as the performance of the
hajj, or resignation to a sanctuary after having experienced or undertaken

tawba (repentance).18
In an autobiographical passage of his chronicle Mir at al-Zaman, the

historian and preacher Sibt ibn al-Jawz tells about a particular sermon

that he had delivered in the summer of 607/1210 (shortly after the expi-
ration of a three-year truce between the Ayyubid ruler al-Malik al- Adil

and the Frankish king Amalric). Sibt ibn al-Jawz reports that men in

the audience clipped their forelock (nasiya) on the spot.19 He gives no fur-

ther details about this gesture, but the Maghrib traveler Ibn Jubayr
who had witnessed similar behavior at an assembly of exhortation deliv-
ered by Sibt ibn al-Jawz s grandfather, the renowned Hanbal scholar, in

Baghdad in 1184does. According to Ibn Jubayr s description, in the

midst of a demonstration of fervent public penitence each [one of the
penitent men] offered him [the preacher] his forelock which he cut off,
and placing his hand on the head of each, he prayed for them. Some
fainted and he raised them to himself in his arms People threw them-
selves on him, confessing their sins and expressing their remorse. Their
hearts and minds were overcome by emotion.20 The jurist Izz al-Dn

17 Stern, Notes, 82 98.

18 Ibn al- Adm, Bughyat al-Talab f Ta rikh Halab, ed. S. al-Zakkar, Damascus

1988 1989, 6: 2911; al-Nawaw , Fatawa, ed. M. al-Arna ut, Damascus 1999,

2: 735; Diya al-Dn al-Maqdis, al-Hikayat, 94a; trans. in Talmon-Heller,

The Cited Tales of the Wondrous Doings of the Shaykhs of the Holy Land
by Diya al-Dn Ab Abd Allah Muhammad b. Abd al-Wahd al-Maqdis

(569/1173 643/1245): text, translation and commentary, Crusades 1 (2002):
19 Sibt ibn al-Jawz, Mirat al-Zaman f Ta rkh al-A yan, Hyderabad, Deccan: Dair-

atu l-Maarifi l-Osmania 1951 52, 8: 530; Abu Shama, Tarajim Rijal al-Qar-

nayn al-Sadis wa-l-Sabi , ed. M.Z. al-Kawthar, Cairo 1947, 48 49. On the his-

tory of this gesture, see Goldziher, Muslim Studies, ed. and trans. S.M. Stern and
C.R. Barber, London 1967, 1: 227.
20 Ibn Jubayr, Rihla, ed. W. Wright and M.J. De Goeje, Leiden 1907; trans. R.J.C.
Broadhurst, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, London 1952, 220 22. For more of Ibn
Jubayrs enthusiastic description of daily preaching in Baghdad in 580/1184, see
ibid, 200 204; trans. in Broadhurst, 228 234.
270 Daniella Talmon-Heller

al-Sulam (d. 660/1262), the most prominent Shafi scholar of his time,

refers to the clipping of the forelock in two of his extant fatwas. He de-
termines that cutting some of the hair of the penitent by a preacher (qass

ba du al-sha r li-man taba ala ayd [al-wu az]) as well as the shaving of all

hair in the same circumstances, is permissible. He adds that although it
may even be affective, it is not to be regarded as a condition (shart) or

pillar (rukn) of repentance.21 From an anthropological perspective, the
clipping of the nasiya may be seen as a sacrificeif defined, following

Claude Rivi re, as a symbolic separation from a part of oneself, done
to express submission, obedience, self-mortification, repentance, or
love.22 In some Bedouin societies, in reconciliation ceremonies between
a murderer and the avenger of the blood of the murdered person, the lat-
ter shaves of the nasiya of the murderer (or some of his beard).23

In the course of Sibt ibn al-Jawzs sermon of 607/1204, the sacrificed

hair was piled so high, that it reminded Sibt ibn al-Jawz of the story of

Abu Qudama . He related it to the audience, thereby reviving the tale of a

ninth century veteran of many raids against the Christians of Byzantium.

It is a tale of a bizarre encounter that Ibn Qudama al-Sham had with a
woman, who begged him to cut off her beautiful long plaits of hair and
use them as reins for his horse when going out to fight f sabl Allah (in
Gods way). He refused at first, suspecting the machinations of the devil.
But the woman insisted, passionately presenting the offering of her hair
as a means of expiation for her sins, and finally he complied. The story
(which entails not only the sacrifice of hair, but also of the martyrdom on
the battlefield of the ladys husband and two sons) made a great impres-
sion on the already excited Damascene audience, and the days assembly
culminated in a raid on Frankish territory. When the party made a stop-
over in Nablus, Sibt ibn al-Jawz offered the hair of the penitent Damas-

21 Izz al-Dn al-Sulam, Fatawa, ed. M.J. Kurd, Beirut 1996, 325, 327.

22 Ilana Silber, Echoes of Sacrifice? Repertoires of Giving in the Great Religions,

in Sacrifice in Religious Experience, ed. Albert I. Baumgarten, Leiden 2002
(=Studies in the History of Religions, vol. 93), 288. According to another interpre-
tation, the cutting or the shaving of the hair is, in various cultures, a symbolic
expression of the acceptance of some form of social order, or restraint (Christo-
pher R. Hallpike, Hair, ER 6: 155).
23 Julian Morgenstern, Rites of Birth, Marriage and Death Among the Semites, Chi-
cago 1966, 85.
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 271

cenes to the Ayyubid prince al-Malik al-Mu azzam24 Whether the raiders

regarded their enlistment for the ghazwa (raid) as a further act of atone-
ment for their sins, or felt that the clipping of the nasiyya and the offering

of the hair as gifts to the preacher and, later, to the Ayyubid prince suf-
ficed, we do not know. The sacrifice of hair as a symbolic gesture of
penance is mentioned in other reports of twelfth-thirteenth century
preaching in Baghdad and Damascus, including that of a pretender,
one of those charlatans who earned their living posing as men of religion
or pious destitutes, described in al-Jawbars thirteenth-century manual
to the Syrian underworld.26
Weeping and crying for ones sins in public seems to have been anoth-
er recurrent way of acting out repentance in popular assemblies of ex-
hortation.27 Sibt ibn al-Jawz obviously felt gratified when he spied tears

of remorse and repentance in the eyes of his listeners. Biographers admit
that he was very good at reducing the crowd to tears, and he himself
proudly tells of sturdy mensuch as the emir Al ibn al-Salar (d. 634/

1236 7), leader of twenty hajj caravanswho wept throughout his as-

semblies of exhortation28 Storytellers indulge in wildly exaggerated ac-
counts of the weeping of repentant Prophets. In al-Kisa s Qisas al-Anbiya

24 Sibt ibn al-Jawz, Mir at, 8: 544 545; Abu Shama, Tarajim, 69; Ibn Kathr, al-

Bida ya wa-l-Nihaya f al-Ta rkh, Beirut 1993, 13: 69 70; Dhahab, Ta rkh al-

Islam, ed. A. A. Tadmur, Beirut 2003, 61: 62.

25 On the Latin side, crusade sermons often concentrated on the penitential and
devotional aspect of crusading (as a means of combating the enemy within),
and promised the absolution of sins for Christians who fight for the pope (Chris-
tof T. Maier, Crusade Propaganda and Ideology, Cambridge 2000, 3; idem,
Preaching the Crusades, Cambridge 1994, 116 117). See also Neil Christie
and Deborah Gerish, Parallel Preaching: Urban II and al-Sulam, al-Masaq
15 (2003): 143.
26 On another occasion, the same preacher pre-arranged a conversion to Islam (al-
Jawbar, al-Mukhtar, Cairo 1353 h, 20 22; quoted in C.E. Bosworth, Medieval
Islamic Underworld. The Banu Sasra in Arabic Society and Literature, Leiden
1976, 112).
27 Outward signs of anxiety, humility, and tears were considered necessary for re-
pentance in medieval Christian writing (Hamilton, Penance, 58). William
Christian, speaking of religious weeping in early modern Spain, explains that
the pain, pious tenderness or sorrow that accompanied weeping were part of
an economy of sentiment that could influence God, and were thought to pro-
voke his mercy (W.A. Christian, Provoked Religious weeping in Early Modern
Spain, in Religious Organization and Religious Experience, ed. J. Davis, London
1982, 97 98, 107).
28 Sibt ibn al-Jawz, Mir at, 8: 579.

272 Daniella Talmon-Heller

weeping is the most prominent bodily expression of remorse and repent-

ance. Adam, for example, wept until the tears left deep creases on his
cheeks after he had realized his sin;29 Noah wept for 300 years; David
never consumed a drink without mixing it with his tears, etc.30 Early Is-
lamic ascetics (the famous bakka un), were celebrated for having wept

constantly, either over their own sins, or out of compassion for other sin-
ners.31 Tears were thought to have a purgative effect on sins, and were lik-
ened to a shield that protects from the fires of hell and from eschatolog-
ical punishment.32
A third expression of individual and communal penance mentioned
in our texts is the pronunciation of a special prayer (du a ) for the remis-

sion of sins. It appears in Ibn Qudamas compilation in connection with
repentance for the breach of laws of sexual purity, coupled with the alms-
giving of a dinar, or half a dinar. The term used is istighfar asking Gods
forgiveness.33 The pious Hanbal scholar Imad al-Dn Ibn Qudama al-

Maqdis, seems to have engaged in a more elaborate form of prayer: he
used to go out to a cemetery every Wednesday, and absorb himself for
hours, appealing for the forgiveness of sins, and for guidance and
grace.34 He readily implored on the behalf of others as well: in one of
the anecdotes that illustrate his commitment to commanding right and
forbidding wrong (the Koranic obligation of al-amr bi-l-ma ruf wa-l-
nahyi an al-munkar) he suffered the severe beating of fussaq (sinners),

whose casks of wine (or perhaps musical instruments) he had smashed.

Yet he begged the wal of Damascus to forgive them and exempt them
from punishment, if they repent and pray consistently (in tabu wa-laz-

amu al-salat).35

29 Aviva Schussman, A Glance at the Tales of the Prophets: the Story of Adam in
the Qisas al-Anbiya of Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Kisa (an annotated trans-

lation),Jamaa 15 (2006): 100 [in Hebrew].
30 Jonathan Berkey, Popular Preaching & Religious Authority in the Late Medieval Pe-
riod, Seattle and London 2001, 48.
31 Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism. A Short History, Leiden 2000, 17; G. Calas-
so, La dimension religieuse individuelle dans les textes musulmans m di vaux,
entre hagiographie et literature de voyages: les larmes, les motions, lexp rience,
SI 91 (2000): 41, 53.
32 Berkey, Popular Preaching, 49.
33 wa-yastaghfiru Allahu ta alayatasaddaqu bi-dinar aw nisf dinar (Ibn Qudama,

al-Mughn, 1: 318).
34 Dhahab, Siyar A lam al-Nubala , ed. B. A. al-Ma ruf and M.H. Sirhan, Beirut

1984 85, 22: 49

35 Dhahab, Siyar, 22: 47.
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 273

Muwaffaq al-Dn Ibn Qudama devotes a short paragraph of a section

on supererogatory prayer in his above-mentioned compilation of Hanbal

law to a prayer he entitles salat al-tawba. Under that heading he purport-

edly quotes the Prophet, saying: Any man who had sinned (yudhnibu
dhanban), then purified himself [he doesnt say how], then prayed two
rak as, then pleaded for Gods forgiveness, will be forgiven. And God

loves the good-doers; who, when they commit an indecency or wrong

themselves, remember God, and pray for forgiveness for their sins
and who shall forgive sins but God?and do not persevere in the things
they did and that wittingly. Thosetheir recompense is forgiveness from
their Lord, and gardens beneath which rivers flow [surat Al Imran,

verse 135].36 Further down in the section, Aisha describes the habit

of the Prophet, who whenever he would rise for special prayer at
night, would praise and extol and glorify and applaud Him (or: recite
the first part of the shahada) ten times each, and beg forgiveness ten
times, and say (or: saying): O Lord, forgive me and guide me and
bless/endow me, and exempt me (kabbara ashran, wa-hamada ashran,

wa-sabbaha ashran, wa-hallala ashran, wa-istaghfara ashran, wa-qala: Al-

lahumma, ighfir l, wa-ahdn, wa-arzuqn wa- afn).37

Two extant Friday sermons (khutbas) written by al-Malik al-Nasir

Dawud of Karak38 in Ramadan 646/1248, end with a prayer for sincere

return to God and the forgiveness of sins. Al-Nasir first implores Gods
mercy on his own behalf, then begs Him to accept his appeal for his
brethren. The main parts of the sermons were devoted to impressing
upon the minds of the listeners the signs of Gods greatness and unity,
to opening their eyes to their task in this world and moving their hearts
to realize the promise of heaven and fear the threat of hellfire. The assem-
bly that had gathered at the mosque for the Friday sermon is likened by
al-Nasir Dawud to the assembly of mankind on the frightful Day of

Judgment, albeit with a major difference: on that day it would be too
late to repentmen will be exposed to Gods wrath, and their fates
will be sealed in accordance with their doings.39

36 Ibn Qudama, al-Mughn, 2: 553 554.

37 Ibn Qudama, al-Mughn, 2: 559. For other texts, see Constance E. Padwick,
Muslim Devotions, London 1961, 173 198.
38 Joseph Drory, Al-Nasir Dawud: A Much Frustrated Ayyubid Prince, al-Masaq
15 (2003): 162.

39 Al-Nasir Dawud b. Isa al-Ayyub, al-Fawa id al-Jalliya f al-Fara id al-Nasiriya,

Rasa il wa-Shi r al-Malik al-Nasir Dawud b. Isa al-Ayyub, ed. N. Rash d,

Mosul 1992, 32 33, 85 93.

274 Daniella Talmon-Heller

Special prayers for the expiation of sins were regularly held during the
night of the fifteenth of the month of Sha ban (Nisf Sha ban), which was

considered to be an especially blessed night, identified by some commen-
tators as Laylat al-Qadar (the night of the decree) instead of Ramadan
27th. The prayers took place from sunset till dawn, with the very devout
performing a hundred, or even the imaginary number of a thousand
rak as during the night.40 Nisf Sha ban was also an occasion for the distri-

bution of food and clothing for the poor,41 which brings us to the final
section of this paper.
The notion that the giving of alms places God in ones debt, and that
He is bound to balance good deeds against evil deeds is common to the
monotheistic religions.42 Belief in the expiatory power of almsgiving in-
deed motivated the generosity of men, especially those threatened by
death, or ensured the caring for the well-being of their deceased relatives
in the hereafter.43 Mamluk chronicles repeatedly tell about sultans who
gave food, clothing and large sums of money to the poor when they or
their dear ones were ill,44 a practice named by Adam Sabra treating ill-
ness with alms. Chroniclers, who describe the preparations for death of
rulers and other powerful men, report similar practices. The Ayyubid al-
Malik al-Ashraf, for example, is reported to have manumitted 200 male
and female slaves, given large sums of money for charitable causes, and
acquired the simplest of suf robes to be buried in (rather than in elegant

shrouds as befitting a ruler), when he felt that his time had come.45 His
near contemporary, Shaykh Ghanim b. Al al-Maqdis of Nablus, under-

went a process of tawba, following his recovery from an illness that took
the lives of many of his friends. A mysterious shaykh had helped him re-
move the love of this world from his heart, as if he had removed a lump
of fresh dough from a saucer, and he decided to retire to the Dome of
Rock. Admittedly, al-Maqdiss biographer does not bother to tell us what

40 Daniella Talmon-Heller, Islamic Piety in Medieval Syria: Mosques, Cemeteries and

Sermons under the Zangids and Ayyubids (1146 1260), Leiden 2007, 256.
41 Ibn al- Adm, Bughyat al-Talab, 6: 2911; Ibn Shaddad, al-A laq, ed.Y.Z. al- Ab-

bara, Damascus 1991, 1: 110.

42 Angenendt, Counting Piety, 20.
43 Charity given in the name of the deceased was considered to affect his balance of
good deeds and evil deeds (Ayoub, Repentance, 106).
44 Adam Sabra, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam, Cambridge 2000, 26, 56
58, 72.
45 Ibn Kathr, al-Bidaya, 13: 171. See also Yaacov Lev, Charity Endowments, and
Charitable Institutions in Medieval Islam, Gainesville, Florida 2005, 25.
Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 275

had happened to al-Maqdiss property; he only informs us that his so-

journ at the holy mosque lasted six years, and was followed by a full con-
version to the ascetic life.46
Hikayat (stories), which seem to have been disseminated to wider au-

diences, supply a valuable source for discourse analysis on the themes of
piety, penance and giving. Here, again, Suf literature, inclined to indulge
in descriptions of radical conversions, is a natural treasury of tales and
topoi. The well-known and richly detailed legend of Ibrahm b. Adham
(d. 161/777 8) is a good example for a conversion to Sufism, which be-
gins with the repudiation of the life and assets of this world. Ibn Adham
gives up his royal palace and estate, his wife, his silken robe and his fa-
vorite pastime of hunting gazelles, upon hearing a mysterious voice call-
ing him to repentance.47 In the remainder of this paper, however, I will
return to the Hanbal jurist Muwaffaq al-Dn ibn Qudama, and build

my argument upon his Kitab al-Tawabn (Book of Penitents). It is a col-
lection of 135 stories of penitents of various sorts: angels, prophets,
anonymous Muslims, and famous historical figures, such as companions
of the Prophet (sahaba), caliphs and viziers. Sibt ibn al-Jawzs al-Jals al-
contains quite a few of those
Salih (quoted above) stories as well, almost
As observed by George Makdisi, the book is written in a simple,
almost colloquial style, reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights, and
includes short explanations of terms and names.48
An exemplary penitent from the dawn of Islam whose story appears
in Ibn Qudamas collection is Abu Lubaba, a wealthy Medinan, who
deeply regretted having failed to join the Prophet on the expedition to
Tabuk,49 and therefore imposed upon himself a series of punishments.

46 Al-Yunn, Dhayl Mir at al-Zaman, Hyderabad 1960, 3: 60 61. The shaykh em-

ployed hand-contact and the recitation of the Koranic verse 79: 40.
47 Bwering, Early Sufism, 46. See also the stories of Shaqq al-Balkh and Malik
b. Dinar (ibid, 46 47).
48 Ibn Qudama al-Maqdis, Kitab at-Tauwabn, ed. George Makdisi, Damascus
1961, XIV. See also Makdisi, Two more manuscripts of the Book of Penitents,
in Orientalia Hispanica, ed. J.M. Barral, Lugduni Batavorum 1974: 526 530. A
recent abridged editionIbn Qudama al-Maqdis, Dumu al-Nadama, ed.

Ahmad S. Badwlan, Riyad 1996is equally interesting for the medievalist

the modernist, as the editor ends each tale with his digest of the morals
to be drawn from it. In the foreword, he humbly expresses his hope that he
did indeed pinpoint the correct messages, or alternatively, that his edition may
be the basis of a better and more accurate interpretation of the text, which actual-
ly is, if I may say so, quite straightforward, if not simplistic.
49 The first, unsuccessful Muslim raid on Byzantine territory, 631.
276 Daniella Talmon-Heller

He tied himself to a column, determined to abstain from food and drink

until death. The Prophet came to untie him, communicating that God
had forgiven him. Yet Abu Lubaba was determined to undertake exile
from his homeland as well, and also the distribution of alms (sadaqa

ila Allah wa-ila rasulihi).50 Interestingly, Ibn Qudama again refers to
this story in his legal work, in the book of vows (kitab al-nudur), albeit
with an addition. He quotes the Prophet restricting Abu Lubaba, who
makes a vow to dispense of all of his money and give it away as alms
as his act of penance (inna min tawbat an ankhali a min mal sadaqatan

ila Allahi wa-ila rasulihi), and telling him that he should give away only
one third of his possessions. This stand seems to be in line with a large
number of hadths that advance moderation in the exercise of asceti-
cism,51 and discourage excessive self-sacrificial giving. It may, perhaps,
also be tied with the pre-Islamic notion that charity should be given
from the surplus of the benefactors possessions.52 It is noteworthy, how-
ever, that this self-preserving idea (and perhaps also social behavior) co-
existed, in early Arab society, with self-destructive generosity: the extrav-
agant ta aqqur the competitive wasteful slaughter of camels for feasting,

far beyond the capacity to consume by those partaking in the meal.53 Ibn
Qudama does not make these allusions, of course; he goes on to quote
Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who advanced a stance similar to the Prophets, by

telling a man who wished to give away all his inheritance to the poor
to satisfy his generosity by feeding ten of them. Al-Shafi and some

other jurists hold a different opinion, and demand the fulfillment of

the vow as taken.54

50 Al-Maqdis, Kitab al-Tauwabn, 94 96.

51 G. Gobillot, Zuhd, EI 2 11: 560.
52 See detailed discussion of the terms afw and fadl in early Arabic poetry, in Me r

M. Bravmann, The Surplus of Property: an Early Arab Social Concept, Der

Islam 38 (1962): 28 50. The surplus given away was often the booty of raids,
and therefore associated with prowess in warfare and tribal leadership (ibid, 35;
Michael Bonner, Poverty and Charity in the Rise of Islam, in Poverty and Char-
ity in Middle Eastern Contexts, ed. M. Bonner, Mine Ener and Amy Singer, New
York 2003, 24).
53 Bonner, Poverty, 19 21. I wonder whether there is any kind of kinship be-
tween the religiously motivated giving away of all property, and the destruction
of wealth, as entailed in potlatch-like forms of giving. May both be regarded as
types of sacrifice? For a discussion of gift and sacrifice, see Silber, Echoes.
54 Ibn Qudama, al-Mughn, 13: 629 630. The Hanabal qad Ya qub al-Barzabn

(d. 486/1093) gives a similar ruling (Ibn Rajab, al-Dhayl ala Tabaqat al-Hana-

bila, ed. H. Laoust and S. Dahan, Damascus 1951, 1: 94). Ibn al-Jawz, known

Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 277

Most of the stories in Kitab al-Tawabn advocate the expiatory total

renunciation of wealth and power (in some cases, even of kingship). Sur-
prisingly, in my opinion, the penitent protagonists are hardly portrayed as
villains or serious wrongdoers.55 Their sin seems to be merely their status:
implicitly, either having been engaged in government service,56 or having
indulged in the pleasures of this world, overrating its value. This seems to
be an extended, or even more extreme version of al-Ghazzals view, that
the root of sin is the pursuit and love of the materialistic world.57 Typi-
cally, Ibn Qudamas stories are short and devoid of discussions of the psy-
chological or even moral aspect of the transformation undergone by the
penitent. Yet, there is a recurrent pattern explaining the initiation of re-
pentance. Deaththe witnessing of death, the realization that death is
near, or the apparition (in a dream) of a dead relative who relates his
newly acquired wisdom regarding death and the afterworldappears as
a prominent trigger of tawba.
A typical example is the tale of the repentance of one of the kings of
the Children of Israel, evoked by the death of a pious poor man, who, so
the king is told, has left behind him his only worldly belonging: an old
cloak and a water-skin. The king realizes immediately that none of his
many worldly belongings can be taken to the other world, so he puts
on the shabby cloak of the dead ascetic, leaves his kingdom, and spends
the rest of his days serving people water from the old water-skin.58
In another tale, the ascetic Malik b. Dinar tells of his rather cunning
admonishment to one of the notables of Basra. Malik relates how he was
laughed at when he declared that he, a poor ascetic, could attain an ab-
solutely flawless slave girl, better than the beautiful slave girl owned by
for his criticism of Suf doctrines, thought the giving away of all possessions while
leaving oneself and family in the state of destitution, a grave error which may lead
to sin (Sabra, Poverty, 23).
55 The story of a repentant soldier, quoted by Christopher Taylor from an almost
contemporaneous compilation of tales about saintly men buried in the cemetery
of al-Qarafa, is different in this respect. The soldier repents, gives up his career
and devotes the rest of his life to pious deeds, because he had killed an innocent
man (Christopher S. Taylor, In the Vicinity of the Righteous: Ziyara and the Ven-
eration of Saints in Late Medieval Egypt, Leiden 1998, 116).
56 See fascinating cases of repentance in such circumstances in Maurice A. Pomer-
antz, Mu tazil Theory in Practice: The Repentance (tawba) of Government Of-

ficials in the 4th/10th century, in A Common Rationality: Mu tazilism in Islam and

Judaism , ed. Camilla Adang, Sabine Schmidtke and Daniel Sklare, W rburg
2007, 463 493.
57 Stern, Notes, 86.
58 Al-Maqdis, Kitab al-Tauwabn,44.
278 Daniella Talmon-Heller

the rich notable. Having realized that Malik is speaking of the maidens of
Paradise, the master stops laughing. Malik b. Dinar then explains that the
price of such a maiden is composed of an hour of sincere prayer each
night, the control of passions, service to others, remembrance of the
poor, and utmost frugality. The master hastens to manumit all his slaves
(male and female). He also supplies each one of them with a generous
endowment, and gives his house and all his possessions f sabl Allah,
namely, for the sake of God (or perhaps: for the benefit of jihad).59
One of the longer stories portrays three brothers: an emir, a merchant
and an ascetic. The death of the ascetic, as well as his post-mortem ap-
pearance in the dreams of his brothers, prompts them to feel remorse
for the lives they have led. Consequently, one brother resigns from the
position of governor to become a simple shepherd, and the other gives
up his trade.60
A discourse that idealizes poverty and denounces wealth and social
status is well known from Suf contexts, of course. Most Suf authors ex-
wealth, which is held to divert
press explicit hostility towards man from
the contemplation and worship of God, and perceive the abandonment
of worldly goods as a sign of devotion towards God. Moreover, they at-
tribute to God clear preference for the poor. Abu Najb al-Suhraward
compared the wealthy man to a sinner, and almsgiving to atonement.61
Al-Ghazzal declares in kitab al-tawba of the Ihya , that when a man

has stripped himself of his wealth and reputation, he will be as one

who has purified himself.62 Poverty, asceticism and voluntary rejection
of material goods may also be regarded as religious ideals of medieval Is-
lamic society as a whole.63 In Ibn Qudamas Kitab al-Tawabn the Prophet
explains that while wealth brings one nearer to the fire of Hell, poverty
leads to Paradise, and charity can bring salvation.64

59 Al-Maqdis, Kitab al-Tauwabn, 142 144.

60 Al-Maqdis, Kitab al-Tauwabn, 133 140.
61 Sabra, Poverty and Charity, 26.
62 Al-Ghazzali on Disciplining the Soul, trans., intr. and notes T.J. Winter, Cam-
bridge 1997, 87.
63 Sabra, Poverty, 17 31. See also Shahrazur, Ibn al-Salah, Fatawa wa-Masa il, ed.

A.A. Qal aj, Beirut 1986, 18, 20, 23.

64 Al-Maqdis, Kitab al-Tauwabn, 102.

Charity and Repentance in Medieval Islamic Thought and Practice 279

Yet, the conceptualizing of wealth and social status as sins to be aton-

ed for not merely by charitable giving,65 but by stripping oneself of all
belongings and social rank, recurrent, as we have seen, in popular
talesis striking. From one perspective, it may perhaps be regarded as
a conciliatory message to the poor and oppressed, implicit also in a
hadth quds quoted by Sibt ibn al-Jawz, assuring the believers that
God is willing to forgive sins against Himself, but not the oppression
of one another.66 The embedded idea is that the poor should wait patient-
ly: if the rich fail to repent and atone for their extravagance in this world
and become poor also, God and his agents will put things right in the
next. In the meanwhile, the underlying hierarchies went unchallenged,
to quote Jonathan Berkeys words, written in an analogous context.67
From a different perspective, both the discourse of repentance and
charity, and the public gestures employed to express penance and expia-
tory giving in thirteenth century Syria, may be regarded as yet further evi-
dence of the deep influence of Suf asceticism and Hanbal frugality on
that the concept
medieval Muslim society at large.68 Yet it is worth noting
of return is directed towards God; the anonymous poor and their benefit
from the property that was renounced seems to be of secondary impor-
tance. The topos of the penitent Suf who throws his last coin into the
river (and does not trouble himself with handing it over to someone
who may need it) seems to reflect the notion that God is expected to
give recompense for the act that symbolizes the acknowledgement of
sin and true contrition, rather than for the act of charity.

65 Which may actually be interpreted as a means of purification of wealthsee

Jonathan Benthal, Firstfruits in the Qur an, in Sacrifice in Religious Experience,

66 See also in Ibn Kathr, Sra, trans. T. Le Gassik, Reading 2000, 4: 253.
67 Berkey, Storytelling, Preaching and Power in Mamluk Cairo, MSR 4 (2000):
71 72; idem, Popular Preaching, 68, 49.
68 For a detailed exposition of this claim see my Islamic Piety, 222 224.
Part Three

The Jewish World

Geniza Documents for the Comparative History
of Poverty and Charity
Mark R. Cohen

The documents from the Cairo Geniza relating to poverty and charity
constitute an unparalleled source for the comparative history of charity.
This article develops this claim, one that is implicit in my monograph,
Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt, but
not presented there in a focused way. The essay also includes editions
of six Geniza manuscripts that have never been published, along with
the English translations I published in the companion volume, The
Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Documents from
the Cairo Geniza. 1
In the monograph I discuss two main kinds of Geniza evidence for
the history of poverty and charity. The first consists of letters of appeal,
either written by the poor themselves (sometimes written by professional
scribes or by friends) or by individuals recommending them for charity.
The other is charity lists. The letters form part of a larger category of epis-
tolographical material in the Geniza, better known from the hundreds of
published letters of merchants, scholars, and communal leaders, as well as
of private individuals dealing with personal and family matters. While
hundreds of these letters have been published, very few letters of the
poorthe understudied underclass of societyexist in printed editions.2
The lists fall into two major categories. The first comprises alms lists,
namely, lists of recipients of bread, wheat, clothing, or cash. At the other
end come lists of donors to the communal charity fund. Together they
make up our principal source for what we may call public charity, un-
derstood as charity raised by and distributed by the communitynot the
Islamic authoritiesand also to be distinguished from private charity.
Private charity is documented mainly by the letters of appeal, really, pe-
titions from the poor or on their behalf. In the latter, third parties vouch

1 Both books were published by Princeton University Press in 2005.

2 A small collection gathered in Elinoar Barekets article Open Your Hand to
your poor and needy kinsmen,: Letters of request for Help from the Cairo Gen-
iza (Hebrew), Te uda 16 17 (2001), 359 389, is an exception.

284 Mark R. Cohen

for the neediness of the poor and recommend them for assistance. Their
letters constitute a kind of charity in their own right, embodying the rab-
binic idea that inducing others to give charity is itself a form of charity.
The targets of these petitions were usually individual, would-be benefac-
tors, although, in some cases, the appeals were addressed to the commun-
ity-at-large through one of its leaders.
For the comparative history of poverty and charity, the lists are
unique. We possess nothing like them from Late Antiquity or from me-
dieval Christian Europe, including the Jewish communities. While we
know from European Christian literary sources about the matriculae reg-
istering the names of alms recipients, no actual lists have survived.3 Such
lists are lacking, too, for the Muslim population in the medieval Islamic
world. Only a tiny number of letters of appeal from the poor have been
found so far in the Arabic papyri or letters in Arabic written on paper.
The Jewish letters thus fill in a gaping hole in the history of poverty
and charity in general.
At first glance the lists seem boring, which probably explains why so
few of them have been published. In the context of a focused study of
poverty and charity, however, they spring to life and are full of meaning.
I collected some 315 specimens for my monograph, mostly from Goi-
teins catalogues in the Appendixes to A Mediterranean Society, but
many others that I came across independently.4 They form an invaluable
source for the administration of charity. Fustat, the home of the Ben Ezra
synagogue and its famous Geniza, is necessarily the focal point of these
lists, though it is likely that what we learn from them can be applied
to other Jewish communities of the Islamic Mediterranean as well.5

3 See Peter Brown, Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire (Hanover and
London, 2002), 65 and 135 n. 94.
4 The lists published by Moshe Gil in his Documents of the Jewish Pious Founda-
tions from the Cairo Geniza (Leiden, 1976) also have their origins in Goiteins Ap-
pendixes, but they pertain to the operation of the Jewish pious foundations, and
a rather small percentage of their income went for direct charity. Goiten cata-
logues these documents in a separate appendix from the lists of benecifiaries
and contributors to charity. A generous selection of poor lists and donor lists edit-
ed by the present writer has been entered into the database brower of the Prince-
ton Geniza Project,
5 I know of no such lists for Alexandria, Qayrawan, Palestine, or Sicily, the other
Mediterranean communities that have been thoroughly studied. In general, nei-
ther Moshe Gils Eres yisrael ba-tequfa ha-muslemit ha-rishona (Palestine during

the First Muslim Period [634 1099]) (3 vols. Tel Aviv, 1983), nor Menahem
Ben-Sassons Semihat ha-qehilla ha-yehudit be-arsot ha-islam: Qayrawan 800

Geniza Documents for the Comparative History of Poverty and Charity 285

Equally important, they act as a point de d part for the study of poverty
and charity in the Jewish communities of medieval Europe, which had
their own form of public charity but for which we possess relatively little
or different types of documentation.6 This makes the Geniza lists (as well
as the letters) an important source for the comparative study of poverty
and charity in Jewish communities in other places as well.

Geniza letters of appeal and the comparative history of charity

The value of the Geniza documents for the comparative history of charity
is first illustrated with an example from the letters of the poor. The point
of comparison is charity administration in early modern European coun-
tries after the Protestant Reformation. In medieval Europe, charity had
come from religious institutions and from individuals motivated by the
pious wish to earn divine salvation.7 Relief reached the poor primarily
through distribution of alms (usually food, clothing, or fuel) by churches

1057 (The Emergence of the Local Jewish Community in the Muslim World:
Qayrawan, 800 1057) (Jerusalem, 1996), nor his edition of documents pertain-
ing to Sicily, Yehudei sisilya 825 1068: Te udot u-meqorot (The Jews of Sicily

825 1068: Documents and Sources), ed. Menahem Ben-Sasson with Miriam
Frenkel and Nadia Zeldes, nor Miriam Frenkels Ha-ohavim veha-nedivim: ilit

manhiga be-qerev yehudei Aleksandriya bi-yemei ha-beinayim (The Compassionate
and Benevolent: The Elite Leadership in the Jewish Community of Alexandria in
the Middle Ages) (Jerusalem, 2006), nor Elinoar Barekets Fustat on the Nile: The
Jewish Elite of Medieval Egypt (Leiden, Boston, Cologne, 1999) and her compan-
ion anthology Yehudei misrayim 1007 1055 (The Jews of Egypt 1007 1055,
based on Documents from the Archive of Efraim ben Shemarya) (Jerusalem,
1995) have much to say about charity, owing to the paucity of sources on the
subjects they studied. Only Goiteins capacious Mediterranean Society contains
a description of the charity system of Fustat, which was the starting point for
my own work.
6 See Yom-Tov Assis, Rich and Poor in Jewish Society in Mediterrranean Spain
(Hebrew), Pe amim 47 (1991), 115 138 and Welfare and Mutual Aid in the

Spanish Jewish Communities, in Moreshet Sepharad: The Sephardi Legacy, ed.

Haim Beinart (Jerusalem, 1992), 1:318 345; Eliezer Gutwirt, The Jewish Hos-
pitals in Spain (Hebrew) Pe amim 37 (1989), 140 150; Yehuda Galinsky, I

am Donating to Heaven for the Benefit of my Soul: Jewish Charitable Bequests

and the Hekdesh Trust in the Rabbinic Responsa of Thirteenth-Century Spain,
The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35:3 (Winter 2005), 423 440.
7 See Michel Mollat, The Poor in the Middle Ages: An Essay in Social History, trans.
Arthur Goldhammer (New Haven and London, 1986) and other sources cited in
my Poverty and Charity, 5 n. 9.
286 Mark R. Cohen

and monasteries, private gifts, and hostels for wayfarers, the elderly, the
physically and mentally sick, as well as othersinstitutions that later
evolved into proper hospitals. The sixteenth century saw the introduction
of more organized, rational strategies for public poor relief, centralized
in the hands of secular rather than ecclesiastical authorities and applying
stricter and more effective rules than in the Middle Ages for determining
who among the poor deserved relief.8 The latter stemmed from growing
fear of vagabondage and mendicancy at this timein large part a result
of population expansion and economic hard times. The new Protestant
work ethic contributed significantly to the change in attitude toward
the poor, as did Catholic humanist proposals to improve social welfare.
The English Poor Laws, crystallizing around 1600 and introducing the
new idea that poor relief should be supported by public taxation, repre-
sent one well known manifestation of the secularization and rationaliza-
tion of poor relief in western Europe in the early modern period.
In recent years, much has been learned about charity administration
in the post-Reformation period thanks to the discovery, publication, and
analysis of first-hand documents found in parish archives, mainly peti-
tions of the poor, but also letters on their behalf addressed to poor law
administrators in Englandpauper letters as they have been called.9
Though separated in time and space from the Geniza documents, with-
out any possibility of cultural diffusion between them, these petitions re-
semble, sometimes parrot, the petitions of the poor from the Geniza. To
be sure, there are important differences. The English petitions represent
pleas from needy people living outside of their home town, addressed to
poor law administrators in their home parish. They request a dole that is
theirs by legal right, and provided out of public tax funds. Furthermore,
the English letters are relatively free of religious sentiments, for instance,
wishing that their benefactors may enjoy Gods gratitude for their mag-
nanimity, precisely because the petitioners lived in a context where charity

8 Sharon Farmer has shown in recent research that many of the characteristic
changes in poor relief in the 16th century were already anticipated in 13th-15th
century Paris. Paper presented at the Cornell Conference on Medieval Poverty
(March 28, 2008).
9 The largest collection is edited by Thomas Sokoll, Essex Pauper Letters 1731
1837 (Oxford, 2001), an exemplary edition preserving the original spelling
and punctuation and using sigla employed in medieval manuscript study to in-
dicate the exact appearance of the page, with completions of lacunae, etc. There
are 758 letters in the collection. Most of them emanate from the relatively un-
educated underclass.
Geniza Documents for the Comparative History of Poverty and Charity 287

was an entitlement from the government, funded by public taxation, and

no longer a gift of private individuals seeking divine salvation in return
for their beneficence.
The Geniza people lived in a more self-conscious religious age, when
nearly everything bore a religious stamp. Thus, the Jewish letters are pep-
pered with religious sentiments. This begins with formulaic phrases like
may God grant you long life following every mention of a persons
name. The letters of appeal for private charity include also prayers to
God on behalf of the would-be benefactors. Another important differ-
ence: the English pauper letters often include the responses of the charity
officers themselves, thus revealing much about their attitudes towards the
poor, an aspect that is only implicitly evident in the Geniza documents.
The Jewish texts, furthermore, emanate from a society in which rev-
enues for charity came from sources other than taxation. Much of it was
generated from voluntary donations collected by the community charity
officials. These are documented mainly in the donor lists such as the one
published below. Some of these gifts were pledged on regular occasions in
the synagogue. But these, too, were not a tax. There is no evidence that
the Jewish community of the Geniza taxed its members for this or any
other purpose. Gifts, whether private or delivered through the commun-
ity, were voluntary, though, to be sure, communal pressure and the desire
to fulfill the divine commandment to give charity made them virtually
obligatory. This conforms with Mauss famous observation, based on an-
thropological study of a very different society, that gifts were made vol-
untarily, but, in actuality, out of obligation.10
The structural parallels between English pauper letters and letters of
the poor from the Geniza lie mainly in the rhetoric of the poor and the
themes they feature, revealing similar strategies to deal with their plight.
To illustrate this, I offer two examples, one, a Geniza letter of appeal,
written in Judaeo-Arabic and published here for the first time in the