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Protective interventions by local elites in early Islamic Egypt

On 13 September 2023 Eline Scheerlinck successfully defended a doctoral thesis and graduated.

Scheerlinck, E.
13 September 2023
Leiden Repository

What if you couldn’t pay your taxes in eighth-century Egypt? Some chose to leave their village, fearing repercussions and looking for a solution. Village authorities could issue a letter to the tax evader, expressly asking them to return and promising amnesty. These so-called letters of protection form the basis of this study. In the seventh and eighth centuries, when these protection letters were used, Egypt was a province of the Islamic Empire. The province was governed, in Arabic and Greek, from the new capital Fustat by representatives of the caliph. However, the local village authorities governed their villages in Coptic, the latest form of the Egyptian language. This research found that the local village authorities and the documents they issued played an important role in the social and economic life of their village, as well as in the fiscal administration of Egypt as a province generally. Text analysis of Coptic protection letters exposes the procedures of Coptic protection letters and the underlying social relationships. By comparing the Coptic letters of protection for tax evaders with contemporary Arabic and Greek documents issued concerning taxation and mobility, this study shows how connected and intertwined village authorities and their letters of protection were with the policies and administration of the province. Thus, this study shines a light on an understudied group and reveals the relationships which were keeping the Islamic Empire together

Supervisor: Prof⁠.dr⁠. P⁠.M⁠. Sijpesteijn
Co-supervisor: dr⁠. E⁠. Hayes

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