Exhibitions/ Art Object

Letter in Arabic Concerning Trade along the Nile

Made in Egypt, sent from Alexandria
Black ink on papyrus
13 13/16 x 10 in. (35.1 x 25.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Papyrus Collection, University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor (P.Mich.inv. 5614)
Not on view
Letters, receipts, and other documents written on papyri and ostraka (broken pots and stone fragments) that survive from Egypt provide a vivid picture of commercial activities in the Byzantine and early Islamic era. Together with coins, they prove that trade continued as political authority over the region was transformed.
A landholder from the Fayyum writes to the manager of his estate about an ongoing business trip and provides instructions for the continued maintenance of his lands. Although it is not clear what the landholder was selling, the letter is evidence of bustling commerce throughout the Islamic state, particularly along the Nile.
Inscription: (1.). . . . . . . . . . . . . . On day X] we embarked from Dahmit / (2.) and we arrived in] Sayl[a] on Thursday. We reached Fustat on Saturday evening / (3.) and the full moon appeared to us on Saturday evening in Fustat. Then we headed / (4.) for Rashid in seven days. And my rental expenses from Rashd to Alexandria amounted to / (5.) one dinar minus half a qirat. Having arrived in Alexandria, we stayed / (6.) there for a week. Then we displayed our goods (for sale) on Monday and Allah supported our display, / (7.) thanks be to Allah. Make sure, oh Abu 'l-Harith, that for my sake Yuhannis / (8.) . [. . .] the old man (shaykh) with the wheat of the mill and sift [it] and take it. And when / (9.) each one is done, then send Zayd and let him measure each on. And order Sanba / (10.) not to neglect improve the field. And if you are able to, obtain / (11.) for me the land of Bilatus b. Bihawih’s which you mentioned, (then do so) / (12.) if you think it a good idea. Or tell Yuhannis b. Sawirus (to give it to me), for he has already / (13.) promised me ten faddans. And I have received what you sent / (14.) with Abu Jum'a. I ask Allah on our and your behalf for health in / (15.) this world and the next, and may He complete for us and for you His bounty and cause us / (16.) and you to enter into Paradise through His mercy. I wrote this letter of mine to you when three / (17.) and twenty (days) had passed of Jumada I (and) twenty-six (days) of / (18.) Ba'una. And I have already sent to you with Rashid my mule (birdhawn), it being in good health / (19.) and there not being a fault in his back. So, make sure, may Allah have mercy on you, to send it back to me / (20.) one month after the pressing. And Rashid has already promised me that he will bring it to me. / (21.) So when the month of pressing will arrive, let it be fed barely however much it eats. / (22.) Give many greetings to Sanba and admonish him to take care of Dafaya? And give to Abnula, / (23.) your scribe, many greetings. / (24.) And peace be upon you and Allah’s blessings.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th–9th Century)," March 12, 2012–July 8, 2012.