8. Ashrafī, 15th-16th Centuries CE

A letter of petition for charity written in Judaeo-Arabic in which the sender's name (perhaps She[lomo]) and the addressee’s name ([...] Kohen) are torn away. The sender repeats twice that he has not eaten all day, and he beseeches the addressee to fulfill the commandment (miṣva) of charity (ṣedaqa) for himself and for his two dependents with a loan of 40 silver medins, here called “halves,” or one gold ashrafī. The petitioner hopes to be able to pay the money back, so he asks for it to be given as a loan, complete with a contract (sheṭar). This letter was probably written ca. 1425–1517 CE, based on the reference to the ashrafī denomination– although the term was occasionally used after the onset of Ottoman rule in Egypt [1]. The ashrafī was a gold coin introduced by the Mamlūk sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay in 1425 CE in a successful bid to challenge the dominance of the Venetian ducat in the internal money market [2].

[1] For an example of these exceptions, see the following Judaeo-Arabic letter in which both "ashrafī" and "dīnār" are utilized in 1581 CE: Yevr.-Arab. II 1511.

[2] Jere L. Bacharach, "The Diner Versus the Ducat," International Journal of Middle East Studies 4.1 (1973): 77-96.

"Letter of Petition," JTS ENA NS 32.6r, 15th- or 16th-century CE, Judaeo-Arabic.

Images provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary Library (JTSL)

3 to the served one, the grand and respectable master, the good name, | אסייד אל מכדום אל כביר אל מוחתרם השם

4 sage and wise, "standing in the breach," the h[onorable].... | ....[הטוב המשכיל הנבון עומד בפרץ כה[ר

5 may His Rock keep him and grant him life, from the servant at your door, your slave Sh[elomo?].... | ....כהן יצו מן עבד באבך וממלוכך ש[למה]

6 [who] kisses the ground between the hands of the served one, the master, | ...[יקבל אל ארץ בין אידין אסייד אל מכד[ום

7 and I ask from the charity of the served one, and charity for our children, | ונסאל מן צדקת אל מכדום וצדקא עלא אולאד

8 to take out a contract and lend me 40 | אל מכדום אנו יאכוד אשטאר וידיני מ׳

9 medin or one ashrafī to feed myself with them, I swear, | נוץ ואלה אשרפי מן שאן נקוות רוחי ביהום

10 by truth and by faith, I do not have a single jadīd (copper coin) in hand... | ...אן באמת ובאמונה מה פי ידי גדיד

Note on line 4: "Standing in the breach" is a reference to Ezekiel 22:30.

Note on line 6: Although this deferential formula of "the slave kisses the ground" (al-mamlūk yuqabbil al-arḍ) was recorded at some point in time after 1425CE, the letter implements a petition clause that dates back much earlier– at least to the Fatimid period –where the same clause appears regularly in state petitions. Marina Rustow, The Lost Archive: Traces of Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), 240, 494.

Note on line 10: Although "jadīd" commonly appears as an adjective in Arabic, the noun used here is meaning "a new one." This reference is to a copper coin minted under the Mamlūk Sultanate beginning in the second reign of al-Nāṣir Ḥasan (1347-51, 1354-1361CE), that was issued as a heavier version of the fels/fulūs and was therefore known as "jadīd/new." As Schultz notes, "the weight standard to which these new copper coins were struck was the mithqāl. When contrasted to earlier Mamluk Egyptian fulûs, this represents a significant increase in weight... by the middle of the eight/fourteenth century (if not earlier), Mamluk Egyptian copper coins were [previously] struck to a dirham-weight standard." Warren C. Schultz, "Mahmûd Ibn 'Alî and the 'New Fulûs': Late Fourteenth Century Mamluk Egyptian Copper Coinage Reconsidered," American Journal of Numismatics 10 (1998): 134.

(ed. Alan Elbaum, trans. Matthew Dudley and Alan Elbaum)

Ashrafī from the Princeton Numismatic Collection (Coin: 16488)

Notes: Mint name off flan

Denomination: ashrafi

Metal: Gold

Date: 1468 to 1496

Obverse Figure Description: field divided by horizontal cables to left

Reverse Figure Description: field divided by horizontal cables to left

Reverse Symbol: flower above اله

Size: 15mm

Die Axis: 12

Weight: 3.38 grams

Shape: round

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