A Document of Sale from Medieval Egypt

This video is a discussion of item 27 in Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional Box no. 20 at the Princeton university Library. This document of sale was written in 980 CE on behalf of the Coptic Christian Yuhānnis ibn Suqayna and his wife Maria, residents of the small town in the Fayyum called Buljusuq. They were buying a house from Maria’s father, Ibn al-Ḥillī. The document was registered by the notary Shuʿayb ibn Zakariyā and witnessed by several Muslims, including Muḥammad ibn Ḥisān ibn Dāwud who made a noticeable typo while writing his testimony. 

Amel Bensalim and Athina Pfeiffer, Princeton University


Primary Source

 Islamic Manuscripts, Garrett Additional Box no. 20. 

Discussion Questions

1. From looks alone, what can you tell about this document? Roughly how many different people’s handwriting can you identify? How do you think this was stored or carried, if you think it was at all. Pay attention to the structure of the parchment, what do the folds, stains, and holes tell you?

2. If the witnesses were not completely literate, or at least not accustomed to writing, what was the purpose of them signing their names? 

3. When you sign something, do you read it thoroughly? Do you think all the people involved with this document – the notaries, the witnesses, the buyers, the seller – knew the details of its contents? Speculate on what it would take for that knowledge to be publicly accessible in medieval rural Egypt. 

4. What does this document tell us about social dynamics in medieval Egypt, such as the role of women, accumulation of property in one family, relations between non-Muslims and Islamic legal institutions? 


Bensalim, Amel and Athina Pfeiffer. "A Document of Sale from Medieval Egypt," Middle Ages for Educators, December 3, 2023. Accessed [date]. https://middleagesforeducators.princeton.edu/document-sale-medieval-egypt

Video Editor 

Jeremy Stitts