In April this year, two of our team members, PhD student Dalia Hussein and postdoctoral researcher Eline Scheerlinck, visited the papyrus collection of the Austrian National Library in Vienna. We spent a week studying dozens of Arabic, Coptic, and Greek papyrus and paper documents from the fiscal administration of Abbasid Egypt.

The Caliphal Finances project centers on the study of fiscal documents to better understand the organisation and workings of the fiscal system of the Abbasid caliphs as it existed locally. The rich fiscal documentation from Abbasid Egypt, predominantly preserved on pieces of papyrus and paper excavated in Egypt, forms the core source material of the Caliphal Finances research.

Eline’s primary goal within the Caliphal Finances project is to provide insights from unpublished Greek and Coptic documents from the Abbasid fiscal administration. During her tenure with the project, she will visit collections where Egyptian papyri have been brought. From the late nineteenth century onwards, numerous Egyptian documents have been found, excavated, and brought to various academic institutions, predominantly in Europe and North America. The papyrus collection at the Austrian National Library now holds over 80,000 documents from the first centuries of Islam, written in Arabic, Coptic, and Greek. Many of these documents remain unpublished. With the aid of the collection’s database and the digitization efforts undertaken as part of the Mellon-project “Papyri of the Arab Period Online,” Eline was able to identify several unpublished Greek and Coptic Abbasid fiscal documents for study. Over the course of the week, she examined various accounts, registers, and other types of working documents from the fiscal administration.

Dalia, who focuses on Arabic papyri as the main source material for her PhD research, was able to verify some readings in published editions of papyri by examining the original documents. Being able to see the actual objects provided us with better insights into the materiality of the fiscal documents, including their reuse, size and layout, and how they had been folded and sealed.

P.Vindob. G 39717 at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek

A striking example of the Abbasid fiscal documents held at the Austrian National Library is this Greek tax list, dated to the end of the eighth century and written on a protokollon, the first sheet of a papyrus roll. The text on the protokollon is written in Arabic, while the tax list on the right is written at a 90˚ angle in Greek.

Overall, our visit to the Austrian National Library significantly enhanced our understanding of the fiscal administration practices in Abbasid Egypt and provided invaluable material for our ongoing research.