The Arabic Documents of Norman Sicily Project

Arabic scribe (?) from the painted ceiling of the nave of the Cappella Palatina, Palazzo Reale, Palermo, circa 1140Approximately eighty documents containing Arabic survive from the period of Norman and Hohenstaufen rule in Sicily (circa 1060 – circa 1250). They include both records of the Norman administration, such as descriptions of the boundaries of estates granted to Christian churches and lords, and registers of the Muslim families dwelling upon those estates, and documents issued under the authority of the Muslim cadi, such as property transactions. They also include commercial contracts, agree ments governing the irrigation of agricultural land, records of boundary disputes, and documents binding Muslim peasants to pay a land tax and a religious poll tax (jizya) to their Christian lords. Together, the corpus provides a unique record of a Muslim society living under Christian rule.

Some documents use only the Arabic language, others are bilingual and written in Arabic and Greek or Latin, still others are Greek or Latin documents incorporating only a few phrases or words in Arabic. (The Judaeo-Arabic letters from the Cairo Geniza are not part of this  project.)

The corpus includes original documents, medieval and later copies and translations, and documents that are lost (deperdita) and known only from other primary sources.

Most of the surviving documents are preserved in state and ecclesiastical archives in Sicily, a few in archives outside the island, and one or two in private archives. Very nearly all have been published, but most in uncritical and unscholarly nineteenth-century editions. Few have been accurately translated or published with full critical apparatus. Clear and legible photographs of only a very few documents have been published in any format. As a consequence of this neglect, this crucial resource for the history of Norman Sicily and its Muslim population, for the development of Islamic administration and law, and for the evolution of the Arabic language and Sicilian dialect, is little known and is underused by scholars and students of all these disciplines.

The Arabic Documents of Norman Sicily Project will for the first time present the whole corpus in a form easily accessible not just to Arabists and Islamicists, but also to historians with no knowledge of Arabic – not only to expert scholars, but also to students and interested amateurs.