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Weights and Measures in Rasulid Yemen

Daniel Martin Varisco, former AIYS President, presented a paper entitled "Not Your Average Raṭl: Weights and Measures in Rasulid Yemen" at the Ninth Conference of the School of Mamluk Studies at Brown University, June 11, 2023. This will be a chapter in a book he is preparing on Rasulid Yemen. The chapter beings as follows:

The study of weights and measures used in the Islamic world since the time of the Prophet Muḥammad has received considerable consideration by early Islamic and later Western scholars, but the focus has almost always been on the theoretical aspects. Very limited information has survived in reports of actual usage in markets over the centuries. It is clear that many of the major measures varied in weight or volume from time to time and place to place, but less is known about variations within a specific region at a particular time. A notable exception is the case of Rasulid Yemen. The archival document entitled Nūr al-ma‘ārif, from late 13th century Yemen during the reign of the Rasulid sultan al-Malik al-Muẓaffar Yūsuf, provides detailed descriptions of taxation and commerce in Yemen at that time, especially for the port of Aden along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade network. A series of first-hand reports relate weights and measures used in Yemen with comparison to systems used in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Mecca. A similar record of local weights and measures was given by al-Malik al-Afḍal al-‘Abbās in his 14th century agricultural treatise, Bughyat al-fallāḥīn. Among the local terms used in Yemen for a widespread measure is the term zabadī, which is not recorded in textual sources elsewhere. This chapter provides a translation of the extensive information on Yemeni weights and measures from Nūr al-ma‘ārif and Bughyat al-fallāḥin, with an analysis of the Yemeni terms in relation to contemporary usage during the Mamluk era and later usage in Yemen.

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1 Nūr al-ma‘ārif fī nuẓum wa-qawānīn wa-a‘rāf al-Yaman fī al-‘ahd al-Muẓaffarī al-wārif , Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Raḥīm Jāzim, editor (Ṣan‘ā’, 2003-05). A pdf of the text is available online at http://mktba.net/library.php?id=10250. See Daniel Martin Varisco, 'Nūr al-ma‘ārif: A Late Thirteenth Century Rasulid Court Archive', 213-233. In Hassan Ansari and Sabine Schmidtke, editors, Yemeni Manuscript Cultures in Peril (New Jersey, 2022).


Warren Schultz, Dan Varisco, Paul Cobb (left to right) at the Mamluk Studies Conference


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