The archive of Basilios, pagarch of Aphrodito in the time of Qurrah ibn Sharik (698-722), is the largest and most of the collections of the early Arab period. Found at Kom Ishqaw in 1901, the papyri were acquired mainly by the British Museum, though substantial collections are in Paris (the Louvre), Tbilisi, Cairo, and other cities. (The earlier archive from Aphrodito, that of Dioscoros, from the age of Justinian, was published by in Papyrus grecs d’époque byzantine, with further items in Greek Papyri in the British Museum [hereafter P. Lond.], Vol. 5.)

The majority, acquired by the British in 1903, were published by H. I. Bell in Volume 4 of P. Lond. (also containing the Coptic pieces, published by W. E. Crum). The purely Arabic texts were published by Becker in 1907 (hereafter PAF); some of the Greek and Arabic texts represent two versions of the same document (for instance, P. Lond. 1346 [PAF IV]; 1349 (probably) Papyri Schott-Reinhardt I; 1345—or more probably 1359 [PAF III]).

Basilios was the pagarch of the pagarchy of which Aphrodito was the administrative center. The correspondence, which consists largely of letters from Qurrah to Basilios (written between 708 and 711), sheds much light both on the administration of the pagarchy in the twenty years around the turn of the and on the general nature and principles of Umayyad rule in relation to the provincial population of Egypt and to the provincial administration. Basilios, though occupying the same rank as his contemporary Papas, pagarch of Apollonos Ano (Idfu), evidently enjoyed a more privileged status, for whereas the communications of the latter are with the dux of the Thebaid or his topoteretes (representatives), stationed at Antinoopolis, those of Basilios, as preserved, are exclusively from Qurrah, the of Egypt, residing at al-Fustat (Old Cairo). Whether the explanation of this privileged correspondence lies in the greater importance of the pagarchy of Aphrodito, or in personal relations between Basilios and high- Egyptian officials, is not clear, but because of it we learn more about the policy of the Umayyad government from this archive than from that of Papas.

It has been generally remarked that the picture of Qurrah drawn from this correspondence does not bear out the highly colored and unfavorable account of the greed and brutality of Walid’s that is found particularly in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS and in other non-Muslim Arabic sources; it shows him to have been a firm and determined administrator, more anxious for the welfare of his subjects than for the well-being of his officials (see particularly P. Lond. 1349, 1356, 1380, 1393 [republished in full in of Egyptian Archeology 12 (1926):275ff.]; and, for an Arabic example, the strongly-worded no. IV in Abbott’s The Kurrah Papyri; cf. History of the Patriarchs, Vol. 1, pt. 3, pp. 57ff., esp. p. 64, for the hostile view).

The direct link between Basilios and the authorities at al-Fustat (or, on occasion, Alexandria) is shown above all by the fact that, in addition to the letters and orders that passed from one to the other, all monies, taxes, and exactions required by the were sent to him directly, and the amir of the Thebaid was bypassed. In the Papas archive, on the other hand, all payments in money and requisitions in kind are centrally collected at Antinoopolis and forwarded by the amir or his representative. Basilios had a permanent agent at al-Fustat to whom his contributions were delivered.

In addition to the letters from Qurrah to Basilios (P. Lond. 1332- 1407, and in other collections), the archive includes a few entagia (P. Lond. 1408-11), accounts and registers of the utmost importance, drawn up for fiscal purposes. These cover all the many forms of taxation applied by the government to the pagarchy in this period: poll tax, land tax, and numerous minor and extraordinary imposts (P. Lond. 1412-61). The correspondence also covers a characteristic range of official demands for laborers, notably caulkers, to be employed in the shipyards at Babylon and, particularly, Clysma, and for work on the new mosques being built at al-Fustat, Jerusalem, and Damascus, the Umayyad capital. If the pagarchy of Aphrodito can be regarded as typical, there can be no doubt that Egyptian labor was heavily drawn upon for these major undertakings of the Umayyads. In addition, there are continuous and pressing demands for speed in the provision of manpower and in the payment of taxes—and it is quite clear that Basilios, like Papas at Apollonopolis, dragged his feet as much as he dared on numerous occasions.

Another major subject covered is the tracing and registration of fugitives who repeatedly moved from pagarchy to pagarchy. The Muslim authorities found it difficult to keep track of such fugitives because of their concealment and other ruses (see Cadell, 1967, no. 5, with introduction). The clearest guide to the study of the complex accounts (P. Lond. 1412ff.) is in D. C. Dennett’s Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam (Cambridge, Mass., 1950; repr. in Dennett’s Islamic Taxation: Two Studies [New York, 1973]).

The author shows by an analysis of the relevant registers and by a comparison with the terms of the capitulation given in the Arab chroniclers and in OF NIKIOU that the principle applied was one of individual taxation, in the form of poll tax and land tax in particular, and not of an overall tribute based on a central assessment. Dennett’s study corrects the account given by Bell in the introduction to P. Lond. (vol. 4) and in the introduction to numbers 1412ff., which was based on the conclusion that the figures were quotas required for an overall payment of tribute (as also in Bell’s article in Byzantion 28 [1928]:278ff.).


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  • Becker, Z. F. “Arabische Papyri des Aphroditofundes.” Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 20 (1907):68-94.
  •  . Der Islam, Vol. 2, pp. 245-68. Strasbourg, 1911.
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  • Cadell, H. “Nouveaux fragments de la correspondance de Kurrah ben Sharik.” Recherches de Papyrologie 4 (1967):107-160. On pp. 142-50 is a dated list of all Greek and Arabic papyri from Qurrah.
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  • Sammelbuch griechischer Urkunden aus Ägypten, ed. F. Preisigke, 80. Bilabel, and E. Kiessling, nos. 10453-80. Strasbourg, Heidelberg, and Wiesbaden, 1916-.
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