The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, October 05, 2014


In Egypt, before Nasser dammed the Nile at Syene, the entire economy depended upon the annual floods.

Sometimes the water got too deep; such an event is noted by Agapius for the late 40s / 660s, which event he appends to the Syrian Source's note on the flood in Edessa / Urfa. Such is also noted of the time of Bronze Age pharaoh Kamose, nowadays thought to coincide with the Thera volcano. Storms in the Nile region tend to coincide with global cooling.

Because of worries about these floods, rulers of Egypt have taken it upon themselves to measure the volume of the river. Such a "nilometer", in Arabic, is a miqyâs.

I've been wondering about a time the Egyptians faced drought. What brought this on, was Roger Pearse's recent posting of Anthony Alcock's translations. One is the Siirt Chronicle; I'm not so concerned with that. The other is Pseudo-Athanasius. To whit:

The river of Egypt will become weak and so low that people will be able to walk across it. Then God will take control of the river not to let water come upon the land for many years because of the sins of those who live in it. So many people and animals will perish from that harsh drought. And even if God is pleased to bring it upon the land for years ... and it is very little. And then transgression will increase very greatly [5 lines] and the dew and the rain not to allow them to come down on the land. For this reason too the earth will be unable to produces its fruits. A great seed will taken from the field and little will be reaped, because the lawlessness of the children has increased greatly upon the earth. God has taken away His blessing on the earth from all that grows in the fields, the vineyards, the olive trees and the rest of the fruits of the earth. There will be much death from pestilence, as the Saviour said in the Holy Gospel: Pestilence will be everywhere.

The woes go on:

The fishermen will weep that their fish have disappeared in the waters of the river. The sailors will grieve that the water of the river has declined and that they are no longer able to sail on it with ease. The craftsmen of the land will grieve that their crafts have fallen into neglect. Trade has been ruined in the whole country.

This drought was clearly the most important event of our preacher's time. All we really know of Ps-Athan is that he was writing when Damascus was the capital, or had been made the capital; and that recently the caliphate was making a big push to re-strike Byzantine gold into Islamic glyphs, to take the census, to collect tax and so on. On these grounds Robert Hoyland in Seeing Islam narrowed Ps-Athan to 75-125 / 695-745. I would narrow it further: there is a real question about whether Sulayman even had a consistent capital, and whether Hisham counts - since he'd set up camp at Rusafa. I'd expect that by the 730s, even in notoriously-conservative Coptic Egypt, Islamic coinage would be viewed as a fait-accompli not as worth bothering about than it would have been a generation prior. I am also surprised not to see mention of the attack on Constantinople. This gets us to 75-95 / 695-715, still not too helpful.

Now that we have the full Ps-Athan, we know to look for the fall of the Nile in these decades. Such seems to have hit under al-Walid's last days or the building-project days of Sulayman; such from the bio of patriarch Alexander II.

Back to the miqyâs: We have one from Usama bin Zayd. It was commanded by al-Walid in Maqrizi, Khitat; Ibn Abd al-Hakam, Futuh; by his successor Sulayman in Masudi, Muruj and Suyuti, Husn. For these refs I owe Petra Sijpesteijn, Shaping a Muslim State, 20 (with a modest correction for Masudi). We also have a Syrian record of epic hailstorms over the early 90s / 710s. So - climate seems to have had a hiccup in those days.

UPDATE 10/6/2014: Alcock has an academia site. But really, for more serious dives into the material (and for scholarly citations) you should use Francisco Martinez's dissertation instead (because this has detail, where Alcock only offers a bare translation - and, to be fair, isn't pretending to anything more). Martinez's work is on scribd here: Early Christian Apocalyptic in the Early Muslim Period, free to read but downloadable only with an account.

posted by Zimri on 10:41 | link | 0 comments

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