Chancery and diplomatics exemplified by the correspondence of al-Qadi al-Fadil (Stefan Leder)

The State Chancellery at the time of Saladin in the looking glass of the correspondence of al-Qadi al-Fadil

As head of Saladin's chancellery, al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil (1135-1200) designed and carried out diplomatic correspondence, engaged in the organization of state finances and politics, and entertained an extensive literary communication with most of the conspicuous intellectuals of his time. Medieval and modern historians have been sensible to his extraordinary importance as a key figure during the time of the emergence of a new regional power, the Ayyubid confederation. Less documented is his role during late Fatimid rule in Egypt before 1170.

Contemporaries of al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil and scribes of this époque recognized his correspondence as an essential source for the political and intellectual history and as a standard of epistolography, combining perspicacious insight, impeccable stylistic elegance and evincing extraordinary intellectual capacities. However, fragmented and mostly arbitrary editions of this material have not yet rendered his legacy fully accessible.

The project aims at making this key source, exemplary as an amalgam of politics and literary refinement, readily accessible via printed edition and online documentation. It also pursues an exploration of the institution of the chancery and its role in political administration, diplomatic correspondence and literary production in the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods as a contribution to our understanding of government administration and representation of that era.

The critical edition of the correspondence is a challenging endeavor. With the lack of chancellery archives, it needs to consider various types of transmission: the literary compilations of his letters authored by medieval experts living close to the time of al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil, early and late collections of unknown origins in extant manuscripts, some dating from the author’s lifetime, and letters reproduced in medieval Arabic chronicles and handbooks of administration. The extent of the material (ca. 30 manuscripts of letter collections, and 10 major historical sources), its heterogeneity, and its complex textual history preclude straightforward reproduction arranged chronologically according to the dating of the alleged original. We therefore proceed by basing the edition on two of the most important historical collections of the 6th and 13th centuries (al-Dībājī and Ibn ʿAbd Ẓāhir) and on two manuscripts, which were produced by scribes as a personal archive of al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil’s letters for their own – perhaps professional – use. The edition will contain 760 letters.

Author: Former director of the Orient Institut Bierut

Dr. Sabine Dorpmüller

Dr. Mohammad Helmy