At the Arabic Pasts conference this year, Hugh Kennedy and I presented a paper in the panel dedicated to the Invisible East program, chaired by the program’s PI Arezou Azad. The paper focused on a fragment from an as-yet-unknown Arabic historical text, focused on the Sāmānid dynasty of the 4th/10th century. The fragment is one of the manuscripts from the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan that were recently acquired by the National Library of Israel (the shelfmarks for the bifolios that comprise the fragment are Heb. 8333.190=4 and Heb. 8333.191=4). This is among the very few literary texts, in Arabic, in this corpus; otherwise, it mostly consists of legal documents and letters in Persian. We plan to edit and publish this fragment in full, along with a translation and commentary.

The text is written in a bookhand typical of the 10th or 11th century CE, with certain features, most notably its inconsistent numbers of lines from page to page, that suggest it was a kind of draft. In several places, direct witnesses to the events described are cited, suggesting that that the text’s author was not far from these events either, in time or space.

The fragment seems likely to come from a text that is otherwise no longer extant. We illustrated this point through an in-depth look at a passage in the fragment treating the succession dispute following the murder of the Sāmānid amīr Aḥmad ibn Ismāʿīl in 301/914, and a comparison with the treatments of these events in the other major sources on the Sāmānids. The passage in question includes a long speech by the (eventual) Sāmānid vizier Jayhānī, as he exhorts Aḥmad’s retinue of slave-soldiers to rally behind Aḥmad’s young son Naṣr b. Aḥmad. This Jayhānī is also known for his geographical scholarship and for being a bit of a neat freak (relatable in these times). According to Ibn Ẓāfir, writing in the late 12th or early 13th century CE, “when he passed a veterinarian treating a dog, he became overwhelmed by disgust and pushed his hand out of his sleeve, keeping it in this position until he reached his home, where he poured pitcher after pitcher of water on it.”[1] In the speech, Jayhānī rebukes these men for caring too much about money, and not enough about their duties to the son of their murdered lord, but deftly adds that they will also be remunerated very well indeed for their troubles. He tells them they will receive a special bonus, in addition to their regular salaries, when Naṣr b. Aḥmad formally succeeds his father.

Given the author’s familiarity with the city of Bukhara, and closeness to the events described, it seems possible that what we have is from the original Arabic text of Narshakhī’s (d. unknown) History of Bukhara, which otherwise only exists in an abridged Persian translation from 522/1128, but more work is required to say for sure. In any event, we can be fairly sure that the text does not correspond to any known text in Arabic. The KITAB team ran a transcription of the manuscript (made by Kosar Mirrazi) through its text re-use software package and found no matches, which further supports our theory that this text has no surviving precedent.


A folio from MS Heb. 8333.191=4, housed at the National Library of Israel. The image is from the full catalogue entry, which can be accessed here.
[1]       As translated by Luke Treadwell (The Account of the Samanid Dynasty in Ibn Ẓāfir Al-Azdī’s Akhbār al-Duwal al-Munqaṭiʿa.” Iran 43: 135–71, p. 156)
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