As noted in the last post, we struggled to verify book citations in the TMD, both within and outside of isnāds. We believe that our struggles reflect the challenging nature of the task as much as it does a need to work further on the problem.1

A key obstacle to understanding the sources Ibn ʿAsākir had to hand lies in our presuppositions about writing and the ways in which it was preserved. The idea of a finished and ‘published’ book, with a title known to posterity, represents only one aspect of the writings that circulated in his time. We need to widen our vocabulary and understanding of books.

A couple of finds

In our searches, we came across certain suggestive phrases that we then looked into in greater detail. Table 6.1 presents some of these phrases.

Search term Count Example Comment
wajadtu bi-khaṭṭ (‘I found in the handwriting of’ so-and-so) 21 ‘I found in the handwriting of Abu al-Faraj Ghayth’ Only Abu al-Faraj Ghayth (d. 509/1115) is mentioned more than once in this way, and he is cited only three times (by contrast, he is cited 261 times as a direct informant in the overall isnād data set).
qaraʾtu fī kitāb (‘I read in the writing of’ so-and-so) 236 ‘I read in the writing of Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani’ The two persons cited most often in this way are Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (d. 356/967; 102 times) and Abu al-Husayn al-Razi (d. 347/958; twenty times).

Table 6.1: Selected transmission phrases used by Ibn ʿAsākir. We counted only cases in the beginnings of paragraphs in order to isolate occasions on which Ibn ʿAsākir is the speaker.2

However, considering the size of the TMD, the searches for the first two phrases did not yield large numbers of citations of works.

We noticed that Ibn ʿAsākir sometimes cites his sources conspicuously vaguely in these and other cases. These situations struck us as interesting, as they raised the possibility that he was willing to pass on unattributed information. The following is an example:

قرأت في كتاب بعض أهل العلم حدثني أبو عبد الله اليزيدي حدثني أحمد بن الحارث الخراز قال قال أبو الحسن المدائني وخليفة بن خياط التميمي كان بأرض البلقاء رجل من ولد

I read in the writing of a certain scholar (fī kitāb baʿḍ ahl al-ʿilm), who said that Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Yazīdī transmitted to him that Aḥmad b. al-Ḥārith the cobbler said that Abū al-Ḥasan al-Madāʾinī and Khalīfa b. Khayyāṭ al-Tamīmī said that in the land of Balqāʾ there was a man …3

More meaningful search results

While the preceding search terms produced only limited insights, the following three terms were more fruitful.


On several occasions in the TMD, Ibn ʿAsākir refers to a person and says that this person reported something in a tasmiya.

What does the term tasmiya mean? Philologically speaking, tasmiya is the verbal noun of the second form of the Arabic verb sammā/yusammī, which is related to the word ism, ‘name’. When we searched for the term tasmiya and the four word tokens that follow it, we found what appear to be works listing people of various sorts (see Table 6.2).

Title in translation Title (short form) Count
List of the Prophet’s Companions who took part in [the Battle of] Badr تسمية من شهد بدرا من 126
List of those from whom people copied in [Damascus] تسمية من كتب عنه بدمشق 113
List of Successors from Medina, including Hadith transmitters تسمية تابعي أهل المدينة ومحدثيهم 65
List of the [Companions] who settled in Homs تسمية من نزل حمص من 48
List of the [Companions] who settled in Damascus تسمية من نزل الشام من 44
List of those who emigrated to the land of [Abyssinia] تسمية من هاجر إلى أرض 27
List of those who gave audition in Damascus تسمية من سمع منه بدمشق 26
List of those who transmitted from the Prophet تسمية من روى عن النبي 21
List of [the Umayyads] who were in Damascus and [the oasis of] al-Ghūṭa تسمية من كان بدمشق وغوطتها 21
List of the scribes of the emirs of Damascus تسمية كتاب أمراء دمشق وذكر 17
List of those from whom people copied in [the villages of Damascus] تسمية من كتب عنه في 16
List of those who witnessed [the Battle of] al-ʿAqaba تسمية من شهد العقبة وفي 14
List of the [Umayyads] who were in Damascus تسمية من كان بدمشق من 14
List of the Prophet’s governors تسمية عمال النبي صلى الله 13
List of the Companions in al-ʿAqaba during the [second] period تسمية أصحاب العقبة في المرة 12
List of the [Companions] who settled in Kufa تسمية من نزل الكوفة من 12

Table 6.2: Sample results of a search for the word tasmiya plus the four word tokens that follow it.4

There are presently ten short works (ranging in length from 256 to 13,083 words) in the OpenITI that bear the title tasmiya. Each centres on a list, and most of the lists are relevant to the study of isnāds.5 Ibn ʿAsākir himself created such works, as noted in our first post in this series.

Al-Daʿjānī and Scheiner include eleven works bearing the title tasmiya in their lists of Ibn ʿAsākir’s sources. Two of these can perhaps be matched to extant works in the OpenITI.6

But there is a far greater number of references to a tasmiya in the TMD. We counted 773 distinct tasmiyas, which are collectively cited 1,694 times.7 Most (617) are cited only once.

The highly descriptive wording that follows the term tasmiya supports the assumption that tasmiya works are based on lists. Further, many references to tasmiyas are accompanied by references to handwriting (khaṭṭ), by their authors or by transmitters of the works, leading us to think that a subset may well have been autograph copies of written resources that circulated among scholars and that were useful for writing large-scale works such as the TMD.

However, the term tasmiya might also point to a section of a larger work, as Scheiner has argued (especially in the case of Mūsā b. ʿUqba, d. 141/758, whose notebook he believes still circulated in Ibn ʿAsākir’s day). We cannot rule out this possibility. Ibn Sa'd’s al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, for example, features section headings containing the term. Still, the high frequency and variety of phrases using the term tasmiya seem to point to a wider phenomenon. The excerpting and continuation of lists over time makes sense within a transmission tradition focused practically on answering questions – such as who fought at Badr or settled in Damascus. And the way that Ibn ʿAsākir refers to what he is doing in citations such as this generally stresses the role of direct informants and transmitters over centuries. If in fact this citational pattern was meant to refer to a notebook by ʿUqba, for example, he could have said so or at least identified ʿUqba as the common link for these materials.8

We believe that the term tasmiya points to lists with long histories of being transmitted. Their power and authority derived from their portability and from the fact that they were vouchsafed by people whom Ibn ʿAsākir knew personally. This view stresses the agency and work that Ibn ʿAsākir himself likely did as a curator of past knowledge.

As noted in an earlier post, the full title of the TMD itself contains the word tasmiya: Tārīkh madīnat Dimashq wa-dhikr faḍlihā wa-tasmiyat man ḥallahā min al-amāthil aw ijtāza bi-nawāḥīhā min wāridīhā wa-ahlihā. Mourad has translated the full title as History of the City of Damascus and the Mention of Its Merits, with Identification of Those Who Lived in It from among the Exemplars or Those Who Passed by or Lived in Its Environs.9 We propose that the term tasmiya in the title points to a specific aspect of the TMD, and also to its source base. Ibn ʿAsākir’s book lists people and their associations, and to do so it relies heavily on previous works of the same type, albeit not necessarily ones focused on Damascus or as extensive as the TMD. Such gathering and listing of information was important for the production of the TMD as well as for its subsequent usefulness and popularity among scholars who mined it for their own works much as Ibn ʿAsākir mined those of his predecessors.

The TMD, to be sure, represented a completed work, produced iteratively and in many copies, whereas many of the tasmiya works listed here are likely to have been more ephemeral. But perhaps the nature of a work such as ‘List of those from whom people copied in Damascus’ was defined not by the work’s author but by later generations: a tasmiya work lasted and circulated as long as it was useful. The creators of tasmiyas could be culturally well connected individuals whose works benefited from the resources and subsequent attention that the TMD did, but that was not essential to the constitution of a tasmiya.

Qaraʾtu bi-khaṭṭ

A second revealing phrase is qaraʾtu bi-khaṭṭ, which we translate as ‘I read/recited in the handwriting’ of such-and-such a person.

For example, at the very beginning of the TMD, there is a section that discusses the philology of the term al-Shām.10 Ibn ʿAsākir says:

قرأت بخط شيخنا أبي الفرج غيث بن علي بن عبد السلام بن محمد بن جعفر الشرخي الصوري المعروف بابن الأرمنازي الخطيب قال نقلت من كتاب فيه أخبار الكعبة وفضائلها وأسماء المدن

I read in the handwriting of our teacher Abū al-Faraj Ghayth b. ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-Salām b. Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar al-Sharkhī al-Ṣūrī, known as the preacher Ibn al-Armināzī, who said: ‘I transmitted from a book in which there were reports about the Kaʿba, its merits and the names of cities …’

Through the phrase qaraʾtu bi-khaṭṭ, Ibn ʿAsākir tells his readers that he read something in the handwriting of Abu al-Faraj Ghayth, and that this person, known as Ibn al-Armināzī, himself relied on a book as his source. Handwriting is a way of verifying the authenticity of the connection to the purported writer, which could be in doubt with written transmission, as Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ explains when writing about Hadith transmission through correspondence.11

The phrase qaraʾtu bi-khaṭṭ occurs 1,342 times in our data set.12 Informants about whom Ibn ʿAsākir says on multiple occasions that he read material in their handwriting number about 100, and a further 300 or so informants are cited once each with this phrase. We have not disambiguated these single-occurrence names, but the scope of Ibn ʿAsākir’s use of the phrase is reasonably clear: he uses it to refer to a wide corpus of written texts.

Name Died # of citations within isnāds # of citations with qaraʾtu bi-khaṭṭ
Rasha' 444/1052 1,098 147
Abu al-Husayn al-Razi 347/958 20 145
Naja' b. Ahmad n.d. 6 126
Abu Muhammad al-Akfani 524/1129 3,380 66
Abu al-Faraj Ghayth 509/1115 261 60

Table 6.3: The five informants Ibn ʿAsākir cites most frequently using this phrase.13

  1. Scheiner identifies Rasha' b. Nazif, the person whose handwriting Ibn ʿAsākir cites most often, as Abū al-Ḥasan Rashaʾ b. Naẓīf b. Mashāʾ Allāh (d. 444/1052). According to Scheiner, Rasha' is a transmitter of a ‘book’ by Muḥammad b. Yusūf al-Kindī (d. 360/971; author no. 64 in our data set, normalised as Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Kindi) called Tasmiyat mawālī ahl al-Miṣr, or ‘List of the mawālī among the people of Egypt’.14 This title appears three times in our search results for the term tasmiya, and it also turned up in our author/title searches.15 Another search found Ibn ʿAsākir referring to al-Kindi and his Kitāb Mawālī ahl Miṣr.16 Rasha'’s name appears within isnāds that mention the title. Still, Ibn ʿAsākir’s citation establishes only a weak link between Rasha', his handwriting and al-Kindi’s book given the infrequent mention of the book and the much more frequent mention of Rasha' in isnāds (as well as the more frequent references to his handwriting).

  2. Ibn ʿAsākir cites Abu al-Husayn al-Razi and his handwriting 145 times. He may well be the Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Rāzī (d. 347/958) to whom Scheiner attributes three tasmiya works (and who thus appears as no. 59 in our list of authors). The three works are Tasmiyat kuttāb umarāʾ Dimashq (‘List of the scribes of the emirs of Damascus’) and Tasmiyat umarāʾ (or wulāt) Dimashq (‘List of the rulers of Damascus’) – both via Ibn Ṣābir al-Sulamī (d. 511/1117–18) – and Tasmiyat man kutiba ʿanhu bi-Dimashq (‘List of those from whom people copied in Damascus’) via Abū al-Ḥasan Najā b. Naẓīf b. Aḥmad b. ʿAṭṭār al-Shāhid (d. 469/1076–7).17

  3. Ibn ʿAsākir cites Naja' b. Ahmad 126 times.18 Scheiner identifies what appears to be the same person as a transmitter of Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Rāzī’s Tasmiyat man kutiba ʿanhu bi-Dimashq (both mentioned above).

  4. Quotations from Abu Muhammad al-Akfani constitute a significant portion of the TMD overall. Ibn ʿAsākir cites him across the TMD using a variety of transmission terms (see Post 3).

  5. Mourad credits Abu al-Faraj Ghayth (d. 509/1115) with teaching three books to Ibn ʿAsākir: the Kitāb al-Kharāj of Qudāma b. Jaʿfar (d. 337/948) plus two others whose authors Mourad does not name, Taʾrīkh Ṣūr and Kitāb fī akhbār al-Kaʿba wa-faḍāʾiluha wa-asmāʾ al-mudun wa-l-buldān wa-akhbāruhā. Ibn ʿAsākir says that Abu al-Faraj was a close friend of Ibn ʿAsākir’s father and lived with the ʿAsākir family until his death after leaving Tyre (Ṣūr), where he had been chief preacher at the Friday mosque; he had fled the city out of fear of being captured by the Franks (Tyre fell to them in 518/1124). He taught Ibn ʿAsākir Hadiths on jihād.19 Of Qudāma b. Jaʿfar’s (d. 337/948) book, Ibn ʿAsākir says:

    I [Ibn ʿAsākir] read in the handwriting of our teacher Abū al-Faraj Ghayth b. ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-Sallām al-Ṣūrī, who said: ‘I read in the Book on the Kharāj [land tax] composed by the scribe Abū al-Faraj Qudāma b. Jaʿfar that “The ‘date’ of anything should be reckoned as its final point …”.’

This quotation, connected to the calculation of tax, reached Ibn ʿAsākir through two mediations: the writing of his teacher (whom he quotes 261 times throughout the TMD) and, through it, Qudāma b. Jaʿfar’s Kitāb al-Kharāj. Ibn ʿAsākir does not claim direct access to this latter book itself.

On 171 of the 1,342 occasions on which Ibn ʿAsākir says he read something in the handwriting of someone else, the term tasmiya also appears nearby. The two phrases occur together most often in citations involving Naja' b. Ahmad. These tasmiya works seem to have been pre-existing compilations that Ibn ʿAsākir could mine for the TMD.


Ibn ʿAsākir uses dhakara (so-and-so ‘stated’) 1,654 times at the start of a paragraph in our text.20 This is an alternative to citing with an isnād and sometimes points to a written work he consulted. In 1,057 cases, we were able to match the person cited to a name on our Name List. The other cases represented challenges to our method of splitting citations; dhakara often was not followed by a name but rather by a quote or other non-name material.

Name Died # of citations within isnāds # of citations with dhakara
Abu al-Husayn al-Razi 347/958 20 (at position 0) 80
Abu Muhammad al-Akfani 524/1129 3380 (at position 0) 65
Ibn Abi al-'Aja`iz ? 0 53
al-Maqdisi 507/1113 87 (at position 1) 52
Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Kinani ? 0 37
al-Baladhuri 279/892 0 33
Abu al-Hasan Muhammad b. Ahmad b. al-Fawaris ? 0 30
al-Waqidi 207/822 68 (across positions) 28
Abu Muhammad b. Sabir ? 81 (position 0) 26
Abi 519/1125 32 (position 0) 22
al-Tabari 310/923 0 18

Table 6.4: The names Ibn ʿAsākir cites most frequently using this phrase.21

The list in Table 6.4 includes six persons from our author list: Abu al-Husayn al-Razi, Abu Muhammad al-Akfani, al-Maqdisi, al-Baladhuri, al-Waqidi, and al-Tabari. It also includes Ibn ʿAsākir’s father, as ‘Abi’.

In 198 cases, Ibn ʿAsākir uses dhakara to cite a book, as in ‘Ibn Hibban [d. 354/965] stated it in Kitāb al-Thiqāt’. There are many titles cited only once or twice. Three of the five most frequently cited works are tasmiya works. Sixteen times Ibn ʿAsākir cites a person and his tārīkh (tārīkhihi). He cites Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami’s (d. 412/1021) Tārīkh al-Sūfiyya five times and also al-Maqdisi’s Kitāb Takmila al-Kāmil fī maʿrifa al-ḍuʿafāʾ five times.

Title in translation Title Author Died Count
List of the scribes of the emirs of Damascus تسمية كتاب أمراء دمشق Abu al-Husayn al-Razi 347/958 32
His History تاريخه al-Bukhari, al-Farghani, al-Tabari, Ibn al-Faradi 256/870, ?, 310/923, ? 16
List of the [Umayyads] who were in Damascus [and its environs] تسمية من كان بدمشق وغوطتها من بني أمية/تسمية من كان بدمشق من بني أمية Ibn Abi al-'Aja`iz ? 23
History of the Sufis تاريخ الصوفية Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami 412/1021 5
Supplement to the [book] al-Kāmil fī maʿrifa al-ḍuʿafāʾ كتاب تكملة الكامل في معرفة الضعفاء al-Maqdisi 507/1113 5
History of al-Andalus تاريخ الأندلس Ibn al-Faradi ? 4

Table 6.5: Titles Ibn ʿAsākir cites.22

Ibn ʿAsākir also refers to writings less directly.

Phrase Translation Names Count
فيما قرأته بخطه 'according to what I read in his handwriting' Abd al-Mun'im b. 'Ali, 'Abd al-Wahhab b. Ja'far, 'Abd al-Wahhab b. Ja'far, Abu 'Ali Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad, Abu al-Faraj Ghayth, Abu al-Hasan 'Ali b. Muhammad, Abu Muhammad b. al-Samarqandi, Abu Muhammad b. Sabir, al-Qutrubali 18
في موضع آخر 'in another place' Abu 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, Abu 'Abd Allah, Abu al-Husayn al-Razi, Abu al-Husayn b. al-Farra', Abu Muhammad, Abu Muhammad al-Akfani, Abu Sa'id, al-Waqidi, al-Zubayr 14
فيما نقلته من خطه 'according to what he transmitted in his handwriting' Abu al-Husayn al-Razi, Abu Muhammad b. Sabir, al-Maqdisi, al-Qutrabali 10
في كتابه 'in his/their writing' Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani, Abu al-Husayn al-Razi, Abu al-Husayn b. al-Farra', Abu Muhammad al-Hasan b. Ahmad b. Ya'qub, al-Baladhuri, Ibn Abi al-'Aja`iz, Ibn Hazm 11

Table 6.6: Cases where Ibn ʿAsākir refers to writings less directly.23

  1. We updated our Names List for this post, as we encountered new names and surface forms when we searched outside of isnāds. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘NameList_SearchResults’. 

  2. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, tables ‘SearchResults_Wajadtu_NameCount’ and ‘SearchResults_QaratuFiKitab_NameCount’. 

  3. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Isnads’, table ‘TransmissionChains_All’, ID 77203, ms. 26162. 

  4. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Tasmiya_PhraseCount’. 

  5. Two works not pertaining to isnāds are al-Nasāʾī’s (d. 303/915) Tasmiyat fuqahāʾ al-amṣār min aṣḥāb Rasūl Allāḥ and al-Fattāl al-Naysābūrī’s (d. 508/1114) Tasmiyat man qutila maʿa al-Ḥusayn min waladihi wa-ikhwātihi wa-ahl baytihi wa-shīʿatihi. One is a collection of reports from Abu Nu'aym (ID 82 in our Name List). The OpenITI metadata originally attributed this work to Abu Nu'aym himself instead of recognising it as a work featuring his reports created by a subsequent author. 

  6. Al-Nasāʾī’s Tasmiyat fuqahāʾ al-amṣār and al-Kindī’s Wulāt Miṣr

  7. Some of these instances might represent the same list. That is because of the way we formulated our search, using the following four word tokens. 

  8. Scheiner, ‘Ibn ʿAsākirʼs Virtual Library’, 170–4. 

  9. Mourad, Ibn ‘Asakir of Damascus, 61. 

  10. باب في ذكر أصل اشتقاق تسمية الشام عن العالمين بالنقل والعارفين بأصول الكلام 

  11. Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, Introduction, 122–3; Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, Muqaddima, 173–4, ms. 076–7. 

  12. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_QaratuBiKhatt’. 

  13. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_QaratuBiKhatt_NameCount’. 

  14. Scheiner, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir’s Virtual Library’, 271–2; Aḥmad M. Nūr Sayf, ‘Maṣādir tārīkh Ibn ʿAsākir min kutub al-ḥadīth wa-l-rijāl’, in al-Kalimāt wa-l-buḥūth wa-l-qaṣāʾid al-mulqāt fī al-iḥtifāl bi-muʾarrikh Dimashq al-kabīr Ibn ʿAsākir (Damascus: Wizārat al-Taʿlīm al-ʿĀlī, 1979), 503; al-Daʿjānī, Mawārid Ibn ʿAsākir, 1:299. 

  15. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Tasmiya’. 

  16. Ibn ʿAsākir, TMD, 36:116, ms. 13643; 12:39, ms. 04269. See also (for three citations to the TMD) al-Daʿjānī, Mawārid Ibn ʿAsākir, 1:299. 

  17. Scheiner, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir’s Virtual Library’, 260. 

  18. The count for Naja' b. Ahmad uses the figure for Najja b. Aḥmad in our data. 

  19. Mourad, Ibn ‘Asakir of Damascus, 19, 48. 

  20. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Dhakara’. 

  21. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Dhakara_NameCount’. 

  22. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Dhakara_CitationTerms’. 

  23. Savant and Seydi, ‘Ibn ʿAsākir and His History of Damascus’, ‘Search_in_Text’, table ‘SearchResults_Dhakara_CitationTerms’.