PERF No. 558 - One Of The Earliest Bilingual Papyrus From 22 AH / 643 CE

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First Composed: 2nd November 2000

Last Modified: 3rd May 2014

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:



(a) Papyrus PERF 558 and (b) its transcription.


Jumādā I, 22 AH / 25th April, 643 CE.


It has Arabic and Greek text. The place of discovery of this document is probably Egypt.


The translation of the document is given below. The Arabic part is in italics:


  1. God! In the name of God! I, Emir ʿAbdallāh, to you, Christophoros and Theodorakios, Intendants of Herakleopolis!
  2. For the maintenance of the Sarasins who are with me, I took from you at Heracleopolis 65 sheep, I repeat: sixty-five and
  3. no more, and as an acknowledgement of this fact, we have made the present confirmation.
  4. In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful! This is what have taken ʿAbdallāh,
  5. Written by me, Jean, notary and deacon. On the 30th of the month of Pharmouthi of the 1st indiction. Son of Jabir, and his companions-in-arms, as of slaughter sheep at Heracleopolis. We have taken
  6. from a representative of Theodorakios, second son of Apa Kyros, and from a substitute of Christophoros, eldest son of Apa Kyros, fifty sheep as of slaughter sheep
  7. and fifteen other sheep. He gave them, for slaughter, for the crew of his vessels, as well as his cavalry and his breastplated infantry in
  8. the month of Jumādā the first in the year twenty-two. Written by Ibn Ḥadīd.


Document concerning the delivery of sheep to the Magarites and other people who arrived, as a down-payment of the taxes of the 1st indiction.


‘Emir ʿAbdallāh’ here is none other than ʿAbdullāh b. Jābir, who was commander of the expeditionary corps to Upper Egypt in 641-643 CE. In this papyrus, he gives a receipt for 65 sheep for provision of his troops consisting of crew, cavalry and heavily armed soldiers, in Jumādā I, 22 AH (25th April 643 CE). The Muslim forces were well-equipped; heavily armed soldiers and cavalry were accompanied by ships to facilitate strategic movement of troops. This document is of interest as it concerns an important phase of hard struggle against the Byzantine forces resisting fiercely the Arab attack. ʿAbdullāh b. Jābir is also mentioned in two other papyri, viz., PERF 555 and PERF 557.

The interesting part of this document is the use of Magarites that is written in Greek and is identified as mujahirūn. This manuscript shows extensive dotting of Arabic script. Diacritical dots on the letters ج، خ، ذ، ز، ش and ن are clearly visible.

One will notice the Christian iconography in the text in the form of the sign of the cross. This can also be found on several other early ‘official’ papyri texts issued by early Muslim military commanders, such as PERF 556 and Pap. BM 1079. Written in Greek, this text would have been penned by a Christian scribe, so it is reasonable to assume he was simply following usual scribal practice by punctuating the text with the sign of the cross, bearing in mind the recipient of the letter would also have been Christian. It was also a way for the scribe to reassert his faith given the religious tenets of the conquering army. One will note the Arabic part of the text which was written most likely by a Muslim is not punctuated by the sign of the cross.

This papyrus is a part of the Archduke Rainer Collection (usually abbreviated as PERF). It is one of the earliest Arabic papyri; the other one being P. Berol. 15002. Other papyri from 22 AH / 643 CE are PERF 555, PERF 556, PERF 557 and P. Berol. 15002.


The Austrian National Museum, Vienna.


We are grateful to the Austrian National Museum, Vienna, for originally providing us the photo of the papyrus.

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[1] A. Grohmann, "Aperçu De Papyrologie Arabe", Études De Papyrologie, 1932, Volume 1, pp. 40-43.

[2] A. Grohmann, From The World Of Arabic Papyri, 1952, Al-Maaref Press: Cairo (Egypt), pp. 113-115.

[3] A. Grohmann, I Arabische Chronologie. II Arabische Papyruskunde, 1966, Handbuch Der Orientalistik, E. J. Brill: Leiden/Köln, Plate II:1.

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