P. Vindob. Inv. A. P. 519 – A Papyrus Being An Individual Debt Receipt, Around 20 AH / 641 CE

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Assalamu-ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:



Figure: (a) Picture of the papyrus and (b) its content. [] encloses letters supplied to fill a lacuna.


Around 20 AH / 641 CE.[1]


10.9 cm x 19.7 cm.

Accession No.

P. Vindob. Inv. A. P. 519


The translation of text is given below.

  1. (in Greek) Isidoros, son of Taurina, 3 nomismata.
  2. (in Arabic) In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
  3. Here is what ʿAbd Allāh bin ʿUmays paid to Isidura, [son of Tawrina,]
  4. and his wife, who live in Abū Maqrūf in the district of Qahqawa …
  5. … in his town for year twenty of the year …
  6. … three dinars …


Light brown papyrus fragment. The upper and right margins are preserved. The document was written with a fine reed pen in an archaic hand typical of the second half of the seventh century. The letters are written with diacritical marks in two places. The reverse is blank. This document comes from the region of Qahqawe, south of the modern Abū Tīj in Egypt. The papyrus mentions the year 20 AH. Therefore, this document dates to year 20 AH at the earliest making it almost contemporary with the conquest of Egypt. This is perhaps the oldest Arabic document.[2]

This document belongs to the category of acknowledgement of debts. There are a growing number of very early papyri that can now be placed into this category whose geographic scope is early Islamic Egypt and Palestine. A unique aspect of these group of documents is that they bear witness to a previously unattested calendar designation, expressed variously as abbreviated sanat (year/calendar), to qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn (decree/reckoning/jurisdiction of the believers) and sanat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn (year of the decree/reckoning/jurisdiction of the believers). qaḍāʾ has been variously interpreted as jurisdiction (Rāġib), reckoning (Shaddel), and decree (Tillier and Vanthieghem), each of which carry their own specific nuances.[3] All agree however that the phrase references a calendar system.[4]

Based exclusively on the earliest documentary evidence available, there can be no doubt that the calendar system adopted by the early Muslims, however it may have been designated, began in the year 622 CE (i.e., year 1). Excluding Arabic-only papyri, there are dozens of Greek, Greek-Coptic and Greek-Arabic fiscal papyri showing a hijra year in addition to a Byzantine indiction.[5] Likewise, similar examples can be found in Christian Syriac manuscripts showing hijra dates alongside the Seleucid era.[6] There is also a unique triple dated early inscription from 662 CE, showing a hijra date, Byzantine indiction and year of the colony of Gadara.[7] When the dates of all the aforementioned documents are independently calculated and calibrated against each other, they almost always correspond to 622 CE / 1 AH.[8]

Documents containing the abbreviated phrase sanat or qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn or sanat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn have come from around 20 AH, 42 AH, c. 44 AH, 48 AH, and two (1, 2) from 57 AH.


The Austrian National Museum, Vienna.

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[1] M. Tillier & N. Vanthieghem, "Recording Debts In Sufyānid Fusṭāṭ: A Reexamination Of The Procedures And Calendar In Use In The First/Seventh Century", in J. Tolan (Ed.), Geneses: A Comparative Study Of The Historiographies Of The Rise Of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism And Islam, 2019, Routledge: London, pp. 148-188.

[2] ibid. Summarized from the above article.

[3] Y. Ragib, "Une Ère Inconnue D'Égypte Musulmane: L'ère De La Juridiction Des Croyants", Annales Islamologiques, 2007, Volume 41, pp. 187-207; M. Shaddel, "“The Year According To The Reckoning Of The Believers”: Papyrus Louvre Inv. J. David-Weill 20 And The Origins Of The Hijrī Era", Der Islam, 2018, Volume 95, Issue 2, pp. 291-311; M. Tillier & N. Vanthieghem, "Recording Debts In Sufyānid Fusṭāṭ: A Reexamination Of The Procedures And Calendar In Use In The First/Seventh Century", in J. Tolan (Ed.), Geneses: A Comparative Study Of The Historiographies Of The Rise Of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism And Islam, 2019, op. cit., pp. 148-188.

[4] Bruning disagrees and asserts that s.n.t. should be read as sunnatan and proposes P. Louvre Inv. E 7106 contains a previously unattested validity clause that is identifiable in three different versions - that is, not a previously unattested calendar designation. Here the shorter variant sunnatan ("in accordance with normative precedent") is present. The other two versions that are contained in documents dated 42 AH and 57 AH respectively are sunnat qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn ("in accordance with the normative procedure of the believers") and qaḍāʾ al-muʾminīn ("in accordance with the procedure of the believers"). Their purpose is to state the validity of the aforementioned financial transaction. See J. Bruning, "A Legal Sunna In Dhikr Ḥaqqs From Sufyanid Egypt", Islamic Law And Society, 2015, Volume 22, pp. 352-374.

[5] K. A. Worp, "Hegira Years In Greek, Greek-Coptic And Greek-Arabic Papyri", Ægyptus, 1985, Volume 65, Issue 1/2, pp. 107-115; R. S. Bagnall & K. A. Worp, Chronological Systems Of Byzantine Egypt, 2004, Second Edition, Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden (The Netherlands), p. 300.

[6] S. Brock, "The Use Of Hijra Dating In Syriac Manuscripts: A Preliminary Investigation" in J. J. Van Ginkel, H. L. Murre-Van Den Berg, T. M. Van Lint (Eds.), Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction In The Middle East Since The Rise Of Islam, 2005, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta - 134, Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies: Leuven (Belgium), pp. 275-290.

[7] Y. Hirschfeld & G. Solar, "The Roman Thermae At Hammat Gader: Preliminary Report Of Three Seasons Of Excavations", Israel Exploration Journal, 1981, Volume 31, pp. 203-205.; J. Green & Y. Tsafrir, "Greek Inscriptions From Hammat Gader: A Poem By The Empress Eudocia And Two Building Inscriptions", Israel Exploration Journal, 1982, Volume 32, pp. 94-96; Y. Hirschfeld, The Roman Baths Of Hammat Gader (Final Report), 1997, Israel Exploration Society: Jerusalem, pp. 237-240; M. Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, 2013, Volume V (H-I), Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden (The Netherlands), pp. 284-286.

[8] Where they do not match, on occasion it seems to be a mistake on behalf of the scribe caused by a lack of familiarity with the hijra calendar (e.g., lunar not solar calendar).

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