Preferred Citation: Bierman, Irene A. Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

Signing the Community

2. Signing the Community

For some five hundred years before the Fatimid public text first appeared, officially sponsored writing was used throughout the eastern Mediterranean to address group audiences. The archaeological remains from the time of the widespread building program initiated by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527–565 C.E.) provide a sufficient base of communal practices—the specific uses of writing and the employment of specific alphabets—to discuss what we call “signing the community.” Our first purpose, then, is to review how those in power used written signs addressed to group audiences, exploring and assessing both the official practice in the Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, and early Cairene Fatimid reigns, and the relevant social practices in non-ruling groups of those imperiums where some assessment is possible. For some groups, such as the Jacobite, Malkite, and Syriac Christians, the lack of sufficient evidence makes assessment impossible.[1] Indeed, the evidence for the social practice of officially sponsored writing in the Greek Orthodox and Christian communities exists basically from the urban communities. Among the Jewish communities, destruction of synagogues during the fifth and sixth centuries leaves them represented largely by archaeological remains.

Although the evidence is large enough, much of it from these five hundred years is fragmentary and its contents unexplored. Detailed discussion of the producers of the texts or the expectations of the intended audiences remains difficult, sometimes impossible. Consequently, in this exploration of community writing my inferences are often drawn from practices widely spaced in time and place. The difficulties of interpretation are not simply the result of individual missing buildings like the Great Mosques of Ramla and Aleppo,[2] or of buildings about which little is known beyond their location, such as Justinian’s Nea cathedral in Jerusalem,[3] and whole categories of structures that represent official architectonic practices, such as dār al-imaras.[4] Nor is it simply a matter of buildings only partially extant, like most synagogues, or so badly damaged or changed by later restorations that they are not useful for this analysis, such as many of the churches.[5] Equally important, simply said, we often know little about what does remain. Critically, we do not know or understand many of the social practices.

We can only poorly identify or even describe the communities that used and supported some buildings we do know. We have known for some time that the small town of Umm al-Jimal, for example, contained fifteen churches. Yet only now are we beginning to understand the composition of the congregations that supported them, and how the various churches might have functioned in a larger social network.[6] Similarly, we know nothing of the communities that during the Umayyad rule built the small mosques which dotted the desert area of the bilād al-shām, like those found at Umm al-Walīd and Jabal Says.[7] Thus, in most instances, we not only do not know the rite used in the churches, or the specific beliefs of those using the mosques, we have little reliable knowledge of who sponsored the structures or of the socio-economic and political situation of their congregations.

One further example should serve. For some populations discussed in this chapter, both the producers and the audiences have to be inferred from the presence of an alphabet and language. The Syro-Palestinian Aramaic found in the church at Umm al-Ru’ūs near Jerusalem, in the monastery at Khirbad Mird in the Judaean desert, and in a mosaic inscription in a church at al-Quwaysma, south of Amman, indicate a Syro-Palestinian community distinguishable only by its writing.[8] Nothing else now currently known separates this community materially from others, and likewise nothing is known about the social structure of the community. In sum, then, although many hundreds of official buildings remain—churches, mosques, synagogues, baptisteries, hospitals, and the like—many are in such a fragmentary state that they are not useful for the purposes of this study. Often floors remain, but walls do not. All too often the original ornamentation is missing, or if plaques with writing on them are found at the site, little can be done to reconstruct the specific placement of the plaque. Writing in non-permanent materials by and large perished long ago.

Still, though not as fulsome as we would like, enough archaeological evidence remains to permit a beginning analysis. The time frame of this study, starting with the reign of the Emperor Justinian, also clearly brings some difficulties. But the practices of using writing addressed to group audiences both in the buildings sponsored by members of his imperium, and in the structures built by other groups within the broader social formation of Byzantine rule can here be examined as a base of Umayyad practice of writing signs. Byzantine did not become Umayyad practice. Rather, the systems of writing signs for group audiences embedded within the broader social formations of both Byzantine and Umayyad societies were equivalent but not identical. In both societies, and in those subsequent until the Fatimids, using writing was one factor among clusters of others that linked the social organization of small and large communities.

This time frame also helps us shift the consideration of the social practice of using writing away from explanations based solely on religion, Muslim versus Christian. Many scholars believe, incorrectly, a more expanded use of writing to be characteristic of Muslim visual practices from the late eighth century onward. To the contrary, using these particular five hundred years lets us examine the social uses of writing by societies that succeeded one another in a given geographic area. Imperium succeeded imperium, Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, but the system of using the genre of written text discussed here changed little.

I am emphasizing that typical forms of writing linked similar kinds of producer, audience, topic, medium, content, and context regardless of alphabet and language, and regardless of the religion that dominated the society. In fact, a careful reading of the evidence demonstrates that officially sponsored writing with a group address served socially equivalent functions for all sectarian communities from the sixth through the tenth centuries. Rule appropriated the trappings of rule. Writ large is the truth that regardless of differences in religious beliefs, the pattern of the use of writing addressed to group audiences was equivalent throughout all communities.

What follows is a sifting of this uneven archaeological and artifactual evidence for observable regularities which can be understood as social rule or social practice whether or not prescriptive rules or regulations can be found in the records of the referent community. These observed regularities of practice are bracketed by the frames I call the territorial, aesthetic, and referential functions. Though considered here discretely, for a beholder all three aspects of meaning were present at once. However, in any particular historical context, one function was often the primary conveyor of the meaning.

Territorial Function

The universal social practice among groups in the eastern Mediterranean in this period was to use officially sponsored writing to mark sectarian spaces by placing writing inside those spaces, strategically. Christians of all denominations, Muslims, and Jews alike followed the same practice. In contrast, only to a very limited extent was officially sponsored writing addressed to a mixed audience used as a territorial marker in the public spaces.

Indeed, writing placed on the outside of structures, or invading public spaces in any way, was rare. In fact, one significant earlier use of writing, the inscribing of milestones along major highways connecting commercial centers, was virtually discontinued by the opening years of this study and was not programmatically revived by any ruling group.[9] Thousands of milestones are extant from Roman–early Byzantine practice, whereas only a few are extant from as late as the Umayyad and early Abbasid periods.[10] The practices of the Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbasids, and early Fatimids, as ruling groups, were similar in their minimal use of written signs in the public space. Those minimal uses will be reviewed here first, before the more significant territorial functions of writing within sectarian spaces will be analyzed.

The most consistent way in which writing was addressed to a mixed audience in the public space, one that was renewed and continued throughout the entire period, involved the marking of thresholds of walled urban areas. Byzantine, Umayyad, and Fatimid rulers and governors placed writing on the outsides of the gateways through which access into cities was controlled.[11] Examples of this practice are found in the seats of imperiums like Constantinople and Cairo, as well as in more rural, although commercially strategic, areas like Aqaba.[12] Rulers continually updated inscriptions, such as those on the city gates into Constantinople, and writing was placed on the gates of walled cities newly constructed late in this period, such as Cairo.

The presence of Greek or Arabic alphabets on the exterior of city thresholds was a sign of power marking boundaries; it indicated not that the group within was bound by a common language or common beliefs, but that the group was bound by a common rule. Moreover, that alphabet on the gate was a visual index of both the official language of rule, and, by extension, of the language of the belief system of the ruling group. Cities visually linked by similar writings became units in a chain which indexed the extent of rule, and often—in the sequence of inscriptions—the succession of rule.[13]

Less frequently and less consistently, rulers also used writing in the public space to mark the perimeter of their territory. Highly uneven archaeological data suggests that only Byzantine rulers among all those studied here consistently marked the forts on the frontier of their territory in the eastern Mediterranean with writing.[14] Recent analysis of these forts and their inscriptions by Thomas Parker suggests that this specific practice was especially important to Byzantine rulers primarily because they often reused Roman forts which already displayed other officially sponsored writing. Thus the re-making or re-writing by Byzantine rulers was one way of updating the written signs of power and rule. Highway markers functioned in a similar way. Umayyad rulers do not seem to have used writing as a consistent sign on structures serving similar perimeter or border functions, possibly because they seem to have built new buildings for new types of border services. Likewise, the Abbasids and Fatimids apparently did not mark their borders in the eastern Mediterranean in the same fashion.

Officially sponsored writing on coins is the only other significant use of writing in public space during these centuries before the emergence of the Fatimid public text. The coins minted by all rulers and governors from the sixth to the eleventh century displayed writing. Since coins circulated mainly within the territory of the issuer, many urban residents in all cities throughout the area, and over the centuries, would have been exposed to writing on coins as a sign of power that governed them, even taking into account Philip Curtin’s hypothesis that coins were circulated far less widely than we thought.[15]

Two incidents from this period involving the writing on coins illustrate, first, the use of alphabets as a group identity sign and, second, the dangers of easy generalizations about significantly augmented uses of writing by early Muslim rulers. Umayyad copper coins of the Damascus mint (phase two coins) displayed a Byzantine royal portrait on the obverse, typical of the seventh century Constantinopolitan folles (copper coins), and on the reverse the capital M, which on the Byzantine prototype represented the numeral 40, their nominal denomination. These coins were minted with three different writing formats giving the mint name: one with Greek as the sole denomination (DAM), one with Greek (DAMAKOC) and Arabic (dimashq), and one solely with Arabic (dimashq), which according to Michael Bates represents their probable date of issue (figs. 5, 6, 7).

Fig. 5a. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Greek language (1954.112.4 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 5b. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Greek language (1954.112.4 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 6a. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Greek and Arabic languages (1917.215.3314 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 6b. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Greek and Arabic languages (1917.215.3314 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 7a. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Arabic language (1970.107.26 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 7b. Copper coin, Umayyad period, Arabic language (1970.107.26 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)

These Umayyad copper coins follow the Byzantine prototype closely in image and in weight. Only the presence of writing distinguished the Umayyad issues from the Byzantine because no Byzantine folles displayed the Damascus mint name, even in Greek, as part of their image. We can understand the shift in alphabets and languages on the coins as the issuers’ attempt to relate the image on the coin (and thus the coin) to the group of Arabic speakers, especially the Muslims within their territory, rather than to the Greek speakers, especially the Orthodox Greek Muslims.

An equally interesting analogue, and perhaps one more familiar, is the Umayyad silver coin issued from the Damascus mint with Sassanid imagery. The obverse of these coins displays the image of the Sassanian emperor Khosraw II. On the right of the image is his name written in Pahlavi script (middle Persian language), and behind his head is a laudatory inscription also in Pahlavi script. This entire image, then, complete with its original writing, is Zoroastrian Sassanian, relating rule to a specific religious culture. Coins issued in A.H. 72 (fig. 8) bear in addition the inscription in Arabic, “In the name of God, Muḥammad is the Messenger of God,” (those issued in 73 and 74 display a slightly longer inscription). Here, again, writing in Arabic served as a territorial marker.

Fig. 8a. Umayyad silver coin, Khosraw II (1971.316.35 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 8b. Umayyad silver coin, Khosraw II (1971.316.35 Collection of the American Numismatic Society)

The second incident in coinage history, one from which much has been extrapolated in assessing the uses of writing in Arabic by Muslim rulers, occurred in 696–97 C.E. / A.H. 77–79 when the Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik began to mint coins which displayed only writing in Arabic (fig. 9).[16] Instituting this new epigraphic format provided a readily distinguishable marker that enabled users to differentiate his new dinars (gold coins) and dirhams (silver coins) which were lighter in weight from the others in common currency.[17] The “other” heavier coins in circulation were those minted previously by himself and earlier Umayyad rulers, and those of other rival Muslim leaders, as well as those of Byzantine leaders. ‘Abd al-Mālik’s decision to put more writing on coins needs to be seen as an isolated act in developing a set of signs indicative of his own and of Umayyad power. He did not use writing in any other visual medium either more frequently or in more visually significant ways than other rulers of his time.[18]

Fig. 9a. Reform coin, ‘Abd al-Mālik (1002.1.406 Collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in the Cabinet of the American Numismatic Society)
Fig. 9b. Reform coin, ‘Abd al-Mālik (1002.1.406 Collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in the Cabinet of the American Numismatic Society)

We do not fully understand what made ‘Abd al-Mālik choose a solely epigraphic format for his coins and not also for the buildings he sponsored, but obviously one of his intentions was to create a visual difference from other coins, thus helping his own new issue. That other Muslim leaders minted coins in the epigraphic pattern he established at the Damascus mint, beginning with his governor of Iraq, al-Ḥajjāj, is best understood in the light of political alliances. Those adopting the new epigraphic format aligned themselves with the Umayyad Caliphate and with Caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik. A totally epigraphic format in Arabic was an innovation that denoted a specific group in the social matrix and was an effective tool to set the Umayyads and those who supported them apart from others. The continued adoption of this format by the Abbasids and their governors is likewise a political decision that understood the format as a legitimating sign of Muslim power associated with a specific socio-political tradition. The break with this format by the Fatimids in the tenth century needs to be seen as a conscious manipulation of a widely adopted sign of Muslim political power.

One looks in vain in the archaeological and supporting textual records for other systematic uses of written signs in the public space beyond the limited ones described here. Extant buildings from Salonika to Cairo reveal an equivalent absence in the practice of all ruling groups in the use of writing in the public space. Written signs were not used systematically to differentiate Christian sectarian buildings according to their rite;[19] nor to mark buildings of different religions; nor to indicate different functions for structures—even in large, prosperous cities with populations representing several sectarian groups and economic levels.[20] Even the placement of writing on the lintels of entrance doorways is done irregularly. In the late fourth century, in the reign of Theodosius, the Roman temenos in Damascus was purified for Christian use. At that time inscriptions were carved into already existing lintels of the triple-arched doorway in the facade of the south wall of the temenos. These inscriptions are still visible today on the outer face of the walled-up door of the mosque. But it was even more frequent for lintel inscriptions to be on the inner face, or inner of the two doors if the doors are double, as at the Dome of the Rock.[21] One can point to exceptions: the Armenian church on Achtamar, unusual in its island setting and in its ornamentation within Armenian conventions, and the so-called Three Door Mosque in Qairowan for which full archaeological data is lacking, both somewhat removed from the geographical area considered here, but both displaying writing on their exteriors.[22] Yet these rare instances only underscore what was the normal practice of not using writing as a visually significant marker in the public space.

Investigation into public ceremonies—Byzantine, Umayyad, Abbasid, and early Fatimid—reveals a similar absence of systematic uses of writing as visual signs of power.[23] Descriptions of public ceremonies are infrequent and not systematic and thus only preliminary judgments can be put forth. What can safely be said is that textiles with writing on them, or standards with words or letters, did not play a significant enough role in any ceremonies of this period to elicit substantial comment. By contrast, from these same written sources we do understand the importance of certain colors: for example, the importance of wearing black, usually black wool, for officials in Abbasid public ceremony. Color also played a role in Byzantine ceremonial, especially in Constantinople, as did statuary, which was often carried in processions. What little is known about Umayyad public display suggests the lack of a consistent system of displaying this power to a public audience.

Strikingly different in frequency and consistency was the use of writing placed inside sectarian space, marking that space as group specific. Here extensive archaeological evidence exists for most groups, even though again it is uneven. Within sectarian spaces, beholders, already community members, came prepared with a common contextual frame of reference. Within their space, the presence of the group-specific alphabet served to the sectarian beholders as one of several signs of their group’s identification. In fact, the importance of the alphabet as a communal sign is reinforced by what we know of the writing practices of Jewish and Coptic communities as early as the tenth century in Egypt. Within these communities, Arabic, the language of rule, was written in the alphabet of the group, known today as Judeo-Arabic and Copto-Arabic.

We can expand that statement to say that writing in the group-specific alphabet was an emblem of the group because the presence of that same alphabet marked all the group’s sectarian spaces. Directly stated, the Coptic alphabet and language was placed in all Coptic churches, and Copts as a community were reinforced by accepting those spaces and the writing therein as appropriate to their group, and their group alone.[24] The territorial function of the use of Coptic was reinforced by the social practice of Egyptian society as a whole, for Coptic was used in no other sectarian space except those frequented by Copts.

Yet although writing was a ubiquitous territorial sign used by all groups during these centuries, it was a secondary sign or site for conveying territorial meanings. Depictions occupied far larger areas inside all sectarian spaces. For example, more space on the walls of the Dome of the Rock (fig. 10) and the Great Mosque of Damascus was devoted to the depictions of trees and plants and, in the Great Mosque of Damascus specifically, to the depictions of buildings, than was allocated for writing. The same could be said for Christian sectarian spaces. Writing was secondary to the depiction of biblical and New Testament figures. To the beholder within whichever sectarian space, Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, depictions, much more than officially sponsored writing, served as group-specific emblems, marking that space and others like it as belonging to the group.

Though visually less important, officially sponsored writing did mark the space as group specific, and the presence of a particular alphabet often signaled to the beholder a transformed or community-specific message for depictions that were common in the society as a whole. Take, for example, the closely similar depictions in several mosaic pavements on the floors of diverse sectarian structures—both synagogues and churches—from the sixth century, as noted above.[25] These floors, in various states of preservation, are located at the church of Shellal, at the synagogue at Gaza, at the Ma‘on (or Nirim) synagogue, on an Armenian mosaic floor in Jerusalem, and in abbreviated versions in a few other places (figs. 11, 12, 13, 14). How writing functioned to specify the depiction becomes clear when we compare three of these pavements within three different types of communal space: the pavements in the synagogue at Ma‘on, in the church at Shellal, and in the Armenian church in Jerusalem.

Fig. 10. Interior, Dome of the Rock (Drawn by Hampikian after photo by Creswell)
Fig. 11. Floor mosaic, church of Shellal (Drawn by Hampikian after photo by Avi-Yonah)
Fig. 12. Floor mosaic, synagogue at Gaza (Drawn by Hampikian after photo by Avi-Yonah)
Fig. 13. Floor mosaic, Ma‘on synagogue (Drawn by Hampikian after photo by Avi-Yonah)
Fig. 14. Floor mosaic, Armenian church, Jerusalem (Drawn by Hampikian after photo by Narkis)

These three floors all depict a grape vine (flowing from a vase) which has little foliage, abundant grapes and, in its loops, a range of beasts, birds, and objects. All have peacocks framing the vase: those at the Ma‘on synagogue and the church of Shellal break through the confines of a single loop; those in the Jerusalem pavement have tails that break out of a single loop but do not enter a second. The central vertical registers of all three display similar motifs: a bird in a cage, various containers of fruit, and perhaps also an eagle.[26] Basically, in formal terms, the depictions are strikingly similar. What visually distinguishes them, and makes them group specific, is the presence of writing as part of the whole depictive framework.

The script is Armenian on the pavement in Jerusalem, Greek on that at Shellal, and Aramaic at the synagogue at Ma‘on. To the beholder standing within the group space, the script was part of the territorial content of the depiction. Among the common images of the whole depiction, the specific alphabet was a visual clue for the beholder. It placed the images in the mosaics in a territorial or group-specific context, evoking by its presence the meaning of the images appropriate to the individual sectarian group. Thus, the images were read as “Armenian” or “Jewish” or “Greek Orthodox.”

The depiction of the bird in a cage which appeared in all of the mosaics, for instance, represented a common neo-platonic allegorical theme of a soul as a prisoner of the body. Each of these sectarian groups, having adopted the theme, transformed it in group-specific ways.[27] The presence of the alphabet of the group informed the beholder and indexed the group-specific referents. In fact, we, the contemporary beholders, understand the meaning conveyed by the presence of the alphabet in a similar way. We see (and publish) one as Armenian Art, one as Jewish Art, and one as early Christian Art based on the presence of the group-specific written sign. I should mention here as an aside that writing functioned in similar ways on the early Umayyad coinage, as mentioned above. On those coins, writing in Arabic, and in one instance Greek and Greek-Arabic, cued the beholder that the familiar image had a new group referent.[28]

Evaluating the archaeological evidence from several vantage points strongly reinforces our contention that it was the mere presence of the group-based alphabet, and not its content or its placement, that was the definitive territorial marker for the group-audience. Take, for instance, Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mūn’s tampering with part of the inscription of Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik in the Dome of the Rock.[29] Caliph al-Ma’mūn added his name over that of ‘Abd al-Mālik in the inscription on the east end of the intermediate octagon, south face. The semantic content now reads: “hath built this dome the Servant of God, ‘Abd Allah the Imām al-Ma’mūn, Commander of the Faithful in the year two and seventy.” That al-Ma’mūn substituted his name for that of ‘Abd al-Mālik has long been recognized by scholars, but in substituting his name, he did not change the date. It still reads A.H. 72 (691–92 C.E.), some 140 years before the time of the substitution of names in 831/216. In ways recalling Ettinghausen’s argument more than a decade ago,[30] the semantic content inconsistencies only highlight the importance of the presence of officially sponsored writing for a group-audience, however important the presence of his name was to the Caliph.

The social practices that orchestrated the placement of writing within sectarian spaces were similarly operative for all groups.[31] In sectarian gathering places sponsored by the ruling groups, such as churches and mosques and shrines like the Dome of the Rock, writing was most frequently placed within the roofed enclosure, on walls, primarily within a position bordering mural representations which were significantly larger in scale. This format of writing framing depictions was usually placed in certain focal architectural features like niches, apses, mihrabs, or central areas, especially those defined by a dome. This arrangement appears, for example, in the following extant structures built during our era and in which mural ornamentation survives:[32] (Byzantine) St. Polyeuktos, the Hagia Irene (fig. 15),[33] and Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, all in Constantinople (fig. 16);[34] the Hagia Sophia in Salonika (fig. 17);[35] (Umayyad) the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (fig. 10);[36] the Great Mosque in Damascus;[37] (Fatimid) al-Azhar mosque in Cairo (fig. 3).[38] Abbasid additions and restorations to the structures in the eastern Mediterranean maintained the same format as in the initial construction.[39]

Fig. 15. Niche, St. Polyeuktos, Hagia Irene, Istanbul (photo by Terry Allen)
Fig. 16. Interior, Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Istanbul
Fig. 17. Interior, Hagia Sophia (drawn by Hampikian after photo by Cormak)

A simple comparison of the mural arrangements of three structures demonstrates the point: in the Hagia Sophia in Salonika (fig. 17), the depiction of the virgin and child enthroned occupied the semi-dome of the apse, and the writing borders the depiction along the bottom; in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem (fig. 10), the depictions of trees, plants, and royal jewelry occupy the main part of the wall areas, and the writing borders the depiction along the top. Similarly, in the al-Azhar mosque, (fig. 3), the first mosque built by the Fatimids in Cairo, depictions of trees and vines are large in scale and occupied the main wall sections, and the writing, significantly smaller in scale, borders these depictions.

In addition to framing depictions, all groups used writing by itself to frame focal areas. Consider, for example, the writing in Greek carved into the marble niche in the church of St. Polyeuktos (fig. 15)[40] or the writing in Arabic that framed the mihrab in the mosque of Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn in al-Qaṭā’i‘, (fig. 4). A particularly visually impressive example of this practice is the band of writing in Greek carved into the entablature under the dome of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople (fig. 16).

One use of writing on walls of sectarian spaces, however, appears to have been specific to Christian practice. Only in the extant mural articulations of Christian spaces from this period was writing placed within the depiction, either to identify or label, a kind of tableau parlant. But describing this practice as peculiar to Christian groups is an assessment based on absent evidence. The mural articulations of Muslim and Jewish spaces are very unevenly preserved from this period. In the Great Mosque, Damascus, for example, less than 15 percent of the original interior articulation of this period remains, and the walls of most synagogues are not extant, and thus any generalizations for these groups are risky.

In contrast to the ubiquitous practice of placing writing on walls, displaying writing on floors was a practice more limited in time, medium, and in group conventions. Writing was displayed in the mosaic floors of synagogues and of most churches until the eighth century. Writing does not appear to have been put on mosque floors. But even within the practice of the Christians and Jews, writing does not appear on the floors of all sectarian structures and cost may be the most relevant explanation for the absence or presence of writing on the floors. For example, in imperial churches, or those endowed with substantial funding, the floors were constructed with opus sectile, quartered and matched slabs of marble or occasionally limestone.[41] Sometimes floors were constructed out of stone selected because of its close resemblance to the costlier opus sectile.[42] In displaying such beautiful flooring, the patron demonstrated an ability to afford a costly medium and to command the technologically expensive process of quartering marble. The practice was not to “break up” this expensive surface by smaller designs such as writing, although patterning on a large scale was often achieved by different colored and grained marble. By extension, the absence of writing on the floors in the Great Mosque of Damascus and the Dome of the Rock could possibly be attributed in part to the presence of marble floors.

On floors writing appeared in mosaic, a less expensive flooring. Thus in synagogues, monasteries, and local churches with mosaic floors writing was part of the floor design. The archaeological evidence for practices within spaces built as mosques (and not converted churches) is quite fragmentary, yet little evidence suggests that as a general practice writing was placed on mosque floors that were mosaic.[43]

While it is clear that the presence or absence of writing on floors in the practice of these communities followed the use of material, materiality and cost alone cannot totally explain the practice. Writing could have been displayed in opus sectile, and mosaic floors could have been monochrome or color patterned without writing or depictions. Various social factors, such as the displacement of Greco-Roman culture by an Islam-based one, are issues which must be considered.

Beyond the embellishment of floors and walls within sectarian spaces, little evidence exists to suggest that artifacts used within sectarian spaces during these centuries systematically or significantly displayed writing. We make this judgment based mainly on the written record because very few portable artifacts used in the sectarian spaces of any group remain from this period. One of the exceptions is the fifth or sixth century polycandelon displaying writing in Aramaic dedicating it to the synagogue of Kefar Hananyah.[44] Most often, however, we are dealing with mentions of the presence of writing such as that on an altar cloth in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople,[45] and, although it is outside our eastern Mediterranean geographic area, the displaying of the Caliphal name on the kiswa, the textile covering the Ka‘ba in Mecca.[46] Apparently various basins, containers, and lamps from churches, synagogues, and mosques displayed writing, but the use of writing on such objects does not seem to be a consistent pattern.

In sum, the pattern of extant officially sponsored writings from this period indicates both the importance of its presence and of its presence in the group-specific alphabet. Primarily, all communities used such writing as a territorial marker within their own sectarian spaces. All groups, ruling and ruled, marked walls, and most floors, with officially sponsored writing. By contrast, using writing to invade the public space appears to have been the domain of ruling groups, both imperial and local. And finally, the pattern of use clearly indicates that officially sponsored writing served as a territorial marker of lesser visual prominence than depictions, but one that evoked important relationships.

Aesthetic Function

Confronted by the officially sponsored writing in sectarian or public spaces, beholders found the reinforcement of group identification in the alphabet, but also saw the form and materiality of the writing itself. “Style” conveys meaning to beholders by the system of writing forms they see, as well as through their awareness of the whole process that supported the finished product: the technology, cost of materials, and the status and training of the artists.[47] In addition, the presence of a specific style conveyed meaning by the pattern of its social use within the society.

An analysis of the aesthetic dimension of this writing reinforces the patterns that emerged from examining the territorial function of officially sponsored writing, namely, an equivalency of practice among the various sectarian groups in the eastern Mediterranean. During this period no sectarian group developed a style of script specifically to be seen by its group audience. Officially sponsored writing followed conventions for handwritten forms and manner of orthography,[48] but, of course, was larger than the writing in books and was executed in and by entirely different materials.[49]

Careful observation reveals a remarkably specific consistency between officially sponsored writing and one specific book hand in the social practices of all groups: between the officially sponsored writing of any sectarian group and the book hand in which their group-based text was formally written (that is, the Qur’ān, the Hebrew Bible, or the New Testament).[50] We are speaking here, for example, of what is called Kufic script for writing Arabic, squared serifed in Greek, and old or squared or formal Jewish for Hebrew (fig. 18).[51] All these script styles can be characterized as geometric or squared. They were distinguished from coeval script styles in these same alphabets that were cursive, and were used for government record keeping, business records, and the like, as well as from various versions of geometric writing that were less precisely rendered.

Fig. 18. Writing samples, formal style (drawn by Hampikian)

Unfortunately, the relation between the script of officially sponsored writing and the Book hand remains very problematic. Neither in Byzantine practice, where we might expect the clearest evidence, nor in Umayyad, where we know evidence to be elusive, can we speak with certainty about the extent or specific ways the script practice of officially sponsored writing and that of the book were related.[52] Given the state of our evidence, we need to avoid adding any more limitations to our understanding of this period. We must be prepared, if necessary, to abandon inherited assumptions that officially sponsored writing imitated, or followed the lead of, the handwriting of the sectarian Book. In fact, I suspect that as with other complex relationships interdependence is a more useful concept than causal development.

A few scholars have already remarked on the resemblance between the script of officially sponsored writing and the Book hand, although most of them confined their remarks to specific cases. Cristel Kessler, for instance, has described in detail what she terms the dependency of the inscription of the Dome of the Rock on the Qur’ān book hands of the period.[53] She demonstrated that the writing of the inscription, in addition to letter shapes, displays the diacritical marks that parallel the writing practices in the early Qur’āns, even to the extent that the letters were shaped to mimic the markings formed by the cut of the early qalam (reed pen).[54] Even the ornamental devices separating Qur’ānic phrases in the Dome of the Rock parallel those found in Qur’ānic texts, although she does not note this latter aspect. And, of course, the format for this inscription, as indeed with all other inscriptions from this period in any language, was linear as on a manuscript page.[55] In general, letters were displayed against a plain background.

Stanley Morison, taking his observations in a direction different from Kessler’s, has examined the relationship of certain official book hand styles and monumental inscriptions as indexes of relations between the Western-Latin and Eastern-Byzantine Churches.[56] And, finally, Joseph Naveh has pointed out that the same formal script was used for writing the Hebrew language on monuments and in texts.[57] The minimal evidence available for the comparison of the practice of writing in manuscripts and in sectarian spaces suggests a similar practice within the Armenian and Coptic communities as well.

What is remarkable about this practice is its consistency. Geometric letter style, association between officially sponsored writing and the book hand, as well as the preservation of a linear format were all maintained for almost five hundred years. Yet while members of the communities could see these consistencies—or at least see them within the practice of their own group—differences existed that created contrasting patterns, setting up new relationships that evoked more nuanced meanings. Diachronic and quality differences are apparent.

A diachronic examination of the officially sponsored writing in the sectarian spaces sponsored by members of the ruling groups indicates that small script changes were consciously made to distinguish and identify a specific group or ruler. For instance, the letter terminations in the officially sponsored writing in the mosque of al-Azhar are slanted, and medial and ending letters often elaborated (fig. 3), while these features are not present in the writing in the Dome of the Rock some three hundred years earlier (fig. 10). Most of the differences in the officially sponsored writing practices in Greek and Arabic, like those in the example above, consisted mainly in variations on terminations of letters, in proportions of width to height, and of relative thickness and thinness of the vertical and horizontal lines of letters. Of course, despite these changes, the geometric nature of the letter formation was preserved.[58]

In addition, the evidence indicates differences in the fineness—in the trained quality—of the letter formation of officially sponsored writing. Officially sponsored writing, beautifully formed and skillfully executed, like that of the Greek displayed in the central areas of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus (fig. 16) in Constantinople, existed at the same time that more modest letters in Greek were displayed in the church of Mt. Nebo. The officially sponsored writing in the mosque of Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn (fig. 4) from the ninth century is not as fine as that in the mosque of al-Azhar in the tenth (fig. 3). Of course these readily observable differences represent different social hierarchies. Sts. Sergius and Bacchus was sponsored by Empress Theodora (and Emperor Justinian) and is in the imperial capital; the church on Mt. Nebo was a monastery church in the provinces. The mosques of Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn and al-Azhar are both within the urban expanse of Cairo-Miṣr, but the former was sponsored by a provincial governor and the latter by a Caliph. And, of course, the two churches and the two mosques were constructed to serve different types of congregations within their sectarian groups.

But however extensive the variation in script styles related to changing times, different places, and different social practices, the overriding pattern of these similar visual signs evoked a relationship between ideology (or belief) based in the communal text and the social structure that maintained those beliefs. Beholders thus understood ideology and social structure in terms of their own group Book-based practice. These understandings naturalized authority—that is, they reinforced as normal and appropriate both the beliefs and organization of the group to the sectarian beholders. In so doing, these understandings situated those specific sectarian beliefs and social organization within the larger social network.

The very large diachronic stability of these visual signs of power—officially sponsored writings within sectarian spaces—presented to the various sectarian beholders the stable nature of their communal authority. By the preservation of form, authority was presented as conservative and unchanging. Formal consistencies thus masked very real shifts both within the beliefs and the social structure that developed in the eastern Mediterranean from the sixth through the tenth centuries.

If the diachronically observed stability of some formal patterns of officially sponsored writing supported and reinforced Book-based communal authority, there were real and repeated exceptions that probed these rules. I will attempt to explicate the relation of writing to authority and audience when Fatimid practice is the focused subject, but there remain some unanswered questions worth not forgetting. For example, writing and depictions are displayed in the floors of a large number of Greek Orthodox churches, despite the promulgation by the Byzantine emperor of laws forbidding the placing of writing and images on floors.[59] What is the nature of authority (of communal practice) that could disregard such laws? Concerning Muslim practice of the seventh and eighth centuries, the aḥādīth (Traditions) tell us that a number of people—Mālik ibn Anas was one—spoke out about the appearance of writing on the walls of mosques. Specifically, the writing of Qur’ānic verses is mentioned as a distraction for those at prayer.[60] Yet despite the opposition of some people and of some aḥādīth, writing of Qur’ānic verses was displayed in mosques. What does this tell us about the nature of authority in early Muslim practice?

Also, we must recognize that no matter how significant the formal elements of officially sponsored writing appear to have been, the materiality of the writing weighed more heavily in the aesthetic dimension of their meaning. I will offer two examples, one from Muslim and one from Jewish practice, which explicate different linkages of relationships both within and between groups that were based on the materiality of the writing.

The example from Muslim sectarian practice, which concerns five of the buildings sponsored by the Umayyad Caliphs ‘Abd al-Mālik and (his son) al-Walīd, demonstrates the importance of the materiality of the writing in Muslim sectarian practice itself and its links with the practice of some groups of Christians. The sequencing of the buildings is relatively well documented.[61] Caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik built the Dome of the Rock in 690[62] articulating the inner walls with officially sponsored writing in Kufic letters, in a linear band which surmounts depictions (fig. 10). Both the writing and the depictions were executed in gold and glass mosaic (with some cabochon jewels within the depictions) all of which surmounted marble wall paneling.

The Dome of the Rock remained the only Muslim structure so articulated until Caliph al-Walīd began his program of building and reconstruction of 705–15, during which he undertook, almost simultaneously, the construction and reconstruction of four major mosques: two in the eastern Mediterranean (the Great Mosque in Damascus and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem) and two in Arabia (the Prophet’s mosque in Medina and the ḥarām in Mecca.)[63] In these, in gold and glass mosaic, writing in Arabic and depictions were displayed.

What was conveyed by the aesthetic dimension of officially sponsored writing to its Muslim beholders? On one level, of course, by using gold and glass mosaic and the format of depiction and writing in the four mosques, al-Walīd created visual linkages “backward” in time to the Dome of the Rock his father sponsored, and linked the latter to the “present,” that is, with his own structures and his own power. On yet another level, by adopting the pattern of so marking some specific structures, al-Walīd also perpetuated and augmented the visual inequalities between Muslim sectarian spaces he and his father had sponsored directly and all others (those sponsored by previous Caliphs and former and contemporary provincial governors) where the gold and glass medium was not used. In short, they created a hierarchy within Muslim sectarian spaces based in significant measure on the medium of ornamentation. In visiting the capital city of Damascus and then the religious pilgrimage centers of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, Muslim beholders could not escape seeing the visual link made among the main Umayyad-sponsored Muslim sectarian spaces in these cities.

Yet still another level of meaning was conveyed to Muslim beholders by the materiality—the gold and glass mosaic—of the articulation of these Muslim sectarian spaces. We could, in fact, deduce this meaning from the pattern of the use of gold and glass mosaic within the society as a whole, but in this instance we have reported conversations that also suggest these understandings. The conversations took place during the inspection tour that Caliph al-Walīd made after the completion of the restorations he ordered to the Prophet’s mosque (masjid al-nabī) in Medina. He spoke then to ’Ubān ibn ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, whose father had been the third Caliph. Al-Walīd asked him what he thought about his restoration to the Prophet’s mosque relative to the changes ’Ubān’s father (‘Uthmān) had made to the same mosque.[64] ’Ubān’s reply, “We built it in the manner of mosques, you built it in the manner of churches,” suggests a reference to the meaning conveyed by the materiality—the gold and glass mosaic medium—used in the interior.

Obviously, ’Ubān, in speaking of “the manner,” did not allude to the spatial arrangement of that mosque. No one entering that Muslim sectarian space could have mistaken it for a Christian church. Nor did he allude to the depictions of the architecture and trees and the writing per se, because they resembled the mosaic format in the Great Mosque of Damascus more than that in any Christian church. We are thus left to conclude that ’Ubān was referring to the gold and glass mosaic medium itself.

In commenting on the medium, ’Ubān’s words implied more than a direct reading—that al-Walīd had made the mosque of Medina resemble churches—would have us understand. ’Ubān, speaking these words in the early eighth century, was undoubtedly noting—and the Caliph was undoubtedly hearing—what the archaeological evidence tells us. Al-Walīd’s restoration made the mosque resemble churches sponsored by the Byzantine ruling group. Only that level of authority could have afforded such a medium. In a McLuhan sense, here the medium was indeed the message. And the message was power—power to command expensive glass technology with all that suggests of furnaces and other equipment, color expertise, and gold, and the power to cause the movement and support of highly trained artists.[65] Thus a specific, extravagant aesthetic display linked ruling authority with ruling authority across sectarian boundaries, and it also distinguished socio-political levels of authority within the Muslim sectarian group.

Materiality of officially sponsored writing also conveyed information about the hierarchy within a group’s social structure on less spectacular levels. This is especially apparent in Jewish sectarian spaces where officially sponsored writing in more than one alphabet (and language) were likely to occur. Here the patterns of materiality, alphabet, and script fineness combine to give us today some insights which are all the more valuable because we know these communities mainly through their archaeological remains.

Looking at the archaeological remains of the synagogues that were in use in the coastal cities of the eastern Mediterranean into and during the early part of the sixth century, we find it not unusual to see officially sponsored writing displayed in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.[66] The orthography and letter shape of the writing in Aramaic inscriptions, like the fragmentary one preserved in the synagogue of the village of ’Isfiya, was most likely to be the most poorly executed of the three alphabets.[67] The Greek alphabet, on the other hand, was most likely to be the most finely executed, as we find in the synagogue of Caesarea.[68] Inscriptions in Hebrew were relatively even in fineness. All were modestly well rendered—correct spelling and letter shape, a pattern obviously linked to the social stratification of various members of the congregations.

In one synagogue or another, all of these alphabets appeared in stone mosaic. Sometimes the stone was augmented by local green glass as it was in ’Isfiya.[69] When writing appeared in a yet more expensive medium, Greek was the only alphabet and language displayed.[70] In the practice (and socio-economic level) of these sectarian communities, more expensive medium meant marble. What do these patterns of fineness of script and its materiality signify to a beholder who can distinguish the alphabets and languages present as Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew?

At that time, and until well into the eighth century, Greek was the socially predominant language and culture. Although a large proportion of the Jewish population was Aramaic speaking, Greek almost always was used as the official language for inscriptions and documents.[71] Greek was everywhere tied to those elements of authority within the community who had the financial ability and the willingness to express that power within the communal space. This seems an obvious and direct conclusion. But if we state the relationship between authority and medium in another way, we reveal more nuanced webs of signification. Among Jewish congregations of the coastal area in the sixth century eastern Mediterranean, Greek was the language in which power within the community was demonstrated. Power was represented on a minimal level as economic ability—to afford marble over stone. Power was also linked with a specific education and knowledge of literature written in Greek, rather than Aramaic.[72] This educated authority had the ability to command the language and script and oversee its fine execution. Clearly such an education represented a knowledge broader than familiarity with texts directly related to Jewish communal life.[73]

How then do we assess the patterns presented by officially sponsored writing in Aramaic and in Jewish script (Hebrew language)? Obviously the authority signified by the writing in Aramaic was less powerful (less financially able, or less well educated) in the activities of the society as a whole and within the Jewish community than that represented by the other two officially sponsored writings. Clearly it did not/could not even sustain the vigilance necessary to guarantee a finely executed and properly spelled Aramaic script. We could argue that mosaicists and stone and marble carvers were more used to producing writing in Greek than Aramaic, and that alone might account for poorly executed script. While that may indeed be an accurate assessment of the skills of the artists, I still would argue for understanding the poor quality of the inscriptions as representing the lack of power (financial or educational differences) to sustain the necessary vigilance, because the writing of Hebrew in Jewish script was uniformly fine. Since many mosaicists were Christian, no need existed within their own sectarian communities for them to know either language. And, perhaps more significantly, the alphabets and letters of these two languages are similar. What is known as Jewish script—what most people today would call Hebrew letters—developed in the Roman period from the Aramaic alphabet.[74] Thus any artist able to render the letters of one alphabet (language) could easily render those of the other.

The inscriptions in Hebrew evoked an authority in the middle ground between the two. The constancies in the quality of the inscriptions in all the Jewish sectarian spaces throughout these ten cities represented an authority with sufficient power (education or social) to maintain such uniformity. The constancy in the quality of the script also communicates a social practice where the maintenance of a uniform alphabetic sign was important. We cannot forget that officially sponsored writing in Hebrew was a sign of the Book of all of the Jewish communities, whereas the other two alphabets (languages) were not. Hebrew was the language of the Book-based belief. Greek, on the other hand, had a wide and common currency.

Referential Function

I have argued that the group-specific alphabet, as a familiar emblem, functioned primarily to mark the space as specific to the beholder’s sectarian group. At the same time, of course, the style of the writing, situated in the social patterns of aesthetic values within the broader social system and within that of the specific sectarian group, communicated authority and evoked for viewers nuanced understandings of social, political, and economic hierarchies. Officially sponsored writing functioned in these ways whether beholders “read” the writing for its semantic content or not. Of course, when beholders “read” the writing for its semantic content, it signified meanings that both reinforced and augmented those conveyed by the other functions of officially sponsored writing. But we suggest that the referential dimensions of writing remained secondary to the other two dimensions in conveying meaning to group audiences.

Given our evidence that the social practice of the sectarian communities in the eastern Mediterranean was equivalent, we are prepared for the pattern that emerged from analyzing the semantic content of the officially sponsored writing in sectarian spaces and public spaces. The referential bases of the officially sponsored writing of all of the groups were also equivalent. The semantic content of the writing was drawn basically from only two evocational categories: one based in the written Book of the group, and the other, based partially in written sources other than the Book, and partially in a restricted code of names, dates, places, and phrases important only to the group.

In this latter configuration we classify the following: the names of people who because of their social rank or their activities had an importance within the referent system of the group (rulers both past and present, wealthy or holy personages, prophets, martyrs, artists, saints, even enemies); the names of places or structures important to the group; dates important in the history of the group or the specific community’s life, calculated by the calendar system of the group, or by references to an earlier event common to the group; and common aphorisms or phrases.

Materials from these two evocational categories were not presented in an unvarying order in the official writings. For example, officially sponsored writing did not always begin with words from the group’s Book and end with the patron’s name and date. But writings taken from certain evocational categories were more likely to be placed in some areas of sectarian spaces rather than others. In the social practices of all of the groups, writings based on the written Book were more likely to appear both on the wall and in the focal area of the structure than elsewhere. No sectarian community placed writings from the communal Book on the floor.

So placed, writings from the Book in mosques and churches (no evidence exists for synagogues) framed depictions. In no extant instance do the writings from the Book directly explain the image they frame. Rather, they have to be understood as appropriate juxtapositions, similar to those Grabar noted in Seljuk pottery and in contemporary Christmas cards where the greeting does not always explain or directly relate to the image on the front of the card.[75] For example, in the Hagia Sophia in Salonika, the writings from the Psalms do not explain the image of the Virgin and Child enthroned which they frame, nor do the lengthy passages from the Qur’ān in the Dome of the Rock explain the depictions of hybrid plant forms or of royal jewelry which they surmount.

Writing based in the second evocational category was more likely to appear on objects, on the floors of the structures, on lintels or door frames. These are the locations where we usually find donor or patron information, or information commemorating events of the group. A few examples will suggest the ubiquitous nature of this practice. First consider that on the mosaic floor of the synagogue in Gaza the following inscription appears, “Menahem and Yeshua the sons of the late Isses, wood merchants, as a sign of respect for a most Holy Place have donated this mosaic in the month of Loos 569.” [76] An inscription of similar content is found on the choir door in the Coptic church of al-Adra in Deir al-Baramus where “the blessed Patriarchs Mar Cosmas and Mar Basil” are mentioned.[77] On the lintels of two of the inner entrance doors of the Dome of the Rock first the Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik and later the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mūn placed their names as patrons.[78] Objects, such as basins found in synagogues and in mosques, also displayed donor information: for instance, the basin inscribed in Greek found in the synagogue at Gaza,[79] and the one inscribed in Arabic with the name of Umm Ja‘far, daughter of ‘Abd al-Fadl Ja‘far, son of the Caliph al-Manṣūr who donated it for Muslim pilgrims.[80]

This pattern was not a rigid one, of course. Often patron or donor information and dating was placed at the end of the inscription from the communal Book in the focal area of the communal space. Such was the practice in the Dome of the Rock where ‘Abd al-Mālik added his name and date. In fact, in one notable exception, the patron, “our sceptered Justinian,” publicized himself and his rule in the inscription of the focal area in Sts. Sergius and Bacchus as much as he did the honoree (fig. 16):

Other sovereigns, indeed, have honored dead men whose labor was useless. But our sceptered Justinian, fostering piety, honors with a splendid abode the servant of Christ, Creator of all things, Sergius; whom nor the burning breath of fire, nor the sword, nor the constraints of trials disturbed; but who endured for the sake of God Christ to be slain, gaining by his blood heaven as his home. May he in all things guard the rule of the ever-vigilant sovereign, and increase the power of the God-crowned Theodora whose mind is bright with piety, whose toil is unsparing efforts to nourish the destitute.[81]

What were the meanings these referential dimensions conveyed to beholders? Mostly they supported and specified the meanings conveyed by the territorial and aesthetic dimensions of the officially sponsored writing. Yet we believe there was a critical difference in the accessibility of meanings between those conveyed by the territorial and the aesthetic dimensions on the one hand, and the referential on the other. Not only did the beholder have to be contextually literate, and within some groups the mechanisms for ensuring this were minimal, but had to understand the group-specific context of the text to derive its meaning from its referential function.

In light of these observations, I cannot agree in this instance with such scholars as Grabar, who suggest that the semantic content of the Qur’ān-based inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock was meant to missionize, to invite people to submit.[82] Instead, I suggest that the language of the Qur’ān, a highly specialized written language, was addressed to sectarian believers. Who else would understand its semantic framework? Who else would believe that it was the word of God and thus understand its importance? Impressing to missionize and to entice was the task of the aesthetic function, and to a lesser extent the territorial one. The aesthetic function offered readily accessible socio-economic messages which situated a given officially sponsored inscription within a broad social practice.

This demur extends also to semantic content not based in the communal Book. Who else but a sectarian beholder could understand the implications of the semantic content of the Coptic inscription that gives the date of the death of Papa Stephanos as “tenth month after the passing away of…”?[83] Who is this person? Why was he important? What does the title mean? When is this? That Menahem or Umm Ja‘far donated something is publicity that is meaningful for the social context of the sectarian group. To non-group beholders these names, dates, places, and titles lack a meaningful poignancy and immediacy.

The core of what we have tried to effect in this chapter is an understanding of the practices of writing signs during the centuries before the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969. Paradoxically, the functions of writing were simultaneously cohesive and differentiating. All the communities within the society used writing signs in similar ways, the traditions of centuries, to mark territory, to reference the Book, and to commemorate people and places. Styles of script were analogous, and the communities shared a hierarchy of materials and technology. The communities also shared a range of uses for such writing: most prominently, marking the interior of sectarian spaces. Such continuity of functions and range of uses of writing signs only strengthened the ability of these signs to be comprehended by those within and without a given community. The appearance of a group-specific alphabet—or a combination of alphabets—reaffirmed for the group in that space who they were, and by the absence of other alphabets, who they were not.

That alphabets were used by communities as visual signs of differentiation in a shared system of writing signs is critical to know because they were among the most effective visual signs signalling difference between communities in a visual culture that was largely shared. While imagery, and not writing, dominated the visual culture of urban life in the eastern Mediterranean, a point underscored by Peter Brown in demonstrating the constancy and reiteration of classical themes,[84] it was writing in the alphabet of the community that strongly differentiated that imagery, orienting it to its audience—for example, the mosaic floors mentioned above.

This chapter also serves as a mise en scène for the augmented range of uses of writing signs the Fatimid ruling group effected. Their change in the traditional uses sketched above alerts us to new kinds of choices made in that society and to the political and ideological interests which imposed them.


1. A good text to consult is Schick, “The Fate of Christians in Palestine.”

2. See EMA, vol. 1, pt. 2, 483–84.

3. The location of the Nea cathedral and its complex are known and have been excavated, although they are minimally published. Nahman Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem (Nashville, Camden, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980); Meir Ben-Dov, In the Shadow of the Temple, trans. Ina Friedman (New York: Harper & Row, 1982). Reconstructions of the Nea have been drawn from the foundation remains, but we cannot reconstruct its ornamentation. The Nea was described by Procopius in general laudatory terms without the kind of specificity needed for this study. A tabula ansate containing an inscription in Greek was found, Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem, 242–45 with plates.

4. Jere L. Bacharach, “Administrative Complexes, Palaces, and Citadels: Changes in the Loci of Medieval Muslim Rule,” in The Ottoman City and Its Parts, ed. Irene A. Bierman, Rifa‘at A. Abou-El-Haj, and Donald Preziosi (New Rochelle: A. D. Caratzas, 1991), 111–28.

5. The walls of most churches that continued in use, for instance, were significantly altered in the Crusader period or later.

6. Berton De Vries, “Urbanization in the Basalt Region of North Jordan in Late Antiquity: The Case of Umm el-Jimal,” in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan II, ed. Adnan Hadidi (Amman: Department of Antiquities Jordan, 1985), 249–56, where he points to this need for explanation; Robert A. Coughenour, “The Fifteen Churches of Umm el-Jimal,” in The Umm el-Jimal Excavations, ed. Berton De Vries (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, forthcoming), where he postulates that the Ghassanids were the tribe most likely to be the sponsors of these churches and, in fact, to be the occupants in Umm al-Jimal in the sixth century. Umm al-Raṣṣās is another town with almost as many churches.

7. Many of these small mosques still exist. The most accessible overview is Geoffrey King, C. J. Lenzen, and Gary O. Rollefson, “Survey of Byzantine and Islamic Sites in Jordan Second Season Report,” Annual of the Department of Antiquities Jordan 27 (1983): 385–436. The mosque at Umm al-Walīd, which had a minaret, is the type of early mosque where the mihrab projected from the qibla wall (like the mosque at Khan al-Ẓahid, now vanished but published by Brunnow and von Domaszewski, one at Qasr Jabal Says, one east of Qasr Hallabat, and one, still unpublished, north of Hammām al-Sarakh).

8. Syro-Palestinian Aramaic (also variously called Christian Palestinian Aramaic and Christian Palestinian Syriac) is a form of Western Aramaic in Syriac type characters that appears to have served a Christian community—that is, the placement and content of inscriptions on Christian sectarian buildings plus the existence of a gospel lectionary and various parchment documents in that alphabet and language indicate its use by a Christian community. For an article discussing the various sites where inscriptions are found, and map of the sites, see A. Desreumaus, “The Birth of a New Aramaic Script in the Bilad al-Sham at the end of the Byzantine Period,” in The History of the Bilad al-Sham during the Umayyad Period, ed. M. Adnan Bakhit and Robert Schick, 4th International Conference of the History of Bilad al-Sham, 1987 (Amman: University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, 1989), 26–36.

9. Many texts catalogue the milestones along the Roman roads. One that offers interesting interpretations of the social practices is Benjamin Isaac and Israel Roll, Roman Roads in Judea I: The Legio-Scythopolis Road, BAR International Series 141 (BAR: Oxford, 1982).

10. The two, possibly three, milestones known from the Umayyad period are reviewed by G. Rex Smith, “Some Umayyad Inscriptions of Bilad al-Sham—Palaeographic Notes,” in The History of the Bilad al-Sham, ed. Bakhit and Schick, 185–94. A few have been found in Arabia.

11. Although somewhat outside the geographical area covered here, Abbasid rulers put writing on the gates of the capital, Baghdad. No communal structure directly sponsored by the Abbasids from the eighth through the tenth centuries is extant in the eastern Mediterranean. They did, however, maintain and repair earlier important structures like the Dome of the Rock. We include them here because they ruled a significant portion of the territory we are discussing.

12. For Constantinople consult C. Mango, “The Byzantine Inscriptions of Constantinople: A Bibliographic Survey,” American Journal of Archaeology 55 (1951): 52–66; for Aqaba, Donald Whitcomb, “Evidence of the Umayyad Period from the Aqaba Excavations,” in History of the Bilad al-Sham, ed. Bakhit and Schick, 164–84.

13. Two scholarly works supply easy access to the sequencing of inscriptions of the Byzantine period: Parker, Romans and Saracens; and Mango, “The Byzantine Inscriptions of Constantinople.”

14. The most recent study of these forts in the eastern Mediterranean is Parker, Romans and Saracens, where he details the uses of these forts into the reign of Justinian. Of particular interest are chaps. 1–5, where Parker notes the care taken to update the inscriptions from Roman to Byzantine use.

15. Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), where he suggests that trade in kind prevailed over payment in coin.

16. The first solely epigraphic dinar or gold coin was minted in 696–97 C.E.; the first silver coin, or dirham, in 698–99. Many interpretations of the early coinage of Muslim rulers have been advanced over the years, but the most persuasive was detailed by George C. Miles, “Mihrab and ‘Anazah: A Study in Early Islamic Iconography,” in Archaeologica Orientalia in Memoriam Ernst Herzfeld, ed. George C. Miles (Locust Valley: J. J. Augustin, Inc., 1952), 33–49. More recent studies have analyzed the early changes in light of the specific historical changes within the empire. In particular, the studies of P. Grierson, “The Monetary Reforms of ‘Abd al-Mālik,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 3 (1960): 241–64; Michael Bates, “Islamic Numismatics,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 12, no. 2 (1978): 1–6; 12, no. 3 (1978): 2–18; 13, no. 1 (1979): 3–21; 13, no. 2 (1979): 1–9; and Michael L. Bates, “History, Geography and Numismatics in the First Century of Islamic Coinage,” Revue Suisse de Numismatique 65 (1986): 231–63, have suggested more historically specific studies of coins and mints and an understanding that coins are more than the depictions on their surface. Part of their meaning lies in their weight and the system of which that weight is a part. Emiko Terasaki, “The Lack of Animal and Human Figural Imagery in the Public Art of the Umayyad Period,” (Master’s thesis, UCLA, 1987), suggested understanding certain of the iconographic changes in the Umayyad period as related to intra-Muslim politics.

I want to thank especially Jere Bacharach and Michael Bates who, while not responsible for my interpretation, have patiently answered my questions and freely shared the insights of their numismatic research.

17. For the issue of weights of these reform coins, see Grierson, “Monetary Reforms,” 247–50.

18. Much has been written about ‘Abd al-Mālik’s putting writing on textiles (A. Grohmann, “Tiraz,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st ed. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1913–36); Irene A. Bierman, “Art and Politics: The Impact of Fatimid Uses of Tiraz Fabrics,” [Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1980]), but these textiles had no official use that is traceable. If one looks carefully at the writing on the few textiles that do remain from the Umayyad or early Abbasid period one can understand why the ceremonial impact of the writing (its form and materiality) on these textiles could not be great. The aesthetic dimensions of the writing were undeveloped. In Abbasid practice, the Caliph and those surrounding him wore plain unpatterned black. See Hilāl ibn al-Muḥassin al-Ṣābi’, Rusūm dār al-khilāfah (Baghdad: Matba’at al-‘Ani, 1964), 73–84.

19. Eusebius even commented on the plainness of the outside of Byzantine structures. J. W. Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine (London: Oxford University Press, 1941), 108–10, quoting Eusebius.

20. This practice is in contrast with how groups within U.S. society often use the presence of specific alphabets today where writing on the outside of structures is a sign of the socio-religious nature of the communal functions taking place in the interior. A building near UCLA displays a sign that reads Malinow and Silverman Funeral Home above an image of a flame in which Hebrew writing appears. What confirms or re-marks for the viewer the group-specific or sectarian adherence of the funeral services performed within the building is the presence of Hebrew letters in the sign. To those who can identify the letters they see as Hebrew letters (and many within the society can do that—maybe most people who would pass by at this location), the mere presence of those letters conveys sufficient meaning to indicate that this is a Jewish funeral home because writing in Hebrew letters is used mainly by this group. We wager that most people who pass by this sign cannot read the content of the message in Hebrew, yet the main message of this sign has been conveyed—Jewish funeral home.

21. These inscriptions, their history and bibliography, were detailed in EMA, vols. 1 and 2.

22. For Achtamar see Sirarpie Der Nersessian, Armenian Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 80–81. For the Three Door Mosque, see EMA 2: 325–26.

23. The tenth-century Byzantine Book of Ceremonies, which contains prescriptions and descriptions of ceremonies, has been preserved. J. J. Reiske, Corpus Scriptorum Historicum Byzantinorum, 2 vols. (Bonn: 1829–30). See also A. Toynbee, Constantine Porphryogennetos and His World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). Secondary analysis of Byzantine ceremonial is extensive; see particularly Averil Cameron, “The Construction of Court Ritual: The Byzantine Book of Ceremonies,” in Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies, ed. David Cannadine and Simon Price (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 106–36; C. Mango and I. Sevcenko, “A New Manuscript of the De Cerimoniis,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 14 (1960): 247–49; R. L. Nelson, “Symbols in Context,” Studies in Church History 13 (1976): 97–119; and P. Magdalino and R. Nelson, “The Emperor in Byzantine Art of the Twelfth Century,” Byzantinische Forschungen 8 (1982): 123–83. Also, Sabine MacCormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

During the many centuries in which extensive ceremonial was developed and used, writing did not play a systematic and extensive role in the display. I am almost tempted to suggest that oral utterances dominated. Abbasid ceremonial is detailed in Hilāl ibn al-Muḥassin, Rusūm dār al-khilāfah. One edited edition (from the Baghdad ms.) has been published, ed. Mikhā’il ‘Awad (Cairo: al-Aini Press, 1964). An English translation with notes (of the Cairo ms.) has been published by Elie A. Salem, Rusūm dār al-khilāfah, The Rules and Regulations of the ‘Abbasid Court (Beirut: American University Press, 1977). Al-Ma’mūn wore green when he entered Baghdad in 819/204, but restored black as the color following suggestions of his advisors. Al-Ṣābi’, Rusūm dār al-khilāfah, 73. Umayyad ceremonial—such as it was—can only be viewed through an aggregate of accounts, all of which suggest that no formal ceremonial existed in the sense meant here. Also see Oleg Grabar, “Notes sur les cérémonies Umayyades,” in Studies in Memory of Gaston Wiet, ed. Myriam Rosen-Ayalon (Jerusalem: Institute of Asian and African Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1977), 51–60. Fatimid ceremonial is detailed by Paula Sanders, Ritual, Politics, and the City in Fatimid Cairo (New York: SUNY Press, 1994).

24. Hugh G. E. White, The Monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun, Metropolitan Museum Expedition, 8 vols. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1933), vol. 8.

25. These floors are usually published in distinct categories: Jewish Art, Armenian Art, or Christian Art. Only one article, by Avi-Yonah, brings them all together: Michael Avi-Yonah, “Une école de mosaïque à Gaza au sixième siècle,” La mosaïque greco-romaine II, IIe Colloque International pour l’étude de la mosaïque antique, Vienna, 1971 (Paris: A. & J. Picard, 1975), 377–83, and republished in Art in Ancient Palestine, collected papers (Jerusalem: Magnes Press—Hebrew University, 1981), 389–395. Avi-Yonah argues that a school of mosaicists existed in the area of Palestine because of the formal and technical similarities in these mosaics. He does not take up the issue of the presence of writing in these mosaics, and in fact, the plate he uses of the floor in the Armenian Church is so cropped as to eliminate the writing.

More recent studies that treat “inhabited vine” depictions and which offer interesting hypotheses contradicting (in part) traditional notions about presentational formats and traditional notions of center and periphery are: Claudine Dauphin, “New Method of Studying Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements (coding and a computed cluster analysis) with Special Reference to the Levant,” Levant 8 (1976): 113–49, esp. 120–23, 130–31; and Claudine Dauphin, “Development of the Inhabited Scroll, Architectural Sculpture and Mosaic Art from Late Imperial Times to the Seventh Century A.D.,” Levant 19 (1987): 183–212.

26. Some of these formal features are present in other mosaics, although they are often smaller in format. The mosaic of one of the synagogues displays in addition a menorah flanked by two lions.

27. See A. Grabar, “Un thème de l’iconographie Chrétienne: L’oiseau dans le cage,” Cahiers Archéologiques 16 (1966): 9–16; A. Grabar, “Recherches sur les sources juives de l’art Paléochrétien,” Cahiers Archéologiques 12, no. 5 (1962): 124, 125, and fig. 8; O. Hjort, “L’oiseau dans le cage: Exemples mediévaux à Rome,” Cahiers Archéologiques 18 (1968): 21–31; Gabrielle Sed-Rajna, Ancient Jewish Art (Seacaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, n.d.): 117–18.

28. The standard work on coins of this period has been John Walker, A Catalogue of Muḥammadan Coins in the British Museum, vol.1, Arab-Sassanian Coins (London: British Museum, 1941), and vol. 2, Arab-Byzantine and Post Reform Coins (London: British Museum, 1965). Recent understandings of early coinage—and thus new categorizations—have been put forward especially in the following works: Michael G. Morony, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), esp. 38–51; Bates, “History, Geography and Numismatics,” 231–63. The coins specifically mentioned here are discussed especially on pp. 243–54.

29. EMA 1:69.

30. Ettinghausen, “Arabic Epigraphy,” 297–311.

31. For a cogent syntactic exposition of these issues, Umberto Eco, “Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture,” in Signs, Symbols and Architecture, ed. Geoffrey Broadbent, Richard Bunt, and Charles Jenks (Chichester and New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1980), 11–70.

32. Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine, esp. chap. 4; EMA, vols. 1 and 2; Grabar, “Umayyad Dome of the Rock.”

33. Alexander Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, Their History and Architecture (London: MacMillan, 1912), 94–101. The mosaic section completed during the reign of Justinian is detailed on pp. 94–95.

34. Van Milligen, Byzantine Churches, 62–74. The mosaic program is no longer extant, but the writing exists.

35. Charles Diehl, M. Tourneau, and H. Saladin, Les monuments Chrétiens de Salonique (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1918), 136–43; and Charles Diehl, “Les mosaïques de Sainte-Sophie de Salonique,” in Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres mnuments and mémoires (Paris: Fondation Piot, 1909), 39–60.

36. EMA, vol. 1, chaps. 4 and 5.

37. EMA, vol. 1, chaps. 7 and 8 (buildings); Margaret van Berchem, EMA, vol. 1, chap. 10 (mosaics).

38. MAE, vol. 1, chap. 4.

39. See details in van Berchem, EMA, vol. 1.

40. C. Mango, Byzantine Architecture (New York: Abrams, 1976), 98, fig. 106.

41. Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine, 116–45.

42. Ibid., 116.

43. Myriam Rosen-Ayalon in a salvage expedition in Ramla found a mosaic floor depicting an arch with writing in Arabic. She evaluated the remains of the structure as a house. How the specific area where the mosaic was found functioned in the use pattern of the whole structure is unclear. “The First Mosaic Discovered in Ramla,” Israel Expedition Journal 26 (1976): 104–11.

44. This unique bronze polycandelon is shown in Frowald Huettenmeister and Gottfried Reeg, Die Antiken Synagogen in Israel, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1977), 1:256–58; and in Steven Fine, “Synagogue and Sanctity: The Late Antique Palestinian Synagogue as a ‘Holy Place’” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 1993), 146.

45. Charles Diehl, Constantinople (Paris: H. Laurens, 1924), 242–342.

46. Al-Maqrīzī, Al-Khitat, 1:507, where he quotes al-Fākihī and lists the latter’s record of inscriptions he had seen in Mecca on parts of various fragments of old Ka‘ba coverings; more generalized material can be found in R. B. Serjeant, “Material for a History of Islamic Textiles up to the Mongol Conquest,” Ars Islamica 9 (1942): 54–92; 10 (1943): 71–104; 11–12 (1946): 98–145; 13–14 (1948): 75–117; 15–16 (1951): 29–86.

47. Meyer Schapiro, “Style,” Anthropology Today (1969): 279–303; and Lechtman, “Style in Technology,” 3–20.

48. An exception can be found in the orthography of the word “Allah” where the dagger alif of the word ilāhun is written above, which in certain Kufic scripts fashioned in stone and stucco is represented as an ornamental graph in the center. For further details, see Bierman, “Art of the Public Text,” esp. 285.

49. See especially Joseph Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, An Introduction to West Semitic Epigraphy and Paleography (Jerusalem and Leiden: Magnes Press, Hebrew University and E. J. Brill, 1982), where he shows that this use of a single formal alphabet was not peculiar to the centuries studied here as the “community” stage, but that such practice was common for an extended period in the eastern Mediterranean before the centuries under discussion here.

50. In the instance of the groups issuing coins, this formal association included the coins and sometimes official seals.

51. These terms for the script in which the Hebrew language was written are taken from Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, 162–70, who distinguishes the Aramaic-based medieval formal script from older Hebrew letters for Hebrew language. By the Middle Ages the use of the old Hebrew alphabet for the Hebrew language had stopped.

52. The studies of manuscript writing styles and officially sponsored writing scripts are quite copious for writing in Greek. Many of the works, like those detailed above for Arabic, are compendiums, but some are synthetic and take up issues of the relationships of styles to the political situation mainly between the Eastern and Latin Churches. Most notable of these studies is Stanley Morison, Politics and Script (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).

53. Cristel Kessler, “‘Abd al-Mālik’s Inscription in the Dome of the Rock: A Reconsideration,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1970): 1–14, esp. 10, and n. 16.

54. Ibid., 13. Here she notes that the inscriptions on the Umayyad milestones had similar characteristics.

55. Not all writing in this period followed a linear format. In fact the formats for displaying writing are most inventive when the writing is not officially sponsored. For example, on what are known as “incantation bowls,” writing sometimes spirals inward from the rim, sometimes outward from the center, sometimes in radiating patterns. I want to thank Michael Morony for sharing his continuing research on these bowls.

56. All of the topics of Morison, Politics and Script, the collection of the Lyell Lectures Morison delivered in 1957, concern authority and script style, but chaps. 1–3 are where he suggests theological and historical implications for the styles of Latin and Greek writing.

57. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, 165–70.

58. These kinds of changes in officially sponsored writing seem in tandem with changes in the manuscript hand in which the communal text was written. Yet, as we mentioned above, the evidence is far too inconclusive to expand these general observations. We do not possess, for example, communal texts from each sectarian group that represent the same date, place, and sponsorship as the officially sponsored writing in the sectarian space. With the discovery of the Qur’ān manuscripts in Sana‘a we are seeing a greater range of writing styles and qualities than previously. These pages are beginning to be published: Kuwait National Museum, Masahif Sana‘ (Kuwait, 1985); Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer, “Meisterwerke islamischer Buchkunst: Koranische Kalligraphie und Illumination im Handschriftenfund aus der Grosse Moschee in Sanaa,” Jemen, 3000 Jahre Kunst und Kultur des glücklichen Arabien, 177–83. I wish to thank Ursala Drebholz and Marilyn Jenkins for sharing their knowledge and slides of these pages.

59. Crowfoot, Early Churches in Palestine, 118, quoting the codex of Theodosius. Such laws began to be promulgated as early as the fifth century.

60. Muḥammad ibn Bahadur Zarkashī, I’lām al-sājid bi-aḥkām al-masājid (Cairo: n.p., 1384H), was against the writing on the qibla, and adornment in general, 335–38; Yūsuf ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥadī, Thimār al-masājid fī dhikr al-masājid, ed. As‘ad Talas (Beirut: n.p., 1943), 166, 170.

61. EMA, vols. 1 and 2.

62. Some recent papers by Oleg Grabar and Sheila Blair are suggesting an alteration of this date, but the precise date is not germane for this argument.

63. Of this latter building program substantial Umayyad material remains only in the Great Mosque in Damascus, and of that extensive mosaic work less than 15 percent of the original is extant.

64. This conversation is reported in Alī ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Samhudi, Khulāṣat al-wafā’ bi-akhbār al-muṣtafa (al-Qāhira: 1392H), 370.

65. The arguments of where the workmen who completed the mosaics came from are most accessible in van Berchem (EMA, vol. 1) whose work relied heavily on al-Balādhurī (Futūḥ al-Buldān), al-Ya‘qūbī (Tarīkh), and al-Ṭabarī (al-Tarīkh). Wide expanses of mosaics represented al-Walīd’s command of money and resources, including the skills of the best workmen whether they were Copt or Syrian or possibly from within Byzantine territory.

66. The text through which these kinds of details are most readily available is Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, where the synagogues in the ten cities of the coastal region are detailed on pp. 149–94. Detailed bibliographies are included.

67. ’Isfiya is southeast of Haifa. Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, 158–61; M. Avi-Yonah and M. Makhouly, “A Sixth-Century Synagogue at ’Isfiya,” Quarterly Department of Antiquities Palestine III (1933): 118–31; Rachel Hachlili, “The Zodiac in Ancient Jewish Art: Representations and Signification,” Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 228 (December 1977): 61–77.

68. Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, 153–58; M. Avi-Yonah, “The Ancient Synagogue at Caesarea: Preliminary Report,” Bulletin Rabinowitz 3 (1960): 44–48; and especially Schwabe, “Synagogue of Caesarea,” 433–49.

69. See note 67 above.

70. Similar patterns in the display of officially sponsored writing are found in the synagogues in other areas, e.g., the Galilee, where Samaritan is often present. Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, 19–148.

71. For a discussion of the role of Greek among Christian communities see Schick, “The Fate of Christians in Palestine,” 15–16, 698–702.

72. These types of issues are taken up by modern linguistic studies usually in the framework of oral-written diglossia, but these same studies provide data for understanding the link between performance in writing and class structure. A synthetic work that takes up these issues in particular is Goody, The Interface, esp. chap. 11. More specific studies that inform these questions are Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record; and Scribner and Cole, The Psychology of Literacy.

73. See chap. 1 and relevant notes for further explication of the role of Greek.

74. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet, 112–24.

75. Oleg Grabar, “Pictures on Commentaries: The Illustrations of the Maqamat of al-Ḥariri,” in Studies in the Art and Literature of the Near East in Honor of Richard Ettinghausen, ed. Peter J. Chelkowski (Salt Lake City: Middle East Center, University of Utah, 1974), 85–104.

76. Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, 176.

77. White, Monasteries 3:187, plates 58, 59.

78. Max van Berchem, CIA, part 2, Syrie du Sud; vol. 2, Jerusalem: Haram, 224–28, 248–51.

79. Chiat, Handbook of Synagogue Architecture, 185.

80. RCEA, vol. 1, no. 87.

81. Van Milligan, Byzantine Churches, 73–74.

82. Grabar, “Umayyad Dome of the Rock,” 76–77.

83. White, Monasteries, 194. This inscription is partially damaged so that the name of the second person who died is no longer extant.

84. Peter R. L. Brown, “Art and Society in Late Antiquity,” in The Age of Spirituality, ed. Kurt Weitzmann (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, 1980), 17–28.

Signing the Community

Preferred Citation: Bierman, Irene A. Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.