The Black Death in Egypt and England: A Comparative Study

By Stuart J. Borsch | Go to book overview
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Historians of Egypt have made several attempts to evaluate the overall output of Egypt's agrarian economy before and after the Black Death. Yet there remain many unanswered questions, and some rather dramatic errors that need correction. This chapter will provide new answers to some of the mysteries. The analysis here will also pose new questions and attempt to restructure some of the methodological approaches to the economic history of Egypt.

The 1315 cadastral survey (rawk) conducted by Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad provides us with an excellent starting point for the quantitative section of this study. Despite Heinz Halm's outstanding work on the information provided by Ibn al-Jian and Ibn Duqmaq, the survey remains a valuable, though relatively neglected source for the macroeconomic history of Egypt at this time.1 It is no exaggeration to say that without this source the arguments presented here would remain purely speculative. The 1315 survey offers the best opportunity to get an accurate figure for the agrarian output of Egypt before the plagues. Not only does it give a record of the land area and the relative value of each village in Egypt, but we also know from fourteenth-century sources that this particular survey was conducted with special attention given to accuracy and precision. Tsugitaka Sato has studied the planning and execution of this survey in detail and has concluded that it was carried out under the close supervision of amirs and administered by experts in the lower echelons of the landholding bureaucracy.2 Ibn Mammati's work of the late Ayyubid period provides a glimpse of procedures used for surveying lands and illustrates the sophistication of the techniques that were employed by the specialists in land management.3


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