Ibn Mammātī

Kitāb qawānīn al-dawāwīn

According to Al-Maqrīzī, Ibn Mammātī’s full name was As‘ad ibn Muhadhdhab ibn Zakarīya ibn Qudāma ibn Minā Sharaf al-Dīn Abū’l-Makārim ibn Sa‘id ibn Abī’l-Malīḥ ibn Mammātī.  He was born in Cairo around 1149 AD, descended from a Coptic family from Asyūt in Upper Egypt. A number of his ancestors had occupied key positions under the Fatimids of Egypt and when Shīrkūh seized control of the country, as vizier for the last Fatimid caliph, Ibn Mammātī’s father adopted Islam (along with his sons) as a matter of expediency, thus retaining his post as joint secretary of the War Office and Treasury (Atiya, 1999a, n.p.). Inheriting his father’s position, Ibn Mammātī was promoted to the secretaryship of all the Diwāns under both Saladin and his son Al ‘Aziz. However, when his colleague and rival Ṣafi al-Dīn ibn Shukr was elevated to the vizierate, Ibn Mammātī fell from grace and had all his property confiscated. He was forced to flee to Aleppo, where he found refuge at the court of Ẓāhir (1193-1216), a son of Saladin. He remained there until his death in 1209 (Atiya, 1999b, n.p.).

Ibn Mammātī was also a historian, a noted poet (he versified the life of Saladin and the famous book of animal fables, Kalīla wa-Dimna), and a prolific writer with at least twenty-three books to his name, though most are now lost. His most enduring work, of great agricultural interest, is his administrative history and survey of Egypt, the Kitāb qawānīn al-dawāwīn (‘Statutes of the councils of state’). It was written under the sultan Al-‘Azīz ‘Uthmān (r. 1193-1198) as a guide for the kuttāb or administrative officials and is the result of a hundred and forty years of family experience in state administration. The work is divided into fifteen sections, covering four main themes:

  • A detailed gazetteer, describing the regions and inhabited places of Egypt (e.g. villages, estates, canals, etc.).
  • The government departments, rules of administration, and details of administrative duties, especially on matters concerning iqṭā‘, revenue, taxation, agricultural products and so forth.
  • A survey of agricultural lands, classifying them according to fertility, irrigation, products, seasons, horticulture, and so forth.
  • A description of the agricultural year as regulated by the Coptic calendar.

According to Al-Maqrīzī, the work was originally in four large volumes, all of which have been lost. The version preserved in different manuscripts and finally published is only a summary of the great work, comprising ten of the original fifteen chapters.

Ibn Mammātī’s Kitāb qawānīn provides the earliest and most complete medieval cadastre (rawk) of the provinces and villages of Egypt. Although it is neither a manual of husbandry nor an agronomical treatise, it nevertheless provides rare information on agricultural and irrigation systems in late 12th century Egypt, as well as on the mint, the weights and measures services, the ṭirāz weaving centres, the Ayyubid shipbuilding arsenal, the alum and nitre industries, woodlands and animals, and the science of surveying. Moreover, Ibn Mammātī’s agricultural calendar, which exists in two versions, a long and a short, is one of the most detailed medieval Egyptian almanacs that has come down to us and is comparable to the more well-known Calendar of Cordoba of 961 and the early 14th century Kitāb al-anwā’ of Ibn al-Bannā’ of Marrakesh (see synopsis that follows).

(Sources: Atiya, 1999a, 1999b, & 2003)


The ‘long’ version of the almanac found in Ibn Mammātī’s Kitāb qawānīn is organized according to the Coptic calendar. Under each Coptic month name (arabised) is given the order of the month in the year, and the names of the equivalent months in the Syro-Arab (here called rūmī) and Persian calendars. These are followed by the number of days in the month, the length of day and of night (often for the beginning and end of the month), the zodiacal sign, and the mansions of the month. In four cases, the anwā’ (rising and setting of certain groups of stars) are also indicated.

After this information the author devotes a more or less long entry to each day of the month which might include: the anniversary of an event, or the birth or death of a personage, pertaining to the Bible, the Qur’an, the Church, or to the history of Islam; Jewish and Christian feast-days are equally noted; sowing, planting, ripening and harvesting times of cereals, fruits and vegetables, generally noted succinctly; and astronomical phenomena, developed more fully, consisting of the rising of a mansion, its description, form, neighbouring stars, and proverbs or sayings relating to it, etc…..

After the last day specifically cited comes the longest section, devoted to general agricultural activities, parturition, harvesting, diet, bodily hygiene, official reports that need to be written, collection of taxes, etc. pertinent to the month in question. One finds here some information that occurs elsewhere, notably in the Risāla of Ibn al-Bannā’ and, above all, in the ‘Calendar of Cordoba’, though it would be imprudent to deduce that the author used this last text.

(translated from Pellat 1986, pp. XII – XIV)

Published Editions & Translations

  • Ibn Mammātī (1882). Kitāb Qawānīn al-Dawāwīn. Cairo. Arabic edition.
  • Ibn Mammātī, Asʻad ibn al-Khaṭīr (1943). Kitāb Qawānīn al-Dawāwīn. Arabic edition by A.S. Atiya. Cairo: Royal Agricultural Society. Reprinted 1992, Atiya A.S - Sezgin F. (eds.), in Islamic Geography 43. Frankfurt am Main: Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University.
  • Pellat, C. (1986). Cinq Calendriers Égyptiens. Textes Arabes et Études Islamiques 26. Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire.
    Contains Arabic text and French translation of two versions of Ibn Mammātī’s almanac, one long and one short.
  • Cooper, R.S. (1973). Ibn Mammati's rules for the ministries: translation with commentary of the Qawānin al-Dawāwīn, PhD Thesis, Berkeley, University of California.
    An English translation of part of Ibn Mammātī’s Kitāb Qawānīn al-Dawāwīn.


Nine manuscripts of Ibn Mammātī’s Kitāb Qawānīn al-Dawāwīn are documented in Ṣālihīyya, 1984:

  • British Library, London, nº 553
  • Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris,  nº 2962 Arab
  • Gotha Library,  nº 1892
  • Gotha Library, nº 1/74
  • Dār al-kutub wa-wathā’ik al-qawmiyya, Cairo, nº 4775 tārīkh
  • Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul, nº 3260 Ayasofya
  • Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul, nº 4198 Ayasofya
  • Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul,  nº 2353 As‘ad Effendi
  • Beyazit Public Library, Istanbul, nº 1972 ولي الدين


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