Financing the tribute to the Kingdom of Jerusalem: An urban tax in Damascus

Near East in 1135 - created by MapMaster / WikipediaFinancing the tribute to the Kingdom of Jerusalem: An urban tax in Damascus

By Stefan Heidemann

Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 70 (2007)

Abstract: The economic dynamics of the twelfth century finds its expression in an increased number of fiscal instruments and terminology. After an introduction to legal taxation and Saljuq fiscal policy, the philological problems of a specific due, al-fissa, illegitimate according to the sharia, will be addressed along with its political function, history, levying and transfer. It was levied in Damascus for an annual and/or occasional tribute to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, even before the alliance of Damascus and Jerusalem in 532/1140. Before Nur al-Dın Mahmud’s conquest of Damascus the monies were transferred by bearers of hawalas. It can be suggested that tax farmers were liable for them. A decree, rasm, allowed for the collection of al-fissa. The due was levied perhaps on the basis of an assessment of urban real estate. An interpretation of the term al-fissa was suggested as Arabic borrowing from the middle Latin term fossa.

Introduction: At the end of the fifth/eleventh century the Saljuqs laid the political and economic foundations for the second blossoming of the Islamic world in its core regions, from Syria to western Iran. However, the transformation began to accelerate only two to three generations later, in about the 540s/ 1150s. Today, this newly produced wealth is still seen in the extensive civil and military building programme initiated by the Zangıd Nur al-Dın Mahmud (r. 541–569/1146–74): this programme included the construction and enlargement of citadels, fortifications and congregational mosques as well as several urban institutions and infrastructural facilities such as the water supply. Schools of higher learning (singular, madrasa) were founded to educate theologians and jurists who served the Sunni renaissance and the administration of law, government and religion. That type of urban markets (suq) were built up, as we know them today, as typical of the old cities in the Near East.


Several archaeological settlement surveys and reports show: that vast regions became cultivated again; and ceramic and glass industries were established. The monetary economy was reformed and increased and penetrated ever more spheres within society. Military warfare against the crusader states (jihad) was greatly intensified. Alongside a discussion of trade, agriculture and political institutions, a study of changes in taxation is of the utmost importance. Increased state income allowed for investments in charitable foundations (waqf), fortifications and the military in general.

To increase income, it was necessary to create a juridical and administrative framework to allow the state to enforce its claim for fiscal skimming. From about the middle of the sixth/twelfth century several new expressions can be found in the sources relating to fiscal matters. These document the government’s tighter grasp on urban resources. One new term for fiscal matters is dealt with here. After a brief introduction to legal taxation and Saljuq fiscal policy, the philological problems in the definition of a specific due, al-fissa, illegitimate according to the sharia, will be addressed along with its political function and history. This due was levied in Damascus for the tribute to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Click here to read this article from the University of Hamburg


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