Letter: T-S 12.337

Letter T-S 12.337


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In PGP since 2004


Letter from Avraham Ibn Yiju, in Fustat, to his brother, Yosef, in Mazara, Sicily. Dating: September 1153 (Goitein) or 1152 (Friedman). It appears that Ibn Yijū and Yosef had fallen out of direct touch, but he wants to renew contact and, not unrelated to that, to propose marrying their children to one another. (1) Ibn Yijū says he has heard that Yosef has three sons, and he explains in a very moving passage that he himself had two sons in India (tender? pleasant? "as the twigs of sweet basil" but both died in childhood. (2) Ibn Yijū then turns to the matter of his daughter: while Khalaf b. Bundār, the wealthy trader in Aden, wanted his son to marry her, Ibn Yijū preferred her to marry her cousin Surūr, who was not wealthy, and who was a refugee from Ifrīqiya to Mazara. Says Ibn Yijū: "My brother’s son is more deserving (of her) than strangers.” Goitein often quoted this line to argue for a preference for endogamy and cousin-marriage, but Krakowski persuasively argues (Coming of Age, 218–21) that this situation is too specific to be generalizable: Ibn Yijū seems to want, instead, to use cousin marriage "not to affirm and reify existing social loyalties, but to create an essentially new connection between socially distant relatives" (221). But Ibn Yijū's explicit motive is different: he says he wants his future son-in-law to be "learned in Torah" (r12), and he's heard from both their other brother, Mevasser, and the Sicilian merchants in Aden and Fustat said that Surūr fits the bill. (3) The complicated relationship between the two brothers — in some ways a classic older/younger sibling dynamic — emerges clearly when Ibn Yijū alternately turns on the charm, perhaps to sweeten the marriage proposal, and scolds his brother. He explains that he's sent him a mixture of pepper and ginger, but then he admonishes him for losing a previous gift of pepper "through incompetence" (bi-ʿajzika, r31); he asks his brother not only to write back to him, but cheekily adds that he should send Surūr to Fustat with the letters; and then he explains that if it weren't for the departure of the ships westward with the Salībiyya winds (late September, so-called after the Coptic Feast of the Cross on 26–27 September), he would have sent further gifts for him and his sons. (4) He then complains about their other, good-for-nothing brother, Mevasser, describing him as "indolent" and "hard of heart" and blaming him for his own financial losses. (5) Then follows the usual litany of greetings to your two (crossed out) three sons, their mother, their sister Berākha, her children, her husband, Marwān, their children again; to the otherwise unattested Barhūn b. Ḥassūn b. ʿAṭiyya, who is connected with Ibn Yijū's (other?) sister; to R. Moses "the great cantor." On the dating of the letter: Goitein dates the document to September 1153 because this letter was written from Egypt, and Goitein believes Ibn Yijū to have traveled from Aden to Cairo in spring or summer 1153, while the reference to the Salībiyya winds indicates that this letter was written in September — hence September 1153; Friedman, however, believes that Ibn Yijū arrived in Egypt in 1152, and indeed, at r22, Ibn Yijū explains that his daughter had been engaged to the son of Khalaf b. Bundār in Aden for three years, while we know from IB III,29 that they had arrived in Aden in fall 1149. MR

T-S 12.337 1r



S. D. Goitein and Mordechai Akiva Friedman, India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), vol. 3.


  1. בש רח
  2. כתאבי אלי אכי וסיידי אל עזיז עלי אל את[יר …]
  3. אטאל אללה בקאה וצאנה ווקאה קרב אללה אלאגתמאע
  4. בה עלי אפצל אחואל ואסר אמאל במנה ופצלה לאנה
  5. עלי כל שי קדיר אלדי תחב עלמה באנני כנת כתבת
  6. 〚לכם〛 לכם עדה כתב ווצלת אלי מבשר ולם יהתם
  7. בוצולהא אליכם וקד וצל אלי עדן ועמלת מעה
  8. פוק טאקתי 〚ווגדת〛 ווגדני מן אתר גאיחה
  9. וחדיתי יטול פיה אל שרח ואסעה (!) יאכי קד סאהל
  10. אללה תעאלי וכתב אל סלאמה וח[צ]לת פי מצר
  11. ידו (!) ליי חסדו וקד בלגני אן [רזקת תלאתה אולאד אלבכיר]
  12. והו בעל תורה וולדין אכרין ו[…]
  13. מאיה דנאניר (!) ובקית מסתור [… וקד רזקת]
  14. ולדין מתל אגצאן אלריחא[ן …]
  15. ומאת אל כביר פי עדן א[…]
  16. ומא אערף מא אצף פיה […]
  17. ובקית לי בנת אכתהם מת[ל …]
  18. גמיע מאלי ואללה אלל[ה …]
  19. הדא תנפד אבנך אל [כביר …]
  20. ונפרח בהא ובה ונזוג[הם …]
  21. פי עדן אל שיך //כלף// בן בנדאר לבנה וקאמת עִ[נדהם]
  22. גֹ סנין פי דארהם ונכת עליה למא סמעת
  23. בכבר אבנך סרור פקלת אבן אכי אולא מן אלנאס
  24. אל אגֹנביין ולמא דכלת בהא אלי מצר טלבוהא מני
  25. נאס אן כתיר וקד כתבת לך וערפתך ואקל מן
  26. הדא פיה אל כפאיה וקד אנפדת ביד סלימאן
  27. אבן צטרון שכארה תסמא צרה פיה פלפל
  28. וזנגביל כלטה וזנה באל צרף קנטאר טו רטל 〚יסלמה〛
  29. לעל אללה יכתב אל סלאמה ותצל אלי ידך ולא
  30. תעמל כמא עמלת פי אל פלפל אלדי אנפדת
  31. לך צֹיעתה בעגזך וכתבך תצל אלי
  32. אלי מצר אן שא אללה ויכון אבנך סרור
  33. בידה אל כתב ולולא אנה זמאן אלספר
  34. צליביה לכנת אנפד שי אן כתיר לך 〚ולאולא〛
  35. ולאולאדך וסלימאן ואברהם יערפוך חאלי ואש אנא פיה מן תעב

Recto - margin

  1. אל קלב

  2. ואמא

  3. מבשר

  4. מא

  5. הו

  6. רגל

  7. אלא

  8. כסלאן

  9. קאצי

  10. אלקלב

  11. וקד

  12. דפעת

  13. לה

  14. מא

  15. יקום

  16. בה

  17. אודה

  18. ועלי

  19. אנני

  20. מא

  21. אתר

  22. גֹאיחה

  23. אלדי

  24. וחק

  25. הדה

  26. אלאחרף

  27. מצֹא

  28. לי

  29. אלף

  30. דינ'

  31. וארבעי[ן]

  32. דינ'

  33. וכרג

  34. מני

  35. כצארה

  36. פי מגי אלי

  37. מצר

  38. סתה מאיה

  39. דנאניר


S. D. Goitein and Mordechai Akiva Friedman, India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), vol. 3.


  1. In Your name, O Merciful.
  2. This is my letter to you, my dear, nob[le] brother and lord [. . .],
  3. may God prolong your life and preserve you and keep you! May he unite us in the near future
  4. in the best of circumstances, fulfilling our happiest hopes in His grace and favor, for He
  5. is omnipotent! You will be pleased to know that I had sent
  6. you (pl.) a number of letters, which, however, came into the possession of Mevasser, who did not make the effort
  7. to forward them to you. Then, he came to Aden, and I exerted myself for him
  8. beyond my ability, until I found out that I had gotten myself into trouble {alt. tr.: beyond my ability, and he had found me immediately after (I had suffered) a disaster}.
  9. However, it would take too much time to explain my experience with him {alt. tr.: The details of my story would take up too much space}. Now, my brother, it has pleased
  10. God, the Exalted, to ordain my safe arrival in Fustat—
  11. Let them praise the Lord for His steadfast love—and I have already heard that [you have a grown son . . .] {alt. tr.: [you have three sons, the eldest]}
  12. who is learned in Torah, and two other sons. [I am in the possession of  x thousand and x]
  13. hundred dinars and am welloff {alt. tr.: [I lost x] hundred dinars, but remain prosperous}. [. . . Out in India]
  14. two children {alt. tr.: boys} were born to me, (pleasant) as the twigs of sweet basil. {Add: [The younger died in India.]}
  15. The firstborn {alt. tr.: the older} died in Aden [. . .]

  16. I have no words to describe him [. . .]

  17. I have left a daughter, his {read: their} sister, li[ke . . . She will receive]

  18. all my money. Now by God [when my letter arrives,]

  19. send your [eldest] son [. . .]

  20. so that we {alt. tr.: I} have joy from her and from him and marry [them . . . While]

  21. in Aden, Sheikh Khalaf b. Bundār [had asked me for her hand] for his son, and she stayed

  22. three years in their house. However, I called the engagement off, when I heard

  23. about your son Surūr, because I said: “My brother’s son has more rights (to her) {alt. tr.: is more deserving} than

  24. strangers.” When I brought her to Egypt {alt. tr.: Fustat}, many

  25. asked me for her hand. I am writing you this, so that you should know.

  26. Saying less about this would have been enough. I sent you with Sulaymān

  27. b. Siṭrūn a bale {alt. tr.: bag} (shikāra), called ṣurra, containing pepper

  28. and ginger, in a mixture, weighing exactly one qinṭār and fifteen raṭl.

  29. May God ordain that it arrives safely and comes into your hand //safely//! However, do not

  30. deal with it as you did with the pepper, which I had sent

  31. you and which you lost through incompetence. Your letters to me should reach me

  32. in Fustat, God willing. Let your son Surūr

  33. carry the letters. Were it not now the time of the sailing

  34. of the Salībiyya (winds), I would have sent more for you [[and sons]]

  35. and your sons. Sulaymān and Abraham will explain to you my situation and the troubles I

Recto, right margin

have {lit., ‘my heart’s troubles’}. As to Mevasser, he is not a man, he is indolent, possessed of a hard heart. I gave him all he needed, although I got into trouble (through him) {alt. tr.: I had just suffered a disaster}.  By these lines {alt. tr.: because, by these lines}, I {add: had} lost one thousand and forty dinars and suffered also losses on my way to Fustat, six hundred dinars.

T-S 12.337 1v



  1. ותכץ נפסך אלשריפה באפצֹל אלסלאם [[וולדיך]] ואולאדך אלתלאתה
  2. חרסהם אללה אפצֹל אלסלאם ומן ענדך ואלדתהם מכצוצה עני
  3. באפצל אלסלאם וקד כתבת כתאב צחבהֹ הדא אל כתאב אלי אכתי
  4. ברכה אל עזיזה עלי הי ואלאדהא (!) תתפצֹל תענא בוצולה אליהא
  5. ותכצהא עני באפצל אלסלאם וזוגהא מרואן מכצוץ באפצל אלסלאם
  6. ואולאד אכתי מכצוצין באלסלאם אל גֹזיל ואן כאן אלשיך ברהון בן
  7. חסון בן עטיה פי אל בלאד תכצה עני באלסלאם ותעזיה עני פי מא גֹרי
  8. עליה באל עזיז עלי וקד וצלני אלסנה אלי עדן כתאב מן ענד אכתי
  9. בכטה וכדלך רֹ משה החזן הגדול מכצוץ באלסלאם ואנא יאכי מא אקטע
  10. ענכם כראמתי ולא אנפאדי לכם מא נפתקדכם בה אעדרוני פי הדה
  11. אלסנה לאנני נכסר מן ראס מאלי גֹ מאיה מתאקיל ושלום לך ולבניך ולביתיך (!)
  12. אתה שלום וביתך שלום וגמֹ

Verso - address

  1. יגיע אל האח הנאלח אשר הובא באש 
  2. ובפח והוא עודנו לח יוסף בר פרחיה נֹעֹ      
  3. אל מערוף באבן סרור בן יגֹו אלמהדוי אמֹונה //אומן// 
  4. אלסא[כ]ן במאזר [חמאהא א]ללה 
  5. אחיו בן אמו
  6. הנכסף לראותו
  7. אברהם בר פרחיה נֹעֹ
  8. בן יגֹו
  9. ישע יקרב


  1. Receive for your noble self the best greetings, and to your [[two]] three sons—

  2. may God preserve them!—the best greetings, and she who is with you, their mother, is greeted by me

  3. with the best greetings. Together with this letter I sent a letter to my beloved sister

  4. Berākha, to her and her children. Please see to it that she receives it

  5. and extend to her, in my name, the best greetings and likewise, to her

    husband Marwān

  6. and to my sister’s children profuse greetings. Should Sheikh Barhūn b.

  7. Ḥassūn b. ʿAṭiyya be in the country, greet him and express to him sympathy in my name at the loss

  8. of the one who is dear to me. I received this year in Aden a letter from my sister,

  9. written by him. Likewise, greet R. Moses, the great cantor. My dear brother, I shall not cease

  10. to favor you (pl.) and to send you presents showing my affection. However, this year

  11. excuse me, for I lost three hundred mithq ls from my capital. Greetings to you and your sons and your house! 

  12. Greetings to you and to your household, etc!

Verso, address

1. To the brother, who suffered scorn, who went through fire

2. and cold {alt. tr.: snare/heat}, but is still fresh, Joseph b. Peraḥya—may he rest in Eden!—

3. known as Ibn (?) Surūr Ben Yijū of al-Mahdiyya, 

4. living in Mazara— may Go[d protect it]! This is a deposit entrusted. {Alt. tr.: Steadfast faithfulness.} (From) His brother, the son of his mother,

2. who longs to see him, 

3. Abraham b. Peraḥya—may he rest in Eden.

4. Ben Yijū.

5. May salvation be near! 

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