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variantventures  variantventures is offline
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Venetian Exports


There are at least two examples of Italian playing cards that have been recovered in Egypt. One is the card in the collection of the Benaki Museum in Athens. This card matches a 15th-16th Century sheet in the collection of the Museum of Fine Art in Budapest. The other is what appears to be (to me) a 16th Century card in the private collection of Richard Ettinghausen.

Ettinghausen speculates that the availability of mass-produced Italian cards killed off the local manufacture of playing cards. This suggests the existence of a trade in playing cards and there might be some evidence of this to be found. Franco Pratesi has done some excellent work tracking accounts of the internal trade in playing cards. You can see several articles on his Trionfi site and they're important to my eventual point.

I checked around for records of Italian trade to the Mamluks and found that Venice was the primary trading partner in goods other than slaves. This appears to be in accord with the playing card from the Benaki connection. Their are some records of trade between Venice and the Mamluks. A good summary can be found here: http://mamluk.uchicago.edu/MSR_VIII-2_2004-Arbel.pdf

There are several mentions of carta or carte within the cargo lists and lists of items being exported to the Mamluks. I believe, however, that these are references to paper rather than to playing cards. The internal documents investigated by Franco Pratesi make use of the term naibbes or trionfi (or one of the many variants). Further, the cargo lists track the items in units of bales rather than counting individual decks as the internal trade documents. Carta da scrivere (writing paper), again tracked in bales, appears in cargo lists. The lists of items being imported into Mamluk ports almost always include a listing for carta but do not include listings for different types of carta or for playing cards using Italian (or Arabic) terms. Given that the paper trade between Italy and the Middle East/North Africa is well established it seems logical to conclude that bulk paper, not playing cards are being referred to.

Given the position occupied by games of chance in the Mamluk Sultanate it's possible such trade was conducted beneath the table in order to avoid the scrutiny of authorities. If playing cards were not outright banned, and the evidence seems to indicate that they were not banned at least some of the time, then such trade would not be illegal, just discreet. The presence of paper and not cards on Italian cargo lists, which would not come to the attention of Mamluk authorities, suggests that cards were not being traded in any significant quantities. This further suggests the Italian cards so far recovered in Egypt were likely taken to Egypt by Italians for their own personal use.

Of course, I'm extrapolating quite a bit from a very small data set. Someone could open an Italian accounts book tomorrow and find records of significant trade. Too, my data set is confined to one side of the trade. I have been unable to find Mamluk records detailing the trade between the Sultanate and Italy.
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Ludophone  Ludophone is offline
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I'm not sure if there was any ban at all by the Mamluks. Shaykh al-Mahmudi (the future sultan Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad) won a large sum of money with kanjifah in 1400.

One must also look beyond the Mamluks. The Ottomans and Safavids were possibly in on the trade. Ganjifeh-inspired paintings were given by the Safavids to Ottoman sultan Murad III for his accession in 1574. Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, possessed an engraving from the so-called Mantegna tarocchi, likely given by Italian merchants. Importations of European cards may have been large enough that mid-17th century Safavid chronicler Mirza Sadiq mistakenly attributed the introduction of card games to Europeans.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ludophone View Post
I'm not sure if there was any ban at all by the Mamluks. Shaykh al-Mahmudi (the future sultan Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad) won a large sum of money with kanjifah in 1400.
It varied from one Mamluk Sultan to the next -- between one extreme and the next (from drunks and gamblers to religious puritans) the more general was those that had no particular interest one way or another, tolerated it for tax revenues unless under pressure from religious interests to stamp on it -- this generally occurred during periods of anti-christian feelings (wine production and "innkeeping" and gambling/prostitution places were usually in the hands of local Christian communities)

Some prints by the Master of the Sola Busca ended up somehow in the Topkapi palace --

A possible way that some such European objects ended up in Istanbul was possibly through the Ottoman conquest of Hungary and the looting of Mathias Corvino's library and palace ? [Corvino had strong ties with Aragon and Ferrara - his sister-in-laws son Ippolito d'Este was brought up Corvino's court from the age of seven - his library, illustrated by at court painters and painters from Ferrara and Florence was legendary]

There was also a lot of trade between Mamluk Egypt and Florence also --

Piero de Medici was a collector of Mamluk metalware and glassware, from Damascus, Allepo & Cairo - there are several letters between him and the Mamluk Sultan -his occulus has arabic script around it that seems to have been inspired by works from his mamluk collection

It was probably in Damascus or Aleppo that Shaykh al-Mahmudi (the future sultan Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad) played kanjifah in 1400 (he was stationed in Syria at the time, not in Cairo)
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Quote:
It varied from one Mamluk Sultan to the next -- between one extreme and the next (from drunks and gamblers to religious puritans) the more general was those that had no particular interest one way or another, tolerated it for tax revenues unless under pressure from religious interests to stamp on it -- this generally occurred during periods of anti-christian feelings (wine production and "innkeeping" and gambling/prostitution places were usually in the hands of local Christian communities)
I am not aware of any surviving edict from the Mamluks mentioning cards. Are you referring to blanket bans on gambling? I'm not sure if cards have ever been taxed by the Mamluks, the oldest known taxes were in Spain in 1543.
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Originally Posted by Ludophone View Post
I am not aware of any surviving edict from the Mamluks mentioning cards. Are you referring to blanket bans on gambling? I'm not sure if cards have ever been taxed by the Mamluks, the oldest known taxes were in Spain in 1543.
I think the earliest specific mention of cards among forbidden things in Muslim legalist texts was 16th century (not specifically associated with the Mamluks) --

I meant in blanket terms, there was toleration in some periods of gambling, drinking & prostitution, and of establishments connected with them, for revenue purposes - - at other times there were severe restrictions, at some times a few of the Sultans were noted for drinking and gambling habits themselves -

such establishments were rare in Cairo - there was a famous one (run by a Christian community) in the fifteenth (or fourteenth?) century, frequented by Mamluk soldiers and eventually repressed -- more common in Mamluk Syria (Damascus and Aleppo) than in Egypt (or at least Cairo)
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Originally Posted by kwaw View Post
I think the earliest specific mention of cards among forbidden things in Muslim legalist texts was 16th century (not specifically associated with the Mamluks) --

I meant in general terms, there was toleration in some periods of gambling, drinking & prostitution, and of establishments connected with them, for tax purposes - - at other times there were severe restrictions

such establishments were rare in Cairo - there was a famous one (run by a Christian community) in the fifteenth (or fourteenth?) century, frequented by Mamluk soldiers and eventually repressed -- more common in Mamluk Syria (Damascus and Aleppo) than in Egypt (or at least Cairo)
From a previous post of mine, some time ago:

Drinking and gambling being 'forbidden' in Islam, where did Christians and Muslims meet for Christians to learn of cards? It is in 'forbidden' places I should imagine, that the cultural divide was most likely to be crossed!

An example of a tavern come brothel come gambling den, in Cairo, in the 14th century:

*Hizanat al-Bunu, originally a Fatimid arsenal that in Ayyubid times was turned into a prison, belonged to buildings of the Great Eastern Palace and was located between Qasr as-Sawk and Bab al-Id. When al-Malik an-Nasir, son of Qalawun, came back from his exile to assume the royal power in Egypt for the third time (1310) he brought with his a significant number of Christian prisoners from Syria and Armenia. A group of them was settled in the Citadel. The other group was accommodated in Hizanet al-Bunud. “The Armenians filled the building, so much so that the prison became obsolete there. And the Sultan made in Hizanat al-Bunud lodgings for them...they had their children there and pressed the grapes for wines so that during a single year they produced 32,0000 jars of wine which they sold openly. The pig’s meat hung there over the counter was sold without shame. They also established there places where people could gather to do forbidden things, so that sinners came to them...Wives of many me were spoiled there in an atrocious way, as were a lot of their children, and a group of the amirs’ mamluks... the Sultan shut his eyes to it, taking into account his interests and policy that was then required because of the agreement between him and the kings of the Franks.” When amir al Malik al-Gukander, who had a house next to Hizanat al-Bunud, whose Mamluks frequented the place, complained to the Sultan, the Sultan replied: “Oh, Hagg, if you do not like your neighbours, then just move somewhere else.”

From an account by Al-Maqrizi, Suluk

Such places were quite rare, indeed the above may be exceptional, in Cairo in the 14th century. They were however more common in international trading ports, by nature cosmopolitan, such as Alexandria, some of which not only catered to the colonies and itinerant merchants of Venice, but many of which were owned by non-muslims too. For example: “In a notarial act drawn up in Alexandria in 1421 not less than five innkeepers are mentioned, one of them an Anconitan, one man from Rhodes, one from Cyprus, one a native Christian, and one a Greek or Cretan.” E. Ashtor, Levantine Trade Many Hanat in Iraq too, were run by Christians and Jews. The were also common in Mamluk Syria, in Damascus and Allepo. Indeed it was likely in Damascus that the Amir Shakh Mahmood (later to become the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt), c. 1400 played the game of Kanjifa the gambling proceeds from which he brought the young slave Akba'i, who was later to become Amir of Damascus.

(Kanjifa of course was the name of the Mamluk playing cards, as written at the top right hand corner of the Mamluk King of Swords)

Sultan Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad (who is recorded as playing Kanjifa in 1400 when he was an Emir in Syria) seems to have been quite tolerant, the Venetian merchant Emanuel Piloti for example was allowed to import 5 barrels of wine a month for his own use without any duties - Sultan Barsbay in 1422 permitted Florentine merchants and their consul to bring in wine without paying any fees (I am suggesing that toleration of one forbidden activity such as alcohol consumption may indicate a toleration towards other forbidden activities such as gambling, which may or may not have been the case) - other Sultans at other periods allowed it but only with payment of duties, others banned it altogether -
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OT:

re: Sultan Al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad

This sketch by Pisanello of John VIII Palaiologos during his visit at the council of Florence in 1438 includes an Arabic inscription --

according to Mohamad Ballan, University of Chicago, the inscription reads: "Glory to our sovereign lord al-Malik al-Mu'ayyad Abu Nasr Shaykh"

I wonder, why should it refer to the Shaykh in 1438/39? He was Sultan 1412 - 1421? (Perhaps Pisanello was copying some Arabic text the meaning of which he did not know, for decorative purposes?)

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O

I wonder, why should it refer to the Shaykh in 1438/39? He was Sultan 1412 - 1421? (Perhaps Pisanello was copying some Arabic text the meaning of which he did not know, for decorative purposes?)
Apparently the inscription was gold on blue on a garment that was gifted to the Emperor (beloved of the Pope of Rome) by Mamluk SultanAshraf Sayf-al-din Barsbe (also known as Abu-El Nasr,)who reigned from 1422 to 1438.

Another translation: "Concerning the Master, the Sultan, the King, El Moaid-Abu-El-Nasr, God grant [Glory] his Victory."'' The Arabic is said to be slightly incorrect,but the reference to the Mameluke Sultan El Moaid- Abu-El Nasr is plain. He reigned from 1412 to 1421.'

Some preparatory drawings for Pisanello's Medallion of John VIII Palaeologus by Michael Vickers
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Gambling in Islam is complicated. Interestingly, there has been very little change between the earliest days of Islam and today. Gambling is not specifically banned by the Quran but rather by the ahadith. These accounts by other parties of the doings and sayings of Muhammed may be thought of as roughly equivalent to the gospels in the Christian tradition. Muhammed lived a long life and there are many ahadith/accounts of his behavior and different schools tend to place more emphasis on certain accounts. The one to do with gambling is the one where Muhammed said that whoever played with dice it was as if they had dipped their hands in blood. Arabic is a contextual language that is rich in metaphor and cultural references. So while this saying probably made perfect sense at the time it was uttered and the audience it was uttered to, the exact meaning has been clouded by time. Some schools hold the prohibition refers only to dice, others that it refers to gambling in general. The idea of what constitutes gambling is further clouded by the definition of the term. Some schools feel the definition is narrow: competition for money/prizes. Some schools take a broader view: playing any game of chance.

The second element is religious duty. Gaming was taken very seriously by certain elements and people could become addicted to it. This caused some people to ignore their religious obligations. This might mean missing daily prayers or it might mean more serious infractions. One Persian poet, waxing his bad boy credentials, bragged about how he spent the days of Ramadan playing chess and backgammon. Again the various schools take different views on this subject. Some hold that any activity that is not useful or religious is to be discouraged even if it isn't actively forbidden by religious dogma.

These differences are apparent during the early days of Islam. During the later days of the Islamic ascendency the Mamluks reformed their legal system by appointing judges from the four primary Sunni schools of thought. Those seeking legal decisions would take care to choose a judge from a school most likely to support their position. This meant the Mamluk legal system could both allow and prohibit declarations of bankruptcy, for example.

These differences are seen even today. Chess is a popular game in the Middle East and you can see people playing it in cafes throughout the region. Yet one school of Islamic thought (headed by the Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia) says the game is completely forbidden. This is true now and it was true in the eighth century when one religious scholar used to kick over chess boards as he was walking through the streets of Alexandria.

I've been working with a few people trying to find any early legal decisions that specifically reference playing cards. I've also been working to find any tax/business records. Ettinghausen suggested the local playing card industry was driven out of business by imports of playing cards from Europe. However, I haven't been able to find any hints of sales of playing cards from Europe to anywhere in the Islamic world during the 15th and 16th centuries. That's the time period when Islamic style playing cards were apparently at their peak and Italian playing cards apparently start showing up in Mamluk lands.
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