Post-classical history


amir A commander, generally any high-ranking soldier.

atabeg A Seljuk office combining the roles of tutor and regent. Atabegs (Turkish ‘father-lord’) were sent with young princes in loco parentis to instruct them in the ways of warfare and governance.

austringer A keeper and trainer of goshawks used in hunting.

barbican (Arabic bashura) a protruding tower or other fortification marking the approach to a town or fortress.

Batini See ‘Isma’ilis’.

caliph (Arabic khalifa) literally, ‘successor’ or ‘deputy’, this title indicates a person considered to be supreme head of a religious community: for Sunnis in Usama’s time this was the ‘Abbasid caliph in Baghdad; for the mainstream Isma’ili Shi’ites of his day, it was the Fatimid caliph in Cairo.

daniq A minuscule unit of weight, said to be equal to the weight of two carob-seeds. By Usama’s time it also was used, in certain contexts, to denote a fractional coin, i.e., not a full dinar, but perhaps a cut piece of a dinar-coin.

dinar (From Latin denarius) the standard gold coin of the Muslim world, ideally conceived to weigh equal to one mithqal (see below), or 4.25 grams.

farsakh A unit of length equal to about 6 km.

fuqqa’ A frothy beer-like beverage made from fermented hops.

hafiz A Muslim who has committed the entire text of the Qur’an to memory.

imam In a generic sense, the man who leads prayer in a mosque; by extension, any renowned scholar and teacher, and a title also applied to the caliph.

isbasalar (From Persian sipah-salari) general. Used for commanders-in-chief of special armies formed for specific campaigns.

Isma’ilis A Shi’ite sect, sometimes called ‘Seveners’, also called Batinis, for their belief in an elite, esoteric knowledge (batin) to be gleaned from exoteric sources (zahir). The Fatimids were Isma’ilis; the Nizaris or ‘Assassins’ were a branch of the Isma’ilis.

jihad Striving for faith. Usama uses the term exclusively to refer to holy war conducted against non-Muslim enemies.

Ka’ba Islam’s holiest place, the Ka’ba is the simple, black, cubical shrine in Mecca, around which pilgrims on the hajj circumambulate. It is said to have been built by Abraham.

kazaghand A multi-layered form of armour which included a layer of mail as well as internal padding and external (often decorative) fabric.

mamluk A slave or person of slave origin; the term was most often applied to men of servile origin (usually Turks) who served as soldiers.

maristan A hospital. Also bimaristan.

mithqal A unit of weight associated above all with gold and precious gems. It was held to be the ideal weight of one dinar, or 4.25 grams.

qadi An executive interpreter of Islamic law, often called a ‘judge’ or ‘magistrate’.

quntariya A spear of Byzantine origin (cf. Greek kontarion), probably with a wooden haft, much in favour among Shayzar’s warriors.

Qur’an Muslim scripture (also spelled Koran). The collected body of God’s word as recited by the Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an is divided into chapters (suras) and verses (ayas) and is used in prayer and in special rituals of recitation on, e.g., major feast-days. Copying the Qur’an was also considered a devotional act.

ra’is Literally, ‘chief’ or ‘headman’, ‘boss’ in the modern urban-political sense. The ra’is was the recognized leader of the local urban populaces and acted as intermediary between the populace and the local lord.

Ramadan Ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar. Fasting is enjoined upon all able Muslims from sunrise to sundown. Other devotional activities (such as Qur’an recital and additional prayers) were also common.

ratl A unit of weight roughly equal to a pound; when used as a unit of volume it is roughly equal to a pint.

saker (Arabic saqr) a long-winged falcon.

sheikh (Arabic shaykh) an elder. A title bestowed upon anyone of sufficient age and experience, more often than not a title denoting scholarly or pious renown.

vizier (Arabic wazir) the chief administrative officer of a Muslim kingdom, very often the second-most powerful official after the king or caliph.

zaghariya An imported hunting-dog.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!