Richard N. Frye’s The Histories of Nishapur is an invaluable source for Islamic history, especially for documenting the local history of a medieval Islamicate city. I, like many other scholars, have made and continue to make frequent use of this book. To my surprise, however, I discovered shortly after I moved to Connecticut that Yale University did not own a single copy, where I had previously had access to five at Harvard. I was fortunate enough to find a copy of this rare book from the online site of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.
This substantial tome is concerned with Nishapur, a city in Khurasan (or the northeastern region of modern day Iran) and provides facsimile editions of three important manuscripts on the city’s historical personalities. The texts, two of which are in Arabic and the third in Persian, are biographical dictionaries or ṭabaqāt. A number of important studies have used Frye’s collection to great advantage, the most famous being Richard Bulliet’s seminal book The Patricians of Nishapur.
The three text included in Frye’s Histories are:
1. Kitāb aḥvāl-i Nīshāpūr, a Persian manuscript from the Bursa Central Manuscript Library: Hüseyn Çelebi, Tarih 18, 74 folios.
2. Kitāb al-Siyāq li-tārīkh Naysābūr, an Arabic manuscript written by ʿAbd al-Ghāfir ibn Ismāʿīl al-Fārisī (d. 529/1134) and stored in the Dil ve Tarih Fakültesi Library in Ankara: İsmail Saib 1544, 98 folios.
3. al-Muntakhab min kitāb al-siyāq li-tārīkh Naysābūr, an Arabic recension of al-Fārisī’s Kitāb al-Siyāq written by Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad al-Ṣarīfīnī (d. 641/1243). The manuscript of 146 folios is from the Köprülü Library in Istanbul, no. 1152.
Perhaps, because of the book’s relative scarcity, I have noticed in recent years that some scholars are bypassing or overlooking Frye’s valuable collection altogether. Compounding the issue is the ready availability of edited print editions al-Ṣarīfīnī’s al-Muntakhab, such as the ones published by Dār al-Fikr and Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya. Not only are these print editions easier to read and navigate than the manuscript facsimiles in Frye’s book, they can also be more easily located in Arabic bookstores and on library shelves than the difficult-to-find and now costly The Histories of Nishapur.
But to pass over a work like al-Fārisī’s Kitāb al-Siyāq would be a mistake. As Frye has pointed out, al-Fārisī’s text has significant differences from al-Ṣarīfīnī’s. To focus on one would be to overlook much in the other. For example, al-Fārisī provides important information on the lives of Abū’l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī (d. 465/1072) and Ibn Ḥabīb (d. 406/1016) that is entirely absent in al-Ṣarīfīnī’s al-Muntakhab. This latter text, after all, appears about a century later. One would be wise to consult both texts.
To aid in navigating the manuscripts of Frye’s collection, Habib Jaouiche has compiled and published a useful index that covers the two Arabic manuscripts contained in the book. While Jaouiche only indexes the biographical entries in the texts, rather than every occurrence of a name, his work is nonetheless helpful.
Frye, Richard N., ed. 1965. The Histories of Nishapur. London: Mouton & Co.
Jaouiche, Habib, ed. 1984. The Histories of Nishapur: ʿAbdalġāfir al-Fārisī – Siyāq Taʾrīḫ Naisābūr, Register der Personen- und Ortsnamen. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag.
Bulliet, Richard. 1972. The Patricians of Nishapur: A Study in Medieval Islamic Social History. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.