During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Egypt was undergoing changes in its political, cultural, and economic situation as a result of the Ottoman conquest of the province in 1517 CE. While some of these changes were dramatic, like the systemization of the legal/judicial infrastructure, others represented a continuity with the past centuries of Mamluk rule. The process of this transition is beginning to be studied, but there remains a great deal of scholarship required in order to better understand the nature of this transformation on a social and cultural level. Until now, the vast majority of research regarding Ottoman Egypt is situated in the eighteenth century, yet the early period both laid the foundation and set the course for the changes yet to come. My dissertation looks at the ways in which Egypt was changing during the early period with regards to its cultural and intellectual output, especially in terms of material book production. The dissertation explores the nature of these transformations within society broadly but especially with an eye towards the patterns and trends in book production and ownership in Cairo at the turn of the seventeenth century.
The wealth of Cairo’s markets throughout the Mamluk period is well attested in the sources. From roving peddlers to stationary markets, the city’s food supply was a testament to Egypt’s agricultural bounty. This study attempts to understand the food economy that provisioned these food markets. In doing so, Egypt’s agricultural production, its transportation network, distribution system, and Cairo’s markets are discussed with a focus towards understanding both the nature of the many aspects of the Mamluk food economy as well as the changes occurring within it. In providing an overall description of the mechanisms by which the Mamluk food economy functioned, my thesis argues that the structure of the system was an ongoing dialectic between the labor and efforts of the peasants, the activities of the food merchants and sellers, and the contrivances of those with power, especially the Mamluk regime itself. The complexities of this system were not only influenced by the activities of these three groups but were also driven by environmental and geographic factors as well. When all of these factors worked in concert, an intricate, multi-layered system produced the abundance and wealth of Cairo’s markets that were evident for all to see. However, the effects of the plague, starting in the fourteenth century CE, combined with the labor-intensive nature of the Egyptian agricultural and transportation systems disrupted this multiplex system. The agricultural sector being key to the overall Mamluk economy, this breakdown created the conditions from which the agricultural system and, correspondingly, the economy failed to recover.