Floating on Mercury in the Moonlight: “Birkat az-Ziʾbaq” in the Palace of Khumārawaīh in al-Qaṭāʾiʿ

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Alexei A. Krol

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Abstract

In the article the author analyzes references to a basin filled with mercury (“Birkat az-Ziʾbaq”) in the palace of the Tulunid Dynasty ruler Khumārawaīh in al-Qaṭāʾiʿ. This basin, which has been mentioned in several medieval Arabic sources (al-Maqrīzī, Ibn Duqmāq, Ibn Iyās, Ishḥāqī) had been built in order to heal Khumārawaīh of insomnia. According to al-Maqrīzī, the basin has the dimensions of 50 x 50 cubits (ca. 25 x 25 m), however the depth of the basin has not been mentioned. The author critically analyzes the known references of the mercury basins in the palaces of Muslim rulers and advances several hypotheses explaining the construction of the basin in the palace of Khumārawaīh.

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