Master weight (mithqal)
National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts
Hegira 127 / AD 745
Master weight, mithqal, glass
Radius 6.5 cm, thickness 4.5 cm
Umayyad of the East (the wali government in the Maghreb)
This master weight (mithqal) made of translucent green glass is broken into three pieces. A kufic inscription, faintly impressed, can be seen in two places on the upper surface. The inscription consists of five lines of kufic characters, which are difficult to read with the naked eye. However, by making a rubbing of the two stamps, G. Marçais was able to decipher them and transcribed them as the following: 'î Allah, mimma amara bihi / al amir Abd al-Rahman bin Habib / Masal bin Hammad wali Mila / ichroune ukiya, fi sanat / sabaa wa ichrine wa miaî' (In the name of God. Among that which was provided/ by the governor Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib / to Masal ibn Hammad, chief administrator of Mila / 20 ukiya, in the year / hundred and twenty-seven).
Thus, according to the inscription, the master weight weighs 20 ukiya, and this weight value is guaranteed by an official stamp. The ukiya (ounce) is equivalent to 69.338 grams; the standard therefore weighed 1,386.76 grams.
It was the amir who fixed the weight value of standards of weight, and who imposed it on the population through the wali (provincial administrators); the name of the amir is mentioned; here it refers to 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Habib, grandson of 'Uqba ibn Nafi, the founder of Kairouan. The wali, Masal ibn Hammad, he remains a mystery in terms of the chroniclers, but he is probably Sanhadjian, because his name, Hammad, which he also shares with his father, is commonplace in Sanhadjian sources, particularly those of the Maghrebi and Andalusian Zirids.
Pieced together, these three fragments of glass would constitute a disc with a hole in the centre. This master weight served as a unit of measure to control the weights used in commercial transactions.
A stamp on the master weight dates it to 127 / 745.
Girft of M. Bap.
This master weight was discovered during terracing work in the mining region of Boukadra, Tebessa.
Ibn Khaldoun, Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l'Afrique septentrionale, translated by De Slane, Algiers, 2003.
Marçais, G., Le musée Stéphane Gsell, musée des antiquités et d'art musulman d'Alger, Algiers, 1950.
Marçais, G. et Lévi-Provençal, É., “Note sur un poids de verre du VIIIe siècle”, Annales de l'Institut d'études orientales, 1937, pp.6–18.
Leila Merabet "Master weight (mithqal)" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;ISL;dz;Mus01;2;en&id=weights_and_measures
Prepared by: Leila MerabetLeila Merabet
Titulaire d'un magister en archéologie islamique (spécialité épigraphie arabe), conservateur du patrimoine archéologique et historique, Leila Merabet est chef du service Conservation et Valorisation (section islamique) au Musée national des antiquités. Elle a publié de nombreux articles dans les Annales du Musée national des antiquités.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: AL 02