Family ben David, November 1, 1451

Protocol of Moses ben David, notary public for the city of Alexandria , kept for the purpose of accounts , personal business, and all other details related to the job of a notary public within the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Kept for the purpose of providing evidence and facts when disputes arise.

November 1, 1451- Trade within Alexandriais well[1]. The needs for a notary seem to increase with every passing day. I am never lacking in work. On any given day I may record the incoming goods and out going goods of merchant ships, to notarizing marriages of local friends, neighbors, and citizens of Alexandria. I come in contact with people from all walks of life in the city. Thus, giving me much prominence and credibility within the city.  However I fear along with my colleagues, that this might swiftly change. News has come to Alexandria from the east and north that the Ottomans, under the leadership of Mehmet the conqueror, have taken control of much of the eastern Mediterranean and are planning to head north as well. There was much spoken in fear today by the merchants with whom I dealt. They fear that Mehmet will block all outside trade from the “Franks” as he calls those from Venice and Genoa[2], thus destroying their livelihoods. I must admit that this thought weighed heavily on my mind as well. A good portion of my dealings are with merchants and their goings-on. If they are no longer to be allowed in the East, it will greatly effect my business, and make it harder to support my growing family. I currently have a son of eight, and my wife is currently carrying our second child. Merchants will likely have to look towards Sepharad and other western lands. As such they will deal much less in Alexandria in favor of a closer and safer port in the west. However the fear of a loss of business and livelihood is only a small matter among those on my mind. I fear much more that Mehmet will set his eyes on the Mamluk Empire next. It does not seem unlikely that he could at any time lead his Turkic peoples on the attack against Mamluk Empire and claim it as his own. The thought of soldiers burning, pillaging and killing in the city where my family live does not bring peace to my mind. There is little that I could do to protect my family. I am no fighter or soldier, all I could do in such an event would be to pray to Yaweh for protection of my household. If this takeover were to happen, and we survived, it is likely that I and my family will be forced to pay the despicable dhimma in order to continue our practice of the one true religion of Judaism. If we refused would we be imprisoned? I believe that my status as a notary for the city would offer me some protection but how much? Or would we be allowed to leave safely to an area where we would be welcomed? I fear the thought of conversion more than any other , to do so would mean turning my families back on Yaweh , and thus loss of his grace. We can always start our lives over in another city , build a new house, but we could never take back the insult of conversion. This thought shall likely keep me up at night if I cannot find a way to expunge it from my mind.[3]


[1] Clifford Edmund Bosworth, ed., “Alexandria,” in Historic Cities of the Islamic World (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 18-21.

[2] James Theodore Bent, Genoa: How the Republic Rose and Fell (London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1881), 88-108.

[3] David Abulafia,ed.,  The Mediterranean in History (Los Angeles: Getty Publications ,2003), 183-234.

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