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Amulet scroll (tarsh) with polychrome block print, Egypt, perhaps Iran, 10th-11th century, H: 86,6; W: 4,5 cm, Inv. no. 85/2003. © The David Collection, Copenhagen.

Amulet scrolls like this one, with brief printed quotations from the Koran and God’s 99 names, were probably not intended to be read, only enclosed in a good-luck charm. The text at the top – “God’s support and a speedy victory” – is known from Islamic armor, indicating that the scroll was intended for a warrior.

The printing technique employed for the tarsh was presumably adopted from China. The use of block printing for amulets stopped between the 15th and 18th century, possibly as a result of a popular Sufi tradition that baraka (luck and fortune) was best transmitted through the written and not the printed word.