New Internationalist

Divan

September 2002

The original divan was not a bed but an Arabic word for an account book. The first known use of divan dates from the reign of ‘Umar I (586-644) and lists the pensions due to Arab soldiers. Later divan came to mean an accounts office, court or custom-house. The French douane (customs) comes from the same word. Eventually the benches around the walls of the divan were themselves called divans. The benches were covered with mattresses and cushions, which led to the modern meaning – a bed without a headboard or footboard.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 349 This column was published in the September 2002 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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