Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia

Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia

Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia

Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia

Synopsis

The study of early Islamic history has flourished in recent years. Chase Robinson's book takes full account of the latest research, interweaving history and historiography to interpret the political, social, and economic transformations in the Mesopotamian region after the Islamic conquests. Using Arabic and Syriac sources, the author focuses on the Muslim and Christian ¿lites, demonstrating that significant social change took place only at the end of the seventh century. This is a sophisticated study at the cutting-edge of a burgeoning field in Islamic studies.

Excerpt

This study is intended to demonstrate that one can write Islamic provincial history in the post-conquest and Umayyad periods (c. 640–750 CE), a time for which the source material is patchy, late and frustratingly inconsistent. The book's method is to marry history and historiography; its concern is with Muslim and non-Muslim élites who lived in a peripheral area at a time of political and social change. The area - for the most part, present-day northern Syria and Iraq - was peripheral because the caliphs lived in the south, while the Muslim-Byzantine frontier lay to the north. It was a time of political and social change because, in defeating Byzantine and Sasanian armies, the Muslims would begin to transform a region heretofore divided between Byzantine east and Sasanian west into the northern tier of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires.

To write seventh- and eighth-century history we must come to terms with our sources; and as long as early Islamic archaeology, epigraphy, papyrology and numismatics remain as underdeveloped as they presently are, this means coming to terms with authors who wrote well after the events they describe. We are thus forced to rely in large measure on the learned élite's representation of its past, and, this being representation rather than record, we can no longer subordinate the study of early Islamic historiography to historical reconstruction. The reader may find frustrating the interweaving of history and historiography that follows; and he may frequently feel that he is taking two steps forward only to take a third back. But he can at least take consolation in being forewarned, and perhaps also in knowing that the approach reflects what is now twenty years of fierce debate - and measurable progress in the study of the early Islamic historical tradition.

History and historiography are thus intertwined in several ways. We begin with northern Mesopotamia writ large, and then focus on the city of Mosul, then as now the principal city of northern Iraq. Although this plan certainly reflects the growing political significance of the city, it more closely corresponds to the quantity and quality of our sources. One can say something in detail about Mosul in the eighth century for the simple reason that a Mosuli native, Yazīd b. Muhammad al-Azdī (d. c. 334/945) did, writing a history of Mosul that . . .

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