IN THE ISLAMIC EAST MEDITERRANEAN:
OLD STRUCTURES, NEW SYSTEMS?
When, in the seventh century, the diocese of Oriens was redefined as Bilâd al-Shâm by the Islamic conquest of Syria-Palestine, the east Mediterranean provinces of the early Byzantine (or, to others, Late Roman) empire were reconfigured to accommodate a profoundly new politico-military environment. In general terms the permanent physical detachment of Syria-Palestine from Byzantine control brought about a significant change in the status and orientation of the region. The geographical and cultural outlook of its people, already subjected to powerful agents of change in the half century before the Islamic conquest, were further modified by the establishment of a new Muslim administration. Previously a distant region on the eastern frontier of a Mediterranean empire, Bilâd al-Shâm was transformed into the geo-political heartland of a new Islamic empire. Between 660 and 750 Damascus formally served as the capital of this Empire, one that, by the early eight century, spread from Spain to India. With the establishment of the 'Abbâsid caliphate in al-'Irâq (750) and the foundation of a new imperial capital at Baghdâd shortly after, the importance of Bilâd al-Shâm was clearly diminished. However the region's strategic location within the Islamic empire, and growing interaction with the Byzantine empire to the north, ensured continuing social, economic and military roles for Bilâd al-Shâm in the later eighth and ninth centuries.
Although it is now generally agreed that the imposition of Islamic hegemony left the existing social and cultural environment of Bilâd____________________