Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Vol. II, Pt. 2: Economic, Social, and Cultural History

By MacCoull, Leslie S. B. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Vol. II, Pt. 2: Economic, Social, and Cultural History


MacCoull, Leslie S. B., The Catholic Historical Review


Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Vol. II, Pt. 2: Economic, Social, and Cultural History. By Irfan Shahîd. (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Distrib. by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. 2009. Pp. xxiiv, 391- $50.00. ISBN 978-0884-02347-0.)

Volume II, part 1 of Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century covered federate activities, lands, religious buildings, and writers of the Ghassänids, Byzantium's "Monophysite"Arab Christian allies. Part 2 deals with the Ghassànids' role in peninsular and Mediterranean economic history; their group social life including gender attitudes and daily-life customs; and their cultural productions in architecture, visual art, and literature. Every remaining piece of evidence- often unfamiliar to Western-centered scholarship- is unpacked for maximum information and effect, to disclose, in the author's words, "an entire Arab Christian culture that flourished in the shadow of Byzantium" (p. xxiii).

Section I ("Economic History") summarizes the Ghassahids' role in guarding the international trade routes that ran through Mesopotamia, western Arabia, and the eastern approaches to the Holy Land, as well as through the Red Sea- routes vital to both Byzantium and Persia. They protected fairs and markets, collected taxes, and even kept an eye on metal resources. Section II ("Social History") rests on the three interbraided strands of Ghassanid identity-namely, Arab ethnicity, Byzantine culture, and Christian religion. Extrapolation from varied sources yields information on private-life aspects such as families and education. Poetry especially mentions numerous ruling women who practiced hospitality, went on pilgrimage, and even waged war. …

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