Five key regions will be addressed in five subprojects. Key regions are identified as Khurasan (north-eastern Iran), Fars (south-western Iran), Jazira (Northern Mesopotamia), Bilad al-Sham (Greater Syria), and Ifriqiya (North Africa). Important provinces such as Iraq, Egypt, and Armenia will be included through co-operation. Rich information is available especially for Iraq and Egypt, which is not necessary to duplicate. Criteria for the selection were the differences and diversity between the regions.
- Diversity in their pre-Islamic past and elites, regions formerly under Roman or Iranian rule,
- Regional religious differences (Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, pagan Sabian, and Buddhist),
- Economic diversity in agriculture, resources (minerals), and internal and external trade pattern,
- Availability of results of archaeological sources, and survey reports.
The systematic approach establishes the basis for a thorough comparison of the each region’s political structures, elites, economic bases, and mutual relation to the imperial government.
Key Region: al-Sham
Syria was the mainly Christian core province of the Umayyad Empire, with Damascus as its capital. Although rich and prosperous under the Umayyads, the province was neglected under the Abbasids, who shifted the center of power to Iraq and adopted Iranian culture. Nevertheless, the province, especially the cities of Damascus and Jerusalem, still maintained a certain ideological attraction to the Abbasids.
Key Region: Fars
Fars, with its highland valleys, was the home of the Sasanian dynasty. The majority of the population remained Zoroastrian during period. The city of Shiraz, founded by the Muslims next to a pre-existing site, became the center of the province. The Persian Gulf port of Siraf became one of the most important harbors ofin the Islamic Empire and a source of wealth for the province.
Key Region: Jazira
The Jazira, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates in northern Iraq and Syria as well as southeast Turkey, was mainly Christian but contained pockets of pagan Sabians and an active Jewish community. The importance of the region lies in its strategic position and its role as the bread basket for the metropolises Baghdad and Samarra. It first rose to importance when the Umayyad caliph Marwan situated his residence in the pagan Sabian city Harran. Later al-Mansur transferred a large Khurasanian garrison to the Jazira and built a large fortified city for them, al-Rafiqa, which became the residence of the caliph Harun al-Rashid.
Key Region: Ifriqiya
The role of the former Roman province Africa in the early Islamic Empire has been largely neglected. The province had an indigenous Berber population, mixed with Germanic tribes that settled there in pre-Islamic times. The Arab elite in Ifriqiya had strong ties with Iraq through Ibadi trade networks, which reached into the Maghrib. The importance of silver mining and trade in Ifriqiya is reflected in the circulation of its silver in the Islamic and Carolingian empires and the size of the early Abbasid army in Qayrawan, second only to the army in southern Iraq.
Key Region: Khurasan
Khurasan, with its capitals Nishapur, Marw and Balkh, was a determining factor in the history of the early Islamic Empire. The Khurasanian army brought the Abbasid dynasty into power and continued to fulfil an important role in the Abbasid strategy of government. Economically, the region was important for its location within the trade networks with East Asia as well as its industries (glass, cotton) and mining. The territories of eastern Khurasan were centers of both Bactrian, largely Buddhist and Zoroastrian, culture and of Islamic erudition.