Abstract Dr. Hannah-Lena Hagemann
Hannah-Lena Hagemann (Universität Hamburg)
Abstract: The Limits of Imperial Control: The Jazīran North in the Early Islamic Period
The province of al-Jazīra occupies an important place in Islamic history and historiography: it was the seat of imperial capitals, an agricultural powerhouse, the connector between the two major centres of imperial authority in the early Islamic period, and home to countless revolts and rebels of many different flavours. Yet at the same time, the Jazīra remains a somewhat elusive construct – its constituent parts are contested among the Islamic geographers and chroniclers, both because of its tumultuous political and administrative history under the Umayyads and ʿAbbāsids, but also because the pre-Islamic Byzantine-Sasanian border bisected the territory for centuries before “that which is in between the Euphrates and the Tigris” was patched together as ‘al-Jazīra’. Moreover, our sources say very little about local Jazīran history, in part certainly because it remained a Christian-majority province well into the 11th century and non-Muslims do not feature very prominently in the Islamic historical tradition. While the Jazīra is not unique in this regard, the problem is particularly pronounced – as Chase Robinson put it in his study of Umayyad and early ʿAbbāsid al-Mawṣil: “writing a history of the Jazira is writing almost ex nihilo.”
In this paper, I intend to look at an understudied region of the Jazīra, the northern territory bordering (and sometimes overlapping with) Armīniya that is usually referred to as ‘Diyār Bakr’ and counted as one of the three sub-divisions of the province along with Diyār Muḍar and Diyār Rabīʿa. In fact, ‘Diyār Bakr’ is not properly attested in the literary or documentary record before the first half of the 10th century CE, and the region’s two major cities, Āmid and Mayyāfāriqīn, seem to have had a very loose connection with both the province of al-Jazīra and the caliphate as a whole. This paper seeks to address the question of how the Jazīran north negotiated its position in the power struggle between the early Islamic Empire, Armenian princes, and (local) lords attempting to secure their share of influence. As the Islamic tradition mentions either city, or their hinterlands, only infrequently for most of the period until the coming of the Ḥamdānids, this paper will also take into consideration Armenian and Christian sources as well as documentary evidence such as coins. The numismatic record in particular implies that imperial control of the Jazīran north was limited at best until the reign of al-Muʿtaḍid. To what extent, then, did the reach of empire extend to this region? What was the role of Christian elites in governing this territory, and how much autonomy did they enjoy? Finally, what does this signify for our understanding of imperial policy towards the provinces more generally?