"The Early Islamic Empire at Work - The View from the Regions Toward the Center"
The ambitious aim of the project is to understand the political and economic workings of the early Islamic Empire (660-940 C.E.), which stretches over almost the entire Hellenistic-Roman world from the Atlantic to the Hindukush. While usually we have a top-down approach as seen from the center, this project takes the view from the regions, to explain the functioning of the caliphal government. The project looks at five key regions: al-Sham, Fars, Jazira, Khurasan and Ifriqiya. The tested hypothesis expects to see the central caliphal government in a more conscious role as moderator between the regions.
In contrast to the conventional model of an empire founded on a religious revelation, the project is the first systematic attempt at explaining the functioning of the empire through focusing on its regions as well as the brokering and management abilities of the caliphate with its various elites. The project seeks to explore the reasons for the enormous administrative and economic success of the Islamic Empire, and the cohesion of the regions and the imperial center in the early Islamic period. Thus, the project looks for innovative avenues of research: a bottom-up perspective and a multilayered and multidisciplinary approach.
The project started in April 2014 and is divided into four project phases that will run until 2019.
Arabic geographical sources give us quite a comprehensive overview of the geographical structure of the regions. Other written sources and archaeological surveys furnish additional information about elements that are ignored by the geographical sources, and about changes that took place in physical and administrative geography. Cities, routes and boundaries are mapped from satellite images and will be entered in a GIS.
Administrative Structures and Political Chronologies
Traditional historiography depicts the early Islamic Empire as a politically almost coherent unit where everything is run from the center. However, the empire did not extend its power, its political and judicial structure to all regions in the same way, at the same time. The project draws on the rich historiographical and biographical literature on the one hand and numismatic material on the other so as to reconstruct early Islamic administrative structures and chronologies in the key regions.
Each region of the empire had its own economic structures - trade, agriculture, mining, various industries - which contributed to the wealth of the province and the empire as a whole. Information about production, distribution of commodities, and trade routes will be harvested from literary sources and combined with archaeological and numismatic data.
Elites are an important link between the government and society as a whole. The project looks at three strata of elites in every key region: the transregional political and military elite, the Islamic judicial and theological elite, and local, non-Islamic elites. New and old elites, their mobility, exclusivity and reproductive capacities are examined within the framework of the regions’ political chronologies.