Project Phase 3
How did the regional economies contribute to the enormous material success of the empire? A modern economic history of the Abbasid Empire which takes the archaeological and numismatic evidence into account is still waiting (Ashtor 1976). Here, the focus is on the economic structures of the key regions and their empire-wide implications. Bulliet (1975) established that improved breeding techniques for camels allowed a shift from the maritime Mediterranean empire to a superior land- and caravan-based empire. New crops and diet were introduced improving the diversity and productivity of agriculture (Watson 1983). Bulliet (2009) showed in a seminal study that cotton - based on superior irrigation techniques - became the main staples of the Arab civilian elite and thus part of the enormous economic success story of the empire. Fars and Khurasan were important regional cotton centers. Legal treatises suggest that the textile industry produced highly standardized and widely traded commodities. Technological innovations are visible in the textile, luxury ceramics (Watson 2004), glass (Henderson 1998), and metal industries within the material culture. Industrial centers for glass and ceramics were al-Basra, al-Raqqa, and Nishapur.
Mining areas in Armenia, in eastern Khurasan (esp. in the Panjhir and the Bamiyan valley), and in western North Africa, rose to empire wide importance and beyond. There was export of silver and copper from North Africa to the Carolingian empire in the eighth century and in the ninth century from the Caucasus and eastern Khurasan to the Baltic Sea. Chinese luxury ware entered the empire by land via eastern Khurasan and by sea via the port city of al-Basra. Within the key regions, major zones of irrigation and industrial production should be identified, as well as trade routes and the distribution patterns of commodities.
Literary sources give only little information on taxes and sometimes summarize the preferred products of a region. Therefore this phase also includes archaeological reports and past and ongoing settlement and irrigation surveys—the latter with the help of satellite images. The difficult integration of literary sources and archaeological results can be done to produce a detailed historical and economic narrative of a city or region (Heidemann 2002, 2003, 2009). Medium-sized cities are proposed as a paradigm for economic development (Heidemann forthcoming). Medium sized cities are those which usually reflect the economic prosperity of the agricultural hinterland, are the narrative sources and do not draw on transfers from the state coffers as metropolises such as Samarra (government, army) or from prosperous long-distance trade networks such as Aleppo.