Summary: ERC Project "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 a pre-modern empire, the Islamic Empire (660-940 C.E.), which stretches over almost the entire Hellenistic-Roman world from the Atlantic to the Hindukush. In contrast to the conventional model of an empire founded on a religious revelation, the project is the first systematic attempt to explain the functioning of the empire from its regions and the brokering and management abilities of the caliphate with its various elites.
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 from North Africa to Central Asia, establishing their changing political and economic structures and chronologies, and identifying trans regional political, military, judicial, and indigenous elites. The tested hypothesis expects to see the central caliphal government in a more conscious role as moderator between the regions than has hitherto been recognized.
In order to shift our understanding of the functioning of the empire from a chronicle-driven top-down view to a region-driven view, a multidisciplinary and multilayered approach seems to be most appropriate. Parallel to the literary sources, but independent from center-based chronicles and biographical dictionaries, sequences of coins (Islamic coins display up to 150 words, conveying mostly administrative information), the results of archaeological excavations, and regional surveys will be investigated. The study of elite groups connecting the regions with the center is another important element and will ultimately result in the creation of a prosopographical database.
Emphasizing the role of the regions in the formation of the Islamic Empire points the view in a direction different from traditional 'Islamwissenschaft' which since its inception by Carl Heinrich Becker in 1910 has focused on Islam and its caliphate as the major formative force of the Empire.