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The New Cambridge History of Islam
  • Volume 1: The Formation of the Islamic World, Sixth to Eleventh Centuries
  • Edited by Chase F. Robinson, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

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    The New Cambridge History of Islam
    • Volume 1: The Formation of the Islamic World, Sixth to Eleventh Centuries
    • Edited by Chase F. Robinson
    • Online ISBN: 9781139055932
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Book description

Volume One of The New Cambridge History of Islam, which surveys the political and cultural history of Islam from its Late Antique origins until the eleventh century, brings together contributions from leading scholars in the field. The book is divided into four parts. The first provides an overview of the physical and political geography of the Late Antique Middle East. The second charts the rise of Islam and the emergence of the Islamic political order under the Umayyad and the Abbasid caliphs of the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, followed by the dissolution of the empire in the tenth and eleventh. 'Regionalism', the overlapping histories of the empire's provinces, is the focus of Part Three, while Part Four provides a cutting-edge discussion of the sources and controversies of early Islamic history, including a survey of numismatics, archaeology and material culture.

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  • 1 - The resources of Late Antiquity
    pp 17-71
  • View abstract
    The late ancient world in the lands that were to be conquered by the first Muslim armies included a number of disparate regions, each offering a particular environment. Communications depended on landscape and climatic conditions, of course, but a series of major strategic routes connected these different cultural and geographical zones. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that road building and bridge building were on several occasions carried out using the skills of Roman captives during the third and fourth centuries. The city was one of the most important features of the late ancient landscape, both in respect of the social organisation of production and the ownership and control of resources in land and manpower. Cities and urban centres in the Sasanian world occupied a somewhat different role in the structure of the state, although they were similar in respect of some of their social and economic functions.
  • 2 - The late Roman/early Byzantine Near East
    pp 72-97
  • View abstract
    In many areas of the Near East the Late Roman period, in terms of population size, settlement density and levels of exploitation, marks a pre-modern high. The territorial expansion of Rome began in earnest in the second century BCE, and had its roots in the competitive aristocratic politics of the republic. The crisis of the mid-third century was surmounted, but it left emperors in no doubt that relations with the Persians had to be their first priority, and that major deployments anywhere other than the Persian front would depend on peace there. The Nabataean kingdom in what is now Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia was annexed in 106 to create the province of Arabia. The rise of Islam as it actually happened is comprehensible only in the context of the history of the Roman empire, a history that culminated in what James Howard-Johnston has evocatively dubbed the 'the last great war of Antiquity'.
  • 3 - The late Sasanian Near East
    pp 98-152
  • View abstract
    As opposed to the Arsacids, the Sasanians, like their Achaemenid 'ancestors', tell a great deal about their notions of government, their public appearances and their political aspirations in both the domestic and foreign spheres. All lands of the former Parthian empire, except for Armenia, came under Sasanian control during the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Ardashir. Yazdgerd III was made king by Rustam's aristocratic party, thus becoming the Sasanians' last ruler. It was a decidedly Iranian attitude that characterised the Sasanian image of the ruler and his qualities. The late Sasanian period was altogether a time of literary flowering, much of it commissioned or sponsored by the royal court. The Sasanian empire was also characterised by the magnitude and diversity of its religious groups and communities. Whereas the fourth century was characterised by numerous military conflicts between the superpowers Iran and Byzantium.
  • 4 - Pre-Islamic Arabia
    pp 153-170
  • View abstract
    The literary sources in Arabic dealing with pre-Islamic Arabia are copious, but rarely give direct answers to questions which are of interest to modern research. Arabian society was tribal and included nomadic, semi-nomadic and settled populations. The biography of Muhammad provides further evidence of the cooperation between the nomadic and settled populations. The Arab idol worshippers were polytheists, but they also believed in a High God called Allah whose house was in the Kaba and who had supremacy over their tribal deities. In Medina, which was in many ways different from Mecca, idols were associated with various levels of the tribal organization. The Byzantines and Sasanians conducted their Arabian affairs through their respective Arab buffer kingdoms, Ghassan and al-Hira. Caravan trade was often behind the cooperation between certain nomadic tribes and the Sasanians. In addition to trade, the entrepreneurial Qurashis invested in agriculture. Since conditions in Mecca itself were uninviting for agriculture, they looked for opportunities elsewhere.
  • 5 - The rise of Islam, 600–705
    pp 171-225
  • View abstract
    The first Islamic century began in 622 of the Common Era with the hijra, Muhammad's 'emigration' from Mecca to the town of Yathrib, which lies about 275 miles to the north. The hijra thus marked a new beginning for Muhammad and his followers. Things are less clear in Arabia than people would wish them to be, but monotheism had certainly gained a solid foothold well before Muhammad. Abraha's ill-fated expedition to the Hijaz is known only to the Quran, but it conforms to the pattern of his Arabian expansion, which is partially documented in a number of inscriptions. Muhammad died in early June 632 after a short illness. Civil war was thus about succession to the office of caliphate, which all Muslims acknowledged should be the ruling institution of the nascent state. In the second fitna and the early Marwanid period, Kharijites challenges Umayyad authority and effective power.
  • 6 - The empire in Syria, 705–763
    pp 226-268
  • View abstract
    Syria is usually where empires end, not where they begin. Like its Seleucid ancestor, the Marwanid experiment in Syria showed that a far-flung Middle Eastern empire was still possible without Iraq or Egypt to serve as its centre. Despite the tensions surrounding succession within the Marwanid family, the territorial expansion of the caliphate proceeded apace without any noticeable slowing until the eve of the third fitna. In keeping with the imperial vision established by the time of Abd al-Malik, Marwanid imperial designs were in theory limitless. For all that the Marwanid caliphs saw themselves as God's caliphs, from France to Farghana it was the Syrian tribal armies who were the real world conquerors. The Hijaz and Yemen were excluded from the superprovinces, no doubt because they lacked any active military fronts or waves of settlement. Nowhere can the aspirations of the Marwanid elites be better glimpsed than in the qusur built by caliphs and ashraf throughout the caliphate.
  • 7 - The empire in Iraq, 763–861
    pp 269-304
  • View abstract
    The Umayyad dynasty fell rapidly in the face of the Hashimite-Khurasani revolution in 132/750, the Abbasid dynasty's hold on power took until 145/762 to become firmly established. Baghdad was meant to be the fortress of the new dynasty in times of crisis, as well as a strategically situated city in times of peace in economic and political terms. Iraq was the wealthiest province of the empire, and had been undergoing a process of agricultural development since the Umayyad period. Al-Mahdi's decade-long reign was by all accounts a prosperous time for the caliphate. When the Abbasid succession passed on to Harun al-Rashid, it was finally the anticipated moment which different factions wanted. After achieving reconciliation with the Abbasid family and granting amnesty to former opponents in Baghdad, al-Mamun dispatched Abd Allah ibn Tahir on the mission of reunification. Just as al-Mamun's political achievements radically transformed the Abbasid government, his religious policies were equally new and daring.
  • 8 - The waning of empire, 861–945
    pp 305-359
  • View abstract
    On a winter night in Samarra in 247/861, the caliph Jaqfar al-Mutawakkil held a carousing session with some companions and courtiers. With Samarra and Baghdad absorbed by inner conflict in the 860s and trying to recover from it during the following decades, most of the empire fell apart. Having acted as chief commander for al-Muqtazz's side during the civil war of 865, he enjoyed the respect of the soldiers. Brett sees ninth-century Ismailism as part of a larger brew of oppositional trends, the 'sectarian milieu' which John Wansbrough described as the religious and doctrinal environment of early Islam. Al-Mutadid achieved a reputation and popularity that went beyond the army, and his reign constituted the high point of what is known as the 'Abbasid restoration'. The decline of Abbasid power was felt throughout the Islamic world. A powerless Abbasid caliphate was still indispensable to the Buyids for several reasons, including their need for formal legitimacy.
  • 9 - The late ʿAbbāsid pattern, 945–1050
    pp 360-394
  • View abstract
    The decline and fall of the Abbasid caliphate in the first half of the fourth/tenth century led to the emergence of a new political order. Many of the post-Abbasid regimes attempted to continue the old system and employ ghilman, with their salaries being paid out of the receipts of taxation. The Ghaznavids rulers followed the middle Abbasid practice of recruiting an army of Turkish ghilman and collecting taxes to pay them. Kurds had inhabited much of the area of the Zagros mountains and the uplands to the north of Mosul for many centuries before the coming of Islam. The Muslim world had come into being because lands from Central Asia to North Africa had been conquered by armies largely made up of Arab Bedouin tribesmen. The newly emerging Shiism was not formally the state religion of the Buyids. The new Sunnism was based on the ideas of the muhaddithun, first developed in the third/ninth centuries.
  • 10 - Arabia
    pp 395-447
  • View abstract
    In the Arabian peninsula, the second/eighth century independent and semi-independent polities appeared, and regions underwent cycles of unification and fragmentation. This chapter is divided into four sections: the Hijaz, the Yemen, Oman, and Central and Eastern Arabia. In the first section, an outline of the Hijazi history in the first/seventh and second/eighth centuries is provided; attention is also drawn to the rebellions and disorders in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Next, the chapter focuses on the history of Yemen from the first/seventh to the end of the second/eighth century. Non-sectarian dynasties, religious activity, and sectarian states in Yemen are also discussed here. Oman from the first/seventh to the third/ninth century, and from the third/ninth to the fifth/eleventh century is the focus of the third section of the chapter. The final section deals with Central and Eastern Arabia from the first/seventh to the third/ninth century.
  • 11 - The Islamic east
    pp 448-505
  • View abstract
    The history of the conquest of the Islamic east, like that of other phases of the Muslim wars of expansion, is difficult to reconstruct and to interpret. The Arab conquests in what would become the Islamic east entailed a number of demographic, social, economic, political and cultural changes that would help determine the parameters for the development of this area. The administration of the fiscal apparatus depended heavily on the same class that had played that role in Sasanian times. Political economy, rather than fiscal administration, provides a better guide to distinguishing the various regions of the Islamic east and following their development. Following al-Mamun's accession to the caliphate and return to Baghdad, the history of the Islamic east becomes primarily that of largely autonomous, hereditary, regional dynasties, namely the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids and Ghaznavids. The Saffarids represented in almost every conceivable way the antithesis of the Tahirid version of regionalism.
  • 12 - Syria
    pp 506-540
  • View abstract
    The lands stretching from the Euphrates east and to the upper Tigris are both an extension of Syria and a separate entity. Roman rule was now only a dim memory, recalled in the ruins of its monuments and in the resurgence of Byzantine military power along Syria's northern borderlands. Syrians might soon come to feel that a relatively stable and tolerant Arab-Muslim government was no worse than the disruption and turmoil of the last decades of Byzantine rule. The symbolic impact of Muslim rule may have been even greater, for the new regime was no longer a Christian commonwealth, a providential vehicle of salvation. The first governor was Abd Allah ibn Ali, the powerful uncle of al-Saffah and al-Mansur who had led the victorious Abbasid armies into Syria. In the late third/ninth century Syria suddenly entered on an era of sustained turbulence, in common with many parts of the Islamic world.
  • 13 - Egypt
    pp 541-580
  • View abstract
    In Egypt the Arab conquest initiated a cultural transformation that left unchanged the constants of the country's history over the past three thousand years. The end of the Arab supremacy was complete when in 219/834 the Arabs were struck from the diwan, the list of those entitled to pay as members of the jund, despite their protest that it was theirs by right. The extirpation of the Tulunids brought the return of Egypt to provincial status with a recrudescence of provincial unrest, immediately manifested in the welcome at Fustat to one ibn al-Khalij, or al-Khaliji. Ibn Tughj had no difficulty in returning to Syria to secure its possession, and reconstitute the empire created by Ibn Tulun when he invaded Syria from Egypt. Like that of the Tulunids, that of the Ikhshidids was a ghulam state, in which the payment of the army was central to the administration. After the retreat from Alexandria in 324/936 the threat of Fatimid invasion receded.
  • 14 - The Iberian Peninsula and North Africa
    pp 581-622
  • View abstract
    The Arab conquests in North Africa began soon after the fall of Alexandria to the army commanded by Amr ibn al-As in 21/ 642. In classical times North Africa had become a vast frontier, which stood against the sporadic attacks of peripheral Berber tribes. The fading of caliphal administration in western North Africa allowed for the re-emergence of tribal leaders who, sources claim, profited from the ideological framework of Kharijism to consolidate their rule. The Umayyads changed the physiognomy of Cordoba by erecting new buildings and fostering its extraordinary expansion. Archaeology is also a good indicator of the unrelenting Islamisation of the Iberian Peninsula. The most serious rebellions against the rule of the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya were led by members of the Arab army. It is no coincidence that both Ifriqiya and al-Andalus witnessed the proclamation of two rival caliphates in the early fourth/tenth century.
  • 15 - Modern approaches to early Islamic history
    pp 623-647
  • View abstract
    Western writing on Islam, including early Islamic history, has roots reaching back to the medieval period. As far as early Islamic history is concerned, Western scholars of the Enlightenment began to consult key texts of the Islamic tradition itself in search of information. Contemporary scholars examines Islam's origins in depth mainly tend to follow the source-critical or tradition-critical school in their handling of the Islamic sources. Scholars of early Islamic history have shown increased interest in developing new approaches and methods, and in looking at such things as social history, gender relations, identity formation and economic history. Beyond the thorny problems posed by the heritage of the polemical tradition and by the deficiencies of the sources for early Islamic history, there exist other problems of perception and conceptualisation, as well as practical obstacles, that have affected Western approaches to early Islamic history.
  • 16 - Numismatics
    pp 648-663
  • View abstract
    After being widely neglected following the First World War the study and use of Islamic numismatic documents have again become a prospering academic subject, particularly in the 1990s. Islamic coinage of the middle Islamic period was quite different from the degenerated state of the classical coinage system. Money as a means of coordinating human decisions and economic exchange is a complex social invention. Islamic legal theory determined the value of money to be identical with the intrinsic value of the bullion. The Zubayrid governor had targeted the ideological, religious deficiencies of the Umayyad regime. The Ismaili Shiite Fatimids challenged the Abbasid claim of universal rulership both ideologically and militarily, and thus their coinage named only the Fatimid caliph. After their conquest of Egypt their coins presented a visual distinction to the classical late Abbasid coinage, moving towards a design consisting mainly of rings of concentric inscriptions.
  • 17 - Archaeology and material culture
    pp 664-682
  • View abstract
    A recurrent concern in the archaeological study of early Islam is the degree to which the physical record exhibits significant continuity with the centuries prior to 1/622. This chapter first summarises the earliest evidence for a distinctive Muslim identity in the archaeological record. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem marks a watershed in Islamic material culture, as among other things, it also provides evidence of a new sense of artistic ambition among the Muslim elite. Next, the chapter assesses changes in the countryside with particular emphasis on the elite country residences (qusur) of Greater Syria and the evolution of complex irrigation systems in different parts of the Islamic world. Then, it discusses the changes in the urban environment from the Late Antique period to the creation of new cities in Syria and Iraq during the early Abbasid caliphate. Finally, the chapter addresses changes in international trade from the Late Antique period to around 390/1000.
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