Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden Center for the Study of Ancient Arabia

Mission Statement

The Leiden Center for the Study of Ancient Arabia aims to promote research on the ancient languages and cultures of Arabia, and to disseminate this knowledge to the broader public.

The importance of the study of Ancient Arabia

At present in the West, the study of Arabia's past is very badly served. There is no university post dealing specifically with the ancient history, ancient cultures, and ancient languages of Arabia, with the result that these subjects are simply not taught and students in these countries generally have no idea of what existed in Arabia before Islam. In addition, there are no permanent research posts in these subjects and so those scholars who work in this field have to do so in their spare time. The absence of a “scholarly center” has made it difficult for those working in Arabian studies to network, engage in collaborations, or even keep abreast of all the research being carried out in the field.

Vast amounts of information lie largely inaccessible in unpublished doctoral theses, in scholarly works published in the Middle East which are not distributed in the West, and in the archives of retired or dead academics (and others) which are dispersed or destroyed on their deaths for lack of an institution to accept them, catalogue them, and make them available to the public. Nor is it only the archives of scholars which are currently inaccessible. Large numbers of ex-patriots who have lived in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula over most of the twentieth century, have photographed archaeological sites, inscriptions and rock drawings, flora and fauna, etc., some of which have since disappeared. These photographs when copied and properly catalogued would be an extremely valuable resource to scholars both in the Arab World and the West who are working to reveal Arabia's history, cultures, and environment.

The last twenty years has seen an unprecedented growth in the amount of archaeological and inscriptional material from pre-Islamic Arabia available to the scholarly world, yet very little of this information has been communicated to the public. The old images of Arabia as an isolated wasteland with little civilization to speak of prevail, not only in the West but also in the Arab World. There is now more than ever a need to publicize these findings, not only to promote interest in the study of Ancient Arabia but also to help foster a more accurate understanding of the history and cultures of the Arabian Peninsula among the western public.

These twin objectives of facilitating scholarship through fostering community and making inaccessible research materials available, and of disseminating the fruits of this scholarship to the wider public, lie at the heart of this proposal for the establishment of the Leiden Center for the Study of Ancient Arabia.


The Center’s research interests would cover all subjects concerned with Arabia in the pre-modern period, but with special focus on the Peninsula’s pre-Islamic heritage. Arabia should be defined in its widest geographical sense, as covering all areas of the Arabian Peninsula, with a fluid northern limit based on geography and ancient cultural entities, rather than the frontiers of modern states.

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