Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Embedding Conquest: Naturalising Muslim Rule in the Early Islamic Empire (600-1000)

What made the early Islamic empire so successful and have we missed the story by neglecting crucial evidence? The 7th-century Arab conquests changed the socio-political configurations in the Mediterranean and Eurasia forever. Yet we do not really know how the Arabs managed to gain dominance of this vast, ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse area which had its own, long imperial traditions, and to make this a sustainable enterprise. What built the empire, and what held it together?

Duration
2017  -   2021
Contact
Petra Sijpesteijn
Funding
ERC Consolidator Grant ERC Consolidator Grant

Scholarship to date has overwhelmingly relied on ‘literary’ sources in Arabic (e.g. chronicles, legal treatises, theological tracts), composed centuries after the conquests and shaped by court politics at their time of writing. This has created a false impression of the embedding of Muslim rule as a top-down process, directed from the centre, built on military coercion and control through administrative systems. Now, however, ‘documentary’ sources in multiple languages on papyrus, leather and paper from all over the empire (e.g. letters, contracts, fiscal accounts, petitions, decrees, work permits) are becoming increasingly available. These sources, whose impact has been limited by linguistic and disciplinary boundaries, offer a direct, contemporary view of how the empire worked on the ground, and how political and social structures were experienced, modified and appropriated by its subjects.

This project will uniquely incorporate all available documents reflecting Muslim rule from the first 400 years of Islam, to reconstruct the system of social relations that enabled the crucial transition from a conquest society to a political organism that survived the breakdown of central caliphal control, and remains the region’s benchmark model today. It will critically advance our understanding of a world historical event, make a radically new contribution to empire studies, and connect and synergise area studies and disciplinary inquiry.

Documentary sources

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Local elites

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Administration

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Empire studies

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The projects on empire studies listed below are related to the Embedded Conquest project.

"Persia and Babylonia: Creating a New Context for Understanding the Emergence of the First World Empire"

The Persian Empire (539-330 BCE) was the first world empire in history. At its height, it united a territory stretching from present-day India to Libya - and it would take 2,000 years before significantly larger empires emerged in early modern Eurasia. What explains its success? How did the Persians manage to keep their empire together, while earlier states had collapsed? The PERSIA AND BABYLONIA project will introduce a vast new data set and a novel approach in order to answer these questions.

More information can be found on the project's website.

"Turks, texts and territory: Imperial ideology and cultural production in Central Eurasia"

The eleventh century marked the emergence of the originally nomadic Turks as a new political elite in the history of Central Asia and the Middle East. Under their powerful patronage a new political culture arose in the Islamic world, inspired by an imperial rather than an exclusively Islamic outlook. This shift brought Persian into the limelight as a new cosmopolitan and imperial language across Central Asia, North India, Turkey and Iran. Until a few decades ago, the received view was that the Turks, as nomadic rulers with a military background, needed Iranian bureaucrats to effectuate their rule over sedentary societies, and hence sedentarized themselves and adopted Persian culture in a one-way acculturation process. Though this view has been challenged in recent years, the idea of a dichotomy between the nomadic, uncivilised Turk, representing the "sword", and the sedentary, civilised Iranian, representing the "pen", persists in academic debate. Turks, texts and territory aims to further challenge this binary view by bringing in the vast but understudied resource of cultural production, approached as an integrated phenomenon, across media, languages and genres.

The spatial framework will be provided by five representative Silk Road cities, situated at present in different nation states: Kashgar, Samarkand, Ghazna, Tabriz and Konya. As capitals and nodal points of five medieval Turko-Persian empires, each of these cities represents a particular stage in the development of imperial ideology and its expression by means of literary and artistic production, as preserved in various examples of cultural heritage, cherished today as symbols of national identity. The aim of this project is to map the interaction between imperial ideology and literary and artistic production in a diachronic and synchronic perspective and to contextualize policies of heritage in the modern nation states which emerged from the premodern Turko-Persian world.

More information can be found on the project's website.

"Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia"

The project seeks to explain why, how, when and to where people, ideas and artifacts moved in Mongol Eurasia, and what were the outcomes of these huge movements. Studying the Mongol Empire in its full Eurasian context, the project combines a world history perspective with close reading in a huge array of primary sources in various languages (mainly Persian, Arabic and Chinese) and different historiographical traditions, and classifies the acquired information into a sophisticated prosopographical database, which records the individuals acting under Mongol rule in the 13th and 14th centuries. On the basis of this unique corpus, the project maps and analyzes mobility patterns, and the far-reaching effects that this mobility generated.

More information can be found on the project's website.

For more information, please contact emco@hum.leidenuniv.nl.

Upcoming.

2018

Thu 11-Sat 13 October

Conference: The Reach of Empire – The Early Islamic Empire at Work

Speaker: Eline Scheerlinck
Title: Administration and the Use of Coptic in Early Islamic Egypt. A Case Study on Taxes and Travel
Venue: Hamburg University
Link
Sun 30 September

Leiden Lecture on Arabic Language and Culture

Speaker: Eline Scheerlinck
Title: Vluchtelingen en hun beschermers in de Koptische en Griekse papyri van vroeg-islamitisch Egypte
Venue: National Museum of Antiquities

Link
Thu 13-Fri 14 September EmCo guest: Eduardo Manzano Moreno (Spanish National Research Council - CSIC)     
Thu 30 August

Conference: Asia Beyond Boundaries conference

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Venue: Leiden University
Link
Mon 25-Wed 27 June EmCo guest: Robert Hoyland (New York University)    
Thu 22 June OCBR Annual Lecture Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Venue: University of Oxford
Link
Fri 15 June Lecture Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title: Sacrificing virgins to the Nile in early Islamic Egypt
Venue: Deutsches Archäologisches Institut München
Link
Thu 7 June

Conference: MEISAI (Middle East & Islamic Studies Association of Israel)

Speaker: Alon Dar
Title: Two Imperial Projects: the Building of the Muslim fleet and  the Umayyad  Mosque
Venue: Tel Aviv University

 
Thu 17-Fri 18 May Conference: Correspondence, Cross-pollination and Control

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title: Regime Change and Administrative Repercussions: Syrian Officials at Work in Egypt

Speaker: Edmund Hayes
Title: Integration and Exclusion: Correspondence and Power in Imami Shiʿism

Venue: Leiden University

Link
Mon 7-Tue 8 May

Conference: Documents and Institutions in the Late Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Venue: Princeton University
 
Thu 12-Fri 13 April Workshop on letters Invited commentators: Maaike van Berkel, Werner Diem, Ahmad Khan, Frederic Krueger, Maurice Pomerantz
Venue: Leiden University
 
Fri 6-Sat 7 April

Symposium: Navigating Language in the early Islamic World

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Venue: University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Link
Tue 20-Fri 23 March International Society for Arabic Papyrology (ISAP) VII conference

Speaker: Reza Huseini
Title: Thinking in Arabic, Writing in Sogdian: Diplomatic Relations Between the Arabs and the Local Rulers in Transoxiana in the Early Eighth Century

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title: "After God, I turn to you." Religious Expressions in Arabic Papyrus Letters

Poster presentation: Alon Dar
Title: Power or Persuasion: Qurra b. Sharīk's Letters

Speaker: Edmund Hayes
Title: The Epistolary Imam: Comparing the Correspondence of the Shii Imam with Documentary Letters

Speaker: Eline Scheerlinck
Title: "We will not require anything of you, except for...": Permits, Protection and Problem Solving in Early Islamic Egypt

Venue: Berlin

Link
Mon 12-Mon 19 March EmCo guest: Fred Donner (University of Chicago)    
Thu 15-Fri 16 February EmCo guest: Arietta Papaconstantinou (University of Reading)    
Thu 1-Fri 2 February EmCo guest: Jürgen Paul (Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg)    

 

2017

Thu 7-Fri 8 December Workshop: Fiddling with Documents Invited guests: Jennifer Cromwell, Rachel Mairs, Anastasia Maravela, Elisabeth O'Connell, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Arietta Papaconstantinou, Marina Rustow
Venue: Leiden University
 
Mon 13-Tue 14 November EmCo guest: Majied Robinson (University of Edinburgh)    
Thu 9 – Sat 11 November

Conference: Late Antique Religion in Practice: Papyri and the Dynamics of Religious Identification

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title: Blessings for the Prophet and his Family

Speaker: Eline Scheerlinck
Title: “Like oil in their bones”: Threats, Excommunication and Religious Identification beyond Late Antiquity

Venue: Leiden University

Link
Thu 26 October

Seminar: Structuring Knowledge: Asking Favours in Medieval Egypt: Informal Requests and Petitions in Papyrus Letters

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn

Venue: Durham University, UK

Link
Mon 18-Tue 19 September

Workshop: The Iranian World in late Antiquity: A Graduate Student Workshop

Speaker: Reza Huseini
Title: Marriage Regulations in the Eastern Iranian World in Late Antiquity: The Documentary Evidences
Venue: University of Chicago Center in Paris

Link
Thu 31 August-Fri 1 September EmCo guest: Arezou Azad (University of Birmingham)    
Tue 30-Wed 31 May

Conference: Benefits of Office: Privilege and Loyalty in the Ancient Mediterranean World

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title talk: Estate-holders vs. bureaucrats. Building loyalty to the state in early Islamic Egypt
Venue: VU University Amsterdam

Link
Tue 9-Sat 13 May EmCo guest: Jennifer Cromwell (Manchester Metropolitan University)    
Thu 20-Sat 22 April

Conference: Global Nodes, Networks, Orders: Three Global History Workshops on Transformative Connectivity

Speaker: Reza Huseini
Title: Sixteenth century millenarianism and the making of the Tarikhi Alfi
Venue: Leiden University

Link
Thu 14-Fri 15 April

Seminar: Eastern Mediterranean Seminar “Papyri and History”

Speaker: Petra Sijpesteijn
Title: What did the Egyptians read? Reconstructing the intellectual milieu in early Islamic Egypt through the papyri
Venue: University of Chicago

Link

 

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