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The Early Islamic Empire at Work
The View from the Regions Toward the Centre

Final Report Summary - ISLAMIC EMPIRE (The Early Islamic Empire at WorkThe View from the Regions Toward the Centre)

Most research on empires is measured – explicitly or implicitly - along the paradigm of the Roman Empire. By contrast, our project ‘The Early Islamic Empire at Work – the View from the Regions Towards the Center’ dealt with the largest empire of the Late Antiquity, stretching from the Hindukush to the Atlantic. The project showed a different structure in its working, which can serve as future paradigmatic model within the discourse of Comparative Empire Studies. The provinces, with few exceptions such as Iraq, and perhaps Egypt), were not governed as territorial entities (from one border to the other). Even the notion of borders between the provinces were almost absent. This is partly a result of the Empire’s geographical situation in the old world dry belt, where large patches of desert, steppes or mountainous regions alternated with densely settled areas. We defined a province as projection of imperial power into taxable core areas of a region. This projection was constituted by a governor and a garrison (phase 1), usually selected from a transregional elite. The interaction between the regional elites, who had a material interest in participating in the empire, and the transregional elites usually were different from region to region, but certain patterns in the governing of the empire became obvious (phase 2). The administration of a region was layered, from a taxable core in the agriculturally most prosperous areas of the region under a governor, with sub-governorates, vassal states, nomadic tribes, to areas which lay outside any control of the governor and only connected by economic networks. Compared with the original model championed in the application, which regarded regions as represented by the center, we found that the opposite is much more common. The center is represented via the transregional elites in (or projected into) the regions. In the third and fourth phase we explored the conditions and constraints of the economy, the extent to which imperial policy and elite culture (language, religion, legal system etc.) penetrated the regions within the Empire, and the extent of the Empire’s external influence beyond its political control, in terms of its culture and economy (sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Indian Ocean).