This ambitious aim is to understand the political and economic workings of a pre-modern empire, the Islamic Empire (660 - 940 CE), which stretches over almost the entire Hellenistic-Roman world from the Atlantic to the Hindukush. In contrast to the conventional model of the 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 and its various elites.
While usually we have a top down approach as seen from the centre, 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.
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 appropriate: in addition to the literary sources, parallel to but independent from centre-based chronicles and biographical dictionaries, are read sequences of coins (Islamic coins have up to 150 words, of mostly administrative information), the results of archaeological excavations, and regional surveys (the PI is involved in a number of excavations from Egypt to Afghanistan), together with a data-base study of elite groups connecting the regions with the centre.
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 focussed Islam and its caliphate as the major formative force of the Empire.
Fields of science
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