Washington, Jan 3: Medieval Afghanistan, Iran and the one-time Soviet Central Asian states were frontiers in flux as the Islamic Caliphate spread beyond the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh through 10th centuries.
As such, different groups, such as the new Arab ruling class, the native landed gentry and local farmers, jockeyed for power, position and economic advantage over an approximately 300-year period as the Sasanian Empire collapsed and the Caliphate took its place.
University of Cincinnati historian Robert Haug, assistant professor, will present his research on how social, cultural and political changes were manifested in these border areas that serve almost as a “perpetual frontier.”
He does so on Jan ary 3, 2013, at the American Historical Association, in a presentation titled “Between the Limits and the Gaps: Conceptualizing Frontiers in Medieval Arabic and Persian Geographies.”
While many in the West might perceive these Middle Eastern and Asian countries as Islamic religious monoliths, their populations in the Middle Ages were only about 50 percent Muslim in the 10th century, even after 300 years of Arab rule, according to Haug.
UC historian Robert Haug holds a late eighth-century coin from Baghdad. Medieval coins from Central Asia and the Middle East chronicle political, cultural and social shifts as Islam took root over several centuries.
“Some may see these areas as homogenous today, but as the fringes of empire in the Middle Ages, there were economic, cultural, political and religious tensions that were negotiated and re-negotiated,” he explained.
For instance, conversion of native populations to Islam was initially discouraged by the new Arab elite.
“The incoming Arab elite seeking to solidify power in these frontier border areas wanted to maintain a distinction between themselves and the long-term resident populations. The new elites wanted to be able to collect taxes and fulfill military levies, and there were more strictures on how you went about doing so with co-religionists vs. those who were not Muslim,” explained Haug.
He added that radical transformation and conversions did not generally take place except at the very top tier of native societies.
In studying records of the era, he also finds how subject populations maneuvered in order to maintain position, economic security or cultural identity in a shifting social climate.
For instance, in comparing early ninth century records and texts to those from the late 10th centuries, Haug notes that as the number of mosques in an area increased, the vocabulary for referring to fortified farms also changed. (ANI)