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Ian Straughn

Islamic Archaeology

Archaeology and Religion

Islamic Landscapes

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
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Posted at Mar 19/2007 09:15AM:

Reading Response #2

‘Athamina’s paper “Arab Settlement During the Umayyad Caliphate” presents the details of the settlement of Arabs into newly occupied territory, highlighting the strong connection between the direct military action of the Caliphate and less ordered immigration and settlement of Arabs into these lands.

The military is shown as leading the way for immigration – soon after regions were brought under the control of the Caliphate, immigration from all over the empire began. The military was at the very least the pioneer of this more permanent presence of Arabs in conquered territories. In other situations, the military was more directly involved, permitting or promoting the permanent settlement of soldiers in the area of the military camp, and sometimes establishing new settlements by allowing military camps to transform into them once they were no longer necessary militarily. All of this suggests the possibly be a combination of militaristic, social, and religious goals of the Caliphate. Establishing a permanent presence in conquered regions can make much sense militarily, but this is not simply the presence of force, but the presence of laypeople. Comparatively, the Roman or Persian approach seems to be much more distant, with a limited number of military and political figures imposing themselves at the top of the already established social structure. Even the idea of Romanization seems more passive, left in large part to the agency of local elites. The Arab approach appears much more forceful and direct, with an effort being made to replace or subsume local populations. This may be an overstatement, and ‘Athamina does mention that in some districts the Arab immigrants were the decided minority. Still, more than a number of officials brought in to maintain order, the flow of whole families and even tribes from around the empire suggests a different take on the degree of integration for newly conquered territories.

Another important process that is revealed in this paper is that of the creation of an Arab and a Muslim identity. The immigrants choosing to relocate to the occupied lands were impressively diverse, coming from all over the empire. While many were connected with the military, many others were not, coming of their own accord in hopes of prospering in these new lands. The mixing of tribes from many regions of the empire in the new settlements hints at a reorientation of identity away from the tribal group and towards a larger Arab identity. While ‘Athamina mentions that tribes were sometimes assigned particular areas of new settlements, it seems inevitable that with time the close proximity and the resulting interactions between these groups would lead to a fusion of some kind into a Muslim and an Arab identity. Especially when in lands with markedly different practices and beliefs, the unity of the Arab tribal groups would likely be more pronounced than the differences between them. This process of settlement, then, is an example of the unification of the diverse tribes of Arabia into one larger group identity, based around shared religious and social practices.