skip to primary navigationskip to content

Early Islamic Empire: Reframing the Umayyads. Dr Andrew Marsham

The first Muslim Empire, founded in the 630s and 640s CE, was ruled by members of the Umayyad branch of the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe for most of the period 644-750. It was the largest pre-modern empire besides that of the Mongols and the only empire in history conquered by armies drawn from nomads to establish a new world religion and civilization. This was also the first and last time in history that an Arabian ruling elite and its Arab tribal armies ruled a world empire. All of the lands conquered by the Umayyads subsequently became majority Muslim. Umayyad lands are also (with the exception of Iran and points east), roughly coterminous with the core Arabophone lands of modern times.

This project, funded by an AHRC Early Career Fellowship, seeks to situate the formation of the first Muslim Empire in a wider chronological and geographical context and to partially recover this history from the teleology of the later Arabic historiographical tradition. The approach to the evidence is derived from the historical sociology of Michael Mann, who proposes that societies should not be studied as neatly bounded entities but as shifting networks of various kinds of social power. Mann’s ‘peripheral contradiction’, in which the peripheries of settled empires tend to conquer their core is a helpful framework within which to analyse the late Roman and Sasanian period in the Middle East, as well as the dynamics that shaped the early Muslim Empire itself. A monograph, The Umayyad Empire, will be published in 2019 with Edinburgh University Press.