chapter  1
29 Pages

From the Arab conquest to the fall of Baghdad, 636–1258

When the first Arab Muslim army approached the west bank ofthe Euphrates river in 633 AD, the land known today as Iraq contained a highly heterogeneous population. The majority spoke various

Aramaic dialects and worked on lands usually controlled by the dahaqin, a

Persian aristocratic and administrative class. The desert regions to the west

of the Euphrates were dominated by Arab tribes, both nomadic and settled,

while the Kurds, whose language is related to Farsi, inhabited the northwest

along the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. In different parts of the coun-

try, there were pockets of Greeks, Indians, Africans and even some groups

who continued to speak late Babylonian dialects. By the seventh century,

probably most of the population had converted to Nestorian Christianity,

with a few Jacobite communities in the north. Jewish communities were

found throughout the country and Zoroastrianism was dominant among

the Persian soldiers and administrators. There were also significant numbers

of Mandaean and Manichean Gnostics, various pagan groups and a smatter-

ing of Indian religious traditions. The establishment of Arab Muslim rule

promoted greater social cohesiveness in Iraq through the introduction of a

single dominant religion and language, and through the centralizing efforts

of the new state.