chapter  27
30 Pages

Archaeology and Islam

WithAlastair Northedge

The Middle East in medieval times is normally connected with Islam, which appeared from the time of the first revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad about AD 610 at Mecca in Arabia (Fig. 27.1). In addition to his qualities as a prophet, Muhammad was also a political leader, and created a community of believers, which by the time of his death in 632 stretched in a network of tribal alliances across the Arabian Peninsula. The subsequent early rulers of the Islamic state were called khalifa (in Arabic) or caliph (in English), successor or deputy, but more often Prince of Believers (Amir al-Mu’minin). Under the first four caliphs, the energies of the united tribesmen were diverted into raiding Syria and Iraq, respectively under the control of the Byzantium and the Sassanian Iranian dynasty (226-637 in Iran and Iraq). The unexpected success by hitherto despised tribesmen in defeating two of the major world powers of the time caused the collapse of the Sassanian empire, and the permanent amputation of the rich Near Eastern and North African provinces of the Byzantine empire. Lack of serious resistance permitted the Muslim armies in the west to reach Spain by 711, and Samarqand and the Indus valley by about the same time. Nevertheless, the natural limits of military expansion brought a halt, with the defeat of a raid at Poitiers in central France in 732, and a battle against the Chinese at Talas (present-day Dzhambul in Kazakhstan) in 751.