this issue
previous article in this issuenext article in this issue

Document Details :

Title: Contested and Common Ground
Subtitle: Geography and History at the Limits of the Early Islamic Conquests
Author(s): ROBINSON, Abby
Journal: Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Volume: 51    Date: 2014   
Pages: 317-340
DOI: 10.2143/ANES.51.0.3038724

Abstract :
In the historiography of the early Islamic conquests (here, mainly 632–656), mountains, rivers, and places characterised by extremes of nature, such as severe heat or cold, represent straightforward physical barriers against armies but also have two kinds of symbolic significance. First, they were the settings for stories — plausibly crafted to inspire or galvanise audiences — about prevailing over even the toughest opponents. Second, they were contexts within which complex political and ideological issues relating to the conquests were explored by authors. A pattern emerges wherein among the Christian histories more symbolic spaces belong to the first category than the second, whereas in the Arabic texts the reverse applies. This distinction reflects the divergent perspectives of defenders and conquerors, but also reveals the contrasting positions of Christian and Muslim authors relative in time and space to the events they describe. On the other hand, there is also much shared ground in how spaces are depicted across the Arabic and Christian accounts. The outlooks of people on opposing sides had perhaps a surprising amount in common. A unified study of representations of space in the source material for the conquests ultimately provides a more comprehensive understanding of what occurred at this major turning point in world history.

Download article