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The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange among Christian and Muslim Communities

Asa Eger, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Fellow 2011/12

The history of the earliest borders between Byzantine and Islamic lands remains poorly understood. What is generally assumed from texts is that these borderlands were sharply divided and contested battlegrounds for prolonged holy wars since the inception of Islam in the seventh century. My research tests this viewpoint by using an approach based on landscape archaeology applied to surveys and excavations that I undertook in Turkey, as well as to other work that I have reassessed. By identifying the archaeology of settlements of the frontier from the seventh to the tenth centuries, how they affected, adapted to, and interacted with their environment, I present a view of the frontier from the ground up. The study demonstrates that the frontier, from a rural and environmental perspective, was a zone of interaction between competing groups such as pastoralists, farmers, city folk, and inhabitants of peripheral mountains and marshes.

This study forms the subject of a book entitled The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange among Christian and Muslim Communities. While a Byzantine Studies fellow in the 2011–2012 spring term, I began, completely revised, and wrote a full first draft.  In addition, I added two new chapters on pastoralism on the Byzantine side of the frontier and the archaeology of northern Mesopotamia, plus a substantial chapter portion on the role of irrigation, land use, and social organization. I was also able to significantly expand my discussion of primary sources by considering Syriac literature, saints’ lives from the Byzantine frontier, and Byzantine military treatises.

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