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Islam and the Heritage of Late Antiquity

First Annual Vaslef Lecture. November 14, 2007

The coming of Islam in the Middle East represents one of the great watersheds of human history. The Arab-Muslim conquests of 630 to 750 led to the establishment of a new political system, a new ruling class, a new language of culture and administration and perhaps most strikingly, a new dominant religion. Furthermore, the new order was destined to last. With the exceptions of Spain and Portugal, all the lands conquered at this time were destined to remain under Muslim rule and become Islamised and in many cases Arabised. Yet, the study of human history suggests transformations are seldom as dramatic and complete as this might seem. The lecture examined how the new order took, adapted and moulded features of the old and how the continuities between antiquity and Islam are, in some ways, deeper and more lasting than has often been appreciated.