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Syria-Palestine in the Seventh Century: Aspects of Byzantine Continuity

Alan Walmsley, Macquarie University, Fellow 2017–2018

Once written off as a century racked by warfare, extremist behavior, economic collapse, and social disintegration, new work has exposed the colonial and Anglo-Eurocentric/Orientalist origins of such prejudiced views. By drawing on archival material, especially from archaeological discoveries of the earlier twentieth century, and integrating this neglected treasure-trove of data with progressive approaches that are revitalizing contemporary historical and archaeological research, a new seventh century can be envisaged. No longer seen as a hundred years of unimportant, amorphous transition, this was a time of risk, adjustment, and experimentation representative of a cultural dynamism expressed through new public and private presentations in art and architecture. A calculated and functional restatement is evident in residential and public arenas such as baths, open spaces, and houses of worship. Old cultural forms were ascribed new meaning while being added to. New political and economic policies were determinedly applied through administrative reform and agricultural initiatives, the latter encouraging widespread land reclamation and irrigation programs. Accordingly, the wide-ranging reforms that followed in the eighth century emerged from an all-embracing cultural and economic structure that accommodated community diversity and promoted personal agility in a once- maligned seventh-century Syria-Palestine.