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As a historian of the late Roman/early Islamic Middle East I read enviously the publications available to historians of western Europe for the same period, such as those by Patrick Geary, Walter Pohl, Peter Heather and others, which treat so well the Roman interaction with and integration of the ‘western barbarians’. Geary's point regarding the Franks that ‘their very existence as well as every phase of their history makes sense only within the context of Roman presence in northern Europe, for their genesis as a people and gradual transformation into the conquerors of much of Europe were from the start part of the Roman experience’ has long struck me as pertinent to understanding the rise of the Muslim Arab Empire. Yet sadly no such studies have been composed treating the same subject in respect of the ‘eastern barbarians’, i.e. the tribes on Rome's eastern frontier, and these tribes never get more than the briefest of mentions in survey works on the Roman/medieval Mediterranean world. Irfan Shahid has done the great service of laying the groundwork with his exhaustively documented volumes on Byzantium and the Arabs, but no one has used these to produce a narrative/discursive study à la Geary or Pohl. Unable to claim to be intrinsic to the formation of Europe, these ‘eastern barbarians’ still suffer from a lack of focused attention and from a lingering sense that their role in the history of the late Roman Empire was minimal. Arabists are less likely to think along these lines, but they rarely have the depth of knowledge of the Roman Empire necessary to redress this imbalance.
The eight hundred years between the first Roman conquests and the conquest of Islam saw a rich, constantly shifting blend of languages and writing systems, legal structures, religious practices and beliefs in the Near East. While the different ethnic groups and cultural forms often clashed with each other, adaptation was as much a characteristic of the region as conflict. This volume, emphasizing the inscriptions in many languages from the Near East, brings together mutually informative studies by scholars in diverse fields. Together, they reveal how the different languages, peoples and cultures interacted, competed with, tried to ignore or were influenced by each other, and how their relationships evolved over time. It will be of great value to those interested in Greek and Roman history, Jewish history and Near Eastern studies.
This book is devoted to processes of continuity and change over the thousand years which separate Alexander the Great from Muhammad the Prophet – two men perceived as instrumental in changing the linguistic and cultural map of the Middle East, the former responsible for the spread of Greek, the latter for the demise of Greek and the rise of Arabic. Obviously the reality is not so simple, and the main purpose of this book is to examine the finer details and complexities of the relationship between languages and cultures during this period, and also to offer some account of the variety of responses that Greek, and other languages, evoked in the peoples of that area from Greece (and Rome) eastwards to Iran.
Like many other collective works, this book too has its own history. It grew out of the success of a conference, and the conference itself out of the experience of the editors as leaders and participants in a yearlong research group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2002–3. The group was led by Hannah M. Cotton (of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Jonathan J. Price (of Tel Aviv University) and David J. Wasserstein (then of Tel Aviv University, now of Vanderbilt University); the other members were Leah Di Segni and Shlomo Naeh (of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Robert G. Hoyland (then of Oxford University, now of the University of St Andrews), E. Axel Knauf (of Bern University), Marijana Ricl (of the University of Belgrade) and Seth Schwartz (of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York).
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