This chapter is an attempt to create a narrative of the history of Iran, ‘Iraq, and Syria, defined in their historical sense, from the establishment of Islam to the waning of the ʿAbbāsid power, roughly 600– 900 CE. The narrative, despite its regional focus, is set within a broader context of global history, highlighting issues of regional geopolitical formation that led to its emergence, indeed ascendance, as a world region in the early medieval period. While “contacts,” the most superficial of “world historical” tropes, are assumed and not emphasized, means of “connection” and mutual influence, as well as paths of integration, are indeed considered and emphasized throughout.
The period of 600– 900 is a crucial one for the history of West Asia. In a common periodization of history, “the end of late antiquity” comes at 602, the assassination of the Byzantine emperor, Maurice. Similarly, the rise of the Tulunids of Egypt, the Bagratunis of Armenia, and the Samanids of Khurasan at the end of this period in some sense ushers in the beginning of the Islamic Middle Ages and the end of the so-called “Golden Age of Islam.” Obviously, historical periodization works more as a tool of modern historians seeking to define specializations and zones of research and influence, and it reflects less the historical events per se. Be that as it may, the Byzantine-Sasanian Wars that preceded, and even occasioned, the Islamic conquests are as good as any event to start this narrative, and the aftermath of the crisis in Samarra and the disintegration of the ʿAbbāsid empire is an apt moment to end it. Within this period, the face of West Asia, already in transformation since the early sixth century, changed significantly. The first significant event, the unification of Syria with al-‘Iraq/ Asuristan, was what engendered the creation of the “heartland” of the Islamic empire and its cultural and political centre. The reorientation of West Asia in its entirety towards Baghdad was the direct consequence of this unity. The reorientation by itself brought peripheral populations and powers into contact, exchange, and competition, resulting in the instability of the late Umayyad period.