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This introduction outlines the key aims of the book and its genesis, including a definition of what political culture means – the rituals and explicit legitimisation of power, status and property-holding, alongside the unstated assumptions and customs that help to channel tensions and rivalries within polities. It situates the volume’s approach – a presentation of three neighbouring and overlapping political spheres – within the recent turn towards the global middle ages. Neither a work of systematic and explicit comparison nor an attempt at overarching synthesis or grand narrative – nor a shot at tracing trans-regional connections – the book aims rather to find a conceptual language applicable to all three spheres, attempting to make each sphere accessible to non-specialists. This pioneering survey of three spheres – the Latin west, Byzantium and the Islamic world – should provide useful tools for learning, teaching and research today but is also an invitation to future study of medieval political culture.
This comparative study explores three key cultural and political spheres – the Latin west, Byzantium and the Islamic world from Central Asia to the Atlantic – roughly from the emergence of Islam to the fall of Constantinople. These spheres drew on a shared pool of late antique Mediterranean culture, philosophy and science, and they had monotheism and historical antecedents in common. Yet where exactly political and spiritual power lay, and how it was exercised, differed. This book focuses on power dynamics and resource-allocation among ruling elites; the legitimisation of power and property with the aid of religion; and on rulers' interactions with local elites and societies. Offering the reader route-maps towards navigating each sphere and grasping the fundamentals of its political culture, this set of parallel studies offers a timely and much needed framework for comparing the societies surrounding the medieval Mediterranean.
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