“The Frontier: Barrier or Bridge” Reconsiderations after twenty-five years of scholarship
The Frontier: Barrier or Bridge” Reconsiderations after twenty-five years of scholarship
By Walter E. Kaegi, The University of Chicago, Department of History, USA
I prepared a paper “The Frontier: Barrier or Bridge” for that session and it was published in the volume of Major Papers of that Congress, on pp 279-303. Twenty-five years have now passed since that Congress and that session. I offer reflections and reconsiderations on that subject in the light of subsequent historical scholarship in Byzantine and Islamic history.
I shall review some principal features of research in the last twenty-five years as well as point to remaining or even newly emergent issues of scholarly contention with respect to change and interchange between Byzantines and Muslims. These involve reviewing and absorbing the content of publications but also scholarly conferences and workshops whose works have not yet been formally printed in hard copy format.
The past quarter century has been fruitful even though not everything has been solved. Of course there are points of historical detail in my original paper that require correction and adjustment. I have changed my opinion on some topics. Many relevant publications have appeared since that International Congress. There has been much positive scholarly achievement.
But beyond that are other welcome trends in the broader scholarship. Beyond those on military history many works have appeared on diplomacy between Byzantines and Muslims, notably that of Andreas Kaplony.
Many diverse and illuminating studies on culture and society appeared, including of course those in the series published by Darwin Press Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East. A thorough probing of Arabic primary sources on Byzantium is represented in the pioneering efforts of Alexander D. Beihammer.
His efforts have incorporated more citations of Arabic primary sources into the fundamental register of documents on Byzantine history that was started by Franz Dölger in the 1920s, and which Byzantinists use as their checklist of events and documents.
He has resolved or at least improved our understanding of many controversial issues of chronology and sequence. A vast improvement has occurred in the understanding of Syriac authors and translators as intermediaries between Byzantine and Islamic historiography, formulators of chronological synchronizations and discord, and the roles of Christian communities in Egypt, Syria and Palestine and Iraq as intermediaries and as keepers of certain traditions and perspectives.
Twenty-five years ago we were at the very beginning of understanding the nature and significance of Chalcedonian Greek Christian writers within Caliphal territories such as Anastasios the Sinaite.
Others are working on tracing the transition from Greek to Arabic in Christian communities in Sinai, Syria and Palestine. A series of doctoral dissertations are illuminating mentalities, perspectives and identities and interchanges between Christian communities within Muslim-controlled territories and Christian communities within the borders of the Byzantine Empire and even beyond in the central and western Mediterranean. Archaeology is improving our knowledge of the complexity of relationships on the Syrian-Anatolian frontier and improving our knowledge of maritime contacts.
We are beginning to understand better change and interchange not only on Byzantinum’s eastern and southeastern borders with Islam in southwest Asia but also in the central and western Mediterranean, the Maghrib. I shall point out additional lacunae and desiderata.
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