Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

The aim of my project was to deepen my understanding of the role of migration and mobility (here: the migration of conquering elites into the region and their ways of establishing a separate identity) in the context of a more general project on the formation and (in)stability of political entities in the Islamic Middle East.

During my stay in Tübingen I first worked on the geopolitics of the formation of Arab ethnic political identities in late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. This formation of identities I would like to see as determined not only by cultural factors (language, literature, social norms of a tribal society) but also by political and geographical factors that, until the onset of Islam, limited the possibility of people from the Arab peninsula to project political power outside the region. Not only was the Arab peninsula geographically much less open to the outside world than the European and Central Asiatic barbaricum, furthermore it was surrounded by strong, politically well-organised neighbours (Rome, the Sassanians, Abyssinia, Yemen) that used tribal groups as clients. I tried to show that the caging of these clients by outside political and economic dominance led to a situation where, during the centuries before the Arab-Muslim conquest, any ambition for political power these client groups might have held was turned inwards. I would propose that this struggle for supremacy in a common space was part of the preconditions for the creation of an Arab identity and of political structures capable to organise militarily on a large scale. These became of great relevance after the 630ies with expansion and migration into the world outside the Arab peninsula, when Arabness for nearly a century was a central criterion for belonging to the Muslim elite.

The formation of Arab identity might be seen in parallel to Greek identity and polity formation before and after Alexander (a situation of cultural closeness but political rivalry in a common space followed by a common project of expansion, migration and a privileged position based on ethnicity). The situation in the barbaricum was quite different: It was much larger than the Arab peninsula and therefore in pre-Mongol times never was a common political space of its inhabitants in the way the Arab peninsula was. Thus, the formation of common political or cultural identities was much more difficult (or impossible) there.

During the second part of my stay, I tried to look further into the social and political structures of Central Asian societies on the eve of the Islamic conquest and in early Islamic times in order to deepen my understanding of processes relevant to state formation by migrant and mobile Central Asian groups in the Muslim Middle East.