The Great Caliphs

The Great Caliphs : The Golden Age of the 'Abbasid Empire

3.51 (92 ratings by Goodreads)
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The flowering of the 'Abbasid caliphate between 750 and 1258 CE is often considered the classical age of Islamic civilization. In the preceding 120 years, the Arabs had conquered much of the known world of antiquity and established a vast empire stretching from Spain to China. But was this empire really so very different, as has sometimes been claimed, from what it superseded? "The Great Caliphs" creatively explores the immense achievements of the 'Abbasid age through the lens of Mediterranean history. When the Umayyad caliphs were replaced by the 'Abbasids in 750, and the Arab capital moved to Baghdad, Iraq quickly became the centre not only of an imperium but also of a culture built on the foundations of the great civilizations of antiquity: Greece, Rome, Byzantium and Persia.Debunking popular misconceptions about the Arab conquests, Amira Bennison shows that, far from seeing themselves as purging the 'occidental' culture of the ancient world with a 'pure' and 'oriental' Islamic doctrine, the 'Abbasids perceived themselves to be as much within the tradition of Mediterranean and Near Eastern empire as any of their predecessors.
Like other outsiders who inherited the Roman Empire, the Arabs had as much interest in preserving as in destroying, even while they were challenged by the paganism of the past. Indebted to that past while building creatively on its foundations, the 'Abbasids and their rulers inculcated and nurtured precisely the 'civilized' values which western civilization so often claims to represent.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 272 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 29mm | 559g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 21 integrated black and white illustrations, 4 maps
  • 1845117379
  • 9781845117375
  • 876,455

Review quote

'Aimed at the educated general reader, this volume offers a sweeping portrayal of major Islamic cultures and societies down to the 13th century AD and occasionally beyond. Drawing on both primary sources and secondary studies, the author provides a lively survey of politics, urban and rural life, societal and religious realities, trade and commerce, and elite culture and learning, with attention to issues of race/ethnicity, gender, and class. Her book is a thoughtful introduction to society, culture, and characteristic institutions as these took shape in the central and western reaches of the Islamic world, from Iran to Spain and Morocco, in the Abbasid era.' - William A. Graham, John Lord O'Brian Professor of Divinity and Murray A Albertson Professor of Middle East Studies, Harvard University. 'Amira Bennison's engaging history of the 'Abbasid caliphate moves beyond more conventional or drier accounts of political intrigue among ruling elites and sectarian squabbles. The author adopts a broader and deeper approach, focusing above all on "the people": that mosaic of urban and rural folk who individually and collectively make up a civilization. Women, children, beggars, tricksters, merchants and pilgrims - as well as the great cities that brought them all together - are given fascinating coverage. Nor does the author neglect the community of scholars cultivated by the 'Abbasids who - in the fields of literature, philosophy, theology, mathematics and astronomy - left their indelible mark upon Islamic civilization. The Great Caliphs is an important work which offers a new and stimulating perspective on an exciting era.' - David Waines, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies, Lancaster University.
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About Amira K. Bennison

Amira K. Bennison is Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. A regular panelist on Radio 4's 'In Our Time', she has contributed essays and articles to many books and journals, and is the author of 'Jihad and its Interpretations in Pre-Colonial Morocco' (2002).
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Rating details

92 ratings
3.51 out of 5 stars
5 10% (9)
4 45% (41)
3 35% (32)
2 9% (8)
1 2% (2)
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