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  • The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange among Muslim and Christian Communities by A. Asa Eger
  • Paschalis Androudis and Sophia Thatharopoulou
A. Asa Eger. The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange among Muslim and Christian Communities. London: I. B. Tauris, 2015. 432 pp. Paper, $29.50. ISBN: 978-1784539191.

Eger's book examines the Islamic-Byzantine frontier in Northern Syria and Mesopotamia, focusing more on the Islamic side. Based on surface surveys and excavations, it reveals the differences and similarities in settlement and land use patterns throughout the frontier, from the fourth to fourteenth centuries with a focus on the early Islamic period.

In the first section, the frontier is approached in three large sections (western, central, eastern). Frontier regions are analyzed in terms of environment, geomorphology, production, resources, and settlement location. In the second part, the frontier is examined as an entity in three periods: from the fourth to seventh century, from the seventh to tenth century (with reference to the Byzantine frontier), and from the tenth to fourteenth century, also tracing the interactions between various frontier groups such as sedentary and nomadic peoples.

The prevailing notion of the frontier as a no man's land with forts is a rather simplistic misconception, shaped by texts, modern preoccupations, gaps in the archaeological research and problems of interpretation and methodology. Eger argues for a constantly moving frontier with various interactions among people and sites.

After introducing the Syro-Anatolian thughūr, the author presents his methodology, based on surface surveys and ceramic chronology. The eastern, central, and western parts of the frontier are analyzed in the next chapters, according to available resources, passes and routes, rural, tell, upland settlements, way stations, and towns. His aim is to reveal the invisible sites of thughūr. [End Page 191]

Chapter 1 describes the first part of the central thughūr, the Amuq and Kahramanmaraş plains in northern Syria, where sites were reduced in half in the early Islamic period. Most sites in Kahramanmaraş were flat and low mounded, oriented along water channels and in marshes. Other sites were established de novo within lakes. Small river towns in Amuq were also present. In most of the tells and upland sites there was no sign of early Islamic occupation, except religious, industrial, or defensive complexes. Major routes crossed this part, with way stations, square enclosures serving as stopping points, and guarding passes.

Chapter 2 presents the areas of the second part of the central thughūr, the steppe and plain, more densely occupied than the previous. Settlement here followed Roman and early Islamic water channels, rivers, lakes, and marshes. Irrigation and agricultural enterprises were focal points of conglomerated villages in the Abbasid period. Tells were associated with Islamic cemeteries, monasteries, or massif villages. Way stations were found around the Euphrates.

Next is the eastern thughūr, including the Upper Euphrates and the plains of Karababa, Malatiya, and Elaziğ. Major sites were abandoned in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the Malatiya and Elaziğ plains there were few early Islamic sites and way stations.

Chapter 4 describes the Jazira. Its most prominent settlements were Raqqa and Rāfiqa and Harrān. In Balikh valley, dominated by networks of marshes, channels, and qanats, new sites appeared starting in the eighth century. There were also extensive channels. Settlement grew in the early Islamic period, with new square enclosures between the eighth and tenth centuries, some located on the caravan road connecting Raqqa, Khābūr, and Mawsil.

The last chapter describes the western thughūr, a crossroad from Cilicia to the Amans Mountains. In Cilicia, permanent early Islamic settlements were absent. Way stations and funduqs (hostels) were present. The main towns in early Islamic Cilicia were Tarsus, Adhana, and Massīsa.

Part 2 introduces the main settlement patterns in the frontier, before and after the tenth century. Many cities were replaced by fortifications, in a process of incastellamento, mainly in the middle Islamic era. There is also a synoptic table of the settlement patterns of thughūr, from the late Hellenistic until the early Islamic era, and in the early and the middle Islamic period.

Chapter 6 presents the frontier settlement patterns until...


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