Thursday, 30 May 2013

The future of the seventh century?

Dear everyone,
Before discussing the future of the seventh century, I want again to extend my deepest thanks to everyone who made our colloquium so successful, to my fellow organisers and our assistants, our wearied partners and supervisors, but, especially, I want to thank all of our speakers, respondents, and interrogators.  Without the amazing communications contributed by so many, the Colloquium could not have been the tremendous success that it was.  Again thanks!
We hope to publish a volume based on the proceedings from the colloquium.  We are currently working to ensure a subvention and hope to have that finalized soon.  We will be communicating individually with all our authors in the weeks ahead regarding what we will need from them.

We are also hoping that this colloquium will not be a one-off event and have already begun informal discussions regarding the 2014 Edinburgh Seventh Century Colloquium, an event that we hope will be even better.  All of you, of course, will hear from us once we have some sort of details regarding that!

We don’t, however, only want whatever comes out of this to be an exclusively Edinburgh project but something that will foster further collaboration between different universities, disciplines, nationalities, and perspectives.  As a very first step, we will host a social gathering at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds on 2 July.  One of our speakers, Kıvılcım Yavuz (University of Leeds) has generously helped arrange this.  Details can be found on facebook at:
We will also be submitting applications for sponsored panels at the medieval congress in Kalamazoo for 2014 within a few days as well as for the 2014 IMC in Leeds.  Once these are prepared, they will also be circulated to everyone on our mailing lists.

In hopes of fostering dialogue and sharing ideas, as well as news of events relevant to our period, an on-line mailing list/newsgroup will be formed.  (For the moment, I will serve as moderator though a volunteer for a second would be helpful.)  This will serve as a forum for communication.  Members will be encouraged to post cfps, publication announcements, reviews, articles, etc. as well as use it as a place to seek advice or comments, for help with translations and so on (this will be similar to the H-MEM, BYZANS, and other existent lists).

Similarly, the blog will be transformed from simply carrying information about the Edinburgh colloquium to being a news and announcement site.  (Again, for the moment, I will continue as webmaster).

All of this will be in aid of forming an ongoing Seventh Century Studies network.  For the moment, this will be informal, but, when we meet again, we may discuss something more developed.

If you are interested in any of these projects, please let us know!

Hopefully, this is only the beginning!
Tom MacMaster
(on behalf of the entire organizing committee)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Late registration

Our pre-registration page has closed.  Fortunately, we still have a few spaces available.  If you are interested in attending, please send an email to: 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Only 24 hours left to register!

There are only twenty four hours left to register for the Seventh Century Colloquium!

We've had an incredible response; we only have space for 15 more people.

If you want to be one of them, register NOW!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Session 1 – Maintaining and changing identities

Session 1 – Maintaining and changing identities

Moderator: Bethan Morris, University of Edinburgh

A: Richard Broome

                Approaches to the Frankish Community in the Chronicle of Fredegar and Liber Historiae Francorum

This paper will attempt to assess attitudes towards and understanding of the early-medieval Frankish community during the seventh century by providing a direct comparison between two important but often under-appreciated historical texts; the so-called ‘Chronicle of Fredegar’ (c.660) and the anonymous Liber Historiae Francorum (727). Building on the work of scholars such as Paul Fouracre, Richard Gerberding and Ian Wood, the present paper will examine several key aspects of how the two authors portrayed the community of which they thought themselves a part. Who or what did they understand by the term ‘Franks’? For the author of LHF, this seems to have referred specifically the Neustrians, whereas Fredegar presents a more ‘pan-Frankish’ history. What were the origins of the community and its rulers? Both traced these origins back to the Trojan War – unlike their historian-predecessor Gregory of Tours – but each told a slightly different version of the story, while Fredegar also narrated the mysterious story about Merovech’s alleged descent from the monstrous Quinotaur. How important were kings to their respective visions of community, and what role did they have? Both saw kings as central, but the author of LHF portrayed a world where consensus depended on dynastic stability, while Fredegar explored the idea of Merovingian decline and fallibility more explicitly despite having written earlier. In order to properly contextualise these comparisons and understand their significance it will also be necessary to refer to the authors’ contemporary texts, particularly seventh-century works of hagiography, but also to earlier and later authors – Gregory of Tours in the former case, and, for example, the early Carolingian annalists in the latter. By doing this we will be able to provide a greater understanding of how seventh-century visions of community compared to earlier and later visions, and whether we can talk about a ‘long eighth century’ when examining this issue.

Response: Roger Collins

B: Soléna Cheny

                The Seventh Century in Maghreb: between the Latin Antiquity and Islamic Middle Ages

The question of the seventh century is really relevant for the Maghreb. In Europe, the Barbarian invasions opened a new era while North of Africa was in a transition period. The Berber world had experienced the appetite of the powers of the Mediterranean, from the Phoenicians to the Byzantines. Cultures, languages, political tutelage shaped the land and its people. The Vandal invasion, although very short (430 to 533) allowed the Berber tribes to take control of the territory of the provinces and build autonomous political entities comprising tribal, Romanized and Christianized Africans and descendants of Roman colonists. The Byzantine reconquest found it difficult to establish the mythologized Roman model when Muslim troops entered from the east, destroying the structures in place before moving quickly to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and enter the Iberian Peninsula. A new tutelage was then installed with its codes, its laws and its civilization. Thereafter, African identity would never be the same, Islam leaving a profound mark. This long seventh century, which could stretch from 533 (the Byzantine invasion) to 711 (when the Muslims invaded Spain), more than tipping in the medieval era, is for the Maghreb, the basis of its current identity.

See the full schedule for more!

Session 2 – Landscapes and settlements in transition

Session 2 – Landscapes and settlements in transition

Moderator: Alessandro Gnasso, University of Edinburgh

                Irrigation in Khuzistan after the Sasanians: Continuity, Decline, or Transformation?

Historians and archaeologists have long sought to understand how the Muslim Conquest over the territories ruled by the Sasanian Empire affected the socio-economic foundations of these regions. Several scholars, building upon various sources and proxies, have argued for decline in the agricultural heartlands of the Sasanian Empire, including the region of Shushtar, known for its extensive system of canals in the Sasanian period. Yet, Islamic sources inform us that the hinterland of Shushtar was the major centre for sugar production during the 9th and 10th centuries. Since cultivation and production of sugar is highly water demanding, it is unclear what kind of irrigation system sustained the mass production of sugar and how such a system related to the Sasanian system of canals and hydraulic structures. Did a new irrigation system replace the collapsed Sasanian system or did the Sasanian system sustain and evolve, despite the post-Sasanian political developments? This question opens a new window into the socio-political dynamics of Khuzistan in the 7th century. This research aims to map the relict irrigation system of Shushtar by utilizing satellite imagery to understand the hydraulic function and dynamics of the system through time. The paper is a report on the current work in progress that analyses the potentials and constraints of relying on the hydraulic analysis of archaeological remains of canals as a proxy to understand the developments of the agricultural economy of Khuzistan in the wake of socio-political dynamics of 7th century.

Respondent: Eberhard Sauer, University of Edinburgh

B: Paolo Forlin

                The periphery during the seventh century: the rise of a new landscape within the core of the Alps (Valsugana, Trentino, Italy).

The Valsugana valley lies in the eastern part of Trentino region, within the core of the Italian Alps, close to the Roman municipium of Tridentum (Trento). Characterised by a significant number of settlements during the Roman period and crossed by the imperial road Via Claudia Augusta, this area seems to be involved in a radical reshaping of the cultural and natural landscape from the end of the Late Antiquity onward.

Despite a lack of the archaeological excavations, an approach based on the integrated study of remote sensing data, palaeoenvironmental evidence, old archaeological datasets and patterns of field systems, has shown how the 7th century represented a turning point with the breakdown of the old landscape and the beginning of a new cultural landscape. This new landscape resulted in the abandonment of the Roman territorial organisation and a shift of the new settlements from the valley bottom towards the uplands. This study has analysed the relationship between climate and environmental change, the abandonment of the ancient landscape and the appearance of a new pattern of land use, widely focused on the integration of agriculture, pasture and woodland exploitation. Available radiometric dating evidences indicate the 7th century as the period during which these transformations became evident, and lead to the question as to whether this process could be connected with the settlement of the Longobard Groups within the valley, documented by three significant cemeteries that date back to the beginning of the same century.

The methodological approach presented in this paper could provide an innovative way to undertake analysis of peripheral areas, where in contrast to other Italian regions (such as the Po valley, Tuscany, Lazio, Emilia, Apulia) open area excavations and extensive surveys are absent.

Respondent: Helena Carr

C: Giuseppe Cacciaguerra, Antonino Facella, Luca Zambito

                Aspects of Settlement in Seventh Century Sicily

Despite the serious gaps and lags in archaeological research and the difficulties long experienced by archaeologists in finding reliable chronological markers for Sicilian Early Middle Ages (especially 8th-9th century), it now appears possible that a first attempt can be made at outlining some aspects of settlement dynamics in seventh century Sicily, thanks predominantly to the results of field work (both excavations and surveys) in the last decade.

The present paper is mainly based on the analysis of some archaeological contexts in eastern, central-southern and western Sicily, which the authors have been investigating in recent years. Significant aspects of settlement systems, primarily the rural settlement patterns (which can be essential also for a better understanding of the relationships between city and country), will be highlighted. Part of the study will be devoted to the examination of some features of material culture, like building types and artefacts, principally ceramics. Archaeological markers of Sicilian seventh century will be identified, as well as pottery classes which might be useful as ‘index fossil’ to mark the passage form Byzantine to Islamic age. Furthermore, we intend to discuss the contribution of ceramic finds to the definition of trade relationships between Sicily and other Mediterranean regions (Italy, Africa, Eastern Mediterranean), before the eight century fall-off in the volume of exchanges.

For each discussed topic we will try to outline aspects of continuity or discontinuity with the situation in both previous and following centuries. Furthermore, a distinction between phenomena that seem to occur across the whole of Sicily and those that can reveal sub-regional differences will be attempted. Finally we will consider the possible significance, in historical terms, of the detected trends.

Respondent: Denis Sami

See the full schedule for more!

Session 3 – Conceptualizing rulers, real and imagined

Session 3 – Conceptualizing rulers, real and imagined

A: Heidi Stoner

                Kings Without Faces: an examination of the visual evidence for kingship in the seventh century.

The long seventh century is a period that cannot be discussed without the discussion of kingship. The period is often characterized by the formation of kingdoms and the transformation of the insular world from that of a ‘pagan’ or ‘tribal’ society into medieval Christian kingdoms. This paper will address what kingship looked like and how the visual evidence of kings can be studied alongside the textual evidence creating a visual culture of kingship prior to the depiction of kings. While no portrait of a king exist from this time the material record is rich in objects that directly relate to kingship such as royal or princely burials, coins, and other extent archeologically finds. These objects have the potential to be examined alongside historic documents, such as Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, in order to stitch together a more subtle picture of what kingship might hove looked like in this period of change, and it is perhaps in this we might find that amidst the discontinuity of political structures and religious lives that there is a continuous visual record. The images and visual language of this period has long been acknowledge to borrow from the iconographies of the late antique and Roman world in order to shift how the new leaders are signified, but it is possible that by maintaining visual indicators of power that the visual impact of a king would not have been so discontinuous.

Response: Bethan Morris

                Sons of the Muhājirūn: Some comments on ‘Abd Allāh b. al-Zubayr and Legitimizing Power in the Second Fitna

The second Islamic civil war, or fitna, divided the early Islamic community from the years 680-692CE/60-73AH and had as one of its central figures the character of ‘Abd Allāh b. al-Zubayr.  He has long been treated in western scholarship as a usurper or “counter-Caliph” to the rightful leadership of the Umayyad Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwān. The extant Islamic sources, however, are divided in their depiction of him: some treat him as a pious and saintly combatant against Umayyad depravity, while others characterize him as self-indulgent, ruthless, and a pretender to the lineage of the Prophet Muḥammad.

Ibn al-Zubayr was the son of an established Companion of the Prophet, and had himself borne witness to the Prophet Muḥammad and his revelation as a young member of the new Islamic community. More importantly, he came from a family line that included not only other prestigious early Caliphs and converts, but also the wives of Muḥammad, Khadīja and  ‘Ā’isha  and the grandfather of Muḥammad, ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib.

Scholarship has largely ignored the questions surrounding his connection with the Prophet as well as this status as a legitimizing force in his establishment of power during the fitna, choosing often to focus on issues of geography instead. This paper will concern itself with the rise to power of Ibn al-Zubayr and his Caliphate, and how he may have legitimized his right to rule over other rivals through his connection to Muḥammad.

Response: Nicola Clarke

See the full schedule for more!

Session 4 – Remembering the past in a time of transformation

Session 4 – Remembering the past in a time of transformation

Moderator: Emanuele Intagliata

A: N. Kıvılcım Yavuz

                ‘Before and After the Chronicle of Fredegar: The Trojan Narrative and the Franks’

For three millennia the fall of Troy has been a popular topic in European culture. Besides several historical accounts of the Trojan War and literary works that include characters from Troy, there is a long tradition of European peoples and dynasties claiming Trojan ancestry. Whether through chronicles, genealogies, annals, or universal histories, medieval legends of Trojan origins connect most of the European peoples to Troy. The first surviving written claim of the medieval legend of Trojan origins comes from the seventh-century Chronicle of Fredegar that provides an account of peoples who are descended from the Trojan stock: the Franks, the Macedonians and the Turks. By the ninth century the British and, early in the eleventh century, the Normans were also traced back to the band of Trojans. From the twelfth century onwards legends of Trojan origin multiply even faster; they are not only found in historical accounts but also in vernacular poems and romances.

Among the peoples who claim descent from Troy, the case of Franks is especially significant due to the fact that the legend was appropriated and tailored to their needs in such a manner that it continued to find passionate advocates well into the eighteenth-century France. Discussing how and why the story of Troy was adapted to provide genealogical origins for peoples, the paper will focus on the claim of the Trojan origins of the Franks in the Chronicle of Fredegar. It will first investigate the relationship of the Chronicle of Fredegar with the narratives on the Trojan War that were in circulation at the time such as the De excidio Troiae historia attributed to Dares of Phrygia, the Ephemeridos Belli Troiani attributed to Dictys of Crete and the Ilias Latina. Based on both textual and manuscript evidence, it will further look at the impact of the Chronicle of Fredegar on the later early medieval historiographical sources that contain the origin legend of the Franks including the anonymous Liber historiae Francorum. The paper will be concerned with such questions like What prompted the account of Trojan ancestry to be written down in the seventh century? Could the Trojan legend of the Franks be just one person’s imagination and invention? If it indeed was one person’s creation, how should we interpret its existence in various accounts for over a millennium? Can we easily dismiss the Trojan ancestry of the Franks as being ‘fiction’ and thus treat it differently than the other accounts that are told in the Chronicle? How much of historical writing is shaped by narrative conventions? Can the historian construct an imagined past and call it history? and finally, What is the significance of the seventh century, and therefore the Chronicle of Fredegar, in terms of the development of the Trojan narrative?

Response: Alessandro Gnasso

B: Jane Freeborn

                Power, Pride and the Environment in Later Merovingian Gaul

The topic of my paper concerns the perceptions and usages of the natural world by the later Merovingian dynasty. It considers whether the royal family was forced from urban centres as they ceded control of the kingdom to the franci aristocracy and Pippinid mayors, or if their relocation to rural Roman villae was a display of cultural pride and power, akin to the symbolic retention of their long hair and ox-carts. Nicholas Howe's concept of the “landscape as nationalism” provides the main ideological tenant of the paper, and a survey of contemporary Gallic Christians and Celtic concepts of the environment, as well as those of the proceeding Romans and the Carolingian legacy are used to examine the Merovingian movement and private occupation around the key royal seat of Soissons from the mid seventh century to the end of the dynasty. Because the countryside in Merovingian Gaul was synonymous with danger, paganism, barbarism and uncertainty, those who controlled it had not only great physical but spiritual power. The late Merovingians capitalized on the mythos and tradition that had grown up around rural Roman structures, as well as the association between their fearful pagan heritage and the Christian wariness towards the untamable power of nature, and purposefully left urban centres as a final (ultimately unsuccessful) display of dynastic strength. The paper's conclusion agrees with recent scholars such as Ian Wood who argue that the later kings exerted more control and were far more involved in court politics than previously posited, and sees logical continuity from the Classical period to the end of Late Antiquity in concepts of the environment.

Respondent: Yaniv Fox

C: Majied Robinson

                Quantitative approaches to the rise of Islam

The rise of Islam took place in what is historiographically a ‘dark’ century of Near Eastern history; most of what are purported to be direct accounts were actually written 200 years after the events they describe. But some of these late sources seem to be much more reliable than others. It has frequently been held that one category of sources that should be considered as more trustworthy than others is the Arab genealogical genre of the early 9th century. Despite this recognition, the volume and structure of the information preserved in these sources is such that they have not been given the attention they deserve.

This paper will demonstrate a novel means of tackling the problems associated with the genealogical sources. After encoding the marital behaviour they record in a database and structuring the information generationally, statistical analysis will be used to illustrate trends in social behaviour from the time of Muhammad’s birth to the fall of the Umayyad caliphate. Quantitative approaches will also be used to compare changes of behaviour in tribal and generational terms. These findings can then be correlated with events and circumstances as described in the traditional historical record in order to help us better understand the how conversion and conquest affected a person’s choice of spouse.
The results will be of interest to all those concerned with early Islamic history as well as social historians of the pre-modern period. These findings and methodologies will also be relevant to historians interested in using modern tools to handle old sources.

Respondent: Sarah Bowen Savant

See the full schedule for more!

Session 5 – Urban settlement in an age of change

Session 5 – Urban settlement in an age of change

Moderator: Emanuele Intagliata

A: Eisa Esfanjary

                Geomorphology of Persian Cities in the early Islamic period

Persian cities are the palimpsest of urban history. From generation to generation the process of civilisation has been archived in the urban landscape. This paper engages with the most enduring feature of the urban tissue, the town plan, through reading an on-going process of morphological development of ancient Persian urbanisation.

An analysis of the town plan of the historic city of Meybod reveals different morphological patterns: the twisting alleys, the orthogonal and the geometric systems, as well as modern streets. Each is linked to a period of history. The oldest pattern (pre-Islamic) was based on a particular topography with no surfaced qanat but only to an underground source. It is characterised by a superimposing layers of buildings with a twisting and organic street network.

The second pattern, however, an orthogonal network with a more linear street system. It can be seen on gentler slopes with surfaced qanat, comprising a lower density and greener landscape. Qanat system, agricultural practice and easy gradients were the underlying factors for such orthogonal pattern.

It is suggested that the overlapping zone of these two different morphological patterns representative of the two important periods of growth of the city.  This is where the Friday Mosque and early Islamic hub were erected and itself suggests a zone of transition between the pre-Islamic and Islamic period. The placement of the first Friday Mosque at the fringe of the ancient core is hypothesized and supported as a feature of the early Islamic development of the region.

The third pattern, a pre-planned geometric system, was developed on the 19th century plain periphery of Meybod. Wide streets with stream and trees at the middle were a new and impressive setting in urban landscape.

Combining Meybod with other examples, these geomorphological patterns and the issue of early Islamic transition zone are identified and believed to be an extended and dynamic character of Persian urbanisation.

Response: Hugh Kennedy

B: Ine Jacobs

                From Early Byzantium to the Dark Ages at Sagalassos

The recent excavations at Sagalassos, a medium-sized town in the south-west of Turkey, have uncovered a considerable amount of evidence related to the time span between 525/550 and 650. The drastic changes occurring during this period left permanent imprints in the archaeological record, providing us today with a privileged detailed insight into this last century of large-scale occupation. This paper intends to discuss the fast changing priorities of this fairly standard inland town of Asia Minor.

At the beginning of the period under review, the city first lived its final heyday; up until the third quarter of the sixth century, major interventions to the civic landscape indicate that the local community was both wealthy and energetic. The town at that time was also still strongly indebted to its Roman past. This phase is, however, followed by a rapid decline, during which primary needs suppressed all others and all recorded actions were purely pragmatic in nature. By the late sixth century, the Roman town had been reduced to a ruralized settlement with a habitation dispersed amidst the ruins of the past. Then, probably slightly after the year 610, the site was hit by a major earthquake. Although the ensuing 7th-century occupation phase was completely different in character from all previous–a renewed tendency towards nucleation led the occupants of the area to construct a fortified refuge on a previously undefended promontory outside the old town centre, thereby completely blocking the old main street–, the quality of the construction work indicates that also this medieval community was well organized.

Respondent: James Crow

See the full schedule for more!