Authority and Control in the Countryside – From Antiquity to Islam in the Mediterranean and Near East (Sixth–Tenth Century) Edited by Alain Delattre – Marie Legendre – Petra M. Sijpesteijn
AUTHORITY AND CONTROL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
Empire Studies and other scholarly fields have greatly advanced our insights into the functioning of macro-political structures and their ways of controlling vast geographical areas and populations.
An important observation has been that (the threat of) physical violence and force, however important in specific instances, do not sufficiently explain the establishment and maintenance of long-term and stable political and social entities.
Especially pre-modern authorities were only capable to coerce individuals into hierarchical structures and obliging them to certain behaviours in a limited way and for a restricted period.
Compelling and convincing or seducing together are needed to have individuals participate and obey successfully in society – in other words, these two mechanisms are two sides of the same coin reference for the whole first part of this paragraph?
Of these two sides, exercising control and the implementation of power and hierarchical arrangements are realised through formal institutions and infrastructures, such as the law, army, administration, prisons and garrisons, but they can also be the result of informal pressures through economic and social instruments.
Seduction takes place by establishing loyalty and social inclusion through official arrangements and informal networks but is also achieved by cultural projects such as the building of monuments, and literary and scholarly activities at the central and local courts.
This volume explores the different ways in which control was established outside urban settlements in the Late Antique and early Islamic world.
From military movements to agricultural economic policy and settlement patterns; from religious architecture to debates amongst scholars, the papers in this volume focus on the different mechanisms authorities had at their disposal to achieve control and implement a power structure over the countryside but look also at how local actors operated within these mechanisms. This introduction will highlight four overarching themes and one methodological point that runs throughout the volume.
Most chapters presented here highlight one specific element or mechanism through which rulers, as well as their subjects, were able to extend their power base in political-military, economic and cultural terms in a specific spatial and temporal context.
This allows for an examination of the interaction between rulers and subjects and how power relations were established and the relationship between formal and informal networks connecting different groups and initiatives in society both vertically and horizontally.
Extending chronologically from the late antique period into early Islamic history, as well as geographically from Spain into Arabia and nowadays Afghanistan, the volume explicitly aims to use comparative perspectives to understand how these dynamics played out in different periods and places.
Many of the cases described operated simultaneously at multiple actual and symbolic levels, combining formal and informal mechanisms and associations, and by appealing to different sentiments and groups at the same time.
The yearly spring grazing (murtabaʿ) of horses and other riding animals belonging to the soldiers in the Arab army as discussed by Sobhi Bouderbala for example, although taking place in a limited geographical area, for a definite period and a specific purpose, also functioned symbolically because of its regular occurrence – the grazers returned every year – and its clear military connotations –it preceded the raiding season, strengthening the animals for a summer of battles – which transcended the grazing grounds, the province of Egypt and even the frontiers of the Muslim Empire.
By demanding conversion to join the Muslim enterprise second/eighth-century Medinese scholars rhetorically appropriated rural spaces, but also expanded their presence in a real sense through the manifestation of adherents, thus creating formal and informal control mechanisms for inter-religious interaction as Luke Yarborough shows.
Elif Keser-Kayaalp discusses how restrictions on the Syrian orthodox community imposed by the Byzantines, were lifted in the early Arab state resulting in the physical taking possession of the rural space through experiments with architecturally innovative styles in church buildings leading in turn to a greater symbolic and moral presence of the Syrian Orthodox community in the countryside.
Another example is offered by Harry Munt. Control over wells and the responsibility for the water supply systems in Medina was on the one hand away to economic power by providing access to important sources of agricultural wealth, while at the same time possessing strong moral and religious prestige.
Through the granting of the privilege to distribute the water in Medina, the authorities privileged certain families and groups, while on the other hand competition could result in changes in local power constellations which were then confirmed by central authorities.
In all, this volume reveals the multiple processes, top-down and bottom-up, in the establishment of economic, social, religious and political power structures in the countryside.
The volume is divided into four sections, the topic of which are also overarching themes that can be drawn between several contributions.