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Ian D. Morris
I’m reading Róbert Simon on ‘Meccan Trade and Islam’ (1989). It’s not the easiest read, but of course there may have been problems in translation from Hungarian.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Simon’s book came out soon after Patricia Crone’s on ‘Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam’ (1987), so inevitably I’m comparing them as I go.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Crone has a lot to say about French, German and English scholarship, but I don’t think she says anything about Soviet scholarship; Simon is acquainted with both traditions.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
(Okay, it now occurs to me that Hungarian names are conventionally written surname-first, so I don’t know whether he should be called Simon or Róbert; I guess I’ll call him RS.)
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: 1920s Soviet scholarship, shaped by Mikhail Pokrovskiy, tried to read Meccan trade as ‘capitalist’. This was wrong-headed, of course, but after his death in 1932 the Politburo discouraged further work in Pokrovskiy’s tradition, so that line of analysis fizzled out anyway.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Another approach was taken by Sergey Tolstov, who saw the Meccan economy as a remnant of the antique slave economy, which evolved into feudalism as a result of the Muslim Conquests.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: “The problem of Meccan trade can be summed up briefly as follows: what is the relationship between trade activity and Islam, and through it, the evolution of the Arab Empire?”
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Meccan trade cannot be understood without its global context: East-West trade and the Late Antique struggle between Rome and Iran.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 11
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: The reliability of the Arabic sources is a known problem, especially for chronology, since before Islam there was no general calendar: we must consult non-Arabic sources (Greek, Aramaic, South Arabian).
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: The “agricultural element acquired by conquest” was “external, not organic” to the “nomadic conquests” of Islam. (This is an argument I mean to overturn in my paper, so I’ll be interested to see how he supports it.)
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
I learn from Fred Donner’s review that RS’s book was first published in 1975; the English expanded translation presumably came out in response to Crone’s later book. Crone does cite an article by RS () but sadly does not seem to know about the book.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS takes for granted that there was an incense route through Arabia, controlled by various parties until the Meccans achieved a monopoly; Crone casts doubt on the scale and substance of this trade. This is a fundamental difference between two books talking past each other.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Why was the Arabian trade route overland? 1) The Red Sea was treacherous. 2) The land was unaccomodating: “Arabia had no wood, no iron, no rivers, no good harbours.” 3) Roman, Iranian and Abyssinian navies dominated what traffic there was.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: The Yemen was the main rival to West Arabia on the trade route. The Abyssinian conquest of the Yemen knocked it out of contention, so West Arabia took on more power along the route.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
(My question: Why should Yemeni control NOT have survived under Abyssinian suzerainty? In practical terms, what has actually changed? I hope RS will expand on this.)
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Ghassan, Lakhm and Kindah were, socioeconomically speaking, quite superficial: when the great empires withdrew their support, these clients vanished “almost without resistance”, having changed very little in the fundamental patterns of Arabian organisation.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: The conquest of the Yemen by Abyssinia led therefore to the collapse of its client Kindah. This benefitted the Lakhmids principally until Iran withdrew its support for that client. With its major rivals eliminated, West Arabia was able to monopolise Arabian trade.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
(Okay, I think this is what RS was referring to earlier: when the Yemen was conquered, its *client* collapsed, so control over the trade route shifted north. I can happily accept this.)
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: At times of peace between the two empires, Rome’s imports from the East came largely through Iran: Arabian trade ”merely provided an income supplement for nomadic economy”. (Again, RS seems to think agriculture is a negligible fact of Arabian socioeconomics.)
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Sponsored by the Yemeni Himyarites, the Kindah tribal federation reached as far as Bahrayn and the Hijaz. Before its collapse after 525, Mecca “was probably only a transit station of Yemenite trade”.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 12
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: After the collapse of Himyar/Kindah, the Yemen was controlled by Abraha (first viceroy, then king). His campaigns against the northern Arabians (encoded in the semi-legendary Year of the Elephant) were a final attempt to maintain Yemeni control over peninsular trade.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Chapter 2 is on “Ḥums and Īlāf”, which I assume is a restatement of RS’s article on the same.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS doubts that Mecca could have been a permanent large settlement before the Yemen was conquered, driving trade into northern Arabian hands.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS considers the founding of Mecca by Ishmael to be a matter of legend. The “more historical tradition” is its foundation by Quṣayy, patriarch of the Quraysh.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Before Quṣayy, tradition indicates, Mecca was only populated for the duration of the pilgrimage, after which it was left empty (خالية ليس أحد).
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Traditionally, it is under Quṣayy that people settled in the sacred precinct (the Ḥaram) of Mecca.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: The Arabic tradition is highly uncertain about the date of Quṣayy’s settlement, placing it in the reigns of the Sasanian emperors Bahram Gor (420–38) or Peroz I (459–84).
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Both are unlikely, because – in RS’s view – Mecca should have expanded after the fall of Yemen in 525 redistributed trade northwards.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: But a third tradition has it that the Roman emperor helped Quṣayy to conquer (the region around) Mecca from the Khuzā‘ah tribe.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: This is of course not a ‘true’ story, but it may encode a historical fact: if not the Byzantines, perhaps their Ghassānid clients did help to secure the incense route through Mecca (still then a minor station) in the wake of the Yemen’s collapse.
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Ian D. Morris Oct 14
Replying to @iandavidmorris
RS: Such a reading would place the ‘founding’ of Mecca after 525: much later than we previously thought.
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