Research Rationale and Strategies
Revised 3 May 2013
- The history of the cities of Central Asia in the early Islamic period (7th to 13th centuries) has an interest and importance which goes far beyond area itself. There are two reasons for this. The first is that modern discussion on the histories of the cities of the early Islamic world has been dominated by the evidence from Greater Syria. The eastern Islamic world from Iraq to Central Asia has been largely neglected. This was a major part of the territories which comprised the early caliphate. It has very different patterns of urbanism and very different technologies of building from the western half of the Islamic world. The most fundamental feature of these is the use of mud-brick in its various forms as the main building material which generates a very different archaeology and material evidence from that of the largely stone built cities of greater Syria. The second reason for concentrating on this area is simply practical. The study of the urbanism of the eastern half of the Muslim world has been hampered by the virtual impossibility of international projects in either Iran or Iraq, leaving only Central Asia as a potential window into this world.
- Balkh is of particular interest in this discussion. The history of most of the other large cities of this area is known, at least in the most general terms. Bukhara has been continuously inhabited on its ancient site and its history reconstructed from texts and the surviving structures. Pre-Mongol Merv and pre-Mongol Samarqand, both deserted since the early thirteenth century, are being investigated by international archaeological teams. Smaller cities like Paykent and Dehistan are also being investigated. Of the four major urban centres of Islamic central Asia, it is only Balkh where the broad outlines of city development are uncertain. The site is made more interesting because it is the only one of the great cities which was dominated by a Buddhist (rather than Zoroastrian) culture before the coming of Islamic rule and substantial remains of the Buddhist temples are still visible.