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Dirham hoards from Northern Europe, trade in Slavic slaves, and the emergence of Medieval Europe (800-1000)

Iran Resurgent? Politics, Literature and Trade in the Samanid Era

22-23 Sep 2014 - A conference in Wadham College, Oxford, convened by Luke Treadwell and Dominic Parviz Brookshaw.

Conference programme

This conference will explore new perspectives on literary production and political history in the eastern Iranian successor states (in particular the Samanid state) which emerged as the Abbasid centre began to decline.

We will look at the poetry of the Samanid period and explore the origins of the so-called 'Persian renaissance' in the context of the language map and the political environment of the Samanid state. We will test the hypothesis that literary Persian was more widely used from an early date after the Islamic conquest than has been generally acknowledged in the scholarly literature. This has important implications for our understanding of the production of the earliest Persian poetry by Rudaki and his contemporaries, the formal complexity of which suggests that these poets were heirs to an already emergent tradition of poetic composition, rather than the initiators of a new style of poetry. At the same time, the relationship of these poets with the poets of Abbasid Baghdad and the Arabophone poets of Khurasan will throw light on the extent to which the work of these Persian poets was nourished by the literary culture of the central lands of the caliphate. Exploring similar periphery-centre dynamics at the level of state structures, speakers will examine the related issue of the extent to which the Samanids modelled their administrative and political practices on those of the Abbasid caliphs, seeking to understand in both contexts to what extent Samanid culture writ large was innovative or derivative.

The third strand of enquiry will be the relationship of the Samanid amirs with the outside world, and in particular the Turkish steppe lands to the north and east of their state. The Samanids were uniquely successful in pacifying and exploiting both these frontiers for their enormous commercial potential. The implications of the creation of the long-distance trade routes with the northern lands will be investigated, as will the co-option of Turkish tribes for the defence of the Syr Darya basin and the formation of the Qarakhanid confederation.

By combining these three approaches, we hope to elucidate the central role played by the Samanid amirs in forging a distinctive new Perso-Islamic culture long before the Mongol conquests. We believe this to be an important topic that has been clouded by doctrinal and nationalist agendas and which urgently deserves to be revisited.