OCIANA (Online Corpus of Inscriptions from Ancient North Arabia)

thamudic for webFrom the early first millennium BC to around the fourth century AD, literacy was extremely widespread among both the settled and nomadic populations of the Arabian Peninsula and they have left us tens of thousands of inscriptions and graffiti. Since the late nineteenth century, approximately 48,000 of these have been recorded by travellers and scholars and have appeared in hundreds of articles, books, and unpublished dissertations in a number of different languages. This makes it extremely difficult for all but a handful of specialists to keep track of and use the rich material they contain. Moreover, any visit to the deserts of southern Syria, eastern and southern Jordan and the western two-thirds of Saudi Arabia reveals that there are thousands more inscriptions waiting to be recorded.

The OCIANA project, is based at the Khalili Research Centre, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, and directed by Professor Jeremy Johns and Michael Macdonald. It will create an online Corpus of all the pre-Islamic inscriptions of north and central Arabia, both those in the various Ancient North Arabian dialects and scripts, and those in Old (i.e. pre-Islamic) Arabic. A project at the University of Pisa (the Digital Archive for the Study of pre-Islamic Arabian Inscriptions, DASI) is producing an online corpus of the inscriptions of pre-Islamic South Arabia, and the two projects are working closely together so that it will be possible to search the information in both corpora through the same portal.

In 2012, the first phase of OCIANA, funded by a grant from the John Fell Fund, launched a demonstration site in which a corpus of 3420 previously unpublished Safaitic inscriptions was made available online with readings, translations, commentaries, ancillary information, tracings, and photographs (see http://www.ociana.org.uk). In January 2013, the project received a large grant from the AHRC for Phase II which will last three and a half years from October 2013, and in which the Dadanitic, Taymanitic, the rest of the Safaitic, Hismaic, and Old Arabic inscriptions will be entered and tagged, with all available ancillary information and with photographs whenever these are available. Phase III will see the entry of all the approximately 13,000 Thamudic inscriptions.

Dirhams for Slaves Project

Sa1 Shash292 graff bDirham hoards from Northern Europe, trade in Slavic slaves, and the emergence of Medieval Europe

Perhaps as many as one million dirhams, Islamic silver coins, have been found in hoards across Northern Europe. They travelled thousands of kilometres from the mints of Iraq and Central Asia to the Baltic island of Gotland, other lands around the Baltic and further on to England in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, when long-distance land communications are thought to have been virtually non-existent. The objective of this project, based at the Khalili Research Centre and directed by Dr Luke Treadwell with Dr Marek Jankowiak and Dr Jonathan Shepard, is to explain and to evaluate the historical role of this unprecedented flow of silver.

It has so far received little scholarly attention. Even though it is accepted that dirham hoards reflect commercial exchanges between the Islamic world and non-Christian Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries, neither their mechanisms nor their historical significance have been subjected to scrutiny. The project will discuss whether Slavic slaves, rather than furs or forest produce, were the primary commodity sold in return for dirhams. Accounts of Arab geographers and travellers, comparative evidence of other long-distance slave trade systems and the analysis of the silver hoards will allow us to retrace the complex network of suppliers, intermediaries and consumers. We believe that it will be possible to detect archaeological traces, such as abrupt depopulation, that reflect the procurement of slaves.

It is not currently unknown why this slave trade system drew to a halt. The answer, we think, will come from a study of the 11th-century trade between Scandinavia and the Slavic lands, evidenced by Anglo-Saxon and German coins which replaced dirhams in the Northern hoards. Does this reflect merely a change in the geography of the demand for slaves? Does it follow that Western European economies of the 11th century relied more heavily than usually thought on slave labour? If yes, the conceptual framework for the emergence of feudalism will need to be reconsidered.