Moving frontiers

In this project, M. Riep studies the complexity of historical events related to the Arab conquest of the region along the upper course of the Syr Darya in Central Asia and especially of the micro oases of Shash and Ferghana. This project focusses on mobility, action and dynamics and will place the Arab conquest in its local geographical, social and economic context.

In 750, the ruler of Ferghana called upon the help of Tang China against the ruler of Shash who had sided with the Arabs and invaded Ferghana. This event marks the beginning of a conflict which would lead to the battle of Talas (a river to the north of Shash and Fergana) in 751. A battle, which established the balance of power between Tang China and the Arab Caliphate in Central Asia.

This narrative is a clear demonstration of the active participation of the regions along the upper Syr Darya, and more specifically the oases of Shash and Ferghana, in the main historical events surrounding the early Islamic conquest of Central Asia. Nonetheless, the historical narrative of the region is one of passive response to the events brought about by the big historical players. This may well be explained by the character of historical sources which focuses on the conquests of the Tang Chinese empire or the Islamic Caliphate. That the area is considered to be on the frontiers of expansion of the Sogdians, Turks, Tang, Arabs, Samanids and Karakhanids, in the periphery of cultural centres, Samarkand, Baghdad, Changan and on the roads between these centres (the Silk road) adds to such an interpretation. A closer examination of the sources and new theoretical perspectives on agency, mobility and institutions in frontier studies, however, highly affect the place of the upper course of the Syr Darya in history.


This study intends to show the complexity of historical events along the upper course of the Syr Darya in the micro oases of Shash and Ferghana by focusing on mobility, action and dynamics rather than on reaction and being stationary and by placing processes of the Arab conquest in its local geographical, social and economic context. The method will be multidisciplinary: historical and archaeological data concerning the themes of frontiers and mobility will be connected in theoretical models of network analysis and in Geographical Information Systems. With these methods, the agency of the inhabitants of Shash and Fergana along the northeastern frontiers of the early Arab conquest will be analyzed.

Maria Riep

Phone: +31 (0)71 527 2796

Office and postal address:
Johan Huizingagebouw, room 009A
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
The Netherlands

Last Modified: 06-02-2015