- Christian communities in early Islamic Egypt: the view from below
- Rural society in medieval Islam
- Imperium and officium: comparative studies in ancient bureaucracy and officialdom
In this project, Dr Alain Delattre studied a number of unedited documentary sources of Christian nature from early Islamic Egypt. His research focuses mainly on the taxation system, monasticism, and linguistic change and religious conversion.
When the Muslims conquered the millennia-old civilisation of Egypt in the mid-7th century, theirs was the last in a long line of foreign conquests. And yet, unlike their predecessor invaders, whose impact tended to be superficial, Egypt under the Muslims was transformed into a thorough-going Muslim and Arabic state – which it remains to this day. What accounts for the remarkable integrative power of Islamic culture?
This project aims to understand the transformation of the Egyptian society between the 7th and 10th centuries from a Christian, Greek- and Coptic-speaking milieu into an Arabic-speaking Muslim polity. It does so by examining contemporary Christian documents, as they are preserved in Coptic, Greek and Arabic papyri – documents that have been largely overlooked – to understand this process from within, thereby avoiding the biases inherent in narrative sources written long after the event. Leiden University has unparalleled resources in this field.
Christian communities in early Islamic Egypt: the view from below will focus on three key topics: fiscal policy, the evolution of monasticism, and linguistic change. Through the taxation system I hope to understand Muslim strategies of state organisation and social control. By looking at monasticism I will explore how fiscal and doctrinal pressures affected the institutional framework of Egyptian religious life. The supersession of Greek and Coptic by Arabic will be analysed to uncover links between religious conversion and linguistic change. Through this kind of multidisciplinary approach, studying languages and disciplines which have not traditionally been studied together, I plan to improve our understanding of Christian-Muslim interaction and cross-cultural negotiation. The model this project aims to produce will, I believe, offer significant insights into the mechanisms that underlie religious-cultural confrontation and exchange which are no less relevant today.
The project aims to make a major contribution to the knowledge and understanding of pre-modern rural societies in the Islamic world. It offers a translation and study of the ‘History of the Fayyum’, a unique and unparalleled tax register from a 13th-century Egyptian province, and the most detailed tax survey to have survived from any region of the medieval Islamic world.
University of London
University of Vienna