[P6406] The Late Antique in Early Islam: Pre-Islamic Heritage in Early Islamic Politics, Poetics, and Science

Created by Kyle Longworth
Wednesday, 12/01/21 2:00 pm


Numerous scholars agree that Islamic civilization was born in and is part of the late antique world. At the same time, the emergence of Islam is commonly seen as a turning point by scholars of late antiquity and early Islam. The papers in this panel showcase the instances of continuity and change between late antiquity and early Islam in the contexts of tribal relations, politics, poetry, and even science. As such, the papers aim to provide a nuanced understanding of the legacy of the late antique in the early Islamic period.

The first paper, “The Role of Nursing Relationships in the Career of ʿAbd al-Malik’s Secretary, Qabīṣa ibn Dhuʾayb,” demonstrates the influence that tribal and family ties likely had on individuals’ rise to power in early Islam. It seeks to offer an explanation for the successful administrative career of Qabīṣa ibn Dhuʾayb al-Khuzāʿī by examining, among other things, accounts of the pre-Islamic relations between his tribe and the tribe of Quraysh. Early Islamic administration is also the focus of the second paper, which explores the status of clients during the Umayyad period. “Some are More Equal than Others: Clientage in the Early Umayyad Administration” adopts a prosopographical approach in order to gain insight into the origin and background of Umayyad mawālī administrators, and thus sheds light on the incorporation of pre-Islamic elites into Islamic society.

The third paper, “Creating the Arabic Poetic Canon: A Comparative Perspective” shifts our attention from political appointments to the emergence of the Arabic poetic canon. The paper compares the collection of ancient poetry by the Umayyads to similar processes that took place in different regions, such as Byzantium and the Samanid Empire. The last paper, “Astrological History and a Supposedly Sasanian Calendrical Reform in Early ʿAbbāsid Iraq,” reevaluates claims made in the secondary scholarship about the ʿAbbāsid astrologer Māshāʾallāh’s use of a certain version of the Sasanian Zīj al-Shāh for his astrological history, and its reflection in the history’s unusual Zoroastrian calendar. The paper argues that the unusual Zoroastrian calendar in Māshāʾallāh’s work (60 days off the standard “Yazdgerd III” calendar) reflects a forged Sasanian precedent put forth in support of a calendrical reform by Māshāʾallāh’s Zoroastrian contemporaries, rather than an authentic early Sasanian precedent.


Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist; Hist




Fred M. Donner

(University of Chicago)
2012 MESA President Major Publications: The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton, 1981); Narratives of Islamic Origins: the beginnings of Islamic historical writing (Darwin, 1998); Muhammad and the Believers: at the origins of Islam (Harvard, 2010); The...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Lev Weitz

(Catholic University of America)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Pamela Klasova

(Macalester College)
I am a scholar of early Islam and classical Arabic literature. My first book project focuses on al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf and Umayyad oratory. Among my other research interests are classical Arabic poetry, hadith, Islamic divination and magic. I approach early...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Thomas Benfey

(University of Oxford)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Kyle Longworth

(University of Chicago)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Yaara Perlman

(Princeton University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;