Cover: Iraq. Kufa. (On the banks of the Euphrates). Once an important Moslem [i.e., Muslim] center of learning. Street scene with picturesque palm trees in middle of roadway (Library of Congress, LC-DIG-matpc-16149)
Back to al-Dhahabī’s Ta’rīkh al-islām. The present dynamic cartogram shows how the prominence of major urban centers was changing over time. The focus is again on “descriptive names” (nisba) and the “size” of each urban center on the cartogram reflects the number of individuals with “descriptive names” that refer to that urban center. A “prominent center” in the current dataset is a place with which at least 10 individuals from Ta’rīkh al-islām are associated1 (the overall number of individuals in the current dataset is slightly over 29,000 for the period of 661–1300 CE). Each frame features the names of the top 15 urban centers (the largest among them gradually change their hue from green to red).
The cradle of Islam, central Arabia is the most prominent region in the early period. Major urban centers of this region are Mecca/Makka (269) and Medina/al-Madīna (691), but their cultural prominence soon shifts to the main garrison cities of lower Iraq: Kufa/al-Kūfa and Basra/al-Baṣra. The decline of central Arabia starts around 100/719 CE and by 250/865 CE this region is diminished to a marginal province. (The south Arabian cluster displays a similar trend.)
Iraq very quickly becomes the central region and maintains this status for the most of the period covered in Ta’rīkh al-islām. During the early period its prominent urban centers are Basra/ al-Baṣra (1,595) and Kufa/ al-Kūfa (1,432), but the prominence of these garrison towns is soon dwarfed by Baghdad, the new capital city, and they practically disappear from the social map of the Islamic world by around 300/913 CE. Baghdad remains the dominant urban center not only for Iraq, but for the entire Islamic world until the beginning of the 13th century CE. Other major urban centers of this region are Wāsiṭ (401) and al-Anbār (83).
The rapid growth of Iraq comes to a halt around 200/816 CE—at this period the Caliphate is being torn apart by the civil war between al-Amīn and al-Maʾmūn, the sons of great Hārūn al-Rashīd (r. 786-809 CE), who decided to divide the Empire between them. The province falls into clearly visible decline. In the course of the 9th century the power slips from the ʿAbbāsid caliphs: first into the hands of the military commanders of their slave armies, then—the Būyids (932-1055 CE) and the Saljūqs (1038-1194 CE).
480/1088 CE marks the beginning of a century-long recovery for Iraq—the ʿAbbāsid caliphs gradually manage to shake off the ‘‘protectorship” of the military (at this point, the Saljūq sulṭāns) and temporarily regain their independence. Caliphs, sulṭāns, and viziers (wazīr) vie for for influence with each other, seeking the support of religious scholars and relying on various mechanisms of promoting different legal schools—respectively, the Ḥanbalīs, the Ḥanafīs, and the Shāfiʿīs. The data from Ta’rīkh al-islām shows that it is during this period that these groups start growing quite noticeably.
By the end of the period covered in Ta’rīkh al-islām, Iraqi élites drastically decrease in numbers, practically disappearing from the social map of the Islamic world. Although the Mongol invasion is often considered the main cause, the data from Ta’rīkh al-islām shows that the ranks of Iraqi élites start thinning well before the coming of the Mongols. Despite these vicissitudes, the number of notable men in Iraq remains quite significant over the most part of our period, and the prominence of Iraq is rivaled only by Iran, with all its clusters combined.
Major “middle bloomers,” Iranian provinces gain prominence between 100/719 CE and 200/816 CE. The curve of northeastern Iran (Khurāsān) reaches its highest point quite quickly around 200/816 CE and remains there, fluctuating slightly, for over three centuries, and goes into a rapid decline after 520/1127 CE. It takes longer for northwestern Iran to reach its peak—around 350/962 CE—and then it slowly goes down. Unlike northeastern Iran, it is still visible on the maps of the Islamic world by the end of our period. The curve of southwestern Iran reaches its highest point around 280/894 CE, then goes into a temporary decline during the 4th/10th century, recovers by 400/1010 CE and begins to go down slowly, increasing its pace of decline around 520/1127 CE. The major urban centers are: Nishapur/Naysābūr (1,038), Merv/Marw [al-shāhijān] (385), Herat/Harāt (392), Balkh (171) and Ṭūs (136) in northeastern Iran (Khurāsān); Rey/al-Rayy (280), Hamadhān (254) and Qazwīn (118) in northwestern Iran; and Isfahan/Iṣbaḥan (1,124) and Shīrāz (100) in southwestern Iran.
The curves of Iranian clusters correspond to what scholars of Islam often refer to as ‘‘Iranian intermezzo, ”2 a period of Iranian independent dynasties (roughly 750-1150 CE): the Ṭāhirids (821-873), Ṣaffārids (867-903) and Sāmānids (875-999) in the east and the Būyids (932-1055) in the north and west. All Iranian clusters practically come to naught by the end of the period covered in Ta’rīkh al-islām.
The two-peaked curve of the last “middle bloomer,” al-Andalus, seems to correspond to the zenith of the Umayyad caliphate in Spain (756-1031 CE) around 380/991 CE, followed by its disintegration and the recovery under the Almoravids/al-Murābiṭūn (1056-1147 CE) and the Almohads/al-Muwaḥḥidūn (1130-1269 CE)—beginning around 470/1078 CE and peaking around 590/1195 CE; after that Andalusia is erased from the map of the Islamic world by the Christian Reconquista. The major Andalusian urban centers are Cordova/Qurṭuba (633), Seville/Ishbīliya (248), Valencia/Balansiyya (141) and Toledo/Ṭulayṭila (89).
Regional clusters that can be characterized as “late bloomers” often have earlier peaks of prominence: around 100/719 CE for Syria, when the first great Islamic dynasty, the Umayyads (661-750 CE), rules from there; around 200/816 CE for the Jazīra and Jordan; and around 300/913 CE for Egypt—followed by equally noticeable decline until around 500/1107 CE. However, their main peaks of prominence fall on the end of the period, by which the “late bloomers” form what can be considered as one continuous crescent-shaped macro-region stretching from Egypt/Miṣr in the south, through Jordan/al-Urdunn, Syria/al-Shām, the Jazīra/Upper Mesopotamia, the northern part of Iraq, the very south of the Caucasian cluster in the north, and even touches northwestern Iran (Zanjān). The prominence of these regions rises noticeably after 500/1107 CE—right at the onset of the rule of dynasties that unify the region: the Zangids (1127-1222 CE), the Ayyūbids (1169-1250 CE), and the Mamlūks (1250-1517 CE). The major urban centers are: Mosul/al-Mawṣil (313) and Ḥarrān (224) in the Jazīra; Damascus/Dimashq (1,769), Homs/Ḥimṣ (268), Aleppo/Ḥalab (231) and Hamah/Ḥamā (103) in Syria; Jerusalem/al-Quds (315) in Jordan; and Alexandria/al-Iskandariyya (211) in Egypt/Miṣr.3 By the end of the main period covered in the Ta’rīkh al-islām, Syria becomes the new center of the Islamic world, with Egypt being next in the line.
al-Dhahabī. Ta’rīkh al-islām wa-wafayāt al-mashāhīr wa-al-a‘lām. Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, Bayrūt, 2 edition, 1990.
Vladimir Minorsky. Studies in Caucasian History. CUP Archive, January 1953.
al-Sam‘ānī. al-Ansāb. 5 vols. Bayrūt: Dār al-fikr, 1998.
Maxim G. Romanov. Computational Reading of Arabic Biographical collections with Special reference to Preaching (661-1300 CE). Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 2013.
Sources: Ta’rīkh al-islām of al-Dhahabī (d. 748/1347)
Period: 41-700 AH / 661-1300 CE (Volumes 4-52)
Unique Nisbas: ~700
Total number of Nisbas: over 70,000