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The glass beads found at archaeological sites up and down the eastern coast of Africa between the 7th and 17th centuries ce bear witness to the trade that connected communities from all reaches of the Indian Ocean and beyond. Glass beads are small, relatively inexpensive to produce, and easy to transport as well as being colorful, often beautiful, and very durable. They were thus ideal trade items, especially when glass was a rare commodity that was produced in a limited number of places. Careful study of the glass beads traded into eastern Africa illuminate trade connections and patterns in the Western Indian Ocean that are not seen through a study of ceramics or glass vessels. In the earliest period, from the 7th to the mid-10th century, the East Coast (Kenya and Tanzania) first received beads made from a mineral soda glass from Sri Lanka (or possibly South India). The next to arrive were all made of a type of plant-ash glass that was probably produced in Iraq, but, because raw glass was widely traded, the beads were made in different places: perhaps the Persian Gulf/Iraq/Iran and even Thailand. In southern Africa in this period all beads were made of this same plant-ash glass but the beads—cut from drawn tubes—may have been finished locally. Similar beads of this glass have been found around the Old World including South and Southeast Asia, both East and West Africa, the Mediterranean, and as far north as Scandinavia—all date from the 8th into the mid-10th century. From the mid-10th to mid-13th century mineral soda beads from India were found in both the southern and northern regions of Africa’s east coast, but many of them appear to be from different areas of India and would likely have arrived by different routes. In the mid-13th to mid-15th century period, during which the gold trade out of southern Africa was at its peak, southern Africa turned away from Indian beads and accepted only ones from a region that has yet to be identified, while East Africa continued mainly with ones from South Asia. However, early in the 15th century a small number of Chinese beads appeared on the East Coast that might have arrived on ships from the fleet of the Chinese general Zheng He. The final period, the mid-15th to late 17th century, saw the two ends of the coast receiving the same beads for the first time, reflecting the growing dominance of European traders in the Indian Ocean. Although from their first arrival Europeans had attempted to trade their own beads in eastern Africa, populations there refused to accept them, forcing the outsiders to purchase beads in India, for which they were obliged to pay—often in silver.

Article

Randall L. Pouwels

ʾAbū ʿAbd al-Lāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Lāh l-Lawātī ibn Battuta (hereafter Ibn Battuta) was born in the Moroccan city of Tangiers in 1304 and died there in 1368 or 1369. He remains the most widely travelled individual to have been born before Ferdinand Magellan. Most scholars and individuals incorrectly attribute that distinction to his better known predecessor, Marco Polo, whose Travels of Marco Polo is a classic of travel literature. Polo trekked from Venice to Yuan (Mongolian) China 1271–1295, yet most of his knowledge of the East was acquired from the seventeen years he resided in China. Ibn Battuta began a hajj (pilgrimage) in 1325, and in the twenty-nine years of his travels, he managed to cover roughly three-and-a-half times as much territory as did Polo. In many respects, the accounts of the two men are complementary. The Italian’s account provides valuable intelligence about late-13th century China. Recent scholarship has cast weighty doubt on Ibn Battuta’s putative travels in East Asia, while the extent and value of his descriptions of the Islamic ecumene and its frontiers of the 14th century essentially remain beyond dispute.

Article

Despite enduring years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes from both the scholarly world and the general public, the Mongols and successors of Chinggis Khan have continued to hold the world’s rapt attention and interest. However, the Chinggisids have in recent years and especially since 2001 and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, benefited from a spreading positive re-evaluation by the academic community and revisionist researchers, which amounts to a fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world. Relations with Iran were particularly strong, so much so that it was Iranians who invited Hulegu and the Chinggisid army to come to the west in 1254 and who actively cooperated in the establishment of the Ilkhanate. The state of Iran had ceased to exist after the Arab invasion of the region in the 7th century, and in its place, Greater Iran became a collection of often warring statelets: Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Fars, Iraq al-Arab, Iraq al-‘Ajam, Sistan, and Jabal, to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus, c. 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and the Ilkhanate essentially became the basis for what eventually became the modern state of Iran. From 1220 to 1254 Iran had existed in a state of anarchy, loosely under the control of Chinggisid military governors. Iran’s city-states were peripheral to an empire to which they paid taxes but from which they derived few advantages nor enjoyed any of the benefits to which their taxes should have entitled them. The delegation sent from Qazvin to Mongke’s coronation requested the Great Khan to send a prince of the blood to rule Iran and to replace the inept military governor. The delegation wanted Iran to be absorbed by the empire so that the country could benefit from joining a global community and a global market. Chinggis Khan had initiated the world’s first experience of globalization, and Iran wanted to be part of that experience. The Ilkhanate (1258–1335) was a Persian renaissance and established Iranians once again as key regional players. Although the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multiethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Ilkhan, Ghazan, ascended the throne and announced his submission to Islam, his act signified the union of Turk and Tajik, of “steppe and sown,” of Iran and Turan, of Persian, Chinese and Turkish cultures, and the coronation of a king of and for all Iranians. It was immaterial whether his conversion was sincere or just politically astute. What was important was his proclamation of becoming a legitimate Iranian king duty bound to serve all his people, whether Turk or Tajik, and that his reign was hailed as the start of a golden age, as well as being a high point of relations with the Yuan regime in the east. The Mongols never left Iran, but simply assimilated.

Article

Daniel Beben

The Ismailis are one of the largest Muslim minority populations of Central Asia, and they make up the second largest Shiʿi Muslim community globally. First emerging in the second half of the 8th century, the Ismaili missionary movement spread into many areas of the Islamic world in the 10th century, under the leadership of the Ismaili Fatimids caliphs in Egypt. The movement achieved astounding success in Central Asia in the 10th century, when many of the political and cultural elites of the region were converted. However, a series of repressions over the following century led to its almost complete disappearance from the metropolitan centers of Central Asia. The movement later re-emerged in the mountainous Badakhshan region of Central Asia (which encompasses the territories of present-day eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan), where it was introduced by the renowned 11th-century Persian poet, philosopher, and Ismaili missionary Nasir-i Khusraw. Over the following centuries the Ismaili movement expanded among the populations of Badakhshan, reaching a population of over 200,000 in the 21st century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Ismailis suffered a series of severe repressions, first under local Sunni Muslim rulers and later under the antireligious policies of the Soviet Union. However, in the decades since the end of the Soviet period, the Ismailis of the region have become increasingly connected with the global Ismaili community and its leadership. While many aspects of the history of Ismailism in the Badakhshan region remain obscure and unexplored, the discoveries of significant corpuses of manuscripts in private collections since the 1990s in the Badakhshan region have opened up wide possibilities for future research.

Article

Miklós Sárközy

The present article aims at summarizing the history and cultural legacy of Ismāʿīlīsm, an important medieval and contemporary branch of Shīʿī Islam in Iran or, more precisely, in the Persian lands. Ismāʿīlīsm, developing gradually after 760 ce (after the death of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, the sixth Imam of Ismāʿīlīs and Twelver Shīʿīs), maintained close cultural and religious ties with Iranian lands, appearing as early as the 9th century ce in present-day Iran and Central Asia. Since then, Ismāʿīlīsm has been present in Iranian culture, creating an interesting amalgam where Persianate cultural elements enriched the religious, philosophical, and cultural heritage of Ismāʿīlīsm. One must also note that Ismāʿīlīsm had different subgroups present in the Iranian lands such as pre-Fatimid Ismāʿīlīsm, Fatimid Ismāʿīlīsm, Qarmaṭī Ismāʿīlīsm and, last but not least, the most significant of them, Nizārī Ismāʿīlīsm (with its various offshoots in present-day Iran and Central Asia); followers of the latter are still living in some provinces of Iran. The heyday of Ismāʿīlīsm during the so-called Alamūt period of the Nizārī Ismāʿīlīs was undoubtedly the 11th–13th centuries ce, but Badakhshānī Ismāʿīlīs in Central Asia as well as later post-Alamūt Nizārī Ismāʿīlīsm in Iran are also of great importance.

Article

The Ismailis are a minority community of Shiʿi Muslims that first emerged in the 8th century. Iran has hosted one of the largest Ismaili communities since the earliest years of the movement and from 1095 to 1841 it served as the home of the Nizārī Ismaili imams. In 1256 the Ismaili headquarters at the fortress of Alamūt in northern Iran was captured by the Mongols and the Imam Rukn al-Dīn Khūrshāh was arrested and executed, opening a perilous new chapter in the history of the Ismailis in Iran. Generations of observers believed that the Ismailis had perished entirely in the course of the Mongol conquests. Beginning in the 19th century, research on the Ismailis began to slowly reveal the myriad ways in which they survived and even flourished in Iran and elsewhere into the post-Mongol era. However, scholarship on the Iranian Ismailis down to the early 20th century remained almost entirely dependent on non-Ismaili sources that were generally quite hostile toward their subject. The discovery of many previously unknown Ismaili texts beginning in the early 20th century offered prospects for a richer and more complete understanding of the tradition’s historical development. Yet despite this, the Ismaili tradition in the post-Mongol era continues to receive only a fraction of the scholarly attention given to earlier periods, and a number of sources produced by Ismaili communities in this period remain unexplored, offering valuable opportunities for future research.

Article

John F. Robertson

The roots of the history of modern Iraq extend into the late Ottoman period, when the central government in Istanbul embarked upon administrative and educational reform in an attempt both to modernize and to reassert and centralize its authority there. The history of modern Iraq is also closely linked to ethnic (principally Arab and Kurd) and sectarian (principally Sunni and Shi’ite, but also Jewish and Christian) components of Iraqi society, and their interrelations and tensions. This history is also marked by distinct episodes of foreign intervention (specifically, by Great Britain and the United States), by internal political struggle often resolved by political violence, and by sectarian tensions exacerbated by the domination of political governance by a Sunni minority (1921–2003) and subsequently, beginning in 2004, by the Shi’i majority.

Article

Ilan Pappe

The history of Modern Palestine begins somewhere in the 19th century. Writing it, or about it, is a huge challenge. It is very hard to distinguish between the history and the historiography of the country, as it is narrated to this very day, including by scholars, in two diametrically opposed ways. Even the term modern Palestine itself is a contentious one, let alone the history of the country itself. The history of Palestine cannot be dissociated from that of Israel, one of the few states in the world whose modern, indeed, its contemporary history is still contested and highly charged. Therefore, the historiographical research on Palestine is inconclusive. The best way of approaching such complexities is recognizing the prevalence of more than one narrative about the country’s past and present realities as well as acknowledging the dynamic and dialectical relationship between the competing narratives. Thus, the pendulum keeps oscillating in favor or against the validity and acceptance of the two major competing narratives about the country’s history: the Israeli Zionist one and the Palestinian one. In such a world, the historian’s own positionality is as much a factor in the story he or she tells as is the evidence itself. For this reason, the history of modern Palestine, in particular, cannot be easily presented as an entry to an encyclopedia. Any scholarly work on such a place will reflect, despite all the attempts at professionalism and fairness, a certain moral as well as an emotive position. An intelligent reader could easily detect within a factual presentation, where a more subjective commentary is proposed. It is not only the personal views of the historians that affect the analysis of the country’s history, but also the changing balance of power between the competing narratives that plays a crucial role in the way articles like this one are written. This balance of power has changed in recent years. In crude terms, one could say that scholarly works around the world on Palestine reflected the Zionist narrative until the 1980s and were far more critical toward this narrative ever since. From the Israeli Zionist narrative, the history of Palestine is closely associated with the history of the Jewish religion. Thus, this narrative begins in the biblical times, when the Jewish nation was born as a monotheistic religion on the land, which today is Israel and Palestine. It continues with the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans around 70 AD and defines Jewish life ever since as life in exile. The modern history of Palestine commences in 1882 with the return of the Jews to their homeland after centuries of neglect that left the county arid and derelict for centuries: in fact, until the arrival of Zionism. The Zionist immigration is thus depicted as a “return” to an ancient homeland on the one hand, and as an act of modernization, on the other. The arid, desert-like country was bloomed, and the new arrivals founded a democratic state, the only one in the Middle East. The native people are described as semi nomads without any sense of national or even ethnic aspirations. Their rejection of Zionism is therefore attributed to their primitivism or to the incitement by others: namely Islamic leaders, Arab tyrants, or anti-Semitic gentiles. This would be the explanation for the attempt by the Arab world to defeat the Jewish state in 1948, after it was recognized by the international community (through the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution 181 from November 29, 1947), which accorded roughly half of the country to the local Arabs who rejected what par this narrative was as a just and fair solution. The history of Palestine ever since 1948, from the perspective of this narrative, is exclusively the history of Israel, which moves between endless and hostile attempts to wipe Israel out by military force—in several recurring regional wars and recently Islamic terrorism—and a wish to find a solution to the bits of Palestine Israel occupied in 1967—the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A lack of Palestinian leadership, internal Israeli debates about the future of the occupied territories, and international diplomatic incompetence are provided as explanations for failing to end this conflict. The Palestinian narrative, on the other hand, depicts a society that at least since the 7th century lived a normal and organic life as the indigenous people of the country. Contrary to the Zionist maxim that Palestine was a land without people waiting for the people without land, the Palestinian historiography reveals a vibrant society, mostly rural but with a dynamic urban center that survived foreign and regional occupiers. The one disruption it could not cope with was the arrival of Zionism, depicted in this narrative as a colonial movement that eventually led to the Nakba, the 1948 catastrophe. Ever since that year, the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland through the agency of the PLO, which in the late 1980s was willing to partition the country into two states but was not reciprocated by any goodwill on the part of Israel. This is a narrative of dispossession on the one hand, and a liberation struggle that still continues today, on the other. Ever since the 1980s, the scholarly world tends to accept the basic arguments included in the Palestinian narrative, not least because there are quite a few Israeli historians who endorsed them. Thus, the Palestinian narrative ascended not just as the “other side” of the story that was silenced, but also appeared as the more universal one among the two. It became the narrative of the human rights’ agenda in which the Palestinians were depicted as victims of settler colonialism and the Zionist movement, and later the state of Israel, as colonial victimizers. This is a work in progress and recent scholarship is not content with such a simplified dichotomous historiographical approach. This new updated look on human history, from a moral and not just factual point of view, still requires a paradigm that would help the historian to make sense of a complicated reality. The narrative thus chosen for this article reflects these historiographical developments. It narrates the history of Palestine as the tale of an indigenous population that since the 630s was ruled by Muslim dynasties (apart from a short period of a Crusader conquest), until it was colonized by a settler colonial movement arriving there in 1882. The colonization effort expanded and grew during the period of the British rule (1918–1948). It resulted in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel over 78 percent of Palestine and the transformation of half of the Palestinian population into refugees. These two outcomes affect the modern history of the country ever since. This year, 1948, was a miraculous year for the Zionist movement and a disastrous year for the Palestinians. The Israeli attempt to maintain its 1948 achievements and the Palestinian struggle to rectify the 1948 catastrophe inform both the history and historiography of Israel and Palestine. This is not a closed chapter in our modern global history; it is an ongoing story that has wider implications for the history of the region and the world at large.

Article

Fred H. Lawson

Modern Saudi Arabia emerged in the 1920s as the successor to a collection of local political entities on the Arabian peninsula, whose histories are only starting to be investigated. Existing studies of Saudi history emphasize the actions and objectives of successive rulers, most notably the founder of the kingdom, 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Abd al-Rahman Al Sa'ud, and his sons Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, and 'Abdullah. Popular responses to the rise and consolidation of Saudi rule have received little sustained attention. Equally lacking is an objective analysis of the pivotal period of the late 1950s, when elite and mass movements for political reform took shape. Instability during this period is generally attributed to the personal failings of King Sa'ud bin 'Abd al-'Aziz, rather than to conflicts among influential social forces. Current scholarship explores the emergence of radical Islamist movements in the Sunni and Shi'i communities alike.

Article

Richard Eaton

The Persian cosmopolis refers to the vast territory between the Balkans and Bengal in which, for 1000 years, an integrated sense of moral, social, political, and aesthetic order was informed by the circulation of normative Persian texts. Several centuries after the Arab conquest of the Iranian plateau, a spoken form of a hybridized Middle Persian and Arabic emerged in written form, using a modified Arabic script. What had begun as a regional vernacular swiftly became a transregional, literary medium as regional courts in Khurasan and Central Asia patronized Persian literature and used that language in their bureaucracies, building on a tradition of professional writers that had served Persian empires for centuries. The technology of paper-making, recently introduced from China, facilitated the rapid movement of Persian texts across space, while Firdausi’s epic poem the Shah-nama (1010) celebrated Iranian mythology and pre-Islamic history in ways that connected widely scattered peoples of different ethnicities. Territorial conquests by Persianized Turks, followed by Mongol invasions that drove peoples of Central Asia and Khurasan into new lands, also served to expand the geographical extent of the Persian cosmopolis. By the 14th and 15th centuries, the political, aesthetic, and moral order elaborated in a growing Persian canon—for example, the principle of justice—had become associated with a prestigious, cosmopolitan style that was emulated and absorbed by widely scattered peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. Persianate architecture, attire, urban design, music, cuisine, and numismatic traditions were also assimilated by such peoples. With the translation of a rich store of romance literature into vernacular tongues, the Persian cosmopolis became as much a subjective phenomenon, inhabiting people’s collective imagination, as it was an objective, mappable zone in which popular, discursive, and normative texts circulated along networks that connected royal courts, provincial notables, Sufi lodges, merchant communities, and schools.

Article

Rudi Matthee

Safavid, Iran, was a modest economic player in West and South Asia in terms of population numbers, productivity, and resources. Yet its strategic location at the crossroads of Asia’s commercial arteries allowed it to punch well above its weight in terms of trade—especially trade in transit. The reign of Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1587–1629) represents the high-water mark in this development. His forward-looking policies, beginning with his choice of Isfahan as Iran’s new capital and the subsequent resettlement of a large number of Armenians, expanded the ambit of the country’s commerce. Most importantly, he established a viable maritime alternative to the overland trade route by facilitating the maritime connection via the Persian Gulf, with the aim of depriving the Ottomans of revenue. In the process, Iran became more firmly connected to the wider Eurasian market, with commodities like silk and porcelain moving into the center of a hemispheric commercial network. In this, South Asia was clearly the regional “world economy,” manufacturing goods that were coveted by people all over West Asia and beyond, while the inhabitants of Europe, and to a lesser extent of the Ottoman Empire, Central Asia, and Russia, functioned as consumers who were generally forced to pay for their tastes and desires with hard cash.

Article

By the late 19th century, when much of Islamic Central Asia was conquered by the Russian Empire, the region was home to tens of thousands of slaves. Most of these slaves were Shiʿa Muslims from northern Iran, though the slave trade also ensnared many Russians, Armenians, Kalmyks, and others. Slave labor was especially commonplace in the Sunni Muslim domains of Khwarazm and Bukhara, where enslaved people constituted a substantial proportion of all agricultural workers, domestic servants, and soldiers. Slaves also labored in many other roles, and an individual slave could be tasked with a variety of jobs. Slaves served, for example, as concubines, craftsmen, miners, herdsmen, entertainers, blacksmiths, calligraphers, and even, in rare instances, as government officials. Before the 16th century, the majority of the slaves in Central Asia—defined here as the region extending from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea through Xinjiang, China, and from southern Siberia to northern Iran—seem to have been trafficked to the region from India. This changed in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a significant number of Iranian war-captives were brought north and enslaved during the course of numerous armed conflicts between the Central Asian Uzbeks and Iranian Safavids. Many of these slaves evidently labored on the region’s rapidly expanding agricultural estates. In the 18th and 19th centuries, frequent Turkmen raids into northern Iran resulted in tens of thousands of Iranian Shiʿas being captured and funneled into a booming slave trade in Khwarazm and Bukhara. Further north, a much smaller number of Russians were seized and sold into slavery by Kazakh nomads along the steppe frontier. The region’s slave trade declined in the late 19th century and seems to have remained dormant throughout the Soviet period. The post-Soviet period has witnessed a resurgence of human trafficking throughout Central Asia. In recent decades, local governments and international organizations have labored with mixed success to combat a new kind of slave trade, as Central Asian victims are trafficked by criminal cartels to neighboring countries, or to other regions of the world, for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.