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Reinfandt, Lucian: Regime Change and Elite Migration in the Islamic Caliphate (642-969 AD) (Version 01)

Abstract: The heyday of the Muslim Caliphate during the first three centuries of Muslim rule was anything but a coherent rule over vast territories. A chain of repeated civil wars caused large devastation during the 7th to 9th centuries. The mid-8th century witnessed the overthrow of the Umayyad ruling dynasty by the Abbasids. From the 9th century on, the empire’s territorial integrity was put at stake by a trend towards regionalisation; from now on provinces became factually independent from the central authorities in Baghdad. All these short-term political events were surface phenomena but symptomatic for long-term processes in deeper layers of society. Of these may be mentioned the Arabisation of the Middle Eastern and North African populations; movements of religious conversion; the settlement of the progeny of the Arab military class in the conquered lands; the import of Turkish military slaves from Central Asia. All these transformations arose from, or were at least related to, migrations of considerable geographic reach. Similarly, administrative elites and middle-ranking technocrats, ‘the backbone of imperial rule’, were not at the mercy of short-term political events; they were kept in place during the fall of their regimes and even after. Only one or two generations later was the personnel effectively exchanged, as a result of profound ‘real’ changes at social levels deeper than the political surface. The administrative personnel is of special interest, because both elites and middle-level technocrats had considerable influence on local political decision making. Their migration always meant an import of specific forms of control over the means of government. These forms could change from group to group and would have lasting effects on local conditions. My hypothesis is that the particular staff composition of regional administrations not only affected adjacent social milieus and brought along technological innovations, but was a causal link for provincial politics and, in the long run, the political fate of the empire proper. Taking Egypt as an example, I will analyse the staff composition against a backdrop of political events and on the basis of a categorisation of administrators into three possible ideal types: the household official, the nobleman, the ‘humble clerk’.

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