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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Stephen Chrisomalis

Abstract

The seventh century CE in the Near East was a period characterized by major political transition and cultural change, representing an era that witnessed the decline of the region’s long-standing major political institutions alongside the emergence of a powerful Arab Caliphate that supplanted both the offices of the Byzantine Emperor and the Persian, Sasanid Shah in most or all of the region. This Arab Caliphate, first based out of the Hejaz, then out of Syria-Palestine with the rise of the Umayyads (r. 661-750 CE), Islam’s first hereditary dynasty, embarked on a successful campaign of Arab and Muslim hegemony across three continents within the course of a century.

Some of the Umayyad’s successes in terms of both the acquisition of and projection of power were not only the result of an organized and determined military and a steady stream of income from its territorial acquisitions, but also due to their ability to construct institutions and bureaucratic machinery that allowed them to create and control narratives through the production of inscribed material culture. Through various administrative and institutional mechanisms, the Umayyad caliphs were able to universalize the Arabic language and script and, by extension, promote a doctrinal form of Islam, both of which were accelerated by the development and expansion of their state and which played a critical role in the attempt to validate their political claims.

Most importantly, an Umayyad monopoly on the cursive Arabic script, an orthography initially used by Christian missionaries in the Levant and Arabia in the sixth century, led to its appropriation for administrative uses by the Muslims which was then wielded as a source of political capital. The weaponization of the Arabic orthography enabled the Umayyads to decisively institute and enforce a new linguistic, cultural, religious and political order over the Near East in the era of Late Antiquity. The extant inscribed material culture implicates the Umayyads as graphophiles, obsessed with the written word and cognizant of its qualities and abilities in helping them impose their political will on their opponents in a battle for cultural, political and ideological primacy. Thus, this dissertation serves as an archaeolinguistic study of how the Umayyads instrumentalized and exploited the Arabic script on administrative material culture as instruments of authority and as purveryors of a new order in the region.

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