Eugenio Garosi

From Mediator to Anchorer: Scribal Innovation in the Early Islamic Empire and its Curators

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The rise of the early Islamic empire in the 7th century turned the late antique world upside down. Documents on papyrus, inscriptions, and coins are among the earliest windows into the social and cultural transformations set in motion by the Islamic conquests. Drawing from original documentary sources, I explore this period of transition from the perspective of everyday administrative practices.

My project examines the process of selection, repurposing and advancement of scribal traditions and clerical practices deriving from the Graeco-Roman Levant in the Umayyad and early Abbasid empires. It aims at uncovering the particular structure of early Islamic imperial governance that facilitated the implementation of practices anchored in peripheral scribal traditions into the Arabic language administration – to the detriment of apparently better established conventions of the pre-Islamic Greek-writing administration. This execution will be viewed from the perspective of the individuals who acted as “mediators” between the Arabic and non-Arabic milieus of the early Islamic administration, developing and subsequently effectively “anchoring” new traditions from the selected old. Examining original documents on papyrus and ostraca in multilingual archives from 7th- and 8th-century Egypt and Palestine, the project analyses terminological, formulaic and paleographic features of early Islamic official documents as a window into the intermediary operations across Arabic and Greek and Coptic scribal milieus. My analysis will undertake three inter-related tasks: (1) Identifying late antique roots of clerical practices within the early Islamic administration; (2) Identifying how mediators could impact the adoption of specific practices (at the expense of others); and (3) noting the manner in which the cultural roots of the identified practices facilitated their adoption beyond the circles of the imperial administration.