Outcomes & Work in progress

This section is dedicated to the preliminary results and major outcomes of the EmCo project. Our collaborative work revolves around six broad, interconnected research themes. For each theme, we have been preparing workshops, conferences, meetings, and a number of peer-reviewed publications. Here’s a selection of our activities and publications. For other articles authored by our team members, see our publications page. For one of the general outcomes of this project, see our material sources website.

“Honest natures cannot easily break the ties that bind them, especially if  they have tied them voluntarily.” Balzac, Modeste Mignon.


arabic papyrus - image 7

Theme 1: The language of social dependency

How is the language of documentary texts from the early Islamic period used to establish and to reinforce social ties and networks of dependency?

The focus of our first research theme centers on the analysis of linguistic expressions and discourses of dependency, taking these as articulations of underlying social expectations as well as ideologies. Incorporating the vocabulary of letters, conversations, speeches, and other communications cited in the literary sources, we attempt to establish connections between cited and extant documents, thereby refining a strategy for how to use literary sources more effectively, and at the same time reflecting critically on the use of document collections. The theme runs through the whole project, guiding our approach to documentary and literary letters. Putting our focus on the language of social dependency, the EmCo team has organized several meetings and two major conferences:

Major conferences & workshops

“Acts of Excommunications in the Late Antique and the Early Islamic Middle East,” organized by Ed Hayes: 12-13 March, 2020.

Working with Collections,” organized by Cecilia Palombo: 21-22 January, 2021 (online roundtable).

“Textual Sources and Geographies of Slavery in the Early-Islamic Empire, ca. 600-1000 CE,” organized by Reza Huseini and Jelle Bruning, in collaboration with LUCIS, to be held in 2021.

“Shii Hadith,” organized by Ed Hayes in collaboration with LUCIS, to be held in 2022.

Publications in progress:

Information will follow later.


Theme 2: Local elites as power brokers.

How were local elites co-opted by the new rulers, and what role did Islamicisation and Arabicisation play in the process? How is the language of dependency expressed when we look at exchanges between the ruling elite and regional elites? Our second research theme starts from the assumption that local elites form a crucial link in understanding how local solidarities were formed and how these related
to central politics. We put the emphasis on problem solving in order to study local political actors and elites in their active role as brokers of power and culture, trying to better understand and redefine their role as mediators, as stakeholders, or as carriers of contention and conflicting claims. This thread of our research is explored in two doctoral dissertations and two important workshops.

Major conferences & workshops

Acts of Protection in the early Islamic Empire,” organized by Eline Scheerlinck: 24 and 25 January 2019.

Contesting Empires: Sogdiana, Bactria and Gandhara between the Sasanian empire, the Tang dynasty and the Muslim Caliphate (ca. 600-1000 CE),” organized by Reza Huseini in collaboration with Gabrielle van den Berg and Shuqi Jia: 17-18 September, 2020 (online due to Covid-19)

Publications in progress

Acts of Protection in Early Islamicate Societies,” special issue of Annales Islamologiques (2021), ed. by Eline Scheerlinck and Ed Hayes. 

Contesting Empires,” special issue of The Silk Road: A Journal of Eurasian Development (2021).

Solidarity and self-interest. Protective interventions by local elites in the countryside of Early Islamic Egypt,” PhD dissertation, Eline Scheerlinck.

Framing the Conquest: Early Muslim Domination of Bactria 652-750,” PhD dissertation, Reza Huseini.


Hisham's Palace - Wikipedia

Theme 3: Mechanisms of inclusion

To understand how Islamic rule concretely took shape at the local level, we examine how mechanics of power operated and what strategies and mechanisms underwrote the social cohesion bringing different groups together into the fold of the Islamic empire. In examining how bonds of loyalty and dependency were created, maintained and mobilized from the top down and bottom up, and how these served individual and group goals, we paint a complex picture of negotiated values and expectations. We aim at uncovering some of the structures that will sustain the Islamic empire for centuries to come. We do so by discussing how subjects interacted with such structures, adjusting them and using them to their own benefit. Mechanics of inclusion serves as an overarching research thread, weaving together the other themes in a complex, colorful fabric. Its main outcomes are two important international conferences, towards the mid-way and towards the end of our project, followed by two publications.

 Major conferences & workshops

Ties that Bind: Mechanisms and Structures of Social Dependency in the Early Islamic Empire,” organized by Ed Hayes and the EmCo team: 3-6 December, 2019.

“Naturalizing Early Islamic Rule through Kinship,” organized by the EmCo team: to be held in 2021 (information to follow).

Publications in progress

The Ties that Bind” — information will follow later.


umayyad - image 35Theme 4: Tying in the provinces

The fourth research theme looks at the complex interaction between the caliphal court and the administrative provinces. Combining provincial and local approaches to the history of the early Islamic empire and the study of documentary sources, we ask how provincial subjects as well as provincial elites were tied to the caliphate. This theme centers on the mechanics by which the provinces were incorporated into the caliphate, through an analysis of both language use and strategic problem solving. We thus investigate how the allegiance of localized powers to the political centre could be sustained over time. Our exploration of this theme gave forth to several workshops and publications, as well as a doctoral dissertation.

Major conferences & workshops

Rebellions and Revolts in the Early Caliphate,” organized by Alon Dar: 7-9 November, 2019.

Negotiation in Conquest: Wars, Treaties, and Recollections of the Rise of the Caliphate“, organized by Petra Sijpesteijn, Jelle Bruning and Alon Dar, in collaboration with LUCIS: 12-14 September, 2019.

Publications in progress

Acts of Rebellion,” special issue of Al-ʿUsur al-Wusta (2021), ed. by Alon Dar and Petra Sijpesteijn.

Ruling an Empire: Provincial Governors, Caliphs, and Elites in the Umayyad Empire,” PhD Dissertation, Alon Dar.


File:Atai (Walters MS 666) - A Juriconsult Giving Sexual Advice (cropped).jpg - Wikimedia CommonsTheme 5: Trans-regional sodalities

We look at structures of social dependency also outside of the administration, at the fringes of government circles. For our fifth research theme, we investigate how non-government actors such as religious leaders, merchants, scholars and businesspeople formed communities
whose common interests and values extended throughout the empire, cutting through religious, ethnic and kinship identities. We research how these sodalities contributed to lasting imperial structures, again combining documentary letters and literary sources. Taking into account historical developments in this period, we examine shifting political constellations and factionalism at the centre of the caliphate and in the provinces. We ask how these impacted the caliphate’s variegated social fabric. This theme has been explored in multiple ways in the research of EmCo’s two postdoc fellows, also giving the opportunity for interdisciplinary conversation in two international conferences.

Major conferences & workshops

Correspondence, Cross-pollination, and Control: Transregional Connections and Movements in the Early Islamic Empire,” organized by Ed Hayes and Petra Sijpesteijn: 17-18 May, 2018.

Networks and Ties of Exchange: Trade and Merchants Across the Pre-Modern Middle East (600-1600 CE),” organized by Cecilia Palombo and Petra Sijpesteijn: 3-4 June, 2021.

Publications in progress

This information will follow later.

Theme 6: Systems of redress

Finally, looking at various systems for redressing perceived injustice, we examine what informal and formal channels existed to solve complaints and to offer help to individuals. Patronage, kinship, and religion presented powerful instruments of social cohesion in the early Islamic empire: how did they do so, and through what language? We address this issue by looking at petitions and letters of informal requests. Offering a (potential) method of redress for perceived injustices, the system of petitioning was a powerful tool to ensure participation of the subjects in the new régime that transcended all social layers. We look for and examine the language of letters of request, both as documents and as cited letters, as well as episodes in the literary sources attesting to strategies for “redressing wrongs.” The major outcome of this research theme consists in two books by the project leader, Petra Sijpesteijn: (1) a monograph examining what practical and moral values and considerations underlay social interactions and relations in the early Islamic empire based on letters in Coptic, Greek, Arabic, Pahlavi, Bactrian, as well as those reported in historiographical sources; (2) an edition, translation and commentary of about 45 unpublished Arabic papyri from Egypt containing formal and informal requests for help, currently preserved in the Austrian National Library, accompanied with a short study on the language and arguments presented in them.

Major conferences & workshops

“Politics, Patronage and Protection: Mechanisms of Inclusion and Expectations of Justice in the Medieval Muslim World,” organized by Petra Sijpesteijn, to be held in 2021.

Publication in progress

Monograph ׀ “Righting wrongs: Justice and redress in the early Islamic empire” by Petra Sijpesteijn (in preparation).

An edition of Arabic letters of request on papyrus, Corpus Papyrorum Raineri, Petra Sijpesteijn (Berlin: De Gruyter.)



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