Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th–9th Century)

An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Peter Brown in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_07 May. 03 22.23In the century between 630 and 730 a considerable portion of the Old World took on its modern face. Through a series of astonishing campaigns, Arab Muslim armies created a single empire that, for a time, would reach from southern Spain to northern India and the western borders of China. From the “big bang” of these conquests a new galaxy emerged. From then onward, a closely interconnected chain of Muslim regions (one part of which, from modern Morocco to the borders of Iran, came to speak Arabic) stretched across Africa and Eurasia, joining the Atlantic to western China. A new civilization came into being, one that has lasted, with many permutations, into our own days. In the words of Finbarr Flood, a major contributor to the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum’s somewhat modestly titled exhibition “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th–9th Century),” the foundation of the Arab empire was “one of the most remarkable achievements in human history.”

The exhibition takes us to the heart of this great detonation. It embraces the last century of the pre-Islamic Middle East and the first two centuries of Islam. To our surprise, we do not find ourselves in a world swept by a mighty wind. Instead, we enter a series of quiet rooms where time seems to stand still. Like a perfect late fall day, only the occasional rustle of a falling leaf startles us into realizing that the seasons are about to change. The few clear signs that Islam had, indeed, become politically dominant in the Middle East by the end of the seventh century strike us with almost ominous intensity. For there are so few of them.

More here.

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