School of Modern Languages
Georgia Institute of Technology
ARBC 2031 Arts Sciences and
Technology through History
What is Civilization?
Tuesday and Thursday 3:00-4:15 Swann Building 206
Was there a “civilization” among inhabitants of pre‐
• The Question of the Sources
• Example of Islamic Sources: Ibn al‐Kalbi’s Book of Idols
Ibn al‐Kalbi (737‐819/821)
• Full Name: Hishām b. Muḥammad b. al‐Sāʾib al‐Kalbī, Abu al‐Mundhir,
• Birth: Kūfa around 120/737
• Death: Kūfa in 204/819 or 206/821 in the Abbasid caliphate of al‐
Maʾmūn (r. 813‐833 AD)
• Specialization: wrote more than 150 book (according to the Fihrist).
He is an authority on Arab genealogy and pre‐Islamic religious
• Surviving Books: Ḏja̲ mharat al‐Nasab, al‐Aṣnām, Ansāb al‐Khayl
• Disciples: al‐Ṭabarī (Historian of Qur’an) , Abu ’l‐Faradj al‐Iṣfahānī
(Historian of Music)
Tribes of Arabia
Urban Centers (Hadar vs Badiya)
• Yathrib (Medina)
• Hadharmaut in Yemen
• The Fertile Crescent
Islam mostly followed older patterns. Many
scholars would argue that Islam was a byproduct
of “Axial Age” (8th‐3rd century B.C.), the millennium
or so before the rise of Islam in the seventh
Axial Age (8th‐3rd century BC)
The Axial age is a term coined by German Philosophers like Karl Jaspers.
It marks the emergence, roughly at the same time around most of the
inhabited world, the great intellectual, philosophical, and religious
systems that came to shape subsequent human society and culture. It
produced leading religious figures foundational religious texts( e.g. Lao‐
Tzu, Buddha, the Greek philosophers, the Hebrew prophets, and the
compilation of the Upanishads in India)
The Arabian Peninsula was not an isolated place
during Axel Age.
• Greek Connection to Arabia via the Fertile Crescent culture owed a
considerable debt to the peoples of the east Mediterranean seaside ‐ for
example, to the Phoenicians(today’s Lebanon) for their alphabet)
• Greek Connection to Arabia through Alexander the Great, and the subsequent
penetration of Hellenism into Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and even lands
further to the east,
• The Hellenistic period covers the period of ancient Greek (Hellenic) history
and Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323
BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of
Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following
• Arabia during the seventh century A.D. was controlled by two rival
• The Byzantine Empire: Constantinople or what is left of the the old Roman
• The Sasanian Empire: a dynasty which had come to power in the third century
• Sasanians borrowed from Byzantine culture (e.g. bath‐houses, systems of
taxation, and the shah Khusrau I Anushirvan (r. 531‐579) welcomed the
“pagan” Greek philosophers whom the Roman emperor Justinian had expelled
from their Academy in Athens.
Battle of Actium by Pierre‐Auguste Renoir
The Conflict between the Byzantine and Sasanian
empires influenced pre‐Islamic Arabia
• The Fertile Crescent functioned as a crossroad
• A mercantile community flourished and dominated urban centers
• The Romans employed some Arab tribes as "federates" and allies of the
imperial army. This increased the level of cultural exchange and contributed to
the spread of Christianity among the Arabs. Chief among them was the tribe of
Ghassan, who in the sixth century ruled a buffer kingdom between Byzantine
Syria, on the one hand, and on the other, both tribal Arabia and a similar Arab
kingdom (the Lakhmids) allied with Iran.
• Religion was shaped by that function and vulnerability
Major characteristics of religions in the seventh
Hunafa’ ( linked in a general way with the figure of
Spread of Christianity and abolishing Ancient
At the time of the conversion of Constantine, perhaps
half the inhabitants of Egypt professed Christianity.
• Arising against the background ground of injustice and inequality
• The “confessional" character
• Association with empires
• (e.g. Christianity’s identification with the Roman Empire began under the emperor
Constantine (274 ‐337 AD) and was complete before the reign of his sixth‐century
• (e.g. Zoroastrianism identification with Sasanian Empire developed at an uneven pace,
but by the sixth and seventh centuries was substantially complete)
• With the exception of Judaism religion had a “universalist” character
• NOTE: one of the features of Christianity which appealed to Constantine and his
successors was its universalism.
Spread of Christianity : The Case of Egypt
Doctrinal parallels shared with Egyptians, Greeks and Romans resident in the
Egyptian succeeded to adapt Christianity to their cult.
Serapeuni or the Temple of Serapis in
Alexandria # 1
Serapeuni or the Temple of Serapis in
Apis or Hapis is a sacred bull worshipped in the Memphis region.
Identified as the son of Hathor, a primary deity in
the pantheon of Ancient Egypt.
Deity of the sky, dance, love, beauty,
motherhood, foreign lands, mining,
music and fertility.
Questions to think about
• Who controlled Arabia in (571 C.E. birth of the Prophet d. 632)?
• What kind of religious pluralism(if any) existed in Arabia?
• What attributes of civilization existed in Arabia before the arrival of
(Deity of creation/the first being
to emerge from the darkness and
endless watery abyss that existed
(Deity of craftsmen and architects)
(Deity of the afterlife, death, life,
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