Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (Peoples of the Ancient World) Paperback – 23 Aug 2001
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"In this highly original book, Hoyland gives us a rare glimpse into the society and culture of Arabia before the advent of Islam in the seventh century. Hoyland challenges the myth of pre-Islamic Arabia as culturally barren and demonstrates the social vitality of everyday life in the area. The narrative is enhanced by numerous maps, figures and plates. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries." - Library Journal
About the Author
Robert G. Hoyland is professor of Islamic history at the Oriental Institute at the University of Oxford.
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The book is organized in a very standard and useful fashion, giving chapters on each region (internally organized by time period) before moving on to topic-focused chapters. This is a book which rewards a cover-to-cover reading, and is understandable to a novice on the subject; now that I've been through it once, I'll probably read it again at least once in its entirety, as well as using it as a look-up reference for individual bits of information.
The notes are interesting and worth reading, without this being a case of all the good stuff being in the footnotes.
The only complaint I have is that I'd have liked for each place mentioned more than in passing in the text to have been marked somewhere on one of the maps. More maps and some more detail would have been nice. This isn't an insurmountable problem, however, for anyone who has a good historical atlas, or access to the internet.
For someone who's writing a journal article or a dissertation, this is probably too elementary a source. For a person with some historical background who's familiar with the ancient world in general, but lacking foundation knowledge of ancient Arabia, this is an excellent first source and provides many jumping-off points for further research. This is a keeper for me, and I'm sure it'll get a lot of use.
Hoyland organizes the text by region and theme. First, he discusses the three distinct Arabian regions (East Arabia, South Arabia, North and Central Arabia) and their people, providing a more general "political" history of the different tribes and societies based in these areas, before moving on to the themes (Economy, Society, Religion, Art and Architecture, Language and Literature, and Arabhood and Arabisation), in which he provides more in-depth information about the structure, culture, and sociological features of the various peoples and civilizations in Arabia as a whole during this time period. One of this book's most remarkable features is Hoyland's ability to synthesize a variety of different evidence --inscriptions, texts (history, poetry, geography), pottery, art, etc -- in an array of languages (South Arabian, Safaitic, Hismaic, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Nabataean, etc) into a cohesive and fluid historical narrative.
Given the wide scope of "Arabia and the Arabs", certain chapters of this book will surely be more accessible and interesting to an assortment of readers given their respective backgrounds. Personally, coming from the field of Islamic history, it was fascinating to learn of the distinct regions and civilizations that existed in Arabia up until the 4th-5th century AD. Furthermore, the connectedness of Arabia, particularly the South Arabian civilizations, to the Mediterranean, Persia, India and Asia Minor from the Bronze Age onwards (ie. the longue duree) was enlightening in regard to the fluidity of influence and the breaking down of historically constructed "borders" that tend to be created by academics who focus on specific civilizations and time periods. Finally, Hoyland's hypothesis about how the Byzantine-Sasanian patronage of the Arab chiefdoms provided the imperial culture and affluence necessary for the Arabs to articulate and promote their language and poetry is thought provoking and original.
What "Arabia and the Arabs" lacks in depth and critical scholarly elaboration, it certainly makes up for with its expansive and erudite overview of this much understudied region of the world. Plus, Hoyland has compiled a wonderful bibliography that provides references to books and articles regarding every theme and sub-theme in the book for readers who are interested in doing further reading/research on specific aspects of Arabia.
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