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The Spread of Islam

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Once the Arab armies had burst out from the Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean world changed. Islam became the dominant religion in many areas of the old Byzantine and Persian Empires, with building types copying the Islamic glories of Jerusalem & Damascus. This illustrated session traces this process, and then the later years of Islamic consolidation, and the rise of independent caliphs, as we examine Jerusalem, Damascus, Tunisia, Cairo, Morocco, Andalusia, and more. Then onto the scene came the Turkish Seljuks, with new forms of art and architecture, ultimately to threaten Constantinople itself.


  • The early conquests: Establishment of the Umayyad dynasty – Mosques and Monuments. Jerusalem, Mecca and Damascus.
  • Desert castles in Syria and Jordan: Everyday life – Pella and Jerash. Mediterranean conquest in North Africa. Foundation of Kairouan. Into Europe – conquest of south Spain and Sicily.
  • The Medieval Arab Heartland: Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo, Medieval Morocco – Fez, Marrakech. The end of Islamic Spain.
  • The rise of the Seljuks and a new order of threat: Evidence of Ani, Konya and Erzerum.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe aspects of the historical developments of Islam.
  2. Place some of early Islam’s most important monuments in their appropriate social contexts.
  3. Trace the evolution of Islamic art.
  4. Investigate sources of further study.