SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Islamic Art and Architecture of Medieval Iran and Central Asia (10th-13th centuries)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

The eastern Islamic world (Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia) in the medieval period (10-12th centuries) witnessed an explosion of artistic activity. This activity was characterised by technical innovation: new decorative techniques in ceramic and metalwork, as well as a fascinating combination of traditions to form new kinds of Islamic art. Pre-Islamic Iranian traditions, never entirely lost in the early Islamic centuries, rise to prominence, but Turkic and other central Asian traditions made themselves felt as well. When combined, they expressed the vitality and diversity of the societies of this vast area in the period before the Mongol invasions. Because mudbrick was a major building material, archaeology has proven important to expose the extent especially of the palatial complexes of the time: this course will take into account archaeological material, combining its study with trips to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum to view objects, especially ceramics and metalwork, from the medieval eastern Islamic world.Another subject examined in this class is urbanism: textual, architectural, and archaeological information for cities like Seljuk Isfahan and Rayy  will be examined for what we know of urban organisation and social order. Because nomadic populations are a prominent feature of this area, another prominent theme of the course will be the interactions--artistic and otherwise--between nomadic and sedentary cultures.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Understand better the development of the artistic traditions of the eastern Islamic world in the pre-Mongol period.
LO2. Understand better the mixtures of Persian, Turkic, and other Central and South Asian traditions that contributed to distinctive characteristics of the medieval art of the Islamic east.
LO3. Be able to identify a wide range of artistic production, ranging from wall paintings, palaces, mosques, and caravanserais to ceramics, coins, metalwork, and textiles.
LO4. Understand the interplay with nomadic and sedentary traditions that characterises the art of the period and area.

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction: The Eastern Islamic World
Week 2: The Samanids and the Buyids: The Persian Revival
Week 3: The Ghaznevids
Week 4: The Ghurids
Week 5: Trip to the British Museum
Week 7: Iltutmish & The Delhi Sultanate

Week 8: The Seljuks I
Week 9: The Seljuks II
Week 10: Iran & Central Asia up to the Mongol Invasion
Week 11: Trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum

Method of assessment

1 assignments of 3,000 words worth 30% of final mark  and an exam worth 70% of final mark

Suggested reading

  • David Abulafia, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (Oxford: OUP, 2011).
  • Ekrem Akurgal, ed., The Art and Architecture of Turkey (Oxford: OUP, 1980).
  • Behrens-Abouseif, Doris, Cairo of the Mamluks: A History of the Architecture and its Culture (London: IB Tauris, 2007).
  • Bloom, Jonathan, Arts of the City Victorious: Islamic Art and Architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
  • Olivia Remie Constable, Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).
  • Thomas Dale, “Cultural Hybridity in Medieval Venice,” in Maguire and Nelson, eds., San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 2010), 151-191.
  • Kate Fleet, ed., The Cambridge History of Turkey Vol. 1. (Cambridge: CUP, 2006).
  • Jaroslav Folda,  Crusader Art in the Holy Land: From the Third Crusade to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291 (Cambridge: CUP, 2005)
  • Jaroslav Folda, The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land 1099-1187 (Cambridge: CUP, 1995).
    Maria Georgopoulou, “The Artistic World of the Crusaders and Oriental Christians in the 12th and 13th Centuries,” Gesta 43 (2004), 115-138.
  • S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza Volume 4 (Berkeley: University of California Press).
  • Robert Hillenbrand, Islamic Architecture: Form, Function, and Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).
  • Robert Hillenbrand and Sylvia Auld, eds, Ayyubid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context (1187-1250) (London: Altajir Trust, 2009).
  • Eva Hoffman, “Pathways of Portability: Islamic and Christian interchange from the 10th to the 12th century,” Art History 24 (2001); pp. 17-50.
  • Eva Hoffman,  “Christian-Islamic Encounters on 13th Century Ayyubid Metalwork: Local Culture, Authenticity, and Memory,” Gesta 43 (2004), 129-142.
  • Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).
  • Peregrine Horden and Sharon Kinoshita, eds, A Companion to Mediterranean History (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
  • Ibn Battuta, (H.A.R. Gibb trans.) The Travels of Ibn Battuta (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1958)
  • Ibn Jubayr, (R.J.C. Broadhurst, trans.) The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, Being the Chronicle of a Mediaeval Spanish Moor Concerning his Journey to the Egypt of Saladin, The Holy Cities of Arabia, Baghdad, the City of the Caliphs, the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (London: Jonathan Cape, 1952).
  • Ibn Khaldun (Franz Rosenthal trans.) The Muqaddimah: an Introduction to History (Princeton: PUP, 2005).
  • Çiğdem Kafescioğlu, Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009).
  • Nasir-i Khusraw, (W.M. Thackston, trans.) Nasir-i Khusraw’s Book of Travels (Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2001).
  • Carl Petry, ed., The Cambridge History of Egypt (Cambridge: CUP, 1998).
  • Scott Redford, “On Saqis and Ceramics: Systems of Representation in the Northeast Mediterranean,” in D. Weiss and L. Mahoney, eds, France and the Holy Land: Frankish Culture at the End of the Crusades, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), pp. 282-312.
  • Scott Redford "Just Landscape in Medieval Anatolia," Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes 20 (2000), pp. 313-324.
  • Yasser Tabbaa, Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).
  • Yasser Tabbaa, The Transformation of Islamic Art During the Sunni Revival (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).
  • Zibaldone da Canal (John Dotson, ed. and trans.) Merchant Culture in Fourteenth Century Venice. The Zibaldone da Canal   (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1997).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules