SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

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

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
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

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Understand better the development of the artistic traditions of the eastern Islamic world in the pre-Mongol period.
  • 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.
  • Be able to identify a wide range of artistic production, ranging from wall paintings, palaces, mosques, and caravanserais to ceramics, coins, metalwork, and textiles.
  • Understand the interplay with nomadic and sedentary traditions that characterises the art of the period and area.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus


  1. Introduction: The Eastern Islamic World
  2. The Samanids and the Buyids: The Persian Revival
  3. The Ghaznevids
  4. The Ghurids
  5. Trip to the British Museum
  6. Reading Week
  7. Iltutmish & The Delhi Sultanate
  8. The Seljuks I
  9. The Seljuks II
  10. Iran & Central Asia up to the Mongol Invasion
  11. Trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum

Method of assessment

One two hour exam - 60% One 2,100-2,300 word essay - 40%

Suggested reading

  • James Allan, Persian Metal Technology 700-1300 (London: Ithaca Press, 1979).
  • Finbarr Barry Flood, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter (Princeton: PUP, 2009).
  • Oleg Grabar, The Great Mosque of Isfahan (London: IB Tauris, 1990).
  • Stefan Heidemann, et al., “The Large Audience: Life-Sized Stucco Figures of Royal Princes from the Seljuq Period,” Muqarnas 31 (2015).
  • Robert Hillenbrand, “The Architecture of the Ghaznavids and Ghurids,” Carole Hillenbrand, ed, Studies in Honour of Clifford Edmund Bosworth Vol. 2, The Sultan’s Turret: Studies in Persian and Turkish Culture  (Leiden: EJBrill, 2000), 124-206.
  • Yuri Karev, “Qarakhanid Wall Paintings in the Citadel of Samarqand: Frist Report and Preliminary Observations,” Muqarnas 22 (2005), 45-84.
  • Tania Treptow, Daily Life Ornamented: The Medieval Persian City of Rayy (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 2007).
  • Oliver Watson, Persian Lustre Ware (London: Faber, 1985).
  • Charles Wilkinson, Nishapur: Some Early Islamic Buildings and Their Decoration (New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1986).
  • Charles Wilkinson, Nishapur: Pottery of the Early Islamic Period (New York: Metropolitan Museum, 1973).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules