Dr Fanny Bessard

Research
  • Wealth and poverty in the early Islamic world
  • Economic transformations from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages
  • Comparative and interdisciplinary Medieval history

My research realises the potential of combining a wide corpus of literary sources in Arabic with physical and epigraphic evidence collected in the field and archives. My approach is both comparative and global. I look at the Middle East in a Eurasian context, drawing parallels between the Islamic world and Western Christendom, Byzantium, South-East Asia and China. My monograph with OUP, Caliphs and Merchants (700-950), Cities and Economies of Power in the Middle East offers fresh perspectives on the origins of the economic success of the early Islamic Caliphate, identifying a number of previously unnoticed or underplayed yet crucial developments, such as the changing conditions of labour, attitudes towards professional associations, and the interplay between the state, Islamic religious institutions, and the economy. While working on my monograph, the fruitful collaborations I had with historians, economists, numismatists, archaeologists and papyrologists inspired me to further develop the comparative aspect of my research. Between 2015-18, I co-directed with Prof. Kennedy (SOAS) a Leverhulme Networking project, investigating the construction and development of the Islamic economy as a world system, stretching from Central Asia to the Atlantic between 700 and 1050. My new project investigates social inequalities in the Medieval Islamic world. The purpose is to radically redefine our understanding of the relationship between wealth, social rank, the political and cultural elite in Islamic Eurasia and to explore the manner in which wealth, originally fostering tribal solidarity during the Arab-Muslim conquests, became a source of authority.

Featured Publication
Caliphs and Merchants

Caliphs and Merchants: Cities and Economies of Power in the Near East (700-950) - Oxford Studies in Byzantium (OUP, Forthcoming)

Caliphs and Merchants: Cities and Economies of Power in the Near East (700-950) offers fresh perspectives on the origins of the economic success of the early Islamic Caliphate, identifying a number of previously unnoticed or underplayed yet crucial developments, such as the changing conditions of labour, attitudes towards professional associations, and the interplay between the state, Islamic religious institutions, and the economy. Moving beyond the well-studied transition between the death of Justinian in 565 and the Arab-Muslim conquests in the seventh century, the volume focuses on the period between 700 and 950 during which the Islamic world asserted its identity and authority. Whilst the extraordinary prosperity of Near Eastern cities and economies during this time was not unprecedented when one considers the early Imperial Roman world, the aftermath of the Arab-Muslim conquests saw a deep transformation of urban retail and craft which marked a distinct break from the past. It explores the mechanisms effecting these changes, from the increasing involvement of caliphs and their governors in the patronage of urban economies, to the empowerment of enriched entrepreneurial tagir from the ninth century. Combining detailed analysis of a large corpus of literary sources in Arabic with presentation of new physical and epigraphic evidence, and utilizing an innovative approach which is both comparative and global, the discussion lucidly locates the Middle East within the contemporary Eurasian context and draws instructive parallels between the Islamic world and Western Christendom, Byzantium, South-East Asia, and China.

Publications
  • Caliphs and Merchants Cities and Economies of Power in the Near East (700-950)

  • The Politics of Sūqs in Early Islam

  • Itinéraires et mutations urbaines dans le Mašriq islamique (ier/viie-iiie/ixe siècles)

  • More
Teaching

My teaching draws from my research methodology, combining history and archaeology. I like to unite the various regional and linguistic subfields of Eurasia into a broader vision of a medieval world. My teaching moves westward and eastward simultaneously to demonstrate the shared institutional and ideological inheritances of the Middle East, Europe and East Asia. I teach widely in the period between around 300 and 1100 AD.

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding research in any of the following areas:

  • Wealth and poverty in the early Islamic world
  • Economic transformations from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages
  • Comparative and interdisciplinary Medieval history  

Prelims

FHS

EWP 1, EWP 2

EWF1

Approaches to History (History and Archaeology) EWF2
Disciplines of History EWF3
  EWF4