York Islamic Art Circle
The political history of the Islamic South Caucasus during the 11th and 12th centuries CE is one of immense change, ushering in an era of independence and regional power, but accompanied by violent raids and bitter conflict. Bardhaʿa, the provincial capital from the Sasanians to the Abbasids was apparently in decline, giving way to the growing regional centres at Ganja and Shirvan, in the foothills of the Great Caucasus mountains. Yet the material culture of this region during these years tells a different story—one of continuity, artistic creativity, and trans-boundary interactions. This lecture will discuss a material perspective on the province of Arrān in the medieval period, based on new excavations in the city of Bardhaʿa, set in a broad regional context. At the centre of this story are the local ceramics whose production and consumption hold tantalising clues to the nature of urban identity in the South Caucasus and the untold history of this region.
Paul Wordsworth is a Wainwright Fellow at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. His research focuses on the northern limits of the Islamic world, investigating aspects of urban-rural relationships, cultural borders, and identity. His forthcoming book, Moving in the Margins: Desert Travel and Power in Medieval Central Asia (Brill) documents the complex systems of desert movement that comprise the regional mechanics of the famed Silk Roads, challenging the current narrative of monolithic highways of long-distance trade. Over the last five years, he has been directing a field project in Azerbaijan to excavate the provincial regional capital, Bardhaʿa and document aspects of its changing identity through the disintegration of Abbasid power in the region and the rise of local polities in the 11th-12th century. As part of his ongoing work to document provincial structure and marginal settlements, he has just begun a new project in Turkmenistan, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, investigating the development of the roadside towns of Dandanaqan and Kushmeihan, from the 8th-12th Centuries CE.