At the Border of Transition. The Egyptian City and Its Economy before and after the Arab Conquest in 642 CE

In her Postdoc project “At the Border of Transition. The Egyptian City and Its Economy before and after the Arab Conquest in 642 CE” Dr. Stefanie Schmidt has researched economic developments in urban centers of Egypt between the Byzantine and early Islamic period (5th to 9th centuries). She focused in particular on identifying changes in urban production, consumption and distribution patterns, but studied also to what extent governmental intervention, reflected by taxes and trade regulations, influenced internal and external parameters that stimulated economic productivity and exchange. Taking the border town of Aswan, a significant trade hub in the frontier zone of Upper Egypt as an example, she investigated economic transition in light of architectural remains, pottery, leather findings, glass, textiles, and zoological remains. The results showed clear continuities regarding production and consumption after the Muslim conquest, in some cases, like the production and distribution of Aswan pottery, up to 200 years beyond it. Observations could, for instance, be verified by archaeological findings of Aswan pottery in Nubia, which, moreover, demonstrate Aswan’s special role in the border trade between the Roman and Fatimid period (Schmidt 2019: The 8th Century). Since the third and fourth century CE, Aswan pottery dominated the Nubian market accounting for ca. thirty percent of findings. Although the percentage of sherd findings decreased in the following centuries, sherds of Aswan amphorae were still prevailing in archaeological context by about twenty percent of findings. This continuous border trade is a good indicator of uninterrupted production and consumption patterns, however at the same time it provides no clear information about a continuity of trading partners. A shift in the latter is to be assumed since the papyrological evidence shows strong influence of Muslim merchants in Aswan, which played a leading role in the border trade from the beginning of the first half of the eighth century onwards. The papyri showed, moreover, that commercial exchange between Muslim Egypt and Christian Nubia was fostered and legally protected by the Muslim authorities, demonstrated by official communication between the capital of Egypt and the king of the Nubians (Schmidt 2019: Living the end of Antiquity). S. Schmidt presented her research in international conferences  in Changchung (China), in Leiden (Netherlands), Dijon (France), Istanbul (Turkey), Munich and Berlin (Germany) and wrote several articles in peer-reviewed journals, which will soon be published. Stefanie Schmidt took up her new employment as managing director of the new ‘Zurich Center for the Study of the Ancient World’ in November 2018.