Writing christian history in the language of Islam. A study on the beginnings of christian historical writing in Arabic (mid 9th-early 11th cent.)

Start - End 
2015 - 2018 (ongoing)



The project aims at producing the first comprehensive study of the phenomenon of the adoption of Arabic as historiographical language by Christians under Islamic rule around the 9th-11th centuries, through a comparative analysis of the first Christian Arabic historiographical works that have come down to us: Agapius of Mabbug’s Kitāb al-‘unwān (Melkite, mid. 9th cent.), Eutychios of Alexandria’s Annals (Melkite, mid. 9th cent.), Yaḥya al-Anṭākī’s reworking and continuation of the latter (Melkite, ca. 1028), the Chronicle of Seert (East-Syrian, 10th/11th cent.), the Mukhtasar al-akhbār al-bī‘iyya (East-Syrian, early 11th cent.), and Elias of Nisibis’ Syriac-Arabic chronicle (East-Syrian, ca. 1018).

In most people’s mind, Arabic is straightforwardly associated with the Islamic religion. Yet, Arabic was spoken by some Christian communities of the Middle East even before the advent of Islam, and in early Islamic time it was gradually adopted as liturgical and literary language also by Syriac-, Aramaic-, Greek-, Coptic-speaking Christians. Today still, the different Arab Christian communities living in Islamic countries are fundamental pieces to understand the complex puzzle of modern Near-Eastern society. Therefore the history of Arab Christian culture deserves all the increasing attention it is being paid by scholars. The origins of Christian historical writing in Arabic is an area of this field that has not been satisfactorily covered yet. The way a community represents its past and the language it chooses to build its collective memory are telling about the issues this very community is dealing with in the present. My study, therefore, will shed light on the strategies the different Christian communities elaborated to face the islamization of society and the competition against each other when faced with Islamic political power.