Dumbarton Oaks is happy to announce that all seven volumes of Irfan Shahîd’s monumental Byzantium and the Arabs, published by Dumbarton Oaks Publications, are available for free download from our website.
Irfan Shahîd knew even as an undergraduate at Oxford that the role of the Arabs in Roman history would be his life’s work. Rome in late antiquity was caught between the German tribes in the west and the Arabs in the east. German scholars had engaged with “the German problem,” but the Arabs did not have their historian, Shahîd recalled in his 2008 oral history for Dumbarton Oaks. “No one has really dealt with Arabs as part of Roman history.”
From an early interest in the role the Arabs in al-Andalus played in the creation of Western Europe, Shahîd’s encounter with the medievalist Ernst Kantorowicz at the Institute for Advanced Study prompted him to start with the East—and to discover Dumbarton Oaks, where he was a Junior Fellow in 1954–55 and with which he would have a lifelong association. The outcome of this early shift in focus is the history of the Arabs’ relationship with Rome and Byzantium before the rise of Islam and the Arab conquests of the seventh century. If his work has one virtue, Shahid said, “it will be because I’ll be the first historian to have filled the gap of all these centuries with my gaze fixed on the seventh to know exactly what happened and why it happened the way it did.”
Shahîd’s project was originally conceived as a three-volume work, the first treating Rome and the Arabs from Pompey to Constantine, the second Byzantium and the Arabs from Constantine to Heraclius, and the third the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest. The eventual seven volumes cover the first two parts, with the final part, on the seventh century, left incomplete at Shahîd’s death in 2016. Sidney Griffith hailed the work as “a major step forward in our knowledge of the history and culture of the world in which Islam was born.”