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Epigraphy And The Emergence Of Arab Identity

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Chapter Summary

This article looks at the contribution that epigraphy can make to understand the phenomenon of Arab identity, in particular, whether the Arabs constituted people before Islam, and if so, in what respect, questions that evoke very different responses from modern scholars. In the third-fourth century, changes were definitely afoot among the peoples of Arabia and the Syrian steppe, as the epigraphic record clearly indicates: the emergence of larger and more coherent tribal groupings, of tribal chiefs with greater access to power and resources, of a dominant dialect (within the Ancient North Arabian language group) that gained its own script, of a common literature and history, and the onset of greater interaction with the Roman world. It seems to be agreed that the third fourth century marks both an end and a new beginning in the history of the Roman Empire's dealings with all the people on its borders.

Keywords: Arab identity; epigraphic record; Roman Empire; Syrian steppe; tribal chiefs



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