Empires and Communities in the Post-Roman and Islamic World

This project deals with the relationship between empires or other supra-regional states and smaller communities – for instance, ethnic groups, religious communities, local or peripheral populations. It raises the question how these different types of community were integrated into the larger edifice of empire, and in which contexts the dialectic between empires and particular communities could cause disruption in one or both of them.

How did religious discourses or practices reinforce (or subvert) imperial pretences?

How were constructions of identity affected in the process? 

The time frame is roughly the fifth to tenth centuries CE, a period with a particular dynamic of empires in Europe and the Mediterranean: while successive parts of the Roman empire eroded, its Byzantine core areas (“the empire that would not die”, as John Haldon put it) showed a surprising resilience; Islamic expansion led to a succession of caliphates; and the Franks attempted to recreate a Western Roman Empire, with only limited success. The period is thus exceptionally well suited to study the various expansive and erosive dynamics of empires, and their interaction with somehow smaller communities.

  • How were Egyptians integrated under Islamic rule, Yemenis accommodated in an Arab identity, Aquitanians integrated in the Carolingian empireJews in the Fatimid Caliphate?
  • Why did the dissolution of Western Rome lead to the emergence of ethnically-denominated kingdoms, while the break-up of the Abbasid Caliphate produced mostly short-lived dynastic realms?
  • How did the Byzantines preserve their empire in the 7th century, and how did the Franks go about constructing theirs in the 9th?
  • How did processions in early medieval Rome and Constantinople promote social integration in both a local and a broader framework? 

These questions can productively be addressed from a comparative angle. This is the task of a high-level international research group in the context of the SFB Visions of Community in several meetings between 2013 and 2017, with a resulting collaborative publication.  

Project Leader:


  • Rutger Kramer


  • Empires and Communities in the Post-Roman and Early Islamic World (forthcoming)

The SFB is affiliated with the University of Vienna and with the Austrian Academy of Sciences

For more information please visit the project homepage.