The Politics of Production, Glass Provenance and Social Context on the Early Islamic Silk Roads


  • Julian Henderson University of Nottingham



glass, ceramics, Silk Roads, politics, provenance, social context


Islamic material culture is often either discussed in terms of its typology or its technological characteristics, as defined by scientific analysis, sometimes leading to its provenance. Here these aspects will be discussed in terms of their contrasting social, political and ritual contexts along the Eurasian Silk Roads. The concept of the terrestrial and maritime “Silk Roads” as routes of interaction is considered in terms of its definitions and indeed whether it is a useful term to use. The political context in which production occurred is considered, especially during the Abbasid caliphate, when the political centre shifted from Damascus to Baghdad. This shift in the centre of power is discussed in terms of the way it affected the growth and mass production of ceramics and glass during the golden age of Islam. The use of scientific analysis to investigate glass feeds into this discussion by providing evidence for increasingly more precise provenances and for trade, recycling and for production of different decorative vessel types in specific cosmopolitan hubs and therefore specialization. Moreover, evidence for a decentralized production model for glass and ceramics is discussed. Although the emphasis here is on glass in western Asia, the paper considers Islamic ceramics and glass in eastern Asia, especially during the Tang Dynasty. The social provenance of “exotic” material culture is tied to trade, exchange and gift giving and, in turn, to the acculturation of foreign populations in China, including Arabs and Sogdians. All these activities and factors, and the use of scientific analysis feed into the social, ritual, and economic values of material culture that occurs along the Silk Roads.

Author Biography

Julian Henderson, University of Nottingham

Julian Henderson is Professor of archaeological science at the University of Nottingham and is visiting Professor at Northwest University, Xi’an. He was Li Dak Sum Chair Professor in Silk Road Studies at University of Nottingham, Ningbo and held a visiting Professorship in the University of Melbourne. He directed the Raqqa, Syria ancient industry project funded primarily by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, and in addition by the Max Von Berchem Foundation and the Barakat Fund, Oxford University.


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How to Cite

Henderson, J. . (2022). The Politics of Production, Glass Provenance and Social Context on the Early Islamic Silk Roads. Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 8(2), 203–237.