Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition

March 14–July 8, 2012

Palaces and Princely Life

With the arrival of the Umayyads in Byzantium's southern provinces, the artistic traditions of the region began to be transformed by their taste. The transformation, which extended over centuries, included both the survival of existing concepts and the creation of new ones. The first generation of Umayyad rulers built palaces along the border between the cultivated lands and the desert. Originally located on intensely irrigated and richly green sites, these palaces survive now largely as desert locations. The elaborate walls enclosing most of the sites suggest fortresses, though they were rarely built to be effective defensive structures. The complexes usually included audience halls, mosques, residential areas, and baths similar to those of Byzantine and earlier era. The audience halls and the baths were often decorated with images of courtly pleasure in the tradition of the region's elite. Textiles called tiraz, inscribed with the name of the ruler and the workshop where they were made, were presented as gifts of honor. As Umayyad rule from its capital, Damascus, was replaced by that of the Abbasids from Baghdad, decorative motifs increasingly reflected the taste of the Sasanian Empire, which, unlike the Byzantine state, had fallen in its entirety to Arab expansion.