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Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition

March 14–July 8, 2012

Byzantium's Southern Provinces

As the seventh century began, much of the wealth of the Byzantine Empire came from its southern provinces, which extended from Syria to Egypt and across North Africa. Affluent cities dotted the trade routes that moved the silks and spices of the east as well as local products throughout the region and beyond. Local officials were appointed from the imperial capital, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). The state religion of the region was Orthodox Christianity, as defined by the patriarch in Constantinople. Although proscribed, other forms of Christianity as well as Judaism flourished. As heir to the Greco-Roman tradition, the empire promoted classical academic training, including scientific learning. In the arts, well-established motifs, especially themes associated with Dionysos, the god of wine, were joined by subjects related to Christianity and Judaism. Although the Sasanian Empire occupied much of Syria and Egypt from 614 to 629, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius would celebrate regaining those territories by returning the True Cross to Jerusalem in 630. Late in his life, adversaries from the Arabian Peninsula advanced into the region, taking the Byzantine provinces and ultimately establishing Damascus as the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty, which lasted until 750.