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Seminar: Christian-Muslim Relations in Umayyad Damascus, 661-743: the relationship of the caliphs and the Melkite Mansur family

Samuel Nwokoro
Ph.D Candidate, University of Edinburgh

Abstract

As Byzantine troops lost Syria to the Arab fighters during the seventh century, it was clear that what was once a stronghold of imperial Byzantium was to experience yet another new political overlord. However, the retention of the Bureaucrat services of the Melkite family of Mansur presents an anomaly. It should have been unlikely that the Mansur elites were retained as administrators considering that they were linked to the chief enemy of the emerging Arab-state, the Byzantines, in religion and politics, unlike other Christian groups and religious traditions. So, why did the Umayyads retain the administrative services of the Damascene family of Mansur up to the third generation during an era of anti-Byzantine takeover of the city of Damascus? This paper discusses the relationship between the Umayyad caliph and the local Melkite (Chalcedonian) elites in Damascus by examining the sources that discuss the dynamics of governance in post-conquest Damascus. The paper highlights how the stake of local functionaries in the governance of a non-Muslim populated city such as Damascus, when linked with the needs of the local elites, explains this unlikely alliance as arising from mutual necessity. This administrative alliance is equally examined in light of later state enforcement of public codes of behaviour, especially regarding conversion. The case is made that the choice by the Umayyads to rule in alliance with local Christian elites was an indication of concern for, among other things, the city’s majority Christian population. This implies that the ordinary people, rather than inactive subjects as can often be portrayed, are seen as involved in the shaping of the history of early Islam. In the interest of further study, it is proposed that the period of political alliance between the Melkite Mansur-kins and their Umayyad lords constitutes a backdrop to be reckoned with in the later development of an Arab Melkite Christian theology, especially its interfaith aspect.