In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Umayyad History

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Reference Works
  • Narrative Sources in English Translation
  • Sources and Historiography
  • Umayyad Caliphs and the Umayyad Dynasty
  • Political Thought, the Articulation of Legitimacy, and the Caliphate
  • Ceremonial, Ritual, Court Culture, and Legitimation
  • The Umayyad-Era Qurʾan
  • Umayyad Numismatics
  • Conflict and Unrest
  • Ethnic and Religious Communities and Identities
  • Taxation and Administration
  • Military History
  • Provincial and Regional Histories and Archaeological Studies
  • Settlement Patterns, Land Ownership, and Urbanism
  • Umayyad Monumental Architecture: The Palace and the Mosque
  • Historical Geography, Environmental History, and Historical Epidemiology

Medieval Studies Umayyad History
Andrew Marsham
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0333


Between 644 and 750 CE, the Umayyad branch of the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh presided over the expansion of the first Islamic empire. Control over the former lands of Rome and Iran in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent was consolidated, while new conquests were made in North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, Iran, and Central and South Asia. The first Umayyad leader (and third leader after the Prophet), ʿUthman, ruled from Medina, in West Arabia, as his predecessors had done. ʿUthman’s killing in 656 triggered widespread conflict within the new elite, from which his second cousin, Muʿawiya, emerged victorious. Muʿawiya ruled from Syria, where he had close ties with the tribes of the Syrian Desert. After Muʿawiya’s death in 680, there was a second episode of widespread violence. It ended in c. 692, when a third branch of the Umayyad clan—ʿUthman’s first cousin, Marwan, and his descendants—took power, retaining Syria as their capital but seeking greater control over other territories. Under the Marwanid caliph ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 685–705) and his successors, the empire’s resources supported the public articulation of a distinctive claim to rule in the name of Islam, manifested in monuments such as the Dome of the Rock and on coins bearing only Arabic text in place of images. In 750, tensions in Iraq and in the frontier armies, and conflict within the Marwanid family and their army, brought about the end of Umayyad rule everywhere except al-Andalus. (This medieval Umayyad “successor state,” in what is now Spain and Portugal, is not addressed in this bibliography.) The Umayyads were supplanted as imperial monarchs by their Abbasid cousins, who ruled the empire from Iraq. Since the revisionist scholarship of the 1970s and 1980s, source-critical, literary-critical, and prosopographical approaches have been taken to the (mostly 9th- and 10th-century) literary sources for the Umayyad era. Meanwhile, archaeology and numismatic, epigraphic, and other documentary sources have been crucial to understanding not only the empire’s administration but also social and economic history. Earliest Islam and Islamic history have also been recontextualized within the frameworks of Late Antiquity and world history. Despite the problematic evidence, the era of the Marwanid Umayyads stands out as the period when a recognizably “Islamic” identity becomes visible across the various material evidence and as the earliest period to which some of the earliest textual elements of the later Arabic-Islamic tradition can be traced.

General Overviews

The foundational modern study of the Umayyad period is Wellhausen 1927, which is the English translation of the author’s 1902 publication in German. Lammens 1930 is another influential work on the Umayyad period by an early-20th-century European Orientalist. In the 1980s two proponents of skeptical approaches to the Arabic tradition produced books that advanced on Wellhausen in different ways. Crone 1980 situates Umayyad history in the sweep of Islamic history from the time of Muhammad through to Abbasid times, making use of both comparative history and prosopographical approaches to the sources. Hawting 2000 (first published 1986) is a concise survey of Umayyad political history, grounded in the scholarship of the 1970s and early 1980s. Since the 1980s, the number of scholars working on the Umayyad period has increased, as have the diversity of approaches and the range of source materials available. These changes are reflected in Hoyland 2014 and Marsham 2024, which are notable for their use of archaeology, numismatics, papyrology, inscriptions, and art and architecture, alongside the literary sources in Arabic and other languages.

  • Crone, Patricia. Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511563508

    A provocative and influential analysis of Islamic history down to the ninth century which uses comparative history and prosopography to advance its argument. The large prosopographical appendix remains a useful reference work.

  • Hawting, Gerald. The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661–750. London: Routledge, 2000.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203137000

    The classic modern textbook account of Umayyad history in English. The first edition was first published in 1986.

  • Hoyland, Robert G. In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    History of the Arab conquests and the history of the Caliphate down to the end of the Umayyad period which synthesizes scholarship on texts and material culture.

  • Lammens, Henri. Études sur le siècle des Omayyades. Beirut, Lebanon: Imprimerie Catholique, 1930.

    Foundational studies of people and places, including the poet al-Akhtal (d. c. 710). An open access facsimile is available via the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

  • Marsham, Andrew. The Umayyad Empire. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2024.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781399527392

    Overview history of the Umayyad Empire, which traces its formation to the interaction between long-term and short-term processes of change in the Late Antique Middle East and its collapse to patrimonial and frontier politics. The survey includes thematic chapters on the economy and society, religious communities, and administration and government.

  • Wellhausen, Julius. The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall. Translated by Margaret Graham Weir. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1927. (Open Access facsimile)

    The classic study of the Umayyads by a German biblical scholar and orientalist. The German Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz was first published in 1902 and this English translation in 1927; the translation has since been reprinted by various publishers, including Routledge in 2000.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.