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Classical Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean

22nd January 2009

Jointly with the Society for Arabian Studies and the Council for British Research in the Levant

Dionisius Agius, University of Exeter

Lecture abstract

This lecture charts the development of Islamic ships and boats in the Western Indian Ocean from the seventh to the early sixteenth century with reference to earlier periods. The study utilizes mainly Classical and Medieval Arabic literary sources with iconographical evidence and archaeological finds. The interdependence of various trading activities in the region resulted in a cross fertilization, not only of goods but also of ideas and culture which gave an underlying cohesion to the Arabian, Persian and Indian maritime peoples. This study has led to a re-evaluation of that maritime culture, showing that it was predominantly Persian and Indian, with Chinese influence, throughout the Islamic period until the coming of the Portuguese, as reflected in nautical terminology and technology.

Professor Dionisius A. Agius currently holds the Chair in Arabic and Islamic Material Culture at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. His trilogy, In the Wake of the Dhow (2002), Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman People of the Dhow (2005) and Classic Ships of Islam: From Mesopotamia to the Indian Ocean (2008), details the development of the ship and the interaction of people with these watercraft, trade and pilgrimage in the Western Indian Ocean and across its frontiers from the Bronze Age to the last days of sail.

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