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The Demographic Transformation in Palestine in the Post-Crusading Period (1187-1516 C.E.)

Prof. Reuven Amitai & Prof. Ronnie Ellenblum


In the aftermath of the Muslim reconquest of Palestine and nearby countries in the Levant (a process that essentially began in 1187 and was completed in 1291), we can discern several social and demographic among the local populations. Perhaps the most important of these processes was Islamization that had its beginnings in the early Islamic period (ca. 640-1099 C.E.), but had halted and apparently even been reversed during the time of Frankish rule. With the advent of Ayyubid rule (1187-1260) in parts of Palestine and then the Mamluk rule, it appears that the process of religious conversion was accelerated. With the beginning of the Ottoman period in 1516, it is commonly assumed, and may well be that the Muslim majority in the country was more-or-less like that of the mid-19th century, i.e. before the great changes wrought by Jewish and other immigration into the country.
Our research looks closely at the Mamluk sources written in Arabic, as well as non-Arabic sources (Syriac, Armenian, Latin and Old French) to search for evidence of conversion of individuals and groups. No less important, we seek information on immigration and emigration into and out of the Palestine, which seems to play a major role in the religious transformation of the country. Other social processes (e.g., different birth rates in various communities) may have played a role too, but it may well be impossible to discern these in the sources. While working primarily on the question of conversion, we also keep our eyes open for evidence on other population changes (e.g., increasing or decreasing nomadism, extent of urbanism, general size of population, etc.)

This study also takes into consideration the role of the changing landscape in expressing the ongoing Islamization of the population, at the same time perhaps contributing to this development. This ties in directly with the work of other teams in the project.

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