An urban protest in medieval Damascus - or how to fight taxes with the prophet's sandal – University of Copenhagen

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Cross-Cultural & Regional Studies > ToRS Calendar > An urban protest in me...

An urban protest in medieval Damascus - or how to fight taxes with the prophet's sandal

Public lecture by Postdoc Rasmus Bech Olsen with introduction and comments by Irmeli Perho (both are from the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, KU).

Image courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA / The David Collection, Copenhagen / Wikimedia Commons


On a Monday morning in 1311 AD, a group of disgruntled Damascene civilians took to the streets. Wielding sacred objects and banners, they marched in protest against a new set of tax policies imposed by the Mamluk sultan of Egypt and Syria. The march ended in a short violent confrontation with the local governor, while the tax was eventually abolished 3 weeks later. 

Even though it lasted no more than a day, the 1311 protest gives us a rare and fascinating opportunity to explore how medieval Syrians expressed their grievances against the state through complex practices of symbolic communication. Focusing on the appropriation of sacred objects and the struggle over urban space, I examine how the behavior of the 1311 protesters relates to wider aspects of medieval Islamic political culture. Furthermore, I will analyze how contemporary chroniclers used this event and other similar confrontations with the state in order to construct a distinct Damascene identity through historical narratives.

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The lecture will be followed by small a reception.