Agriculture Flourishes

Outside the cities, agriculture flourished across a wide variety of climates and landforms. Both Umayyad and Abbasid rulers took steps to preserve and extend agricultural land. Small farming communities in desert areas faced a constant scarcity of water. To improve farm output, the Abbasids organized massive irrigation projects and drained swamplands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In addition to other crops raised for food, farmers cultivated sugar cane, cotton, medicinal herbs, and flowers that were sold in far-off markets. Farmers began to grow crops that came from different regions.

The deserts continued to support nomads who lived by herding. Still, nomads and farmers shared economic ties. Nomads bought dates and grain from settled peoples, while farming populations acquired meat, wool, and hides from the nomads. Pastoral groups also provided pack animals and guides for the caravan trade.

Carpet with woven red, cream, and black threads in a border around a central diamond pattern.

Persians were famous for their Kilim carpets.

Social Structure and Slavery

Muslim society in the 700s and 800s was more open than that of medieval Christian Europe. Muslims enjoyed a certain degree of social mobility, or the ability to move up in social class. People could improve their social rank through religious, scholarly, or military achievements.

As in many earlier societies, slavery was a common institution in Muslim lands, though Islamic law encouraged the freeing of slaves as an act of charity. Slaves were often from conquered lands because Muslims were not supposed to enslave other Muslims.

Some slaves bought their freedom, often with the help of charitable donations or even state funds. However, if non-Muslim slaves converted to Islam, they did not automatically become free. A female slave who bore a child by her Muslim owner gained freedom upon her master's death. Children born of a slave mother and free father were also considered freeborn.

Most slaves worked as household servants, while some were skilled artisans. To help break down the tribal system, Abbasid caliphs also created a class of Turkish slave-soldiers who were loyal only to the caliph. Often educated in Islamic law and government, some of these men rose to high positions in the government, such as vizier. This set the stage for the Turks to become powerful later in the Abbasid era.

Illustration of people in turbans and robes, seated on a carpet in front of a large tent, with others walking in the sand.

While cities and farming grew, nomads continued their way of life in deserts.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments