The fabric of society: The organization of textile manufacturing in the Middle East and Europe, c. 700 – c. 1500
Universiteit Utrecht, Igitur Archive, Version 17, Feb (2011)
There can be little doubt that in the early Middle Ages the economies of the Middle East performed much better than those of Western Europe. Their success can only partially be attributed to the inheritance of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires that dominated the region before the Arab conquests. Although much quantitative work remains to be done, a marked increase of urbanization and monetarization makes it clear that considerable progress was made during the early Islamic period. By the end of the Middle Ages, however, the tables had turned. The Middle East had failed to sustain its dynamic development, while the economies of Western Europe had embarked on a course of rapid expansion.
The slow-down of progress in the Islamic world was not a uniform process; there were marked regional differences in pace and timing. The economy of Iraq showed clear signs of stagnation or even contraction from the early tenth century CE onward; diminishing tax returns moreover suggest that decline may have begun much earlier than that. At that stage other parts of the Middle East, for instance Egypt, still prospered. Nevertheless, the general trend is clear: at the end of the Middle Ages the Islamic world was overtaken by the West.