and to their place in tenth-century Arab culture. Later geographical works, such as those of Yaqut, Abu'l-Makarim, al-'Umari and al-Maqrizi, copied their descriptions of monasteries. Sometimes they would add that such and such a foundation was now a ruin, but this was never done systematically. The lack of proper archaeological data has meant that our present state of knowledge more or less precludes the establishment of a satisfactory list of monasteries existing in the period from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, let alone pronouncing on their fate.
However, there is little dispute over the general lines of development. This period saw the disappearance of a large number of monasteries, as a result of the combined effect of two factors: on the one hand, the contraction of the churches meant not only fewer monks but also fewer gifts with which to maintain the monastery fabric; on the other, it was a time of devastation in those regions suffering war, invasions and the extortions of the Bedouin. The history of individual monasteries is often a litany of destruction and pillage, all the more damaging because without sufficient resources the Christian communities struggled to reconstruct buildings and to restore economic life. There were of course regional variations, with monastic life surviving better in some areas than in others. A good example is Middle Egypt, about which we are well informed thanks to the remarkable studies of Pere Martin. Ancient monasteries survived better on the right bank of the River Nile than on the left bank. Fourteen out of the sixteen ancient sites on the right bank have been identified. Of these, six are still active religious centres. On the left bank twenty-two of the thirty sites attested by papyri have completely disappeared. Only three have survived as village churches. The difference can be explained by the fact that the left bankboasts rich agricultural land, where the population is largely - totally in the case of the capital Ashmunayn - islamised, whereas the precipitous right bank has few inhabitants and, to repeat the author's conclusion, 'served as a refuge for the minority against the pressures of the Muslim majority'.68
Generally speaking, monasteries sited in cities, or close by, seem to have disappeared more quickly and in greater numbers. So it was at Baghdad, where in the Seljuq period the sources mention five churches still functioning, but no monasteries. Under the Umayyads there were five monasteries situated in Damascus and its environs, but these had disappeared by the twelfth century. Another example is the famous 'Upper Monastery' (Dayr al-a'la) at Mosul,
68 M. Martin, 'La province d'Asmünayn: historique de sa configuration religieuse', Annales Islamologiques 23 (1987), 1-28.
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