Marble from Samarra: Its Use, Re-use, and Relationship to the Idea of an ‘Abbasid Style

This paper discusses the architectural decorations made from marble found at the imperial city of Samarra (founded 836) during excavations in the early twentieth century. While the site is famous for its carved stucco revetments, the marble from Samarra rarely appears in scholarly discussions. One reason for its neglect is that much was lost, first in antiquity but also after the site’s initial excavation by Ernst Herzfeld in 1911-14. Another reason is that the array of aesthetic interests represented in the working of this material do not fit neatly into Herzfeld’s influential stylistic typology for Samarra’s ornament. A survey of the way this and other semi-precious materials were used in Samarra’s architecture will add valuable data to our knowledge of the site’s material culture. Moreover, I will argue that it allows us to broaden our understanding of what might constitute an imperial style of architectural ornament in ninth-century Iraq.