This chapter deals primarily with two kinds of stories about bandits (in Arabic, anyone of whom it is said kāna yaqṭa‘u al-ṭarīq). In stories of the first kind, bandits explain why they rob travellers. In stories of the second kind, biographers claim that various ʿAbbāsid figures spent some of their lives as highwaymen. I will argue that the two kinds of reports may productively be read together. Admittedly, this material is too limited in quantity and too self-consciously literary to permit a reliable characterisation of rural unrest during the early ʿAbbāsid period. Even so, a close reading of these reports will allow us to offer some tentative proposals about how banditry was imagined and, more generally, how the various genres of Classical Arabic narrative responded to the legal, ethical and moral questions raised by highway robbery.
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