Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
NEIGHBOURS (8TH-15TH CENTURIES)
The expansion created two forms of neighbourship between the Latin-Christian and the Arabic-Islamic sphere—on the one hand by subjecting several dominantly Christian societies to Muslim rule, on the other hand by creating direct relations between societies ruled respectively by Latin-Christian and Arabic-Islamic elites.
Under Muslim Rule
Aside from interacting with various non-Muslim populations, the expanding Muslims came across all kinds of material remains from the pre-Islamic past, not only in the Middle East, but also in the Latin West. Arabic-Islamic historiography and geography contains anecdotes about early Muslim elites investigating the origins of architectural artefactsm and features numerous passages on pre-Islamic architecture.^6 Some Muslims seem to have regarded such material remains as sources of historical information, long before Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) proposed that monuments merit historical study as expressions of dynastic power.^7
More important, the successful integration of new groups and peoples into the folds of Arabic-Islamic civilization facilitated the flow of information from the old to the new. Jews and Christians cooperated with the conquering Muslims and converted to Islam in rising numbers. They became an integral part of Arabic-Islamic societies, functioning as repositories of information about the past and present of Western Europe.
During the translation movement from Greek and Syriac to Arabic in early Abbasid society of the eighth to tenth centuries, Middle-Eastern Christian communities of various denominations provided Arabic-Islamic elites with access to information hitherto unattainable.^8 Scholarship has maintained that the translation of works of history and belles lettres played a rather insignificant role as opposed to works of science, philosophy^9 and, highly relevant in this context, geography.130 We must consider, however, that the Christian communities of Egypt, Greater Syria, and Mesopotamia had come into being in a Roman Empire reaching from the British Isles to the frontiers of Persia. They preserved a memory of imperial unity and the process of Christianization^! and occasionally kept a record of relations with the Latin West from the pre-Islamic into the Islamic period, e.g. with the bishop of Rome.132 Several Arabic-Islamic authors from the
John XVIII (sed. 1003-09).
Heirs to a flourishing Latin intellectual culture, Christian communities in the emerging Muslim West were destined to play an even more important role in the transmission of information about Western Europe. This applies in particular to the Christians of al-Andalus, who converted to Islam in large numbers in the centuries following the invasion.134 In comparison, the Christian communities under Muslim rule in North Africa, southwestern France, and the region framed by the Rhone valley and the Alps, on the Italian mainland and Mediterranean islands such as Sicily, played a minor role. At the eve of the Muslim conquest, North Africa had long ceased to be an epicentre of Latin-Christian intellectual culture. The Vandal invasion in the fifth century, the Byzantine ‘reconquest’ in the sixth, and several Muslim attacks in the seventh century had weakened the region’s cultural fabric.135 In the century and a half preceding the establishment of a shortlived Muslim polity in Bari and other ‘Saracen’ raider bases in southern Italy of the ninth century,i36 strife involving the pope, the Byzantines, the Langobards, and the Carolingians divided the Italian mainland.^7 Byzantine Sicily suffered Muslim raids for more than one and a half centuries before the full-scale invasion began around 8 27.138 In contrast, the Iberian Peninsula under Visigothic rule had witnessed a rather long period of peace, stability, and intensive cultural productivity before the Muslim conquest, in spite of internal problems that contributed to the kingdom’s downfall in 711.13®
The duration and quality of the Muslim presence affected the possibilities for intellectual exchange. Only long-term Muslim rule, as established on the Iberian Peninsula and to a lesser extent in Sicily, facilitated the development of intensive relations with the subject population as well as the emergence of a Muslim intellectual elite interested in the region’s cultural heritage. The Muslim presence in southwestern France, lost a few decades after its conquest in the 720s, 140 or in the emirate of Bari, not to survive twenty-five years, 141 was too short for the conquerors’ culture to take root. Even if they existed for almost a century such as the raider base of Fraxinetum,142 temporary outposts never became centres of profound cultural interaction. Based on a raiding economy, their main raison d’etre was the acquisition of booty, not the development of an infrastructure capable of supporting intellectual activity. In comparison with other western regions, al-Andalus provided by far the best conditions for intellectual exchange between Muslim elites and a local Christian subject population.
Contemporary Latin and later Arabic-Islamic sources on the Muslim invasion and settlement of the Iberian Peninsula show that acts of collaboration on the part of Christians!43 and Jews144 from various social strata stood at the beginning of transmission.!^ Coins with bilingual Arabic and Latin inscriptions produced in the second decade of the eighth century suggest that the staff of local mints rapidly began to cater to the needs of the new ruling elite.i4fi Collaboration also played a role during the Muslim incursions into the Frankish realm in the 720s and 730s, involving the ambivalent figure of Eudo, dux of Aquitaine,^7 as well as the local elites of Avignon.i4® Although we may be dealing with topoi in the sources,^9 it seems plausible that collaboration actually took place and provided the Muslims with strategically relevant information and a preliminary insight into the workings of the other society.
By applying administrative measures, the Muslim elites soon created durable links with the subject population. Peace treaties included stipulations that required a previous assessment of the local community’s socio-economic potential.^0 The early governors established a judicial system and systematically assessed the fiscal capacities of their Christian subjects.ш Under Abd al-Rahman I (ruled 138-72/756-88) the task of extracting fiscal revenues was handed over to a Christian representative holding the title ‘qumis’ (Lat. comes).^2 All this provided Muslim elites with practical information about the subject population.
Relations between conquerors and conquered soon became more intimate. The earliest cases of intermarriage are attested between local and Muslim elites,^3 but were soon contracted on other social levels as well.^4 Occasionally, they seem to have entailed the collision of cultural traditions and discussions about values,^ dissent about the religious education of the next generation,^6 but also compromises.^7 Thus, intermarriage produced bilingual and bicultural generations whose potential to contribute to thorough intellectual exchange is evident.
!50 On the so-called pact of Tudmir, mentioned in Continuatio Hispana, ed. Mommsen (MGH AA 11), § 74—75, p. 354; akhbar majmu'a, ed./trans. Lafuente y Alcantara, pp. 12—13 (AR), p. 26 (ES), and later sources, see Wolf, Conquerors (1990), p. 151 n. 180; Molina, ‘Tudmir’ (2000), pp. 584—5. Other treaties of submission contain harsher stipulations, see akhbar majmu'a, ed./trans. Lafuente y Alcantara, p. 18 (AR), p. 30 (ES). According to ibid., pp. 23^ (AR), p. 35 (ES), the governor al-Samh (ruled 100—02/719—21) distinguished between territory acquired by force or by capitulation. In view of the limited number of Muslim forces, the circumstances of submission must have varied, cf. Man- zano Moreno, Conquistadores (2006), pp. 46, 48.
!5! Continuatio Hispana, ed. Mommsen (MGH AA 11), § 80—81, 86, 90, 109, pp. 356, 358—9, 362. According to the chronicle akhbar majmu'a, ed./trans. Lafuente y Alcantara, p. 23 (AR), p. 34 (ES), the Umayyad caliph ' Umar b. 'Abd al- 'Aziz (ruled 99—101/717—20) ordered the Andalusian governor al-Samh (100—02/719—21) to prepare a topographic description of the Iberian Peninsula. See the orders concerning the exercise of judicial authority in Cordoba given by the Andalusian governor ' Uqba b. al-Hajjaj al-Saluli (116—23/734—41) to Mahdi b. Muslim as related by al-Khushani (d. c.371/981), kitab al-qudah, ed./trans. Ribera, pp. 18—24 (AR), pp. 23—30 (ES).
!52 Chalmeta, ‘Kumis’ (1986), p. 376.
!53 Muslim governor 'Abd al-'Aziz and the daughter/wife of the Visigothic king Roderic: Continuatio Hispana, ed. Mommsen (MGH AA 11), § 80, p. 356; Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, futuhMisr, ed. Torrey, pp. 211—13; akhbar majmu a, ed./trans. Lafuente y Alcantara, p. 20 (AR), p. 31 (ES). The Berber Munnuz and the daughter of the Frankish dux Eudo: Continuatio Hispana, ed. Mommsen (MGH AA 11), § 102, p. 361; cf. Gesta episcoporum Autissiodorensium, ed. Waitz (MGH SS in folio 13), p. 394. Sara, grandchild of the penultimate Visigothic king, and the Umayyad client Isa b. Muzahim: Ibn al-Qutiyya, tarikh, ed. al-Ibyari, pp. 29—32, trans. James, pp. 49—51; Konig, ‘Ruckbindung’ (2011), pp. 127-37.
!54 Codex Carolinus (ep. 95: Hadrianus papa ad episcopos Hispaniae), ed. Gundlach (MGH Epp. 3, Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini Aevi I), p. 643 (written between 785 and 791); Concilium Cordubense (836), ed. Gil (CSM 1), § 7, p. 140; Manzano Moreno, Conquistadores (2006), p. 48.
!55 Continuatio Hispana, ed. Mommsen (MGH AA 11), § 79, p. 356; Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, futuh Misr, ed. Torrey, pp. 211—13; akhbar majmu a, ed./trans. Lafuente y Alcantara, p. 20 (AR), pp. 31—2 (ES). Cf. Manzano Moreno, Conquistadores (2006), pp. 47—8; Chalmeta, Invasion (2003), pp. 246—67.
!56 See Eulogius, Memoriale sanctorum, ed. Gil (CSM 2), lib. 2, cap. VIII,3, p. 409; lib. 2, cap. X,1, p. 416, and Albarus, Vita Eubgi, ed. Gil (CSM 1), § 13,1, p. 337, on Christian relatives undermining the Muslim religious education of Muslim-Christian progeny.
!57 Criticism of couples finding such compromises in tenth-century Sicily by Ibn Hawqal, surat al-ard, ed. Kramers, p. 129.
The merging of distinct cultural heritages did not automatically result in successful transmission. The phenomenon of the so-called ‘martyrs of Cordoba’, a group of Christians sentenced to death in the middle of the ninth century on the grounds of apostasy from Islam or of blasphemy against its prophet, shows that the intermingling of immigrated Muslim elites and the indigenous Christian population could produce considerable tensions. In many cases, the future ‘martyrs’ were young people who had grown up bilingually as the children of bi-religious or crypto-Christian couples and had then opted for Christianity in a Muslim- dominated society that regarded their decision as apostasy from Islam.^ In ninth-century Cordoba, both Christians and Muslims pressured this mixed generation to take a public stand on their religious allegiance.^9 This strain proved too hard for many, with the result that these young people often voluntarily sought execution by confronting the Muslim authorities with their true religious convictions or their criticism of Islam.        Apparently, bilingual and bicultural generations were not able to function as cultural transmitters if questions of religious identity were at stake.m
This was not the rule. Two Hispano-Latin chronicles prove that local Christians made great efforts to acquire systematic knowledge about the peninsula’s new masters soon after the invasion.162 In the following two centuries, Christians increasingly acquired Arabic skills. Various documents testify to their high linguistic level as well as to their potential capacity for acting as transmitters of knowledge about the Latin-Christian world.^3
Christians who adapted to dominant Arabic-Islamic culture could also suffer a loss of Latin-Christian heritage and a diminution of ties with the surrounding Latin-Christian world.Lamentations on failing Latin skills^ as well as the Arabization of Christian liturgy indicate that the Latin-Christian tradition of the
Visigothic era slowly receded into the background.166 A family’s conversion and assimilation could entail an almost complete loss of Latin-Christian heritage. In the case of Ibn al-Qudyya (d. 367/977), for example, the latter’s claim to Visigothic ancestry stands in stark contrast to his limited knowledge about the Visigothic period as recorded in his chronicle. According to the latter, Ibn al-Qudyya’s ancestor Sara had initiated the religious and cultural integration of her descendants into the folds of Muslim society six generations earlier. It does not seem surprising that this renowned Arabic-Islamic jurist, poet, lexicographer, and grammarian had lost touch with his family’s Latin-Christian past.167
Successful transmission not only depended on people capable of and willing to transmit information but also required an interested public at the receiving end. Inner-Christian affairs, e.g. theological sophistries and infighting, were of little relevance to a Muslim public, provided that they did not impinge on Christian- Muslim relations or deemed necessary in order to refute Christianity. The reception of the kitab Hurushiyush, a restructured Arabic version of Orosius’ (d. 417) world history, enlarged with excerpts taken from the cosmography of Julius Hono- rius as well as various works by Isidore of Seville and his continuatorsTh8 proves that Arabic-Islamic intellectuals were interested in acquiring an understanding of Roman and Iberian history. Produced between the late ninth and the tenth century,i69 the work was regarded as an ‘outstanding historical account’ (tarikh cajib) of ‘great merits’ (fawa’id cazima) by the Andalusian scholar Ibn Juljul (d. after 284/994)17° and used by several Arabic-Islamic scholars from this period onwards.i7i
Aside from the fact that Arabic-Islamic scholars probably preferred certain fields of knowledge to others, larger factors also played a role in shaping scholarly interest in the subject society’s history and culture. Early Andalusian scholars such as Ibn Habib (d. 238/853) seem to have considered it more important to maintain scholarly links with Islam’s cultural epicentres in the Middle East than to delve into the pre-Islamic history of their region of origin.m Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Razi (d. 344/955) is the first Muslim Andalusian historiographer credited with having 
displayed interest in the peninsula’s pre-Islamic history. He stands at the beginning of a specifically Andalusian tradition of Muslim scholarship in which the Iberian Peninsula features as the sole subject of historical and geographical writing.        Considering that the tenth century constituted a turning point as regards the Andalusian Muslims’ interest in the Iberian Peninsula’s pre-Islamic heritage, it is not surprising that Middle Eastern scholars of the ninth and early tenth centuries, e.g. Ibn Abd al-H akam, al-Baladhurl, al-Ya'qubl, Ibn Khurdadhbah, and al-Tabari, were not able to provide much material on the subject.m Around twenty years after al-Tabari’s death (d. 310/923), the Middle Eastern scholar al-Mas'udl (d. 345/956) pointed to the fact that ‘the people of al-Andalus’ (ahl al-Andalus) had their own theories on the peninsula’s history that differed from traditional Middle Eastern interpretations. 175 More than two centuries later, Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/1233) drew on a substantial corpus of Andalusian literature and explained that scholars from al-Andalus were obviously ‘better informed about their homeland’ than their Middle Eastern peers.176 This was certainly true: Arabic-Islamic works on Andalusian history produced between the eleventh and the seventeenth century testify to the rise and, after 1492, the fall of an Andalusian-Muslim regional identity.177
Thus, successful transmission does not represent the ‘natural’ by-product of the merging of a conquering elite’s cultural heritage with that of the subject population. Comparison with similar processes of transmission, in particular the assimilation of Greek science in the Abbasid Middle EasTh8 as well as the later transfer of Arabic science to the Latin WestTh9 suggests that a large number of factors determine in which period, area, and social milieu fruitful exchange can take place. In al-Andalus, processes of transmission and reception, to be distinguished from the later diffusion of acquired data, were particularly intensive between the late ninth and the late tenth century.^0 Continuous interaction since the invasion in 711 forged the preconditions for successful cultural exchange. The Christians of al-Andalus established relations with various strata of Muslim society, slowly but surely mastered the language of the conquerors and thus gained access to dominant Arabic-Islamic culture. Muslim scholars from al-Andalus, in turn, increasingly detached themselves from Oriental role models and developed forms of local and regional scholarship. Their works testify to the rise of a regional identity that entailed curiosity for the peninsula’s pre-Islamic history. In the ninth and tenth centuries, Iberian Christians who cultivated their past under Muslim rule were still numerous. The forces of conversion and assimilation had not yet tipped the scales in favour of the dominant elites’ culture      while the so-called Reconquista had not yet gained enough momentum to reshuffle the conditions for the flow of information.
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