Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
CONTEXTUALIZING, ORDERING, AND INTERPRETING DATA
Even if they had successfully acquired information and regarded it as sufficiently interesting and reliable to include it in their works, Arabic-Islamic scholars still faced the problem of placing this information into the right context.
Foreign Words and Concepts
Their general lack of Latin language skills not only made Arabic-Islamic scholars dependent on a few translations and hearsay; it can also be held responsible for various difficulties of understanding and contextualizing foreign words and concepts.
In some cases, scholars were just irritated by different forms of spelling, as has been shown in connection with Ibn Khaldun’s problem of dealing with variant transcriptions of the Latin name Diocletian.259 Al-Qalqashandi was confronted with several variants of spelling the Venetian title ‘doge’ in Arabic, including ‘duqis’, ‘duk’, and ‘duj’Z60 He arrived at the conclusion that the form ‘duk’ had been used until recent times and that it was wrong to spell it with the letter ‘jim’, i.e. ‘duj’.2fil
Lack of knowledge about the rules of Latin onomastics raised further problems that Mayte Penelas has already addressed in her comparison of Orosius’ Historiae adversus paganos with its Arabic version, the kitab Hurushiyush. The translators apparently failed to understand that Roman names were tripartite and consisted of apraenomen, a nomen gentile, and a cognomen. As a result, they created several persons from one single composite name and occasionally even established family relations between these fictitious persons.262 Such errors could lead to chronological chaos and confusion, e.g. about the correct sequence of Roman emperors. Ibn al-Athir, Abu l-Fida, and Ibn Khaldun, for example, wrote passages on Roman history in al-Shihabi b. Fadl Allah fi alqab sahib al-Qustantiniyya wa-fi l-tathqif li-Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh, wa-fi alqab al-Adfunsh sahib Tulaytula min al-Andalus, wa-yahtaj ila tahqiq man yamluk hadhihi al-taifa minhuma fa-yaktub bihi ilayhi’.
which the emperor Augustus is not preceded by one ruler with one name (e.g. Qaysar, Yulyus, Julyus, Yulyus, Bulus) or two names (e.g. Jayus Yulyus, Ghayus Yulyus, Yulyush Qaysar),263 but by two distinct rulers whose existence was inferred from Caesar’s praenomen and nomen gentile. In these versions of imperial history, the emperor ‘Caius’ (Ghalyus, Ghanyus, Aghanyus) was succeeded by the emperor ‘Julius’ (Yulyus).264
Lack of linguistic skills also prevented Arabic-Islamic scholars from understanding concepts and institutions characteristic of the Latin-Christian sphere, i.e. the medieval emperor. In Arabic, the term ‘al-anbaradhur’ or ‘al-anbaramr’, often reproduced in its spoken version ‘al-anbarur’, is distinct from the word ‘qaysar’, the Arabic version of ‘caesar’. Already known from pre-Islamic poetry, the title ‘qaysar’ generally features in connection with Roman and Byzantine emperors,265 but is only rarely applied to medieval European rulers.266 The Arabic equivalent to the Latin ‘imperator’ first appeared in the eleventh century and is then attested mainly in connection with Frederick II and his sons. Scholars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries define the emperor as the ‘ruler of Germany’ (malik al-Lamaniya) or ‘ruler of the Franks’ (malik al-Faranj) and translate the title as ‘king of kings’ (malik al-muluk) and, in one case, as ‘the crowned one’ (al-mutawwaj)267 To medieval Latin Christians, the title ‘emperor’ evoked the prestige of the Roman past and served to legitimize a specific form of medieval rule in central Europe.268 Arabic-Islamic scholars, in turn, seem to have regarded the term as a medieval title. Ignorant of the term’s Roman origins, they failed to understand an important aspect of medieval Europe’s political culture, namely the conscious political use of the Roman legacy.269 
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