Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
Earliest Arabic-Islamic Records on the Visigoths
Since genres of Arabic-Islamic scholarly literature prone to document non-Muslim peoples were still in the making in the early eighth century, we can make use of no contemporary Arabic-Islamic sources on the invasion and its aftermath.'29 However, the Muslim invaders probably produced a number of functional texts. Later sources refer to letters exchanged with the caliph in Damascus,30 treaties of submission such as the so-called ‘pact of Tudmlr’,31 as well as the topographical description of the peninsula demanded from the early governor al-Samh.3' Such material may have been at the disposal of later Arabic-Islamic historiographers who described these early years of Muslim rule in al-Andalus.
Arabic-Islamic scholars began recording the history of the Iberian Peninsula around the middle of the eighth century.33 The extant material suggests that scholars situated in Egypt, rather than in al-Andalus, played a fundamental role in this early phase of documentation.3    In Egypt we find traditionists such as Musa b. 'All b. Rabah al-Lakhml (d. 163/779), 'Abd Allah b. Lahl'a (d. 174/791), al-Layth b. Sa'd (d. 175/792), 'Abd Allah b. Wahb (d. 197/813), and others, whom we can only identify as transmitters of information on al-Andalus because they are cited by later historiographers.35 Egypt is the home to the earliest known but unfortunately lost treatise on al-Andalus, entitled akhbar al-Andalus by Abu 'Uthman Sa'id b. Kathir b. 'Ufayr al-MArl (d. 226/840).
The earliest extant works that deal with the Visigoths date from the ninth and the early tenth centuries. They include works of universal history, such as the histories of Ibn H abib (d. 238/853), al-Ya'qubl (d. after 292/905), and al-Tabari (d. 310/923), as well as works specializing on the Arabic-Islamic expansion, such as the writings of Ibn 'Abd al-H akam (d. 257/871) and al-Baladhur! (d. 278/892). We also find information on the Visigoths in the geographical writings of Ibn Khurdadhbah (d. c.300/911), Ibn al-Faqih (d. after 290/902), and Ibn Rustah (d. after 300/913). With the exception of Ibn H abib, all authors are of Middle Eastern provenance. In one way or the other, they contributed to the creation and diffusion of the earliest standard narrative of Visigothic history. This narrative is primarily based on information acquired during and in the early years following the conquest, thus reproducing what we may call a conquerors’ perspective of the Visigoths.
The earliest extant work on the history of al-Andalus was written by the Andalusian scholar Ibn Habib al-Ilbiri (d. 238/853)7 In a chapter dedicated to the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula,3 Ibn Habib mentions a people called ‘al-Qutiyyun’ that originally hailed from the Persian city of Isfahan, pronounced ‘Ishban’ by the inhabitants of al-Andalus.3 Their unnamed kings, amounting to a total of twenty-five, resided in Toledo. According to their royal tradition, rulers placed a seal on a building in the royal city when they assumed power. Their last king, Roderic (Ludhriq), gave up this tradition, broke the seals, and opened the building against the will of the Christian populace (al-nasraniyya), the bishops (al-asaqifa), and the deacons (al-shamamisa) of his kingdom. In the building, he encountered a picture of Arab warriors as well as an inscription that predicted the Arab conquest of the kingdom in the ruling period of the king who dared to break the seals. Accordingly, the Arabs overthrew Roderic’s kingdom a short while later.  As a prelude to the decisive battle between Roderic and the Muslims, a certain Tudmir, deputy to the king while the latter campaigned against an unnamed foe, informed Roderic about the Muslim advanced1 In their quest for loot, the invaders encountered many treasures, including the table of the biblical king Solomon.42
In spite of his Andalusian origin, Ibn H abib strongly depended on material collected by Egyptian and other Oriental historiographers. Among his sources we find a number of Egyptian traditionists mentioned above such as al-Layth b. Sa'd.43 He also seems to have had access to the works of Muhammad b. 'Umar al-Waqidi (d. 207/822) who seems to be at the root of the theory of the Visigoths’ Persian origins.44
Chronologically, the next work to deal with the Visigoths is the treatise futuh Misr wa-akhbaruha by the Egyptian historiographer Ibn Abd al-Hakam (d. 257/871). He claims that Roderic’s (Ludhriq) realm extended a thousand miles into the peninsula’s hinterland.45 His description of the conquest explains that the arriving Muslims instilled fear into the local population by pretending to be cannibals, and then focuses on the treasures found during the great pillage that followed the Muslim victory. They include the rich insignia worn by Roderic during the decisive battle as well as the aforementioned table of Solomon.46 Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam provides two explanations for the conquest’s success. On the one hand, he reproduces the legend of the sealed building already known from Ibn HablbTh On the other hand, he claims that Julian (Yulyan), the Visigothic governor of Ceuta, invited and supported the Muslim invasion because Roderic had taken advantage of his daughter^ Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam also describes other indigenous reactions to the Muslim advance. He mentions the terror instilled into a group of vinedressers confronted with Muslim troops who pretended to be cannibals.49 Furthermore, he reports that 'Abd al-'Aziz, son of the conqueror Musa b. Nusayr, married Roderic’s daughter. By persuading her spouse to wear a crown, she provoked his assassination by other Arabs.5°
Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam also relied on the data collected by the early Egyptian historiographers mentioned aboveV But in spite of many parallels and shared sources, Ibn Habib’s and Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam’s passages on the Visigoths differ in various respects. On the one hand, the history of Ibn Habib contains information that does not feature in the account of Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam. This concerns the alleged Persian origin of the Visigoths; the number of Visigoth rulers before the conquest; the indication that Roderic was opposed not only by the realm’s population but also by representatives of the church when he ventured to break the seals of the forbidden house; and finally the name of the conquered people: Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam speaks of the ‘people of al-Andalus’ (ahl al-Andalus) and the ‘ruler of al-Andalus’ (sahib al-Andalus), but   
does not use an Arabic transcription of the ethnonym ‘Goths’ (i.e. al-Qut or al-Qutiyyun) as Ibn Habib does.52 On the other hand, Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam’s account contains information that does not feature in the work of Ibn H abib, i.e. an estimation of the size of the Visigothic realm, the story about the invaders’ simulated cannibalism, and the indication that Julian’s collaboration facilitated the invasion.
Other Middle Eastern sources of the ninth and early tenth centuries contain a similar array of data. Ibn Khurdadhbah’s kitab al-masalik wa-l-mamalik can rival the preceding works in that it mentions the Visigoths’ alleged Persian origin, a number of twenty-four rulers preceding Roderic, the sealed house opened by Roderic against the will of the Church and the people, Julian’s collaboration, the final battle, and the table of Solomon among the acquired booty. Like Ibn 'Abd al-H akam, he does not provide an Arabic transcription of the ethnonym ‘GothsM3 His narrative was copied by Ibn al-Faqih (d. after 290/902) and Ibn Rustah (d. after 3 00/9 1 3).54 Most other works of this period contain less information. Al-Baladhuri (d. 278/892) claims that the ruler of al-Andalus had had dealings with the people of North Africa in the times of the caliph 'Umar b. al-Khatt ab55 and cites the theory of the Visigoths’ Persian origins. His very short sketch of the invasion even fails to spell out the name of the last Visigothic king.5  The history of al-Ya'qubl (d. after 292/905) is equally brief and only of interest because it mentions the ethnonym ‘Goths’ (al-Qutiyyun) as well as a variant of the royal name ‘Roderic’ (al-Udriq), thus proving that these terms were known to some Arabic- Islamic scholars in the Middle East7 Al-Tabari (d. 310/923), who also claims that Roderics (al-Adrinuq) people hailed from Isfahan, is even less informative.5
In spite of a few variations, the recurrent elements in these accounts amount to a standardized narrative that revolves around the Muslim invasion and lacks historical depth. Aside from the universal histories of Ibn Habib and al-Ya'qubl, most texts do not feature a proper ethnonym for the Visigoths and refer to them and their ruler as ‘the people of al-Andalus’ and ‘the ruler of al-AndalusT Recurrent themes include (1) the theory of this people’s alleged Persian origin, based on an erroneous etymology that derives the ethnonym Ashban’ (Latin Hispani) from the Persian toponym Isfahan; (2) the name of the last king, Roderic (Ludhriq; al-Udriq etc.), who was preceded by twenty-four or twenty-five rulers and resided in the capital Toledo before he was killed in battle against the Muslims; (3) the explanation that Roderic’s decision to open a sealed royal building against the will of his people and, optionally, representatives of the Church, provoked the Muslim invasion; (4) the alternative explanation that the Visigothic governor Julian took revenge on a king who had taken advantage of his daughter by inviting the Muslims, as well as; (5) the rich booty found during the conquest.
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