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The Early Muslims and the Frankish Sphere

Bernard Lewis and J. F. P. Hopkins believe that the Frankish ethnonym ‘probably reached the Muslims via the Byzantines’.[1] Given the dearth of pre-Islamic and Arabic- Islamic texts from the period between the sixth and the ninth century, this is difficult to verify, but certainly possible. The Greek term ‘ФраукоС already figures in sources of the early fifth century that refer to events in the fourth and fifth centuries.5 It may have reached Arab groups in contact with Byzantium.

Since Arabic-Islamic literary genres prone to document the non-Muslim world were only developed in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries,[2] [3] the earliest extant references to the Franks in Arabic-Islamic sources feature in texts of the ninth century, most of them written in the Middle East. Here we find passages that seem to have been written from a ‘Byzantine’ perspective. Describing the geopolitical constellation after the Arabic-Islamic expansion, al-Ya'qubi (d. after 292/905) portrays the Frankish realm as an annex to the Byzantine Empire. Having listed the Byzantine territories lost to the Muslims, he continues:

Then they [= the Byzantines] own what lies behind the mountain pass (al-darb) in the direction of the lands of the Slavs (al-Saqaliba), the Alans (al-Alan) and the Franks (al-Ifranj).[4]

Later Middle Eastern geographers such as al-Ist akhri (4 th/10 th cent.) and Ibn Hawqal (d. after 378/988) also associated the Frankish realm with the Byzantine Empire, claiming that the Franks, the Galicians, and the Byzantines formed a united realm and practised the same religion but differed in language.[5] Although these texts indicate that the Franks were perceived from an eastern point of view as a people situated in the northwestern periphery of the Byzantine Empire, they fail to prove conclusively that the early Muslims came to know the Franks through the medium of Byzantium.

  • [1] Lewis and Hopkins, ‘Ifrandj’ (1971), p. 1044.
  • [2] Cf. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastica Historia, ed. Hussey, vol. 1, lib. 2, cap. 10,89, p. 199, trans.Schaff and Zenos, p. 38, mentions the Franks in connection with a synod held in Antioch in the year344; Sozomen, Ecclesiastica Historia, ed. Hussey, vol. 2, lib. 9, cap. 13, p. 910, trans. Schaff and Har-tranft, p. 426, mentions the Franks in connection with usurpations of Constantine and Maximusaround 409—11. On the early formation of the Franks, see Ewig, Merowinger (2006), pp. 8—14.
  • [3] See Chapter 3.1.1.
  • [4] al-Ya'qubl, tarikh, ed. al-Muhanna, vol. 1, p. 199: ‘thumma lahum ma khalf al-darb ila biladal-Saqaliba wa-l-Alan wa-l-Afranj . . .’.
  • [5] al-Istakhri, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 9; copied by Ibn Hawqal, surat al-ard, ed. Kramers, p. 14.
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