Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
Direct Contact in the Era of Expansion
In Arabic-Islamic texts, the earliest historical facts mentioned in connection with the Franks are linked to the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and the earliest incursions into Frankish territory in the 720s. It is thus possible that the Franks came into view only during the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This is suggested by the fact that the earliest known sources mentioning interaction between Arabs and Franks are Hispano-Latin texts of the eighth century that digest the impact of the expansion on the Iberian Peninsula.
Middle Eastern Arabic-Islamic works dealing with the invasion of the peninsula suggest that little was known about the Franks at the beginning of the eighth century. Never taking up more than a few lines, the given data is restricted to geo?graphic information on the Frankish realm’s position north of the Iberian Peninsula, a rather stereotypical description of a bellicose people, as well as sparse information on the first raids into Frankish territory. Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam’s (d. 257/871) account of the Muslims’ defeat in the Battle of Tours and Poitiers furnishes a representative example:
'Ubayda [b. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Sulaml, i.e. the governor of Ifrlqiya] had appointed 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Abd Allah al-Akkl over al-Andalus who was a righteous man. He raided the Franks who are the fiercest enemies of al-Andalus, pillaging a lot of booty
and defeating them____Then he set out to them on another raid where he became a
In this passage, the Egyptian traditionist al-Layth b. Sa'd (d. 175/792) features as the main source of information.12 Ibn 'Abd al-H akam’s work largely draws on traditions collected by Arabic-Islamic scholars in Egypt in the second half of the eighth century. These traditions were based on the reports of conquerors who, on their return from the Iberian Peninsula, either established themselves in Egypt or stayed there temporarily before departing to other destinations in the Middle East.13 Although he wrote in the second half of the ninth century, Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam only mentions the Franks in connection with the first Muslim raids into Frankish territory in the first half of the eighth century. He thus limited himself to reproducing information more than a century oldTh
The only extant Andalusian text on the Franks from the ninth century, the universal history of Ibn Habib (d. 238/853), does not procure the detailed description one would have expected from a scholar living in a region adjacent to the Frankish realm. Based on the same Egyptian sources used by Ibn 'Abd al-H akam,15 the work completely ignores the relations between the Carolingians and the Umayyads of Cordoba, which, in Ibn Habibs lifetime, involved the Carolingian occupation of the Spanish Levant as well as several instances of diplomatic interaction. w In lieu thereof, Ibn H abib proffers a vague and anachronistic reference to the Franks as one of the peoples targeted by the Arabic-Islamic expansion, which he puts into the mouth of a man in the entourage of the first Umayyad caliph Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan (ruled 41-60/661-80).!7 Aside from mentioning the earliest advances towards Frankish territory under the conqueror Musa b. Nusayr,18 Ibn Habib also reproduces a conversation that allegedly took place between the Umayyad caliph, Sulayman b. 'Abd al-Malik (ruled 96-99/715-17), and Musa in Damascus. According to Ibn H abib, Sulayman demanded a description of the Franks’ military strength. Musa answered, rather evasively:
“They are characterized by great numbers, equipment, endurance, strength, courage and intrepidity.” He [Sulayman] said: “Inform me about how fighting was between you and them. Was it to or against your advantage?” He [Musa] said: “Concerning this matter, by God, I have never lost a single banner, my host was not wasted and the Muslims under my command have never experienced a disaster from the period when I entered my forties until I reached eighty years of age.’49
Ibn H abib’s lack of interest in the Carolingian-Umayyad relations of his own lifetime can be explained by pointing to the cultural outlook of this scholar hailing from the western periphery of the Muslim world. Impressed by an educational journey to the Middle East, Ibn H abib seemingly made the effort of emulating the historiographical models of the Islamic Middle East rather than drawing on available local knowledge in al-Andalus.20
All other texts from the late ninth century were produced in Iraq and contain even less information about relations between the Frankish realm and Muslim al-Andalus than the works dealt with so far.21 This suggests that they have to be situated at the end of various chains of transmission that connected early al-Andalus with the Middle East.
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