Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
Catalan ‘Franks’ on the Iberian Peninsula
The clearest case in which the term ‘Franks’ was applied to the inhabitants of a new region concerns early medieval Catalonia. This frontier zone situated between the Frankish and the Muslim sphere came into being after the Carolingian occupation of Barcelona and its surroundings at the beginning of the ninth century. In the course of the ninth and tenth centuries, several counties were brought together under the leadership of the count of Barcelona whose matrimonial alliance with the royal offspring of Aragon in the twelfth century resulted in the creation of the so-called ‘Crown of Aragon’.79
Since Arabic-Islamic sources are lacking up to the ninth century, it is once again necessary to draw on later material to understand how this region was defined from an ethnic point of view.8° Historiographers describing the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, situate the Frankish realm north of the Iberian Peninsula.81 Historiographers addressing the Carolingian activities in the Spanish Levant during the ninth century such as Ibn H ayyan (d. 469/1076) and Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) then explain how this region was occupied by ‘Franks’.82 Dealing with the tenth century, historiographers apply the specification ‘Frankish’ to the increasingly influential county of Barcelona. Citing al-Razi (d. 344/955), Ibn Hayyan defines Barcelona as ‘capital of the Franks’ (qaidat al-Faranja) in connection with a Muslim raid in 3 23/9 34-35,     and mentions a peace treaty concluded with Sunyer I, ‘the Frank’ (Shunyir b. Ghifridal-Ifranji), in 328/939-40.84 Citing Ibn Hayyan, Ibn 'Idhari (d. after 712/1312-13) speaks of ‘Franks’ when he describes a Muslim raid against the environs of Barcelona in 3 9 3/100 2-03.85 Ibn al-Khan b (d. 776/1375) mentions a raid against ‘Frankish’ territory, i.e. Barcelona, led by Muhammad Abu 'Amir al-H ajib al-Mamur around the turn of the tenth to the eleventh centuries.8fi Various later historiographers claim that the caliph Muhammad b. Hisham b. 'Abd al-Jabbar Mahdi (ruled 399/1009) and his supporter, the governor of Toledo Wadih, employed ‘Franks’ against the caliphal contender Sulayman b. al-Hakam who were probably led by the count of Barcelona, Ramon Borrell III.87
Paraphrasing Ibn Hayyan, Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) explained many years later that James I of Aragon (ruled 1208-76) descended from these ‘Franks’. Although he wrongly believed the Franks to have ruled the Spanish Levant before the Visigoths, his account retraces the essential developments that led to the emergence of the county of Barcelona and, eventually, the Crown of Aragon:
As concerns the king of Barcelona in the eastern part of al-Andalus: his territories are vast and his realm large, including Barcelona on the one side and Aragon, Xativa, Zaragoza, Valencia, the peninsula of Denia, Mallorca and Minorca. His genealogy leads back to the Franks, and a summary of the data on his realm as transmitted by Ibn Hayyan runs that the Goths, who were in al-Andalus, had in ancient times been in the realm of the Franks. Then they [the Franks] attacked, obstructed and dispossessed them of their realm. Barcelona belonged to the realms and territories of the Franks. So when God brought Islam and the conquest took place, the Franks refrained from supporting the Goths because of this enmity. Then, when the affairs of the Goths ended, the Muslims advanced upon the Franks, chased them from Barcelona and took possession of it. Then they crossed the mountainous regions behind it into the plains of the great mainland and, among its cities, took possession of the peninsula of Narbonne and the adjacent plains. Then there was a phase during the downfall of the Umayyad state in the East and the beginning of the Abbasid state, during which the Arabs of al-Andalus fought with each other. The Franks seized the opportunity and reconnected their lands to Barcelona, taking possession of it in this period of the year 200 after the hijra [i.e. 815 ce], ruling it as they had done before. Their affairs passed to the ruler of Rome among the Franks, which was Charlemagne (Qarluh al-akbar), who belonged to their royal house. Then, in a time of weakness, they were seized by strife, competition and dissensions among their rulers, such as had seized the Muslims and had weakened the hands of the rulers. Consequently, the leaders in all their peripheries seceded. The rulers of Barcelona were among those who led their realm to independence, and the rulers of the Umayyads were among the first polities who sought peace by armistice with these rulers of the people of Barcelona looking for security from the expanding arms of the ruler of Rome.
Thus, the realm of Barcelona was initially regarded as an extension of the Frankish realm that achieved independence in the period witnessing the Carolingians’ demise in West Francia.  It only began to carry additional names as soon as it had reached political maturity as the epicentre of the Crown ofAragon.9° Al-Marrakushi was still able to use the ethnonym ‘Franks’ when he wrote about the rise of Aragon in the middle of the thirteenth century:
The Banu Hud possessed the towns of this region [eastern al-Andalus], Tortosa and its environs, Zaragoza and its environs, Fraga, Lerida and Calatayud. They are now in the hands of the Franks, belonging to the prince of Barcelona, may God curse him, and constitute the country known as Aragon (Araghun). 
Pedro Chalmeta has shown that Arabic-Islamic scholarship initially only accorded a geographic dimension to the term ‘Araghun’.92 In the eleventh century, Ibn Hayyan still refrained from linking the ‘Valley of Aragon’ (wadi Araghun) to a corresponding polity holding the same name. In the latter sense, the term seems to have come into use in the thirteenth century. Aside from al-Marrakushi, a polity called Aragon features in the works of al-Himyari (13th-l4th cent.), Ibn al-Khan b (d. 776/1375), Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406), and al-Qalqashandi (d. 821/1418).9  Contemporary correspondence as well as treaties concluded between the king of Aragon and Muslim rulers from North Africa, ranging from Hafsid Tunis to Mamluk Egypt, use the Arabic term for Aragon’.95
From the thirteenth century onwards, Arabic-Islamic sources also employ the ethnonym ‘Catalans’. In some cases, the polity ‘Aragon’ and the ethnonym ‘Catalans’ appear together. Citing the manual tathqifal-taFifby the Mamluk secretary Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh (fl. 762-78/1361-76), al-Qalqashandi states that the ‘master of Barcelona’ (sahib Barshaluna) holds the title ‘king of Aragon’ (al-ridAraghun) and belongs to the ‘group of the Catalans’ (taifat al-Kitlan).    Other authors only refer to the Catalans. Ibn Sa'ld (d. 685/1286) and Abu l-Fida’ (d. 732/1331) assert that Barcelona is the capital of the ‘Catalans’ (al-Katalin, al-Kitlan), while al-'Umarl (d. 749/1349), using a variant transcription (al-Kitlan or al-Katiran), only refers to ‘the lands in which they are now’.9? It is noteworthy that Ibn Sa'ld and al-'Umarl both provide an alternative explanation of this people’s origins, thus taking up a motive already known to the tenth-century Middle Eastern geographer al-Ist akhriT8 Ibn Sa'id explains that the king of the Catalans
is genealogically related to Jabala ibn al-Ayham, the Christian king of the [tribe of] Ghassan during the caliphate of [the second caliph] 'Umar b. al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him.99
Al-'Umari reproduces this theory, but also claims that they constitute an ethnic mix made up of Frankish and Arab elements:
The Catalans (al-Katiran or al-Kitlan) are the Arabs among the Franks (‘Arab al-Far- anj). Their origin leads back to the Christian [tribe of] Ghassan, the entourage of Jabala ibn al-Ayham. They entered the territory of the Byzantines (al-Rum) and were swallowed by what lies behind it until they settled in the lands where they are now and became local. They have a king from among them who enlists their obedience and they are a people active on the land and on the sea . . .   
Both passages lead the Catalans back to the Ghassanids. Allies of the Byzantines, their rulers held the title of phylarch, put their troops at the disposition of the empire, and contributed significantly to the establishment of Syrian monophy- sitism and to the urbanization of Greater Syria before the rise of Islam. The Ghassanid ruler Jabala b. al-Ayham fought in the army of Heraclius against the Muslims in the decisive Battle of Yarmuk in 636.m The equation of Catalans and Ghassanids thus ascribes a certain degree of ‘Arabhood’ to the Catalans. Read as an analogy, this equation could express the Catalans’ special position as intermediaries between (Andalusian) Islam and (‘Frankish’) Christendom. However, these ‘deviant’ statements about the origins of the Catalans stand alone in medieval Arabic-Islamic scholarship. Other western and eastern scholars of this late period, who use the ethnonym ‘Catalans’, maintain that they are of Frankish origin.102 Arabic-Islamic scholars thus clearly acknowledged the Frankish roots of medieval Catalonia.
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