Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
Norman ‘Franks’ in the Mezzogiorno
If we believe that Bertha of Tuscany established contact with Aghlabid North Africa and Abbasid Iraq in around 293/906, claiming that she was a Frankish queen ruling twenty-four Frankish principalities including the city of Rome, we might surmise that rulers in both regions regarded the Apennine Peninsula, or at least parts of it, as ‘Frankish’ territory as well. This would fit in well with the politics of Carolingian and Ottonian expansion, manifest in the Carolingian annexation of the Langobard kingdom in the eighth century,W3 the creation of a Carolingian kingdom of Italy in the ninth century,          and the Ottonian takeover in the tenth century.105
However, Arabic-Islamic sources dealing with early medieval Italy before the twelfth century rarely define the peninsula or parts of it as ‘Frankish’. Ibn Khurdadhbah (d. c.300/912) refers to Rome (Rumiyya), Sicily (Siqilliya), and the import of ‘Lombard slaves’ (al-khidim al-Lubardiyyun)}06 Ibn Rustah (d. after 300/913) mentions Rome (Rumiyya), Sardinia (Sardaniyya), Sicily (Siqiliya), a ‘city of the Langobards’ (madinat al-Ankubardiyyin), and a ‘village called Venice’ (qariya tud‘a al-Bandaqis).io? Although al-Mas'udi defines Rome as ‘the capital of the realm of great Francia’ (dar mamlakat al-ifranjiyya al- Uzma) in a chapter on Roman history,io8 his ethnographic description of the Apennine Peninsula focuses on the Langobards (al-Nawkubard).W9 Reporting on Amalfitan activities in Fatimid Egypt at the end of the tenth century, the Arabic-Christian historiographer Yahya al-Antakl defines the Amalfitans as ‘Byzantines’ (Rum), thus giving credit to the Byzantine presence in the Mezzogiorno.no Ibn Hawqal (d. after 378/988), who visited Sicily in around 362/973,m provides the most differentiated description of the Apennine Peninsula predating the geographical work of al-Idrlsl (d. c.560/1165). He mentions several regions, i.e. the Gulf of Venice (jun al-Banadiqa), Calabria (ard Quluriyya), Lombardy (ard al-Ankubardhah), Apulia (ard. Shlura?) as well as various cities including Rome, Melfi, Naples, and Gaeta.m Ibn H awqal’s description of the territories lying north of Gaeta may imply that he regarded this region as Frankish. He writes:
The lands of Naples reach up to the lands of Gaeta. Then their territories border on the Frankish realm (tattasil diyaruhum bi-l-Ifranja) on the seacoast until it runs parallel to [the coast of] Sicily, leaving it behind until it reaches Tortosa in the territory of al-Andalus.n3
Ibn H awqal’s map of the Mediterranean and its depiction of the Frankish realm in relation to regions and cities of the Apennine Peninsula, does not suggest, however, that he had a clear conception of the Frankish realm’s southern extension.   Only his later Andalusian colleague al-Bakri (d. 487/1094) states clearly that the Frankish sphere extended to the ‘island of Rome and the land of the Langobards’ (jazirat Ruma wa-balad Lanqubardhiyya) in the south.n5 As we have seen, the later Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) even defined Charlemagne (Qarluh al-akbar) as ‘the Frankish ruler of Rome’.n6
From the twelfth century onwards, the pope in RomeU7 and the Norman rulers of Sicily and the Mezzogiorno were also regarded as ‘Frankish’.n8 In the case of the latter, Arabic-Islamic sources obviously reflect the Normans’ gradual adoption of a ‘Frankish’ identity in the wake of their settlement, first in northern France, then in southern Italy.11 
The Viking Norsemen were known to the Muslims of Spain after several attacks on the Iberian Peninsula in the ninth and tenth centuries. Generally, Arabic-Islamic historiographers applied the ethnonym ‘al-Majus’ to these aggressors, a multi-faceted term used for a variety of non-monotheistic peoples.120 Depending on their geographical position, Arabic-Islamic scholars of the ninth to the eleventh centuries tended to define these ‘Majus’ differently. The Middle Eastern scholar al-Ya'qubl (d. after 292/905) reported on the first Viking attack on Seville in 229/844. He blamed ‘al-Majus who are called al-Rus’,121 thus linking them with peoples of northeastern provenance who had become known to the Muslims because of their activities in Constantinople and Eastern Europe, knowledge also expressed in other Arabic terms such as ‘Varangians’ (al-Warank).122 Writing in al-Fusm in Egypt and commenting on another Viking attack on the Iberian Peninsula that took place before 300/912, al-Mas‘udi (d. 345/956) also identified the aggressors as ‘al-Rus’ who had come via the Black Sea.^3
In line with earlier Andalusian sources,^4 Ibn H ayyan (d. 469/1076) applies the term ‘al-Majus’ to the Vikings attacking al-Andalus.m Describing events in 229/844, he introduces an Arabicized version of the Latin term ‘Normanni’. Under the heading ‘News of how the fleet of the Normans (al-Majus min al-Urdamaniyyin), may God curse them, set out’, he mentions the arrival of ‘the boats of the Normans (al-Armaniyyin) who are known as al-Majus in al-Andalus’ on the western coast of the Iberian PeninsulaV6 Reporting on attacks that took place in 361-62/972-73, Ibn H ayyan frequently uses the denomination ‘al-Majus al-Urdumaniyyin’ in a context that clearly shows that Viking attacks on al-Andalus had become an expected menaceV7 According to Arne Melvinger, Arabicized versions of the term ‘Normanni’ entered the Arabic language when Norman groups began to launch raids on al-Andalus from the Frankish realm after they had settled in northern France in around 91172® According to this hypothesis, Ibn H ayyan would have employed an ethnonym Arabicized in the tenth century to describe events of the ninth and tenth centuries. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, al-Hlmyarl and Ibn ‘Idhari used a similar term to define Norman groups that had taken part in the Christian conquest of Barbastro in 456/1064.m Al-Hlmyarl states that the conquest of the city had been carried through by ‘the people of Gaul’ (ahl Ghalish) and ‘al-Rudhmanun’, while Ibn ‘Idhari refers to ‘al-UrdamaniyyIn’.13°
However, these specific terms always appear in connection with Norman groups active on the Iberian Peninsula of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Norman elites who began to play an important role in southern Italy from the eleventh century onwards, were immediately called ‘Franks’. A description of Robert Guiscard’s military escapades against Byzantium form part of a larger comment on ‘Frankish’ aggression against the Byzantine Empire by the Mamluk scholar al-Qalqashandi        
(d. 821/1418).131 * 133 134 Western and eastern scholars such as Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/1233), Ibn Sa'id (d. 685/1286), Abu l-Fida (d. 732/1331), and Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) credit ‘the Franks’ with the conquest of Sicily.132 Even al-Idrls! (d. c.560/1165) defines his patron and benefactor Roger I of Sicily as ‘elite of the Frankish rulers’.133
Southerners in general seem to have regarded the so-called ‘Normans’ involved in the conquest of southern Italy and Sicily as ‘Franks’, not least because several non-Norman ‘Frenchmen’ also took part in the conquest. William of Apulia (d. after 1111), a Latin-Christian chronicler of southern Italy who described the Norman take over, used the terms ‘Normanni’, ‘Franci’, and ‘Galli’ interchangeably, while eleventh-century charters from the Italian city Aversa repeatedly mention the invaders’ ‘Frankish customs’ (mos Francorum).134 Other evidence suggests that Norman invaders of the eleventh century had already adopted a kind of ‘Frankish’ identity themselves. In his royal writs, the Norman invader of England, William the Conqueror, addressed ‘Franci et Angli’ and not ‘Normanni et Angli’, while a Norman who had settled in southern Italy defined himself as being ‘de genere Francorum’ in a charter.135 In view of this, it does not seem surprising that later Arabic-Islamic scholarship regarded the Normans, now an integral part of the Latin-Christian sphere, as ‘Franks’.
How difficult it must have been for Arabic-Islamic scholars to define the ethnic identity of migratory groups in medieval Europe is proven by a fourteenth-century reference to Norman England. It is included in a passage on the early Viking attacks against al-Andalus in the middle of the ninth century written by the historiographer of Granada, Ibn al-Khan b (d. 776/1375). The latter had no concrete knowledge about the Norman conquest of England (1066), but was dimly aware of a connection between the raiders of early medieval times and the contemporary rulers of England.
In his days [of ‘Abd al-Rahman II, ruled 206-38/822-52], the boats of the Majus entered the cities of Seville, Cadiz, Medina Sidonia and Lisbon, but were eventually defeated. The Majus are those whom the Christians of Castile today call the English (al-Anqalish), and the Middle Easterners either Franks (al-Firanj) or [people from]    
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