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Early Encounters between the Muslims and the Bishop of Rome

The earliest recorded encounters between Muslims and the bishop of Rome date from the period of the Arabic-Islamic expansion. Several connections existed between Rome and the patriarchate of Jerusalem, subjected to Arabic-Islamic rule in 638.[1] Pope Martin (sed. 649-53) seems to have written various letters to Middle Eastern churches under Arabic-Islamic rule, i.e. the bishop of Philadelphia

(Amman) as well as the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch.5 At a time when the Arabic-Islamic expansion was fully under way, Martin had opposed the Byzantine emperor’s monotheletism and supported the usurpation of the exarch Olympios. Among other things, Byzantium accused him of having collaborated with the ‘Saracens’. In a letter written in 653, Martin denied these accusations but admitted that some of his clerics had been in touch with them.[2] [3] In the following century and a half, direct contact seems to have been scarce or non-existent. Although informed about the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula as well as the Muslims’ advance into the Frankish realm relatively early, the Roman bishop did not establish direct relations.[4]

These became more frequent when Muslims became increasingly active in Sicily and on the Apennine Peninsula in the ninth century.[5] A papal legate participated in negotiations between Saracens and the Byzantine patricius Gregorius of Sicily in 813.[6] The sack of Rome in 846 brought several Muslim raiders into parts of the eternal city.[7] [8] [9] [10] After the Battle of Ostia in 849, Saracen captives were taken to Rome ‘causa veritatis ac testimonii’ and used as a workforce in the city’s building projects.11 The emirate of Bari (847-71) was frequented by Christian pilgrims such as the monk Bernardus who, after visiting the pope in Rome, tried to obtain valid travel documents from the local sultan around 867 to facilitate his journey to Palestine.12 Around 878, John VIII paid tribute to marauding Muslims as part of a temporary treaty, details of which are not knownd3 In several letters, he tried to prevent bishops and Christian princes in southern Italy from collaborating with the Saracens.14

None of these instances of contact between the bishop of Rome and the expanding Arabic-Islamic world is recorded in the extant works of Arabic-Islamic scholarship, for several reasons. The pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arab world was still restricted to the Arabian Peninsula and its immediate surroundings. ^ In spite of sporadic encounters, it seems rather unlikely that the Roman church contributed to Middle Eastern affairs, e.g. the Christianization of Arab groups, in a significant manner.[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] Although Christianity plays a role in the earliest Arabic-Islamic texts—first as a spiritual, but increasingly also as a historical phenomenon!7—concrete experiences were not recorded systematically. Under these circumstances, sparse relations with the Roman church failed to be recorded, if they were noticed at all.

Whereas the popes of Late Antiquity had been part of a flourishing Mediterranean ecumene, the early medieval papacy tended to look to the Frankish north, in particular the Carolingian and Ottonian orbit.!8 Vis-a-vis the expanding Arabic- Islamic world, the early medieval popes mainly acted in defence. In the rare circumstances of direct contact documented in the above-mentioned Latin sources, the early medieval papacy dealt with raiders rather than with representatives of Muslim elite culture. Due to the rudimentary character of Muslim infrastructure and scholarship in the recently conquered territories, conquerors and raiders belonged to a different knowledge community than Arabic-Islamic scholars. Not exactly using intellectual means, conquerors and raiders operated at the borders of an expanding Islamic world. Arabic-Islamic scholars, in turn, were active in the urban centres of early Islamic civilization in the Middle East. Such centres of intellectual activity developed slightly later in North Africa, on the Iberian Peninsula, and in Sicily, but never on the Apennine Peninsula in the immediate neighbourhood of papal Rome. Consequently, a direct and up-to-date exchange of information between raiders and scholars must have been rare, to the effect that the latter failed to acquire much information about the papacy.19

  • [1] Liberpontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 1, cap. LXXV (Theodorus, sed. 642^9), § 125 (§ I), p. 331:‘Theodorus, natione Grecus, ex patre Theodoro episcopo de civitate Hierusolima . . .’; Concilium Lat-eranense Romanum (a. 649), ed. Mansi, vol. 10, pp. 894—6, on a reference to the Muslim expansion bythe Palestinian bishop Stephen of Dor(a).
  • [2] Martinus, ep. 5, ed. Migne (PL 87), pp. 153—64; id., ep. 11, ed. Migne (PL 87), pp. 175—80.Winkelmann et al., Prosopographie (2000), pp. 184—5, questions the letters’ authenticity.
  • [3] Martinus, ep. 14, ed. Migne (PL 87), p. 199A; cf. Rotter, Abendland (1986), pp. 182—96;Brandes, ‘Krisenbewaltigung’ (1998), pp. 148—51, 153—4, 159—77.
  • [4] See the letter written by Eudo of Aquitaine to pope Gregory II (sed. 715—31), informing thelatter about Muslim attacks on the Frankish realm: Liberpontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 1, cap. XCI,§ 182 (§ XI-XII), pp. 401—2. Also see Hadrians I’s (sed. 772—95) letter to the bishops of Spain: CodexCarolinus (ep. 95: Hadrianus papa ad episcopos Hispaniae), ed. Gundlach (MGH Epp. 3, EpistolaeMerowingici et Karolini Aevi 1), p. 643. Cf. Rouche, ‘Pape’ (1996), pp. 205—16.
  • [5] Cf. Musca, UEmirato (1967); Kreutz, Normans (1996); Jehel, LlItalie (2001), pp. 13—36; Metcalfe, Muslims (2009).
  • [6] Leo III papa, ep. 7, ed. Hampe (MGH Epp. in Quart 5), p. 98; cf. Kreutz, Normans (1996),p. 49; Eickhoff, Seekrieg (1966), p. 60.
  • [7] Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 2, cap. CIV (Sergius II, sed. 844 47), § 493 (§ XLIII-XLVII), p. 100: ‘ecclesiam beati Petri apostolorum principis nefandissimis iniquitatibus praeoccu-pantes invaserunt’.
  • [8] Ibid., vol. 2, cap. CV (Leo IV, sed. 847—55), § 525 (§ LV), p. 119; cf. Herbers, Leo IV(1996),pp. 117—18; Eickhoff, Seekrieg (1966), p. 187.
  • [9] Bernardus, Itinerarium, ed. Migne (PL 121), cap. 1—3, cols 569; cf. Micheau, ‘Itineraires’(1979), p. 80.
  • [10] Iohannes VIII papa, ep. 89, ed. Caspar (MGH Epp. in Quart 7), p. 85; cf. Engreen, ‘Pope’(1945), pp. 318-30, esp. 321-2. 14 E.g. Iohannes VIII papa, ep. 273, ed. Caspar (MGH Epp. in Quart 7), p. 241; cf. Daniel, Arabs(1975/2004), pp. 76-9; Kreutz, Normans (1996), pp. 57-60.
  • [11] See Chapter 2.1.2.
  • [12] Cf. Trimingham, Christianity (1979); Hainthaler, Araber (2007).
  • [13] Konig, ‘Christianisation’ (2009), pp. 438—9.
  • [14] Herbers, Geschichte (2012), pp. 64—114; cf. Hartmann, Hadrian I (2006), pp. 157—96, on therelevant turning point. This situation only changed in the eleventh century when the papacy increasingly began to pay attention to the Islamic world, thus becoming one of the leading proponents andinstigators of Latin-Christian expansionism. Cf. Hettinger, Beziehungen (1993), pp. 72—80; Lupprian,Beziehungen (1981), pp. 15—45.
  • [15] 19 See Chapter 3.1.1. Cf. Engreen, ‘Pope’ (1945), p. 322, and his concept of ‘border-Christianity’.
  • [16] As described in Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, vol. 2, cap. CIV (Sergius II, sed. 844—47), § 493(§ XLIII-XLVII), pp. 99—101; cap. CV (Leo IV, sed. 847—55), § 495 (§ V), p. 106; Kreutz, Normans(1996), pp. 26-7.
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