Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
NEW DATA THANKS TO LATIN-CHRISTIAN EXPANSIONISM (12TH-15TH CENTURIES)
Up to this point, transmission depended on people who lived in the border zones between the Latin-Christian and the Arabic-Islamic sphere. Information on the papacy was then recorded by Arabic-Islamic scholars, who resided under Latin- Christian rule such as al-Idrlsl, inhabited a region near the border zone such as al-Bakri, visited the border zone such as Abu H amid, or encountered persons who inhabited or had visited the border zone as in the case of Yaqut and Ibn Rustah.
Popes and Muslim Rulers
At the end of the eleventh, and particularly from the late twelfth century onwards, the papacy became involved in direct exchange with Muslim rulers around the Mediterranean. In 1076, pope Gregory VII exchanged letters with the H ammadid ruler al-Nasir (ruled 454-81/1062-88).  Correspondence became more frequent in the second half of the twelfth century. Radulfus de Diceto (d. 1199-1200) recorded two Latinized letters written to the popes Alexander III (sed. 1159-81) and Lucius III (sed. 1181-85) by the Ayyubid sultans Salah al-Din and al-Adil.  The Historia diplomatica Friderici secundi contains the two letters written by Innocent III (sed. 1198-1216) to the Muslims of Sicily.98 A compilation produced by Karl-Ernst Lupprian features more than a dozen letters from the period ranging from 1199 to 1251, written by the popes Innocent III, Honorius III (sed. 1216-27), Gregory IX (sed. 1227-41), and Innocent IV (sed. 1243-54) to several Muslim rulers in the eastern and western Mediterranean. Among these, we find five letters addressed to various Almohad caliphs, one to the Almohad governors of
Ceuta and Bejai'a, three to the Hafsids of Tunis, four to the Ayyubids of Cairo, two letters respectively to the Ayyubid rulers of Damascus and Aleppo, and even one letter to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. The compilation also features Latinized letters addressed to Gregory IX by the sultan of Konya as well as to Innocent IV by the Ayyubid governors and rulers of Damascus, Homs, Karak, and Cairo." According to present knowledge, only one single Arabic original, a letter written in 1250 by the Almohad caliph al-Murtada to Innocent IV, has survived.    
This correspondence ended rather abruptly in 1251, in the pontificate of Innocent IV.101 Analysis of the above-mentioned papal letters and their Latinized replies in the context of ‘international’ relations in the Mediterranean suggests that they were the product of a short period of ‘experimental diplomacy’ limited to the late twelfth and the first half of the thirteenth century. In a period characterized by the frequent interaction of Christian and Muslim rulers, popes and Muslim rulers exchanged letters in the hope of pursuing their respective aims. 102 The popes lacked the means to enforce their demands. Dependent on the assistance and goodwill of others, they were soon outstripped by more efficient Latin-Christian powers. When their efforts to propagate the Christian faith, to protect Christians under Muslim rule, and to intervene in various political issues repeatedly failed to bear fruit, the papacy apparently concluded that there was no point in corresponding directly with Muslim rulers. The latter, in turn, seem to have harboured growing doubts as to the purpose of communicating with the leading representative of an institution that, due to its commitment to a specific religious ideology, was unable to endorse the more pragmatic approach pursued by the economically attractive European maritime powers. In consequence, this phase of ‘experimental diplomacy’ ended after approximately half a century, shortly after the death of Frederick II.103
Direct contact seems to have been scarce in the following 150 years. According to al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1442), papal envoys (rusul baba al-Faranj min madinat
Ruma) brought another letter in 727/1327, and were sent back with a reply. He confirms, however, that:
In view of this, it is not surprising that the Mamluk secretary al-Qalqashandi (d. 821/1418) with his undeniable knowledge about late medieval international affairs,i05 had problems finding letters, either to or from the popes in the archives of the Mamluk administration. Commenting on what earlier Mamluk secretaries, i.e. al-'Umari (d. 749/1349) and Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh (fl. 762-78/1361-76) had written on official correspondence with the popes in their manuals for governmental secretaries, he cites Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh as follows:
The tathqif [by Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh] says: “this is what I have found written down. During my time in office [i.e. in the 60s and 70s of the fourteenth century], nothing was written to him [i.e. the pope]. Furthermore, I know neither what used to be written to him nor which forms of address were employed.” Ibn Fadl Allah [al-‘UmarI] does not say anything to the contrary in [his work] al-tarif. I myself have seen in some of the files (al-dasatir) that he [i.e. the pope] has been written to only once, and that the document was made up in half by the preceding document.^
Other medieval Arabic-Islamic scholars completely ignored the above-mentioned correspondence. However, al-Qalqashandl’s statement that the pope was addressed with the honorary title ‘friend of sultans’ (sadiq al-salatin) would hardly make sense, if direct relations had not been more intensive than can be gleaned from the scarce extant material in narrative sources^7 In any case, contemporary Arabic- Islamic historiographers, at least from the Middle East, clearly acknowledged the papacy’s involvement in activities that directly concerned the Islamic world.
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