Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
An Updated Political Map of Western Europe
Less extensive with regard to geographical data but with more details on the political landscape of Western Europe are two works written by members of the Mamluk chancery, al-'Umari (d. 749/1349) and al-Qalqashandi (d. 821/1418).
Al-'Umari’s masalik al-absar contains a synoptic survey of ‘the most well-known land-based realms belonging to the venerators of the cross’ that draws on the testimony 21 22 23
of a Genoese dependant (ahad mamalik) to the Mamluk amir Bahadur al-Mu'izzI.    Al-'Umari portrays the king of France (al-raydafarans) and the emperor (al-anbarur), the ruler of the Germans (sahib mulk al-Laman), as the two greatest Frankish rulers who receive homage from all minor polities in their periphery.32 These included Alfonso (al-Adhfunsh), the ruler of Christian al-Andalus,33 Robert, the ruler of the Provence (malik Abrans wa-huwa al-Rayrubari)?^ and the Catalans (al-Katiran, al-Katilan).35 Although the Burgundians’ (al-Burghuniyyun) territory lay within the German realm, they were not governed by the emperor.36 The Venetians (al-Banadiqa or Finisin), the Pisans (al-Bizan), the Tuscans (al-Dushqan), the Anconitani (Ankunitin), the Florentines (Afarantin), and the Genoese (ahl Janawa), in turn, lacked a king and were governed by communal authority, a concept explained by al-'Umari and transcribed as ‘hukm kumun’Th The Lombards (al-Lanbard), divided into two parties with the cities of Monfer- rato and Ferrara at the respective centre, were governed by a ‘marquis’ (markiz), a Byzantine (Rumi) official nominated by the rulers of Constantinople.38 Finally, al-'Umarl also mentions the inhabitants of Cyprus (Sibiriyya), Sicily (Siqilliya), and Mallorca (.Mayurqa)39 as well as the Franks who, before their expulsion, inhabited the Syrian Levant.40
Al-'Umarl’s report largely reproduces the perspective of his Genoese source of information. Comparatively up to date as regards the geopolitical setting of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the secretarial manual ofal-Qalqashandi proves, however, that the chanceries of Mamluk Egypt and Syria were not dependent on one single informant. Since al-Qalqashandi refers to the customs paid by ‘Frankish traders’ (tujjar al-Faranj) when they entered an Egyptian harbour,4i he may have received information through such channels. However, the vast bulk of data derives from older Arabic-Islamic historiography42 while most geo- and ethnographical descriptions are based on the geographical standard works of his time.43 In addition, the legacy of several generations of Mamluk chancery secretaries furnishes evidence for the protocol of communication with European powers. Al-Qalqashandi regularly cites two older manuals—the tathqif al-tacrif by Ibn Nazir al-Jaysh (fl. 762-78/1361-76)44 and the al-ta’nfbi-l-mustalah al-sharif by al-'UmarI.45 He also made use of a compilation of treaties collected by Muhammad b. al-Mukarram (d. 711/1312?), one of sultan Qalawun’s (ruled 678-89/1279-90) scribes, under the title tadhkirat al-labib wa-nuzhat al-adibd6 Commenting on the official correspondence with the pope, he even claims to have gone through the files to look for specimens of letters and treaties.47 Since he is able to describe the physical appearance of letters that reached Egypt from Christian polities on the Iberian Peninsula/8 and to explain the linguistic problems connected with the drafting of treaties between Frankish and Muslim rulers/9 he must have occasionally handled such documents himself.
As opposed to al-'Umarl, al-Qalqashandi does not provide a single and comprehensive ‘snap-shot’ of contemporary Western Europe. This is due to the work’s character as an organized compilation. Al-Qalqashandi was clearly able to assign certain polities, e.g. the empire of AlexandeC0 or the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo/1 to the realm of history. However, as soon as he wrote about quasi-contemporary Western Europe, he threw together various snippets of information that belong to different chronological strata in that they reproduce that which various authors of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries wrote on a specific subject. Not surprisingly, al-Qalqashandi occasionally had problems reconciling the extant evidenced Since these snippets are distributed all over his manual, it seems as if he had no real understanding of the history and political landscape of Western Europe. But although the compilation can hardly be called systematic from a historiographical point of view, its author certainly had an impression, albeit vague and slightly ahistorical, of political constellations north of the Mediterranean.
Al-Qalqashandi focused on polities that were in direct and regular contact with the Islamic world. The far north completely escaped his attention, while England, Germany, and even France only appear in connection with their crusading activities. His geographical description of England (jazirat al-Ankaltira) is copied from the work of Ibn Sa'ld with its reference to the activities of Richard the Lionheart73 ‘Germany’ (mamlakat al-Alman) is only mentioned in connection with its participation in the third crusade during the reign of Saladin.54 Even the French people (al-Afrans) and their king (al-Faransis, rayd Ifrans) only feature in a Mediterranean context, e.g., in connection with the marriage of the king’s daughter to the Byzantine emperor at the end of the sixth/twelfth century, his involvement in the conquest of Constantinople, his Egyptian campaign, his capture in Damietta, and his offer to buy Jerusalem for a certain price per year.55
Powers that interacted regularly with the Islamic world such as the crusaders, receive more attention.56 Proffering substantial passages on the Christian powers
of the Iberian Peninsula^7 al-Qalqashandi was also aware that, in his lifetime, the petty kingdom of Granada with its possessions in the east of al-Andalus represented the only remaining Islamic polity on the Iberian Peninsula.58
Leaving aside the special case of Rome,   al-Qalqashandi’s obsession with titles also resulted in a superficial understanding of the Apennine Peninsula’s different systems of government and political orientations. Although he may not have grasped the constitutional implications inherent in the official titles of Genoese rulers, he was aware that power was distributed among different agents— including the ‘podesta’ (al-budishta), the ‘capitano’ (al-kabtan), and the ‘elders’ (al-mashayikh)—in a polity in which ‘every house is a fortress’^ These ‘rulers in Genoa’ (al-hukkam bi-Janawa) are also called ‘communitarians’ (al-kumunun).          His citation of a letter directed to the ‘responsible of the Genoese fleets in Cyprus’ (muqaddam al-shawani al-janawiyya bi-Qubrus) proves that Genoese activities in the eastern Mediterranean basin had not escaped his attention.63
Sicily and Apulia (mamlakat Buliya), in turn, were subject to monarchical rule. Sicily, formerly ruled by a Frankish king [Roger II] who had also controlled great parts of the mainland in the times of the Fatimid ruler al-Hafiz (ruled 525-44/1130-49),64 had come under the sway of the Catalans.65 Al-Qalqashandi has recourse to Abu l-Fida (d. 732/1331), when he claims that Apulia was held by Charles of Anjou (al-Raydishar).66 He refers to Joan (Juwana), the female ruler of Naples (sahibat Nabul/Babil) in connection with a letter written in 773/1372.67 He does not comment on the government system of Calabria (bilad Qalafriya),6s but mentions that the lands of the Pisans (bilad Bayazina) had no king and were subordinate to the papacy^ that Tuscany (biladal-Tusqan) was ruled by a group of nobles (akabir),70 and that a marquis appointed by Constantinople held sway over the realm of the Lombards (mamlakat al-Lunbardiyya)/1 He also acknowledges that the ruler of Montferrat (malik Munfirad), called ‘beauty of the two groups of Romans and Franks’72 and addressed as ‘son of the ruler of Constantinople’ (ibn malik Istanbul) in a letter from 733/1333, maintained close connections with Constantinople/3
Al-Qalqashandi also dedicated attention to Venice, a city built on water and populated by a ‘Frankish people’,       whose currency, a kind of dinar called ‘dukat’, had to be counted among the most powerful ‘Frankish’ currencies.75 He was aware that its ruler, the doge, had participated in the conquest of Constantinople7fi and, in a letter addressed to the Mamluk sultan on 16 Safar 814/9 June 1411, made a diplomatic effort to secure the rights ofVenetian traders in Egypt.77 However, existing variations of the doge’s titles seem to have puzzled al-Qalqashandi. They range from the most simple form ‘doge of Venice’ (duk al-Bunduqiyya)7S to ‘doge of Venice and [possibly] Dalmatia’ (duk al-Bunduqiyya wa-l-Mansiyya)/9 and even to the doge of a realm that included Ragusa and the population of Constantinople (duk al-Banadiqa, wa-Diyariqa, wa-l-Rusa wa-l-Istanbu.liyyd)8 Rather than drawing a connection between these titles and the republic’s changing political status, al-Qalqashandi only pointed to the necessity of verifying which title was to be used in correspondence.       
Al-Qalqashandi often recorded outdated facts and failed to arrange them in chronological order. However, his work mentions the conquest of Toledo at the hands of Alfonso VI in 10 8 5,82 the Normans’ campaigns against the Byzantine Empire,83 the crusaders’ presence in Syria,84 the fall of Constantinople in 120485 and the succeeding impairment of the Byzantine Empire^6 links between Georgia and the papacy,87 the reduction of Muslim rule in al-Andalus to Granada,88 etc. In consequence, it is difficult to maintain that this Mamluk official was ignorant of Western European affairs.
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