Home Geography Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe
A Fragmentary Middle Eastern Echo (12th-l4th Centuries)
Up to the thirteenth century, Middle Eastern scholars could not measure up to their Andalusian peers. Confronted with the crusader onslaught and internal problems, many Middle Eastern scholars of this period neglected to document what happened in the Muslim West. Yaqut (d. 626/1229), for example, either lacked knowledge or curiosity concerning the Christian realms of the Iberian Peninsula. His geographic encyclopaedia lacks the lemmata Pamplona, Leon, Portugal, and Aragon. Barcelona (Barshaluna) only appears as a geographical point of reference in the lemmata ‘al-Andulus’ (sic) and ‘Tarracona’.342 Galicia (Jilliqiyya/Jaliqa) simply features as a region in the northwest of al-Andalus that was traversed by the conqueror Musa b. Nusayr in the period of the Muslim invasion, gave refuge to the Andalusian rebel Ibn Marwan, and was home to a certain Ibn Makula, who hailed from ‘one of the villages in the land of the Rum adjacent to al-Andalus’.343 Zamora
a great region in al-Andalus. Today, its capital lies in Toledo. It is altogether in the
hand of the Franks.345
Notwithstanding, the arrival of large numbers of Western Europeans in the Middle East of crusader times also sparked interest in western affairs. Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/1233) linked the crusading movement to other manifestations of Latin- Christian expansionism as expressed in the conquest of Sicily and in the rise of Christian, alias ‘Frankish’ power on the Iberian Peninsula.346 Because he had recourse to undefined works of Andalusian scholarship,347 his annals contain a great amount of data on the Iberian Peninsula’s Christian polities. Fully preserved, his work reaches back further into the history of the Christian North than the extant fragments of Ibn H ayyan, covering the period from the Muslim invasion in 92/711 to the year 591/1195.
Concerning the first half of the eighth century, Ibn al-Athir lists several raids directed against Pamplona, Galicia, and Alava.348 A first description of internal affairs figures under the year 140/757 in connection with the death of the ‘Galician’ ruler Alfonso I of Asturias (Adhfunsh, malik Jilliqiyya) after eighteen years of rule. More valiant and better organized, his son Fruela I (Tadwiliya) chased the Muslims from the Marches and took possession of Portugal (Burtuqal), Salamanca (Shalamanqa), Zamora (Shamura), Castile (Qashtyala), etc.349 His successor Aure- lio (Awrali) died in 158/774 after six years of rule, and was succeeded by his son Silo (Shiyalun).350 Ibn al-Athir believed that Alfonso II (Adhfunsh) was killed (instead of chased away) by a certain Mauregato (Murqai) when he wanted to assume power in 168/784. In this situation, ‘their affairs became disordered’ (ikhtalla amruhum) and they were subject to a Muslim raid.351 In 173/789, Mauregato was succeeded by ‘the priest Bermudo’ (al-qiss Baramund b. Qaluriya). The latter then became a monk and left the throne to his nephew (wa-ja‘ala ibn akhihi fi l-mulk), who assumed rule in 175/791, two years after ‘Bermudo the Great’ (Baramund al-kahir) had been defeated by Muslim forces.^ Assuming the throne, Alfonso II (Adhfunsh) suffered a severe Muslim raid in 178-79/794-95.353
The following half-century seems to have escaped Ibn al-Athir’s attention. After a raid on Galicia in 22 5/840,354 Leon (Liyun) suffered an attack in 231/845, during which the Muslim forces failed to destroy the city’s walls.355 This raid took place under Ramiro I (Rudmir h. Adhfunsh) who died in 235/849 after eight years of rule.356 His successor Ordono I (Urdun Ihn Rudmir) supported a rebellion in Toledo in 240/8 54.357 At his death in 254/868, he left the realm to his twelve- year-old son Alfonso III (Adhfunsh).35& For the rest of the ninth century, Galicia is only mentioned in connection with a raid in 264/877 and the plan, hatched by Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman in 265/878, to attack Galicia from the sea, having heard that it had no coastal defences.359
Data on the tenth century is scarcer still. Ibn al-Athir mentions that the rebel Umayya b. Ishaq sought refuge with the Galician king Ramiro II (Rudmir) in 327/938, thus causing a series of military confrontations with Umayyad forces.360 A successful raid of Sanhaja Berbers against one of the cities of Galicia in 373/938 also attracted his attention, probably because it led to the destruction of Leon (Ilyun; Liyun), ‘one of their greatest cities’ (min azam madayinihim) at the hands of al-Mansur Ibn Abi 'Amir.361
As opposed to Galicia, Ibn al-Athir almost ignores the affairs of the other Christian polities. Pamplona and the realm of the Basques mainly feature as the target for raids.362 The ‘ruler of the Basques’ (malik al-Bashkuns) supported the Galician king against a Muslim attack in 179/795.363 A certain Garcia, ‘one of the polytheist Andalusian rulers’ (Gharsiyya, wa-huwa min muluk al-andalusiyyin al-mushrikin), was killed during a raid against Pamplona in 228-29/843-44.364 The ruler of the Basques (malik al-Bashkuns) supported a rebellion in Toledo in 240/854.365 Marauding Normans (al-Majus) took Garcia Iniguez, the ‘Frankish master of Pamplona’ (sahihuha Gharsiyya al-Faranji), for ransom in 245/859.366
The ‘Franks’ constitute another important power. In connection with events at the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries, the term still applies to the Carolingian forces that conquered Barcelona.368 The Franks, who supported the secession of the people of Toledo in 240/854, probably hailed from the environs of this city.369 However, when the latter was subject to Muslim attack in 247/861, its ruler called on the ‘ruler of the Franks’ for help.37° A raid in 251/865 was directed against the Franks with the aim of acquiring the ‘riches of Roderic/Louis’ (amwal Ludriq) allegedly stored in Alava de los Castillos (Alaba wa-l-Qila ).3J1 In 270/883, the Frankish lord of Barcelona made efforts to prevent the Muslim reconstruction of LeridaTh2 The Franks, who supported the Galicians during the attack of al-Mamur Ibn Abi 'Amir in 373/938, can be identified as warriors from emerging Catalonia.373
Up to this point, Ibn al-Athir provides a slimmed-down alternative to Ibn H ayyan that focuses on the hostilities between the Christian North and Muslim al-Andalus. As soon as he enters the period not covered by Ibn H ayyan, he indiscriminately uses the term ‘Franks’ for all Christian parties involved in the Christian thrust to the south. He remarks that Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile (al-Adhfunsh), ‘the ruler of the Franks in al-Andalus’ (malik al-Faranj bi-l-Andalus), took possession of much territory held by the party kings (muluk al-tawa’if) and, after a siege of seven years, of the city of Toledo in 478/1085. He then began to exert pressure on the tributary Muslim ruler of Cordoba, Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. AbbadTh4 Before Alfonso suffered defeat in the Battle of al-Zallaqa (479/1086), the elders of Cordoba allegedly contemplated the Franks’ power, the Muslims’ weakness and the fact that some of their rulers supported the Franks:
The Franks have taken possession of these lands of al-Andalus and not much remains.
If the situation remains as we witness it now, then Christianity will return to the position it has had.375
With the help of Muslim intellectuals (bad udaba al-muslimin), Alfonso corresponded with the Almoravid ruler Yusuf b. Tashfin and had a dream which, interpreted by a Muslim, foreshadowed his defeat.         His initially successful attack against Jaen in 485/1092 failed.377
When dealing with the twelfth century, Ibn al-Athir changes his focus. The Alfonso mentioned in connection with the year 505/1111 is not identical with the aforementioned ‘ruler of the Franks’ (malik al-Faranj), Alfonso VI (d. 1109). Credited with the plan of conquering the lands of Islam after the death of the Almoravid ruler Yusuf b. TashfinTh8 this other Alfonso obviously represents Alfonso I the Battler, king of Aragon and Navarre, who had taken power in Castile after his marriage with Urraca, queen regnant of Castile and Leon, in 1109. Grandson to Ramiro I and Sancho Ramirez of Aragon, this Alfonso may be identical with a certain ‘Son of Ramiro’ (Ibn Rudmir), mentioned under the years 514/1120 and 520/1126. Classified as ‘one of the Frankish rulers of al-Andalus’ (malik min muluk al-Faranj bi-l-Andalus) or as ‘Alfonso the Frank, master of Toledo’ (Adhfunsh al-Faranji, sahib Tulaytula), he defeated the Muslims near Cordoba and near MurciaTh9 but died when he was beaten near Fraga in 529/1134. In this context, Ibn al-Athir characterizes him as particularly valiant and austere: when offered the pleasures of sleeping with the captive daughters of Muslim nobles, Alfonso allegedly retorted that a true warrior should stay with his men.38° Under the year 546/1151, Ibn al-Athir then mentions a ruler who clearly represents the king of Aragon. Faced with an Almoravid attack, a certain Ibn Mardanish received help from the ‘ruler of Frankish Barcelona’ (malik Barshaluna min biladal-Faranj).3*1
The remaining references to Christian Spain deal with the rulers of Leon and Castile. Alfonso VII (al-Adhfunsh), credited with the by-name ‘al-sulaytin’—i.e. ‘little sultan’,382 is classified as ‘ruler of Toledo and its territories and one of the kings of the Galicians, a kind of Franks’ as well as ‘the king of the Franks in al-Andalus’. He died in 552/1157 after having attacked the fortress Rota, Cordoba, and Almeria.383 Alfonso VIII, called ‘Son of Alfonso’ (Ibn Alfunsh) and ‘ruler of Toledo’ (malik Tulaytula), was attacked by the Almohad caliph Abu Ya'qub Yusuf in 568/1172.384 When the Portuguese king Sancho I, known by the name ‘Ibn al-Rank’, ‘one of the kings of the Franks west of the lands of al-Andalus’, was chased from his recent conquest, Silves, as well as other cities by Almohad forces in 586/1190, ‘the Frankish ruler of Toledo’ pleaded for peace. This peace, opposed by a ‘faction of Franks’, was granted for five years.385 In 591/1195, Alfonso VIII then challenged the Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf Ya'qub in a provocative letter to come over to the Iberian Peninsula.386 After his defeat in the Battle ofAlarcos (591/1195), Alfonso allegedly shaved his head and swore not to mount a horse before the Christians had been victorious again. Levying new troops one year later, he again suffered defeat during an assault on Toledo.387
Thus ends the story of Christian Spain in the work of Ibn al-Athir. Never told at a stretch, its elements feature under the respective year in Ibn al-Athir’s work of universal history. In spite of its imprecise ethnic terminology, this work proves that a Middle Eastern historiographer of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries could acquire substantial information about the Iberian Christians’ rise to power.
Later Middle Eastern scholars did not necessarily surpass what Ibn al-Athir wrote. The geography of Abu l-Fida (d. 732/1331) tends to reduce information about the Christian realms of the Iberian Peninsula to geographic facts.388 More elaborate, al-Nuwayri’s (d. 733/1333) encyclopaedia explicitly breaks with the annalistic form of many of his historiographical predecessors.389 His two chapters on the history of Spain and North Africa clearly focus on the Muslim polities.390 Although he traces the rise of ‘the Franks’, al-Nuwayri mainly lists important events, including the Frankish conquest of Barcelona (185/801),391 the takeover of Toledo (478/1085),392 the Battle of Alarcos (591/1195) with its preparatory propaganda, etc.393 He occasionally proffers analytical comments, e.g. that the uncoordinated action of the ta’ifa-kingdoms facilitated the Christians’ rise to power.394 This shows that al-Nuwayri intended to provide an overview that dispensed with the details of local and regional history. His chapter ends with a list entitled:
Mention of what the Franks — may God Most High desert them — have conquered
The last information to have reached him when he wrote this chapter, al-Nuwayri asserts, was news about the ‘Frankish’ siege of Algeciras around 725/1325. He announces that he will deal with more recent news in the ensuing chapters on Egypt.396
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