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Home arrow Geography arrow Arabic-Islamic views of the Latin West : tracing the emergence of medieval Europe


Latin-Christian expansionism in the era of crusades and Reconquista contributed considerably to spreading an image of Latin-Christian barbarism in the Arabic- Islamic world. Emotional reactions including indignation vis-a-vis Latin-Christian acts of violence, ideological and military countermeasures, grief and frustration in the face of Christian victories, as well as irony and satire directed against Frankish peoples considered barbarous, show that Muslims were on the defensive. However, this is only one part of the general picture and cannot imply that the Arabic- Islamic world in its entirety settled for an image of Latin Christians as perpetrators and Muslims as victims of unjustified aggression, consequently secluding itself from external stimuli. On the contrary, Latin-Christian expansionism created channels that facilitated the transmission of large amounts of new data.

Consequently, Arabic-Islamic scholars recorded the existence of several polities, rulers, and peoples that had become players in the Mediterranean—the English, the Germans, the Genoese, and the Catalans among others. It is important to note in this context that the quantity and quality, the historical depth as well as the geographical and chronological distribution of these records, is proportional to the intensity of relations between the respective Mediterranean player and the Arabic- Islamic sphere. English, German, and Genoese history before the crusades remained largely unexplored in works of Arabic-Islamic historiography, and it took some time before the Christian polities of the Iberian Peninsula were acknowledged as such. As opposed to the Crown of Aragon, Castile received hardly any attention at all in Middle Eastern works of scholarship whereas England and the Germans mainly appeared in connection with the crusades or the activities of the Staufen dynasty. Genoese activities, in turn, were recorded by eastern and western authors at the latest from the twelfth century onwards.

Although often inconsistent, fragmentary, and unsystematic, the extant reports testify to the impact of Latin-Christian expansionism in the Mediterranean sphere and, as a consequence, to the Arabic-Islamic world’s growing awareness of important manifestations of Latin-Christian political organization including the emperor, several kings, various subordinate ruling figures, as well as the communal forms of rule in the maritime republics. Thus, Arabic-Islamic records of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries clearly bear witness, not only to important developments since the early Middle Ages, but also to socio-political and economic diversity in late medieval Western Europe.

fails to mention the Crown of Aragon; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-nujum al-zahira, ed. Shams al-Din, vol. 2, AH 172, p. 91, only mentions Barcelona in connection with Muslim infighting in the year AH

  • 172/788.
  • 456 Cf. Coulon, Barcelone (2004), pp. 610—20.
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